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. 

1 comment:

  1. Great interview! Great Answers! I really like the answer about influences. I could learn a lot from this guy. My theory, Humor and satire are the collision of incongruous thoughts. We laugh when we relinquish the tension set up by this incongruity.