Film and television actor Robert Dean Stockwell has been making art since the 50s, when he emerged as one of the significant figures on the burgeoning independent Venice art scene. Along with the likes of friends Dennis Hooper [yes, folks, he said 'Hooper'] and Joe Goode, he would be a prominent player in propelling the West Coast arts scene to international significance.
Stockwell's most recent artworks are photographic collages that combine vintage source material in a surreal and dynamically visceral manner, wherein images of cultures, people and objects collide in resonant new juxtapositions.
"The first process is what I call 'hunting'; scouring through old issues of pictorials that I can pick up. I find the background first, the largest image, that I fit smaller images into. It's like a stage. I cut out smaller pieces which become the players and insert them onto the stage," explains Stockwell. "For instance, "A Test" refers to the figure of a soldier in the upper right hand corner, covering his eyes in the interior of a tank during an atomic explosion test. That propels the rest of the piece."
Stockwell's world stage may collide events, and evoke a sense of global upheaval, but he refuses to explain them away as mere agit-prop; instead citing a Surrealist tradition dating back to Dadists, in which freeing the unconscious is far more important than making overt political commentary.
"I proceed intuitively. At the beginning I'm not trying to make a certain type of collage. I don't ask why. I don't read the original texts that accompanied the images, I go from the image alone and the combinations make themselves clear to me. I usually have a few coming together at once, laid out all over the studio. They change, and surprise me."
Life magazine accounts for nearly all of Stockwell's source material. He works from an inexhaustible supply of back issues sourced from the internet and used bookstores. "I grew up, literally, with Life. The first issue was in 1936, the year I was born, and through my entire life that magazines has been around; in people's homes, in offices. The quality of the images in early black and white is, generally, more dynamic to me than modern color. Those old images are burnt into my retina, my unconscious,and I keep going back to them."
Stockwell's collages have a lasting effect. Longtime friend, Neil Young said, "Dean's art has been part of my music in one way or another since I first me him in Topanga in the 60s." Young concludes that Stockwell retains "the brilliant edge that has characterized all of his work since the beginning."
"Robert Dean Stockwell: Collages"
at Craig Krull Gallery, Bergamot Station, 2525
Michigan Avenue, Building B-3, Santa Monica from
August 30 to October 1.