Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Robert Jackson @ Half Moon Restaurant

I met artist Robert (Bob) Jackson in his Kennett Square studio, sitting at his easel with his painting upside down. He was filling in the background color of a painting of tight rope walking Oreo’s strategically placed between a tower of crates, while others found their demise in a big tub of milk. Really, I’m not making this stuff up, but Bob is. A realist still life painter, he had the whole thing set up in his studio, and there he sat in front of it capturing every highlight and reflected shadow. His paintings are tight beautifully created scenes of apples or balloon dogs. It is refreshing to see an artist taking humor so seriously.

Since this was the first time I actually met him in person there were a lot of things I wanted to get caught up on. I could have stayed in his studio for hours looking at all the shiny eye candy stuff that a whimsical artist collects for inspiration or to paint. I edged closer to the door not to be rude but for self-preservation and I wanted to talk and find out the inspiration in his art. So he closed the studio door behind us and we walked a few short blocks to Half Moon. The hostess thought he was in for his regular seat by the bar where he later told me he comes in and sketches frequently. We took a seat in the back and ordered two Colorado brewed beers. That’s another place he knows having spent a week out there to paint with another artist. Isn’t the life of an artist grand?

So we sipped beers, shared stories of art and galleries and compared notes on raising girls and boys.


How did you get started making art?
I went to school for electrical engineering. I went to Delaware Electrical engineering. Last semester senior year I took a throw away elective. I took painting 101 and thought it was the coolest class I had taken in 4 years. And the only reason I took that was because my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife, gave me a set of oil paints for Christmas which she probably regrets ever since. So not knowing what to do with it, being an electrical engineer, I took painting 101. The guy was an abstract painter who painted with squeegees. Nothing like what I do, but I loved it.

Did you receive any formal art training? 
You know that professor saw how much I liked it and said why don’t you stay and go to grad school with me. I said, “So, pretty practical, I have an engineering job lined up so if I stayed on with you what’s the chance of this working out?” He said at that time, “Those that actually are making a living from art, not teaching, I can count the numbers on my hand.” I said, “What do they do?” He said they get another job and paint on the side.” I said, “I got an engineering job. I’m going to paint on the side. I promise you someday I’m going to quit and be an artist.” And I’ve been an artist 15/16 years now.

Can you describe your work in general for the readers?
I’m definitely a realist still life painter but its very humorous and playful. It’s got a very contemporary slant to it.

How do you choose your subject matter? 
I think so many artists have trouble figuring out what to paint. I have a skill but what do I actually paint? I think a lot of artists spend their whole life trying to figure that out and never get there. I used to be just still life and you go to an antique shop and like, “Oh that would be fun to paint” and it’s just for the sake of painting. You get a wine bottle and some grapes or whatever and then maybe 6 /7 years ago, I said, “You know, I’m not going to paint without a conceptual idea behind it.  I’m not going to paint for the sake of painting anymore.” And so I come here, sit at the end of the bar down there, have a beer with just my sketch book and freeform brainstorm, you know, and I come up with my ideas before I ever paint. I’m not just painting what I see. A lot of realists still do that. They paint a still life and it’s just a bunch of apples. And everyone jokes that I’m the apple guy, the guy who paints all the apples but my apples are actively engaged in social issues.

Rumor has it you set everything up in your studio. True?
Yes, I have them all there but its all glue guns and strings and nails. Everything’s held into place because I want to see how they reflect off of each other. I want people to have the illusion that it’s happening and so I need to see it to be able to do that. Sometimes I will do things in phases like that painting in my studio right now. That tub of milk is still sitting in my studio. Oh you know I still love traditional art and I like how the shadows play off each other. Does that mean I don’t deviate or exaggerate? Realism isn’t coping reality. It’s all life, especially my stuff. I have apples in a war or things like that.

There is a humor to your paintings, what inspires that?
Humor is a taboo in art. Its one of those things that I thought I’m going to embrace. You know there are certain people, guys like Wayne Thiebaud, who do and it’s always been the “no-no” and I thought I’m going to embrace it. I’m not ashamed of it. Its funny, even in Hollywood, the Coen brothers finally won an Oscar for a dark movie. There’s nothing funnier than Big Lebowski. It holds up for years.  I loved True Grit or No Country for Old Men. It’s hard to make humor that you keep laughing at and you look at over and over again. I try to do that with my work. Humor is just a punch line. You go “HA” and then it’s done. You want something that engages.

