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Rick Bach... Artist DNA. Print Version
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Rich Bach….Artist DNA

The first thing you need to understand about Rick Bach, is that you’re probably not going to understand Rick Bach. Think ultra-complex, exotic, psychedelic, high test liquid creative fuel, a  storyteller, and a kind soul of a man…all rolled up into one. You haven’t lived, or perhaps thought about not living, until you’ve been in his matte black pickup truck, flying through the beltway of Washington DC…..punk rock music blasting, maybe serving as a distraction from the swerving between other vehicles. Note: He’s totally relaxed in this moment.

There’s a lyric in the 90’s song Bittersweet Symphony from The Verve that reads, “I’m a million different people from one day to the next.” This may be an inside tract to the creative mind of Rick Bach.

What’s his work output like?  Imagine a fire hose of paint on full throttle, aimed at a metal canvas….and let it go!

He pounds out work at an incredible pace, often works in series, and is a deadline oriented type of guy.  Series work for artists can be challenging sometimes as duplication of an image, drawing, and painting created on the fly, is not always so easy to replicate, despite it being your own. In his case, that replication is difficult…equivalent of pouring water into a glass exactly the same way over and over. But he pulls it off, evidenced by the multiple times a character shows up in his work over a span of time.

Maybe he is the only one who understands, but hey, that’s OK, The collectors come to his openings, like for instance Rob Storr, Professor of Art and former Dean of Art at Yale, and the commission’s line up, including ones from restaurants in Pittsburgh and Washington DC.  We talked in his apartment, in his studio at length, in his truck, at brunch, and just walking around DC with his beloved bulldog Ruby.

E…
So tell me about the Honeysuckle project.

RB…
Well, it’s a kickass restaurant here in DC. The chef is Hamilton Johnson a friend of a designer who designed the restaurant. They brought me in to see what I could do to make it look different without going overboard. So what we decided to do was a 64ft by12ft mural on the ceiling, first painting the vaulted ceiling red, then adding 16, 6ft by 4ft, 22 gauge aluminum panels. So Hamilton the chef is tattooed everywhere, from his eyelids to his toes, and I based the artwork on his tattoos. I photographed all of his tattoos, his first one being of an angel with his mother’s initials and date of passing, which I used as an anchor for each end of the painting, and then the whole thing is based on the idea of love will find a way, and different themes as Love, Fate, Faith, Karma, and Hope.

E…
Hope. There is always hope.

RB…
Yes, Hope is always here.

E…
Let’s talk about the Mad Mex restaurant relationship and work. How did that come about?

RB…
Carl Mullen and Alex Hutnik had a silk screen shop and were doing a lot of work for bands and for Kaya. When Kaya was opening, Lauri Mancuso was their painter, and they recommended me.

E…
Kaya the restaurant in Pittsburgh that is part of the Big Burrito Group.

RB…
Yes. They wanted someone to paint the bathrooms and I was in the bathroom spray painting this mural for 3 days with no ventilation. They loved it. I was friends with Lauri and I just had a show called Lazy Man Hand in 1995 and there was a painting in it called Fat Elvis’s last fancy jacket, Subtitled the red hands of death. So Lauri contacted me when they were building their Phila restaurant. I showed them my work and offered for them to buy 30 paintings for a lump sum, of which they would pay monthly for a year and a half…we signed a little hillbilly contract and that was the beginning of the relationship…every restaurant since then.  I took over the metal work. Now every restaurant has a big painting of mine and a big sculpture.

E…
So tell me about your band and when you started playing guitar?

RB…
Well my Dad’s a really good guitar player, (like pro) and played in bands his whole life and he wanted me to be a guitar player so he got me one but I didn’t like it because it was little. I wanted to plug in and play electric . He made me sit in my room and practice everyday. He would say you need to learn your chords. I would get his really nice Gibson and not use my left hand and just wail on the fucker and he would say I don’t know what chords you are playing but it sounds pretty good. But I never really learned.

E…
So how old were you then?

RB…
About 9 or 10. I played ukulele  and sang Henry the Eighth I am when I was like in kindergarten. I sang for bands a lot in the 80’s and then when I was roommates with Mike Lotenero, Dave Vandoren who just died, and Dave Zimmerley, we wanted to start a band and no one wanted to play guitar…I thought how hard can it be.  Grab the neck with your left hand, swing with your right. The band’s name was The Caveman from Oklahoma. We did that for 6-7 years. We have some compilations and some vinyl out there. We released a cassette called The Big Ranch in the 90’s that we are going to re-release it on vinyl next year because our friend died and we want to do this before we are all gone. We recorded with a small label formed by Carl Grefenstante called Bogus Records. We (Lotenero and I ) had another band called Mr LoveNapkin. Then another called HellBelly which was sort of band to play at parties and turned into a punk rock acoustic band, guitar, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, upright bass, washboard, and that bank played a lot, much more than The Caveman did.  The new band that played in Homestead is called Dabris with an A.

E…
Tell me about where you grew up, the environment there, your house, parents?

