Fables & Foolerishment with Travis Lampe October 14 2020

Travis Lampe is an artist based in Chicago, US. He grew up in a small town in Kansas. After earning a degree in graphic design, he took a job in advertising as an art director in Chicago. While making ads for breakfast cereals and well known purveyors of inexpensive furniture over a period of several years, he secretly began “developing his illustration style,” which is not the same thing as “procrastinating.” Finally, when he felt the world was ready, he began his slow explosion onto the art and illustration scene, as it were.

Interview by Jessica Steger. Photos supplied by Travis Lampe.

We are super excited to have you exhibiting with us in September. Please tell us about your idea behind the show Outright Foolerishment and what can people expect to see?

More of the same nonsense as usual, basically, with a bit of an Aesop's Fable feel to it this time. Each painting comes with a lesson, but not the kind of lesson you'd want to "take on board," so to speak. More the kind of lessons you learn from a pre-teen babysitter who starts smoking the second your parents leave the house.

Who were some of your favourite cartoon characters that you loved as a child and how did they influence your illustration style?

I saw a Steamboat Willie cartoon at the matinée when I was a kid and was transfixed. That old-time, elbow less aesthetic has stuck in my mind all these years since.

Tell us about the evolution of one of your own favourite rubbery, whimsical anthropomorphic characters. Do they have a secret back story we don't know about?

Probably the best example of an evolution would be my woodsman character and his corresponding "evil trees". Those paintings started out as a pretty clear good versus evil story, but things quickly got muddied. The roles tend to flip-flop from painting to painting. I think this stems from the deep existential malaise I felt when I first realized that life isn't like books, with clearly identifiable good and bad. It sounds ridiculous, but I was really upset by that. I am a wiener-boy, though. A pathetic crybaby. Does that count as a back story?

How did you get started in the vinyl toy making industry, and how do you think the toy industry has changed today?

I started with vinyl back in 2007. I'd done a show at Rotofugi here in Chicago and painted (last minute) some little 3-dimensional "tear drips" made out of canvas to hang up and fill some space in the gallery. They really liked them and asked to partner on a toy together, though the vinyl Drips didn't release until 2009, right in the middle of a recession when no-one was spending money on toys. That was rough. Eventually, years later when things picked back up the whole run sold out, so it all worked out.

The main difference I notice between then and now is that there seem to be fewer great art toys, and more that are based on some pop-culture IP (the Simpsons, Game of Thrones, Polly Pocket, what-have-you) which I find uniquely uninspiring. In all fairness, though, there are still a few great original toys being made these days, and a lot of the stuff being produced when I first got started was garbage, too.

Painting, sculpture, toy making. What is your favourite medium to work with and why? Any new mediums you've always wanted to try?

Gosh, that's tough. How to choose? I probably enjoy sculpture the most, resin or sculpted canvas, though I don't feel I do my best work in that medium. I don't plan out sculptures too much; I usually just start poking them together and see how they turn out. Plus sewing together canvas and then stuffing it to poof out a shape is therapeutic for me. Painting can sometimes be a bit of a slog, believe it or not.

As far as new mediums, I've been thinking a lot about oil painting lately. I haven't done one since high-school.

Any fun or secret projects in the pipeline? That we should keep our eyes peeled for?

Yes. A couple. (Wiiiink!)

Do you have any daily rituals, to help keep the creative juices flowing? Like keeping a visual journal of sketches and ideas?

No, because I am - and I would like to emphasize this - the worst.

For any budding young artists out there, what would be the best piece of artistic advice you've been given?

I was very bad, executionally, when I started. Don't give up. Don't get discouraged. Be honest with yourself.

Thank you for chatting with us, Travis!