April 02, 2012

Interview with Pat Riot, baseball-card artist

I think it was 1996 or 1997. I was a senior in high school and completely obsessed with the Pop Art sensibility of using old images in new ways. For me, it culminated in making about 200 copies of a blown-up 1930s clip art image of a toaster and posting them everywhere in my high school. (The janitors hated me. Not kidding.) 

Glasses, Shepard Fairey, 1997
Around that time I found out about Shepard Fairey. I became obsessed with Fairey's "Obey Giant" artwork, and when Fairey launched his online print store, I saved up the $22 and purchased a great poster he cribbed from the Russian avant garde cinema posters of the 1920s (see image at right). (That $22 poster, tack holes and all, now hangs in my living room.) 

There is relevance in my bringing this up. I was convinced then that Shepard Fairey was on the cusp of the next step in art. He was pulling seemingly random ideas – with their own individual meaning – out of pop culture and mashing them together in anti-establishment ways to create a new meaning: the tongue-in-cheek graffiti artist warning against the police state. That his work eventually found notoriety and mainstream acceptance at established art museums would not have surprised 17-year-old Ben.

So when Pat Riot contacted me about his custom cardwork series "Discard," I sat bolt upright. His work is in the same vein as old-school Shepard Fairey, and evokes the same feeling: that this is a next logical step for art. 

Riot's work turns the traditional hero worship inherent to baseball cards on its ear, forcing the viewer to question the very purpose of a sports card while poking fun at the covetous nature of the hobby. 

I don't mean to characterize Riot as an amateur; he is not. He is a working, professional artist. His body of work as a collage artist is impressive (I recommend his "Race War" series, colliding NASCAR with Civil War–era imagery). He's had solo shows in the Greater Los Angeles area, and his work sells.

Nor do I mean to characterize baseball-card art as a new thing. Clearly, it is not. From renegade Punk Rock Paint to sketch cards officially sanctioned by the card companies, I would say that we are currently in a baseball-card-art renaissance. 

The Baseball Card Blog caught up with Pat via email.

BBC Blog: What is your background?

Pat Riot: Having dropped out of art school, I am more interested in the do-it-yourself variety. Art categorized as "outsider art." Henry Darger's work ethic is a huge influence. And I like a lot of "street art." Space Invader is great. I like that he's playing a game with his art. I also love the absurdity of Surrealism.

BBC Blog: I think your baseball-card-based work is ingenious. How did you decide on baseball cards as a medium?

PR: It's always the simple things that seem so ingenious, right? I wish there was some big, smart moment when I made the discovery, but honestly, I was just messing around in my studio one day back in 2005. I had been cutting up a lot of old books and magazines for a collage and also had some old cards that I had lying around so I decided to give it a try...

BBC Blog: You refer to this series as "re-faced cards," which begs the question: Do you have a card in mind first, or a re-purposed face?

PR: A little bit of both. Usually I just sit down with my cards, scissors and a high stack of potential.

BBC Blog: Tell me about the cards.

PR: My story is all too familiar. My mom threw away my collection. It was pretty worthless, anyway. I buy most of them from the era when I remember collecting, the 70s and 80s. I found some amazing uncut sheets of cards on eBay that I've been working on. The '87 woodgrain! It looks seamless and awesome as a whole sheet. I DEFACED the Barry Bonds rookie card!

BBC Blog: Do you create pieces to exist individually, or are they meant to be viewed together as a whole?

PR: They stand alone as one-offs, but they carry a lot of punch as whole set. They look nice in a book, too!

BBC Blog: Are any cards sacred to you?

PR: No card is sacred. I'm actually ADDING value to these old (in most cases) cards. I'm giving them new relevance and view ability... [Though] I would never hurt a Mark Fidrych card. Or a Hank Aaron.

View more of Pat Riot's work in our Custom Cardwork gallery, and at his official website.

Check out more of The Baseball Card Blog interviews from the past five years here.

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