Wednesday, March 10, 2010
PORTRAIT OF A MONSTER KID
I am always enthusiastic about spreading the gospel regarding the classic Gorilla Men and when I was approached by a Monster Kid artist for some Charles Gemora reference photos, I was more than happy to oblige. Robert Scott (aka ScOttRa Monster Art) has carved out a distinctive identity for himself as a premier Horror portrait artist in the past few years. His request for MURDER IN THE RUE MORGUE gorilla suit photos had me tremendously excited , pondering what his talented hand would produce; one problem though - decent close ups of Gemora's killer ape are unclear at best. Most promotional materials depict the suit from a medium shot and the studio excised all tight shots of Gemora and replaced them with film of a chimpanzee. It doesn't matter how many times I watch RUE MORGUE - the edits still make me twitch. I believe the RUE MORGUE ape suit was scrapped after the film; Charles was a consummate craftsmen and was constantly redesigning and altering his suits. However, I had recently acquired GHOST PARADE (1931), a Sennett comedy short that pre-dates the Universal classic. In the final few minutes of the film there is a wonderfully well lit, tight close up of the suit used in the Poe adaptation. I passed a few screen captures to Rob and just days later he had sent back to me a spirited rendition of the crude 30's gorilla with the lively Filipino eyes. The work will be appearing as an accompaniment for a Charles Gemora article in an upcoming BIG OLE FACE FULL OF MONSTER.
I was thrilled to give Rob the slightest of assists in creating his Gemora piece but I wanted to know more about this talented fellow I bumped into through MySpace. Through successive emails, we discussed his unique work, monsters and exactly how he does what he does. Scott was kind enough to share a select group of his portraits in addition to premiering his Charles Gemora piece here at Gorilla Men.
Tell us a little about the man behind ScOttRa Monster Art.
Let's see, I'm a 38 year old monster kid. I grew up drawing monsters, then I started making super 8mm films and wanted to be a filmmaker. Then I wanted to be an artist, then I wanted to be a writer, then I got married, and became a husband and then I became a dad, then I became a systems administrator, and now finally after all these years I'm back to painting monsters again on a regular basis.
When was the first time you felt like an artist?
In high school, my art instructor took a bunch of my stuff and displayed them in a trophy case out in the main hall next to the awards and junk that the jocks had won. And I started to get a lot of compliments. It had this strange effect on me, I loved the attention, but I also lost all confidence in my work. I worried that everything I did after that had to be to on the level of what was displayed and if it wasn't people would think I was just a fluke. I ended up not creating anything for a long time after that.
Now I try not to think of anyone's reaction and just do it for myself. Well, that's not entirely true, because I'm happy when someone requests that I do a particular monster, and I always really hope that what I turn out will blow them away.
I can appreciate the stress of the additional scrutiny. I took a final year Art course in high school and chose to explore the theme of religious tyranny (oh the angst of the teen age!). Essentially I thrived on the controversy I could create, more interested in the shock value than actually attempting to articulate a deeper message. As art is oft to do, it gave my teacher the impression there was more to it, when in fact there was less.
And then she put it in the display case in the main lobby of the school. She informed me of this AFTER she lugged the substantially sacrilegious work to the cabinet. Naturally, the local scholastic Christian group (and most of the teachers) were substantially peeved. I was somewhat uncomfortable it had been plunked out there and when the executive decision to pull the work out of the lobby came down from the Principal, I was neither surprised nor bothered. My teacher, however, was enraged over this fascist act of censorship and had multiple tiffs with the deciding parties. Oh brother..
I wonder if that damn thing is still in her garage.
Yeah, I know that feeling, I had an instructor just go mad over one of my short stories before, they just kept going on an on about my use of symbolism. (Something I wasn't aware I had written into the story) Sometimes a dancing midget is just a dancing midget.
What motivated you to take up art again? Did you have an eureka moment or had time blunted the impact of your high school experiences?
