The representational meaning behind each flower varies from culture to culture. Rob Hessler’s exhibition currently on display at The Butcher, The Book of Demons & Angels, is about monstrous demons and their angelic counterparts, all represented by flowers.
Hessler’s work has a chaotic rhythm to it. The beautiful nature of the flowers co-existing with the ironic representation of the demons brings a new perspective to the botanical collection he has created. As things get spookier in time for Halloween, Hessler’s work ties in perfectly with Savannah’s theme.
I was lucky enough to catch Hessler during his down time, and talk about his background in art, his day-to-day life, and get his explanation of the meaning behind his current collection here in Savannah.
SAI: What’s your day-to-day routine like?
Rob Hessler: When I’m preparing for a show (which is usually about 10 months out of the year) I generally work 7am-7pm Monday through Friday. As it gets closer to the opening, or if I make any adjustments to the plan for the exhibition (i.e. adding or replacing any drawings), I’ll pretty much work weekdays from the moment I wake up until as late as I possibly can without sacrificing quality of work, and I’ll throw in weekends as needed.
Specifically this means that I turn on the coffee maker and then head straight to my desk. Mostly I’m focused on actually making drawings, but I do squeeze in marketing, responding to e-mails from the galleries I work with or to collectors, or making prints as a sort of “break” from putting pen to paper.
SAI: Coming from a sculptural background, how have you applied that craft to drawing?
Hessler: When I was doing sculpture in college, I was creating large-scale installation pieces where the sculpture became the environment – basically creating a “world” that they became a part of and forcing the viewer to confront whatever idea I was working on.
It’s kind of hard to force people to engage with drawings the same way as sculpture because of their very nature as two-dimensional objects, but I like to use detail to draw people in. I want people to be glancing at the piece and then see some little detail that catches their eye. Once they do that I feel like I’ve got them, because then they’re “in” the drawing and are actively participating in the world I’m creating.
And I’m very much a world-builder. The show that’s up at The Butcher Gallery right now, The Book of Demons & Angels, is about a post apocalyptic future earth, and my main series that I’ve been working on and showing around the country for the last five years, The Other Side of the World, is an alternate universe that relates to our own. It’s not in my nature to think about a single stand-alone piece.
SAI: Your current show up at The Butcher is botanical. What was the inspiration behind it?
Hessler: The Book of Demons & Angels is broken up into two competing halves, monstrous demons and their counterpart angels, all of which are represented by flowers.
Flowers have been a big part of my work pretty much since I began drawing. There are many reasons for this, but for simplicity’s sake I’ll say that there are two main ones: First, flowers have well-defined symbolic meanings within [a] multitude [of] cultures both in the present and in the past; and second, I’ve always found that flowers and plants express a lot of emotion. Or, more accurately, my particular way of looking at things sees plants and flowers as possessing human-like emotions. So I might see a single daisy popping up in an unkempt, trash-filled yard and transpose a feeling of hope on it in my mind, which supersedes any sadness I might feel about all of the garbage. This might inspire me to do a drawing and, lo and behold, Daisies are typically representative of the concepts of hope and innocence.
SAI: Your style is very different and hard to but a name on. What do you describe your style as?
Hessler: A member of the staff at the gallery I work with in Los Angeles (Lois Lambert Gallery) calls it comic realism. Personally I just consider myself a guy who picked up some markers, pens, and pencils the same way as a kid would and just let my imagination take it where it wanted to go. My style is completely organic and untrained (for better or worse).
SAI: What are you working on next? You’ve said previously that you feel as if you’ve only scratched the surface with your craft. Where do you see yourself in the coming years given your art is so successful?
Hessler: While I really appreciate you defining my work as successful, for me I really do feel like I’ve got such a long way to go before I’d classify myself as such. Sure, I show at galleries and make sales, but being a successful artist to me is about doing something artistically important enough that it impacts people and society in a positive way and I’m just not there yet.
But I digress.
In addition to The Book of Demons & Angels, I just finished The Other Side of the World Part 3 for Speakeasy Art Gallery in New Jersey. Most simply put, The Other Side of the World, is an alternate universe where the people, places, and ideas of our world are represented by a combination of their physical attributes and the impact that they’ve had on us and our society in the past, present, and going into the future. It’s going to be a five-part series, and the first three parts were intended to establish this alternate universe. So from here I’ll be moving into parts four and five, where things will really start to happen. These final two parts will include the largest drawings I’ve ever done as well as my return to sculpture. As happy as I’ve been with the first three parts of the series I feel like I’m ready to take another step forward and take some chances. I’m fortunate to work with great galleries that support me and allow me the flexibility to push myself.
The world Hessler has created is a garden of good and evil. Observing it piece to piece, it’s unique that Hessler has a counterpart to each drawing. Observing peaceful flowers and breathing in their beauty, then turning to a stark demon forces you to experience the work in a whole new light.
The Book of Demons and Angels is on view at The Butcher (19 E Bay St.) until November 15. Visit www.robhessler.com for more of the artist’s work.