Interview with pop surreal artist Filthy the Bear

Hello dear Filthy the Bear, 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 was that kid at school who was always drawing cartoons on everything. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing something. My mother used to buy these long rolls of butcher’s paper, the ones they use in fish and chip shops, and I’d just work away on them. The first thing I remember drawing was my grandmother in scuba gear surrounded by sharks. I sold my first piece at 4 years old, (a felt tip drawing of the Pink Panther standing on a log) and won my first prize on “The Early Bird Kids TV Show” with another drawing of The Pink Panther. I must have been really young because the prize was one of those things that toddlers sit on and push along with their feet. 

What was / is your major influences? Other artists, books, movies, music or any other media....What inspires you to create your artworks?
My work is mostly influenced by my childhood. I suppose everyone feels like the pop culture from their own childhood was the best and I’m no different. Cartoons like Masters of the Universe, Mightor, Superfriends, Herculoids, Voltron, and other shows and movies like the Six Million Dollar Man, the original Battlestar Galactica, Man From Atlantis, Star Wars and old Japanese monster movies were staples for us growing up and they’ve stayed with me into adulthood. Its an interesting phenomenon actually. A lot of people that grew up in the 70’s and 80’s seem to have a more intimate connection to the pop culture of the time than perhaps the generation before did. I know loads of people who have kept their Star Wars toys into their 40’s. Not because of their imagined resale value but because they have an emotional connection to them.

How does "a normal day of artist" in your life look like?
I’m an early riser. Years working in construction has conditioned me to waking up at sunrise. I’ll generally get up and do some work on some sketches or a painting, and then I’ll walk or ride my bike down to the beach and go for a surf. After that its lunch and more painting. Late afternoon every day, without fail, I walk my dog. The walks started out as an exercise regime for my terrier but now its the time of the day where I sort through ideas and process things best.
What’s your background? Are you self-taught artist or did you study art? Do you think an art education is important or imperitive for anybody wishing to be an artist? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages that you have encountered throughout your career with/without the formal training of the Art Academy?
I have a strange relationship with art education. There are brilliant artists out there that prove both sides of the argument over the importance of a formal art education. I´ve had training in art but see just as much worth in self-education by an enquiring mind as I do in standardized education. It all depends on the student and the school. I’m wary of a certain movement or facet of art being pushed onto students at the expense of others, even though I understand why this happens. Some schools seem to pump out artists with an almost fanatical adherence to conceptualism at the expense of practical skills, harping on about the concepts behind their art while being unable to make a truly well rendered piece. I’m not talking about a classically rendered piece there, I just mean a piece that has obvious practical skill involved. There are things that school didn’t teach me that I wish it had, but at the same time I can’t ignore its influence.
What fascinates you the most about pop surrealism? How would you describe your style? What themes do you pursue, what surrealism mean to you and what do you hope the viewer will take away from your art?
Pop-surrealism was a godsend for me. It gave voice to artists who perhaps weren’t so connected to what was accepted as “high” or “fine” art. It somehow seemed to take the seriousness and stuffiness out of art. It relaxed art while at the same time applauding a high level of practical skill. Pop-surrealism is actually doing much the same as the classic painters such as Da Vinci and Raphael. Look at those paintings and you see the artist impression of what they read or heard about in the common or “pop” culture of the time. The Bible and the Greek stories were the movies and TV shows of the time and make up a huge portion of the paintings you’ll see at museums like the Louvre. That isn’t to say that Pop-surrealist art isn’t conceptual. If anything, Pop-surrealism marries Conceptualism and technical skill better than most art movements.

