June 20, 2010

Whispers of Sleek Immortality

An Interview with Illustrator and Artist R.Black

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)
Click on any picture to enlargify

A long-time friend that probably knows me way too well for MY own good recently asked me how I decide with whom I’d like to conduct an interview and where I find the different inputs out there that push me to contact an artist. Well, certainly there are various rather tame outlets that I rely on and even research, from social media to scrounging through any number of different blogs or other web-sites for a good catch (or my favourite, just plain dumb luck). But in the case of
R. Black, my indoctrination into his work was quite by random happenstance. Or maybe not.

You see, I am an incessant collector of images from the Internet. I tend to download quite a number of pictures throughout any given week (no, not that and certainly not just randomly picked either). Typically, the pictures I choose are rich in such aspects as texture, color, or even contain various forms or objects that I tell myself I’ll incorporate one day into an ‘original’ sketch of my very own. These have included recently, for example, the texture of a dried out lake in Africa (great greyish brown and the cracked texture of the dead earth is astounding), an eerie photo collected of members of the French Resistance all wearing their primitive gas masks or even a collection of characters from the show ‘Firefly’ (which I have never seen but I hear it’s nice) posing with their guns aimed at various angles.

And yes, to confess, I honestly will not want to throw these away at any cost because with the gods as my witness, I WILL need them some day! So I continue to fill memory stick after memory stick with every shape and size of bitmaps, jay-pegs and even the occasional annoyingly primitive gif.

I come by this somewhat unenviable trait honestly, that is, this tendency to gather and horde. Both my parents are also collectors: my mother with her drawer containing various functional ephemera including enough buttons to fix all shirts missing at least one button in the free world; and my architect-slash-remodeler father who has never, EVER thrown away a piece of wood in his life because by golly you never know when you’ll need a piece JUST THAT SIZE to finish a key part of a kitchen floor or cabinet. And you know: I truly believe that they are both beyond any shadow of doubt absolutely correct in their actions!

And so it was one day that I stumbled across an innocent enough looking picture from some random blogger’s bar-hopping excursion through the lovely streets of London. The picture itself was nondescript, showing essentially a routine pub entrance and place for the smokers to step out and enjoy a ‘fag’ along with their pints of finest tepid ale. I was attracted to the picture at first because of the interesting shaped placard in front (got a street scene in mind, you see). But then a poster in the window caught my eye. It was for something called ‘
Hard Cider’ – noting I have never partaken in either hard or even soft cider in my life (I love apples but they don’t love me, ‘nuff said).

The ad managed to not only grab my attention, but I found that the closer I looked, the more interested I became. The illustration itself was very plain in its color selection and even tame in its depiction of an moderately attractive albeit rather scantily clad young lady offering an apple in a loosely considered biblical setting. But I found myself intrigued by the sheer stylishness, the sleek lines and even burlesque subtlety of the entire ensemble. Everything worked so well together, from her look, her form within the frame and even the lettering ... I was hooked!

And as such, through my search of the brand name I eventually came across an astounding collection of R.Black’s works, ranging not only from a ‘steady stream’ of lovely damsels – in an almost but not quite A to Z listing – offering one and all a refreshing drink, but also full of the morbidly hilarious and even tantalizingly fun images found in his program covers,
rock and roll posters, and much much more. And so dear friends, I am indeed happy to share with you the timeless works of R.Black and hope you become as enamored with and enjoy them as much as I do:

Hi Rich, welcome to the show (or do you prefer to be called ‘R’?):

Thanks! And ‘R.’ is fine.

R., in ‘
L'Art de R.Black’ (suggested retail price $19.95, including 3-D specs, ergo a bargain at twice the price), you list some of your artistic influences as including Michelangelo, Chuck Jones, Picasso, Berke Breathed (hopefully pre-cockroach obsession phase), Aubrey Beardsley and Kazu Kibuishi. Now, with all that being said and seemingly not leading to a very coherent question up to now, who, what or how has influenced your art over the years?
Well, for sure all the artists I have mentioned.

