Sadly, I’ve lost contact with Miami artist Robert McColley. We did this interview several years ago. After all of this time, I’m just now posting it! I wouldn’t blame Robert for being upset with me and not chatting with me ever again. How could I have forgotten about this gem? Robert is a stunningly gifted artist http://ramccolley.squarespace.com/. His philosophy and approach to art are admirable and fun. I hope we chat again someday.
MICHAEL: Hello Robert, I love your drawings. You've said that you work very fast, usually completing drawings in ten minutes. Is speed part of your artistic process or is this just a coincidence? Many people would assume that speed means simplicity.
ROBERT: Ha ha! There isn’t anything simplistic about art, Michael. Well, unless you’re a minimalist. Look at my work closely, examine and follow each line, then tell me how simple they are. I draw creatively and freely, some have said, compulsively as well. It is an energy that I am expressing and since I cannot put a face on this energy, I will use the faces and expressions around me to complete this image (energy). Sometimes this energy is calm and soothing, other times quite turbulent and I draw in a fervor and nothing else exists except that energy and the lines forming on the page before me. Sometimes the only reason to draw in a speedy fashion is to express more of a specific feeling from that energy. I cannot do a drawing to death. I must complete one and then proceed to create another.
MICHAEL: When did you first learn that you had a talent for drawing? How did it come about?
ROBERT: I don’t think it ever came about. I have just always done it. I remember being very focused on drawing at age five, watching these lines take shape and form images, character and personality and being completely absorbed. All through school, people either loved me or hated me for this talent and that actually still continues. LOL! In 6th grade, I won a coloring contest and in 7th grade, I was part of a group exhibit and by age 17, I was in galleries and having a blast. At 22 is when I said this is what I must do. It’s what I do best and it’s what I love the most. Even after all of the gallery mishaps, ripoffs and lies, I love doing art. When I sit at the cafe or bar and draw, and people come over and watch in amazement and are actually excited about what’s happening, that’s when life is beautiful, and that’s when art is doing what it should be doing.
MICHAEL: Do you have to be in a public place to draw or can you do it anywhere? Also, how do you think drawing is regarded in the art world today?
ROBERT: I can draw anywhere at any given moment. In fact, if I am unable to actually draw, I will trace objects and people with my eyes. I will adjust my visuals much like Photoshop. Haha! Ill change the hue and visualize the way light is hitting on something as a painting or a drawing. Figure out how to capture that with black and white, etc. I’m not sure drawing is totally accepted in the art world today, I think its categorized as illustration now, not necessarily "art." I remember I was drawing at a wine festival and I was doing a lot of them upside down for practice and entertainment. A couple of the people who were standing and watching commented that not a lot of artists can actually produce drawings on the spot and that I was going to be famous. Hmmm, this is the longest audition of my life!
MICHAEL: So many famous painters dead and alive have sketched works before the painting process begins. Drawing still remains the building block for many great paintings, yet you obviously believe that drawing/illustration is complete within itself.
ROBERT: Drawing yes Michael, preliminary sketches, No. There is a difference. A drawing is a complete piece of art in itself, a preliminary sketch, is just that; a sketch, for a painting or mural. I doubt that Leonardo Da Vinci, or Michelangelo, would be happy to see people drooling over a sketch they did for a masterpiece. When the sketch was nothing more than a design for something greater, appreciate and drool over the completed piece of art, that’s what that process was for. A drawing, at least my drawings come forth direct and to completion, and that’s it, to add a line I would need to continue with the completion process, to not add enough lines would be foolish, a complete waste of energy. As for painting, I’m the same way. I start squeezing out colors and applying them to canvas until the painting is completed.
MICHAEL: It's funny that you should mention the Old Masters and their sketches. As you know, there are lots of books out there now that actually show the early, preliminary sketches of famous artists. Very few collectors could even afford to buy those today! You can still see the artistry there which I think is the most important thing. I've seen Picasso drawings in person that are priced well over $150K at art fairs. I think drawings are the most indicative of authenticity and talent in an artist. I'm sure you agree.
ROBERT: Hahaha! Well, hell yes I agree Michael! It’s true though, sketches or drawing, when done right, they are truly a beautiful art form. And it’s true a lot of them did draw. One of my favorites is Van Gogh, his wonderful pen and ink drawings hold just as much love and passion as his rich and famously known tormented paintings of light itself. Art is a wondrous tool for so many people in so many ways, this takes us back to the, "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." We can all agree on one thing and that is that no matter how different we view the world or ourselves, art is among us and should be appreciated and cherished. Where would the beauty of the world be without that spark of light or energy, that allows us all to see through the peephole at the glories of creation and who we all are? I am speaking of a well-rounded art here now, paint, music, written word, dance, etc.
