Visual Artist – Robert Grad
Rob Grad is a multidisciplinary artist and musician living and working in Los Angeles, California. In his work, Rob blends various artistic mediums to express his exploration of how we constantly grow, change and move through life. This personal journey stems from his experience in the music industry getting his first record deal with RCA Records fresh out of high school. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions, group exhibitions, and he has received commissions for individuals and corporations. His most recent commission, “SF” hangs in the San Francisco International Airport. He was also a TEDx speaker in Culver City, California.
In a Tumblr post, you wrote that your “best work was ahead of you.” What do you envision for your future work? What unturned artistic stone would you like to upturn?
I hope I always feel like my best work is in front of me. I need to stay challenged and inspired. Even if I complete a piece I feel was successful, there is always more. The next thing. The next idea. Deeper. Better. Fresher.
I’ve been experimenting with more sculptural elements and non-traditional ingredients in my new work and excited about where it’s going. I’m also working on two different audio visual show concepts. Coming from a background in music, I’ve been working with various new ways to incorporate the two mediums.
I tend to work like a scientist, experimenting with different ideas and possibilities, then when something clicks I go into a period of rapid output. I feel myself nearing a new phase of high activity.
I think the best advice anyone has ever given me was to go travel. I was feeling kind of stuck in my life and a friend said to me, “close your eyes, what’s the first place that comes to mind?” I said, “France.” She said, “go there.”
I was so intrigued by the randomness of it, I wound up booking a ticket and going. I figured, why not? I’ve never been to Europe. That trip changed my life. I found my way to the Thyssen Museum in Madrid, and while looking at a Robert Rauschenberg painting was struck with an idea for an audio visual show. I got the chills. It was like lightning. I went home and got back into painting. A whole new chapter of my life opened.
The best piece of advice I’ve probably ever passed along is to keep going but be flexible. Keep your eyes open. Things change. We change. If you had told me 15 years ago I was going to be a visual artist, I would’ve said “I would love that, but it’s not gonna happen in this life.”
It’s not too often these days that a song sweeps me away. My ears are too analytical from all the years creating music. I hear chord changes, lyrics and tones…the pimples, nuts and bolts. It’s hard for me to step back and take in a whole song. When I’m working in my studio, often times I listen to unfinished demos of songs I’ve written. I have hundreds of them. I like how those bits influence my visual work. Having said that, I have listened to some music I’ve loved recently….
Van Halen / “I Don’t Want to Hear About It Later” – I went back recently and listened to some music I grew up on. I wanted to reconnect to the magic. This was one of my favorite songs when I was in grade school. Blew my mind all over again.
The National / “Ohio” – I saw these guys at the Hollywood Bowl a couple years ago and didn’t get it. It was packed and I thought they were awful. I went home and listened to their album because I had to believe I was missing something. I stumbled on this song and it brought a tear to my eye. First time a song has done that in I can’t remember when.
Avicii / “Wake Me Up” – I know…way overplayed at this point. But this song is no accident. It’s awesome. From the subject matter, to the performance and the production. I listened to it again last week. I don’t listen to radio, so I don’t get sick of songs like I used to. Everything stays fresh.
Hammock – A mellow etheric band I love painting to.
Max Richter / “Blue Notebooks” – One of my favorite albums of all time. Check tracks 2 and 3. Also quiet and mellow. Great for driving, walking and painting.
I think I would put Robert Rauschenberg at the top of my artist list with Expressionism second as a movement. I was standing in front of Rauschenberg’s “Express” when I decided to commit myself to visual art. It’s just kind of when everything clicked. Silk screened photos, the expressive nature of the colors and brush strokes, the content of the images. I really dove into his work after that and his freedom inspired me.
The expressionists affected me in a similar way. The fact that art could do more than mirror our visual world is what attracted me. Not that people weren’t using figurative work as expression before that in various ways, but the Expressionists blew it wide open. I found something in common with how I made music.
I am generally attracted to expression as the primary function in art. I use materials and technique as a conduit for that. This is why I use so many non-traditional elements in my work.
Side note: I was asked to speak at a high school for artists in Florida a few years ago (really fun) and the teacher was a friend of the guy running Rauschenberg’s estate. He offered to take us over there. We got a private tour of the entire Rauschenberg compound. I’ll never forget it. I was in heaven. The stories that guy told were incredible. Everything I heard and saw that day taught me so much about the possibilities of art and being an artist.
The beach. Any beach. I lived in Venice Beach for 15 years and walked by the water almost every day. I never got tired of it. I don’t surf. I don’t swim. It’s the energy and expansiveness of it. I also like to take long drives. One of the advantages of Los Angeles is how many things are within a few hours’ drive. Big Sur. Palm Springs. Crowded places are interesting to me, but not inspiring. My best ideas come in solitude, so I seek out nature and open space.
You had a record deal right out of high school, toured with Bon Jovi, and formed your own band. What made you switch gears to focus on visual art?
I started in music because I found something magical about communicating my deepest thoughts and emotions through creativity and then connecting with other people through that creation. I was ecstatic. It bypassed all the noise, distractions and crap in the world. The concept that I could actually make a living by creating my own music blew my mind.
