Interview with pop surreal lowbrow artist Frank Forte

Frank Forte is an accomplished designer, storyboard artist and comic book artist. He has worked in animation for feature films, TV and gaming. Frank's credits include: Despicable Me 2, Bob's Burgers, Allen Gregory, The Super Hero Squad Show, Hero 108, Marvel Heroes 4D, Lego Hero Factory, Lego Bionicle:The Legend Reborn, HI HI PUFFY AMI YUMI, Re-Animated Pilot (Out of Jimmy’s Head), The Mr. Men Show, Bionicle: The Legend Reborn (DVD-2009), Lego Clutch Powers 4D ride at Legoland and Lego Atlantis. Frank, a self admitted "pop surrealist" and Lowbrow artist, has exhibited his art at The La Luz De Jesus Gallery, Phone Booth Gallery, Ltd. Gallery, Cannibal Flower and the Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery. Frank has been a regular contributor to Heavy Metal Magazine.  He co-created The Cletus and Floyd Show with Gene McGuckin, a tribute to animation directors Tex Avery, Bob Clampett and Chuck Jones. Robert S. Rhine and Frank Forte created the pilot episode of Sickcom the Animated Series which was sold to Spike and Mike’s Sick and Twisted Festival Of Animation in 2003. Frank is also the publisher at Asylum Press, an indy graphic novel and comic book publisher. Since its inception in 1999, Frank has written, illustrated and published such comics as, Zombie Terrors, The Vampire Verses, Warlash, Fearless Dawn, Billy Boy, The Cletus and Floyd Show.
Frank: "I take inspiration from old cartoons, illustration and comic books.  Working as an animator I try to bring my knowledge of form and movement onto the canvas.  My goal is to make static art move."
Hello dear Frank, please, tell us how did you find the artist inside you? How long have you been doing art? Is art something that you always wanted to do?
I've always been drawing, ever since I was a kid  I used to copy cartoons off the TV. Then started copying comics and stuff. I would draw all over the desks at school. Then drew my own comics.  Once I read Subway Art and The Faith of Graffiti I started painting walls.  That was back in the 80's.  It was such a such, getting your work up and having everyone see it. In high School and college I started migrating to comics and animation. So, yeah, I always knew I wanted to draw.

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
I love the old cartoons.  Especially the black and white ones.  Sometimes they can be so odd and creepy.  Without even trying.  Old comics and 1950's ads are great too.  I really like the behind the scenes drawings from the golden age of animation.  I like looking at rough animation drawings, concept art and models sheets - all from the 1920's through the 1960's.  That stuff really gets me off.  For artists I like so many.  Robert Williams, of course, Robert Crumb, Berni Wrigtson, Richard Corben, Gaetano (Tanino) Libertore, Moebius, and tons of current street artists, old animation guys like Bob McKimson, illustrators like Franklin Booth - the list goes on.  I like 1980's schlock horror films like Evil Dead and From Beyond.  I guess I look at all that stuff, listen to some aggressive techno metal and start drawing.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
My normal day is getting up and going work on Bob's Burgers.  I do storyboards and storyboard revisions and also do work on the Bob's Burgers Comic book published by Dynamite.  When I get home, I eat, chill a bit and watch some TV with my wife Beth, and then around 9 or 10 I go to my studio and paint until 12 or 1 pm.  On the weekends I can paint earlier in the day.  So I get more done then.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art?
I went for graphic Design at Central Connecticut State U. Then took illustration classes at paper, SVA, and the Arts Students League among others. Now I'm out in LA and still take classes at various academies. Life drawing, anatomy painting and sure some self taught by copying and pencil mileage.
What fascinates you the most about surrealism / pop surrealism / contemporary art / lowbrow art? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what does surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
I just love how so many different genres, subjects and styles just come together.  It's like some incestuous melting pot.  Some guys paint like realists, others paint like comic artists, Outlines with flat color, some mix abstraction in, some use spray paint, or stencils, or silkscreen.  there are no rules.  It's a really exciting time for art.  You have to give it to the first wave of Lowbrow guys like Robert Williams and Mark Ryden for paying the way.  It wasn't easy for them at first, but now it's a worldwide movement.  And it's kind of merging with street art and the contemporary figurative movement, I mean so much cool shit is happening.  When you look back at art from the 80's it seems like it was just shit. I have no problem being called Lowbrow, or a Pop Surrealist - sure label me.  It doesn't matter, all I want to do is paint and show my work. It's fun and the openings are huge parties.  For themes I pursue classic animation, rubber hose style. I like vintage Villains and horror. Mainly my work has been black and white with sepia, but I'm slowly adding spot color and will eventually end up doing full color. It's a process. Surrealism is kind of like this dark fantasyland where there are no rules.  A pop culture sandbox where I get to play around with different eras and styles and mess them all up.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
Creative means getting to do what you want without anyone telling you what do do or giving you notes. It's pure freedom. Just being able to work things out, to make what's in my head real. I just wish I could do it full-time.