What do you love most about creating and being an artist? What does “being creative” mean to you?
I suppose I most like being able to make things out of my head come to life. I know its a clichéd answer but I really just get a kick out of seeing my creations up there on the canvas looking back at me. Every bit of that sentence sounded cliché. I also like that it gives me the opportunity to meet people that I would never otherwise get the chance to. The other part of my art is dressing up in a bear suit. I wear it everywhere, to all the galleries I show at and everywhere I travel. You’d be amazed at how differently people around the world treat someone in a bear suit compared to how they treat their fellow man. I’ve been invited into people’s homes for drinks and food in Japan and China, and danced with a group of 60 kids in a mountain village in Sumatra. Even here in my home town the bear drinks and socializes with people that I see every day without so much as a hello. By wearing a mask, a barrier of sorts, I’m able to actually tear down the walls we all have keeping us apart.
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?
I go through a lot of tiny little brushes. 10/0 and smaller generally. I use synthetic brushes usually and never sable or anything like that. I saw a sable once and they are just too cute. When it comes to paint I’ve recently gone back to oils. I used oils years ago but just hated the smell. In construction I often met older guys who had been working with toxic paints and thinners like turpentine for years and had actually lost their ability to smell or taste anything. One guy had a rule that he would never eat anything “gooey” because he couldn’t taste what it was and didn’t trust anyone not to slip him something gross. That really worried me so I changed to acrylics. I never really liked the finish that acrylics gave me though, and then one night at a gallery I was talking with my girlfriend and pointing out which paintings I really like and she said, “every painting you like is done with oils.” That was enough to get me to research some non-toxic thinners for washing up brushes and turned me back around. I’m really happy with the results.
Which creative medium would you love to pursue but haven’t yet?
I always wanted to be a 2D animator when I was at school. I love 2D classical animation so much…way more than 3D, which is probably obvious by the characters that appear in my paintings. It saddens me to see 3D so prevalent in today’s animated films and TV shows. I think it actually looks less alive and interesting than 2D. You look at old Bugs Bunny or Daffy Duck cartoons, the really good stuff by Chuck Jones and Bob Clampett and you’re looking at masterpieces that have yet to be equaled. They’re a constant inspiration and I hope some day soon to try my hand at the medium. Its gotten pretty easy, what with tablets and 2D animation programs but finding the time to do it right is the hard part.
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?
I work in a studio in my house with my girlfriend who is also a professional artist. It used to be an outdoor area that was at some point closed in with walls and big windows. Its where we spend most of our time and eat dinner as well. There is a big green lounge and a Japanese style dining table with a view of our garden. Its also where I keep my bear suit and his accouterments. Just yesterday I bought him a couple pairs of lederhosen that were in a thrift store after Oktoberfest. There’s also a mini puppet version of the bear that I use when the suit is too much of a hassle. I once crash tackled a life sized cardboard cutout of Boba Fett that I forgot I’d placed in the middle of the studio floor, thinking it was a burglar.
What toughest challenges have you faced as an artist during your art career? What is the biggest lesson you have learned so far?
Getting out of my own way has been the biggest problem with being an artist so far. I’m constantly second guessing my decisions and my paintings. I can never just do a painting and be finished. There’s this whole process where I hang the painting up for a while to look at and then eventually one day, generally out of the blue and sometimes after weeks, I see what the painting needs and finish it. Decisions about what direction to go in when it comes to galleries is hard as well. Its difficult to work out who to trust to work for you and also who has the resources to sell your work. Australia feels like such a small country when it comes to galleries and buyers. Galleries that focus on Pop-surrealism are few and it feels like you really need to focus more on galleries overseas.
What’s the best and worst advice you ever received in your art career?
The best has been to just paint what I want without doing what doesn’t interest me. I’ve had a full time job that I didn’t enjoy and there is no way I’m going to do that with art. Sometimes galleries want you to do something that doesn’t even vaguely suit your style and I pretty much just ignore it. The worst advice was when I was at school and a university open day coordinator told me to forget animation, that it was a dead medium and that there would be no work for animators in a year. Pfft…idiot.
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’m a pretty solitary person really. I have my girlfriend and my dog and that’s enough company for me. I’d be a crap friend because it would have to be on my terms and when I was available. I’ve also lost a lot of friends to pregnancy over the years so there’s that. I think the worst thing about the art world is something that you find in any subculture or area of society; the clique. I was really into punk years ago. I had a band and all that and there was a group of people who just made it stupid by thinking they were better at being punk than anyone else. I’ve found the same thing in the art world, people who like to imagine themselves somehow better or more important than everyone else and its just annoying. I suppose its just human nature but it’d be nice if we could do without it.
Where do you see yourself in the future? Professionally, what’s your goal?
That’s a good question. I still do some other work to support myself and I’d like to be able to drop that at some point soon. I’d be happy to work on my art until the day I die. Its just what I’ve always done and so it wouldn’t feel too much like a job if I handled it right. Short term, there are a few galleries overseas I’d like to get into. I’m planning a trip right now to visit a few so we’ll see how that goes.
Do you have any tips or inspiring words for others? Maybe advice for beginning artists out there?
Stop! There are enough of us! Ha! I suppose I’d have to repeat the old chestnut; listen to criticism when its constructive. I know we all think we need to make our own mistakes and learn by experience, but that’s because we’re stupid. Someone else already made the mistakes and learned by the experiences. Take the shortcut.
Your favorite art or life quote is ...
I have a bad feeling about this.
What are you doing when you’re not creating? What (other) hobbies do you have?
I’ve been surfing since I was a kid and try to go as much as possible. I like travelling and playing with my dog Audrey. Lately I’ve been trying to learn Spanish, so I’ve found some versions of the original Star Wars movies in Spanish with Spanish subtitles. The thinking is that you find a movie that you know well (I used to be able to recite the Star Wars movies line for line when I was a kid) and so when you listen to it in another language you don’t need to have it translated because you already know what’s being said. There’s a little more to it than that, but its an interesting way to pick up words and phrases.

Do you have an online portfolio, blog or social medias where we can view your work?
My portfolio, my comic, my travel movies and other endeavos are at my website. My Facebook is Filthy the Bear and I have a blog for my comic at . I’m on Instagram as filthythebear.
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 a young adult fantasy novel on sale through Amazon called Connor Finn: The Secret of Snow. Its about a couple of teens who venture to Iceland to save their missing parents. There’s Norse mythology, monsters, action and intrigue. You can watch a little trailer I made for the book in the videos section of my website.

Thanks, Filthy the Bear
Thank you dear Filthy the Bear, 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 :)
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