Interviewed in March of 2016 by John Cardinal
Hometown: Warwick, RI | Current town: Boston, MA | Website: CLICK HERE
1. You currently live in Boston, correct? Are there any specific locations that have had a profound effect on you or your work? Anything that jumps to mind? i.e. any neighborhood, museum, park, bar, coffee shop… etc.
I live just outside of Boston, and while there's quite a lot to choose from for inspiring settings I've yet to find something that sticks. The MFA is great, and there's a large collection of Impressionistic artists that I admire. When pressed though I find my experiences in Providence, RI where I grew up were most inspiring. I oft frequented cafes on the East Side with a sketchbook in hand. Café Zog was the one I favored most. I'd usually sketch the interior or patrons but mostly found myself working from imagination while listening to Hendrix or Cream on my headphones. If anything music inspires my mark-making most. For subject matter inspiration, I paint the things I love. Whether something I grew up with or current passions such as fishing.
2. Pop culture is the subject of a lot of your work. Faces, figures, gestures, clothing, expression, character, likeness. What do you think is the most important aspect of a portrait? How do you capture the essence of a person?
I'd say capturing a likeness is most important when working in portraiture. Even with expressive portraits likeness is still important.
Capturing the essence of someone from a film is a lot easier than an actual living person. In a film, the characters are ultimately one dimensional so you can exaggerate aspects of their personalities. With real people that's impossible. We're too complicated and layered. Unless you spend a lot of time with someone, you can only capture a singular part of their persona or just a moment in time. Even if you're focusing on the large part of who they are it's just one albeit a large part of their personality. Ultimately, it is your interpretation of who they are. With that comes the inevitability of taking your assumptions or your own personal issues and inserting it onto the subject. So in a way, and without trying to be corny here, portraiture may be more so a dual portrait of the sitter and artist. Wow, that may have sounded extremely pretentious artsy-fartsy! Oh well.
3. How has your work evolved since your transition from comic book artist to Painter/illustrator?
On the surface, my approach to composition has dramatically changed. I came from comics and with that a heavy emphasis on dynamic drawing and line. Although my work is painted these days I still have an affinity for line but less for dynamic composition. Hard edges and contour line still permeates throughout my portraits and figure paintings as a carry over from those earlier comic influenced days. I may look at Egon Schiele more than Todd McFarlane these days, but I still love me some early Spawn stuff.
4. You attack painting in such a direct way. You can see all the shapes, brush strokes, palette knife marks, and decisions in every image. Your colors scream and vibrate. I know you workout a lot of the details in the original drawing… but how many of the color decisions are made before the paint hits the canvas?
Thank you for the kind words. I want my paintings to look as loud or rhythmic as Jimi Hendrix's live music. If that makes any sense. He's had a major impact on my life. The color is very much done gutturally. Things that are important to me are color play, movement, texture, mood, and the search for spontaneity.
The way I see portraiture is similar to how a bluesman may look at a 12 bar blues song. With blues, you have a three chord structure and with portraits, you have a face that sets the box to move around in. Once that framework is established things can be pushed around as you please. I relate it to how Hendrix played his music on stage. For example, when he played Red House, a basic 12 bar blues, he would stretch it into a 13-minute exploration of sound. A wrong note can inspire a new direction and an improvisatorial hand guides it. When I found myself doing something similar with color and brushwork it dawned on me that his influence was larger than I had thought. It's probably my making mistakes so much that led me to be such an improvisational painter, though. You just gotta roll with it.
5. Tell me the truth… having an IMDB credit is pretty cool right? Can you tell us a little about how you got involved with the Spoke Art Bad Dads exhibit, (based on the films of Wes Anderson) originally? And did you ever think that it would get the attention of Wes, and lead to you working on The Grand Budapest Hotel?
It's pretty cool. I mean it's surreal. Before all this happened my wife and I were saying how Wes was our favorite filmmaker, and maybe a month later I got an email to work on his new movie. That was unreal.
He would've never known about my work if it wasn't for Spoke Art Gallery. I'd been working with Spoke before they had a gallery space. Their owner, Ken Harman had emailed me about putting work in their upcoming Wes Anderson themed Bad Dads show in a pop-up gallery space in NYC. Darjeeling Limited had just come out and was a major inspiration to me. The color in that film was out of this world. One of the best-looking films I've ever seen. Anyhow, the Bad Dads show was a huge hit and led to them making it an annual show with hundreds of artists in which I've participated each year. I never guessed Wes would have noticed my work amongst the mass of great art from those shows. The rosters are always big, and despite reading, Wes was aware of the shows I'd never thought he'd know of mine. So when the email came from him that day I was quite surprised.
6. You recently had your work featured on a Blue Moon label for it’s Artist Series:20 Up-and-Coming Artists, 20 Limited Edition Labels. Can you tell us how that opportunity came about?
From what I understand an artist agency had found my work through my gallery shows I'd been in. They asked me about participating in a nationwide competition for Blue Moon. The competition was comprised of hundreds of artists that was whittled down to 60 for sketches, 40 to make a final image, and 20 to go on labels. That was a rollercoaster of an experience due to the social media contest aspect of it.
7. Give us an artist out there right now that you think our readers should know more about & why? Anyone just killing it we should shine a bright spotlight on in a future volume of Chroma?
Steve Mardo without a doubt. I've been a big fan of his work for some years now (since I was 8 actually) and love his comic, Big Jackson. His story-telling and sense of comedy is second to none and his lines and use of black are really eye catching. I've had the pleasure of collaborating with him on many a project and am beginning a piece for his new Big Jackson Anthology coming out next year. He's definitely someone to keep an eye on.
8. Let's talk about the studio: Total and utter disaster? Or obsessively organized with clean brushes and everything?
Ha ha. Well, that all depends on the type of deadline I'm on. If I'm swamped then the studio is a mess, but I prefer to keep it clean. I make all of my scans, prints, and painting in there so I need to have some organization and cleanliness. My easel, palette, paint, and tools are always organized, though. I know it's obvious, but always knowing where something is improves workflow tenfold. I never am lost looking for a tube of paint unless my cat hides it somewhere (which happens too much, but I love the little guy for it).
9. What’s next for Rich Pellegrino?
In addition to a full schedule of gallery work next year, I'll be continuing my exploration of figurative painting with an emphasis on narrative using familiar subjects such as the sea and food.
10. As a child of the 80s/90s who wins in a fight “Snake Eyes” or “Leonardo?”
Excellent question, and it is without a doubt Snake Eyes. I love the turtles, but come on. Snake Eyes vs Leonardo? No hesitation. Snake Eyes takes him out in one round. I bet he could take on Shredder solo too. Maybe the Joes are too close to home, and Snake Eyes was my favorite so I could be biased here too. I mean if he's taking on Storm Shadow and holding his own? I love Leo, but he ain't taking down Storm Shadow like Snake Eyes does.