A few years ago I was surfing for new artists when I came across the artwork of Seattle artist Robert Hardgrave. His paintings stopped me in my tracks. For me his art is somewhere between Gorky, and Francis Bacon (not the philosopher) but with a more stylized stroke that at first reminded me of Japanese sumi-e painting. I had not been blown away by an artist like that in many years and I spent the rest of the day just just gawking. I eventually sent him a note thanking him for inspiring me. I couldn’t wait to find a project to use him on. I finally got to employ his talent for the cover art for THE UPSIDEDOWN (a really cool band from Portland Oregon on The Dandy Warhol’s label) on their most recent release called “Human Destination.”((listen)) Selling the band on Robert’s art was pretty easy. It felt like a perfect companion for the music and especially after everyone heard Robert’s story.
In a nutshell- before Robert began painting full time he had a bout with kidney disease. He needed a kidney transplant and he eventually was able to get one which was good news. The bad news was that Robert’s new kidney developed cancer. Suddenly Robert went from being a kidney patient to being a cancer patient. I guess a lot of things come to you when you are knocking on death’s door and for Robert it was the realization that life is short and he decided that if he pulled through he was going to do what he was supposed to do… paint!
Robert beat kidney disease and cancer and now he paints about his experience. According to Robert all of his paintings are basically about his kidney’s fight for survival- the struggle of life and transformation in the face of death. And that brush stroke that reminded me of Japanese sumi-e painting was actually Norwegian in origin. Robert had taken a “rosemaling” class which is a technique that derived from farmers and working class people who had developed their own motifs and style out of the infulence of the painters guilds. Naturally since they were poor and often times nomadic the technique found its way onto everyday objects like plates and bowls as opposed to actual paintings. Which would explain why Robert said he took the class with “with a bunch of old ladies.” Anyway that folky brush stroke got him hooked and he has been developing his own unique approach ever since. It is mesmerizing watching him paint and it seems more like meditation than work, very much like watching a sumi-e painter.
Robert and I are now good friends and when he is in town he stays with us. Recently he was in town to visit Big-Giant the ad firm responsible for the new Dell laptop designs. He basically had to approve the final product. It was all top secret at the time and I couldn’t wait to see what they looked like. Finally today I got to see them and they look like candy! If I wasn’t such a fanatical Mac guy I would go right out and buy one.
Robert has four designs in the so called “Dell Design Studio” series…”Cathedral” which is shown above and also “Mold,” “AuraAnonymous,” and “Catholicon.” If you click the Dell link you can see the complete line. The laptops come in two models Studio 15 and Studio 17 and are the latest greatest offering by Dell. Hats off to the crew at Big Giant. They chose a broad field of artists for the series that should ensure a design for everyone. But for my money it would be one of the aforementioned but by now you know I am partial. It is not very often that product design and high-art meet, let alone dance with one another.
If you have not heard of Robert Hardgrave and you want to learn more, visit his website (which I did for him by the way) and take a look at the beautiful work he does.