It’s interesting to be someone associated vaguely with the art world. You end up seeing people time and time again, circle past each other in your own groups, sharing a smile here and there, but never really talking with each other. I’ve known Chris Bodily, or known of him I guess I should say, for years since I lived in Cedar City, Utah a few years ago. I’ve always adored his art and I own quite a few pieces that I’m very proud of. Somehow I’d never had a conversation with him and I’ve been dying to have one and I’m so glad I finally had my chance.
Chris, the artist behind the work known as Hatrobot is the quintessential artist when he speaks. It’s like I can watch the ink pen maniacally shaking in his head as he speaks, eyes darting quickly, chasing each idea as he talks, sketching something in his mind that will inevitably become something astounding in his sketchbook. There’s a knowing, haunting quality in his words and in his smile; it’s an honor to hear him speak and share himself. I cannot wait for you all to read the interview below. Please enjoy and go show his artwork some love.
*All photos in the post used with permission of Chris Bodily.
When did you start drawing and why?
I’ve been drawing since I was a child. I watched a lot of cartoons on TV and I read a lot of comic books: Scooby Doo, He-Man, The Simpsons was a big influence, Ninja Turtles. ALso my sister used to own a book store and when the book store went under, I inherited the comic book collection from there. I would read through them and art became my thing. I learned to draw by watching The Simpsons. I’d watch it and pause it and draw the characters from the screen. It was something I loved doing.
I mean, I just loved cartoons, all cartoons. I think The Simpsons is where I learned to draw becuse at the time it was very popular at school so when I learned how to draw Bart Simpson I could be much cooler than I was.
When I got a little older, I read this book by Chris Ware called Acme Novelty Library and it opened my eyes to the potential art could have toward having a deeper social meaning, even with simple cartoon line work. My work now is an amalgamation of the cartoony of my childhood and the cathartic adult sensibility of who I am now.
How would you classify your art?
I would say primarily it would be considered low brow or pop surrealism. I call it illustration. Really, you know, I feel like more than anything I do the type of work I enjoy doing and let it be whatever it’s going to be.
What themes do you generally play with in your art?
Mm, well… you know. The work I do is really train of thought. I don’t sit down at a piece of paper with a preconceived idea in my mind and I let whatever forms embrace what I’m reading. So you know, anything that I’m reading or thinking or listening to, my emotional state of being too. All of that feeds into the work and shapes it. I try and just allow that subconscious train of thought to embody itself on the page.
Where did you come up with the name Hatrobot for your art?
I could give you the history of it, but I think the more interesting thing is, the name Shakespeare didn’t mean anything until after he earned his place. Hatrobot doesn’t mean anything but it embodies the work that I do. Hatrobot is the work I do; it’s kind of arbitrary. I wrote a comic zine in high school called Hat and when I built my website it became Hatrobot, the robot version of Hat. You know, it’s a distinct name. When people google Chris Bodily, you get articles about Chris Brown but when you google Hatrobot you find me.
I’ve noticed a lot of your art has themes of horror or monsters. Where does that come from?
Well, I’m bipolar and I think for me art is very cathartic. I would… I feel good about being able to use my dark places and my internal conflicts and being able to create something beautiful rather than do something destructive. It’s almost like my pieces are psychological self portraits of me working through personal issues.
Are you working as an artist full time?
Yes! Um yeah, its hard. Well it was hard and I think it was hard to get to the place I am now. I feel like, you know, a lot of people see the end result and they thing it was something you just walk into. It took then years to build the portfolio I have now. I worked a lot of part time jobs and I was broke a lot of the time. It took a long time to figure out how the business of art works. It was not an overnight thing. Somebody said once, “It takes ten years to make an overnight success.” So yeah, it took work to get me where I’m at and I still try to be disciplined and I draw at least five hours a day if I can. I make sure that everyday I’m doing something to continue the progress. As far as hard, it’s not hard to get to do something you love. Right now I’m at a point where the hard work has paid off.
Do you have a favorite piece of art you’ve created?
It’s hard to pin down a favorite piece because I would say there are pieces that are more personal than others. A Heavy Heart is not only one of my most personal pieces, it’s also the piece that was the turning point in my career of going from being broke to being successful. It’s what I would say is the most personal of my pieces.
I went through some pretty dark times. And the pieces that mean the most to me are the ones that came out of that time period. They are what helped me heal; they are what brought my life back together.
|A Heavy Heart|
I know that you do a lot of work in the Improv community. Does that come into your art at all?
Yeah, I look at improv like it’s art by committee. It’s still art, just in a different format. The idea of embracing your mistakes and the idea of trusting what you’re creating and the juxtaposition of ideas and all of that feeds back and forth. I think a lot about visual art when I’m doing improv, in the sense of layering and textures as far as the narrative and just the scene picture in your head and on stage. I think both disciplines work back and forth together.
What is your creative process like?
I just create the work. I wasn’t in the habit of naming my pieces until I was creating them digitally because you have to name your files. I create the work to create it. There’s a quote I took from a professor at Southern Utah University, “A zen potter creates a thousand pots and then destroys the pots. After a thousand pots, he can create whatever pot he wants.” Art isn’t something that hangs on the wall; it’s the thing that happens when you are making the thing that hangs on the wall. I’m only an artist when I’m creating and then I move on and create more. That’s kind of the process I go through. I want to continue to learn and crate, continue to change if my art changes. I embrace that change.
What other artists inspire you?
