Interview with Roan Bateman
Roan Bateman has virtually burst onto the scene with a small flurry of work for some of the most notable metal and psych acts in Canada over the past year or so.
I kept seeing his own brand of traditional line-work and unique approach to composition pop-up all over the place, and I instantly got interested in exactly who this guy was. The way Bateman parlays traditional psychedelic and rock imagery blending it into something completely new and wholly his own is a difficult task to pull off indeed. Collaborations with Hawkeyes (interview here) and Shooting Guns (2013 interview here, 2014 Pre Rock Records interview here, and WolfCop review here), both of whom happen to be among my favorite bands on the planet, signaled the fact that it was high time to track down the enigmatic face behind some of the coolest illustrations I’ve seen in a while, and do to it soon, because it’s not going to be long before he’s doing album covers, and lots of them! Deep in the icy depths of America’s frozen cousin-land, Bateman has been refining his craft, mostly in private, for a long while now and is just beginning to expose it to the world at large bit by bit. His work is striking, bold, vivid and original – three adjectives that I can’t use often in conjunction with people in the psychedelic and metal illustration communities unfortunately. Bateman draws from a well-worn pallet of imagery, but he places it into juxtaposed and bizarre situations putting a completely original spin on things. I feel like there’s a lot of the pioneering spirit of low-brow and skateboarding art going on in Bateman’s work, but that it’s transmuted and transformed by its exposure to the truly psychedelic work of men like Victor Moscoso, as well as the old-guard of Ed Roth and Von Dutch. That’s enough prattle from this speculator though, I’m no art critic and there’s no way I can do justice to the images that Bateman is capable of conjuring up anyways. So, make sure you click the links below and check out some amazing illustrations and maybe even pick up a little something to adorn your walls with – but of course, make sure you finish reading the article first. Don’t worry, there’re plenty of pretty pictures for you to look at throughout the interview, so just hold your horses… Oh, and remember to keep it Psychedelic Baby!
How old are you and where are you originally from?
I’m thirty-eight, born in London, England. We moved to Toronto, Canada when I was four. I’ve spent most of my life there. I grew up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto and moved downtown in my early twenty’s.
What was your home like when you were growing up? Was there a lot of art or music around your house? Were either of your parents or any of your close relatives musicians or artists? Or maybe just extremely interested/involved in the arts?
There was always art and music around growing up. No one in my family ever made art their profession, but it was always a passion. My dad loved playing his acoustic guitar and messing with photography in the darkroom. I remember my mom making mix tapes from her LPs for aerobics class and showing me these great ink drawings she made when she was younger. They had this Art Nouveau/Native Art vibe and that definitely had a major impact on me. My folks got my sister and me taking piano lessons early on. I remember when I was maybe eight they signed me up for drawing classes. Everyone there was like thirty and up, and then there was me. I learned a lot there. That was very encouraging.
What was the local music scene like where you grew up? Did you get very involved in that scene or anything? Do you feel like it played a large role in shaping your musical or artistic tastes or tendencies? Did it play a pivotal role in your interest in the ‘rock art’/‘lowbrow’ art medium?
In my teens, in Scarborough, there was nothing much going on. I made friends with some wild kids that went to the local catholic school. We got up to all kinds of trouble; bored suburban kids trying to make our own scene. When we were fifteen we discovered British shoegaze and techno music like My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain, Spacemen 3, LFO, Aphex Twin… All that stuff really opened my mind. It broke me away from the pop/rock radio and led me down all kinds of alternate paths. My obsession with album art, posters and band shirts definitely started then. I was also a bit of a loner. School was hard for me. I couldn’t fit myself into it. I spent a lot of time in the basement just soaking in music, obsessing over album covers, playing my Dad’s acoustic, writing songs… But things really changed for me when I moved downtown. I started working in record stores, meeting musicians and playing in my first bands. I started making posters and album art/layouts for various projects, and it kinda snowballed from there. Music and art are inseparable in my mind. There aren’t many artists I love that aren’t connected to music somehow, and there aren’t many bands I love that don’t use art I love. It wasn’t until much later on that I stumbled into a psychedelic poster art book called High Art where I discovered Aubrey Beardsley, Victor Moscoso, and Wes Wilson. It also featured Alan Forbes, whose stuff didn’t jump out to me at the time, but who’s now one of my heroes. And Arik Roper too… Fuck.
