Rob Grad’s visual arts career didn’t start like most artists. As a teenager, he started his career like many other teenage boys with dreams of becoming a rock star. He created a band with his neighborhood friends. Soon after, he was signing a deal with RCA Records. They were going to tour the world and become rock legends. Or so they thought.
Teenaged Rob didn’t realize how much the work, money, and managing would slowly eat away at him. “My dream was coming true, yet it wasn’t fun. I needed a creative outlet that had nothing to do with any of this crap that was going on.” That’s when Rob started to paint. Per his word, he was terrible at it, but he had fun and that was all that matters. This was the spark that began his journey to becoming a multimedia artist.
When that record deal didn’t work out, Rob changed paths and started writing songs for TVs and movies. In the days when music was submitted via CDs, Rob created CD covers that would attract the attention of producers. He kept getting calls about his covers, which then led to a career in marketing design. Rob, however, was still not satisfied. On the advice of his friend, he took a solo trip through Europe that would change his life. During a visit to the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid, he saw a painting by Robert Rauschenberg’s Express, which used photographic emulsion with silkscreen. Standing in front of this work, Rob had an epiphany. “What if I started using my photography, put it on plexiglass, use that transparency, and painted something behind it?”
And so he did. When he arrived back home he painted two pieces, which he then showed to his friend’s sister, a gallery owner in west Los Angeles. He asked her for a few minutes of her time and a bit of advice. What he got instead was an offer for a solo exhibition. “I had no idea what I was getting into. I was totally over my head,” Rob says. As stressful as it was, he fell in love. That was in 2010 and he’s been creating art ever since.
He doesn’t want you to think being an artist is as easy as making two paintings and taking them to a gallery. “I had been doing graphic design and websites for a number of years before I even attempted this. I had learned how to make things work within a space,” Rob says. His music background also helped him. The songwriting and its heavy use of metaphors translated well into the visual art-making process.
He’s also inspired by the world around him. Just as his songwriting started as a way for him to cope with the divorce of his parents, his paintings reflect his interests and how he views the world. His interest in psychology began after spending some time in rehab, where Rob and fellow participants would gather every day and talk about their feelings. He’s interested in how people see the world differently. “The world coming through my filter is the experience that I have. When I change that filter, it completely changes the experience! You can be looking at a tree, and everyone has a different experience of looking at a tree.” Each series he creates is a reflection of his views and his decision at the time, that shows the filter that he looks through.
Rob has a strong, recognizable visual that he’s cultivated over the years, something that many artists struggle to achieve. He partially credits this to his vow to stay true to his vision and story. He made this declaration after his earlier failed record deal. “I listened too much to people’s feedback. It made it no fun anymore, it became uncreative, and it just ended it all.” He hasn’t broken that vow. Though he pays attention to what people like and what they respond to, he never lets it dictate his creative process.
Rob reiterates that it is a process. As simple as his origin story may sound like, it’s backed up by years of work before, during, and after that first show. Though not formally taught, he sought out mentorship from a professor at a local university. He read lots of books and reached out to many people. Even now, he’s still learning and bettering himself as an artist. But he also wants to give back. He’s been developing a short course on the creative process. It’s a process that he’s developed to help him get his ideas. “It has completely altered my creativity more than once,” Rob says. And now he wants to teach it to others.
The lockdown not only has given him time to develop this short course, but it also changed the way he thinks about showing his art. With social distancing measures, the traditional gallery experience became impossible. The way most artists show their works, online on their website or social media pages, doesn’t work for his intricately layered, textural works. “I can’t really photograph that, it just doesn’t translate. When you change the lighting, it’s different. I’ve had challenges,” Rob says as he shows us some of his works in his studio. Though there’s no replacing being physically present to experience the artwork, virtual galleries have helped mitigate that problem. Rob is even considering taking 3D photographs of his works to better showcase them digitally.
What else has Rob been doing during lockdown? He’s currently working on a book of his poems and writings. “I wrote songs for so many years, so words come to me as well,” he says. He’s also creating new artworks for this book. They’ll be flat prints, unlike the layered wall sculptures he’s known for, but with similar sensibilities. Be on the lookout for his book when it comes out.
If you are interested in showing or purchasing Rob Grad’s works, you can contact us here at Artgence.