Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Artist of The Week

Chris Roberts

If you have ever been told that nothing positive comes from hatred then you were lied to. Just ask artist Chris Roberts who has turned his hatred of clowns into a twelve year collection of paintings and illustrations. Regardless of his origins or his motivation, Chris' style has evolved into something that is explosively original. Whether working on a mixed media collage or original painting or a book cover, Chris has managed to put the clowns aside and truly push and explore all that his materials have to offer him.

What first drew me to Chris was his unique and uninhibited approach to creating book covers. He breaks all of the rules, but the outcome is visually appealing and compelling enough that the average person would want to pick up a book he designed (example). I have long felt that it is the artist responsibility to take their training, their inspiration, their hatred and love, and all that they see around them, and filter it through their wildest dreams and imagination. This filtration process will eventually generate something unique and distinctive, and it seems to me that Chris Roberts understands this process perfectly.

Recently, Chris Roberts was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): How would you describe your work?
Chris Roberts (CR): In a word, odd. In more than a word, I'd really like to leave that to those who happen to stumble upon my work. I'd like to think that my work is interesting. I'd like to think that my work is unique. I'd like to think my work is at least something that nobody has ever seen before. But an honest & detached perception of my own work is something I fear I'm totally incapable. Leave it to the end user I say. It's my job to get the images out of my head & on to some surface or other. The rest is up to the viewer. Must I do everything? Well, must I? Wink!

Ultimately I try not to take myself or my work too seriously. Recently came up with a motto of sorts for my freelance company Dead Clown Art. Probably won't go over very well, but here it is: It's Just Art. Wouldn't get me oodles of projects I'm sure, but that's really not why I do what I do. Honest not modest, I think I'm okay at what I do. Just okay. The many artists I flutter & fawn over are truly amazing. I'll never come close to the likes of Dave McKean, Ted McKeever, Henrik Drescher, Ashley Wood, Vincent Chong, Ben Templesmith, Ralph Steadman, etc. But that's okay. I continue to do what I do - hopefully evolving a little along the way - because it's what I'm supposed to be doing.

What was the question again? Let me try another tentacle. My work is guided by the unavoidable collection of weird images bouncing around in my head. These images are compelled by projects I'm working on, random odd-servations of the silly world around me, & every once in awhile a dream that didn't fully abandon my brain from sleep to wake. Or it could just be a wonderful & weird series of accidents. Ideal moment to thank the gods of Accident & Luck. You both rock, & without you, none of this would be possible.

OA: With my interest in literature I have been fascinated by the book covers you have created. They seem unconventional in many ways, but they are so interesting and intense. How do you approach designing a book cover? How did the Ray Bradbury cover come about?
CR: I love to read. Imagine it starts there. I'm fascinated by books. The internet or little electro-gadget pretend-o-books will never replace books. Oh they try, but they fail. Miserably. Why? Because they're not books. It's as simple as that.

I'm glad you enjoy my book covers. I enjoy my book covers. I'd pick up a book with my cover surrounding it. Hell yes. If I, um, wasn't me. But all humility aside, I think the covers I've done for PS Publishing are pretty impressive, & fairly unconventional.
My design approach? After reading the words, I let the images take over. Sort of. I'm not much of a sketch person, but I do take what I suppose you'd call visual notes. Words for pictures for words. Then I just let all of the disjointed words & descriptions & images come together in my head. Edit. Organize. Refine. When I'm ready, I dump it all out on cardboard or wood. Few digital pics or flatbed scans later & I'm finishing it up with my good friend Photoshop.

I think one thing that makes my book covers stand out is that they don't know that they're book covers until they're wrapped around a stack of interesting printed pages. Surprise! They always seem quite pleased though. I don't think about the artwork as 'book cover'. I have absolutely nothing to do with that part of the process. I don't think about sizes & margins & file formats & fonts until I need to. I look at every illustration as simply my visual interpretation of the words provided.

And what fabulous gatherings of words! Will Elliott's The Pilo Family Circus, Sebastien Doubinsky's The Babylonian Trilogy, & Ray Bradbury's A Medicine For Melancholy. Ray freaking Bradbury! I'm not anywhere near worthy. Ideal moment to thank Pete & Nicky Crowther from PS Publishing. You both rock, & without you, none of this would be possible.

