Interview: Robert Petrick speaks with Gabriel Don.

Artist, graphic designer, open mic enthusiast, musician and primarily painter Robert Petrick speaks with Gabriel Don.



 How do you feel about Helvetica?

I think Helvetica is beautiful and probably one of the most modern and well-designed of the 20th-21st century, I believe it was designed sometime around 1950. But yes, I still find it extremely useful and it’s incredible easy to read, even at the tiniest size.


Before Rev Jen’s Anti Slam stopped running at Old Man Hustle, you used to frequent the open mike and perform for the six minutes allowed by the sand in the hour glass and perform what you refer to as ‘rants.’ Could you give me some examples of the subjects you would talk about on stage?

Interesting question but maybe a long answer: I have a lot of interests and one is acting. I’m fascinated by the whole concept of performing outside of ‘yourself’ and I like to perform my music. As far as “ranting,” I don’t really rant. I actually have a joke format that I’ve been developing, of all original material. I usually talk about my life and coming to New York, and what’s it been like living in New York and what I go through and that’s it.

What does a unicorn represent to you?

I don’t know. It’s always been not foremost in my thinking. I’ve been aware of the unicorn as a myth and I’ve always thought it had enormous sexual connotations. That’s about it.


How has social media influenced or changed the art world?

I don’t know about changing the art world because I’ve never really known what that is, but I do think that social media has created a lot of artists finding out about each other and hating each other. The egos are all out there and everybody is offended or not offended, whatever. I think that’s how it’s affected a lot of artists. I think, maybe that’s stupid.


What musical composers do you admire, and how would you describe the type of music you produce?

Duke Ellington, Satie, Lemon Jelly. I also like all kinds of sounds like nature, city sounds, and that’s actually what my music is about. It’s about life and what sounds I can make that I think are nice and I hope somebody will find them nice also. That’s what I’m trying to do, any way I can make the sound.


Does your graphic design practice inform your painting and drawing?

Yes, I’d say it does affect my drawing, but because I like illustrative aspects of drawing. When it comes to non-objective abstract painting it perhaps also impacts the graphic. Not so much though, there’s a different line of thinking when it comes to non-objective abstract painting.


How would you define muse?

I must admit, I had to look up the definition of muse. At any rate, I think at certain times of your life it’s super totally important. I believe I had only one, which was when I was about twenty-one and when I first started painting: a woman who later became a lover who later became an enemy who later burned all my information that she had of me but that’s a long and complicated story, so that’s the end of that.


What advice do you have for people who want to enter the arts?

Wow, advice. I think that it’s the best way to live: as an artist. I have no question about that. It’s a tough road and sometimes a lonely road, but it’s self-rewarding and always keeps your mind going and that’s important. The biggest mistake I ever made was not staying with the school I went to. Even though I kind of rejected school because of my ego, you know, “Oh, I don’t need to go to school,” ultimately it really helps you with connections, which you don’t really think about.


Do you think abstract art is the sister of poetry?

Yes. Art is the sister of poetry. Makes sense. The only thing is that with abstract art, to me there’s no words involved. Not even in my mind. I really enjoy when people try to interpret them. I actually understand my paintings far better when someone explains them me. I once sold a couple paintings and it was really fun to have these people who really like my work talk to me about and tell me why they like it. Painting is kind of like giving birth. Do you feel that way about poetry? Do you feel like you’re giving birth to something? That’s the way I feel about a painting, like I’ve created an entity that goes on and has its own life beyond me.


Photo Credit: Tamara Don


I think with poetry it’s more connected to you and your feelings. I think art is more experimental. It’s like mixing chemicals and creating something, you know? More like alchemy. In a way my effort is to elude and avoid the understanding of what I’m doing. The funny thing is when letters go onto canvas, is it an abstract art? Is it abstract?

For instance, there’s an artist named Christopher Wool. He’s rather famous right now and one of his biggest series was these big painted stencil letters. I liked them a lot. They are abstract but they’re not really an abstract thing when you think about it. I think that could be a good thing to ponder: the letter in relation to its meaning, in relation to poetry, in relation to art, in relation to how it looks on a canvas separate from the typed letter. There’s a big difference between typed letter and painted letter but what is the difference? How can it be art? Like for instance my Exist, Exit Now piece that was me trying to cross over into painting and having a statement that I didn’t even understand. There’s many ways of interpreting it and I kind of like that. I personally don’t know how I would interpret it.