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An Interview with Victor Pross, Author of Icons & Idols: Pop Goes the Culture

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Those of you who are not familiar with the name Victor Pross are in for a treat. As a professional artist, Mr. Pross is best known for his very creative and extreme caricature creations. He has also done work on CD covers, posters, and comic books in addition to teaching art.

Icons and Idols: Pop Goes the Culture is Victor Pross's first book. It contains a vast array of his drawings and paintings, quickly introducing readers to caricatures as they have never seen them before.

Caricature is a long-standing art form that many people greatly enjoy, myself included. Author and artist Pross displays a phenomenal talent in his work Icons and Idols: Pop Goes the Culture. If you haven't checked it out yet, be sure to do so — I am very anxious to page through his work and view the twists and turns Mr. Pross lends to such greats as George Bush, The Beatles, Marilyn Monroe and so many more. In the meantime, sit back, relax, and enjoy a glimpse of the man behind the work.

What do you want readers to take away from reading Icons & Idols?

I want them to take away a greater admiration of some of the people I paint and write about — or a revulsion and understanding about some of the less savory people I illustrate and write about.

What was the most fun about writing Icons & Idols?

Creating the art.

What was the hardest part about writing Icons & Idols?

Writing it.

Could you please tell us about your writing process?

For my book, Icons & Idols, the writing was incidental to paintings. The text is minimal to the art, but I did do a lot of reading about the individuals I painted as a matter of research, and I just wrote from my perspective of their personalities and works.

Do you have any particular habits that you take part in while writing? By that I mean certain music you like to listen to, foods you like to eat, environment that helps you write better, etc.

For painting as for writing, I must have music.

Where do you get your ideas and inspirations?

I’ll take this question as addressing my paintings. Critics have responded to my art as though I was sui generis, a self-created eccentric without discernible origins. Very much the opposite is the truth. The origin of my art is the culture at large. I painted and drew as if I were an alien intelligence contemplating my own human species from a distant realm with a bemused objectivity, as though I was encountering them for the first time like David Bowie’s Ziggy. What I saw was a strange land filled with archetypes — "caricatures."

If you had to summarize your life and give it a book title, what would that title be?

My life feels as if I am on a mission. I have important contributions to make and a I have limited time to do it, relatively speaking. A book title for my life? The Hungry Artist. That’s the name of a novel I’m writing.

What are you reading right now?

The novel The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Ayn Rand, Victor Hugo, Robert Louis Stevenson — the classic writers.

What were some of your favorite books as a child?

I loved reading biographies and comics. Reading biographies, it turns out, helped me write my book Icons & Idols.

If you could have lunch and chat with any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

Dostoevsky. I would want to understand his mind better.

What do you hope to accomplish within the next five years?

I would like to have a few more books under my belt.

What are you working on right now and can you give us a sneak peek? A small excerpt?

I am doing a series of paintings of jazz musicians with fellow artist Rebecca Bessette. But I am also writing a novel about an artist. Here is a little excerpt from a central character:

I remembered someone once exclaimed how lucky I was to be an artist and that I have the ability to draw — as if it all materialized out of thin air because I had wished for it or because I had a genetic predisposition to hone whatever nature gave me. I just want to slap people like that. They don’t see the sleepless nights, the empty refrigerator, the hours of practice, the body wilted with exhaustion in pursuit of a goal. They simply day-dream with wishes swelling up in their heads but they don’t take any action to have them realized. And then they curse that ambition is futile.

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About April Pohren

  • Christian Tingler

    Interview: Rich Engle on Victor Pross

    (Rich Engle is an author and musician residing in Florida. He is a friend of Victor’s who has collaborated with him on several projects, including contributing editing and a forward to “Icons and Idols: Pop Goes The Culture.” Victor created the cover for his album by rock band “On The Air” and is illustrating his forthcoming book )

    Q: How did you meet Victor?

