An Interview with Rock & Sling Cover Artist Scott Kolbo

by Susan Vander Kooi

I decided to interview Scott Kolbo, who made the artwork for the cover of Rock & Sling 8.1. We shot a few e mails back and forth and here’s what happened.

Susan Vander Kooi: Are you speaking to a specific story or experience with these artworks (I’m specifically thinking of Heavy Man Hears His Kid Say the F Word series and Jeremiah Attacked by a Swarm of Flies)?

Scott Kolbo: I tend to think of the work that I do as an extremely exaggerated version of things I have seen myself, or imagined. Since I have kids, I try to go out of my way to explain that they don’t go around cursing all the time. I have heard little kids cursing however, and it doesn’t take too much work for me to imagine what a character like heavy man would feel if he heard his children dropping F-bombs. I think all artists and writers draw from their own experience, it’s sort of the filter that we use as we understand the world and make art about it, but that doesn’t mean that everything is autobiographical. I have little back stories and character sketches in my mind for all the characters, but rather than making a big cohesive narrative out of it all, I like to focus on little vignettes or schemes, and let the viewer fill in more of the blanks.

SVK: How did Heavy Man come into being? You have a collection of characters that you use in your work, can you talk a little bit about that?

SK: Heavy Man is one of a long list of characters I have used over the years. I sort of have a collection that I pull from depending on the project. I started out making generic characters, but soon found that it was better for me to work more like a writer, so I created these people and had them do different things. Sometimes I am as surprised by what they do as anyone else.

Heavy Man was my reaction to the sort of middle-class malaise I was seeing around me. I imagined a character who was always overwhelmed by the problems of world and felt like he had no way of taking action to solve any of them. I always liked those “super power gone wrong” concepts, or ideas like Pinnochio’s nose getting longer every time he lies (a response out of his control).

So I imagined Heavy Man feeling the weight of the world and becoming spontaneously heavy – he falls through floors, breaks chairs, etc. I think I originally got the idea when I had something like 30,000 e-mail messages in my inbox and no hope of ever cleaning them up or answering all of them. So I took my experience and exaggerated it by projecting it onto a fictional character.

SVK: Are the prints you included in Rock & Sling created to go together or stand alone?

SK: All of the work used in Rock & Sling existed before on its own. It’s all related in that I work out of a loose narrative and all the characters inhabit the same universe, but they weren’t designed as set. More of a meditation on different ideas and aspects in my work.

SVK: Can you describe your process?

SK: I usually start with lists. I have sketchbooks full of notes and ideas, and once I get the time to work on them I draw and research. I have way more ideas than I’ll ever have time for, so I have to pick and chose, or try to complete some things that will go together nicely in a show. I like to integrate digital/photographic media with handmade images, so lately I have been using myself as a model, or collaborating with other people to get some “performances” on file.

For Heavy Man I dress up in this costume I keep in the closet just for him, and go perform the kind of Heavy Man activities that make sense for the idea. I record the performances in my studio using a high resolution camera, and then I go through the digital information looking for footage of still images I can use. I like to print things out, draw by hand on top of the print, scan it back in, and mess with it more in the computer.

For the video works I clean them up and add funny animation elements, then project the video files onto a wall with a piece of paper attached to it and drawn on the paper with ink, charcoal, etc. The video projections end up being strange hybrids of static imagery and moving digital projection. I really like the way the two things interact with each other.My most recent work is utilizing some children I collaborated with and making little vignettes out of the crazy stuff they decided to do.

SVK: I’ve noticed you don’t use a lot of color but work a lot with lines. Is there a specific reason you choose to work in the style you do?

SK: I have always thought of myself as more of a “graphic artist” as opposed to a colorist. I’m obsessed with lines and marks. I don’t always care what color they ar So my concern is getting a beautiful drawing on a surface, and then I just add in color for effect and to liven things up. Most of the color in the works comes out of the photographic information I started with, and it is really just there to describe the “reality” of what was in the scene. Most of the time the color is sort of symbolic – light blue for Heavy Man, red for Jeremiah, green for Inga, etc.

SVK: What do you want viewers to take away from your artwork (these pieces specifically, but also on the whole)?

SK: I don’t know that I feel a whole lot of responsibility for what the viewer takes away from the work. That is really hard to control and the broad diversity of how humans interpret images makes it tough for me to predict. I hope that they engage with the work – either because it is visually stimulating, or because the subject matter is thought provoking (ideally it’s both). I really love humor, so I hope they find it funny – even if it’s in a dark way. I use my art to help me think through the reasons that our world is the way it is, and what my responsibilities are. So if viewers asked themselves those questions I’d be pretty happy.

Susan Vander Kooi is a senior at Whitworth University studying Art and English. Her greatest aspirations in life are owning a dog, getting a job a a photographer, and traveling to Italy.

Scott Kolbo is an associate professor of art at Seattle Pacific University.

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