- IMAGE BY R. SAWYER
Local artist “Rainbath,” otherwise known as R. Sawyer, was pretty pleased with his alias until someone asked if he had christened himself after the refreshing Neutrogena shower gel of the same name.
But while this Rainbath doesn’t guarantee to clean, soften, or condition skin without leaving behind heavy residue, he still kicks ass in other ways. Take his current art show: a collection of eerie drawings he’s done for bands over the past couple of years, currently hanging at San Luis Art Supply in downtown San Luis Obispo.
It’s a decidedly dark choice for Christmastime. As last-minute shoppers bustle past outside, Death draws up on his painted black horse. An owl peers warily from under a black cloak. A stag emerges majestically atop a dreamy hill of abstractions. A skull cracks open like an egg, spilling a rare orgy of color in show of black and gray.
- IMAGE BY R. SAWYER
Sawyer, whose first name is Ruben, didn’t want to get genre-specific about the bands he draws for, but, when pressed, he described the sound as “experimental, drone, black metal; darker stuff.” However, “If someone walks up to me and wants me to do something, I’m usually pretty open to it.”
In grade school, Sawyer was that kid who could draw, often in high demand for school projects. He was always doodling in class, he said, though, strangely enough, art classes were never his cup of tea.
“I never wanted to do the assignment,” he explained, “I always wanted to do my own thing. So I actually didn’t do very well.”
Now, at 22, he’s found posters and album artwork a more palatable assignment. Most pieces are untitled, aside from an explanation of who they were made for: tour poster for Deafheaven; designs for Among the Bones, Hollow Sunshine, and Regrets; the stag a CD cover for a band called Aulea.
“I always feel like I have to have a real connection to something to title it,” he said. “I feel like titling it gives it more meaning than it actually should. I want people to come up with their own meaning and interpretation ... but I don’t really have too big of an attachment to my art, which is another strange thing.”
Sawyer’s artwork is something your mother probably wouldn’t “get,” and the artist seems to be OK with that. At its core, Sawyer said, it’s about nature. The show’s prevailing motifs of death and decay, things most people don’t like to dwell on, are nevertheless very organic themes.
- IMAGE BY R. SAWYER
In keeping with his natural aesthetic, Sawyer tries to keep his efforts “as un-digital as possible,” avoiding Photoshop in favor of doing it all by hand. Generally, the only manipulation he uses is on a photocopier, if that.
Sawyer typically begins a piece with a doodle in pencil. From there, “my brain will just kind of fill in the lines and textures for me.” He rarely listens to music while working; it distracts him.
Then there’s the window display, something your mother probably wouldn’t allow in the house: a wooden box containing an elegant tree branch, a pair of talons, and a dead gopher.
“I found that out on the 1, a while ago,” Sawyer said. “And I thought, ‘Wow, this is a total real-life version of what my art looks like.’”
You can’t see it the photo, but Sawyer and SLO Art Supply owner Neal Breton have surrounded the display with those manufactured, ubiquitously Christmassy bows. It’s almost a denial, as if to say, “nothing to see here.”
So far, Breton said, no one has complained. He reckoned they just aren’t paying attention, deadened to Christmas displays themselves.
“Besides,” Sawyer said, “I feel that taxidermy is more morbid than that.”
Though atypical for the holiday season, the show is oddly fitting for the darkest time of the year. At the show’s opening, Sawyer said, “a lady asked me if I felt my artwork was ‘hip,’ if it was ‘in’ right now.” And in a way, he said, it is.
“I feel like there’s a lot more appreciation for darker things, because life isn’t about being happy all the time—‘everything’s great, everything’s perfect’—because it’s not. We live in a chaotic world.”
Arts Editor Anna Weltner wishes you a very merry Christmas and a blessed New Year! Write her at email@example.com.