111 Minna‘s latest exhibition features new and exclusive works by Rob Reger in his solo show entitled Dark Matters alongside a solo show by Adam Caldwell, Colorless Green Ideas. Today, we look at Reger’s work, and a conversation in conjunction with the show. Known for his highly popular comic books, graphic novels, and clothing lines from his series Emily The Strange—in addition to his gothic-macabre art style—Rob Reger’s latest works are refreshing pieces to feature at 111 Minna after nine years without this mainstay artist gracing 111’s walls. Rob Reger’s latest works exhibit his less well known but equally brilliant abstract artistic oeuvre, which is now presenting to the public for the first time in a comprehensive exhibition.
Michelle Delaney: What artists inspired you to become an artist? Who continues to inspire you?
Rob Reger: Doctor Seuss was my first inspiration- his other-worlds and landscape architecture especially. Beyond the doctor, MC Escher, HR Giger, and the Abstract Expressionists and Surrealists. They all got me thinking about art in a new way. Nowadays, my contemporary artist pals are an amazing influence. Bryan deRoo, Tim Biskup, Skinner are particularly powerful artists that I love to see.
Can you describe the process that you work through to create your art?
I often begin with meditation. It helps me lose the distractions of the world and focus on my work. I rarely start painting knowing what that painting will look like at all in the end. I really don’t know what’s going to happen, but I let the paint and art spirit direct me. As part of this, I use fast, instinctual mark making across the canvas until something emerges. Over time, I will start to become more precious with my marks, seeing the piece emerge.
How do you decide on the theme of a show?
Somewhat like my process for creating art, my themes come together after creating enough work I begin to see relationships between the pieces. Meditation is key here, too, as it helps clarify the work as a whole. This can take years though sometimes for the theme to emerge, as this show did. The thread between all the pieces is this show is building on, over, with and through everything in front of me, including my dark side. The past has informed the present– it’s buried in there and has led to what you see, but it’s not front and center running the show any longer. This show is a metaphor for the growth in my personal and professional life and how my brain works (I have ADD/ADHD).
How do you decide on your color palette?
It’s more an exploration than anything defined from the get-go. I start painting and see how the work evolves over time. I also love black and white- the core contrast colors, but even those works rarely just have black and white, there will be subtle hues and colors to create warmth or coolness. A palette is never set in stone, it might change drastically at the very end.
What has changed in your art in the last five years?
For me, the biggest hurdle from the past was actually finishing pieces. I have so many paintings that are 80% done that I’ve continued to work on for years. Part of this is my excitement for discovery. The initial phase of painting, creating something new and not knowing where it’s going and then discovering it is amazing. The last 20% of the work is more of a challenge and time consuming, and having ADD doesn’t help! For the last year I’ve stopped drinking and smoking weed, which has really helped me in facing the more difficult and darker parts of my life and my work. Things are getting completed now, and that is a big change. I’ve also been getting back into pencil and graphite work and drawing more.
You mentioned substance free living contributing to your recent art. Can you elaborate on that?
I’m doing my absolute best to follow and trust my own internal art spirit and I had the instinct that this will happen best with a clean mind and body. I’d always heard (and somewhat admired) the quote “write drunk, edit sober”. While not doing this literally all the time, I certainly got lit in the studio for most of my career, and I’m not sure I agree with it anymore. Who knows if I will never drink beer or smoke weed again, but this challenge of actually facing things in more real time has forced a certain confidence from within and trust in my instincts that were getting stifled before.
Are there things you miss from pre-pandemic life?
Honestly, I miss meeting all my buddies at 111 Minna Gallery. It’s the one place I could always go and see so many of the people in my life I consider family, colleagues and troopers in the art scene that I dig.
What are you most excited about for your upcoming show?
Seeing all this work and what goes on in my head on the wall all together is really exciting. The connections and movements within the work, the path from start to finish, with finish being a key word here. The working title for this show was Mindscapes- as the work is a sort of landscape representation of how my mind works. This changed recently to Dark Matters, though, which feels like more the true thread that connects them all- the facing my fears and completing this body of work.
Do you imagine the characters you create in the worlds of your art?
I find myself thinking back to the Rob of my childhood and thinking it would be awesome to explore and go on adventures inside my pieces. The dreamscapes, creepy architecture, the lines and shapes. The dream of exploring them does excite me. It is very tempting to put in Emily the Strange or a cat here or there, but for this show they are not in there, just you and me and everyone else who wants to join.
Dark Matters opens May 5 at 111 Minna, San Francisco