Saturday, April 4, 2009

April 2009 - Interview with Robert Connett

BB ~ We will start with the usual: where were you born, where did you grow up and where in the world are you slappin' paint today?

RS ~ I was born and grew up in San Francisco, Calif. I'm of the forth generation living in the city starting from 1890. I Lived and worked in SF until 1998, then moved to Los Angeles where I live and work today.

BB ~ Your paintings posted on Flickr often include well-written even lengthy (by today's standards) back story. Does it bother you that 95% of the comments are "cool" and "great job" after you have given such a deep nugget of narrative for the piece?

RS ~ Not at all. I'm very glad that people take the time to make any sort of comment. It's nice to get the occasional "in depth" comment, but I understand that if people didn't have strong feelings, no matter what they say, they would not have bothered to write anything at all.

BB ~ Nightmare visions abound in your body of work. Night Trawler alone could cause a person to more horror than the average slasher flick. Is it your aim to inspire fear or more a cathartic release for your tortured soul?

RS ~ It's a little surprising to hear that people think my work is full of "Nightmare Visions". I don't see it that way. However, I suppose it's true. My wife tells me that I live in a vacuum, my own world. She tells me that I do not realize what effect my images have on others. The evidence bares her out. I do not deliberate intend to inspire fear. Absolutely not.

My art has always been an expression for what I feel, a catharsis. I was trained at an early age to draw as an outlet for emotions that were manifesting destructively. When I was 6 years old I saw my first Psychologist. I had violence problems as a child. I was sent to psychologists and eventually to psychiatrists. I was under psychiatric treatment for many years. I saw the same shrink from age 12 until I was 18. Then I began again with him, seeing him on and off until my late thirties, when (to my great dismay) he retired. The point is, I was shown how to express pent up rage via a ball-point pen and paper. This grew into my current relationship with art. Everything I do in art is an expression of how I feel, self-allegorical. If my images are "nightmare visions" it is because I am living in what I perceive to be a nightmare. I am flushing out my demons. I do not wish to create fear. I want people to find my work interesting and even compelling. If my work makes a statement beyond me, about our society or the human condition, it is because I am a person of this world, and my experiences are part of the human condition.

BB ~ In paintings such as Microbia III, Crustaceapods you render these amazing undersea creatures. Are these things straight out of your head or do you study nature books for reference?

RS ~ Both. I am fascinated by tiny life forms. I have this idea that the universe is not only the stars and galaxies we see in the sky, but also existing within the materials that makes us. Every atom that we are made of contains an infinitely tiny universes, and in tern, there are universes even more infinitesimal contained within the material that comprises them. This largeness and smallness goes on infinitely. We are also part of some other gigantic universe that we have not discovered. Several of my paintings are based upon imaginary life forms found in different levels of this hierarchical infinity.

I am also mesmerized by medical illustrations, especially antique. I am awed by the drawings of Ernst Haeckel (ref: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernst_Hackel). I love old marine biological drawings. There are many old illustrations from oceanology and marine science expeditions from the 17th to the 19th century. I locate these on the internet using a google image search. The articulate renderings of minuscule creatures inspire me tremendously.

I sometimes base my creatures upon these illustrations, and in a few cases, (very few) I have actually taken them verbatim from the illustration. Most of the life forms in my series of "microbia" are simply creations from my imagination. When I'm not busy placating my devils, I'm enjoying myself creating theoretical life forms. It depends upon my mood. Some of my work is dedicated strictly to whimsy, like the paintings you refer to, (Red Microbia, Blue Microbia and Crustaceapods: http://www.vomitus.com/museum/NewVmmPages/crustaceapods.html ), while others are concerned with the need to get rid of pent up emotions. My latest painting, "The Bone-Yard walk" (http://www.vomitus.com/museum/NewVmmPages/BoneYardRoad.html) is a perfect example of the latter. I've been wanting very much to create new paintings such as the C-Pods and Microbia's. However, I've been so fucking depressed that all I can come up with is paintings like the "Bone-Yard Walk".

