The Shift is On – Robert Hardgrave

pele
THE SHIFT IS ON

by Sarra Scherb

Volume 1, March 2014 – WEAVE Magazine

It’s futile to try and sum up Robert Hardgrave’s body of work in one sentence.

Go ahead, give it a shot. Peruse twenty years of past series, current experiments, and his Flickr feed. Where do you begin? The sumi-e-esqe ink monochromes? The dense, Piranesi-like conglomerates? The trompe-l’oil offspring of 1990s-era computer art and Dalí?

Each time you seem to have a sense of Hardgrave’s methods and materials (acrylic and watercolor on canvas? Yes. Ink on paper? Check. Needlepoint on fabric? Oui. Cloth on metal armature? Uh huh.) another series emerges from his bag of tricks that blows your theory to bits. The soft-focus, candy-colored, abstract pastels. Toner transfers on Tyvek polyethelene. The dizzying compositions that are most closely related to a page out of Where’s Waldo?

I was once told that we only come up with one or two great ideas and the rest is filler.

After I heard that, my goal was to go beyond these expectations. I hope to work through as many ‘styles’ as possible throughout my career, as they develop through the needs of the work.

– RH

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Dear ol’ Dad | 79″ x 110″ | Acrylic on canvas | 2011

A chameleonic virtuoso, the Seattle-based Hardgrave makes these 180-degree shifts in tone look easy. A self-described improvisational artist, he says that there is never an overall plan or process for his works.

“Improvisation, for me, is setting up my workflow so anything can happen.”

Don’t mistake “improvisation” for randomness, or lack of technique: even if it appears that he might flit from style to style, and technique to technique, he is executing each one masterfully. Hardgrave is admired by many fellow artists (and surely envied) for his constant flow of ideas for new techniques and styles.

Hardgrave_Robert 03_4Black Olive – 24″ x 18″ – Collage on paper

But lest we think that it’s all fun and games in the studio, Hardgrave has a word of warning. “It’s not an easy road to take, requiring many years of practice to even be a decent artist…Strong support—along with a healthy community—is key.”

Improvisation and a willingness to trust his instincts are also outlooks that have helped him get past roadblocks. His early style used illustrative, soft-bodied forms that combined a graffiti aesthetic with the swirls and coils of Chinese scroll paintings. The style proved popular, landing him commissions, exhibits, and glowing magazine profiles. “At the time it seemed I needed to stay with a technique to keep money in my pocket,” Hardgrave remembers. “But when that money dried up with the economy, it enabled me to not care what came out.” Since then, a strong sense of the experimental has allowed him to broaden his stylistic horizon, and increase his output.

Everything evolves in its own way. I just don’t know until I get into the work.
Everything requires a solution that fits the circumstance.
I just try to find it naturally without forcing my will too much.

These days, the staccato clamor of a sewing machine issues from Hardgrave’s studio, having recently replaced the quieter sound of brush on canvas. The artist’s father maintained a sporadic sewing practice during his life, and Hardgrave sees his recent focus on fiber arts as a way of connecting to his father’s memory. Textiles creep into his works everywhere; manifesting as three dimensional quilted sculptures, and empty suit forms that swing from hangers. Collages on paper have stitched thread standing in for drawn outlines.

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Oblique | 14″ x 11″ | Ink, collage and thread on paper

But, like a searchlight moving across the ground, Hardgrave’s interests are constantly evolving, shifting and refocusing. Weeks ago, his Flickr feed was filled with sewn creations like Amish quilts gone mutated and amok. Today, it’s dominated with scratchy, minimalist, monochromes achieved by Xerox transfer. Hardgrave’s enthusiasm for creation is palpable, radiating through his experiments and process photos.

“I am still early in my career. Who knows what I will become interested in later on? I can see how many ways I can push it and it’s exciting. Every day in the studio is a thrill.”

Robert Hardgrave is represented by Cullom Gallery: cullomgallery.com
Contact the artist at roberthardgrave.com

Image at top: “Pele” – About 4′ x 3′ – Acrylic and thread on burlap – 2013

Article written exclusively for and published by WEAVE Magazine, Volume 1, March 2014.

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Memento Mori/Momento Vida – Adream de Valdivia 

Lucky Luciano - Adream de Valdivia

“Lucky” Luciano  –  Acrylic on Canvas

Volume 1, March 2014 – WEAVE Magazine

by Sarra Scherb

Smoke curls up past the jawline, encircles the head, and traces the delicate halo of dots at the margins of the portrait. It flows over creamy skin and satin-sheened hair, slips over the delicate lines of sugar-skull Dia de los Muertos make-up. The make-up is precise and ornate as icing: curlicues that flow down the throat, fleur-de-lis tucked behind an ear, tears cascading from eyes.

But, look closer: not all of it is make-up. Here and there, bone and muscle leer through the skin, gaping holes that lead straight into the skull cavity. With these new paintings, Seattle painter Adream de Valdivia is daring us to fall head over heels in love with the beauty, the elegance and the coolness of Death.

