Painter R. Nicholas Kuszyk is plagued by robots. Dancing cartoonish robots, robots that form their own subculture. Robots unable to make an audible sound. Robots that, he feels, resemble humans more than we may realize. After installing several murals around the US including one on Metropolitan Ave., in Brooklyn, completing a children’s book and now a huge rooftop painting – all featuring the same robots, Kuszyk’s 10-year fascination with robots has a very definite and developed artistic momentum and that’s great news. Except, he’s never been that interested in them. At least not in the way that you’d think.
WC: What are you working on?
R: I’m painting a mural on a roof in upstate New York.
WC: How did that project come about?
R: It’s a work trade-thing. A friend of a friend invited me and I offered to do renovations for this space they’d acquired in return for the opportunity to paint the roof and use the space. It’s in a pretty horrible condition right now, so I’ll help with the electrical, sprinkler system and bathrooms. It’ll be a sixty thousand square foot space so I’ll have plenty of room to spread out and work on my stuff. It’s certainly bigger than the Brooklyn space I’ve got now.
WC: With a large public work like a mural, how much time do you need to spend in the space before you know what you’re going to do with it?
R: It really depends on the space or the client. Sometimes the building owner gives complete creative freedom where I can do whatever I want. Sometimes it’s a commission situation where the person or the environment has certain needs. With a condominium building there’s often an approval process where I talk to the owners about what they want and they’ll even get specific about colors.
WC: The common theme for your work, at the moment anyway, is “robots.” Is that fair?
R: Yeah, those have been my thing; my little character dudes since about 2000. Before that I was taking a lot of inspiration from a guy called Steve Keene who makes super affordable art and so I copied his model. I was interested in making art for my friends and so we started having a bunch of art show parties in Virginia. Then I went to art school and started to make it all a bit more conceptual or whatever. I came from a suburban graffiti background and graffiti taught me about having to work and how to work big and also about branding. I wanted to make robots my own symbol. So, eventually I created my own little characters so I could incorporate more narrative depth than traditional graffiti words are capable of expressing.
WC: When was the first time you ever saw an image of a robot?
R: The thing is robots don’t really interest me. My use of the robots is more just a symbolic tool. I’m not really a robot dude. I appreciate the aesthetic but I don’t really give a shit about like 50s robots or robotics. The characters at the beginning were more about form and identity and have evolved over the past ten years to become more of a metaphor for community and day to day life. I’ve disappointed a few people for not being knowledgeable about actual robots.
WC: There’s a quote from you somewhere where you say that you’d be fine if robots took over the world.
R: Really? I don’t think that is true at all.
WC: Keith Haring used to do large public works after he’d done a lot of individual paintings in part because it made good business sense and also because it seemed to feed into a legacy he longed for. What prompts you to do large public murals?
R: The first book by an “artist” that my mom bought me was by Keith Haring because I was into cartoons. I started copying him when I first started to consciously make the shift to make affordable art. His socio-political bend really seeped into my subconscious as well. He was harshly political with that simple aesthetic and tricked people into learning. I’m definitely not as overt as he was but my paintings can be about public issues. I love painting huge images. I’m unsure where that comes from. Graffiti? Ego? The murals I’ve done in Brooklyn are like outdoor advertising so that’s like a business decision. I’d rather see art than advertising, even art that I have a negative response to.
WC: How do you find a balance between the pressures of the business side of art and the internal creative process?
R: I decided to make the brand and the robots a commodity so I could sell images on an affordable level. It’s about supporting myself, you know? When I was living in Richmond I could support myself by selling art to people around me. I’ve been basically doing a strange market research project on the limits of casual art purchases since then. It’s too random to predict who will buy what for what reason, but I do know though that if all the pieces are green and there is a red one of similar quality, the red one will sell. As far as my own balance, I’ve been doing these damned robots for so long. I’m feeling the strain for sure. There are a lot of other things that I want to do but I can’t step away from the robots for long enough because I have this momentum. I try, whenever I have the energy and down time, to make other things. That’s where the balance struggle is at the moment.
WC: What do you think is a fundamental human characteristic no matter where people are?
R: For the past couple of years I’ve delved into the idea that everything is connected socially, spiritually, emotionally, economically, physically… it’s all people. The government, the wars, the corporations, the cars, the fast food restaurants; they’re all people. The question for me is not how are we connected and but how do we break down the separations that block these connections and cause people to make fucked up decisions based on greed or selfish, unjustified fear. Art is the minority. Creativity is the minority. Open mindedness is the minority. Fear-based Fascism is the majority. It bums me out but it gives me some gut fire to do shit.
To see more of his work visit RRobots.com.