Robert Pollard: A Portrait of the Artist

A Report from Pollard's New York City Art Show, August 28, 2010

Sep 10, 2010 Photography by Frank Valish Web Exclusive
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It's 8 o'clock on a Saturday night in New York City, and Robert Pollard has had a few beers. Not that this would be a shock to many, given the reputation of the Guided By Voices mastermind as a bit of a drinker. But tonight is the final of two nights of Pollard's The Public Hi-Fi Balloon art show at The 45 Space in Manhattan, and the artist is proudly exuberant yet seemingly more than a bit tired. For the last six hours (and five the previous night), Pollard has been shilling his wares, collage art, spinners, made-up magazine covers, and homemade 7" record sleeves for imagined bands, sold in a makeshift record store set-up at the back of the gallery. For all his renown as the songwriter extraordinaire, cranking out albums seemingly as regularly as the rest of us eat breakfast, Pollard has been creating visual art for longer. Tonight, on the roof above the sixth floor gallery, Miller Light in hand, Pollard agreed to give Under the Radar a haphazard glimpse into the process of his collage work and explain what's behind his other artistic passion.

Frank Valish: How is the creative process different with visual art versus songwriting?

Robert Pollard: It's all the same thing. My visual art and my music, it's all the same. I cut up pictures and I put out stuff together, and I put out songs. If I feel like writing some songs I'll write them, like 28 fucking songs. And 14 of them are pretty fucking good, and that's the album. With my art, I'll go to thrift shops and buy a bunch of shit and I'll go home and tear the pages out. If they're cool, I'll cut them out and I'll start whittling it down to what I need. I'll start positioning them. With songwriting, it's the same thing.

Is there a certain vision that you have that might be expressed differently through each piece or each collection of pieces?

Well, I know when it's good. I know when it's like, "Wow, that's fucking good. I'm happy now."

So you're just able to see the juxtaposition of the images and when you like what you have, that's what you go with. There's no larger vision.

There's not really a larger picture. But there is a feeling that I get. Like this is part of this, and this is space-age kicks, man.

Have you ever worked in any other visual media, other than collage?

I'm like a re-assembler. I'm pretty much like an original source. It either has to be visual or audio. Like, this looks like something that I'd like to do visually. Or this idea sounds like something I would do as a band.

But it comes from the same creative place?

It comes from the same source. It all comes from the same source.

So you don't get a different sort of artistic fulfillment from the collages than you get from writing a song to completion?

It all comes from the same source of inspiration. All these pictures and all these song titles and all these ideas will become what they are, and it comes from the same source, whether it's an album or whether it's a collage. Like, this came out of this source of inspiration, and it became a collage, or this came out of this source of inspiration and it became a song.

So you can go to the thrift store and get an idea for a song from an image or an idea for a collage from a phrase, wherever your muse takes you?

Totally. I just wrote five titles down today, song titles, that amused me in some way, and now I'm either going to make songs from those or I'm going to make collages from those. The visual thing and the audio thing pretty much overlap.

We talked once before and you mentioned taking phrases that catch your attention from talking with whomever, and turning those into your art. Does it more often generate from a verbal source?

It's completely scattershot. I collect imagery, visually, and I write things down. Most of it's visual. Like, this sounds like an album or a 45, and that's what it's going to be. Or this looks like a collage. First of all, collages are mostly things I cut out. I cut out imagery, and it lies around, and I move it around, and sometimes the next morning I come down with some coffee and this imagery I cut out, it somehow molds itself together into some new feud of imagery and it'll marry itself into the collage.

Do you have a few favorites from the show?

Oh yeah, yeah, shit that I don't want to sell. I don't even want to sell it.

Will you point something out to me?

[Points to a 5-piece collage from the show booklet entitled "An Exclusive After Death Value."] See, I like that one. Look at that doorknob. That doorknob is beautiful. And the door's wide open and that guy's standing there, looking at the gold nugget of life. Shit like that. The beautiful golden doorknob. [Points again to the picture, not being able to see its title in the dark.] What's that called?

"An Exclusive After Death Value."

An exclusive after death value awaits you. The golden doorknob is open. He opens it and there's the golden nugget he's looking for. An exclusive after death value awaits you.

And it originated with the doorknob.

Yeah. Oh yeah. I think what I do is a frivolous activity, but I love it. It takes too much fucking time to do that. I think sometimes that I need to learn how to mediate, do something real. And I can't stop doing this shit. It's frivolous.

Is it relaxing?

Yes.

And just as fulfilling, in a different sort of way, than the music, than the performance.

Yeah. Dude, I did this before I played music. I made collages and fake album covers and shit way before I played music. I didn't even know how to play. I didn't play. I didn't know anybody that could play. So that's what I did. I made these fake album covers, fake labels, like Fat Pig Records and shit. Dumbass the Clown Records. That's what I did. That's what I did first. But then we actually got to the point where we could actually play. And now it's real. We can play. Now we have lucrative offers for worldwide tours.

There's one coming up [Pollard has reunited the classic 1993-1996 Guided By Voices lineup for a fall tour].

Yeah. Alright. Whatever. I've always done collages. I've done them my whole life. This one guy goes, "So basically, you just cut out pictures and just kind of glue them together." Yeah, basically. It's a little bit more involved than that. But yeah, basically, that's what I do.

Do you find you're expressing something different as you grow older?

I would hope, as I grow older, that what I do is slightly more profound. I would hope that. I'm not sure that's the case though. But I would hope that. More cerebral. Not just cutting pictures out and gluing them back together.

So there's the doorknob. Give me another glimpse into the muse.

[Pointing to a bizarre, surreal 11-piece collage titled "Empty Prayer on a Loop."] What's that called?

"Empty Prayer on a Loop"

Empty. Prayer. On a loop. Sometimes I make collages that when after I make them, I'm completely befuddled as to what the fuck they are. I don't even remember what the individual parts were. There's a guy standing there. It's like [David] Lynch. You like Lynch? My shit sometimes is Lynchian, like, "What the fuck is that. It's almost horrifying."

What inspires you visually?

Good movies, good rock, good films, good art. Great album covers. I love great album covers. That's probably my most inspirational thing. Remember Hipgnosis, the album cover making [designers] in the '60s and '70s. It's so beautiful. All my art centers around rock. Pink Floyd, covered by Hipgnosis. I would be like, "I want to make covers like Hipgnosis." You know who was here last night? You know Mick Rock, the great, all-time greatest rock photographer? I was hanging out with him last night, and he was showing me all this shit on his phone, like outtakes from the fucking David Bowie session, and fucking Syd Barrett. He's like [seemingly referring to Rock's cover shot for Barrett's solo debut, The Madcap Laughs] "That should've been the cover, right there." His naked feet are in the foreground. I agree.

(www.robertpollard.net)

"An Exclusive After Death Value":

The Public Hi-Fi Balloon art show ("Empty Prayer on a Loop," top left):

Magazine covers:

7-inch sleeves:

"More Corn" 7-inch:

"GBV Spinner":



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