AD: If we could start by you telling us your history as an artist and when you knew that you were going to be an artist and that would be a huge factor in your life.
R: As long as I can remember art was where I went to have a personal conversation with myself. Where I always went to figure things out was through art. I mean, there were a lot of things that happened around me when I was a kid, there were a lot of creative people around me. I always use the phrase “My parents weren’t hippies, they were beatniks” and that’s legitimate. Literally I grew up around that scene…you know my parents had friends who were musicians, writers, painters…there were smokin’ reefer, red wine parties that went on at our house. I was around that a lot. I also had this one uncle who was a graphic artist. He made posters for the Mexican wrestlers with the masks. One of my earliest memories is watching him make posters. So all of my art directions always had some sort of graphic aspect to them. If you look at my photography now, there is a very graphic sensibility, and it’s spun almost everything I do creatively. I also do music and my music has something graphic about it. I don’t know, I like drama, color, black space, good contrast, and I think all of that comes from my graphic background.
AD: When did you know that art was going to be part of your life forever, or was there just never any question?
R: It was just never any question. It was just always around me and it was always where I went to express myself and to think for myself. Art was just always there.
AD: How did you choose Austin and how long have you been here?
R: Well, Susan has family here and we came out to visit back in ’92 and just really dug it. We went and saw the Phish at Liberty Lunch, they played for like 2 ½ hours non stop and we walked around the city. She had been here before and had great experiences here. When we moved here in ’98 the goal was to move here and try to get into the film industry. At that point our kids were young so we wanted to live somewhere where there was family. To be honest, there are only two cities in the Midwest of America that I would ever even consider living and that would be Austin or Chicago, just because of the world sense. Austin and Chicago are the only two cities in the middle of America that I feel have an understanding of we still live in a world, this is still a planet, it’s not a sense that it’s “us against them”, it’s more like “we’re part of this”, and I always loved that about Austin.
AD: How has Austin influenced your art?
R: It’s allowed me to really explore my love of color. It’s allowed me to work within and express my experiences with nightlife and counter culture, and allowed them to come more into my art. I’ve always been working, for as long as I can remember, my art has always been involved in perverting technology, whatever technology I had at the time. And because Austin has that technology background it’s the perfect place to be to keep working and using my physical artistic skills – you know, being able to draw, or using my eye and compositional skills – and then mix that with technology. That’s always a given here in Austin. People are always so willing and open to hear that my art has a digital base to it, or it has digital aspects to it mixed together with my organic aspects. The overall sense of “yeah, you can do anything”, there aren’t as many rules here. You can be free to go beyond the realm of the norms.
I went to school in San Francisco, lived there for about 4 years. That’s the same sort of feeling of expression I had there. So when I thought of a city to live in, it was like Austin and San Francisco are cousins. So, to me, it’s the same feeling and I wanted that feeling of being able to live in a creative community where you can do just about anything. It’s all a matter of your depth and sense of humanity and what you’re tapping into is something that’s honest and sincere. Austin gave me liberty to feel free and keep experimenting.
AD: Can you tell us about Diverse Arts and how you got involved, and how all of that started?
R: I like to work in multi-cultural environments, I like to help promote and support things that I think move forward humanity, culture, and things like that. When I moved here in early Summer/late Spring ’98, I picked up a copy of Austin Downtown Magazine, the zine that Harold used to put out. At the same time, in that mag of his, they said they were looking for a new graphic designer. Harold became the first person I started working with here in Austin. I was working on the magazine, laying the magazine out, being the art director, and helping him hang shows in his gallery that was in the Guadalupe Arts Building. We worked together in that space for 4 years, putting out the magazine, doing a word jazz night, which was a combination of improvisational poetry and improvisational jazz, we used to do that on the roof of the Guadalupe Arts Building. So many great artists were in that building. It was great working with Harold because through him I immediately got shot into Austin, working in Austin, working with Austin and it’s culture. I thank him a thousand fold for getting me into it immediately. So by 2000/2001 I was already feeling like a part of the community.
AD: And what is Raw Art?
