Robert Steven Connett is an artist we have long admired and respected. Subterranean worlds abundant with neon wild life, skeletal rock formations and mysterious undersea microbes collide in colorful chaos in his paintings. Full of phantasms and imaginings, he paints his own creatures of the deep unconscious in a fantastic way.
One of the favorite pieces I have ever exhibited was his “Planet Calamari” (below) for the Eclectix Eat It! exhibit. He is a prolific and astounding painter and ain’t too bad with the written word either. Graciously, he shares a lot of his up-and-down life and his passion for art with us.
Can you tell us where you were born and a little history about your childhood?
I was born in San Francisco, California. At an early age I learned to draw as an outlet. I did poorly in school. I was often depressed, and in trouble. Throughout my childhood years I expressed myself by drawing pictures with a ballpoint pen and paper. Drawing lightened my moods. My parents sent me to a psychologist to address my unhappiness and poor grades. He encouraged me to draw more. This grew into a permanent relationship with drawing and making art.
Out of curiosity – did it help your mood or your grades?
No, not at all. I was passed from grade to grade without learning to spell nor read. (This came to me later in life) The inner city school system of San Francisco was overcrowded in my day and children were passed on a “TRIAL” bases. I went from 1st through 6th grade, always on this “trial basis”, afraid they would put me back a grade if I screwed up. Inevitably, I did screw up, but the “trial” was a bluff. I was still depressed and angry; aggressive, sullen and a violent little vandal. I ended up being tossed out of the school district proper. I was sent to a “continuation school”. I cut every class, spending my days in a cloud of oblivious dope smoke, with the occasional heroin shot. I was hospitalized with “Serum Hepatitis” (the kind you get passing around needles) at age 16. I dropped out in the 11th grade with straight “F’s”. However, my art did improve.
Is there an event or experience that helped form who you are today?
If I had to point to one experience it would be very difficult, if not impossible. The only experience (experiences) which make me feel fulfilled and happy are my experiences with creativity. Everything else falls short. Consequently, I pursue the experience of creation with more determination than anything else.
In 1995, my house burned down, all the way down to a smoldering pit. I was drunk, and wasted on mushrooms, in and out of consciousness. Alone with a house full of lit candles, I awoke with the room engulfed in flames. I barely had time to run out the door. In fact, the soles of my feet were burned from the burning floor. I was taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation. The real harm was the total destruction of my home of 20 plus years. I had nothing, not even clothes. In that home was an immense art collection, including many of my own pieces. I was (am) an avid collector. This was a phenomenal life time collection of art and artifacts. All of it gone in a moment. I was in shock. I created no artwork for 10 years. I almost died of self-pity manifest through drug addiction. Eventually, I dragged myself out of my despair. I began painting again. For the first time I realized the frailty and shortness of my existence.
I think this experience helped me to fully focus my energy toward my art. I became a full-time artist who paints every day. To do this I gave up many things, mostly the things money could buy. Living from ones art, and especially a person deciding to drop everything and do only art, is not always lucrative. I sometimes suffer now for lack of money. However, I believe in what I am doing, and understand the importance of doing what is meaningful, to create a small footprint on this world, if you will, by way of my art. Dedicating each day to art is very different than creating art as a hobby, which is what I did before this fire. I am more serious about the years I have left on this planet. The fire experience made me see how tenuous life is, and eventually this knowledge motivated me to do something that I was born to do, my art.
What was first piece of art that you remember creating? The media?
My first recollection of making art is using crayons in a coloring book. A woman, (not my mother, probably a babysitter) helped by showing me that placing all my crayon marks in one direction, rather than scratching erratically, made the picture look better. That might have been the beginning of my art career. I believe I was 3 years old.
What generally inspires you to create a piece?
I am moved to create art that stimulates me. I have ideas which are enthralling to me, that make my spine tingle, I want to make them appear! I see these visions in my consciousness and attempt to externalize them onto paper. I am also motivated to show others, it’s something I am proud of, something that I can do well. I do not always succeed because my ability to render these ideas is not always equal with the ideas themselves. This is frustrating. However, as I practice, I become better at capturing these elusive ideas. When I do succeed, I am gratified in a marvelous way.
What inspired the last piece you completed and what was it?