BB ~ In Faces in a Mirror you really succeed in combining the serious weight of late Medieval painting with the cartoon fun of Mad Magazine. This is exactly the sort of thing that needs to be on the cover of Art Forum or on the wall at the Whitney Biennial. Do you think you can carve a niche in the hallowed stone of art history?

RS ~ Well, thank you for your gracious good words!

The painting you refer to is again an example of my cathartic art. It's 'me' looking in 'my' mirror and seeing a fucking freak were once there was a young and handsome lad.

As to the question of my art having an impact beyond my own time, possibly. Obviously I have garnered enough attention for you to take an interest in my work. That's a good start! For now I am much more interested in being able to free myself to think and paint.

I admit there is something inside me that wants my work to outlive me. What artist does not wish this? I don't have kids, so my art is like my children. Instinct to create progeny tugs at my heart strings just like anybody else.

The biggest reason that I want popularity for my art is because I need to make money. How's that for crass? That is a curse. I must sell every painting and drawing I do in order to keep going. I currently live painting to painting.

What I really want is to dig as deep within myself as I can when I make art. I want to make art that will force people to use their minds. I want to make art that is compelling. Because I need money I am tempted to compromise. That's an inner war I wage. My art does not loan itself to compromise. Nor is it considered commercial for the most part.

I would love to believe that my art will live on and have influence on new minds and new artists and the world in general. I think about it, and I dream about it. I would be a happy man to think that I have added something of substance to our world.

Then again, why concern myself with posterity when the human race is doomed? There's not much of a future for us. No one wants to see it, but the piper is coming for his payment. The abuse of our planet and its resources is about to reach a critical climax. Overpopulation and the unstoppable effects of global warming (a result of overpopulation) is going to change the world in ways unprecedented. Perhaps we shall perish altogether.

I believe that we are at the mercy of an unavoidable catastrophe that is much, much closer than any of us wants to admit. We did this. I'm as guilty as anyone. I'm like one of those subsistence farmers in the Brazilian Rain forest who must burn down a few acres of jungle so that his family might live another season. The farmer can't think about the generations to come when he sees his children starving, and by feeding them, he dooms their children. For more of my thoughts about the current state of our world check out my words at this link: http://www.vomitus.com/museum/rants/statment_0xxx02.html

BB ~ In your back story on Little Bang Theory you describe your small, but intense self-created universe with great detail. You sound a lot like my favorite writer, Charles Bukowski, when you describe the world as populated by politicians, gangsters, psychopaths, crooks, cops, idiots, drunks, misfits, yuppies, beggars and thieves. Despite this cynical even nihilistic view your work is bright and teeming with life. Is it this contradiction that fuels your vision?

RS ~ My visions are fueled not only by a need to expel my demons and explore my imagination, but also by a need to be more than a parasite in my own estimation. It's not enough that I live and breath, eat and sleep. Any insect can do these things. For many years lived for the sake of being alive.

At age 27, I came to a a turning point in my life. At the time I was working as an insurance broker in San Francisco. It's was a typical 9 to 5, go to work, come home, watch TV, go to bed, get up, go to work, get drunk on the weekend, non-life style. I became obsessed with self-examination and in my own estimation, I came up sorely lacking. I was not making art at the time.

When I was 27, I had money. I drove a jaguar. I was a yuppie. It also became unavoidably clear to me that my life was a sham. Meaningless and superficial. I had a sort of "breakdown" or "panic attack". I thought I was chocking to death. I was driven to the ER by my neighbor. When I came home and rested, I realized I must take a new direction. That was the day I began to draw again. I had stopped making art at around age 20. I began again, and never stopped. For the next 20 years it was a hobby that kept me sane. (and I also began seeing my old shrink again)

I am indeed "fueled by contradictions". What is not a contradiction? In what situation of life can we not find contradiction if we look? For instance, it is a contradiction to care about a world that I believe is about to die by its own hand. The only thing I've ever done in my life that's worth a damn is my artwork. It is contradictory to think that this is any more important than anything else, when you look at it closely, and yet … I do.

Imagination is the most important thing that I possess. Imagination is what created civilization. There, you see? There is another contradiction. I feel deeply that the only justification for my existence is a tool which helped bring us to our own destruction. (ha!) Of course I say that cynically because I think our creativity could also be our only way to survive.