RB…
My parents house was in the little brick ranch in the county, what is now Cranberry Township.  The bought it at a sheriff’s sale when they were line 19 and 17 yrs old and still live there. It was cool, four sisters, (twins) then 2 more, riding our bikes, dirt roads, minibikes. My Dad had motorcycles, it was pretty fun. There were really no other neighbor kids so just us. There was one family who had 5 boys but their family were all alcoholics. We were like Little House on the Prairie and who knows what was going on up there.  We had a pony, the meanest pony on earth.

E
His name?

RB..
Duke….the meanest pony on earth.  My Dad painted cars and I wanted a horse because when I was little I always drew horses. I had like 40 horse statues in my bedroom…the whole Johnny West thing.  So some guy gave my Dad a Shetland pony for painting his car, but he didn’t tell him he was a stallion which was mean because they still have their balls and you’re supposed to get a gelding for kids so the pony doesn’t murder the kids. So when you tried to feed it, it would just bite your hand. It was so mean. So it finally broke my arm and back he went back to the farm. But we had a lot of animals.

E…
And your Dad had an auto body shop.

RB…
Well, he worked at VW, and then yes, his own shop.

E…
Is this where you learned how to paint?

RB…
Kind of. I always drew. My Dad would would see me drawing a car and come in and give me lessons, putting perspective lines all over it, showing me how to make a three-quarter view, and stuff like that.

E…
What about painting. When did you start?

RB…
Like second grade. I learned to airbrush toy cars.

E…
When did you exhibit for the first time?

RB…
Likely late 80’s in a group show.

E…
How about the first solo?

RB…
94.
It was above Groovy, on Carson St in Southside, Pgh. The exhibit was called Psychotic episodes. 96 paintings on steel, I sold like 90 of them.

E…
About how big were they?

RB…
From about 12in to the biggest pieces were 30in square.

E..
So since then, have you ever done anything else for a living than being an artist?

RB…
No…..well, I did once get a job at a friends sign shop. I basically sold architectural projects and ran through this sign company.

E…
Where was this?

RB…
This was in Harmony PA. It was a good job, I got a company truck, salary, commission. But I would have to smoke 3 joints just to walk in the door in the morning. After 11 months I quit.

E…
What influences are there that now show up in your work?

RB…
My Dad is a pretty good airbrush artist. He is a master of blending colors. I learned color, blending, depth, dimensionality, shadows from him.

E…
How about other artists that influenced you?

RB…
Frank Frazetta was probably my earliest influence. I saw that Molly Hatchet album cover and I thought Holy Shit, what the hell is this? This was like 1976-77 and I’d never seen anything like that. Then the second one, Flirting with Disaster, and had the guy coming through the mountains. The first one was a death dealer. It was the way he drew woman, vultures, asses. I spent a lot of time in the 70’s coping that, in my own little weird way onto cars, motorcycles and vans. I’ve painted all of the major Frazetta paintings at least once.

E…
Tell me about your first studio?  Where was that?

RB…
It was at my Dad’s body shop. On the roof of the body shop there were a suite of offices, one for the body shop and the other area he knocked out all of the walls and I used it for my airbrush work. It had a exhaust fan, and my stands for doing motorcycle parts.

E…
How long were you there?

RB…
4-5 years.

E…
You had a studio in the Brewhouse Southside. How long?

RB…
Yes…19 years.

E…
You have an upcoming exhibit at the Brewhouse Studios yes? October 6th?

RB…
Yes. I started in that building in 1995, with a studio and my first one man show.

E…
And now, you’re in DC.

RB…
Yes, that’s where we are now.

E…
What brought you here?

RB…
Jennifer, Jennifer Dunkin, my significant other. At first I started coming down to see her, then we just took it to the next step and I moved here.

E…
And your first solo show in DC was just about a month ago in April yes?

RB…
Yes, it opened in April, just closed July 28.
There were about a hundred pieces in it, but I’m sure as I made a bunch of new pieces for the closing last week.  There were about 20 sculptures, some pretty big pieces.

E…
And would you say it was successful? A lot of work sold I heard?

RB…
Yes. I don’t know exactly but in my head….seems like we made some money.

E…
So one of these pieces here in the studio is for the new Mad Mex restaurant in Fox Chapel, Pittsburgh?

RB…
Yes. There are six panels, 44in by 56in.

E…
Is there an element of these new painting that are new for you?

RB…
Yes. I started working on these about a year ago when I was working on my own solo show and they all started out as individual paintings that are getting tied together. Normally there is a big picture with future elements, but the composition is more for a stand alone piece or a diptych in which there is more weird underneath stuff and in a 26ft painting, you either have to have some kind of boldness or…you don’t. The big boldness kill some of the stuff underneath but then you have to look for that stuff. And since it’s going to be hung at eye level, most of them are up high, I’m going to give you the opportunity to find that stuff because you will be able to see it.

E…
In all of the other restaurants the work is hung at a high level right?

