I found out about Monty Colvin, his Rockcast podcast, and his Galactic Cowboys through a friend, Kyle Sweet. Sweet’s KrankIt! Radio was playing an entire set of Galactic Cowboys material one night. I missed most of the set, but wanted to be able to discuss the band, so I checked YouTube’s old live video archive to see what they sounded like. I loved ’em immediately: a quirky smashup between M.O.D/Anthrax heavy riffs that feature a wicked ‘grindcore’ bass guitar tone, set against highly melodic, multipart vocal harmony overlays and choruses. The music kicked your ass, and then laid you on a bed of roses: for a metal band that heavy, you sure didn’t expect to hear such surprisingly great vocal work. For a “progressive thrash” band who’s heyday played out during the time metal was supposedly dead, the sound was very progressive: listeners can hear roots of everything from metalcore to ‘modern melodic rock’.
Galactic Cowboys was one of the last great holdout bands on ‘the majors’ through the 1990s. First signed to Geffen (GDC), they released two albums: an eponymous debut, and their ‘hit the big time’ followup disc, Space In Your Face. Subsequently dropped by the label at the height of the grunge craze, the band secured a deal with Metal Blade and released Machine Fish, The Horse That Bud Bought, At The End Of The Day, and an EP titled Feel the Rage.
Colvin continued to record and release music after the dissolution of Galactic Cowboys, with Crunchy, his power-pop band. Crunchy was influenced by thrash metal, and the likes of The Wildhearts, Cheap Trick, Foo Fighters, and The Ramones. With Crunchy, he recorded All Day Sucker, Clown School Dropout, and Loserville. Once Galactic Cowboys ceased touring, Colvin began to focus on his other lifelong passion: visual art. A talented painter with a striking, colorful style, Colvin continues to lay color to this day.
As a fellow painter, I jumped at the chance to speak with Monty about his art, his style, and his art style. I’ve also managed to find & link up some of his art from his official websites. Check it out, below!
First off, how’d you get your start in the art world? What was the impetus in you going “back to” art school?
I started drawing when I was a little kid, bored out of my mind in church. I’d draw on the envelopes that people put their money in. Then, when I got a little older, probably around 10… I bought some paints and started making paintings of my sports heroes. It carried on through high school, and after I graduated, I ended up going to college and got a degree in drawing and painting.
What was art school like for you – did it expand your horizons, or hone a direction you were already headed in?
Art school was kind of tough at first. I had to kind of figure out that I really wasn’t as good as I thought before I could get better. The professors pretty much told me I sucked the first 2 years, and then I worked my ass off to prove them wrong. The most important thing I learned while I was in college was just to SEE things. It was more about learning to break down what I was looking at into shapes and structures. I also learned things just by being around other artists.
What did you dislike about art school?
Well, at first I didn’t really like my instructors. A lot of them were real a-holes. But looking back, I probably needed to be pushed. And in the long run, it was for my own good. Even today when I paint, I can still hear those teachers saying stuff in my ear… and I still apply a lot of what they taught me.
Do you also work in 3D (sculpture, mixed media, and the like)? Or are you specializing in 2D – the acrylic on canvas portraiture?
No, I really don’t do any 3D stuff, or very little anyway. I took some sculpture classes, but I really didn’t like it much. However, the figure sculpting classes actually kind of helped my drawing and painting skills.
One of the prominent motifs I see in your art is the use of contrast. To me, that has a high impact value.
Yeah… I love high contrast. I try to get really dark darks right off the bat, and then add the lighter tones. It tends to make everything a little more dramatic.
I also see a lot of color. You don’t shy away from color – your work is not bland – that’s really refreshing.
Color is kinda my thing. I would much rather use purples and blues, instead of browns. It’s just more exciting for me that way. And I’m trying to make art. I’m not making reality. It’s about expression… creation… and having fun.
Your backgrounds are high-impact and colorful, like your subjects. I’m not seeing a lot of dark or excessively light backgrounds.
It kind of depends what the subject is, but I’m usually just trying to push the main focus of the painting forward.
Those elements of your “style” seem to make the body of work more cohesive or ‘even’ – like you’re working on an “artist brand” of sorts.
Yeah… I’ve developed a way of painting that I’m pretty confident and happy with. I feel like I’m still striving to perfect it and I’m always hoping to improve. It is kind of cool that people recognize what I do as “my style”…but at the same time I don’t want to become overly predictable.
How bad are your creative jags? You know, you get an idea and can hardly take a break until it’s finished… it’s like the art version of songwriting spurts.
Well, right now I have 6 paintings I’m working on that aren’t finished yet. Sometimes I can force myself to finish paintings if it’s something people are buying and waiting for it, but if not, I usually just take my time. Some days I just don’t feel like painting, and so I don’t.
I’m a ‘closet’ artist. I don’t show my non-commissioned work – I save it, in the (possibly mistaken) “Picasso-esque” belief that it will be more well-received “posthumously”. How should I, or those like me, break out of that shy mold?
I would say… it’s your art, so do whatever you want with it. As long as you are happy with it, it doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks. I’ve done paintings no one will ever see, and written songs no one will probably ever hear. Sometimes the process is the most important thing about the art, not the end result. But if you’re happy with what you’ve done, put it out there, and try not to worry about what people think.
