Interview with Artist Crazy Red Beard
If you’ve ever been to a concert or music festival, there is a good chance you’ve seen a live artist at work. Whether it be a painter, fire dancer, or any other aesthetic, there is a true beauty behind watching them create their art. You the viewer are able to witness their unique vision first hand.
For a lot of us, we see live music to view raw creation of musicians. As you watch the artist create within the influences of the music, a flood of questions run through the mind. What influence does the music truly have? What runs through the mind of these artists? How did they get to where they are today?
Jonathan Blake, aka “Crazy Red Beard”, is a live painter hailing from Virginia. His abstract vision and unique style has shared the stage with members of many big names like Phish, Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane. Blake is a self taught artist, with a truly individual style that captures the moment in music, art, and time.
Have you always know you had an artistic destiny?
To be perfectly honest, when I was younger I never envisioned that I’d be undertaking visual art to such a degree. I always thought I’d be a writer…from about the 5th grade until about halfway through college. I don’t believe that live art is the end of my creative adventure.
How did you get into live painting?
I was first inspired to try live painting after seeing the New Orleans artist ‘Frenchy’ paint for Particle at the second Bonnaroo. It seemed like a perfect fit for me because I tend to overthink studio work and thus procrastinate. At my home, my friends would often just kind of hang around and watch while I painted as well so I’m sure that made an impression on me.
What/who would you say is your biggest inspiration?
My inspirations are constantly changing but on the ground level, my Dad, my grandmother (now deceased), Jesus Christ…artistically it’s a tough choice. I’m kind of a pop culture kid and I grew up reading comic books and quickly became a “collector” of things. Todd McFarlane was one of the first comic artists I can remember that sparked a real interest for me in some sort of visual art. Beyond that, I try not to tie myself down to any one source of inspiration. Everyone is inspiring to me in some way.
What’s your favorite memory or piece you’ve created?
There are definitely special pieces…favorite moments…getting to meet Jon Fishman from Phish was cool…it’s really been an amazing journey and it’s hard to encapsulate some of those moments. One day I’ll have to write a book. So maybe I’ll end up being an author after all.
But there are definitely moments for me in art (and life) when things just seem to all click together and the work just comes tumbling out. It doesn’t always happen that way, but when it does it’s pretty magical. I think my “favorite” piece has yet to be created. I feel like I’m always trying to one up myself.
What do you see in the future for artists like yourself?
As far as the future? I have no idea. Some of the live painters out there now will invariably veer off into different things and some will stay the course. I would hope that the development of this art in our scene (again) provides people with opportunities to be connect with potential clients. What I CAN say is that SOMETHING is happening. Over the last 5 or 6 years, I’ve seen this art form really grow. It’s exciting to see new people putting their voice out there. It also keeps things challenging and interesting.
What are some of the benefits and drawbacks of being an artist?
Benefits…getting to create art alongside of any number of amazing musicians…getting into shows for free…meeting creative and intersting people all over the country…feeling like I have a purpose in my community and life…
Drawbacks: Despite getting into shows for free, paying way more than any other show go-er since I’ve shelled out money for canvas, paint and travel expenses…people steal art sometimes in live settings…despite the fact that we provide a production value and bring people to shows, we are often not compensated for our efforts (unless we sell a work)…
I could go on with either category. There are plusses and minuses with this venture just like everything else. I’ll take the good and the bad all the same.
When you’re creating a piece and you have to stop and start at another show, is it hard to continue with the same vibe and vision?
Some works are non show specifc even when painted at shows. I try to let the work “tell” me when they’re “done.” But the energy level changes for sure. I mean, there are some things that could ONLY have been done in the time frame and under the circumstances that they were created. So, in a way, by necessity of reality, there has to be a change from show to show if a piece is continued but I don’t find that it stops or hinders me in any way. Sometimes it’s BETTER, in fact, to come back to a work (for me). I get “stuck” sometimes at shows when I just don’t know where the piece is going. I’ll get lost. This used to provoke a fair amount of anxiety in me because I felt like I had to finish the work before the show was over. So, in the beginning, there were a lot of pieces that were just jam packed with visual information and often times this led to really cool psychedelic discoveries. It also led to more than a few “wtf” pieces.
Now I let the process unfold more naturally. If I’ve said all I have to say for the night, I shut up. And sometimes coming back the next show gives you a new vision…let’s you breathe. So it can be a real shot in the arm to be honest…it helps more than hurts.
Do you feel there is a certain vibe or feeling you need from the band or is it relatively easy for your to mold with them and find a creation in their music?
I can paint to anything, really. There are certain groups or musicians that I think are simply more “open” than others and I believe those musicians and artists bring a certain energy along with them. It affects things, in my opinion. But I think those bands that are willing to explore…willing to push the envelope…willing to try new things creatively and musically…those groups are the ones I find I come back to over and over again.
What are your plans/vision so far for the rest of this year?
We have some big plans for this year. Just wait and see. But until we reveal the big “what’s next?”I’ll continue to live paint around the east coast. I get to paint with Alex and Allyson Grey at the Rock N Roll Resort: Psybiennt Soiree in late March up in NY…new pins and merch is on the way. I’d like to expland my clothing line and continue making urban artwear. But people who know me best…they won’t be shocked at the next project. It’s definitely going to take it up a notch for all the other artists and designers in our scene, though. I think, when it happens, we’re going to see a surge of extrememly cool stuff and a lot of new talent. Get excited.