    A: Actually, I have never met Victor–not face-to-face. Not yet, because we’re so far away from each other, for one thing. And we’d both been busy working on our various projects. Plus, I was moving around quite a bit for awhile before I settled here in Florida–I came down here to hide out, er, I mean to finish my book in seclusion. It isn’t a big deal anymore because you can do almost everything using the Internet. We’ve talked on the phone a few times–very long, expensive international phone calls, but mostly that was just because we were curious about if we would come off to each other through talking the same way we do in writing. I have hundreds and hundreds of emails–Victor really doesn’t even like to use online chat: I think he prefers correspondence because it reminds him of how artists would always be sending letters to each other…you know, like if you read, say, correspondence between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, or Ayn Rand and Frank Lloyd Wright. It legitimizes it. It’s either that or he’s thinking about, some day, publishing all his correspondence, in which case my ass could be in for some trouble. How it started was through philosophical discussion forums, mainly ones devoted to novelist Ayn Rand, and her system of philosophy commonly known as Objectivism. I had been writing on these things for years–even back in the green screen days. See, there’s this bizarre, transformative thing that happens, a lot, when people, especially artistic types, read her novels, particularly Atlas Shrugged, and The Fountainhead. It’s a liberating thing, because those books are homilies to individualism–they tend to validate the struggle, make you understand what a prime mover is. Of course, the other thing that happens is that it makes some people into arrogant, judgmental pricks. Sometimes that lasts forever, other times not. Victor and I don’t fit into the orthodox part of this culture, at all. Quite a few of them either don’t take either of us seriously, or just flat out think we are pond scum. I started to see him pop up on the boards, and his writing was kind of strange, so of course I was attracted. It wasn’t strange like being obtuse on purpose–in fact, most of it was kind of scholarly. I thought a lot of it was kind of stilted, uneven, but the thing was, it had this informed confidence in back of it, and it was written passionately. I’m thinking “This guy really cares! He’s either a totally arrogant blowbag that has nothing to back his attitude, or he does.” So I think what happened was that I sent him a message or something asking him, basically, who he was. I think this preceded him writing something that showed, very clearly, that he had a great understanding of visual art, and that turned me on. In the Objectivist world, they try to say that only certain kinds of art are valid–that it morally follows to only appreciate this or that kind of art, music. They refer to this as “Romantic Realism.” I like romantic and realistic things, but what I don’t like is getting clamps put on me, because it is stifling as hell if you are in the business of creating things. And Victor just wasn’t having any of it. He was boxing these bastards around the ring like Goliath fighting off herds of midget wrestlers. They couldn’t get hooks into him. He wasn’t rejecting Romanticism, he was embracing it, but not to the exclusion of everything else. But he wasn’t putting up with Jackson Pollock either. He was able to make aesthetic distinctions that they for the most part couldn’t. That’s just because he is an artist, a very schooled artist. He had done his homework. That resonated with me because as a musician I had gotten into several bloodbath discussions of my own. He replied back to me and when I saw his work, that was it. Even then I think I wanted him to do my album cover because I had been looking around everywhere and I had never, not even remotely, seen stuff like this. It blew me away. I also have to be honest and say the Bad Boy factor was part of it too–most of those orthodox Objectivist guys really despise him, and that makes me happy. Just to do anything that gets a rise out of them is an accomplishment.

    Q: What is it for you about his work?

