An Interview with Doug Bloodworth

Doug Bloodworth is a well-respected and highly renowned photorealist Artist. He delights in depicting such beloved and familiar touchstones of Americana as Keebler fudge stripe cookies, M&Ms candies, Coke bottles, Monopoly games, Batman comics, and The New York Times crossword—in mid-attempt—all blown up to large 4-foot-by-5-foot canvases.

The hyper-real depictions of the pop culture flotsam and jetsam of our lives is a major part of the artist’s appeal, according to David Miller, who is the president and curator of Photorealism, a Boca Raton–based dealer that work solely with photorealistic art. On the success and quality of Bloodworth’s work, Miller States that:

‘It’s a combination of two things. Number one, the actual technical skill involved in the works. I’ve been in his studio and sat there for three hours watching him complete three square inches of a candy wrapper. Watching it appear from a white canvas is totally amazing. Then you have the addition of nostalgia. When one sees the actual works, it takes you back to another time.’

Internationally exhibited and acclaimed, we talked to the Artist himself to gain more insight into remarkable artworks, and how it feels to sell an artwork to Lil Wayne.

Why do you paint and why do you work in a photorealistic style?

For me, it is a challenge.  Can I do this?  Can I paint in oil paint to look like a Crayola mark on a coloring book?  Can I paint a newspaper to look like a newspaper?  Or plastic to look like plastic?

One question I hear from people that see a photorealism painting is ‘what is the point, why not just blow up a photo’ and I think to myself, if I could just explain my process then they would clearly understand the difference. I want each painting to play with the idea that it can be confused with a photograph, but to me it is so much more than simply trying to replicate a photographic image in oil paint.

Pecan Pie Kid Cowboy

Which Artists have influenced you?

I draw inspiration from a great deal of artists but here is a short list of some of my favourites. These are people that have helped to shape my work, and I enjoy making references to them in my own work.

Harold Zabady: Harold is a master of streetscapes.  Every time I see one of Harold’s paintings, I feel like I am right back in New York City.

Jim Jackson: Jim’s matchbook series is a masterpiece of photorealism.  But just as importantly, it brings the viewer back to their honeymoon, to a special anniversary or graduation meal or to a family vacation.

Johannes Wessmark: I love the relationship Johannes has with wine and all things wine.  His Corkhenge series, in which he blends the wonder of Stonehenge with wine corks, is truly his piece de resistance.

Mark Schiff: Mark is the mentor we photorealists all look up to.  He has been the guide for all of us who are trying to portray flotsam and jetsam in oil paint.  Mark’s most famous works include the theater candy counters and the series of scenes from the Brooklyn-based seltzer man.

Ralph Stearns: The word I use to describe Ralph is exactitude.  Ralph does not go for the soft edges; he brings hard lines into his work in an exact way.  I am most impressed with his Las Vegas series of paintings of blackjack.  I especially love the casino chips.

Rich Conley: Many curators ask me why I am obsessed with caricature.  I love caricature because I believe that it is the polar opposite of photorealism, and yet the talents required are so similar.  Rich Conley, I believe, is one of the great caricaturists in the USA today.

Is there a single Artwork that stands out as having a profound effect on your personal and artistic life?

My idol was Duane Hanson. He was a Florida sculptor who produced sculptures of people so life-like that they fooled the eye.  When his security guard sculpture was on display at Van de Weghe Gallery in New York, thousands, myself included, went up to him and asked him where the rest rooms were. It was truly uncanny. I will never forget that experience.

Duane Hanson - Supermarket Shopper

How did you become an Artist?

My main objective in life was always to be a fine artist.  I approach my work very seriously.  Even though the ideas are whimsical, when it comes down to the technical part of producing these things, I am very serious and I take my art extremely seriously.

I graduated with a degree in Commercial Art, and then apprenticed with Marv Gunderson, the renowned billboard painter. I worked under Marv for several years, painting outdoor billboards half the size of an Olympic pool. Most of the billboards were for Marlboro brand of cigarettes.  Each billboard took a whole team of us about two weeks to complete. However, after three months or so of being in view, the billboards were whitewashed to make space for a new ad for a new client.

After this time I moved on to painting murals, before developing the style that I am known for today. These experiences were tremendously useful and formative for me. I think that in a way, all artists are influenced by all the small details of their lives and that these kinds of jobs will always have some kind of impact.

