Here at Conceptual Magazine, we are jumping with joy to have collaborated with the talented Pop Surrealist painter, Bob Doucette! This has been one of our favorite interviews thus far because we were able to learn a lot about his art, his motivations, and his magic. This one is a must read! Not only is this an insightful and in-depth interview but we are delighted to invite you to take a look at his special feature on issue 7!
CONCEPTUAL MAGAZINE: Tell us about yourself.
BD: My name is Bob Doucette and I’m originally from Maine. I have been living in California since 1989 when I came to Valencia to attend grad school at CalARTS. I’m 54 years old and I have been painting since I was eight years old. I studied illustration/animation at Rhode Island School of Design right out of high school. My Dad was an amateur artist and he wanted one of his five kids to take art seriously, so he provided us all with ample opportunities to study and explore art. Being the baby of the family, I was the last one left to fulfill my Dad’s dream. It really was the only choice for me as it felt like second nature to me the first time I picked up a crayon. I’ve never lost that love of making things like so many adults do. I’ve dabbled in many art forms. I was in theater for years, designing, directing and performing. I worked as a set, costume and puppet designer. I’ve written plays, made short films, and worked in animation for 25 years as a designer, director, and producer. In 2008, I put a side all other pursuits to focus all my energy on painting and preparing to show in galleries.
CM: What inspired your style and how did you develop it? Also, how do you describe it? What messages are you trying to convey? What do you want the viewer to see?
BD: I was told that traditional painting was “dead” all through art school and that I was not a real painter just an “illustrator”. I could never see myself making a living as a painter. One day, back in the 90s, I stumbled into a gallery in Pasadena that just happened to be showing Mark Ryden's first gallery show and I was floored. Here was someone painting in a traditional way but pulling in all the pop culture that made it relevant and suddenly I saw that there was a place opening up for me in the painting world— this was a scene I could happily join. Over the years, I discovered more and more artists joining this scene and creating their own place in the “Pop Surrealism” world.
It took me ten years to finally get to the point that I could not stand being in animation any longer. That propelled me to finally take the big step. When you first get started, there are so many things you want to express that its hard to settle on just one style. It takes time also for the influences, you have to become your own so that people don’t just see you as “copy” of someone else. Eventually, you realize it is not what you paint but how you paint that changes everything. You must paint with your heart and all the rest will work its way out.
CM: What inspires each painting? What gets you started? How often do you paint? What’s your creative process like?
BD: Some of my best conceptual ideas come from dreams or subconscious thoughts. My comic work is meant to explore my own observations about human beings foibles and failings, while my larger more surreal girl paintings are for tracking my personal spiritual growth as a human. I want the audience to find themselves in my paintings and to also be transported to a magical place. I paint every day. Monday through Friday I work on a regular work schedule but on the weekend I’m much looser. I allow myself rest time, if needed, but I will work all weekend if I’m excited about what I am working on or I have a show deadline to meet.
CM: Tell us about your shows. How many have you had? Where have you showed your work? Where do you hope to show?
BD: I have been only showing my work in galleries for the last couple of years. I've done quite a few shows since I started, always looking for new venues. Someday, I would like to be one of those artists who spends the whole year working on just one show. I will have paintings of all sizes as well as drawings and sculpture and there will be a grand opening in a beautiful space. All the work will sell out so that I can afford to do it all over again.
CM: Talk to us about your tools. How do you choose your paint, your brushes? What do you look for and why? What type of paint do you use and why?
BD: My first painting class, when I was eight years old, was with oil paints. I loved them so much but over the years, because of the mess, the smell, and the slow drying time, I replaced them with acrylic paints. Recently, I discovered water mixable oil paints, which I immediately fell in love with... so my new technique is to paint acrylic paint for my underpainting and then water mixable oil for a final thin layer (I keep it thin to help with the drying time). When I use the oils, all time slows down and I lose complete track of where I am, it's a very Zen-like feeling. Living in Southern California, I have to always contend with paint drying too fast, so it is a pleasure to remove that fear that forces you to speed up everything and just go with the flow. I want to say that my water mixable oils are ARTISAN brand from Windsor Newton and my favorite brushes come from Trekell.
CM: What other artists are you influenced by and why, if any? Any other artists that you love?
BD: I have too many art influences to name them all but I will pick out a few to show you the scope.
As far as classic painting goes, I am a real sucker for the Dutch masters. Particularly, Johannes Vermeer and Jan Steen. I love the Baroque and Rococo movements for their fluffy “gayness” and I’m obsessed with German expressionist painters, especially, Otto Dix and George Groz. I grew up loving Toulouse Lautrec and that has never gone away but when I saw the work of the surrealist: Henri Magritte, Leonora Carrington and the sublime, Remedio Varo I found my heart.
For contemporary artists, I have always loved and respected Fernando Botero and everything he has to say about art and obviously, all the amazing artists who actively work in the current scene inspire me daily.
CM: What projects have you done or accomplished that make you feel proud of yourself? Is there any special project on the works? Can you tell us about it if so?
BD: The thing that makes me most proud is the fact that I left behind a lucrative job to seek my heart’s content; it goes against all conventional wisdom to do this but I know it was the right and only decision to make. I have one life as “Bob” and I want to make him the best Bob he can be. I have a long journey ahead of me but I am starting to do work that I like and I know if I just keep working at it I might get there someday.