MICHAEL: Are you a full-time artist? Are you able to support yourself only through your art?
ROBERT: No, I have never been able to support myself through my art. The art world is fickle at the very least. The art world wants what you offer, says there’s plenty of room, while slowly walking you to the door. It’s the people though, that’s where the demand is. I have met more people in person who buy my work with great joy, even meet people who have a friend who owns my work and love it. This is the reason it makes more sense for artists to step up and learn that business aspect things these days. If not for the fact that I am able to literally produce these drawings in quantity, I would have been a broken man/artist long ago. But because I don’t worry about when inspiration will come or when I have time to do them, I am able to forge on. Now though, I pay close attention to the business aspect of things, you have to. It’s good to trust with your art, but it sucks when a lot of good work is sacrificed because of it. Even recently, I trusted another gallery owner and ended up losing about a dozen pieces of work. To artists - do not let go of your work without a written agreement. These can be so simple and they will save your work. I now pursue other venues to sell, more personal venues, call me, e-mail me, just contact me and talk with me, Haha! I have met people at the cafe, drawn three or four drawings during our conversation, they picked out one or two, paid for them, and we had a wonderful time. I love it! Don’t forget to do your taxes!
MICHAEL: So, how do you support yourself? What's your day job?
ROBERT: Well, I usually work in hospitality. The last four years have been very different. I have been helping out my grandparents. They are 84 and my grandmother has Alzheimer’s Disease, early stages, just forgetful mostly. So I have been here in support of both of them, caring for the yard and house, making sure all is smooth. I have been here for seven years, but have not worked the last four, been a bit rough; and I love them, they deserve this. Yes, I miss the social life, LOL! Next year will be different. My dad will be stepping up to bat. Then I will get back to the grind, have the funds to buy good frames, and set up for an exhibit somewhere.
MICHAEL: Do you see any emotional, intellectual or spiritual connections between your family, your life and your art?
ROBERT: Absolutely, it’s all connected. I love my immediate family of course, but that love extends out to our world family as well. I have great love and compassion for all living things and I’d like to think that shows in my work. It’s very emotional and it does provoke a lot of deeper thinking, which, and naturally so, leads to the spiritual aspects of life and being. The last ten years have been a heavy study period on faith for me, I have studied Hinduism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Kabbalah, Hermetics, Alchemy, Christianity and others. Through those studies I did find the single thread that runs through them and that is a greater divinity, by whatever name, whether it be Vishnu, Shunyata, God or the sun itself, it is there. And I do believe that that energy also moves and inspires me in what I do and feel in my work. Van Gogh said that art was an artist’s way of proving that God exists. I wouldn’t say that was far from the truth.
MICHAEL: You know, I chat with MANY artists and I find that the conversations ALWAYS veer off into several directions. Art is almost as broad as life itself and encompasses so many things: history, philosophy, politics, religion, etc. This is why I find it so interesting that people are intimidated by art. No one is closer to art than artists. I think that if you talk to an artist rather than an art scholar or administrator, you'll have a completely different take on art that's much more comforting, if not enjoyable.
ROBERT: Yes, if you can get past the artists eccentricities! No, not all artists are so bad, usually they are quite down to earth because they see the beauty around them, even through the struggles and pains of life. Oscar Wilde put it nicely when he said, “We are all in the gutter, but some of us choose to look at the stars.” Its true artists delve into many things when working. It is a form of meditation and it does open a lot of doors to new perceptions and insights. I have always enjoyed expressing art to people when asked about it. It’s a joy to see them light up and say, "I feel that too." It makes my day. You’re right. Scholars suck the life out of art sometimes by making them just a painting or drawing or sculptor, etc., but even the client can do that, by wanting a great piece of art to go with their new blue couch. Haha!
MICHAEL: I hear you! You know, looking at your work, I get a strong sense of nobility. It's not just about great drawings, but really about contributing something to the world that is inspiring and uplifting. Your drawings are your exaggerated signature or autograph. They're great statements about who you are. Can you imagine no longer drawing? What would you do?
ROBERT: Umm, Nope, I can’t imagine that one! And if fate dealt me that hand (excuse the pun) then I would continue working and find another creative way to express the beauty of life and living. You are correct Michael. My drawings are a signature of who I am and I hope someday that everyone will enjoy them as they have been enjoyed so far. There is enough shock and suffering in the world, no need to point it out. I want work that will put a smile on someone’s face, art they will feel good about giving to another. That brings joy to my little world.
MICHAEL: Thanks Robert. This has been fun.
ROBERT: Thank you Michael. Great questions. I did enjoy this very much.
Check out Robert McColley at http://ramccolley.squarespace.com/.