The human figure is a big source of inspiration for Robert Sites, an artist based in Norfolk, Virginia. Robert is inspired by the human body and the art style of 1950s pinup, circus, and sideshow posters. Occasionally depicting his pets in his art, Robert’s work has been displayed in many museums, galleries, and fairs.

Robert immensely enjoys putting a modern flair on a vintage style and recently discussed the process via an exclusive interview.

Artwork, the human form, posters, and pets

Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you first get interested in becoming an artist and why is the human form such a big inspiration of yours?

Robert Sites (RS): I’ve always been interested in art. My parents encouraged me by giving me charcoal and charcoal paper when I was seven- when most kids were getting crayons and finger paint.

I’ve come to painting the nude human figure in a round-about way. In undergraduate school, I was a design major and was interested in illustration, but made abstract paintings in my painting classes. I went to graduate school at Syracuse in illustration, and there started a series of experimental work with Native Americans as subject matter. After only a year, I was convinced that illustration was not for me, nor was Syracuse and I applied to Cranbrook Academy of Art as a painting major. I got in with my “illustration” portfolio from Syracuse.

At Cranbrook, I became a Photo-Realist and painted clothed figures using an airbrush.

After graduating, I still painted the figure, mostly clothed and in a variety of styles. However, for most of my professional life, I’ve painted animals. That led to the circus as a theme – animals and people - and only recently, in the last four years, have I started painting male nudes.

I had considered painting male nudes for some time, but could not figure out a novel way to do it. I didn’t want them to be campy or coy like a lot of male nudes I’ve seen. And I didn’t want to justify them by using obvious references to the Greco-Roman tradition. In the 50s, that tradition had been used to allow the sale gay porn across state lines If the photos or paintings had a nude with a sword, sandal or helmet in them, allusions to the classical world, then they were viewed by the censors as acceptable "art," not pornography.

I wanted something more modern that was completely unapologetic about the nudity.

MM: How come you are so interested in the style of 1950s-era posters?

RS: I’m more interested in Russian Constructivism in the early twentieth century – that’s where the circles in my paintings come from - and all of Fornasetti’s design output in the 1950s.

MM: What sorts of feedback have you gotten from people who have seen your Artwork?

RS: I did a five-by-nine-foot painting with five life-size nude males (four with frontal nudity) in it for a show called “Native” that was curated by two artists from the Chrysler Museum. I called my painting “Going Native” – you know going native, shedding your inhibitions, losing your clothes like in the movies.

I used models from the area to maintain the native theme. At the opening, lots of people pulled out their cell phones and wanted to have their pictures taken in the middle of the painting. Most were women, but I was surprised by how many of them were guys – straight guys!

MM: How do you incorporate your pets into your artwork?

RS: It just seems natural to include them since they are such a part of my life and I like the contrast in the scale, texture, and innocence of my small pets with big hulking male nudes.

Exhibitions, galleries, museums, and Art Haus

MM: How did you get into the art world and get your pieces exhibited in major art fairs, galleries, and even museums?

RS: While I was in high school I began showing at local art fairs.

In college and graduate school, I started doing regional and a lot of national juried shows. Exhibiting in some of those shows led to offers of solo shows in galleries and museums. The Chrysler Museum bought a painting right after I moved here thanks to some faculty members at another school here in town who recommended me.

For a couple of years, I had a gallery that represented me and took my work to art fairs in New York and Miami. Unfortunately, she went out of business. Then I started getting offers to show at fairs outside the country, and that’s how I showed in Palermo and Florence, Italy. It’s very expensive to crate, and ship paintings to Europe and I was footing the entire bill.

MM: How did you get involved with Art Haus who currently represent you?

RS: I received an email from Michael Joseph, and I sent him some JPGs of my work. He liked them but didn’t think that they were a good fit for ArtBlend and recommended me to Anthony Scime.

MM: Do you spend much time promoting your work on social media or not?

RS: I’m not very good at that. I have a website hosted by ArtSpan. I’ve designed it and redesigned it several times myself. And ArtSpan has selected my work for several theme related galleries. Two years ago, they selected my site as a redesign project. – I guess they liked the work but thought the site itself was a little too pedestrian looking. It was then used to show what could be done, so I got another website redesign, and it was free!

I also have a Pinterest site.

MM: What are your biggest hopes for the future of your style, career, and professional relationship with Art Haus?

RS: I want my work to be fresh, to continue to evolve and to grow, I try not to repeat myself- that can happen if you’ve been making art as long as I have. I hope Art Haus can connect my work with enthusiastic, savvy buyers and collectors and provide an even wider audience for my work.