    A: There’s both a lot to that answer, and almost nothing. The almost nothing part is that his work is absolutely, positively distinct. To me that’s the linchpin of all art. The music allegory would go like this: if you’re listening to the radio, and certain people come on and start playing, or singing, if you know your stuff, it is a matter of seconds before you recognize who it is–it just drills right in there. One riff by Hendrix, or Coltrane. A couple of words out of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Louis Armstrong, whoever. There Can Only Be One, you know? There is no mistaking it, there will be no reproducing it, fucking period. It is a fingerprint. This is the Holy Grail for anyone in the arts, to get that in a very strong way–a way that can even do it to the general population. They might not even like it, but they know who did it. The longer, and more subjective answer, has quite a few layers to it, but I’ll try. I always liked caricature art. And there’s this whole thing about whether or not caricature is true art, is it valid, and that. Whatever, this is stuff usually put out there by people who don’t do anything of their own, or they are just jealous of who/what they’re attacking. I don’t like highbrows. Maybe they are seeing themselves in caricature, and that distresses them. What I do like is when caricature artists take a little revenge–I’ve seen that done after one of them gets scolded by one of these hoity-toity types: they’ll sit there drawing away while listening to them spew out the High and Mighty. It’s a wonderful kind of revengeful ambush–they don’t even care if they aren’t going to get paid for it. Anyway, and this is where I’m trying to go with it, Victor has elevated caricature art, just like Robert Crumb elevated comics. If you take one of his pieces and start zooming in on it, you can get closer and closer and closer, right into the pores, maybe under the eyes or something, and he still has it going on. He has this amazing attention to detail. That’s something you see in idol painting, and other kinds of craft-based (craft-required, maybe I should say) art. I’ve seen it in medieval art. He is definitely not a piker. If he were wanting to do more “traditional,” or “classic” art, he could do that. He could nail Romantic Realism. I think this would all bore him–I’ve seen a few things he’s done like that, and I think he did them just to prove that he knew how. So Thing Number Two would be his craftsmanship, which is absolutely first-class. People who don’t believe that just have to try and do it themselves–not so easy, I think. You have to have your craft together, because that is your vehicle. Some people have bicycles, some have cars, some have airplanes. Victor has built some kind of weird spaceship. He has the Big Crayola Set. I could talk about his use of color but I think it is very clear that he has this set to a very high scary place. I’ll leave that for the better-schooled to describe, because I don’t want to underrate it. All these things I’ve talked about are foundational–things you are just supposed to have in the first place, at least enough to create basic competencies. What he does with them is the money shot. He loves faces, loves them in a way very few do. I guess a lot of people would say he hates them, but that’s just not true–he pays to much attention to them for that. I do not believe he makes ugly things, at least not usually. Sometimes I think he is very angry at the celebrity or philosopher or whoever he draws; angry at them for something they made or said or caused to happen–they have violated his moral code on some level. It’s funny, though, even then it seems like there is some kind of loving touch to those pieces–he forgives them, in a way, for being human. I believe that Victor is very, very in touch with the human condition. The last area I’ll go into is the pop culture aspect. Victor swims in it, he knows it in a very deep way. I almost can never get one by him, he knows who they are or what it is. The other day he was talking about Robert Crumb. Now, granted, there was a movie made on that but Victor knew Crumb because, of course, he had read almost all of those books when he was younger. Victor read comics, of course. He likes Mad magazine, things like that, of course. And anyone that was weird back in the day, anyone that was into counterculture and/or maybe doing a lot of strong drugs was looking at all this stuff. I’m from Cleveland, Ohio, and that’s where Harvey Pekar lives. You’d bump into Harvey at the bookstore or somewhere, he was always around. One time I was playing a gig and he showed up, nodded approvingly at us, drew something on the wall with a marker, and left. We all knew who he was. He worked with Crumb. And there was the American Splendor movie. So, I start rattling about that to Victor, and, go figure, Victor knew Pekar’s work, quite intimately. I can never get one past him in music, art, philosophy. The guy is a sponge, probably because he knows this is a responsibility; that if you don’t do that you won’t have your finger on the pulse and you won’t have ideas. At least ones that are in-line with the times. Or maybe he just likes all that trash like I do. I asked him about Rat Fink one time and there again he had that. I haven’t tried Zippy the Pinhead or the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers but I’m pretty sure I’ll get shot down again.

    Q: What was the process used for creating your album cover?

    This was a pretty straightforward thing, at least as straightforward as you can be working with Victor. You can try like Hell but you really aren’t going to know what you’re going to get until he finishes it. I’d like to say he doesn’t know either, but that’s wrong. He knows, it is just a matter of amplitude. For this one, I decided to use a song called TV Glare as the title track. And I used it as the title track only because I thought that would be the one for him to paint to. The song is very basic in content: how people become mutated and zombie-like through constant TV exposure. It is somewhere in the Bohemian/Hipster-meets Rockabilly area. I figured the media hook would do it for him. There was a lot of back-and-forth on this–more loading up of my email box, chats, phone calls. He first came up with some drawings of these blockhead people–they were all kind of dulled-out looking and they all had TV sets on their heads; their heads were inside the TV’s. There are lines in the song about that kind of sick suburban bliss; you know, how you can go through neighborhoods at night and see the glow emanating, everyone sitting there in front of the Glass Teat, zoning out. I had remembered a scene like that in the film version of Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 that kind of stuck with me. After those initial drawings, he wouldn’t let me see anything and kind of told me to leave him alone. I remember an email telling me he was up all night doing this final thing–he sounded possessed, kind of fiendish. You see, he came up with this plan that he would do a real flat board painting and then mail it to us. It was a real pain in the ass because we had to find a big, powerful scanner to capture the colors properly. There were all these sizing problems–it ended up being a wraparound type thing. And I was always worried about how it would print out color-wise when we sent the files to the printer. If they got the colors too much different than what he had done, well…I didn’t want to be hearing about that. The thing finally shows up, and we had this unveiling ritual at band practice. Outside of the bassist, no one had any real knowledge of the concept; well, none of us really knew what it was going to be–just Victor, really. They were all standing around and we literally unveiled it. Silence. I got nervous. I knew Victor’s work has various effects on people. Then, they all said pretty much the same thing–that it was not at all what they expected but it was really strange, and they really, really liked it. Now here’s the thing. Sometime long before that, he had gotten hold of a picture of me–maybe he asked me to send one to him, I don’t recall. But I do remember which picture I sent him, and it was just a head and shoulders snapshot. If you look at the biggest face on the front of the album, it sure looks like that damn picture, except I’ve got these horrible, wormy lips, and such. Typical Victor. I’ve asked him whether or not that is me, and I’ve gotten different answers, the main one being in the form of a denial. Or maybe. Or yes. Maybe he doesn’t know, I think he does. There’s one on the back that he got from a picture of our lyricist, Brian Crowder. He got the treatment too, but not as bad as I did (if that is me). There’s also a girl in there that, um, I’m sure I know who she is–at the time, she was in his mind in a very big way, almost all the time, so I almost expected her to appear in the painting whether he told me or not. He went pretty easy painting her, considering the back story. It was a great experience, a great project, and I love the cover.