Where do you get all your props?
Props I get from eBay. I used to roam around antique shops, like so many people do, and consignment shops. Now that I’m based off of ideas I know what I want and its too much of a pain in the butt to go to the antique shop and shop. I just want to buy it and get it. I even prefer buy it now. I want that crate. I’m going to win it!

What are your thoughts on perfection?
Perfection. Oh my gosh! You mean can you ever obtain it? No. I always know when I’m done because I’m pretty deliberate when I am working and I know when I am finished with an idea, a concept. The good thing about artists is that we aren’t like pop singers who already hit it by 22. I think a really good artist hits at 50. I’ve always set that like I’m going to be really good at 50. Even then, it’s not perfection.

Who has been the biggest influence on your life?
As an artist you know you’d like to sit there and go oh its Rembrandt or whatever and in reality it’s the people you interact with. There’s a painter Scott Frasier who’s been my best friend for years, even though he lives in Longmont CO which is all the way across the country. Much to the humor of our wives, we talk everyday. Whether it’s a catalog or an art show that I’ve seen or things we found on the Internet, we’re just, boy, here’s what I’m thinking of doing with this painting. Talking business like, “What do you think I should do with this gallery.” We get each other. And every summer I usually go out for a week and we paint together and spend way too much time in pubs.

Do you have any habits or morning routines you do before going to the easel?
Yeah, I stop at the store every single morning and get the newspaper and do the crossword puzzle before I start painting.

What tip do you have for an artist that wants to paint realism?
Look. I’m amazed at how many painters don’t look or don’t know what’s out there or don’t go up to NYC and look at art. I come from an unschooled background but the schools don’t teach it anyway. So you have to look.

What are you eating right now?
The crab melt which is quite enjoyable

What is your favorite food?

What does home mean to you?
You know its funny. The first time I felt at home was when I moved to Kennett Square. You have so long that your moving around in life and you get married and you feel like you are at a slumber party. It felt like the first time I really bought a house that I wanted to be there. I really wanted to raise my kids there. A place I feel comfortable raising my kids.

Your proudest moment?
When the kids were born.

Where did you grow up?
Everywhere. I’m the oldest of 5 kids and we’re all born in different states

You collect?
I guess art.

Something that is important on your nightstand?
My cell phone. That’s the only thing I have on my nightstand. I use it for my alarm and everything.

Your strangest possession?
I have a banjo. I play banjo. That just has that stigma of being an awful thing.

Kat Stevens
Piece of art you sold
still life painting.

Another 2-hour lunch had passed. We had both ordered the daily special of crab melt on an English muffin with salad, which came with plenty of extra potato chips. You can’t go wrong with quality and price. We walked back to the studio and followed up more. Again I was like a deer in headlights. And then, I became the curious little rodent, checking out the bookshelves. You can gain a lot of information about an artist by looking at his bookshelves. Then there were the movies. That was another 20 minutes. Bob would pass the easel, pick up a brush and touch up an area. I knew if I didn’t head to the door I would have pulled up a chair and spent the rest of the day there. But, he wanted to paint and I was itching to get back to my studio filled with inspiration that was all bottled up.

I did break out the camera and filmed the intro to my speed round questions. See a little more insight into Bob’s studio and random answers to random questions. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Over Worked

I don’t really have a 9 to 5 job… it is more like 10 to 6. Ok I’m not going to lie to yoou, I work whenever I can and am almost always thinking about work. But this post isn’t about me being overworked, it’s about a painting I overworked. The hardest part about my job is knowing when to stop. It isn’t easy searching for perfection.

 It started last week while working on a new piece for my wallflower series. I had the background all done. It was a baroque wallpaper pattern in silver on white. It was soft and subtle, just how I imagined it would be. I had concocted the idea during my morning run and now here it was before me. I drew the image out perfectly, cropped it just enough to make it interesting. I was excited to start. I painted my darks, roughed in the mid tones and worked my way to the highlights. For all the non – artist readers…I’m just painting. Everything is going great. The wax is flowing off the brush, the birds are singing, the sun is out. All is good at PinkCow Studio.

