Rob Dunlavey Profile
posted: January 29, 2007
Rob took a break from talking art to play the mbira....
I met with Rob Dunlavey, 51,  the other day when he was in New York to deliver his piece for the SI 49 Advertising Show. Over curried goat and jerked chicken at Daphne's on 14th Street, he described the dual perspective he has on his work and the fence he's straddled all his life.

"Well, I can’t remember when I first began drawing but the things that I remember drawing when I was quite little were battle scenes and castles and torture scenes with lots of guns and tanks and all this horrible stuff. And as I was drawing, I'd be making sound effects; it’s like I would animate a drawing with sounds.

"I remember I got a lot of positive feedback, with my pictures all over the kitchen wall. When I was 11 our house burned out and everything went with it, but the thing I remember is a couple of those drawings on the wall; I would love to see those again.

"I never set out to be an illustrator; when I was going to school in Los Angeles,  I was doing sculpture: big, site specific stuff, using found materials. And I was drawing a lot and just doing a lot of process-related kind of art activity; I don't know how else to best explain it. Then I came out of school and started sending slides out and trying to find galleries in Los Angeles and then I moved back to the midwest, to Chicago.

"But I wasn't getting the kind of traction that you need, so I fell back on kind of an old skill, which was doing illustration. When you think about it, I'd been doing illustrations since I was in grade school: from a program for the fifth grade Thanksgiving Pageant to a T shirt in high school, to doing posters and comics for the college newspaper. And all the while I was tracking on the fine art side. It's sort of odd to go through to a Masters of Fine Art in sculpture and this whole academic environment, and then to come back around to illustration.

"I've spent a certain amount of time thinking about fine art and galleries and the whole myth of all that: that the artist makes a statement and it goes out into the world while people salute. At some point I got really disenchanted with it because I realized that it's a business too, where you're working for a very small, select group of people. What sustains it is a kind of a myth that you're selling them: that you're this innovative person who's ... a genius. And that's sort of dishonest, to me.

"You know, I think a lot of “Great Art” has basically been a form of collaboration between a client and an artist and so I guess I call that illustration. I'm interested in making that kind of enterprise robust and deep, meaning that you bring all your issues to it and all your humanity to it but yet you're doing it in collaboration with another person. I don't think you can quite do that in gallery art. Maybe you can; I'm sure some people have tackled this better than I have.  I don't know, illustration just seems somehow more honest to me.

"But it's still really a two-track thing for me. I mean, I grew up doing art for me and art for art and I got praise for it. Then, I did things for other people and continued to get praise for it and that developed into a vocation, or I should say, into a career, really. But there's still kind of a two-track sort of emotion about the whole experience for me. If I was on a fence and I had to jump one way or the other, I know which way I would jump, and it wouldn't be into illustration: I would jump into doing my own thing."