Adream is no stranger to thinking about mortality. The artist’s father was murdered when Adream was a child. More recently, a cousin of his was killed, and he lost a close friend to leukemia. These events prompted the artist to refine and clarify his ideas about life and death. As he said in our interview, “I began aiming to express what I felt inside.” In early 2013, Adream decided to look those ideas square in the eyes. The result are these elegant memento mori, the “Dulce Vida” series. The series’ title speaks to the fleeting sweetness of life, and our limited opportunities to enjoy it.

A lot of people see it as smoke.
But when I paint smoke, I’m highlighting the last breath…
the breath of life.

Bad Boy Frank - Adream

“Bad Boy Frank” Adream de Valdivia – Acrylic on Canvas

I knew I wanted to create something iconic.
I wanted to create something that would never get old…

To achieve his goal, Adream conjures the spirits of young, fearless icons such as James Dean, 1920s mobster Charles “Lucky” Luciano, and Frank Sinatra, rendering them in velvety sepia tones. Captured in the liminal place between innocent youth and knowing bad-boy cool, his subjects are caught mid-transformation between skeleton and flesh. They are personas with lasting power, who weave tragedy and intrigue together; they are the carriers of “endless cool.”

A near-constant in the series is a circle of tiny dots that outline or halo his subjects’ heads. These halos slyly pose questions about who can become a saint, and how good our saints from the past really were. If “Lucky” Luciano could be a saint, who else could murder their way into canon?

“My great grandmother survived the Catholic War in Mexico around 1910,’ Adream recalls. “I was raised by her and heard a lot of survival stories. I always thought it was interesting hearing how people became saints, these same people before becoming saints stole, gambled, and partied non-stop. The contradiction is strong, I saw this as sinners becoming saints, regular people divine. That’s why the halo is important to me, we are divine people and miracles happen all the time.”

Dulce Vida - Adream

Dulce Vida – Adream de Valdivia – Acrylic on Canvas

In my studio I have a sentence that reads, “We are the flowers”. It took me years to understand what it meant. To me it means, ‘All the women who raised me, they are all flowers!’ Like all beautiful flowers cut and put in vases they inevitably fade away…

These monochromes are a departure from Adream’s earlier colorful, kaleidoscopic works. These paintings—reminiscent of traditional Mexican icons—cast Jimi Hendrix, Einstein or Cobain as modern-day saints. They were sometimes executed on burlap bags or as enormous murals where teenagers from his hometown could see and help work on them. Other works were hyper-bright recollections of his youth.

“The first five years of my art career I painted things I saw growing up,’ Adream explains, “the garden I tended, religious themes and the super bright patterns the women in my household wore.”

Growing up in the small town of Pasco, WA, the artist was raised by his great-grandmother. He credits both her efforts and the opportunity of making art in high school with saving his life. After the violent death of his father, school largely fell by the wayside and trouble seemed imminent—until he was assigned to an art class and it gave him the outlet he needed. Since then, Adream has reached out to students in turn, teaching art to kids at the Latino Youth Summit in Washington and spearheading mural projects in schools around Pasco.

Community is a thread running through his life, first in Pasco, and now online. A full-time artist and master of social media, there isn’t a day (or an hour) that goes by without an update, announcement or new promotion on his many platforms. Adream revels in the opportunity to share his work; after he finished one of the early “Dulce Vida” canvases, he uploaded it on Instagram, and it went viral.

“People began using it as screen savers, some people were asking who made it, tattoo shops wanted to use it, and I sold out my “Bad Boy Frank” prints in 48 hours. It made me realize that if you create something beautiful, beauty begins to speak for you.”

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“Linda” – Adream de Valdivia – Acrylic on Canvas

Adream transplanted to Seattle seven years ago. He sees the city as a blank canvas waiting to be painted, and he wants to paint loud and large.

“Here in Seattle, we tend not to show off as much as other cities do. I’d love to see Seattle advertised as the ‘Best Place for Art,’ just like NYC is the Big Apple or Detroit is the Motor City.”

Since his move to Seattle, his momentum hasn’t stopped: stints in London and Puerto Rico have made him new connections, and summers at an arts collective in Berkeley, CA run by Tom Franco (big brother of actor James Franco) had him running art showings in the street, meeting makers, and renting spaces in unlikely places.

Ultimately, though, Washington is still home: “I really love Washington. The green growing everywhere is energizing. Something about the Seattle rain that creates a dreamy atmosphere mixed with a coffee buzz propels me to bubble with new ideas.”

See the artist’s work at AdreamStudios.com
Find him at:
Twitter: @HelloAdream
Facebook: AdreamStudios
Instagram: @AdreamArt
Pinterest: AdreamStudios
Contact him at adream3000.com

Article written exclusively for WEAVE Magazine. All artwork by Adream de Valdivia