Monday, November 5, 2007
BBG Interview with Robin Ator
As the stuff-yer-face season kicks in, Blah Blah Gallery is servin’ up a sweet plate piled high with a variety of tasty artworks. Robin Ator is best known as an animator on shows like, The Pjs & The Tick but it’s his super cool drawings that make for nifty ‘still’ viewing. The female form has captured the artist’s imagination since the first caveman picked up a chunk of charcoal. Robin continues and adds to that great tradition.
INTERVIEW - with Richard Mullins
You are a bit elusive on the internet. Give us the run down, Dragnet style...name, place/date of birth, studio location, the whole rundown.
I'm in commercial animation, working for Laika Studios in Oregon was a character designer, cel animator, and occasional Flash director. I grew up in rural Montana. My background is in stop-motion animation. Some people still remember "The PJs", where I animated for a couple of seasons, and "Gary & Mike", where I designed most of the characters, and directed the pilot episode. I used to storyboard for "The Tick", a job that Mike Ploog helped me get.
Lately I've been doing sculpted/composited illustration for Klutz Books, and art for my own line of tarot cards.
You draw very well with natural mediums (non-digital) but seem to prefer to draw in the real world, then add color (paint) on computer. What's the appeal of pixels for you?
Well, I like a mixture of the raw and the polished... My day job is in animation, and I've become familiar with the usual drawing programs because the medium has become heavily digital. Illustrator, Photoshop and Flash are my favorite toys. So along with pen and paper now, I also use a tablet PC.I've been interested in flattening and reducing the figure over the last several years, trying to see what I could 'get rid of' in a figure. Digital media are great for making mathematical shapes and straight lines that are hard to do with pencils, rulers and French curves.
Though you draw a variety of subjects, the female form seems to be "where the heart is" for you...what do you find so fascinating in visions of the fairer sex?
'The female form is my all-purpose symbol, since it can be used to comment on practically any subject, like other people use flowers or animals or letter forms. It's universal. It's so flexible, so balanced, so variable, so beautiful and expressive that I gravitate to it. And fortunately for me, examples are available everywhere. I love the variety of approaches to the female figure that the human race has come up with. My appreciation is wide: realistic, abstracted, serious, fun, cartoony -- I love it all, and want to express it all. My sources include cave art, Cycladic art, Greek, Indian, "primitive", "naive" art, as well as the academic, the realistic, the photographic, the comic-booky --and I 'steal' from all of it for my own work.
Every sort of figure has been an ideal of beauty at one time or another. In the US right now, we have a very narrow view of female beauty, and I have no patience with it. I'd like to help expand it. It's that cookie-cutter 'magazine cover' approach to beauty in modern culture that bothers me.
Some of your work recalls the days of classic cartoon illustration in Playboy Magazine (back when it was still a big deal). Are you familiar with these guys and if so were they an inspiration?
Playboy itself, and most men's magazines, for me, are a bit distasteful. The slick, glossy paper, the inch-deep politics, the pandering approach to commercialism, and the nearly-interchangeable women seem sad and unpleasant to me. At least Hustler decided to take a principled stand for personal sovereignty and freedom of expression. I think Playboy is only about the money. I realized that inside these stylized drawings was an immensely deep well of knowledge on a wide variety of subjects, and were a wonderful display of understanding of anatomy, architecture, spatial depth and perspective, something that wasn't evident.
Among the currently successful fine artists and graphic designers. Cartoonists Beside the Playboy greats, flashes of R. Crumb pop in from time to time. What do you think about Crumb's stuff?
Robert Crumb's work was introduced to me by my uncle, George Clayton Johnson (who wrote for Star Trek and Twilight Zone), who sent them to me in manila envelopes in the late 60's. I had barely read Fritz the Cat before my scandalized mother had taken them all away from me. Eek! Cartoon nipples! I admired the work for his facility with pen and ink, along with people like Greg Irons, Victor Moscoso and Rick Griffin. I was such a leftist, peace/love/dove hippie, and Crumb is anything but. What I got from them, I think, was an appreciation for the beauty of black-and-white artwork. I really have more in common with people like Wally Wood and Jack Davis, the MAD guys.
Sketching (drawing) seems to take priority over more lengthy, more deeply developed works for you. Why do you think this is?
Sketching allows for constant flow. It has less to do with editing and presentation, and more to do with self-examination and learning. I paint and animate, but no one seems particularly interested in the results. I draw a lot, though, and it far outweighs the amount of painting or animation I do. Drawing requires so much less preparation, and a sketchbook is easy to carry and store. I can try out an approach without a lot of fuss. If it leads nowhere, well... lessons learned, and on to the next page. It's only for me, really. People are welcome to look, if they like, but it's not for an audience. I see a lot of artists on Flickr but you are one of the most fearless in terms of subject matter (an unabashed love of the naked female form.)
I see a lot of artists on Flickr but you are one of the most fearless in terms of subject matter (an unabashed love of the naked female form.) Do you ever get negative feedback, say from the old school feminists or other censorship meanies?
Yes, of course. 'How dare I objectify women?', they'll say. Some of them havebeen seriously angry with me over it, and I have no way of defending myself,really. But it isn't objective at all; it's subjective. It's opinion, it's expression, it's impression, it's commentary, it's wishful thinking, it's a search for meaning. I enjoy the shapes and forms, of course, but I'm also reacting to women as specific people. To objectify, one has to condescend. I do the opposite - I attempt to understand. In women I see individuality and personality on the one hand, and universality on the other. In drawings, I try to reconcile them. I've grown tired of attempting to justify something that seems to me like obvious appreciation, so I try not to bring it up. Some women do seem to get it, though, and tell me that they can see love and understanding in my drawings..
You sell your sketchbooks on your website. Are there any new projects in the works for your fans to know about?
I've made annual collections of selected drawings for several years. I just finished a bit of animation for the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival -- an intro to blocks of short films. And there's "Tarot Stripped Bare" -- my International Icon Tarot is used in this DVD by D'Avekki Studios to explain the meanings and uses of tarot cards. I'm continuing to work on a new set of tarot cards, to be called either 'Tarot of the American West', or 'the Cowboy Tarot'. -END