What do you consider your first real exposure to music to be?
Although I don’t remember it, I imagine it was back in England in the late 70s in my parent’s hippie youth. There would have been a lot of music around back then. I am positive it left me predisposed to psychedelic art and music, ha-ha!
If you were to pick a moment where things seemed to change for you artistically, a moment where you saw an image or something and got really interested for the first time? Was there anyone moment or experience where you maybe saw a drawing or something and thought to yourself, “Yeah, I can do that. In fact, I’m going to do that”?
Yeah, the Group of Seven painter Lawren Stewart Harris, when I was like twelve. Man, I would stare at those paintings for hours. They were so minimal and full of life. I copied one of his paintings when I was fifteen and I remember the school kept it displayed there for years. After I graduated, my brother said it was still there. That was cool. That was Grade 9. In grade 10 and 11 I was forced to drop art class because it conflicted with the scheduling of other classes. That really slowed me down. It planted in me an uncertainty about how seriously I should take art.
Who are some of the major influences on your work? A lot of the people that I levitate towards seem to draw inspiration from a core group of individuals but then branch off into some more stuff that isn’t so mainstream I haven’t always heard of so I’m curious to hear who some of the major influences on your stuff are?
Aubrey Beardsley’s probably the strongest influence of the last ten years for me. Rick White of Eric’s Trip/Elevator is another hero of mine. His drawings and paintings are incredible, and his music too. Everything that guy touches is gold. He’s really into remote controlled cars now. He builds these insanely accurate replicas of classic cars and trucks complete with drivers all carved from scratch! He has these amazing videos of them driving through the forest; so good. Julian House’s graphic design and music is another obsession of mine right now. His Ghost Box record label is maybe the coolest thing on the planet, ha-ha! I find graphic design has just as much influence on me as illustrators do. Sometimes I feel more like a designer. As an artist, I would have a hard time say sitting down and sketching a person and having it look like anything special. I like taking my time and constructing images piece by piece. I look at a lot of these illustrators out there and realize I have a lot to learn. I hope to one day have the opportunity to devote more time to my art and really see it take off. It’s a slow process for me right now though. It’s not paying the bills.
I hear the term Lowbrow Art attached to the illustrative and graphic design fields that happen to operate inside the confines of the music industry or display certain types of imagery but I don’t necessarily agree with or appreciate the idea that term can conjure to mind. How do you feel about the term and how would you label or describe the type of art that you make?
It doesn’t really bother me. I get it. It does make it sound dumber than it is though. But I haven’t heard that term too much; I guess I haven’t spent enough time in those circles. The work I’ve done with Hawkeyes has leaned more in that direction, but it’s not all I want to do.
How did you get into artwork as a profession such as it is? When would that have been and what brought about that decision for you, or was it more of just a natural outcropping of a deep seeded love of art and a need to create something of your own and express yourself in that way?
It just kinda happened… Slowly. It’s still happening. I feel like the roots are deep and it’s only just now beginning to sprout.
What would you consider your first ‘real professional’ job in the ‘art rock’/’lowbrow’ medium and when would that have been? Was that a fun, pleasurable experience or more a difficult and nerve-racking proposition for you at that point?
Oh jeez, I still don’t think that’s happened. Depends on your definition I guess. I made a poster for the Skydiggers’ 25th Anniversary show at the Winter Garden Theatre for Massey Hall. That was the first poster I made that wasn’t connected to a friend or a personal project. It was still through word of mouth, but they took me seriously, loved what I did, and paid me, ha-ha! It was fairly nerve racking – super tight deadline, but I rose to the occasion and it worked out.
Are you a self-taught artist or do you have any formal background/education in art?
What’s the typical creation process like for you? Do you do a lot of preliminary layouts and thumbnails before you work on a piece that you really finish out, or do you like to get a sketch of your idea on paper as quickly as possible and then go back and kind of rework and flesh that out as you go along from there?
