Rob Plater in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

Rob Plater is an exceptionally gifted draftsman and artist.  Growing up in Brooklyn, he was educated through comics and graphic novels, mastering stylistic variation, anatomical proportion, perspective, and dimensional geometric thinking well before beginning his formal education.  His interests gave him a leg-up in foundational artistic understanding, something many successful contemporary artists are sorely lacking.  It is the key to the expression and fluidity of Rob’s thought, which concerns politics, art history, isolation, race, selfhood, street culture, and childhood-to state a few.  what follows is a dialogue about his work.

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JH: I know you as a very skilled studio painter, but you are rapidly expanding your practice as a street artist; that carries with it so many political dimensions.  The work becomes less permanent physically, but can endure in the minds of a larger audience, and not a “fine art” audience, but a real world one. What is your art’s message, and who is its intended audience?

RP: I never expected to jump so quickly into mural work, but it has now become a release.  There is no dollar value affixed to the work and It truly is a piece of the landscape. There is also an incredible feeling of freedom since I can express any idea and I am free  from the constraints of the fine art realm and pressure to sell an idea. The message behind my wall imagery is intended for all audiences and this message has everything to do with my opinions and my story about the world we live in. Whether it is a commentary on political and social issues or simply a rendition of a time in my life, I want every wall piece to provoke thought and change the way in which street art/graffiti is perceived.

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JH: How does your experience change when you are working in collaboration with another painter?  Tell me about your collaborative projects…

RP: Collaborations are always very exciting although they aren’t always available. I am usually pretty impulsive when it comes to my own creative practice, but when I’ve worked alongside other artists I’m always impressed with the outcome. Working with another creative mind presents a great challenge with regard to concepts and the aesthetic with which we would want to approach the collaboration. Overall it’s a great learning experience and at times humbling. Outdoor murals are my favorite collaborations mostly because the impact of the imagery is stronger considering both artists have a larger space allowing for more opportunities to blend and intersect imagery.

Elephant, acrylic on canvas

JH:  You blur many categorical lines in your work, you are a traditional painter influenced by the Italian Renaissance, a Brooklyn-raised street artist, and a graphic illustrator/story-teller.  Which of these do you feel most at home in, and do you foresee your practice widening into further fields?

RP: It’s easy to say that comic imagery and illustration along with Graffiti were my first loves and are heavily responsible for my transition into traditional painting. With that said, I cannot choose one because all of these influences provide me with constant inspiration and challenges for new work. Sometimes it can be a nice surprise to have multiple languages at your disposal when you hit a creative wall. As far as practice, I am totally open to widening my practice and entering other fields as well. I would still love to work as a comic book cover artist or even jump into concept design for films and games.

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JH:  How was your experience getting an MFA (which we did together at the same institution)?  I know, from my end, it was great to learn but shitty to be forever indebted.  I’m glad I did it, though there are so many consequences as well: art as competition, institutional political nonsense, favoritism, a mixture of incredible professors with unbelievable morons.  What do you think about that whirlwind of an experience?

RP: I constantly find myself cycling through a variety of emotions associated with my experience at Grad School. What I was able to realize was that a lot of programs don’t necessarily help artists develop the same survival skills considering our very unique experience. From start to finish, The New York Academy of Art broke me down and humbled me in a way that was necessary for me reach my full potential. With every doubt-filled thought and failed attempt, I grew and continued to use these experiences as fuel for bigger and better work.  I was determined to prove to myself that my vision and my work was relevant and bigger than any one wealthy patron or Art institution. The school equipped me with the tools to reach this newfound confidence in myself that beforehand was nothing but insecurity. I do have mixed feelings about paying for this experience monthly for the rest of my life but it also gives me a big reason to continue raising the bar.

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JH: We talked recently about balancing survival in the real world with art-making. You are doing very well at it.  Do you have any advice for those newer to these kinds of trials?

RP: My biggest advice is to develop some thick skin and not be easily discouraged. Artists are extremely sensitive (myself included) but when things are difficult I always try to push a little harder for the sake of my artwork. The work is only as good as the vessel that carries it and for that very reason we have to persevere and continue to push through obstacles.

JH: What current projects are you working on?

RP: I’m currently working on a few concepts for mural projects down the line. I’m also building a body of work for an exciting two-man show at Grumpy Bert in Brooklyn. Last but not least, I’ll be the guest artist doing painting demos for Boundless Brooklyn at Comic-con this October.

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