Can you describe your typical workflow when you’re working on your art? What are your tools of trade? What medium do you most often use and why?
For some of the paintings I do a lot of sketching. Others are more spontaneous and I just go right to canvas.  For the more thought out pieces, it's a traditional illustration method.  I take a sketch, get it where I want it, then I scan it into the computer and manipulate it some more. Once I'm happy I'll print out the size of the final painting, then I trace with a sift pencil on the back and rub the drawing onto the bristol board, wood or canvas, then I have to draw it again to make the lines darker.  From there I lay the background colors and designs. Ink the outlines and then fill in the colors, for some I have to re-outline after I color. I'd like to be more spontaneous, just start painting on the canvas or board, I think that usually comes out more abstract.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I'm getting tint stop motion animation using Vine, but I want to put more time and effort into it.  Vine ids great as you can just quickly do a 6 second film and post it.  It's very guerrilla style, kind of like hack-animation, but I love it.
Tell us more about your workspace. What was the most funny or weird thing that happened to you in your studio? What is / was the most strange thing hiding in your studio?
My studio is very small and tight. I have a drawing table, a lightbox, and a computer table with a cintiq. I also have a Tv and like 3 bookshelves, piles of books and comics and paper everywhere. It's a two bedroom apartment in Hollywood. The area is great. Lots to do, but I need to get bigger so I can work bigger. I want to paint these monster fucking canvases like I would see at the Gagosian in NYC. I mean like 20' X20' sick shit!! Where the hell do you hang something like that? Who will buy it? It's crazy, but it looks cool as shit, so huge, it's a monster, it will envelope you. That's what I want to make.  Until then I'll be working 24"x36"! ha!
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
Balancing a day job - which has been animation for the past 16 years.  So I do art for my job, but there's always a longing to just do your own thing 24/7. Sometimes it's hard to make the break.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
The best advice was always to do what you believe in. Also to find a style that's your own.  It's Ok to be derivative, which my style is, but eventually your own style will emerge from all the drawing - you will evolve.  Any bad advice - I think I may have blocked out.
What do you dislike about the art world? What is the hardest thing on being an artist? Is the artistic life lonely? What do you do to counteract it?
I like the art world, but I'm relatively new to the fine art scene.  I've mainly been doing comics and working digitally, it bothers me to do all this work and there's no proof of it, except a laser print, I need to be physical.  I need to del something. The canvas, the paint fumes, the pain in my hands from using a brush, Blood, sweat and feces. With digital there's none of that. I need to make a statement.  Proof that I was here.  The hardest thing is sometimes finding the energy to paint after working all day. I get home from work and I'm tired. I rest, pick myself up and go right to painting for a few house. Then try and paint on Sat. and Sunday. It can be lonely but you get more done when you're alone in the studio, it's hard to work with a studio full of people, I've shared studios before and they turn into party places real quick.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
Full time beer taster!  This art thing is getting old.  ha! Seriously, being able to paint or make my own cartoons all day.  Hopefully some galleries will want to show my work and I can have 2-3 exhibits per year in different parts of the world.  Sell prints and do it full-time.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
I think just find a style and some subjects and stick to it for a while, so you develop your look. It's Ok to progress and change, just maybe not too fast. I think art dealers need to know who you are, so they can sell you. Once you get popular free to do whatever the hell you want.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
The other day I broke a mirror.  I´m supposed to get seven years bad luck, but my lawyer thinks he can get me three. (Steven Wright)
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
Working out, taking pictures of street art. I like watching movies, going to thrift shops, reading comic books.  Checking out new music. Going to rock shows in small LA clubs.
Do you have an online portfolio or a blog where we can view your work?
Is there anything else you’d like to say? Is there any project you are working on right now or any ongoing event or exhibition you would like to share with our readers?
I have 3 shows in 2015.  Night Gallery Fine Arts in Santa Ana in April, Phone Booth Gallery in Long Beach in June, CA and at Cass Contemporary in Tampa, FL in Sept. (I think).  I just recently edited an issue of Heavy Metal magazine (Issue #271). That was a blast, getting to put all the artists and stories together.  I'd love to do it again. I did the cover to the Bob's Burgers Free Comic Book Day 2015 comic and will be working on the Bob's Burgers Comic Books. In my spare time I run a small publishing company, Asylum Press. And of course painting.
Thank you dear Frank, it was a honor to interview you, I wish you only the best for you and your art and already looking forward to see your new art works :)
By contributor Linda. December 2014. Find Oh, So Surreal on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Google + or RSS