Gary Llama knows something about the idea of art for art’s sake.
A native of Richmond, the 36-year-old musician, writer, painter and photographer has created a prodigious amount of art in his life. His output includes three dozen albums, seven books and who knows how many paintings, photographs and miscellaneous visualizations of his creativity.
None of which, it seems, has landed him on easy street.
“By Western standards, I don’t have any indicators of success,” he said Monday at the Lamplighter Roasting Co. outpost on Addison Street. “I’m actually the exact opposite.”
He’s none the sadder for it. Creating the art, especially music, he said, is more important to him than finding commercial success.
“I’m kind of down on that,” he said.
He’s down on a lot of the things that make big money in the music business because they don’t jibe with his Buddhist lifestyle or his approach to creativity.
He hasn’t played live on a regular basis since he was 17. Back then, he was part of a band called $500 Fine — so named because of the fine Richmond then imposed on teenagers who broke curfew — and having the time of his life.
Then his best friend and musical compatriot, bass player Patrick Daly, died in a car crash.
“That was it for me,” Llama said. “He was the last person I could really give something I’d written to and feel comfortable.”
Llama dropped out of school and drifted for a few years. He was “kind of homeless for a little bit,” maybe associated with a street gang and prone to violence, he said.
Then his father called and told him he’d cashed in some bonds he’d saved for his son’s college education.
“He gave me $4,500,” Llama said. “I couldn’t go to college on that, so I bought a digital eight-track recorder instead.”
That was in 1999.
Ever since, Llama has been writing and recording music. What he doesn’t do is perform it live.
He looks at music as more art than entertainment.
“To me, it’s like a canvas,” he said. “It’s like a book. When you go to an author reading, you don’t hear the whole book. If I could do a tour and just offer a snippet and then do a Q-and-A, maybe I would.”
His canvas can be a blurry thing.
“I’m a punk rocker who makes folk music that doesn’t sound like folk music,” he said.
The records usually include some version of punk, often with an acoustic guitar, and focus on themes such as social alienation and the perils of life in a materialistic world.
He plays the guitar, drums, bass, synthesizer and anything else needed for a song. He’ll include a reggae beat, elements of electronica and hip-hop, nearly anything else that strikes his mood.
Doing a couple of albums a year, every year, he finds a way to work in nearly everything.
His latest offerings, plural, include the albums “The Beauty of Life” and “God Is a Woman,” which is a joint production with hip-hop artist Ben FM. For the latter album, Llama recorded beats then handed them off to Ben FM, who added his own beats and lyrics.
“That’s the first time I’ve really collaborated in a long time and felt good about it,” Llama said. “I got it back, and it was like listening to something new. The beats are probably 70 percent mine, but some of it, I didn’t recognize at first.”
He could be circling back to a happier time. The first music he remembers really loving was hip-hop.
“Public Enemy’s ‘Fear of a Black Planet’ was the first album I remember having,” he said. “Maybe I’ve found my new collaborator.”
To find Llama, you’ll have to look online.
Eleven of his albums are available at garyllama.bandcamp.com, where you can listen and buy.
His music also is on iTunes, and his books — including two collections of essays, two books of his art and a novel — are available online from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.