R: What is Raw? Hahahaha. We lived in Flagstaff, AZ, Susan and I, and the kids, before we moved to Austin. I started a company out there called In The RA Studios, which are my initials (R.A.) and then also, the Egyptian god of light, I mean it seemed perfect for a photographer. There is also that Raw Austin thing, that is an artist promotion thing, and I’m gonna come right out and say it that I think its a snakey, dysfunctional arts promotion scene, that is more about taking money from the artists and acting like they’re going promote them, but it ends up being a real just lackluster and heavy handed scenario. So if you’re talking about the R.A.W. vs. In the RA, that’s my response to that.
But I will say, after I started working with Harold I got involved with Andi Scull who does the Hope Farmer’s Market now, I think this was around 2001/2, her and I put out Push Magazine, which was a small arts and culture magazine. She started an organization called Burn the Box, which was where we would take over properties of folks who had houses or businesses. Andi would go into these spaces and would hang arts shows and bring bands or Djs, and have an event there. I worked with her for a long time on that. And that was another great experience working with folks here in Austin.
AD: What are you currently working on?
R: I’m reevaluating my synopsis on a daily basis, haha. I just had a book published last winter by Poly Market Press, it’s a collection of my fine art and nude work, as well as my photo collage/photo painting work and poetry. It’s called “Interloper”, it’s available at Book People or Amazon.com. With the success of that book, the publishing company wants to put out another book of my work called “Night”. It’s a collection of all of the nightlife photography I did here in Austin from about 2000-2008, before the time where everybody had a phone that could take good pictures. I was shooting a lot of bands at the time and I just wanted to shoot to the nightlife scene around me. From South Congress, to 6th street, to some of the early places that were opening on the East side, all over town. It starts off with a black and white collection that I shot with some folks here in Austin, and then I move on to some vibrant, extremely colorful and somewhat dark shots I did in bars. I shot them in ways that were sneaky. How many times have you been somewhere, and you see something in front of you that’s so outrageous, so crazy and colorful and loud, joyous and maybe dark at the same time and you say “I wish I could have captured that’? Well, I’ve got tons of pictures of those kinds of moments. I’m always harkening back to a lot of the jazz pictures that were taken in the 30’s/40’s/50’s/60’s in the New York scene, so I was thinking I was capturing a point in time. The pre-cellphone picture period of Austin. It’s really a cross section of what nightlife was like in Austin in the 00’s. The last group of photos that will be in the book are a revisiting of that feel, where I went around and I shot at a lot of the same places where I shot the original nightlife photos, but this time I shot bearing in mind that I was going to turn them into photo paintings, which has become another aspect of what I do. So, it’s three different fields, all of them having to do with night. That’s going to be the next book.
Also, taking a little bit of a left turn, I’ve gotten back into music and just recently published a compilation CD under the name of Lost Cat Magnet, that’s my musical persona. So, I’ve got that available too. I’ve been doing music with my friend who goes under the name Production Unit Zero, and still doing my photography, and making a living as a graphic designer here in the wonderful town of Austin.
AD: What do you enjoy photographing the most? I know you’ve talked about the nudes and the nightlife…
R: I really just love taking pictures of people. I love the human form and people in general. I don’t think there’s anything more fascinating or interesting than humans. Animals, cityscapes, nature photography, it’s all beautiful, but to me nothing is as fascinating as a human being. I mean, the different things that we can portray, our face, our body language, the way light falls on the body, on the face. Nothing can match those things. So for me, my favorite thing to do is people, and yes, I shoot a lot of pictures of nude women. I think women are the most beautiful thing on the planet, I say that without any resistance, but that kind of comes with the territory if you’re a heterosexual male. Women are the most mysterious and fascinating, in my personal opinion. You have to approach your creativity based upon the things you find most fascinating. Humans in general, women in particular are my favorite things to shoot.
AD: It seems like you dabble in almost all mediums, do you have one you call your favorite?