Why and how do you choose the subjects in your paintings?

Television influenced me so much, especially early on.  The very first sketch that I did was Popeye and Olive Oil that my mother found under the sofa.  I still paint cartoons and comics that I remember from back then.  Once those things are ingrained into you, I don’t think that you ever forget them.  The Monopoly car came out at that time.  I also did Wonder Woman and some chocolates.  And the Spidey and the Oreos: I intentionally put it where the web is shooting out and he is trying to grab the Oreo cookie.

I love what I paint, and in fact, I have to have a personal attachment to whatever it is I am painting, or I don’t feel like I could do it. I think that is true of any artist.  I think you have to understand whatever it is you’re painting, and have a personal attachment to it.  You can’t just paint something because you think it might sell. Integrity is a vital aspect of painting, you have to be driven by passion, or else the work will lack a certain unexplainable quality.

Spidey Oreos

Can you go into more depth about the technical side of your paintings?

I add linseed oil to my paint and apply it in thin and smooth layers at first. I use a blender to remove all brushstrokes, as this really helps give the colour great depth. As the painting progresses, the paint becomes thicker. The final stage is to apply the white highlights and sometimes I leave them very thick…like icing on the cake.

Glazes are important as well, especially in the shadows. Each painting is different in the way that I use the glazes, some require more layer than others, but I enjoy adding this extra dimension.

How do you organize your compositions and develop your paintings?

My wife Karen and I have fun setting up the still life compositions and lighting them as dramatically as possible. We usually take 50 to 100 photos, moving things around, adjusting, readjusting and tinkering with the lighting. It seems like in every case one particular photo stands out from all the rest and says ‘hey! It’s me…paint me!’

Using that photo to make my initial drawing, the painting process begins. At this point I look back at some of the other photos and use parts and pieces from them in areas where the lighting might enhance a particular object.

The main point that I would try to make without rambling too much would be this:

I take all the information that I get from the photograph and process it through my brain. I enhance things that I believe improve the composition, or completely leave out things that I feel take something away from the final painting.

I want my painting to be a representation of, and not an exact duplicate, of the photo. Even though I realize that the final painting looks to most viewers exactly like a photo, I like this alteration in understanding. I am totally fine with that, and when it comes down to it, I really LOVE the whole process from beginning to end.

Can you tell us more about your exhibitions?

I feel really lucky to have had the opportunities to exhibit in some great galleries. I was shown by Ron Hoy in his Hoypoloi Gallery (and its sister, Pop Gallery), which is located smack in the middle of Downtown Disney in Orlando, Florida, over half a million people walk by the door every week. They are introducing my artwork to a myriad of collectors, and I am so grateful for it. Over Labor Day weekend, I painted live at the Pop Gallery and there was a line up around the corner to get postcards signed. What a great scene it was.

It was also an incredible and humbling experience to be on the walls of the Russeck Gallery on Palm Beach’s Worth Avenue and in Soho, New York City—where the other works hanging there are by Picasso, Miro, Calder, Kandinsky, and the like.

My first five fine-art paintings were shown at Art Basel in Miami in 2011 and I was lucky enough to sell them all. I also exhibit at Effusion Gallery, next door to the Versace Mansion. Recently, Lil Wayne came in and bought my New York Times painting. I was so honored, and it is always such a special feeling when anyone connects with my artworks and chooses to buy a painting, it is always humbling.

How do people react to your paintings? 

I always enjoy overhearing what visitors to my shows have to say. Whether it’s in galleries in Zurich, Key West, South Beach or even Disney World, it is always amazing to hear people saying that they ‘love the photos’. When corrected, and told that they are looking at oil paintings, their look of incredulity is such a pleasure to watch. Many people stare at the paintings for a very long time. I always wonder what they are thinking about.

I also enjoy evoking feelings of nostalgia amongst the viewers. At Zimmermann + Heitmann Gallery in Dusseldorf, I overheard a family looking at my Monopoly painting.  One said, ‘I was always the dog’; another said, ‘I was the iron’.  At Atlas Galleries in Chicago, I heard a patron exclaim, ‘Wow!  Look at the Kid Cowboy.  I had exactly that book when I was a little boy.  And the edges of the book were frayed just like it is in the painting’.

I’m so happy because I’m doing what I love, and people also love it, so I mean, how can life get any better than that?

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