Artist Interview: Adam Roth

What sets Adam Roth apart from other illustrators is that you can actually go beyond the initial surface-level awesomeness of his pieces. For example, the burger warrior above is rad as hell, right? However, it’s not just that. It’s also got Adam’s pain, joy, and personal nature infused into it, making it more of a fine artwork then just a cartoon rendering of a cheeseburger gladiator. To most of us, action figures were toys we played with as children just for fun. Yet, to Adam Roth, they mean so much more, as you’ll find out in the interview below. They’re his muses. They’re his models. And they’re part of the reason Adam is one of the most unique artists I’ve come across in Los Angeles. So, in order to give you a full spectrum of his world, I’ve carefully curated the following images so you’re not just seeing Adam’s paintings, but you’re also getting a glimpse at the toys in his collection that inspire many of his works. Adam will be featured in the  upcoming exhibit VOID: In the Nether Regions, which opens on April 12th [2012] at Homeroom Gallery in Los Angeles.

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What are these action figures?

They’re Food Fighters.

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Are they from a cartoon series?

Nope, they’re actually from these glory years back in the 80’s and early 90’s when companies would make toys without accompanying cartoons or movies. If the line was eventually successful, they would make comics or cartoon series about it – but that never happened with the Food Fighters that I’m aware of.

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Have you kept onto them ever since you were a kid?

Unfortunately, I had destroyed many of them when I was a kid in poor attempts to customize them. However, I’ve managed to rebuild my collection by scouring flea markets and eBay.

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What’s one of most recent pieces you’ve added to your toy collection?

I just got a Fisher-Price Adventure Person and man, he’s cool! You’ve got to understand that these toys are like my little plastic muses.

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Have you ever made your own action figure?

That’s my eventual goal and let’s just say I’m working on it.

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So, what’s your opinion on art toys vs. action figures?

The art toy market is cool, but here’s my beef with it. When I was a kid, I would’ve hated them because, for the most part, they’re essentially statues that you can’t really play with. And as far as I’m concerned, that defeats the whole purpose of what a toy is all about. Since, you should be able to pose the figures and create your own stories and adventures around them. Unfortunately, besides a few pricey exceptions, we’re not really seeing any playable artist-based toy lines come out. However, I’ve met some talented people recently who share the same sentiment as me and it’s given me encouragement that a community is forming slowly, but surely.

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Where do you think your love of this kind of art come from?

When I was a kid, I went to a summer camp in Long Island [NY] where one of my counselors, Jeff “JahFurry” Newelt, introduced me to all of these awesome toys and comics I had never heard of. We lost contact for years, but through the miracle of social networking sites we eventually got back in touch and are still friends to this day.

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Is there a running storyline throughout your work?

There is in a way. However, to me, connotative and evocative worlds are more interesting than denotative ones in which where everything is linear and specific. I like to see images and just imagine what they’re all about, rather then have someone tell me.

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[I push a button on the back of the toy scene above and its head goes flying across Adam’s studio. Fearing I broke it, I casually get back to the interview]

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What’s your favorite toy in the collection?

My favorite toy in the whole world is the main character from the original Ghostbusters cartoon, Jake. There’s the Ghostbusters film franchise and cartoon series that everyone knows with Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray, but there was actually another Ghostbusters cartoon series before all of that, which was by the production company Filmation. It was an adaptation of a mid-70s live action TV show, The Ghost Busters. The original cartoon and the one that we’re all more familiar with are completely different too. In the Ghostbusters with Bill Murray, the team drives around in the Ecto-1, but in Filmation’s Ghostbusters they have this chitty-chitty-bang-bang-like vehicle called The Ghost Buggy – plus they also have an  ape on their team instead of Slimer.

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What were your favorite types of characters as a kid?

I loved all the heroes. I could tell them apart from the bad guys instantly when I was kid because toys are representative of different archetypes. And I think there’s something intrinsic to that, which kids recognize. Also, toys act as pneumonic devices – the toy helps you remember the experience, and the experience helps you remember the toy.

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Whoa, is that a Dick Tracy toy?

Yes, but it’s actually sort of special because none of the other models came with a coat on them like this one has. Someone must’ve made it by hand and now it’s one of my prized possessions.

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What was the experience like for you to create such a personal piece like “Bye, Nana”?

There was something so cathartic for me to go through making that piece.

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It’s the same face I saw on grandpa before he died…

I know it’s crazy. The more I thought about the piece, the more I considered it being the start of a series. Yes, you’re seeing death, but it’s also a birth. It’s the ending of one phase and the beginning of another. And there are a couple things that have happened in my life that I want to depict in that same way.

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Like what else?

I’ve had some intense surgeries because I was born with this thing called VATER syndrome and it has pretty much affected my whole body – still does. I remember the first time I was conscious of the surgeries. It was when I was 7 years old. It was a terrifying time in my life because the notion of being put to sleep and possibly not waking up was scary and very real. You want to hear about one of the stories?

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Yes, what happened?

My thumb was bent when I was born, so the doctors wanted to straighten it out for what they claimed were aesthetic purposes. Anyways, they basically inserted a metal rod into it and left it there. I had a cast on my arm for about 3 months and then they put me in a splint. For some reason, when they put the splint on my I could see that my thumb was still an open wound. So, a 7-year-old me got to stare at this bloody hole in my thumb with a metal pin sticking out of it. To cut a long story short, one day I was playing with my toys on the floor of my room and the metal rod got caught on the carpet and pulled out of hand. Since the absolute scariest thing to me at the time was the thought of going back to the hospital, I ended up just pushing it back in.

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Wasn’t that painful?

It was horrible, but it was either do that or go back to hospital, which was comparable to death.

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Does your love of collecting and drawing toys have something to do with that time in your life?

Absolutely. And the way I tend to justify my voracious toy collecting is that when I was a kid, toys seemed to represent this happy place for me to escape to, as did drawing. I didn’t have to think about what was going on with my body, since I could just retreat to my imagination. And my parents, for better or worse, bought me a lot of toys – especially when rough stuff was happening. So, getting home to play with new toys became my incentive for getting through surgeries. Consequently, I think they’ll forever represent an escape from pain, from reality.

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  • http://www.mikerexbooks.blogspot.com Mike Rex

    There’s some really great stuff here. I really love that Ackbar drawing, but then again I’m a big softy for anything Kenner related. I agree about the “art toy” market being kinda cool, but missing the point because they aren’t real toys. Keep up the excellent work.

  • http://koolskull.bandcamp.com KOOL SKULL

    I met adam the first time while going to a bunch of crazy warehouse parties in LA. we ran into eachother, and for some reason, we clicked before we even got to talk. he asked if i was an artist, and looked at my portfolio. i asked if he had any stuff, then he pulled out this huge pile of scraps of paper that he just drew on. it didnt matter what it was, he’d draw on it. and he’d keep it. I loved him from then, and still do till this day. great, honest, inspirational creator! definitely going in history as one of the greats!

  • http://www.teselations.com Isaac

    What a profound intellect and inspiring artist. Many good things in store for this one!

  • Ian

    This kid is for real. Adam and I became buds during his stay in SF. He had the best action figure collection in SF. Most people are pretty boring no matter how hard we try but Adam is not like us. He is weirdo who is kind enough to let us see the madness in his dome. A strange gem.