Free from the stale academy, Rob Tucker has carved out his own space by creating images full of life and color that hide a complexity under each stroke. Pulling inspiration from eclectic sources, Rob Tucker has developed a style that is distinct and alluring. His paintings are charged with a primitive energy that blend a strange harmony of muted colors and powerful shadows.
Can you start by telling us a bit about how you discovered painting?
I started experimenting with art at a young age (17 years old). I've had no formal fine arts training, which has been an advantage point for me as it has allowed me to explore and develop autonomously without overarching constraints or trained guidance. I started with an abstract approach, with close reference to expression and outsider art, often using an accumulation of household materials as painting utensils. I continued to experiment and develop my subject to become more considered and stylistically driven. People took interest of my work and I fortunately received almost immediate attention – both from the community and galleries.
How would you describe your style?
I would define my work as outsider art, as I look to capture my subject matter in a naive and raw manner. What is distinct about my work is my heavily considered mark making and study of paint application. I was, and still am, very passionate about the ideology behind application and mark making. Mark making, to me, is a tangible portrayal of instinct and expression – a way to illustrate an idea or feeling naively and without literal reference. Here I can loose myself in an act of instinctual, subconscious application to create something of pure freedom and feeling. I connect Philip Guston with this ideology and practice. He once said: "The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see”. I predominately work with paint, which in my application plays a strong sculptural role – constructing and deconstructing the layers with hardware tools. Although I do paint still life, accurately depicting subject matter has never been and will never be my focus. It’s just a vehicle for me to explore mark making and considered painterly application in an expressive and somewhat imaginary cartoon-like approach.
Did your time in Berlin affect or inspire your work in a different way?
Berlin invigorated and challenged me to set up and define a new system of creating work. Ultimately it was the community that inspired me. I came across many creative-minded people who were very open and accepting. It was refreshing to be in an environment that wasn’t dictated by the market, in which people were exploring their freedom in various ways.
How would you compare the artistic community of New Zealand with that of Germany?
I don’t feel my artistic freedom is dictated or compromised by my location – freedom is fundamentally a mindset. In the sense of the word, Berlin oozes freedom. It is the haven of liberal thinking – a metropolis bursting with cutting edge ideas, inspiration, art, culture and creativity. However, in NZ I have the ability to have a balance of life-style and work, something I need to invigorate me to create new work.
There is a faded and worn quality to a lot of your still lifes, reminiscent of old billboards. Would you say you draw influence from retro advertising or old magazines?
My initial work was very much drawn from weathered billboards and neglected posters. I saw a strange beauty in the forgotten and derelict, which I took heavy reference in one of my first exhibitions: A trip through Belmont.
If so, are you attempted to elevate the banal to the level of art or rather the opposite? That is, desecrating art with the empty consumerism of advertising?
I have never associated myself with pop art, which fundamentally is fixated on the glorification and elevation of the banal. Rather, at this time I wanted to take a closer study of the overlooked and the tired. I wanted pull out the imperfections – capturing timeless beauty in something exhausted. This is no longer my interest. My current work is inspired by outsider art and abstraction.
Can you tell us a little bit about your fascination with tankers (large boats)?
I live in a harbour city (Auckland, New Zealand) and that has exposed me to the mammoth ships. However, the ships don’t hold much symbolism to me. They are vessels to explore my creative process. I feel they compliment my aggressive, wounding mark making on the canvas. I enjoy referencing two opposing subjects – industrial masculine ships, which in comparison makes the still-life seem so delicate and pure.
Your paintings combine the optimistic sunshine yellows and blues with a dark, black sea. What role does black or darkness play in your color schemes, in your paintings?
The juxtaposition of dark tones against bright colour is all about balance on the canvas. My work is somewhat of a parody on kitsch and tacky, vibrant colour plays a fundamental role in illustrating that. However, I later introduce darker tones in the process to create depth in mood and aesthetic. This is comparable to the work of Rothko and Monet, whose work considered colour and its play on mood.
What was the last painting you saw that moved you?
I was in Melbourne recently and saw the David Hockney exhibition titled Current. The exhibition is comprised of over 1200 works, including paintings, digital drawings, photography and video works. I was blown away by the animated digital drawings, developed first on an iPad and then printed large scale. What inspired me most was Hockney’s ability to experiment and master cutting edge technology to explore his own expressive painting, while keeping true to his artistic integrity.
What’s next for you?
It’s been a busy year of Art Fairs for me, which is great as it forces me to keep practicing and challenge myself stylistically. I’m exhibiting with Rebecca Hossack Galleries in several different Art Fairs in 2017.