Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Super Star Interviews: Paul Richmond

Welcome to my monthly interview feature! I’m so excited to be interviewing all the fabulous artists, illustrators and designers I’ve meet over the years (both personally and virtually!) and sharing their artwork and experiences here on Bird Meets Worm. Look for a new interview on the first Tuesday of every month.

This month I am super excited to be catching up with my fabulous artist friend, Paul Richmond! We first met as art students in the Illustration program at CCAD back in the day and now Paul is an internationally recognized visual artist and activist whose career has included exhibitions in galleries throughout the United States as well as publication in numerous art journals and anthologies. (Seriously, can you say “super star”?!) His work is collected by individuals around the globe. Influenced by his own struggles and experiences, he seeks to challenge social constructs that exist around sexuality and gender through his work. In his role as the Associate Art Director for Dreamspinner Press and their young adult imprint, Harmony Ink Press, he has created over three hundred novel cover illustrations. He is a co-founder of the You Will Rise Project, an organization that empowers those who have experienced bullying to speak out creatively through the language, visual, and performing arts. He greatly inspires me and I’m sure you will be, too, after you discover his powerful artwork. You can view more of his artwork here!

Truth, humor & a whole lot of heart makes Pauly's work so powerful!

Q: You have been long been recognized for your work as a visual artist and social activist, addressing issues of sexual identity & gender roles in your artwork and the politics surrounding them. In the wake of the recent election, what issues do you plan to tackle in your own work? And what advice would you give to other artists looking to use their work as a vehicle for social change?

A: Oh man, the election! My advice is to paint nonstop for the next four years because we're all going to need to be high on paint fumes to get through this! I had some great influences early in my training who used painting to address socio-political issues. I absorbed that and to this day, my favorite thing about being an artist is communicating ideas. Like you, my background is in illustration and I'm a natural storyteller. This election came at an interesting time for me because my husband and I relocated a few months ago from Ohio to California. Everything’s new and interesting and occasionally a bit scary - we didn’t know anyone here and I had never been to this part of California until the day we arrived to move in to our new place. On election day, any last tangible thread of “comfort zone” I may have been clinging to got swept out from under me. Suddenly, not only did I feel like I was in a new state, it didn’t even feel like the same country. I've been doing a series for the past few years called War Paint - expressive figurative pieces that investigated the construction of identity. Models coated themselves with paint; the colors and marks of which were meant to be suggestive of their psychological states. Building on that idea, my next phase will be to play more with context and environment; showing figures in spaces. They might be exploring new territory, floating aimlessly, clinging desperately to something that feels safe — basically all the things I’ve been experiencing myself. A lot of us woke up the day after the election in a country that didn’t feel like home any more, and I want to dissect all of that in my next body of work. I don’t like to give advice because what works for me might not work for someone else. But I will say that I’ve never found moping for an extended period of time to be very effective. When something terrible happens, I have to do something. And usually that “something” is start painting.

Gorgeous! Simply stunning!

Q: You are a co-founder of the You Will Rise Project, an organization empowering youth to use the arts as a means of speaking out against bullying. Tell us a bit about how & why you took on this powerful project and how can folks interested in speaking out against bullying can get involved?

A: I have such empathy for young people who are bullied because I was once in their shoes. I hated the social aspects of school because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin, making me a perfect target. As a gay boy who didn’t know he was gay (despite my closet full of assorted diva compilations on cassette tape), and growing up in a pretty conservative part of the Midwest, I stuck out like a sore thumb. A super-tall-for-my-age, awkward sore thumb with bad skin. Thankfully I had already established an identity as an artist thanks to an amazing teacher named Linda Regula who became my painting mentor when I was four. Creating art was not only something I could take pride in thanks to her thoughtful guidance, but it was also an outlet for coping with the harassment I experienced on a daily basis. Linda and I have remained good friends through the years. I was chatting with her one day about all the tragic cases of teen suicide we kept seeing in the news, many of which were connected to incidents of bullying. I told her that I felt her classes were one of the reasons I never became one of those statistics, and in that conversation, we dreamed up the idea for You Will Rise as a way to empower others who are being bullied to find their creative voices and speak out. We publish artwork from young people all around the world on our website and lead workshops and organize community exhibitions and art installations all focused on this important theme. It’s been such a powerful, eye-opening, gut-wrenching project to work on, and we’ve received some incredible feedback from participants about the positive changes it has helped them create in their lives. Above all, it just reinforces for me the importance of art in our schools, communities, and in our society as a whole. If you’d like to hear more about the story of Linda and me, a filmmaker named Doug Swift created a wonderful short film last year about us called The Mentor and the Artist. I’m so proud of the way he wove together our stories. You can watch it here.

Oopsie!!! (wink, wink!)

Q: One of my absolutely favorite series you created is your Cheesecake Boys series, inspired by 1950s pin-up girls! Dish with us about how this series came about from inspiration to sketches to finished artwork.