Plus, I’ve been influenced as well by the drive to not ever have to work a "real" job, be beholden to anybody, and to be who I want to be without any societal restrictions.

And, of course, immortality! My art gives me the opportunity for all these things.

Who continues to be in your mind a source of the thought ‘oh man if I could just reach that skill level’, and what’s it all about anyway? I mean, why is R.Black doing what he’s doing?
I'm not sure if it's about a skill level. It's more about vision, about developing an image that stands the test of time. It’s about cementing your name in art history, be it fine art or pop.

You do not need a lot of skill to create a masterpiece, just an image that people can relate to. Whether its 3 lines and a circle laid out in such a way that it's captivating to an audience or a spectacular masterpiece such as any of
Shepard Fairey's pieces. I mean, just with the work that he’s created thus far, he's already made it to artist immortality level.

Your home-page takes the viewer on a journey into the sexy, often macabre and even playful side of your work, especially the seeming nod to the cartoon series of the 60’s and 70’s (oh yeah that Betty had it coming to her and ‘Poppa Jetson’ never gave Judy the keys to the jet car when she asked, so who can blame her?). With some of these classic ‘story behind the story’ illustrations in mind, do you consider yourself – as I do – particularly scarred by the whole Partridge Family / Brady Bunch era? I mean, all problems solved in 30 minutes including commercial breaks? Who came up with this shit? And on Gilligan’s Island: the Professor could build working electronic materials but he couldn’t get a functional boat made to get them off the damn island?
I’m sorry, was there a question in there?

No, I’m sorry; it’s time for my pill.

But let’s move on... How much overlap is there between art forms such as what you’re involved in and even other graphic arts found ‘out there’ today? Is there, just as an example, a lot of synergy between you and your work and the local tattoo illustration crowd or even, I don’t know, the chopper detailing crowd?
I'd say I dip into every scene that I can. This includes burlesque to stage theatre to Hasbro.

I'm a whore for art: if you're paying, I'm doing.

I’m not sure if I answered your question. It’s just that I think if you box yourself into one form you are denying yourself growth.

I’m just curious: does R.Black have an aversion to more mainstream assignments? Or is your currently portfolio selection – which has been listed under various ‘categories’ including vintage or horror-terror illustrations, or weird and sexy art found in flyers and on tee-shirts, unique album covers and posters, etc. – just more by chance than personal selection?
No, again, I'll do it all.

I think it's more so that I'm not doing art that the "mainstream" likes, which is cool, even though it doesn't pay as well.

Looking at your collected, um, collection again,
Brian Ewing noted that you have "had the greatest impact with the Goth/Industrial scene, a scene that's been overlooked by most other rock poster artists. Rich chooses the bands he likes. Bands that you never heard of because they're hardly on TV or radio. Great bands that need posters and appreciate them." Is the rock poster industry really that active outside of this realm?
Rock posters were hitting it big for a few years, and a lot of poster collection books came out. A lot of rock poster artists got to get their own books, me included.

Still, I’m not sure how the scene is going at the moment. I seem to have stopped paying attention. But like everything, I'm sure it will have its own ebb and flow.
Also, why do these bands really need posters? Or is it just part of the whole scene in terms of ‘well duh, if the Misfits perform there HAVE to be posters’?
Bands don't need posters, venues need posters. This is really where the bulk of most poster work comes from. The bands usually have nothing to do with them or even know they exist most of the time.

A rock poster is just an advertisement. Our job as artists is to make the event look better than it is, thus making the venue look cooler than it is. This in turn enables the clubs to draw better bands and better crowds. I think it all starts with the propaganda.

Plus, as long as there are young artists looking to make a splash and do it without getting paid, there will be a rock poster scene, just like the music scene. These scenes are driven on energy and you can’t do either if you don’t have the passion.

In my case specifically, I live in the Oakland/ San Francisco area where art in every genre is always popping. The Bay Area is pure energy, so these scenes will never die here.

That being said, I'd still say it's a national thing for sure: we love our posters and our merchandise.

Continued in Part 2

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