I had always spent some time drawing, but I got real serious about it a year ago. I forced myself to do one piece a day and post it on my site. Even if I wasn't 100% happy with it, I still had to meet that deadline. If you look back at the archives of my site you'll see some of that rougher stuff. A lot of it is pretty embarrassing now, but I keep them out there to remind me of how far I've come. It was a great experience; it got me back on the horse and forced me to start producing again, now I spend quite a bit more time on each piece.
What sort of professional training do you have, or are you self taught?
Other then the previously mentioned high school art classes I'm completely self taught. I wish I would have had my head on straight when I was a kid and gone to art school, but I never did.
Your artistic focus revolves around the Horror/Fantasy genre - what drives that?
Just a real love of monsters and horror. I grew up here in Michigan watching "Sir Graves Ghastly Presents" and I think that just formed/warped my young mind. Later when my family moved to Colorado I had to leave Sir Graves behind, but I was lucky enough to end up in a elementary school that would show 16mm films in the gymnasium Fridays after school, and more often then not the feature would be either a Godzilla or Gamera film. I often wonder exactly who it was in the community that was a Kaiju fan; I wish I could find him (or her) and thank them for giving me the opportunity to see these fantastic films for the first time on a big screen. I vividly remember sitting on the uncomfortable gym floor, eating 10¢ popcorn from a brown paper bag and just staring up in awe at these bigger then life monster battles.
Lucky bugger - I also had the privilege of gymnasium cinema as a wee bairn but we were limited to Disney fare. But it did introduce me to the splendour of 20.000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA - awesome film and delightfully grim!
You seem equally drawn to both Classic and Modern Horror? Is that accurate or is the choice to throw FRANKENSTEIN or FRIDAY THE 13TH in the DVD player an easy one?
I love all types of horror; I tend to watch less of the newer stuff because most of it just doesn't appeal to me. It's sort of sad that here we are in a great horror revival and 99% of the stuff coming out is crap. Although I guess that's sort of always been true hasn't it. If you think back to the classic films of the 70's, for every great film there where hundreds of bad ones.
Are there other subjects that inspire you?
Sure, I have a series of my heroes planned that I'd like to get around to some day. I've got a long list, everyone from Johnny Cash to David Lynch... but the monsters keep getting in the way.
What struck me initially about your work is the bold, monochromatic approach that infuses your subjects with a heightened reality - yet, they can also appear impressionistic and dream like. What kind of evolution have you gone through to arrive at this distinctive mode of expression?
Shading has always been a strength of mine, and I have always loved the dynamic lighting of black and white films. I have had a few people express that they wish I would work in color, but in my opinion Basil Gogos has already mastered that, and if you are going to be a Monster Artist you are going to be compared to him as it is, so why even try to compete with his use of color. I'm really drawn to the dynamic of black & white, I love extreme contrasts. That thinking plus the fact that I am red green color blind, I just feel safer in glorious black and white!
I have to agree with you to a point on the comparison to Gogos, though other artists certainly put their individual stamp on the genre. Regarding your work, I am hard pressed to think of another artist that mimics your style.
What scale do you work at and what materials do you use?
A lot of people are really surprised when they find this out, but all of my stuff is digital. When I got back into drawing I had a job that involved a lot of downtime. I felt like the Maytag repairman, waiting for something to break. And I just got sick of not having anything to do and visiting the same five websites over and over again. So I started messing around with drawing on the computer, so I would at least look busy. Now I'm completely hooked on Corel Painter and a Wacom Tablet, Corel have really masterfully translated the act of drawing in a digital realm. It just feels 100% natural. And I love the freedom of having an entire art supply store at my disposal.
Sometimes when people find out you are working in a digital medium they have a real negative reaction to it, almost as though they think the computer is somehow doing all the work for you or something. There are a lot of digital "artists" out there who have learned to quickly apply Photoshop filters to an image and have it come out looking somewhat painted and then they post it on the web and call it art. I think that has had a real negative effect on anyone trying to do any real serious work in the medium. It's funny but I have had people completely lose interest in my work over it.
