The Eyemazing World of Charlie Roberts

Looking at his art makes me feel dizzy like I just planted a flaming bag of crap on a neighbour's doorstep.

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01 March 2012, 12:30pm


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Most of American artist Charlie Roberts' work looks like the mindstream of a comics-obsessed tween with a Ritalin prescription: look at that gnome humping that tree trunk; look at that axe; I'm eating crisps; I'm surfing; me in sneakers; look at that gnome screaming; it's a gun; it's a rifle; it's a man shot dead; oh look, blood; that guy's puking; I wanna build a tree house; give me your water guns; I'm frying eggs; I see boobs; I wanna baseball bat; it'd be a cool to be a bat; Batman; Batman cap; ice-cream Sundaes; skate ramp; pot of gold; look at that gnome speaking on a cell phone… The information shitstorm that hits you when you're eyeing up his art makes you feel like a testosterone-dizzy hoodlum about to plant a flaming bag of crap on a neighbour's doorstep.

It’s pretty eyemazing.

Aside from these energetic graphite and gouache works on paper, Charlie makes totem poles and statues out of wood found near his house in the Norwegian forest, where he lives with his wife and four-month-old son, who he likes to make up songs for with titles like “Mr. Showbiz Man” and “Get Off the Tracks”.

I had a chat with Charlie about all of the above.

VICE: Hi Charlie, what have you been up to today?
Charlie Roberts: 
Today I got up and made an egg and bacon breakfast for my wife, Heidi, then walked our son, Oskar, around the lake. After that I got a couple of studio hours in, then walked Oskar and our dog, Kompis [which is the Swedish and Norwegian word for 'friend'], around the lake again. Gave the little guy a bath and some milk and now he's passed out, so I can get a couple more hours in the studio before I hit the hay.
 
What's your favourite thing to draw?
The action scenes are the most fun – the fighting and the boning. When I’ve been standing in front of the piece of paper for a few hours and I start to space out, it’s good to paint a knife fight or some sex. It wakes me up and usually makes me laugh. I also like drawing dogs.

    
 
Did you draw a lot as a kid?
I drew some. I remember drawing Saddam Hussein getting beaten up – this was during the first Gulf War. I also drew some sports stuff, as I was into baseball. I was really messy and impatient, though, and remember getting mad because I could never make the drawings look how I wanted them to.
 
Why is there so much stuff going on in each and every one of your works?
I start in one corner and paint a few square inches every day until the piece of paper is filled up, which can take up to two months. I’ve read that’s how many novelists work: making up the story and the world as they go along.

   
 
What’s up with all the paintings of heads?
They started as sketches for some oil paintings I was making, but the sheets with heads became more fun than the paintings. They are kind of mindless. I do them in between the bigger paintings as a way to keep the paint hand in shape and make up new dudes.
 
They look like race biology charts.
I never thought of that. Only painting pink faces is boring, so I do variations. Also, I'm a big rap fan so I like to paint a lot of those dudes.


From the series Choppy World, which Charlie describes as his, “imaginary global cross-market empire – sort of like what Wu-Tang did with Wu Wear, with the comic books and games and everything”.

What's the most annoying thing an art critic has said about your work?
One guy got hung up on a press release I wrote in the style of a MMA fight poster or a monster truck event:  “Come see the BADDEST BRUISER....ONE NIGHT ONLY...the KANSAS KRUSHER....” I thought it was a funny press release because those things are usually so dry. I don't think he got the joke, though.
 
There's a performance artist who has the same name as you. How much do you want to punch him?

This guy needs to take his site down. It confuses the shit out of everybody: They see my drawings somewhere and then find this dude’s site, with this other Charlie Roberts doing frikkin’ body performance art – wrapping himself in masking tape and smearing peanut butter on his face. His site has been linked to from exhibitions of mine by accident. I get mad just thinking about it. There is only room for one Charlie Roberts. It should be like in Hollywood where everyone has to register their name so there are no mix-ups.
 
Do you have a website?
No.

www.charlieroberts.com is taken too, but at least he’s a cool adventurer… You should register therealcharlieroberts.com. Anyway… How come you moved to Norway?
I was born and grew up in Hutchinson, Kansas, USA. I met my wife when I was studying art in Vancouver. We lived in NY for a little bit, and then moved to the forest outside of Oslo. I’ve been here for like, five years now.
 
What artists do you like?
I like Pieter Bruegel, Thomas Houseago, Eddie Martinez, Heidi Johansen, John Currin, Lil Wayne, Gucci Mane, Van Eyck, Anton Henning, Nathalie Djurberg, all the Batman stuff, Disney and Rick Ross.
 
Nice mix. So what are you working on now?

Some drawings inspired by the Native American Ledger drawings, and some giant totem poles for the David Risley Gallery booth at the Armory Fair.

Sounds great, Charlie. Thanks for talking to me.

Find out more about Charlie at the David Risley Gallery homepage.