Artist Raphael Fenton-Spaid was born in Rome, Italy, in 1983, and raised in Philadelphia. As a child, he travelled extensively and even lived in Tokyo, Japan, for a number of years. His cultural experiences have greatly influenced his life, and he has forged a career working as both an artist and an art teacher. His colourful work has been exhibited all over the world and is part of various private collections. Raphael presently lives in Brooklyn and recently discussed his experiences working as an artist.


Blasting News (BN): What initially drove you to become an artist?

Raphael Fenton-Spaid (RFS): I have always felt compelled to make things and construct objects.

I did a lot of models making as a kid, building cars and transformers… Subject matter and ways of putting stuff together have changed, but it’s always been a part of me.

BN: When you were growing up, what art influenced you?

RFS: When I was little, Shel Silverstein and Bill Watterson were huge for me. Illustration and comics. As I’ve gotten older artists like Caravaggio, JW Turner, Marilyn Minter, Richard Tuttle and Joseph Cornell just to name a few. People that use image and materials in subversive ways.

BN: Generally, how would you describe your work? What most inspires it?

RFS: I enjoy getting dirty and moving shit around in my studio. Playing with materials, paint, surfaces, and objects. So the play is important both of my makings and hopefully for the audience in viewing the things.

I’m also motivated by certain subtle layers of social commentary that pull from a lot of my historical and nerdy interests. Finding a balance becomes my conceptual task.

BN: Which of your pieces is your favourite?

RFS: They are all my babies…. But If I had to choose, I’d have to go with this piece I made back in the 80s (when I was like five).

It’s a totally functionless “mouse trap” made with scrap wood, rusty nails, paint, and shellac. I made it in my parent’s basement where I spent more of my free time than I’m sure they would like me to admit. It’s blunt and lacks any kind of self-conscious adult filter which I love about it.


BN: What are your mediums of choice? What do you hope to expand to in the near future?

RFS: I use a lot of spray and acrylic paints, often in combination with collage. A lot of the collaged elements are found objects, fabrics, clothing, balloons, and other iridescent surfaces. These materials tend to be integrated with painting materials, allowing for collaged elements to function as marks that reinforce the pictorial illusion of the scene.I plan on working in a video soon. So much of the landscapes function like a kind of theatre or set, with a facade and back like a stage and a backstage. And I love old school special effects. It seems like a logical step for my work to explore.

BN: When did you develop your specific style?

RFS: My palette changed a lot in the past few years, and I try to continue to change it. But I definitely look to draw an audience into the work with certain eye-catching tricks, the colour being the main one.

BN: So what, what’s the best part about being an artist?

RFS: Recently I happened to overhear a great conversation between a mother and daughter in front of one of my larger landscape paintings. The mother took a photo of her daughter in front of the painting and at that point was ready to move on, but the girl was excited by the piece and was like, “Aww mom I could stare at this all day. It’s got these flint-stones in with these pictures, and that makes it cool…”. It was great to overhear and reminded me I’m reaching an intended range of audiences.

BN: Is there anything upcoming that you want to mention?

RFS: I’ll have a small piece in a benefit show at Trestle Gallery this December and have some work in a group show at BLAM at the moment, both in Brooklyn. I’m excited to have the privilege of going to Yaddo as an artist in residence where I’ll continue working on some larger scale maritime and landscape paintings.

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