Holy smokes. I am floored. There is little, if anything, to indicate that your work is not of a traditional medium. Frankly, I am impressed that you can produce something this organic with bits and bytes. Do you miss the dirty work of producing something? - ink on your hands, lead on your fingertips, and all that.
Thanks, that's great to hear. I hope it doesn't sound to cheesy, but I try to inject my stuff with emotion, which is something that sadly seems to be missing from a lot digital art. I almost always start with the eyes, and if I can't get something in there right away then I usually scrap the piece. Working digitally also gives you the freedom to take chances, because you can always save a copy and then go off on those "What If" tangents... I always run things past my wife Kay before I call it finished, she has a great visual sense and has saved many a portrait by pointing out the weak points, I really owe a lot to her.
That said, I'd love to produce some large scale oil paintings soon, once I can afford to buy all new supplies. I do miss the physical senses evolved in the act of creating, mostly the smells. About the same time I went digital, I also started doing sculptures (mostly Cthulhu statues) it was great to get my hands dirty, I need to get back to doing more sculpting soon.
Why the focus on the headshot?
I can't draw hands... that and I just suck at perspective and action, I had dreams of being a comic book artist but there's no way I could hack it. And a close up lets me concentrate on my strengths. I sort of identify with most of these monsters in a way, having always felt like an outsider growing up, and then when acne struck as a teenager I always felt like a hideous mutant freak. I remember seeing David Lynch's "The Elephant Man" on HBO in 1981 and just completely identifying with John Merrick. I think that more then anything that has affected my work. I've been told that I bring out the sympathetic side of monsters; even when I purposely try not to.
Is there a particular piece that gives you greater satisfaction than the others?
That's a tough one, but I'd have to go with my close up of Karloff as Frankenstein's Monster. I have probably done better work since, but that was when everything just sort of clicked for me, I think I came into my own with that one and the emotion of that piece still affects me.
Do your admirers (count me among them now) gravitate towards the Karloff Frankenstein or is there another portrait that exceeds it in popularity?
The horror host portraits always get quite a response as well, everyone has a soft spot for the host they grew up with. I get a lot of feedback over Sir Graves and The Ghoul. Unfortunately, I don't have as strong memories of watching The Ghoul when I was a kid, but I've met him at conventions and he is a great guy, he always gives out free autographs and is just great with his fans.
But Frankenstein gets the most response, probably because it was published in the "Scary Monsters Magazine" 75th Dracula/Frankenstein Anniversary issue. That was a great issue to be involved with, and it was great to get feedback about the Karloff piece in the letters column the next month. It's sort of frustrating trying to get stuff out there, I have sent samples out to every genre magazine you can think of, and 9 out of 10 times you get zero response - nothing at all. So it's always great to hear from the fans and get feedback from the people who are enjoying this stuff.
I receive a lot of feedback from the people over at the Rue Morgue "Rue Mortuary" they're a great bunch of people over there. That's sort of my cyberhome away from home.
Ever worn a gorilla suit?
Unfortunately no. Forever ago while working at a video store I had to wear a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles suit when the original movie came out on VHS, but sadly no gorilla suits. I would love to though. I have to admit, that I never really thought about the guys behind the suits until I read Bob Burn's fantastic book "Monster Kid Memories." His piece on Charlie Gemora really opened my eyes to art of the Gorilla Men.
You can view additional Classic and Modern Horror and Genre film portraits at Robert Scott's website ScOttRa Monster Art. You can also learn more about the subject matter on the ScOttra blog, where individual pieces are highlighted and discussed. Also on MySpace, add ScOttRa to your circle of ghoulish friends.
It has been a great pleasure to chat with Rob about his process and work. I can also add that I am deeply flattered and honoured to be the proud recipient of the first Gemora print. I feel as though I had commissioned the damn thing myself! Ah, the perks of Gorilla Men!!