Every Friday, BULLETT’s introducing our favorite Instagram profiles and getting to know the people behind the posts.
Art made for commercial purposes kind of immediately sounds like art you don’t want to see, but slow your roll––some of the best and most influential work to come out of the past few decades has essentially been artistic marketing. And while we’re constantly inundated with “retro” art in pop culture––just look at Lana Del Rey’s flower child Lust for Life cover––and we’re seeing things like ‘90s Word Art make an ironic resurgence, we don’t see a lot of artists trying to move old school styles forward. In fact, we see a whole lot of repetition masquerading as something new. But Robert Beatty is one of the good ones––his work feels completely different, but also intuitively connected to the psychedelic art on all of your parents’ old vinyls.
Inspired by nature and experimental film, the 36-year-old illustrator uses the medium to explore overlaps between modern innovation and traditional imagery. What’s cool about his work, is that it doesn’t feel tethered to any specific era––he incorporates some throwbacks in the form of rounded ‘60s fonts and the muted neon/pastel color palettes of the 1980s, but those are just small pieces of his own surreal world. By mixing oceans with eyeballs in outer space, and imagining mirrors in the sky, he confronts the strange patterns of life on Earth with otherworldly symbols and terrains. It’s trippy without trying too hard, because he’s not really aiming to make “psychedelic” work––he’s just pointing out the parallels between plant cells and circuit boards.
How would you describe your work?
I describe it as commercial art from the past. So much of what I’m drawing from is record covers or book covers or old sci-fi illustrations––things that were art, but not necessarily made for art’s sake.
How did you develop your style?
It’s very rooted in psychedelia and surrealism––just the way those things have manifested themselves in pop culture more than anything else, and the way that really strange stuff has worked its way to the forefront, similar to what I’m doing now. I did a Kesha album which was everywhere, and it’s cool to be a part of that because that’s exactly what inspired me––seeing stuff on TV that was super weird, and wondering where I could find more.
Your work isn’t traditionally psychedelic. How do you avoid falling into overdone tropes?
I don’t want to make retro work that’s chasing something else––I like to think I’m building on what was done in the past, in my own way. I feel like what I’m doing is traditional––it’s a continuation of something that people stopped doing. The way that I’m approaching it, though, isn’t from a place of wanting it to look old. I want to achieve a timeless feel––something that looks like it could be from the past, but also the future.
Why is that so important to you?
I think not having any frame of reference, but having a work evoke a feeling that’s familiar to you in some way, is more psychedelic than recreating the feeling of being on drugs. Having a connection to something and not being able to explain why, and having it feel like it’s from a world that you know, but knowing it’s not––I think that’s something that can change your perspective, or make you feel a little bit outside of the world you know, and that’s more psychedelic to me than an acid trip.
What subjects do you explore?
I love this weird cross between organic patterns and technology––things that look like circuit boards but could also be a close-up of plant cells. The way patterns manifest themselves in nature, and then figuring out different ways to play with that and make ambiguous interpretations of that kind of phenomena.
How did you start doing album covers?
I started touring playing noise music in my early 20’s. I’m in a band called Hair Police, and I played with a band called Burning Star Core. I ended up doing a lot of the artwork for our records, and it’s grown organically. It was a very utilitarian thing. But it gave me time to develop my own language doing stuff that was lower profile than the things I’m doing today.
Did you go to art school?
No, after I graduated high school, I was a janitor at a gas station for four years and was touring in a noise band. If I had gone to art school, I don’t know that I’d be making art.
What’s your goal as an artist?
I’m constantly overwhelmed by images. So part of the challenge to me is making something that will stand out in that, and also make a commentary on that––I’m dealing with being overwhelmed by images by making more.