RB…
Except for the last one Lakeside. It’s eyelevel. So they put it above a booth level and realized how much better that is.

E…
So when working on these, are you working from concepts, sketches and then working from them, or creating as you go?

RB…
Well both. I create hundreds of sketches in my sketchbooks. All of these images are in different sketch books.

E…
And you mentioned that the birds in here are something new, that came from the Honeysuckle project?

RB…
Kind of….well the ones in the suits, but I’ve always painted chicken on a plate, including my first show in 94 done in steel. But these sparrow guys in suits, I stole that from one of Hamilton’s tattoos. This recurring bird face thing, like a blue penguin is new. I like how they look in reputation.

E…
I want to talk about the Trojan Horse work. Tell me about that.

RB…
Over the years I’ve always drawn horses, and then working on the Mad Mex projects I started putting them in suits. In 1999 I did a show called two of everything and I built a 9ft tall horse on wheels and I sold him, but recently the guy who bought it, sold the house it was in…so I bought it back and it’s in the kitchen of our shop in Pittsburgh. But beyond that one, in 2004 I built a 16ft tall one for a show in James Gallery called “More of Everything”. That one involved cranes for installing. And one day I wrote down Trojan Horse farm and that seemed funny and I went with it, designing these sculptures with just a neck for years, like 20 years. Once I built the prototype it was beautiful and I had a few really great fabricators working with me and l wanted to see it in repetition so we made a lot of different sizes.  Size of galleries prevented them from becoming what they wanted to become. The shadows are magical. The ideal situation is to have a group of them on a hill where the shadows can convene into one giant neck and head.

E…
What was the significance in putting the horses into suits?

RB…
I hung out with some people who would say things like clotheshorse…..fashion weirdo’s. So Clothes horse…someone who looks good in clothes.

E…
You are about 18 months into being sober. Something you haven’t done in a long long time. How’s it going?

RB…
It’s fine. It’s different. I mean I could use a fucking drink right now, but I know that doesn’t end well for me. My life is better, my work is better, I like coming to work everyday now, I’m not hungover.  It was a weird experience but something that had to happen. I’m not blinded chemically and I just think a lot more.

E…
So how has has it affected your work?

RB…
I went to rehab in 2013, like 5 years ago. It took 3-4 years of horrific relapses for it to take. Because after I went to rehab and then I’d get fucked up, I’d drink a bottle of vodka in an hour and end up in jail. So once I figured out how important it was to not do it, it became impossible to do it without consequences. But it’s good now.

E…
You like your life better now than before.

RB…
Yes, It’s boring but boring is nice. All the excitement of money and you know pain, consequences, and the fun times too. You know in AA anyone who said my worst day sober is better than my best day drunk. I’m like…those fucking people weren’t doing it right. I mean WTF, why would you even do it if it wasn’t fun. But I was pretty much a blackout drunk from 1979 until 2013. So I think that’s a pretty good run…I can rest, I competed on the pro circuit.

E…
How has it affected your work in preparation, production, in concepts? Are you more clear now then before?

RB…
It depends. I knocked out 60 good paintings last week. But I never drank and painted. But there became a certain point where doing drugs was more important than getting stuff done an I would have to make a deal with myself to get things done…so I could get fucked up. But now I look at my sketchbooks and can see I’m definitely doing a lot more drawing and lot more thinking.  I mean the whole point of being wasted is to not have to think about shit, and once you think about shit you spend a lot of energy doing so.

Maybe now I overwork add overthink things. I’m trying to get back to painting like I draw because I draw like boom, boom, boom, and I think that sometimes that is all painting needs to be is a few lines, but a few lines with a couple inches of paint over it. My quality is way up. I used to do anything to get done and somehow people liked it and whatever I did I’d tell myself I meant to do that. Now, I know I mean to do it, when I do it. At one point it was easier than now to just make things, and now its slower and harder but definitely the craftsmanship is up a lot.

E…
So craftsmanship up, work being be harder, even taking longer to work, are you producing more work now….in the past 18 months?

RB…
Yes, well….if I don’t have a deadline, I’ll make shit day and night but not get anything done. But if I have 9 months and specific space to fill and I have a target and I’ll just go for that. I think everybody’s that way though.

E…
Do you have up and down periods, depressive periods?

RB…
Yes, but not too bad.
We have TV, a dog, and Candy Crush. Ice Cream sandwiches in the fridge.

E…
We are presently in your Washington DC Studio. Tell me about this place.

RB…
Yes, Capitol Hill. I’ve been here 4 ½ years. I first started working out of our 2 bedroom apartment working on a fold up table. Then I knew a guy who new a guy who new a guy who introduced me to a guy who owns this building. It was storage and I got here at the right time. It’s 8 miles from our apartment and that’s perfect.

E…
Ha Ha
Like rewards.

RB…
I remember living in the most horrible apartment in the world and having a Ice Cream sandwich for dinner, going through horrible withdrawals. That shit is weird. Like the Mae West quote…when picking between the two evils, pick the one I haven’t tried.

 

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