Awestruck by beauty and imagination
I don’t really have much art training. I grew up in and near the woods in Oregon, and always loved studying and being in nature, so that informs my work. My family didn’t watch much TV, and I would draw to pass time. I stopped making art as a young adult while I started my family and pursued a career. A lot of that fell apart, and I came back to art as a way of having some control of my life, and to deal with hard shit. I started my old band, Fellwoods with my longtime music-collaborator, Ben Spencer, and decided to do some “fantasy” style paintings for our album covers. I had to learn how to paint, but once I started, I couldn’t stop. Other bands got in touch, and I’ve managed to turn it into a career after a few unbelievably stressful years. I’ve had no training in painting, and recently went back to art school to try to get some. But my damn school seems to value things other than being a skilled painter, so I may have to just keep teaching myself.
Up to now, I’ve used almost exclusively acrylic paint. I used whatever random paint I could get my hands on, and painted on boards, paper, cardboard, the backs of other paintings. Doing this for a living makes you desperately poor, so you need to be inventive. I began by trying to imitate classic illustrators of the 20th Century, but with far less skill! I think my love of nature runs through a lot of my work, with my hope that I’m not making cheesy, throwaway works (though some of it sure is!). One of my favorite parts of the process is the research. I look at art books, browse the internet, read up on things - anything that can help put me in the right place. I look for a lot of reference photos, because I often need to see how light works in a situation, or how horse’s hoof looks from underneath, or whatever. I draw my own hands a lot, and have started posing for my reference photos. Then I just obsessively work until it’s done. I think I work pretty fast - seldom taking breaks for long stretches. The heightened concentration, combined with the long hours puts me in a very weird zone. It can feel like you’re losing your mind. When a painting is going well, you feel euphoric. When you’re really struggling with something, you feel your mind unraveling.
I paint and draw everything by hand. I use as little computer as possible. I hunch over my paintings in my horribly dim and cluttered basement. I mostly paint on wood panels now, beginning with a sketch, then an under-painting, then zillions of layers of paint. I photograph them - I don’t have a proper set-up, so I just take them around the yard with different backdrops until I get the right light. Then I bring them into the computer and adjust contrast, light and cast if needed.
I pride myself in taking direction. I want to deliver the best version of an idea that I can, so it often helps if a client has a clear vision and can express it well. I love it when a client trusts me to create my own vision - this is of course the most fun for me. I’d say I get about half of each. The client I like the least is the one who doesn’t know what they want, and needs to see a finished painting to finally decide that they don’t want that. Thankfully, those clients are rare. As a heads-up to those hiring an artist - either know what you want and communicate that clearly, or trust the artist’s vision. I have learned to make pretty well fleshed-out sketches in many cases. Saves the nerves!
I make a lot of my own art, and an attempt at “fine art”. Some of my art is just delivering an order. You want a barbarian standing on a giant, decapitated snail? OK, I’ll do the best version of that that I can, and I really want even my most cliché or kitschy pieces to have some dignity and beauty. I don’t do exploitative or disgusting imagery. I don’t want to bring more negativity and ugliness to the world. But for the art that I REALLY care about? I want to blow people’s minds. I want to stretch all of my intelligence and mechanical skill and imagination to the point that the viewer experiences awe. I want to do what good painters have always done: Show people something they’ve never seen before, and that they feel they could never do themselves. That’s what I enjoy most when I view art. I want to be awestruck by beauty and imagination. I want to think, “I could never have imagined that!”
I’m extremely grateful that my clients and their audiences value visual art enough to give me their hard-earned dollars. I’d be nothing without this. I know that I don’t have much money to spend on art, so when someone spends money on my art, I’m humbled and grateful. I do think we live in a strange time for music, when everyone is clamoring for attention in an endless sea of bands and an absolute storm of visual information. So I think people are under the impression that having more and more epic art will somehow catch the attention of more people. I’d encourage people to remember that subtlety and simplicity and nuance are ever more important in this atmosphere.
I’ve always been drawn to the weirder details and overlooked aspects of the world. I truly detest conformity and unoriginality. I try to be a rationalist, though I have my superstitions and biases. I am not religious, so that symbology is only effective for me in a nostalgic sense, or as a reference to how humans have used it for their own agendas. I don’t worship anything really, other than ZZ Top and Mexican food, but I am endlessly moved by nature. Humans are part of nature, so this can include all our weird ideas. To me, the natural world contains all the dark and powerful imagery that I need to motivate my art.
I spend a lot of time outdoors - hiking, rock-hounding, camping, fishing, climbing mountains. I take shit-tons of photos. I have enormous files on my hard drives full of imagery or readings. I think I’m an intensely curious person, so I love learning. I’m an amateur science-nut too, so this informs my work. I recently took an Ecology class that was tremendously helpful in bringing me up to speed on the desperate state of our planet. I also took a writing class centered on dystopias and post-apocalyptic futures. That involved some great reading and a lot of fresh ideas. I read whenever I can. I look at as much art as I can. I don’t ever want to stop learning.
I started out with some pretty classic fantasy art and book illustrator influences from the 1920s-80s. I love the Polish surrealists, and the Dutch masters. I’ve brought more and more abstraction and surrealism into my work, and I think it’s beginning to take on it’s own life, instead of just being the product of imitation.
I’m back in art school now. I want to make gallery art. I’ve had a few shows, and I have piles upon piles of paintings - but I’d like to create works that are timeless. My ceaseless goal is to become a better and better painter, all the while, letting go of the cheap tactics of a lot of popular art. I am in the process of switching to oil paint in my personal works. I love it already, though it’s shown me that I have a lot to learn. I want to go from making a hand to mouth existence with my art, to making a sustainable living.
Interview by Alex Milazzo - Copyright 2016 © Heavy Metal Artwork. All rights reserved.