R: That’s a tough question, you’re gonna make me choose huh? Well, here’s the deal, I know what I would be doing if I had money. If I had money I’d be making movies. To me, film, is a consummate art. Sound, visuals, lighting, it’s all there. I would have to say, since I don’t have the money, there’s a thing I’ve been doing something I call a “photo novella”. Where I shoot something that is a story and I write the text to go with it. So, my favorite thing would have to be that, a combination of photographs and literature. That’s something I can do now. Storytelling, to me, is not just a literary form, it’s a visual form for me. I see everything, I’ve been raised in a visual culture, so to me visual storytelling is what I love the most. I love being a storyteller, so whatever medium I can find to tell stories with, I’m gonna do it. I tried to give you one in particular, but it’s almost impossible to give you one in particular. I would say, if I had to only do one thing to express myself, allowed to only do one thing, it would be to be a stand up, a monologuist, a theater person. Where all I could do is stand and talk, and get immediate response from people, and make up stories, and watch their faces. I would like to write a stage show where I have video cameras covering the whole audience, and their expressions and responses are projected behind me. I don’t know, maybe that would make people too self conscious, but I just enjoy watching the reaction of people as art unfolds. So if I had to do anything, I’d be a storyteller on stage.
AD: Have you done much of that?
R: When I work with Harold, when we do the word jazz, the Lowstars – that’s the name of the group, its just all improvisational poetry. Sometimes poets come up and read from a sheet of paper or something, but every time I get up there, I just make it up off the top of my head. I enjoy it, its a great rush. I’ve spent years as a musician, during the 80’s I was in bands, so I got up on stage. I was the front person and the songwriter for these bands. And then in the 90’s, I performed in a number of multimedia plays that had video taped interaction, projections, shadow play, that sort of stuff. So, I do have a background in that. Looking back on it, I’ve gotta say, that was always the best rush. Being up there and interacting and watching the response of people, it was just so immediate. I could get this real feeling for what my creativity was doing to the audience. It created this kind of feedback loop, where I’d wanna do more creatively and push the envelope a little farther just to watch the people’s reactions. I have done some of that, and I miss it.
AD: Since you’ve been here Austin has changed so much, how have you seen the art scene change?
R: I feel that, at times, art in general is effected by technology and business. On Facebook last night we were having a conversation about things as simple as when painters used to break rules, they used to learn the rules really well so that they could break them really well. Same with musicians. We had so many great musicians in rock n roll and popular music that were trained as musicians before they were genre musicians. Before they were rock or country musicians, they were just musicians. So the depth of the art was a lot greater. If anything, in the 13 odd years – the “13 ODD” years, I like the sound of that – of living here in Austin, I have to say that I’ve seen Austin’s art and creative community go a lot of the same direction as I’ve seen throughout the country, it’s just become more shallow. It’s not as deep or rich. It’s more disposable because there is more of a rush to move on to the next thing. People are feeling a great sense of dissatisfaction in what they’re being offered. So they’re like “What’s next?” hoping that the next thing inspires them and turns them on. I see dissatisfaction in a lot of people’s faces, a lot of anger politically, there’s a lot of things I see in Austin that I didn’t used to see. One of those things is anger, I know it’s hard times and people are feeling more tense, but I see a lot more anger. I see, like I said, more shallowness and I blame it on our culture as a whole. I’m not gonna say it’s one thing or the other thing, it’s just us as a people as a whole. We’re becoming shallower and shallower, and I don’t know if that’s because we are becoming less educated or because we’re all stressed out like crazy and we don’t want to take the time to go deep. I’m not sure what it is, but none the less, it’s happening. So, if I try to go back and look at it and say how Austin has changed in the last 13 years that I’ve been here, I’d say things aren’t as deep as they used to be and people are a lot more angry.
AD: What can we expect from you next?
R: Well, let’s see right now, I’ve planned to be back in music but my work has taken over most of my creative time. I’m directing a couple of music videos, low budget affairs, but should have some strength. And I’m looking forward to working again with Harold. Getting some booking going over Kenny Dorhams Backyard, bringing some music over there with him. Doing some design work with him and getting together some shows over at the new East Arts Gallery. Also reconnecting with my family because I feel like my search for my own thing, my own joy, has kind of made me not as connected with the people I love in my life.
AD: Do you have a favorite swimming hole in Austin?
R: Swimming hole? Yeah, I’d have to say Deep Eddy.
AD: Lastly, do you have a favorite quote from a Tarantino movie?
R: From a Tarantino movie? Uh, wow, sorry too many great lines in those movies! How about “We Gonna oil us some Nazis”