I continued painting blissfully for a few hours, developing the painting and excited with my efforts. I stopped and had lunch. It must have been something I ate that changed my eyesight. I walked back into the studio to find that what I thought was perfection was really a deconstructed Mr. Potato Head. How could I have been so wrong, so off my game? This is what I do. I’ve made a full time job out of it. I decided to add a few gestural brush strokes, some flicks of confident brush strokes, a bit of panache. French words always make things seem fancy. Nothing…nothing was working. There were some great parts but the face just wouldn’t come together.
I continued on this fruitless journey for 3 days, adding and scraping away, getting closer to perfection only to pass it with another brush stroke in the wrong direction. For everything I love about painting in wax there is one terrible drawback. The accumulation of bad brush strokes leads to a very thick painting. I scrape it away and start again. The only thing that made me stop was that I needed to hang it to show someone. So I called it done. Maybe I just wanted to stop and ease the frustration.

Here it sits on my wall as I write this. It has been a week since I hung it. It has had time to settle in and be admired. There are some beautiful parts and there are some parts that rake on my nerves like talking to a “customer representative”. While eating breakfast this morning I thought I’d write about the painting and after lunch I’ll take the blowtorch to it melt it off and use that beautiful silver baroque wallpaper for something else.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I don’t have a hobby

I admit, I’m a bit envious of people that have hobbies. The idea of tinkering on a project or scouting antique shops in search of collectables is intriguing. I have dabbled in such tasks as making beer and collecting rare pink elephant bar supplies. This of course seemed more like a means to an end. I have tried to relax and do crossword puzzles but that lasted as long as my vacations did. Boating or collecting cars seems like it would be a nice hobby if you had the money. I really don’t think watching TV counts as a hobby.

After some unscientific research observing friends and family, I jumped to the conclusion that hobbies are related to the amount of time spent at their work. Sometimes a hobby can lead to work. After all wouldn’t we all enjoy what we doing what we love and get paid for it. This is where my hobby, work, passion comes in. I enjoy, No I love to paint and create art. Making ideas come to fruition seems to be my hobby.

The work part comes when I convert those ideas into artwork. Some days the paintings seem to paint themselves with little or no effort. This I consider a good workday. Then there are the nine-hour days of moving paint around hoping to capture the likeness of something. This is a bad day at work. The problem with these days are that they cut into my nights making them sleepless. Looking at that daunting painting of misplaced brush strokes and thinking, if I place a few of those strokes in the right place I’d have a recognizable image instead of a deconstructed potato head.

I guess its better than a day job. Since I’m up at night trying to figure out where I went wrong and what I need to correct, I should watch some TV. That seems like an expensive hobby. So from now on I’m going to call it art-work because after all it is work.            

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Client That Needs Improvement

Ten years ago I met a wonderful art consultant that fell in love with my work. Since then she has been trying to place my art in many of her client’s collections to no avail. For this, I do not blame her. My art is not exactly the type of art that you would see in the “blue suit” corporate world of cubicles.  But, to her credit, she never gave up trying. Last October she had found the perfect client, the perfect building and the perfect wall and I of course had the perfect painting.

This client had a building filled with clients that rented office space to some of their clients. Are you following along? One of the building’s clients didn’t like the painting that hung in that floor’s corridor. So, my art consultant’s client moved the painting to another floor to satisfy their client. Still the client was not satisfied and wanted the artwork removed. By now I assume you realize that this artwork is my masterpiece that a trusted and faithful art consultant had placed on that perfect wall.

Last week I received the call that the client’s client wasn’t happy with my painting. There were a few different roads I could take here. 1) All sales are final! 2) But, I am an artist. I have the freedom of expression, they just don’t understand. 3) Laugh and think the whole thing is ridiculous. I chose option 3 and reflected on how the squeaky wheel gets their way and went on a small rant about political correctness.  Don’t get me started on teachers not being able to grade with a red pen because it affects the children’s self esteem. So, as an artist and a businessman with a client to satisfy, I told her she was more than welcome to bring her client to the studio and choose another piece.

We arranged a studio visit and I had made all the preparations to impress my client…wine, cheese and sparkling water. Don’t forget the flowers that accented the artwork on the walls. Everyone was happy and all was off to a good start until the client said, “I can’t have anything with a woman or alcohol.” I thought to myself…self, have they seen what I paint? Luckily, I have a big studio and lots of storage. They found something to hang on that perfect wall. As for the grumpy client that received too many red marks on his test papers, I’m not sure if he is happy or if he ever will be happy. But, I signed the painting, in red, and refrained from putting a smiley face next to it.