Robert Page InterviewBy Emma O.
Artist Robert Page is a recent Texas transplant coming from North Carolina in March of last year. Today, he makes his home in Austin and spends his days drawing, painting and visiting local pubs; when Deep Nerd Magazine called Robert, he was at a bar. He was cool about it, stepped outside, and let us do a phone interview in between beers. The self-taught artist then gave us some insight into his move from Charlotte, NC to Austin, Bob Ross vs. Helen Van Wyk, and why tiny balloons can carry gigantic elephants.
How much of the artwork on your website have you done while in Texas?
About half. The balloons really started up since I’ve been in Austin.
What inspired the balloons in your work?
I kind of always painted them; they were just not as prevalent as now. I like the idea of the impossible. It’s usually little tiny balloons lifting a giant animal through the sky. I felt like me moving to Austin seemed like an impossibility. [I thought] I’m just going to go and see what happens. I don’t know anyone here; I just came on my own. Everyone I know at home thought I was crazy. If you put your mind to it, really try, and put yourself out there, anything can happen. A little balloon can carry an elephant or a shark – anything can happen.
You are self-taught, but did you ever have someone who helped you develop some of your skills?
Bob Ross helped. [Laughs]. I know it’s completely different [from what I do] but just things like learning brush strokes helps. There’s another lady who did a TV show; her name was Helen Van Wyk. She didn’t get as much airplay as Bob Ross, but she was much more about realism. She’s really good. Her technique was much more traditional, so she couldn’t do just one painting in an episode. She would use 4 to 5.
Can you tell us about some of your animal paintings? What inspires a stork with baby arms?
An ex-girlfriend of mine was at the beach with some friends and one of them said she always thought birds looked like amputees. She told me, and I thought that was funny, so I decided to put little arms on them. I know that’s become a very photo-shopped thing, so that’s why I kind of stopped doing them. I try and tweak it in a way by using doll or mannequin arms. The size of the bird would depend on what toy arm I would use. For puffins and other small birds, I’d use action figure arms, and for bigger birds, I’d use baby doll. I would keep it in proportion so it would look at least somewhat natural.
Do you prefer drawing animals or human figures?
I like drawing people more.
Your human figures have a surrealistic quality to them.
It’s definitely different from what you usually see. I think I focus too much on certain things, like certain shapes and sizes, to where it kind of disproportions things, but not in an unrealistic way. Slightly exaggerated. I guess I focus on the part that I like about a human figure and I tweak it to where it’s more of a focus.
How do you feel your art has evolved since you started drawing?
Leaps and Bounds! [Laughs]. I’ve always been really fascinated and liked realism. I’ve always tried to push that. But when I got to the point to where I could do that, I’ve wanted to not stick with it. I’ve wanted to use those elements but not have it look like a photograph every time. I’ve found that a lot of the images I’ve seen that are hyper-realism are just an image, a face, like a celebrity, that seems to be a very popular thing. It’s great that someone can do that, but it’s just kind of boring. It’s great, but it doesn’t last long. When you go to a show and see something like that it’s great, but you pass and forget about it. Technically, when someone can sit down and make that happen, it’s amazing, but as far as for me, what I have in my house, nah not really.
What inspired you to do the two color splits?
The first one that I did was a goat and two crows, and it was just a weird idea, really. I wanted to paint for a while, and then when I came up with the crows, I didn’t really have a background. It just seemed very plain. So I decided to spilt the color in half, and then went a step further and spilt the color with the subject as well. It was fun and a challenge to keep that line straight, trying to smooth out the colors within the fur and feathers. Keeping the colors from running over is a challenge too.
I just assumed that you used tape
I don’t tape them off – I don’t do any of that. A lot of people ask me if I do.
You have a Kurt Cobain painting on your website. Big fan?
I still listen to Nirvana, and it was an idea that I had for a really long time. I felt like it was a little too dark, like someone would be offended by it. I tried to show it at a gallery in LA. I submitted it to the gallery, and this is a big gallery, if they do reply, it usually takes weeks, but they replied in an hour or two. They said “It’s great but his daughter and sister have had a show here, so in our best interest we cannot show this”. I was flattered he replied so quickly, and even though I don’t agree with it, I understand. It is called Suicide King of Broken Hearts. But he was a very depressed guy, and I think I took great care in trying to represent my admiration for the band and him as a person and what they were able to create in that short period of time.
Are you finding more acceptance in Austin galleries?
Yeah, and my subject matter has changed dramatically too. I think that helps a lot. The animals are very people pleasing. Also, Austin doesn’t really care as far as who you are or where you come from. Just if you do good work.
Do you have any other jobs or are you solely a working artist?
For the most part. I mean, certain months are slower than others, but as far as having a steady second job, no.
You have an interesting portrait of Tom Hanks.
It’s called Peeping Tom Hanks I did that for a show back in Charlotte. That was the thing, to use common phrases. ‘Peeping Tom’ is very common, so I thought “Why not have a creepy peeping Tom Hanks?”. The gallery owner who did that show actually bought it. He said, “If no one buys that from the show, I’m buying”. No one did, and when I was just about to take it home, he asked, “How much was that again?”.
What kinds of things do you do to connect with other artists in Austin?
Facebook helps. Looking online for gallery shows and pop-up shows. I met up with a lady who does pop up shows, and it’s kind of like an art collective. It’s not technically a collective, but kind of. There’s a bunch of us that revolve in that circle.
Do you plan on staying in Austin