This First Thursday we welcome American artist Bobby van Druff to Dalston Superstore to present his solo Arthole exhibition, Malegraph. His series of oil paintings rooted in homoerotic images of male nudity are transformed into graphic compositions following the lines and shadows of the models, and part of the show will feature an exclusive set of paintings of model and local hero DJ Chris Camplin. Ahead of the private view this week we caught up with Bobby to find out more about his training and influences…
Who are you and what medium do you work in?
I am an awkwardly-tall , thirty-something, painfully-shy, married gay man who just moved here from New York and I paint naked men in ink and oil on unmounted canvases. I also created and run an online gallery for emerging gay artists to display their work and build community called ARThomos.
Who was the first artist who mesmerised young you, and what work specifically caught your eye?
On public broadcasting in the US we had this show growing up called the Joy of Painting with Bob Ross, he was a complete hippy with a full on fro who spoke in this very calming voice while he painted. I, being a 10 year old gay kid who liked to cook, watched Julia Childs on PBS every Saturday and the Joy of Painting was the next show. I always liked to sketch ideas (I was always designing dream cars, dream houses, etc) and as I watched Bob Ross, I thought “I can do this.” I still actually have my first Bob Ross inspired painting, it sits on my studio desk right in front of where I paint. It keeps me grounded, reminds me of my childhood, and keeps me doing the things I love.
What training have you received in your chosen medium, if any?
I went to an architecture school rooted in the Bauhaus tradition and methods. We were taught to make not just buildings, but anything that could be the product of design. It was the kind of place that taught us “if you can see it in your head, you should be able to build it.” When I want to re-cover my couch I buy some fabric, get out the sewing machine and make a slip cover. My husband and I designed and built the desk in my studio from reclaimed desk tops from a school, complete with scratched in graffiti. First and foremost I learned to make, but I also learned to control my hands. Year one they have you buy a new empty sketch book and tell you to keep freehand drawing parallel straight lines until it is full… And we didn’t use computers, instead we drafted ink on mylar, which is literally drawing in ink on a sheet of plastic. Mylar doesn’t absorb the ink like paper, so how you lay the ink is how it stays. It teaches you to be very slow and methodical, think through what you are doing, things like where will you rest your hand in every step so you don’t smear the wet ink. Four years of that gave me a complete ease with following a line, when I lay down paint and ink the thought is in the composition and colours, the painting process itself is just letting my hands do their work. The one odd vestige of all of that is I paint flat, canvas on the desk, just like I drafted.
What’s your favourite piece of your work on exhibition with ArtHole?
My favorite is always a combination of my last painting and the next. As an artist you see yourself grow and learn from each painting and it pushes you to try something new. “Just The Tip” is great, it is very simple, two colors, and has a nice compositional hop in the offset of the “tip” versus the space between his legs. It also makes you realize how much your imagination plays a role in obscenity, it’s only a cock because your mind is filling in a whole lot of blanks.
In an ideal world, what would you change about the current art world?
I don’t understand the prudishness, which sounds odd, but I have the perfect example: my good friend’s parents are in their eighties and they have a large, male nude hanging in their salon. It’s been there as long as I’ve known them, it’s from the 1920s, very simple: a naked man on a neutral background. So two eighty year olds are comfortable looking at a painting of a penis every day, but how often do you walk into a gallery and see a meter tall male nude? I even had Facebook reject ads because my page contained depictions of nudity. When did we all become such prudes that the thought of a male nude hanging in our flat is not acceptable?
What do you aspire to?
I spent the first 30-odd years of my life working towards “success” and now I work towards balance. It doesn’t matter how many people buy my art or how much I sell it for, it matters that the people who own it value it, understand it, and keep it in a special place. I guess I aspire to treat people the way I want my art to be treated: to value them, understand them and keep them in a special place in my life.
Tell us a secret about yourself…
I can’t dance, but if you get me 100% pissed my signature dance move involves bouncing straight up and down (which is terrifying for everyone involved as I’m almost 2 metres tall so mid hop I’m more like 2.5)
What music do you make your art to?
I listen to the Radio Nova Paris stream online. I got addicted in New York, it was perfect because of the time difference, when we got home from work it was after midnight in Paris and their late night music was playing. I should probably switch it up, it feels like I’ve heard I Love You, Honey Bear by Josh Tillman a few thousand times, but it works for me.
Describe your working process for us…
We have two big dogs and live in a mews house, my studio is a loft above our living room. It has huge skylights and two south facing windows, so lots of light. Every morning the dogs come first, they eat, I drink 3 cups of coffee to wake up and then we head to the park. I usually get back around 10am and head up to the studio to work. Our smooth collie is afraid of the stairs to the loft, so he stays downstairs but my standard poodle follows me up and keeps me company. I paint until 1-2pm and then get lunch and shift to working on my novel for the rest of the afternoon.
What was the last thing that moved you to tears? (or just moved…)
All Americans who move here are obsessed with British TV, and I am one of them. This week I discovered Benidorm and spent three hours binge watching, stoner-giggling the whole time. My husband has informed me he will not be watching it with me anymore. In response to his request, I have bought us matching, tiny rainbow thongs for our holiday in the South of France.
Join Bobby for the private view of Arthole Presents Malegraph this Thursday 8th May at Dalston Superstore from 6pm – 9pm.
Visit the Arthole website to find out more about Bobby’s work: www.artholelondon.com