Rah Crawford has been a legend in my book of Philadelphia culture for years now. It's an honor to interview him for our blog as a real inspiration to the work we've done here At Media from the beginning. As an internationally renowned artist, we were delighted to have Rah answer some of the most interesting questions about his past, future, and most importantly; the art itself. You can find his paintings online, and retail items at Ropeadope or PHAG, and be on the look out for his next act - as his art is a true investment!
AT: We've been following you since 2005, when I stumbled upon your WELCOME TO EARTH, Act 02: Deus Ex Machina expo during a First Friday in Old City. I remember wanting to bring a dictionary to your show, and jot down my feelings as I perused your paintings. Can you tell us more about your method of pairing words with your paintings?
RC: My goal when creating NPIC-Art was to develop a new approach to how one may engage a painting. By doing a little digging to uncover the definition of a word, the viewer can open another layer to the artwork (if they so choose). The modern human brain is capable of so much! We digest information in huge quantities via our mobile devices, computers, printed media, advertising and more. It's logical that contemporary art should meet the needs of the contemporary mind.
Left: BABY MOMMA DRAMA - Right: BIG RICH
AT: In your book "Welcome to Earth", you're quoted saying "I want my art to travel and explore the world on it's own". I've personally enjoyed having access to your work at a lower price than the original paintings, but some critics might say it's too commercial. How did the opportunity to develop your work into other mediums come about?
RC: It all started during Act 01: Human, my first official gallery exhibition. The evening was fantastic! The audience was so receptive to the work. Everyone had their phones out looking up words in the paintings and texting their friends to come see the show. The gallery was overflowing and one of the partners from Ropeadope™ apparel came to the show at the suggestion of his friend's text. He was impressed by the work and offered me a licensing deal on the spot.
Photograph by Tyler R. Westnedge
AT: Did you have any reservations as an artist?
RC: Not at all. I’m not just painting pictures, I’m introducing a new approach to art –That’s not something that happens overnight. It’s not a marketing gimmick that can be defined as being “too commercial” either. My artwork is supposed to be accessible on a variety of levels and price points for those that enjoy it. There’s a wide range between the lifestyles and incomes of my collectors. I want to be sure that options exist for those looking to bring my work into their lives.
AT: We've found these products locally at PHAG. Where else can one go to find your work in forms other than original paintings?
RC: My retail items (t-shirts, women’s apparel, pillows, canvas prints and bean bag chairs) were all contracted and released with a limited print run. Everything that was available is pretty much in the public’s hands. There just aren’t many retail items left on the market –and that’s a great thing. That phase of my career and that particular depiction of the art has run its course for now. The next phase includes a brand new structure with new paintings and ascending price points. All of my efforts are being focused on the new art right now.
AT: Speaking of your book, we were lucky enough to have picked up one of the first signed editions. Can you speak to the success of the book?
RC: I would consider it a great success because I actually completed the first edition. Over four years of documenting my creative life –the exhibitions, travels, photos as well as my creative background. So much work (and very little sleep) when into the process. Seeing it all come together has been personally satisfying on many levels. The book is still quiet, meaning you won’t see it on the New York Times Best Sellers list (although, I do have a great art review quote from them on the back cover). The initial book sales have gone to those who really know about the work here in the U.S. and in Europe. The “Welcome to Earth” book documents my initial foray into the art world. It’s the kind of thing that picks up steam in conjunction with my career moving forward.
Photograph by Tyler Westnedge
AT: How has it motivated you as an artist?
RC: Again, seeing my life documented into a bound publication is surreal. The book really helps when someone asks “So what have you been up to lately?” or “What’s your art work all about anyway?” Channel 6 ABC Photy(below) covered the release event for my book and they did a great job. Watching a televised reporter share my story with the masses had a heavy significance for me –it provided serious motivation for my next steps.
AT: When did you realize you were an "Artist"?
RC: When I was very young (maybe 7 years old) I saw my father draw a picture of my mother while she was cooking breakfast. I felt like I was observing the magic of creation from the front row, and that experience blew my mind. It was at that moment that I realized I would be an artist. Another time, I was coloring at my desk (maybe 10 years old) when my mother came in and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I stopped my work, looked up at her and said “I will make pictures and people will buy them.”
Left: MR. MINSTREL - Right: SEAT OF TRUTH
AT: Sometimes as an artist, finding inspiration can be difficult. Where do you discover yours?
RC: Life inspires me. I am a social observer, so I keep my eyes open. I look for patterns in the people – what we do?, why we do it? and what’s missing?.. that keeps my brain quite busy with inspiration.AT: You said "There's no division between the art I make and the life I live." How has your upbringing in Philadelphia impacted you as an artist?
RC: Philadelphia is a real yet humble city so I grew up with that type of approach. It’s a tough crowd that isn’t easily swayed, so you work really hard. To build a name in Philly is an accomplishment on its own – and so, when you take that work ethic to the world you’re going to be just fine.
Photograph by Tyler Westnedge
AT: What's Act 05 for Rah?
RC: Simply put... the next phase of my career is directed at key personalities and institutions who define, critique and dictate the conversation of contemporary art for the entire world. The paint on the canvas is only a portion of the dialogue yet to be had. I am currently in pre-production on my New York exhibition “Hero”.