I began experimenting with painting when I felt that the musical waters were slowly being poisoned. Once money entered the picture, everything changed. As a band, we lost our way. My shift was very instinctual. I was always attracted to art and frequented museums, but didn’t really know much about its’ history at the time. That all came later. I just knew I had things I wanted to communicate and music was no longer a pure avenue.
As I got older, I realized that having ambition for a career in the any of the arts comes with an array of issues to navigate. I have a much more solid sense of myself now which makes it all much easier.
My interest shifted to a commitment after being struck with the idea for that audio visual show. I knew there was no one else who could make it how I imagined, so I’d have to learn the skills to do it myself. And once that can of worms was open, I found visual art to be more agile in addressing a wider variety of concepts. My father was always so handy when I was growing up. I was more heady. I’m finding myself really attracted to building things with my hands. Creating something tangible. I love it.
Musician – George Sarah
George Sarah rose to notoriety in the electronic music scene with Stereotaxic Device, a band he was in from 1988 until 1992, when he began his solo career under the moniker THC, which he used until 1999.
In 2000, George Sarah’s demo, “Sonata for Petra,” reached #1 on the influential L.A. radio station KCRW. The following year, he was invited by Nic Harcourt, along with his string trio, for a live performance of his electronic chamber music on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. In 2002 he recorded his CD “Music for Elevators,” a collaboration with actor Anthony Stewart Head, whom he met when performing on season 4 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
In 2003, he released a CD of his compositions for the Discovery Health Channel, called “Ossia,” consisting mostly of songs from the series “Plastic Surgery: Before and After” for Original Productions. The CD was the #1 add on CMJ’s RPM chart on May 5, 2003. Also in 2003, Sarah was named ‘Best Electronic Artist in L.A.’ by the readers of L.A. Alternative Press.
Sarah was commissioned by the Mother New York advertising agency to compose the music for ‘Terracotta Warriors,’ a daily performance of an outdoor advertisement for Johnson & Johnson Products at the Beijing Olympics in August, 2008. The 14-minute score accompanied a performance featuring the Beijing Modern Dance Company and 23-foot tall marionettes at the China Millenium Monument.
Sarah premiered an original soundtrack to Carl Dreyer’s 1928 silent film “The Passion of Joan of Arc” on August 10, 2010 at Grand Performances in Downtown Los Angeles. His composition featured a string quartet and a choir of four singers from the Los Angeles Master Chorale, who performed under the conduction of Sarah and accompanied by his electronic instrumentation.
In 2012, his album “Who Sleep the Sleep of Peace” was released, featuring guests and collaborations with several artists: David J of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets; Angela McCluskey of Télépopmusik and Wild Colonials; Alain Whyte of Morrissey fame; James Fearnley of The Pogues; and Monique Powell of Save Ferris. The single “Anna” from the album, featuring vocals by McCluskey, was selected as KCRW’s “Today’s Top Tune” on April 6, 2011.
On February 18, 2014, Flat Field Records of Seattle released Sarah’s new CD entitled ‘Timelapse.’
Interview with George Sarah
Have you always known you wanted to be a musician?
Yes, since I was 6 years old–after my parents took me to the Hollywood Bowl.
How did you discover your talent for music?
For fun, I started writing a cappella pieces when I was eight.
Where is your favorite place to go in LA to get creative inspiration?
That inspiration happens everywhere I go in LA, especially after seeing a good concert, film, dance company, etc. But a few of the places I go to rejuvenate are: nature, the beach, desert, places with Gothic architecture like the traditional Cathedrals, Huntington Botanical Gardens, and the Getty.
What’s been a memorable collaboration for you? Why was it memorable?
In 2010, I was commissioned by Grand Performances to compose, arrange and perform a live score for the 1928 Carl Dreyer silent film ‘La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc’. It was a mix of electronic rhythms, string quartet and four voice choir with members of the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
I had complete creative freedom with the score. I wrote all the arrangements, and the text the singers were singing was all in Medieval Latin.
Last song that really made you jam like a crazy man?
Krzysztof Penderecki’s ‘Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima’.
What does the future hold for electronic music? What will it be like 50 years from now?
It will continue to grow in the mainstream and become more popular. It will be extremely complex and beautiful, similar to Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.
What was it like having your work showcased at the Beijing Olympics?
It was an honor and it was really a memorable time and experience for me.
What was your process in composing the piece for “Terracotta Warriors?”
It was the first time I worked with a choreographer and it was really easy. It was a collaboration with Cynthia Washburn and Patrick Shearn of Poetic Kinetics, however, I was in LA and they were in Beijing. They were very supportive of my work and that’s always great because you need to build confidence on a huge and ambitious project. The piece is a little over 14 minutes long and took over two months. Cynthia would send me notes but always in a musical language like “extend 8 bars”, or “crescendo needs to build for 12 measures,” so it was really helpful. I hope to work more with dancers and choreographers in the future.
Learn more about George Sarah and his music at: https://www.facebook.com/GeorgeSarahMusic