September is one of the greatest months for Art shows: it seems like everywhere you look there's an upcoming exhibit and it honestly makes us stoked beyond belief. Philly-based artist, curator, musician, and event curator Bob Stokes is no exception. His work is a wonderful blend of dark abstract expressionism emotionally charged with its ambiguity and ominous color palette. He speaks to us about the role of non-traditional art galleries, the Dark Arts Collective, travel photography and his upcoming art show/album release at Grindcore House Friday, September 20th through November 8th.
Bob! Tell us who you are and your location.
I live and work in Philadelphia PA and I’m a fork lift operator at Yards Brewing Company. I like to organize art events and attend killer underground metal shows. I bike to work everyday, I love to cook food, and I spend all my free time and money making Art and music.
We heard that you founded the Dark Arts Collective in Philly. Can you give us an overview of this amazing team and what your mission is?
The Dark Arts was a collective I was a part of with some friends and my fiancé Nicole Diponziano from 2015 to 2017. I came up with the concept of having an Art show with the theme of a metal sub-genre and have bands of that genre play in one big event. I pitched this idea to my friend Lydia Giordano and she said: “have it at my house!” It began from there. Lydia along with Sean Bolton called their house venue the Shred Shed and it was an awesome open-air venue under the El in the Fishtown area of Philadelphia. We had 5 shows all together exploring such sub-genres as Doom, Grindcore, Black and Death metal. We’ve had some great contributors help bring the shows together like Shannon Ward of Perfect World Productions, Josh Cohen of Blow the Scene and Evan Madden of Riff Lifter Touring. We’ve had some great bands such as Anicon, Chepang and Wayfarer play in the shed. With some killer artwork by Paul Romano, Buddy Nestor and Fred Grabowski adorning the walls. A lot of great times with great friends, it’ll be something I’ll always remember and proud to have been a part of
What does dark art mean to you?
Dark art is the exploration of our deepest darkest fears, resentments, and anxieties. It’s a journey that instead of running from these feelings you exercise them in a productive way. I believe In doing so it brings relief and mental stability.
How does Philly fit in? What makes Philly an amazing (or awful) place to be an artist?
It depends on what you’re looking for from a city. Philly can be a mean, old, dirty city but it also has a sense of humility and honesty that I really appreciate. There's an incredible art and music scene here with lots of great food and culture. Location and affordability is key. It’s right in the middle of the east coast mega-opolis so most major east coast markets are only a few hours drive away.
If you weren't living in Philly, where would you be living and why?
Definitely somewhere in the mountains but I haven’t entered my hermit stage in life yet.
Do I see travel photos on your website - do you define yourself as a multimedia artist? 1) Tell us about creating in different mediums ( how does your artistic voice change and how do the mediums inform that and 2) Please tell us more about your travels: favorite places you've been and where you want to go!
I enjoy photography as a hobby. I’m an avid traveler, at least when I have the money to do so, and It’s always great to capture the right moment to remember your travels by. I love wandering around in the mountains and exploring new cities. The only way I can truly break my mind off of things I worry about is to completely maroon myself somewhere. Iceland blew my mind with it’s beauty. The hot springs were great too. Peru was a truly humbling experience. The Incas created a civilization without the wheel! Incredible. I think it’s important for people to get out of their comfort zone and experience the world.
Grindcore House is always on my must when I go to Philly. It's an amazing place and I don't really know anywhere like it. Can you tell us a little bit about Grindcore House, and their role in the arts/weirdo community? How do you all differentiate yourselves from other spaces within Philly?
Grindcore House is a great spot! it’s unapologetic about it’s love for extreme music, has a robust library of independent thought not to mention delicious coffee with vegan treats and sandwiches. I started booking art shows there a few years ago. Being an artist has it struggles so if I can help create some opportunities for artists to share their work, it feels good. I believe it’s important to invest in your community.
What has been your favorite show you've done at Grindcore House? Most chaotic experience as well?
Paul Barton does some killer Lovecraftian surrealism and was excited to have him hang. Brian Mercer and Jodi Cachia had an awesome show together called Broken Bouquets. Jim Anderson’s Frozen to death in January was great. I’ve been good at avoiding chaos so far hopefully it stays that way.
How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it before?
My work has evolved a lot over the years. In 2003 I left art school with a disillusionment in art and in myself. I took a break from art for years and focused more on writing music. It wasn’t till later that I started to rediscover the enjoyment in making art again. I just started painting didn’t know what, didn’t care. It was an exploration inward. After a few paintings, things started to make more sense, have more purpose. They started to be representative of what I’ve seen in my travels, inner thoughts I’m processing and my general out look on the world.
Let's talk inspirations. Who inspired you to create the work that you do?
Oh man, stylistically there’s definitely some JW Turner in there. Beksinski is a big influence, I feel like I just paint his backgrounds. None of the cool stuff just the shit no one is looking at. I worshipped Dave Mckean as a teenager and loved his mixed media Sandman covers. The heavy and wet brush work of Phil Hale is great, I love when artists let paint be paint. Nowadays Samantha Keely Smith’s work is blowing my mind. Her work has great sweeping movement and texture
Okay, if you weren't doing what you were doing, what would you be doing?
Cooking at a work encampment in the Canadian Tundra, sandbagging money for something, who knows what. At least that was the plan until I meet Nicole than normal life seemed achievable.
What advice do you have to other creatives reading this article?
Don’t stop. There’s going to be times, many times, when that little bubble of self-doubt will pop in your brain and make it seem impossible to create art. You got to work through it and keep at it. Failing is part of it, that’s where you learn. The only true failure is giving up.
You're showing in a less traditional Art setting ( which is one of our favorites - hell we're an online gallery..right now ;) Can you talk about the role of less traditional exhibition environments in the low brow Art realm, (the goods and the bads).
I think there is a common misconception that people can't enjoy art because they didn’t study it, therefore, they don’t know the Artist’s motivation. While understanding backstory, symbolism and allegory are important, at the end of the day they are just pictures. Everyone and anyone should be able to enjoy art and it’s important to get more people involved in the Art community. How do you do that? Bring art to them. Put it in front of their faces. That’s why shows at untraditional venues such as cafes and online galleries are good, it brings more engagement.
Events coming up at Grindcore House that EVERYONE should attend?
I’ll be having my first art show in a couple of years at Grindcore House called Cosmic Gateways. The opening is on Friday September 20th from 7-9. It will be hanging there till November. That same day my music project Oktas will be releasing it’s debut Ep on our band camp at :
Hopefully, people will dig it.
Where do you go in Philly to get your arts fix?
The Convent in Fishtown always has some killer artists locally and nationally. The dark surrealism on display at Arch Enemy in Old City also impresses and Paradigm in Bella Vista regularly has some of my favorite artists there.
One of the biggest issues for a lot of our creatives reading this is...finding a way to well, generate income from art. What has helped you in your journey?
You have to be true to yourself. There’s no set path for any Artist you have to walk your own. As long as your work is made with passion and integrity you can be successful.
How can people support and get a hold of you?
You can check out my paintings and prints on my website at:
We are excited to have prints of Bob's work available for the duration of his exhibit at Grindcore House. Click here to snag one of his pieces from now until November 8th!