Life is a mystery because nothing makes sense. The more I know, the more I know I do not know. If you take science to an absolute we are nothing more than walking talking heads fueled by chemical reactions predetermined by magnetic fields, actions and reactions. We think we have free thought and the power to decide who we are and what we do, but actually we do not. Every thought we have is an involuntary response to natural stimulations. We are automatons at the mercy of our own chemical slushy. There is no God, there is no spirit, no soul. It is all impossible. Yet, do we believe anyway. I believe.


BB ~ You skirt this issue often in your work...how do you see life after death?

RS ~ I did not realize that I was skirting the issue of life after death, but I suppose you are correct again. My first memory of this issue occurred when I was a small boy, maybe 5 or 6, my father caught my grandmother trying to teach me about Jesus. She was devout Catholic. He roared at her to leave the room as this "religious talk" was not permitted in our house, and she knew that. My dad took me on his knee and explained his version of the truth to me. He clicked the TV on, and said, "Son, this is now alive, like you and me, understand?" Next he turned it off and said, "now it is off and this is what it's like to be dead. You are simply 'no more'." On and off, he turned it ON and OFF. "This is life, "ON", and this is death, "OFF". "Click, click, click, click." That was the extent of my at home religious training. And perhaps my first lesson about metaphor. I understand him now. It's difficult not to believe in his non-faith. My mother is the same. She scoffs at life after death. She just turned 85. I asked her about it on here birthday. No way, when you die, the TV is "OFF".

Being a curious child, I would sneak into the Catholic church on the corner of our street. I was brought up in an Irish Catholic neighborhood where everyone had the name "BRIAN","PATRICK" or "COLEEN". At Saint Brendan's church I was told a very different story about God and Jesus and death. I was taught by the parochial school kids that there was a place called HELL, and I was absolutely going to see it some day! I had not been baptized, and so I WAS going to HELL. I became fascinated with all the heaven and hell stuff, especially the HELLFIRE suffering and torture part. This is when much of my fighting started, and the subsequent referrals to counselors and psychologists, which let to my first acts of art.

So, fast forward to now. My personal feelings are this; I have prayed to "GOD" for decades, and still do. I feel I have a special and very personal relationship with GOD. However, I also know that it is impossible that a GOD exists. Yet another contradiction. I also think these things in equal measure; We may have a soul that lives beyond this life, perhaps it is eternal. We may all be part of one cycle of living souls. Or perhaps a sort of co-mingling existence, and we are all one, truly connected. Or, we may be GOD ourselves, and must live every life that ever has, or ever will be lived on this planet, and every other planet in every solar system and every galaxy throughout the cosmos, in this dimension, and all others, infinitely large and infinitely small, until we finally reach the end of time, at which time we find some ultimate something which we are WAY too feeble minded to grasp at this stage. OR, we might be destined to reach immortality through technology as in the ideas of Raymond Kurzweil in his theories of artificial intelligence, transhumanism and futurism. We may be destined to evolve into cyborgs, and then truly "Spiritual Machines" ( ref: see "THE AGE OF SPIRITUAL MACHINES: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Age_of_Spiritual_Machines and "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technological_singularity ) OR, we may be nothing but accidents who cease to exist like the TV does when you shut it "OFF". I feel and believe all these things. Contradictions abound in this area.


BB ~ You lost your first body of work to a studio fire back in 1995. Now you suggest getting everything you paint sold and out into the world. (I think a lot about this, ever since I read about Norman Rockwell's studio burning down in 1943.) Do you ever trade your stuff or give it to people who really dig it but can't afford it?

RS ~ I didn't know that happened to Norman Rockwell too! Damn!

Yes, I have given away prints and originals and I have traded work for other artists work, and other things. However, I'm not in a financial position at the moment to trade originals, (of course, it depends upon what is offered) I can afford to give prints when people convince me that they really want them and can't afford to buy them. I'm always honored by that, and I'm glad to give to people who can not afford my work.Aside form my art being a vehicle for placating my demons, and exploring my imagination, my next most important task is to disseminate it. I want my art to be seen, and thought of.

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