Saturday, June 10, 2006

Me hanging with Robert: An Interview with a painter

A while ago I had the opportunity to interveiw the painter Robert Hardgrave for my friend Suzanne's art blogazine/online gallery Beholder (Suzanne's mission is to cut through the art world bullshit and bring artists and collectors closer together. Some beautiful stuff there. Check it out.) Robert Hardgrave is a Seattle based artist who paints some very dark, cartoonish (not in a bad way) paintings, kind of in the Giant Robot aesthetic. You can see Robert's work here.

I might be doing more of this sort of thing soon -- interveiwing interesting and/or weird people I know.

Anyhoo, let the Q-and-A begin. I give you, Robert Hardgrave.

Friend-of-Beholder Greg Mills recently caught artist Robert Hardgrave coming off the high of a 24 hour painting marathon. The two had an email conversation about death metal, all night painting orgies and using disease as a muse.

GREG: This 24 hour paint-o-thon sounds interesting. What was it, and did you gradually go insane over the length of the event? Was absinthe served?

ROBERT: The 24hr marathon was a blast. 18 artists from a wide variety of styles participated. We were placed in a building and encouraged to produce as much work as we could in a 24hr period. Under the agreement we were only really required to make 4 pictures. The energy in that building was incredible. Everyone worked so hard and it was very inspiring. In the end I made 8 completed pieces, but have 4 pieces which are almost done which I can now work on at my leisure. They were serving drinks for a while, but I chose not to drink to keep my energy up.

G: Hmmm, probably a good thing. Looking at your work, there's a heavy graphic feel to it, very illustrative. It reminds me of Aubrey Beardsley's Yellow Book illustrations, or some of Jim Woodring's more decadent stuff.

R: I have studied both of their work. Especially Jim Woodring. I corresponded with him a couple of times 10 years ago.He sent me these handwritten letters with little drawings in them. I love how black ink really makes colors pop. Clean lines and high contrast are my vice. I suppose I have a propensity for work with a more graphic feel, and prefer handmade qualities.

G:Other than "art school", can you trace your aesthetic back to any early inspirations... pop culture, high art, or whatever?

R:I never went to art school. I did get a "graphic design" degree in 2000, but the illustration part of the program was completely glossed over. Drawing has for a long time been a great source of comfort. As a kid I was given a Walter Lantz animation lesson book that inspired me quite a bit. I still have that book. The line work in that book was spectacular. Other than that book, art and I were never formally introduced, until I was in my early 20's. I moved to Seattle in 1992 which is when I started to truly explore art. I then absorbed as much as I could, from Peter Bagge's Hate comics, to Byzantine icons, to Dan Seagrave's death metal album covers. I am still a bit insatiable.

G:About Death Metal... on your site bio, you mention you're a death metal aficionado, which is rad. Do you listen to death metal while painting?

R:Indeed. Complex rhythms, riffs, and incessant beats are great for the work flow. I'm probably pretty funny to watch work. I really get into the music while I work.

G:Yeah, I guess Matthew Barney is Death Metal fan, too. I'm not sure how down with it Bjork is. My favorite Metal album cover is Judas Priest's "Screaming For Vengeance", the one with the giant mechanical raptor.

R:That is a great album and that cover is killer.

G: I like how the animals-of-prey-as-mechanical-dealers-of-violent-death theme you might see on a Dio album gets turned on its head to make it somehow cheery, almost Yellow Submariney. But I digress. Next question: your subjects are flat out grotesque. You freely borrow features from a variety of species, move eyes to cheeks, noses to forehead, it's very surreal, very H.P. Lovecraft. It's especially true when the painting is on wood... it starts to feel much more like an artifact of something someone glimpsed, rather than a fiction. Do you think sense of horror ever comes into play in your work? Do you even creep yourself out?

R:Maybe make myself laugh. Mixing things up is enjoyable. Everyone seems to be mixed up anyhow. I just try to make interesting drawings. Most of the work symbolizes experiences, people, or something else personal. It's kind of how I filter life. Which ones do you find horrific?

G:The Cancerland Series creeps me out. I'm guessing it's because this series is your reaction to surviving cancer. Knowing that wmakes it emotional immediate. How much does your experiences with disease inform your work?

R:The Cancerland series were all made during chemotherapy sessions. The last few sessions were at home and the drugs were pumped in over a 4 day period. A backpack, which housed the drugs, ran for four days. There were tubes running from the battery operated pumps to my portocath, a device placed in my chest. All of those drawings are honest depictions of how I felt. It was those drawings that helped me connect to a part of my brain that I don't feel I had tapped into prior. Since then, my work has become more expressive, mostly because of what I learned while being sick. I appreciate life a great deal more, and am doing exactly what I want to be doing, which is making drawings and paintings. Medication and scar references still seep into my work, but I try to pull from current experiences to make work about.

G:You're work is just detailed enough to be lush, without getting claustrophobic. How do you know when to stop?

R:Experience I guess. I limit my palette to just a few colors and I use a lot of repetition with slight differences to keep it interesting.

G:Who are the figures in your paintings?

R:If I told you that, they wouldn't be mysterious any longer. I can tell you that not all of the figures represent people. Does that help?

G: Are they evil?

R:Evil characters are always more interesting don't you think?

G: Are you capturing a moment?

R:Not really a moment, but more how I feel about a situation.

G:Do you have an internal narrative as you're painting?

R: No, but I like to make pictures that feel like there might be a narrative.

G: Thanks Robert. That was very interesting.

R: My pleasure. Thank you



Blogger G. said...

That was hot shit. I'm a poser.

10:34 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home