I spoke with Rob Seven, a folk artist based out of Asheville, NC. I asked him about how he became a working artist and was amazed at how similar our stories were.
Rob Seven: My last real job was as a computer operator for the Department of Commerce, in Charlotte, in a windowless, florescent lit room with lots of buzzing noises. Very artificial. Felt very much like you were stuck in the matrix.
For me it was such a transformative thing that happened that I resisted it. I was sitting with my mom while she was dying in the hospital. I’d see all these people in poor shape up and down the hall and I realized that it’s rarely one thing that gets you. It’s like something weakens you and then something else comes in and finishes the job.
Sometimes life changes are that way too, you know. It can just be normal things like, for me, a divorce, my mom passing, a couple of job layoffs. But when all those things happen within a few months, it can really leave you kinda raked over the coals.
During that time, I was listening to a teacher who said, “you always have to have some breakdown to have a breakthrough.” When I heard that, it made the hair on my arms stand up. It goes all the way back to birth. The baby’s not comfortable when it’s leaving it’s comfort space and it’s being pushed, through violent contractions to who knows where. So, I sorta developed that into my own saying, “birth always looks like death from the other side.”
So, for me, during that time period, where jobs weren’t working, my mom passed after months in the hospital, and my marriage split up, I was like dammit *shaking head*. You know? But this thing just kinda came out of the middle of it. I’d look for old soup spoons and I’d join them together, tape them up and join them with leather. Kinda make them look nice and play spoons with them. When they were joined together they were easier to play. One day I was out buying spoons and I decided to buy a whole box to see if I could make rings. I did. But it was just like opening up a Pandora’s box. I went and bought a little torch to sauter with. Kinda taught myself.
Next thing I know I have a living room full of little people and animals and things. This lady came over and said “you should take some of these to a show.” I had that moment that I see so many people have where they’re skeptical, scared to make the jump. But within a few weeks I was starting to say to myself, “well I should take this stuff somewhere.” So, I just started. At the time, I had no idea that there was an entire country full of art shows and festivals and that type of thing.
As fate would have it, the very first time I took some pieces to a show, a man named Joe Adams, who was a folk art dealer and collector, came through and bought a whole armload of stuff. Didn’t haggle or anything. I came home from that event with cash. It wasn’t like working somewhere and a couple weeks later you get a check but an actual face to face exchange. It felt real.
He and I became good friends and through him I discovered this whole world of folk art or outsider art. The first time they invited me down to do a show at one of their galleries, that was another in a series of epiphanatic moments for me. I walked in and saw all these great paintings. It wasn’t like a lot of galleries where they had paintings every twelve feet. They had paintings from floor to ceiling. I was like, “holy shit, I’ve painted stuff like this before.” Before that I didn’t know that there was like a name for it or anything but it sort of gave me permission. After that, if I felt like doing a painting, I just did a painting. I didn’t worry about if I could paint or not.
That’s the way kids do it. They don’t worry about what people think, they just do it. The most important part about rediscovering the inner child is letting go of our fear of outcome.
BW: Growing up in the south, you hear a lot about being born again. Art was kind of my savior. I believe I’d be dead or wishing I was, if I wouldn’t have found a way to express myself and a way to support myself outside of a corporation. The experience you talk about is very similar to mine and it’s like being born again.
Rob Seven: And again and again. Seven or eight times a day sometimes.