I like messing around in pocket sketchbooks. Most of my ideas come to me as I’m playing around; the same with music. It’s amazing the things you can find when you go in blind. Once the ideas start to solidify, I pull out the full size paper and start drawing it in pencil, mapping out how the ink is going to go down. When the band brings the ideas to the table there are definitely more preliminary sketches, but I definitely prefer to just dive right in and watch it grow. Honestly though, it’s different every time. I feel like every job brings its’ own obstacles and I get a little further ahead each time. Those obstacles are my real teachers. The puzzle solver in me likes to believe there’s always a solution, and I keep trying until I get there. I love the process.
How long does it usually take to move from an initial sketch to a finished full-color piece on average? If there is one, actually… I know that time can vary a lot from piece to piece but didn’t know if there was any kind of usual timeframe that you usually operated within?
Yeah, it’s different every time. I like taking my time, getting it right. I hate redoing stuff. Once the ink starts going down it can be really quick sometimes. By that time I’ve spent so much time thinking about it, plotting it out, that it just kinda pours out. I can’t tear myself away from it sometimes. Some drawings have taken months, others just a couple of sittings.
I think a lot of people take this next question wrong, but I swear I don’t mean this in any insulting or demeaning manor. Are there any special tricks that you use for conjuring the images that you draw from your mind and translating them onto paper at all? People have been tapping into the altered states that drugs and alcohol produce for thousands of years for the purposes of creating art and I’m always curious about their usage and application when it comes to the art that I personally ‘consume’. Do psychoactive or hallucinogenic drugs play a large or important role in the artistic creation or drawing process for you at all?
The influence is definitely there. It’s engrained in the culture; there’s so much history there. So I’m drawing a lot from other artist’s experiences with hallucinogenics. I’ve had my own experiences with them in the past, but I would never use them to actually do the work. I feel it’s a pretty small part of it anyway. I’m pretty straight these days.
Do you have any preferred mediums when it comes to creating your artwork? Are you a old school pencil and ink kind of guy? Or do you have any other mediums that you like working with instead like linocuts or screen printing, or anything?
Pencil and ink. I used to paint a lot. I was surprised to find out that Alan Forbes always uses a brush. I might try that out sometime. I loved working with brushes; it might be time to bring them back. I’m interested in screen printing, but I’d rather collaborate with someone who specializes in it. I need all my available time for drawing. I’ve been guilty of spreading myself too thin for too long.
How involved is the computer in creating your work? A lot of people like to do their preliminary layout by hand and then ink on the computer or vice versa and I’m always curious about that aspect of things.
It’s pen on paper for the most part, but I love computers. I also enjoy making purely digital art and design. I usually digitize the drawings when I’m doing layout and design for albums and sometimes posters as well.
Do you accept commission work at all? If you do, what’s the best way for interested parties to get a hold of you about that kind of thing?
Yeah, you can write to me at roanbateman@gmail.
I know you are just getting going with your art but it seems to pop up on a consistent enough basis that it not only caught my eye, but I’ve started to be able to recognize your style a bit and got interested enough to get a hold of you to do this interview, ha-ha! What do you have in the works or on the horizon that you can share with us here?
That’s awesome! I’ve got some new drawings I’m going to start working on as soon as I finish these paintings I meant to finish almost two years ago now, ha-ha! I want to make some colorized limited edition screen prints of some of my drawings. A few people have approached me about work so I’m hoping to get pretty busy this year. That would be great.
We’ve talked a lot about your work, your process and your history but what is the best way for people to keep up with your artwork?
I have a tumblr account that is more just like a website. I’m not too active socially on there, but all my new stuff goes up there. You can also find me pretty easily on instagram, as long as you’re okay with nature pictures and pictures of my kids sprinkled in with your art, ha-ha! I look forward to hearing from you… Whoever you are…
Is there anywhere people can purchase your work from you at? I always like to try and provide our readers with an opportunity to spruce up their homes with some of the mind-blowing art we get to showcase here on Psychedelic Baby!
My bigcartel page. There’s not much up there at the moment but I’ll have more prints up there soon. It’s an unlimited edition, so if they are sold out, they will get restocked shortly after. Keep checking back!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me. It was awesome to get an insight into how you work and talk a little bit about your process! I don’t have anything else to toss at you at this point but as you were so generous with your time I’d like to open the floor up to you at this point. Is there anything that I could have possibly missed or that you might just want to take this opportunity to talk to me or the readers about?
I think that about covers it. Thank you for this opportunity. It was great talking to you!
– Roman Rathert