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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Rocky Schenck

Lisa Stansfield, Rocky Schenck cover photo for SPIN magazine, June 1990
Art talent cuts across a host of different media like a meat cleaver through Jell-O. Those who live and work with creative talent will tell you that few artists are talented in only one medium. That's not to say that they're equally talented each one but very often the differences in skills across a broad band of creative efforts is quite negligible. Those in the performing arts very often write as well as they sing, dance, and act. Writers often illustrate their own work and that of others. Musicians are sometimes adept at numerous different instruments. Photographers paint. Poets draw. Painters sculpt. Designers frequently find it necessary to master all three. It's almost axiomatic that laying down lines and adding expressive color are the key elements of most artistic endeavors.
Born in 1960, Schenk often combines his expertise in
various media into a single, creative work.
Rocky Schenk is gifted in at least three somewhat unrelated media. He was first and foremost a painter. From the time he was twelve, encouraged by his family in his home state of Texas, Richard Davis Botho Arthur Schenck began painting in oils (his older sister gave him the name "Rocky" in lieu of the family tree). By the time he was thirteen, Rocky was selling his work, earning money as a professional artist. He taught himself photography. Then in his early teens, he began writing, directing and photographing short experimental films while shooting production stills on the sets of his movies.

Painting led Schenck to "branch out" into other art media.
Upon finishing high school, Schenck's fascination with the art of filmmaking and photography caused him to move to Los Angeles. Artists in the motion picture, musical, literary and theatrical worlds began approaching Schenck for their projects, thus creating a diverse portfolio of fine art, portraiture, film and theater work. In fact Schenck's first great success, his first one-man show, featured his photography, rather than his painting skills. Since then, Rocky has continued to show in galleries around the world. His work is now included in several prestigious museum and private collections. The Wittliff Gallery in San Marcos, Texas, owns the largest collection of Schenck's work.

Very often Schenck's photography is an outgrowth of his
success in directing more than 120 music videos (bottom).
Schenck has worked with movies and other audio visual project, often using the visual expressions from the 40s and 50s, to create a mystical universe combining the romantic and the unsettling into a disturbing and discerning hybrid not unlike the work of surrealist painters. Stunning photos developed using Victorian-era techniques fill his portfolio. Alternating between black-and-white and color, there is beauty and sadness often in the same shot. Haunting silhouettes and eerie landscapes are made dreamlike due to the method of film development Schenck uses. Schenck's research started from a gum dichromate landscape by early pictorialist George Seeley.

Mischief, Rocky Schenck
 It looked like a beautiful watercolor painting or charcoal drawing, with an extraordinary texture. Schenck found that the gum dichromate printing technique was very labor intensive, so he began experimenting with different filters and homemade diffusions in front of the camera lens. He discovered a combination of elements that, when placed over the lens, gave the images an extreme painterly quality with as little manipulation in the darkroom as possible.

Schenck's book, Recurring Dream is an evocative display of both his photography and his painting skills.
Schenck's photography is reflected in both his moody music videos as well as his large-scale paintings, often hung edge to edge, in his studio, unframed, sometimes even in-stretched. An artist who makes masterful photos finds it nearly impossible to resist painting from them. The two creative efforts are nearly identical except for the tools. Like his photos, Schenck's paintings are tranquil and peaceful, yet at the same time, somewhat "creepy." They draw viewers into fantasy worlds and stories. His pictures are like stills from a vintage film. But what is the plot of the film? Who knows? Who cares?

Schenck appears too consider painting just an extension of his photography.
Schenck has photographed several hundred album covers while writing and directed numerous music clips and short films. He has shot fashion, editorial work, and portraits for Vogue, Rolling Stone, Time, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, and others. He has collaborated with personalities ranging from Adele (bottom), Willie Nelson, B.B. King, Joni Mitchell, Ray Bradbury, Ellen DeGeneres, Tom Cruise, Johnny Mathis, Linda Ronstadt, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Brian Wilson, Donna Summer, Francis Bean Cobain, Robert Plant, Natalie Cole, Gloria Estefan, Neil Diamond, Nicole Kidman, Gary Coleman, Jerry Lee Lewis, Rod Stewart, and Gladys Knight (with and without her Pips).


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