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An Interview with
Reuben Sawyer of Rainbath Visual

I first heard the name Reuben Sawyer when I interviewed Deafheaven this past winter. I had asked who would be doing the artwork for their first full length Roads To Judah. I instantly looked him up and found his Rainbath Visual blog. What I found were extraordinary illustrations unlike any other I had ever seen. Familiar forms such as animals and forest detritus were swarmed and swallowed by strokes of pure texture. Within the following months I saw Sawyer’s art grace the cover of the second Fell Voices LP, as well as their split with Ash Borer. Rainbath Visual was recently featured on CVLT Nation, and we are proud to present an interview with visual mastermind  Reuben Sawyer. Read what client and friend Adam Bartlett of Gilead Media had to say about Sawyer’s work.

I was first turned on to Reuben’s art when it came time to work on the layout for the Fell Voices Untitled LP and the Ash Borer/Fell Voices split LP. I had never heard of him before, but was immediately drawn into his style. It always feels like his work comes from some other-worldly realm that only he has access to. As though he channels some dark and terrible energy, not much unlike Lovecraft’s Pickman, capturing actual horrors from beyond and recreating them with his own hand.

Read the full interview with Rainbath Visual after the jump.

So just to start off, take me through your artistic background. How long have you been making art, and did you study art in college?


I’ve been drawing since I could remember and it developed into doodling and slacking off through middle/high school untill i finally started developing a style around the end of high school. I was a graffiti artist for a while and when I got burnt out on that I started doing alot of heavy black and white drawings.


When would you say you developed the style that makes up the body of work present within Rainbath Visual?


Well, it was actually quite recent – probably about 3-4 years ago I developed the name (not to be confused with the Neutrogena soap, people have bugged me about that ahah) and started focusing more on exploring textures. I basicly used those textures as a pallete to create the art i do now. Drawing alot of flyers for local shows really influecnced me towards my current body of work. Oh, that and making a collage out of photos/magazines/whatever else i could find and then drawing the collage.

Did your background as a graffitti artist inform your current work in some aspect, or were you looking for something completely different when you started making your illustrations?


In some ways it did. I gained the satisfaction of patience when I started working through paper. Throwing something up on a wall usually is pretty stressfull and requires you to think fast about what you are doing. I was never big on tagging it was mainly character pieces and wheatpastes. I guess i also got a bit scared, small town – too many cops. I almost feel like the change happened over night.


It’s interesting that you mention using texture as your palate. Looking at your work, there’s a detectible intimacy between you and your materials, and in some cases, the texture carries the composition rather than rigid structure.


Right, and sometimes I am asked to do pieces that are fully texture (which I really enjoy because it’s a total zone out for me rather then creating a distinquishable image) I’m working an a project for Utech Records right now thats purely texture and its a blast. I study nature alot with my work. For a while I would draw a bunch of different patterns of tree bark and apply them to diferent things. Thats just an example.

I was going to ask about your process. Do you usually start a piece with a concept in mind or an end goal, or do you kind of let the piece take form as you go? A lot of your work is very fleeting and ephemeral, as if it could only be captured during a brief moment in time.


I am extremly all over the place when it comes to finishing work. Sometimes the lines take me where I want to go, sometimes they require alot of pre planning which turns into alot of beer drinking, haha. Alot of work i do that has a concept is mainly band related art work. Hell, I pretty much only do band art it feels like. Im never really drawing for myself or leisure but i like that. It makes me appreciate my work as a “job” more so. I do feel though that my favorite pieces I’ve done have been very spur the moment and unplanned, usually at late hours of the night.


How did you start doing artwork for bands, specifically acts like Ash Borer and Fell Voices?


Basically doing alot of show flyers and I started of doing a few things for local bands. I’m trying to think back into my time line when I actually started branching out. I suppose it sort of just happened. I mean it has alot to do with my personal interests in music as well as developing friendships with bands outside of the local scene. The Fell Voices guys became friends of mine from playing shows in my area. Ash Borer went hand in hand I suppose, expect that I only know one member in Ash Borer and we met pre Ash Borer. I’ve actually never seen Ash Borer play live!


Neither have I, and I hope that will change soon. So did you get involved with the label Gilead Media through your collaboration with those two bands?


Basically. Now Gilead is one of my favorite labels. Great guy behind it, Adam. We would be serious homies if we lived in the same area! I really enjoy how those Fell Voices and Fell Voices / Ash Borer records turned out!


The visuals are as strong and the recorded material, and that’s something we’ve all come to expect from Gilead. About how long did it take you to complete the cover for the Fell Voices LP?


