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Guided by Voices' Robert Pollard Brings His Art to Phoenix

Few people in popular music today are as prolific as Robert Pollard. Pollard is best known as the leader of the influential indie rock band Guided by Voices, a low-fi legend whose albums are densely packed with pocket-size exercises in hooky rock magic, and he's also released a steady stream of solo recordings and offshoot projects such as the Boston Spaceships, the Circus Devils, Lifeguards, and the Keene Brothers. The fact that Pollard released 25 solo albums between 1996 and 2013 says a lot; that Guided by Voices has put out three box sets of unreleased material with 100 songs each says even more.

You'd think Pollard would be creatively spent with that sort of musical output, but he also creates the cover artwork for most of his albums, collages that use found elements to create images every bit as striking as his music. Pollard's artwork has evolved into a separate career; in 2008, Fantagraphics Books published a collection of his pieces, Town of Mirrors, and he began exhibiting his work in galleries about the same time. With Pollard presenting his art in Phoenix as part of a group show, he took time away from his busy schedule to answer a few questions about his visual work by e-mail from his home in Dayton, Ohio.

New Times: How did you first get involved in visual art? Do you have any formal training in that area?

Robert Pollard: I think I became inspired, initially, by the Hipgnosis album covers of the late '60s and early '70s. They were a design studio that did a lot of the artwork for the British prog rock label Harvest — Pink Floyd, the Pretty Things, and such. Very surreal, with a lot of interesting graphics and mechanical drawings. I used to emulate them a lot with fake album covers I made in my teens. I have no formal training other than a few art classes in high school and college.

NT: What attracts you to collage?

RP: The immediacy. The cross-pollination of mediums. The fact that I feel like I'm actually painting with paper, using borrowed images. One can actually create depth, contour, shading and composition with found and re-assembled imagery. It's very exciting and addictive. Playing with color schemes. I also enjoy the hunt for source material.

NT: When you're working on your art, what comes first, the elements or the overall idea for the piece?

RP: What I typically do is look for elements within a larger image. Something that is not considered to be a major constituent of the overall image, whether it be a photo, a diagram or whatever, but nonetheless attracts the eye if zeroed in on or examined more closely. Then I cut those images out, lay them out on a table and try to match them with similar, complementary images or colors.

NT: What's your process for doing a collage, technically speaking? Do you still make the pieces using physical cutting and pasting, or do you work on a computer these days? How long does it usually take?

RP: I work exclusively with found, printed material. I don't Photoshop. I like original sources, preferably very old. Early 1900s to 1970s. I like the differences in the photography and use of color techniques. I only use portions of art that is art for hire, nothing someone might consider a work of serious art or sign his or her name to. A collage can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days. Sometimes longer.

NT: Do you have any philosophy about your artwork? If art were a means of emotional expression, what would you like to say?

RP: Making art is addictive. It beats boredom better than anything else and gives one a feeling of accomplishment. When I come up with something that I consider to be really good, it puts me in a very positive mood for the rest of the day.

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Mark Deming
Contact: Mark Deming