The work of LA artist Stacey Rozich is intricate, compelling, and a little bit weird. Influenced by folklore, the macabre, the sequential nature of storytelling, and her own Eastern European background, Rozich's colorful perspective and cast of reoccurring illustrated characters stick with you. With her work spanning both commercial outlets as well as being shown in more traditional art settings, this year she collaborated with musician Josh Tillman to develop the amazing album artwork for his newest release as Father John Misty, "I Love You, Honeybear," out on Feb. 10. (read our interview with Tillman here!) Basically: this girl is blowing up. We caught up with Stacey about the importance of making work for yourself, "banana squiggles," and this very specific art direction from Josh Tillman: "He wanted to be painted as a Renaissance cherub baby clutching a woman's bare breast." Sounds good to us! Read on!
Your work has a really distinct point of view and aesthetic: we're curious about how that developed and how you came to make works with this narrative in mind.
I come from a background in illustration. I've always been a person who works in narratives: I used to draw massive 60+ page comic books when I was a young teenager because I wanted to be an animator. I watched a lot of TV...so drawing sequentially was the easiest way to communicate my stories. After a few years studying illustration in art school in the Bay Area, I dropped out and came back to Seattle and kicked around my parents' house for a while, never letting go of my desire to be a storyteller but not fully knowing what to do with these new painting skills I had acquired — namely, working in watercolor which I fell head over heels for. I had a peripheral interest in my family's Eastern European background so I dug into that region's history of folk art and folklore. It was the spark I needed to light a fire under my ass! It's been the foundation for all that I do today. It has fueled me to seek out other traditions of different countries which I've added into the big melting pot of my style,which include elements of pop culture and mundane scenes from every day life.
You balance your own artwork and participating in shows with more commercial projects. Can you talk a bit about the differences between illustration as "Art" and as "Design"?
This is such a tough and good question — one that I've been thinking about and wrestling with for a few years as someone who is on the fence of both. I think it comes down to commerce and collecting, if that makes sense. What I like about working commercially is the appeal of reaching a mass audience and having a voice in the large marketing sphere that we're all inundated with on the daily. And it keeps me afloat to explore being a painter. What inspires me to create work as a painter that exhibits in galleries is the sense of freedom, of taking everything I've learned up to this point in my life and translating it into something that can be looked at as an artifact of myself, of a story I've created. For me, and not a client. This might not please everyone: there are people who are disapproving of working on both sides because of some outdated ideologies on artistic integrity and the idea of "selling out," but fortunately that doesn't seem to be as relevant of an argument anymore since being a crossover artist is much more common.
Do you approach each of your pieces with a specific goal or intention in mind or does it come together more organically?
I always have a starting point, an idea or two that I'll try on for size in a pencil sketch. More often it'll be a loose composition that looks like a bunch of banana squiggles but I can see how the forms will play against each other. When I lay it out on paper and start painting in the color, my sense of perspective or the human form will kick in and I'll move certain things around slightly so there is an organic element to it in the end.
We read about how you made a piece inspired by Father John Misty's song "Only Son of a Ladies Man," and somehow that developed into doing his album artwork...what?! Can you tell us more about how that happened?
Having the "Only Son of a Ladies Man" painting I did for fun get back to Josh was the icebreaker for him ask me to do the art for this album. He wrote me an e-mail and told me how my work resonated with him, and how some of the themes I worked in paralleled the direction of the Father John Misty persona for his second album. He gave me a demo of the album right before I moved to California so I listened to it for months on repeat in my car, sitting in traffic imagining these vignettes he created in these songs. When I listen to his music I find a lot of parallels in both of our work — which is why I created the "Only Son" piece in the first place — there are lot's of degenerate figures, densely layered storylines, and heady emotions mixed with a big dose of humor.
Can you share more about the concept and inspiration behind the "I Love You, Honeybear" imagery? Can you walk us through the process of creating album artwork and a visual identity for a project like this? How does it all come together?
Josh has such a clear vision of what he likes and doesn't like, so while he did give me a few great pieces of reference imagery that spanned opulent religious iconography to surrealist furniture, he left a lot of it up to me. It was daunting, to say the least! His words of encouragement helped me take it as weird as I needed to go, which now that I think about it, was at a really good time. I had just finished a massive commercial project that kind of broke me in some ways so this project was what I needed to put myself back together. His main direction was that he wanted to communicate the dual sides of this FJM figure: a man who has a checkered past with his behavior in his personal relationships and then one of a new man, a man changed by meeting the love of his life and the desire to be better, and what that meant. Also he was very specific about being painted as a Renaissance cherub baby clutching a woman's bare breast.
You're from the Pacific Northwest: how does that region play a role in your work and inspiration?
It was hugely formative growing up there. The dense wet cloud cover, the saturated earth tones, and the tribal history resonates deeply within me. There is something in the rain water there that fosters creativity for sure, and I carry it with me wherever I go. I live in Los Angeles now which is completely different. Good, but different.
You've talked widely about your specific sources of inspiration. Can you share some recent ones?
Orthodox iconography has been on my mind a lot lately, the exalted figures amongst all of the gold leaf, and the symbolic details in the craftsmanship! Decaying technology from the last few decades, refuse of pop culture from growing up in the 90s — though I've been into that for a while. Maybe it's the 90s revival thing that's happening which I find more funny than anything, I just love tempering dark scenes with the happiness of a good classic era Doritos bag.
What are your favorite tools and supplies? Pens, pencils, paper…what's in your toolkit?
I work on Arches cold-pressed 140 lb. watercolor paper, in the big sheets that I tear down to different sizes. I have a big glass filled with dozens of different brushes, some I've had since I swiped them from an art store when I was in art school; all of them varying in size but mostly very small so I can get the teeny tiny details of that same Doritos bag.