My most recent paintings express my interest in what I call the “UNDERWORLD”. I’m fascinated by the worlds that exist beyond our immediate vision. The tiny worlds that thrive all around us, and even upon and within us. I have an abiding interest in the flora and fauna that live in these tiny worlds “under” our normal field of vision. The things that one must hunt for in the grass, in the pools of water, or with a microscope. I try to render my interpretations of these tiny worlds in my paintings. I love the insects, fish and simple life forms. Some of these creatures create exceptionally complex social structures that in many ways mirror the world of human beings.
My new painting “Antagony” (below) is something I’ve been working on for over 2 months. It’s large, (24” H X 48” W) and very complex. It’s specifically painted for a two page spread in “BLAB!” magazine.
I’ve noticed there is quite a bit of science and life in your images? Is there an impetus for this?
I am fascinated by nature. I was always the kid who looked under rocks and brought home every kind of living thing as a “pet” … Spiders, earwigs. There wasn’t all that much in the city. We had the old San Francisco Garter snakes, one of the most beautiful of that species. Now on the point of extinction I believe. I brought home crabs from the docks, salamanders from the gardens. I suppose I loved all this because I had so little access to it. I used to fish in the sewer grates with a stick, string and bent pin, (poor worms!) I felt bites too! (in my vivid imagination of course)
When I was 5, my father bought a boat. It was something you could take out into the ocean. I recall those dawn fishing trips were filled with the happy anticipation of sea monsters! We brought some up too! I would gaze down into the deep water of the ocean imagining all sorts of things. The real things I saw out there were enough to stoke the fires of my imagination for many life times. Every time we went out I would see something amazing! My fascination with sea life was created thus. We only had that boat for 2 years, but these were formative years for my young brain. I suppose my fascination with painting life forms comes from a wish to go back to those wonderful days in my childhood.
If there was an artist, dead or alive, that you could spend 24 hours with; who would it be and what would you do?
I would like to spend time with a master-painter. If I had to choose only one, it would be Mark Ryden. Some alternate choices would be; Chris Mars, Joe Sorren, Dan Quintana, Victor Safonkin, or Patrick Woodruff). These are painters that possess great technical skills and use those skills to create master paintings! I would love to sit with them, in their studios, surrounded by their tools and paints, and see them work. To talk about their ways of painting.
What materials, specific brand of paint/glue/pencil do you prefer to use? A favorite? And why?
I use acrylic paint. My favorite brands, (I use all three) are OLD HOLLAND, GOLDENS and HOLBEIN, in that order. Old Holland makes beautiful and unusual colors. Goldens has perfect consistency and a massive product line. Holbein has a super high pigment load and its consistency is between a liquid and solid state. This can come in handy with glaze. I use OLD HOLLAND glazing solution which I find by far the best for my uses.
I use LOEW-CORNELL brushes (7000 rounds and 7350 scripts) in bulk. These are inexpensive detail brushes, and I go through many. ISABEY is my favorite brush manufacturer, oil brushes, long-handled sables. I like to sketch with BIC ballpoints. I hate getting graphite or charcoal on my hands, so I avoid using these whenever possible.
Is there a technique, procedure or tip that you have discovered, you could pass onto other artists? A specific tidbit of craft, advice or mechanical expertise?
I would suggest trying The OLD HOLLAND glazing solution. I keep a gallon handy at all times in case of global destruction!
The best piece of advice I can pass on to any artist is work hard and long, and become totally “absorbed” in your art. If you have a love of art, you can cause that love to flourish by feeding it. Cease to feed it, for any reason, including good and logical reasons, and it will eventually die. Be intensely and obsessively preoccupied with the art that you love. Make everything else secondary if you wish to succeed. Be inspired by other artists, but do NOT compare yourself to others. Be your own yardstick.
If you could pick one piece of art to own, out of the world’s museums, personal collections and galleries, what would it be?
“The Garden Of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch
Of all your works, what is your own personal favorite? What was the thought or vision behind the work and why is it your favorite?
It’s difficult to say which of my own works is my favorite. I have different reasons for feeling strongly about many of them. I feel my most successful work is “Crustaceapods” (below) completed in 2008. It all came together for me very nicely, from beginning to end. It’s a world my mind can walk into and be fascinated.
“ People do not understand art. They do not understand that there is nothing to understand!”
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(This entry was originally posted on 7/23/10 )artist interview, flora and fauna, insect art, microbe art, Robert Steven Connett, Robert Steven Connett art, Robert Steven Connett interview, science art, undersea art
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