May 4, 2016

Issue 105: Russ Pope

Interviewed • Blaize Pope

You recently moved to Massachusetts from California. Has that influenced your art at all?
Yes, absolutely. There is new scenery, waterways, historic buildings, streets, new people with new ways of dressing, new culture and a true four seasons. All of this creates new material to pull from. I have new studio spaces that are conducive to my work. The cold winter months afford me more time inside with less distractions. The geographic and cultural change was needed and has been a good new vantage point. I didn’t realize how needed it was. Change is good.

Do you utilize a different skillset for projects like “Transportation Unit” and “theTHURSDAYMAN” than you would when creating pieces for an art show?
I start every day off with my sketchbook and a cup of coffee. I work in that sketchbook off and on all day. My favorite drawings are usually studies for paintings. Paintings are further developed and explored and make their way to galleries and collectors. Sometimes, I identify drawings that I think would work well on a skateboard or a piece of apparel. I will use a sketchbook drawing for the black line art for making these pieces.

How do you feel about the increasing digitalization of art as technological alternatives compete with traditional methods?
The increasing digitalization of art allows art to be shared with a wider audience than ever before. I think that is really cool. I also like that, in a way, it has leveled the playing field for artists. There is now a platform on which everyone can share.

By leveling the playing field do you mean that now it is easier for artists to be recognized?
It used to be that if you weren’t connected you had almost no hope of sharing your work on a large platform, through print publications or in galleries. Now the platform for sharing art is available to everyone. The quality of work still has to be there, though. Artists still have to put the work in, but the vehicle to share is there.

What, if any, social implications does art represent or entail?
Well, for me, my art is social commentary. I like art that starts or shares a narrative about what is happening in society in the past, present or even in the future. Art gives people a voice to express their thoughts, hopes and concerns. This was most apparent with the past few political elections. Art that addressed both social and political issues connected with young people in a way that mainstream campaigning and advertising could not. Raising awareness through art and challenging established ways of doing things to better our social situation is a positive in my opinion.

In what ways has your creative process evolved since your first art show?
I’ve become a better artist. I’ve continued to hone my craft. I’ve found ways to have a constant dialogue with art instead of being involved with stop-start sessions. The volume of work I produce now for art shows and creative projects has required and allowed me to be in constant art mode. Whereas when I worked on my first art show, all those years ago, I would have worked on a single body of work, finished it, shut it down, relaxed and started again when the next project required action. Now, constant action is required.

What musical influences are most evidenced in your art?
Good question. I feel like there’s a visible musicality at times in my paintings, in the strokes and in the colors. I listen to lots of old jazz, the Clash, some Witch and High on Fire – it’s a pretty eclectic mix.

What other creative aspects of your life influence your art. For example: physical activities, places, or conversation partners?
I would say it all influences my art. Everything I see influences how I see the world and how I approach my art. For example: a nice bike ride in the woods, conversations had over coffee, dialogue overheard on the train, discussions with friends… Travel brings new perspectives and content opportunities. Seeing quality work from other artists, photographers and filmmakers is also motivating. Life’s filters change and direct the work.

How does art reflect, comment on and influence our world?
Art can quite literally comment on the world as in a New Yorker comic strip or Jean Julien Eiffel Tower peace sign drawing. Color and size also tells a story about our world. It doesn’t have to just be content that’s direct or literal in nature. Packaging and color theory on every product – whether it’s a can of beans, an automobile or a hotel – play the largest role in whether or not you purchase or get down with those items. This is true in politics now as well. Political candidates with the better logo and art direction have a better chance of racking up votes.

Are there mediums you are interested in but have not delved into as of now?
Steel and bronze. I’ve made quite a few 2D wooden figures that are life size or larger: waves, birds, etc. I’d like to make more, bigger in the same sort of way but from metal.

Compared to painting, do those mediums require more forethought and planning? And is their completion more gratifying?
I’ll let you know after I do some experimenting with that.

Who are your favorite artists to create and collaborate with?
I’ve had great times with plenty of artist working on installs, wall projects and painting skateboard obstacles. Nat Russell is great to be around and so talented. Rich Jacobs is a wonderful human and gifted as well. I’ve collaborated with Zio Ziegler on three continents, and Jay Howell and I invented the tropical paradise together and that was great.

You guys invented tropical paradise?
It’s a delicious drink made from the minds of two creative people. After a week staying in a Brooklyn apartment with a handful of artists and working on an installation twelve hours a day, we created some tropical relief for opening night.

You just released your first book, Life Lines. Talk about the process you went through in assembling a cohesive body of material?
Life Lines is a collection of 160 of my favorite daily drawings from the last couple years. It’s essentially my life in pictures, a visual diary if you will. I worked on it off and on for about two years. I made a couple wide, sweeping edits to replace some of the drawings. I was going to publish with someone but decided to self-publish. I saved a couple bucks from an art show and had a good friend, Paul Nett, lay it out for me. The book was produced in Michigan by a company that makes beautiful art books. It’s available at aspirational retailers, galleries and bookshops in the U.S., some shops in Milan, Japan and the UK… and of course you can find them on my website,

I think that art can mean something to everyone, be it a single person drawing with their child, a small group of people interested in a niche and publishing an artistic zine focused on it, or a massive show in another country filled with well-known pieces. How does art manage to mean so many different things to so many different people?
I think art and music are probably the two universal languages. Neither art nor music needs translation. From the beginning of humankind, music and art have been ways to communicate and tell stories. Art is so subjective and interpreted differently person to person. All the ways of production, mediums and forums for display you mentioned are great. What is most important is that we continue the artistic dialogue.

What advice do you have for aspiring young artists?
Work hard. You get out of it what you put into it. It’s not all magical art experiences. Sometimes it’s about putting in the time, being diligent, honing your craft. In my life, I have received positive results from keeping busy. Always bring a sketchbook and pen or pencil.

What’s next for Russ Pope?
I’m part of a five-man show that just opened up in San Jose at Seeing Things Gallery. I have some book signings and talks lined up for the next couple of months and I’m scheduling more throughout the rest of the year in the U.S. and abroad. I have one this weekend in Brooklyn.

I have a book signing and art show in Tokyo in July, a show at the Antonio Colombo Gallery in Milan, Italy, in September, a small solo show at Needles and Pens in San Francisco in November and a larger solo show at AKA Gallery in Portland in December. All this and new printed materials are on my website and Instagram.

Lastly, what do you hope to leave behind at the end of the day in terms of your art?
A messy studio.