“I think a lot of my art is definitely influenced by what I absorbed as a kid; video games and cartoons and comic books and all that stuff.”
“Well, my name—my full name- is Victor Hart, most people just call me Vik. I studied commercial graphics at Trident Technical College. I graduated with an Associate’s Degree.”
Spontaneity and a dark playfulness is what Vik is all about; here’s a little chat we had with him about how his childhood and hobbies formed and guided the development of his work…
It’s pretty clear that your medium of choice is painting; how did you arrive at this?
“Well as a kid in high school I really didn’t paint that much. I didn’t really like painting, in fact. I mostly just drew. I started drawing in the third grade, I think it was. I remember for Christmas my grandmother bought me a VHS called “How to Draw Bruce Blitz Cartoons”, which is this old white dude just like, “Oh, we’re gonna draw some cartoons today.” It’s like dumb, 90’s style cartoons. I just watched that VHS on repeat all the time. I started from there and then became that kid that didn’t listen in class, I just had my sketch book and drew all the time and just kind of never stopped. Around whenever I really started focusing on painting… and it just kind of became my focus”.
Your paintings have a very illustrative feel to them, does drawing still have a heavy influence on the process that goes into each piece?
“Yeah, I do consider a lot of my paintings very illustrative. I know people often use the term “painterly”, but I don’t really see my work as that. I still do see it as drawing on the canvas. Usually I’ll start with some charcoal and paint markers and just do a simple under-drawing, and then I’ll just do a wash over that and then it’s just slowly layering everything up. My last layer will usually be the outlines and the final details”.
Do you start out sort of with sketches in a sketchbook to plan each of these out, or are they pretty well improvised once you’re in front of the canvas?
“There are a couple of times where I’ll use a preliminary drawing or a sketch, but for the most part a lot of my paintings are pretty much improvised. Some of my favorite paintings I’ve done have been like, put the canvas on the easel, do a quick sketch, and like ‘oh, there we go,’ and I’ll just start on it. It just kind of evolves from there. There were times where I’d try to plan out a painting and try to actually make it, you know, step by step and it just turns out to be just a huge mess that I end up hating. I just have to go at it. It has to be spontaneous”.
Do you think that attempting to have that previous expectation of your own work is kind of a block for you since you’re so used to just kind of going at it?
“Yes, definitely. I do go through blocks a lot which, I mean is typical for a lot of artists. Sometimes I’ll have an idea in my head, and if I exhaust it, if I do it too many times, after a while I’ll have to get away from the painting for a while. I just end up scrapping them because I didn’t like how they were coming out. That’s actually why I’ve been doing a lot of drawing recently, because it, for me—even though I kind of consider all of my work cohesive, I do see drawing and painting as two very different things, and when I don’t feel like painting I can very easily draw and vice versa.
“It’s like it’s two roommates. You gotta kick one out and bring the other one in and then swap them out every once and a while”.
What media do you use? There’s the more obvious acrylic paint and paint pens, but what else?
“I try to not use a very wide palette. I’ve seen artists where they have like fifty different colors they’ll use, and I try to limit myself. Usually cadmium red, cadmium yellow medium, and some type of blue—I’ve been using brilliant blue recently. Just those three acrylics. I use Liquitex but a lot of people are telling me to start using Golden, so I’ve been trying that. For my blacks and my line work I use the Golden fluid and high flow acrylics, and then Montana paint markers for all the fine line work”.
So what’s going on with all of the little gnome characters and background information? I like how you use the collage elements as well, with old receipts and random scraps of paper just kind of thrown in there. It’s nice. How does the work progress from just the under-painting to all of that?
“I always feel like with my characters that I paint that there’s something they need—they need a kind of support structure around them. For a while I tried to do just regular colored backgrounds but kind of got bored with that so I just started doing doodles off to the side when I got bored with the main character, and thought, “you know, I actually kind of like this.” From there, I just started layering it more and more and adding a little more detail. It’s kind of like tiny little events are happening in the background of the whole painting”.