    Q: Which brings us to this: What is your take as far as how he looks at love, romance, women? Is this a driving force for him?

    A: (Groans) This is like walking into a minefield to pick pretty flowers. Litigation comes to mind. Alright, look: driving, yes. But I’m not sure if he is doing the driving, or being driven, or both. I’ll take the high road first, and detour for a little slumming without talking out of school, at least not too much. A gentlemen never tells, right? I mean, I do know that sometimes he and his brother get in a car and drive around town with loud music playing out the windows. I’d imagine that they try to talk to girls and such. He smokes cigarettes and frequently wears a black leather jacket. I think he still might own a motorcycle. He’s got the Bad Boy thing going. He loves James Dean. Victor has an extremely elevated, noble view of romantic love, though. I’m talking about how you see it in the great literature, and classic films. We’ve spent a lot of time discussing this, in both the abstract and ground levels. It’s both good and interesting to have a comrade who can bear some real light for you; someone that you can swap stories with, and just talk about what it all might mean. We’ve both had to be there for one another, in those times when tough guy turns into gelatinous goo and is crying like a little Nancy Boy. Our love lives have always run in these slightly overlapping parallels. Our hearts have been broken at least once each since we’ve known each other. I’ve seen him go to incredible lengths–travel long distances. One time he even conducted a very public, online romance. They had not met each other in the flesh, but were at it to no end with the phone and the email–they were even posting things about it publicly. I found this brave, romantic, and even kind of cute. She ended up paying expensive airfare and lodging for them both to finally unite at Niagara Falls–you see the movie-like nature of this? I was worried about that one from the beginning, the public nature of it all, but he put it on the line; I guess they both did. And the moment came, the fun was had. After that it was thermonuclear breakdown, an equally public mess. But if you think about it, there was that whole amazing buildup, consummated in a brief window of time there at the Falls. He’s got that one for the memoir. Victor absolutely adores beautiful, artistic, warm, intelligent women. And he is not, at all, promiscuous–that’s not what he really wants, I think, though he could surely have it. You know, it’s not that hard to work the artist or musician thing. Right now he works with Rebecca Bessette, who is another brilliant Canadian artist–they have this incredibly deep artistic friendship going; they collaborate together, and what they are putting out is simply wonderful. I believe they have created a dynamic between their energies, the female and male energies, that works really, really well. I really didn’t think his art would take a sudden bump to a higher level–I thought it would be more of an evolving thing, but from what I am seeing they have managed to put both of themselves up on a yet higher plane. The work is called The Music Series, and all you have to do is judge it for yourself. Victor has asked me to help create (and be a part of) a documentary film being made about Icons and Idols, and it will feature Rebecca’s work as well. They began shooting it yesterday, the day before this interview–he and Rebecca take whole days and nights painting together–together on the same piece, which I think is something alone. I’m guessing that’s what was being filmed, to start. Another thing about Victor in terms of his caricature art, and women is that, if you look at the body of work, he really doesn’t paint women nearly as much as he does men. Oh, he does paint them, and well. When he does, he generally tends to go a little easier on the renderings, in a certain way. Usually. I don’t want to psychologize him, but if I did, I’d say that he views women in such away that its almost like he’s saving himself for them, artistically, for some time down the road. I could be wrong.

    Q: Tell us more about the documentary.

    This is all very new. Apparently Victor was approached by a documentary filmmaker named Patricia Massy, who worked as part of a team who did a very serious piece about homeless, addicted street women–an extremely intense piece. It was a series made for public TV, I understand. I’ve seen sections of it and been corresponding with her. She will shoot hundreds of hours of footage. My role is a dual one, in that I will be used as an interview subject, and am also kind of stringing the entire narrative flow together. I’ve touched my toes, a bit, into the indie film world before, but never like this–I was always coming at it from the music angle. I don’t think this is going to be anywhere near a sterile, PBS-type doc film–the subject matter won’t allow it. If you look at films like Crumb, and American Splendor, and maybe even Pollock, you can see that there are many interesting ways to get a toehold. His art is going to speak for itself, I am sure, as well the pop culture origins that drive it. This is going to be a good project. I might even shave.

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