So how did the Bradbury cover come about? After completing Babylonian & Pilo covers for PS, Pete emailed me, then called me about doing the cover for the second book of a 2-book deluxe edition of Ray Bradbury's The Day It Rained Forever & A Medicine For Melancholy, signed by both Ray Bradbury & Caitlin Kiernan (introduction), with a 100 copy run. Nearly fell out of my chair after reading the email. Damn near dropped my cell while talking with Pete... BTW, I'd love to have Pete's accent & manner, if that could be arranged.
Okay, that answer is long enough.

OA: How did the name and concept of Dead Clown Art come about?
CR: I hate, strike that, loathe clowns. They creep me the f**k out. Can I say that here? If not, please replace f**k with heck. So I took my hatred, nay loathe-tred of clowns, spun it around in a cotton candy machine for a bit, stretched it on a taffy puller for a time, dressed it wildly in a bright orange wig, puffy clothes, horrid suspenders, enormous shoes & a red rubber nose... then proceeded to beat it to death with a dull-yellow wiffle bat. Too harsh? Possibly. But it's therapeutic, with a delayed comical shock value.

OA: You have entered a few different contests. Do you do this for the competition or is it more for promotional purposes? How do you handle self-promotion of your work?
CR: Neither really. I'm not competitive at all. If pressed I'd pick promotional purposes. Any exposure is good exposure. I've entered every contest that I can recall because, well, it was there. It's really good practice. Here's a problem, solve it. That's what I do. It's almost irresistible. Like throwing a dead chipmunk in front of a wolf & telling it not to eat it. Come on! It's a dead chipmunk for piss sake! Each contest I've entered has been an exercise. Never expected to win any of them going in, & never did. Not important. Just wanted to solve the problem.

Self promotion? Emails & postcards to unsuspecting art directors. Interviews like this. Getting my work in front of as many people as possible. That's always worked for me... that & a big yummy chunk of luck. Hey, check out my online portfolio - has been surprisingly effective. Here's what I've done, now let's see what I can do for you. Repeat as needed. Stir briskly. Serve chilled.

If an art director likes my site, the work that I've done, thinks I can add some value to whatever it is they're doing, great. If not, no worries, thanks for your time & consideration. Peace out.

OA: You are also a writer. How is the process or release different when writing a poem as opposed to painting or designing a piece?
CR: Not all that different really. I've never thought of myself as a writer. Just now getting comfortable with thinking of myself as an artist. Labels. Whatever pops into my head that needs rough passage to surface, is handled pretty much the same way. I look at my writing as stuff I didn't think I could effectively translate into an illustration or painting. My writing has the same awareness as my artwork. It knows more than I know. Spooky, huh?

It's taking all of the assembled pieces & putting them into an order. Not necessarily a desirable order. An often bizarre order, yes. But an order that I saw in my head, then moved in whatever format to external surface, so that everybody else could see it.

Like it or hate it. There it is. No matter the medium. Something that wasn't there before.

OA: What's next for Chris Roberts?
CR: Waiting for that next project. I'd love to work with Pete & Nicky at PS Publishing again. They seem to like what I've given them so far, so hopefully I'll be hearing from them shortly.
I have the infant pieces of an odd children's book floating around just behind my eyes. I'd like to paint more in 2009. A resolution of sorts. Larger format stuff. Possibly put together a solo show somewhere. Your guess is as good as mine. I do know that I'll continue to adore my supporting, patient & way-too-hot-for-me wife; & spoil silly our smart & pretty daughter. Two of my wonderful constants.

Bonus Questions:

OA: Coffee? If yes, where is the best place to get a cup in Des Moines?
CR: Yes. I'd say Friedrich's Coffee. Good coffee. Good people. Good atmosphere.

OA: What type of music do you enjoy and who are a few of your favorites?
CR: If I had to slap a label on it, probably Alternative. 98% of radio music makes me want to hurl, slit my wrists, or both. Don't get me started on MTV & VH1. Dang. Okay...

Best band ever: Radiohead. And anyone who thinks otherwise is totally wrong.
Damien Rice. Portishead. Cold War Kids. Jesca Hoop. Tori Amos. NIN. The Tragically Hip. Sia. The Cure. Fiona Apple. Blur. Tool. Okay, that's all I can think of right now.

For more information on Chris Roberts please visit his website.


Cat Rocketship said...

Great interview with Chris. His works are even cooler in person.

And Chris, a children's book would be amazing!

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