CM: Do you have an ideal viewer of your work? Is it important to you that people understand your work?
BD: For some artists, they are content in pleasing just themselves when it comes to their work but for me, fifty percent of the process is about sharing and making connections with my collectors, admirers and critics. I happily will sit in my studio by myself for days and days but when I'm ready to show my work, I love making the connections I make with the people who come to my shows. I have people form all walks of life show interest and that pleases me. I don’t like to tell people what to look for in my work because I like them all to discover things on their own. Sometimes, it is the color... sometimes, the hidden objects that engage them but it doesn’t matter as long as I have done something to move them, inspire them, or just to make them smile! The moment when one person can see right through you and understand you is a Godsend.
CM: What role does the artist have in society?
BD: Artists make the world a better place, we bring people succor and distraction from the ordinary. I hate when people celebrate the demise of the gallery, as I think it is one of the last remaining experiences that you can’t have in front of a computer screen. We have all become slaves to the screen— we are not experiencing real life and connecting with people, face to face anymore. In a gallery you can meet the makers and look at the human touch that creates real art. Art never looks better than it does in person and it inspires people and brings them happiness.
CM: Is there a “real-life” situation that inspired you or one of your paintings?
BD: As I said before, everything in life inspires my work. My TOBOLAND series focuses on the silly things us humans do like, multi-tasking and forgetting to stop and smell the roses. My larger pieces go deeper into my own spiritual growth.
Recently, I finished a large piece that I named SPIRIT and you will see that at the center of the piece there is a butterfly. The butterfly is a potent symbol for me.
My father died when I was a young man. He never got to see the success I would have but somehow, I feel his presence, especially when I’m in my studio. Several years ago, at my wedding, my whole family and my in-laws were sitting on the deck enjoying the day when my sister started to relate the story of how whenever she was thinking of my dad a butterfly would appear. She decided that his spirit was in the butterfly. Right in the middle of the story, on cue, a single butterfly entered the garden and flew right into the center of the crowd. There was a silent pause and then, one by one we all started saying: “Hi Dad!”
SPIRIT tells the story of how I am searching for the divine within me and all my ancestors and loved ones that have past are there to support and guide me along the way.
CM: What is a day in the life of Bob Doucette like?
BD: I am very regular in my habits, as it is the only way I can get done all the plans I have for myself. I wake up at six am and feed the cats and then go to the YMCA to swim for 20 minutes. I come home and have breakfast, shower, dress and catch up on emails. Sometimes, I do some sketching or collect reference from the internet, then at 9am I go out to my studio (in my backyard) and paint. I try and have all the prep work done before I go out so that I have my prime morning hours for painting when I am freshest. At 12:30, I come in and eat lunch and rest for a while one or two hours depending on how my morning went. After that, I paint for as long as I can until I get too tired to focus. I don’t believe you should paint unless you are focused and present or you spend the next day re-doing all the bad stuff you did when you were tired! I go in and rest and watch a little TV, play with my cats, and then have dinner with my husband when he comes home from work. After dinner, we both go out to the studio and work for a while - if we are busy we can be there as late as 9pm but I have to stop by then or my morning will be ruined the next day. Night time work is more laid back, like varnishing or cleaning or research and sketching. If something is really bugging me about the painting I’m working on, I might go and fix it! Then, I completely veg out, watch TV, drink wine, or read if I have the energy! It wouldn’t work for everyone but it makes me very happy to follow my schedule! I always work less on the weekends and try and go out and see the world!
CM: What’s the most fun part about making art? What’s the hardest part about making art?
BD: I find it is human nature to only remember the negative critiques and instantly forget the compliments but I know that it means a lot to me when other artist like and appreciate my work because they know the struggle it takes to create it. I support and love other artists and I am a collector as well as an artist.
CM: Is there anything else that you would like your fan and our viewers to know?
BD: I like to think of myself as part of the Pop Surrealist movement. I follow one of the precepts of surrealism and paint what I dream. I have vivid dreams where I mesh together disparate images to create ironic metaphors and I try to capture that in my paintings.
I also identify with POP because there are lots of cultural references that I try to bring into my work. I love the juxtaposition of historical religious art with the common place cartoony style. On a personal side, I always wanted dolls when I was a child, but was denied them. So dolls have become an obsession for me and are very prevalent in my paintings as well as being inspired by the original BIG EYE painting movement from the 60s and 70s.
I have meanings for everything in my paintings but I prefer the viewer to create their own interpretation. My favorite art lifts me up and transports me to different worlds. I hope to do the same for my viewers. I have lots of faces in my paintings but I attempt to make them enigmatic so the audience can put their own interpretation on them. I believe that 50% of art should be what the audience assigns to it. Art does not come alive until it has a viewer.
CM: What’s your biggest piece of advice to artists who are just starting out their journey?
BD: The only way to be truly universal is to make personal art and show your own point of view - everything else has been done, but trying to be yourself will make you stand out and help you be unique. ART is needed now more than ever to heal our culture, so we need to do our best to support and promote our art and others'. Only art has the transformative power to help us transcend our mere mortal status and take us to the heavens. Don’t forget we're in this together. When it comes to criticism; be a good friend to other artist, they need the support and it costs nothing to click a few likes once in a while.
M: Bob, thank you very much for taking the time to sit down and answer our questions. Your answers are immensely interesting and it was a pleasure working with you!