I know there’s a lot. As far as those that influence me, Chris Ware really opened my eyes to the possibilities of what you could do with cartoons. Van Gogh. I didn’t really like Van Gogh’s work when I saw it printed in a book but I remember the first time I saw it in a museum. I saw the Impasto and I broke down crying and at that moment I understood. It was like a window to Van Gogh’s life. That experience opened my eyes to the connection you can make with your art to the viewers.
How do you feel about the intersection of trauma and art?
My work is not perfect or polished but what I think the value of my work has is the raw honesty that I put into it. I think the thing that resonates with people who enjoy my art is that they can connect emotionally to the themes I put in my work. I think being honest with all of your experiences is what gives art its richness. And not that you have to experience trauma in order to create great art, but you shouldn’t be afraid of embracing the difficulties into your life and incorporating that into your work.
|This is my favorite of his works. It’s called Fiction and Beauty.
I keep it right above my writing desk.
Does your wife inspire your art?
I’m certainly happier now than I was previously! I think my work now especially in the last couple of years, it changed a little in that now I’m more concerned with the craftsmanship. I’m focused on fine tuning my work and making it more…I don’t have the word but I’m learning new skills. Right now it’s not so much about finding a way to say what’s inside me like it was; it’s about learning better wasy to say that.
It’s nice to have Chelsea. She believes in me and I believe in her and it’s important to me that she can pursue her dreams and creative vision and it’s important to her that I pursue mine as well. It allows me to take chances and explore and I think my work has improved more in the time that I’ve been with her than it ever has before.
|I KNOW RIGHT. They are perfect, get them out of here.|
What is your favorite part of the artistic process?
My process has two main parts. I start out with the pen and ink drawing and then I scan it in and color it digitally but drawing by hand is definitely the most rewarding part. It’s that interaction and discovery that I love to let unfold and I’m creating it. It’s that process of discovery, of putting your hand down on the page and discovering yourself and creating something out of nothing. I think that’s my favorite part, just as the ideas begin to appear.
Have you won any awards for your art?
I’ve got two Del Close awards, I’ve got an Indie Ogden award, Salt Lake City Weekly Arty Award and I just got People’s Choice for the Utah Arts Festival. Those are the big ones. And it’s nice to be recognized like that. I think when you win an award or some sort of achievement, it’s not just based on your work. It’s a testament to the people who believed in you and helped you, the people that have enjoyed your work and supported your work. It’s not something I’ve done by myself. It’s to all the people who helped me to achieve anything at this point. It’s always nice to win an award but it’s not the focus for me as much as it’s a way of giving back to the people who have gotten me here.
One of my favorite pieces of yours is a feminist related piece. Do you often get involved in political statements with your art?
I used to be much more political with my work. Bach when I started doing flash cartoons I had a lot of political statements I was trying to make. I’ve dialed it back considerably; I try to keep my personal viewpoints on politics or religion to myself.
At the same time, I’m not afraid to champion the causes I believe in. I’m much less concerned with criticizing things I disagree with. I’m a big believer in feminism and equality so it’s interesting to see how much doing something like that can resonate. When I did the piece for the Pride festival, I was really touched by the amount of people who have come up to me and said the piece really made a difference for them. People want to see themselves in the work around them. They want to know is my race, is my gender, is my point of view expressed somewhere in art and do I have a voice outside of myself? Am I part of a large community? If I do something political, I don’t need to be snarky anymore. I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s viewpoints and I don’t think that bullying someone or making fun of their viewpoints helps them to change or open their mind.
How do you find inspiration in a dry spell?
I don’t really run into artist’s block. I think in part because my philosophy is, like I said, you can create a thousand pots and destroy them all. I think it’s like if there’s an archer in the middle of a field and he’s shooting at nothing, he has all of his skills. He has control of his body and he’s shooting straight. The minute you put a target in front of him, there’s nothing about what he controls and he’s thinking about the target. When I’m working, I try not to think about the end goal of how it’s going to turn out or if it will work, or if it will sell. I try to focus on where I’m at any present moment and I try to embrace that.
Going back to improv, it’s the rule that there is no such thing as a mistake if you embrace everything you do. If I embrace where I’m at no matter where I’m at be it manic, depressed, happy, excited, sad; if I embrace that or create for wherever I’m at then there is no wrong answer. If I create a piece that’s no good, who cares? If I create a piece that’s amazing, great! I’ll put it on the website. The artistic process is what’s happening when you work through ideas or emotions. What ends up on the page is just something else.
What do you want people to get from your art?
My work isn’t for everyone and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. I want to create work that when somebody connects with it, that it connects with them on a personal level. I think the viewer’s experience is always going to be different. There’s no right or wrong to that. So if they see a piece and it’s funny and makes them laugh, that’s awesome! If someone sees it and it makes them emotional, awesome! If they see it for the technical skill in the piece, awesome! The viewer’s experience is a creation all its own. My interaction when I’m crafting the work and then my work interacting with someone else is different. I like that ambiguity that once it’s created it can be something new.
What is your advice to young artists?
My best advice is don’t worry about getting recognized. Work on your craft, do work you’re passionate about and that you believe in and put in the man hours to make it as good as it can be. Because you know, there’s plenty of work out there for everyone with the advent of the internet. Everybody has a voice and it’s totally democratized. You can get your work seen by thousands of people but like at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter as much as what your experience is to your work.
If you’re not passionate about what you’re doing, why are you doing it, right? There’s not a ton of money in art so if that’s your end goal, I would suggest going to something else. Just take your craft seriously and be passionate.