Your paintings seem like they’re a collective family portrait of creatures from another world. Do they all exist together? Is there a kind of narrative that you’re thinking of behind each of your characters, or in the whole piece?
“I do think about that a lot, like what kind of world would they live in. There is very rarely a definite physical background or world in the paintings. I feel like they’re very flat, in a way. There’s a lot of depth there but at the same time, it’s a very flat, singular surface. So it’s kind of hard for me to think ‘okay well this character, they live in a specific world.'”
Could you describe the concept behind a specific painting?
“For my biggest painting, The Grandma Lich, I just took the idea of a lich being basically like an undead wizard that controls lesser undead as an army and put a more positive spin on it. So, it’s a grandma and her undead minions are her grandchildren. In a lot of my work there is a slight story but it’s also taking the idea of something kind of morbid and putting a more positive spin on it. I don’t know if that sounds hokey or not.”
Do you have any stylistic influences that fueled your aesthetic and helped it develop over time?
“There’s this one artist that I was a huge fan of in high school. His name’s Yoshitaka Amano. He did the concept art for the early Final Fantasy. It’s kind of funny, if you look at his art it looks nothing like the actual game. They had to take these beautiful, fluid illustrations and try to translate them into little one inch tall pixels.
“Zdzisław Beksiński, a Polish artist, is a big influence as well. He did these amazing paintings of almost post-apocalyptic landscapes with these creepy, emaciated figures travelling through it. If you look at his work and you look at my stuff you can definitely see the influence of cloaked, emaciated figures. He himself said, “A lot of people tell me they see my work as very negative, but I don’t see that. A lot of my work is very optimistic in my opinion.” So he was a huge influence on me in terms of not really trying to make, you know, perfectly rendered stuff; it’s more like playing around and digging into the canvas and just making scratches and scribbles”.
Why paint the imagery that you paint? What’s the history with it?
“Growing up, a lot of my drawings were basically just like monsters and guys with swords… which I guess is the exact same thing that I paint now, really… but a lot of it was like, growing up I wanted to do concept art for video games. Someone I know said one of his friends worked for BioWare and he kind of hated his job because he was literally drawing the exact same thing over and over again, so I kind of abandoned that idea because I don’t want to do something that’s going to make me hate art.
“But a lot of my drawings would be me making up ideas for videos games and stuff in my head. I know it sounds really goofy but that’s what I did.While I was drawing I would be like, ‘well this could be the second boss of the second dungeon…'”.
I love that. It’s really relatable to a huge genre of people because many do just experience artwork through video games, and don’t realize all the concept work behind it and things like that.
“Yeah, that was my favorite thing to do. Like a lot of video games will have unlockables in them. I really love- even when I was a kid- video games that would let you unlock concept art for it. Did you ever play a game called Ty the Tasmanian Tiger? That one had an unlockable where you got this huge gallery of all the concept art, and I just loved going through and looking at everything. Just seeing the ideas and how they’ve evolved over time. I think a lot of my art is definitely influenced by what I absorbed as a kid; video games and cartoons and comic books and all that stuff, but it’s not directly referential to it. I wouldn’t call it fan art, but it’s more an homage to it, in a way”.
Has working at Artist and Craftsman helped you? What did you do before working there?
“I worked at Quality Vision LLC. It was… basically all they do is inspect automotive parts. If something fucks up, they send it to us and we check it all. I don’t know that I would say that that job helped my artwork, I kind of used my artwork as an escape from it because it was a very dead job. But now with working at Artist and Craftsman I get to work with other artists and I see what they do and it’s just all this amazing stuff they’re making and I’m like ‘shit, I’ve got to step my game up now’. Like, I can’t lag behind these people”.
Where do you have your studio?
“I work at Tua Lingua, which functions50/50 as a gallery and an artist’s work space in North Charleston. I moved in here just about two years ago, about when they just opened. I’m pretty sure I’m the senior member now. What’s so great about it is that it provides an affordable work space for artists, and it’s definitely helped me develop as an artist. It gives me a place where I can just shut everything out and work on my art. I’d have to say that I’m better as an artist because of it”.