That one was sort of a long process, had to change alot of things. This was a concept piece based on a poem that Fell Voices selected.


Can you say what the title and author of that poem were?


The words were used for the Ash Borer stuff to. The poem is by Rainer Maria Rilke, I don’t know the title. It focuses on things like willful isolation, self realization, the relationship between peers. Or more so the relationship between like minded, intellectuals. It was a hard one for me, especially becasue its hard to put words into a visual sense. Obviously I was more abstact and not so much literal with these peices.


Well the end result is stunning. I think the struggle you had and the way those words forced you to really think about the concept you were representing ultimately made the composition so successful


Thank you. The band pushed me towards success on this one. Suprizingly alot of bands recently aren’t very picky when it comes to what they want me to do. And I dont mean that in offense towards anyone, I think its mainly because I have a specific style with the visuals I create and that’s what people want. Usually I know what to avoid when working on something.(cliches like: goats, satan, naked girls stuff like that) ah, metal.

Inspiration can come to an artist from virtually anywhere. You mentioned studying nature as well as poetry as sources of inspiration. What inspires you to create art? Is your work a product of your environment or a means of escape from it?


Every time I create I feel that my subconscious is sending me messages that I am completly unaware of. I usually feel pretty dry and void of thoughts when working intensly on a piece. I lock into the groove and ride it. I suppose my work is a product of absorbing all that is around me. Everything. Surprisingly, I don’t draw very often at all.


So it sounds like your work is the physical manifestation of pure, concentrated expression. If you draw so infrequently, how do you spend the rest of your time?


Ha ha, I am glad you asked. I work on ton of music, various projects. I sit around alot, sleep in. General laziness. I enjoy watching romantic comedies and Seinfeld. I am also a huge fan of petting cats.


Based on images found on your blog, it looks as though you’ve started tattooing. Is this a long time interest of yours, or a recent development in your life?


Definitely a recent development. It’s alot of fun though. The first time I picked up a tattoo machine I felt like I was a 5 year old drawing with my wrong hand.


I can imagine it’s worlds different than most conventional forms of artmaking, it’s a totally different skill set.


Yeah, I have so much to learn. Everything is a process with tattooing from setting up the machine to putting a stencil on the skin. I dont plan on taking it too far, I mainly like doing the little things. My buddy Jason has showed me a lot just by me watching him set up and tattoo me. Pay attention to detai! It pays off…. I’m totally into working in a shop at some point, it’ll cripple my hand though….

One thing I wanted to ask about is the impact of technology on art. There is a disturbing trend within certain areas of metal album art where album covers turn into this overly photoshopped eyesores and completely lack any originality or anything human about them. How has the pace of technology impacted how your work is represented and shared? Your work is so very much about the presence of the artists hand, how adept are you at using technology as a tool to acurately represent and translate the emotion of your art?


I’m too broke to afford a nice computer and have no patience to learn photoshop. Graphic/Web design is where the money is at though. My editing is done with white out, cut and paste and using xerox machines sometimes. I like physical hands on stuff. I spend alot of time on the computer but i like to keep art seperate. It’s 2011, things are way too saturated.


Agreed. And I think a lot of people are sensing that, which is why a lot of unique bands and labels are attracted to your work. You recently just sold three of your original drawings with thumbprints of your own blood for authenticity, which is awesome. Like you said it’s 2011, but there are people out there still making art in a very ritualized and atavistic way. Is the the ritual aspect of art important to you?


I suppose its not all that important, my art can take on ritual aspect if i am heavily focused but i am usually multitasking when i work on art actually. Its funny i never listen to music when im drawing. Im also super unorganized. I can never find my bag of art supplies because its in a grocery bag and it gets misplaced constantly. Also constantly looking for paper, haha. Wow, im very “professional”. Actually just bought a bunch of nice paper today…


You mentioned working on music earlier. What is the status of your Hollow Sunshine project, and do you have any other musical endeavors in the works?


Hollow Sunshine is active. I dont know if I will ever do a full length with that project. I like writing singles and participating in collabs alot. My other project is Ex Luminaire and I also record and release stuff under my own name.


Lastly, are there any bands that you’ve not yet worked with that would you like to? What can we expect to see from you in the near future?


I think more so than bands there are a hand full of people, musicians and record labels I would enjoy collaborating with. I would like to work with more bands outside of the metal scene. I am so thankfull to be apart of what I have now and am generally looking forward to the future. Not slowing down thats for sure. Expect more stupid tattoos and I’m trying to go bigger (in size) with my work. Want to do more art shows.


Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview!


Yeah man, I wish I could be more interesting haha.

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