A: I have always been a super-fan of the pinup girls from the 40’s and 50’s — all those accident-prone ladies constantly experiencing wardrobe malfunctions wherever they went. They were so hilariously innocent and naughty at the same time. I always wondered why there were no male equivalents. Men in pinup art from that era, the beefcakes, were always just muscle bound dudes posing on a mountain or in the gym. They were always in control of the situation, which said a lot to me about expectations of gender roles and sexuality. So of course I wanted to turn the tables! :) My Cheesecake Boys series is totally an exercise in campy, cheesy fun. They are dudes who can’t seem to keep their clothes on and always get caught at just the right moment making that classic “oopsie” face. I like to have models pose for photo references and then I sketch them out and start painting - very similar to how some of the pinup greats like Elvgren and Frahm worked back then. And I’ve had the chance to work with some fun models for the series too, like Jack Mackenroth, Perez Hilton, Mike Ruiz, Davey Wavey, and more. Currently, I am offering a free Cheesecake Boy coloring page every Friday on my website. People are all about adult coloring books now, and I thought this would be a fun way to play up the “adult” part! It has been SO fun to see all the different colored versions of the Cheesecake Boys floating around social media. Anyone who wants to join in the fun is welcome to check it out here!

Q: During your career you’ve had your artwork stolen and sold illegally time and time again, especially by individuals overseas. Give us the scoop on how you’ve met this challenge and what advice you would give to fellow artists about how to protect their intellectual property.

A: It’s a difficult challenge that so many artists face, and there’s not really an easy solution. My experience with it happened when someone sent me a link to some ebay listings and said they looked like my work. Indeed they were mine - some of them were sitting right next to me in my studio! Even worse, they were being attributed to someone else. What I learned is that because international copyright laws are pretty much nonexistent, sellers in other countries - especially in China - are really fronts for these pretty large-scale “fake art factories.” They grab images from artists’ websites, list them as originals on ebay, and then when someone makes a purchase, an assembly line of talented and tragically underpaid artists will re-create it. I learned all about it and even got a free sample (of my own work!) by conducting an unofficial “investigation.” If you want to hear all about that, I shared the story in a YouTube video here.

Sadly, ebay is very lax about enforcing their policies. Most of these sellers have thousands of listings, which generate a lot of revenue, so they are in no hurry to shut them down. Even when you make a big fuss about it like I did, usually the most that will happen is that they pull the individual listings but allow the seller to maintain their store. So they just re-list them a few days later with slightly different names. Legal action is way too costly and time consuming for an independent artist like myself, so the most I could do was use it as an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue and have a few chuckles along the way. To this day, you can find knock-offs on my stuff on ebay from a variety of different sellers. Some artists put large watermarks on all the images of their work that get posted online. I considered it, but a lot of my art sales are through the web. I personally don’t like the idea of obstructing the view of the piece even though I certainly understand why other artists do it. For me, the benefits of online exposure FAR outweigh the negatives, and someone who is going to buy a cheap knockoff is probably not going to be interested in collecting my original work anyway. At least that’s what I tell myself so I don’t obsess over it constantly!

Aren't we the cutest?! Love me some Pauly!

Q: Tell us all about your MOST favorite illustration/painting/series/or book cover project: one from your past and one from your present.

A: The one from my past that I’ll pick is The Dollypop Guild because it involves you, Jane! I was invited to participate in a group show called DollyPOP honoring one of my heroes, Dolly Parton, at the World of Wonder Gallery in LA. I’ve admired Dolly since I was a kid and saw The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Incidentally that movie also made me want to grow up and be a whore, but to my credit, I thought it just meant wearing fancy clothes and singing a lot. Anyway, my contribution to the show was a Dolly-ized take on The Wizard of Oz, complete with a little boy in his mom’s red heels embarking on the yellow brick road to Dollywood, with Dolly herself as Glinda descending in a big pink sparkly bubble. Pretty much my childhood dream come true! You were so kind to invite me to stay with you when I came out to LA for the opening, and even surprised me with tickets to the musical 9 to 5 which was debuting there at the time. That was such a fun trip! And I still love and admire Dolly to this day!

Sweet, heart-felt & fabulous! Could it be anything else when Dolly's involved?!

More recently, a project that was one of my favs was a set of commissions from James Franco. I painted two large pieces that were incorporated into the set of a film he was making last year called The Long Home. One of our college friends, Kristen Adams, was doing production design and made it all happen. I delivered them to him on the set and my friend Aaron and I even got to be extras in a scene they were filming that night with James, Josh Hutcherson, and Courtney Love. Quite an experience! And I can’t wait to see the finished movie, which comes out sometime in 2017. 

I know I already said it, but seriously, can you say SUPER STAR?!

Q: Describe your most perfect Sunday.

A: I think my perfect Sunday is the opposite of most people’s. I have a really hard time sitting still. I'm always the happiest when I’m concocting some kind of crazy scheme. The details aren’t important - it could be an adventure with my husband, some kind of kooky video collaboration with friends for my YouTube channel, dreaming up a new art project, etc. I usually have twenty things in the works at all times, which is how I’ve always been and I’m sure always will be. There’s so much I want to see and do! Even on a day when I could sleep in, I usually get up really early and don’t stop until I crash at night. My friends always joke that they have to take me in small doses because they are tired when they leave and their faces hurt from laughing — which I take as the highest compliment! :)

It’s always a pleasure, Pauly! Thank you SO much for giving Bird Meets Worm a boost with your talent, positive energy and fabulous sense of humor! XO