Your work is universally ‘modern’. You’re not trying to emulate any former genre or style – I’m not seeing Botticelli or Da Vinci, you know? Who are your influences as an artist?
I usually point to a couple artists. One was Egon Schiele. He was a German Expressionist, and I’ve always loved his drawings. The other guy was a pop-artist named Wayne Thiebaud. They both influenced me stylistically. I like using weird distortion… Mainly because it gives me a sense of pleasure, and perhaps it’s because I have a distorted view of the world and life. Who knows? But I also like the color of pop art. I’m also kind of influenced by comic book art. However, strangely enough, I don’t really read comic books or collect them. But I do enjoy the bright colors and images that a lot of them have. So, yes, I would say what I do is more “modern”.
You take a novel perspective – a lot of the paintings have what would be called a “fisheye lens” look, if they were photos. Do you work from photo reference material, do you work/sketch from memory, or a little of both?
I usually work from photos, and it’s usually from pictures I have taken myself. I like setting up the poses, and yes, I love the fisheye stuff. It goes back to the distorted perspective thing. I kind of started doing that after a photo shoot that my band Galactic Cowboys did back in the early 90’s. The record company at the time flew out this photographer from Time Magazine to take pictures of us for our Space In Your Face CD. He used a Fisheye lens for the whole shoot, and the pictures were just outrageous. I ended up buying my own lens sometime after that, and started making paintings from the pictures.
That perspective also seems to keep the subjects from being thought of as “realistic” – there’s always some artistic distortion going on.
I like to think of my stuff as “exaggerated realism”. It’s not what you’d think of as “realistic”, but at the same time it’s not totally abstract. So, to me, it’s just an expressive or exaggerated look at something.
You’ve talked at length about Gasfist, the record industry character in a lot of your paintings. How did you choose that symbol? To you, what does Gasfist embody?
The character is a symbol of manipulation. It has to do with a lot of the crap I’ve gone through with people in the music industry, but I’ve also dealt with lots of it over the course of my life in other areas. I think that’s why it strikes a chord with me. People manipulate people for power, money, and control. It can be because of greed, or sometimes for religious reasons. But it really sucks, and it’s something I’ve had a lot of resentment about. And so I created the Gasfist character as a way to release anger. But then I just began to really enjoy using him as a subject, and I just never stopped. Ha!
Gasfist is universally depicted as male. How are we (females, publicity types) exempt from being Gasfisted?
Good question. I see “him” as male, but I’ve been manipulated by women as well in my life, so, perhaps I will have to change that. Ha!
People might not be too aware of this yet, but you recently completed some wall murals for the School of Rock. Can people who aren’t enrolled in the school see the murals? What were the subjects?
Yes, I did 11 rooms for the School Of Rock in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, and I’m presently working on another School Of Rock in Overland Park, Kansas. It’s mostly iconic images of legendary rock stars and band logos. It’s really been a great experience, and I’ve enjoyed it so much. Kind of a dream gig really. I’ve got pictures on my Facebook page, but you can also see lots of pictures on my websites, montycolvin.net and custommuralskc.com.
It seems like the difference between your paintings and illustrations is their intent: a painting stays on the canvas, but an illustration ends up copied to a different medium. Like from canvas to a t-shirt, a CD booklet, or a magazine cover.
– So the endpoint is decided by the future owner of the work?
If I’m doing an illustration or mural or even a commission for someone, I am basically working for them. So, I try to give them what they want, but at the same time try to stay true to what I do in all my art. However, usually going into it, people know what I do and how I paint, so that’s usually kind of what they want anyway. With the murals, the client will tell me the subject matter, but I usually have the freedom to do it how I want. Or, if it’s someone who has hired me to paint a portrait of themselves or their kids, I do it in my style, or put my own touch on it, but it’s still going to just look whoever I’m painting.
Do you have a gallery, an agent, or a manager to help you market or license your work? Why or why not?
Great questions, and it’s “no” to all of those. As far as an agent or manager, it’s something I’ve wanted for a long time. I would love to work with someone who could get me more jobs and clients. I just haven’t found anyone yet. And it’s weird, because I always had plenty of people who wanted to manage my musical career. But finding someone to market my art work has been hard to find.
What’s your biggest challenge these days, as a traditional artist in a digital world?
Mostly just marketing myself. I’m an artist, so I don’t really like doing promotional stuff. Plus, the demand for real art isn’t as great with everyone being able to do stuff on their computers. But hopefully there will always be people out there who want and like the real thing. There will always be something special about being able to hold a painting in your hands, and to actually see brush strokes. It’s kind of like going to see a band play live, as opposed to seeing someone lip sync.
Your Mac is possessed by the devil. Is that why you’re not exploring digital art? Or is your ‘digital art’ your music?
I don’t do much computer art, because I SUCK at Photoshop! Besides, I grew up drawing and painting. It’s IN me. It’s what I do. And it IS something that not just anyone can do. I’ve worked hard at it, and it’s very satisfying when I get a piece done and step back and look at it.
Where is Monty Colvin the artist headed – what’s in the ‘future plans’?
Well, I’d really like to do more murals and sell more art. At the moment, I’m trying to build my own company, and trying to make a living JUST doing my art. I’d also like to record some more music, keep doing my podcast, and maybe finish writing a book someday too.