I have known and appreciated Todd Robertson since the first day he walked into my shop in Harvard Square. He is a sincere, kind, and super hard-working artist who I have wanted to see succeed for years. Well, a few years ago, just after I left Boston, I caught wind of Todd selling out a show at the Lot F Gallery – and I was stoked and not surprised at all. Sometimes you gotta find your niche and Todd Robertson is dominating his. Here’s a quick Q&A with Todd Robertson – Vinyl Toy Artist.
Kerry Proletariat – Where were you born and raised and when do you first remember thinking you wanted to be an artist?
Todd Roberston – I was born in Lansing, MI and grew up in Windsor, CT. I always dabbled in art when I was younger but was more focused on becoming a musician. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I really decided to change gears and explore more of a visual artist path.
K.P. – I know exactly what you mean. In my mid-twenties I decided to open a shop that sells a bunch of shit no one needs! Ha Ha! What brought you to Boston and what keeps you there?
T.R. I moved to Boston initially to go to school for audio engineering. After about a year of messing around and not really focusing on school, I dropped out and starting working and just living. I had friends here and liked Boston so I just naturally settled and stayed here. I have been here now for about 15 years.
T.R. Actually the first time we meet was when Josh Wisdumb brought me to your shop to pick up some paint. I was pretty broke at the time and I remembered you hooked up some caps for me. I thought that was solid of you so I always tried to come back to your shop to pick up what I needed. Everytime I would come by we would always have good conversations and you always looked out for me as much as possible. You would always hook up some of the vintage gear for my girlfriend at the time too; I really appreciated that. I felt like we had become friends.
K.P. Thanks for that man. It means a lot that you would mention that. Now at the time of this meeting you were doing an art hustle on Newbury street, right? If you don’t mind, could you fill people in on what it was like to be an actual struggling artist?
T.R. Oh the Newbury Street hustle… I started my art career selling paintings on the street. I had no job and a stack of paintings I had done and I thought to myself, “I could just go over to Newbury St. and sell these cheap to make a some money.” First day out I sold all my paintings and went home with $200 – it totally blew my mind! I decided I’ll try this another day. So I quickly pumped out some more pieces and hit the streets again with similar results. I got harassed by various store owners and the cops, bit I managed to find this spot that was on private property, the little brick wall in front of Steve’s. I asked the owner if it was ok to sell some art in front of his spot, he checked out my stuff and said no problem just don’t make a mess or be rude to people. I also had to befriend some of the local street hustlers and they looked out by keeping the pan handlers and other types out of my spot. It was a pretty crazy experience but I made enough cash everyday to support myself and keep going. Every night I would walk around the alleys and side streets looking for any scraps of wood or surfaces I could recycle into pieces to sell. This went on for about 3 years off and on. Eventually I met other artists and a restaurant owner who offered me the opportunity to be in shows.
K.P. Man, I have so much respect for you for doing that. So many artists couldn’t put themselves out there like that! You must have some truck nuts
! So the first time I really remember you changing your style from 2d to 3d was at our second custom sneaker battle, Snek Atak 2. I remember you stole the show with this crazy robot made of sneakers and found parts. Was this when you first started making toys? If I’m not mistaken you won the show that night as well!
T.R. I remember when you invited me to be in the Snek Atak 2 show and you had to pick someone to battle so I challenged Kenji Nakayama. He was the only dude I really knew in that scene and thought – hey if I’m going to lose, I could deal with losing to him. There were definitely a bunch of phone calls telling me how stupid I was for challenging him and I should get ready to lose. I also figured that I couldn’t paint half as well as almost everyone in the show so I would have to try something different. Around that time I was experimenting with building junk/found object sculptures and that, combined with a love for robots, evolved into this crazy sneaker robot piece. This wasn’t the begining of the toy thing for me but it definitely was the begining of my style that I’ve become known for today. Actually, my dad and my grandfather are big into making toys, models, and r/c stuff, so the toys have always been in my life. It just took some time for me to figure out my style of toy making.
K.P. It’s funny how that happens. You look back at your life and it all seems so clear but the whole time that you are living your life it’s as if you are blind! Now, at some point after I left Boston, I think in 2010, I came back and someone told me you were selling out the Lot F Gallery for $1,000’s per painting. What changed?
T.R. Around 2010 a friend of mine started Lot F Gallery and in the begining I sold out a couple of shows and was moving a good amount of pieces, in a better price range than the street days. In addition to showing paintings, I also was showing toys, and that side of my art really started to get recognition and it also just felt good for me as an artist. I think just growing up and taking what I learned from the street hustle really helped me to become more of a real artist, plus I was really sick of sitting outside for hours and hours selling art when I could focus on one show and make way more money in a better environment.
K.P. Totally makes sense man. What are you up to now? What’s your goal with art, where are you selling? Was it worth it or did you not have any other path that would have made you happy?
T.R. Right now I am focused primarily on toys. I have been doing a large number of collaborations with other makers as well as working on my own designs. I have been involved in numerous toy shows around the world. As of late I have had many sales in Japan and have a duo show coming up in February which I will be in attendance. My main goal for this year is to have my own designs be produced. I have to say it was all worth it. Everything we do adds to who we become and for better or worst forms who we are.
K.P. Well said my man. We look forward to seeing highlights from your show! Got any shout outs?
T.R. Haha. I would like to give you a big shout out for looking out from the early days. I would like to thank everyone who has bought my art, really that’s what gives you the ability to keep going. I want to thank Lot F Gallery, The Goodlife and UGHH.com for helping out with my first real shows. As far as toy makers, I have to thank Bob Conge, Mark Nagata and Matt Walker for really guiding me into the scene and helping a large number of fans become aware of my work. Also have to thank all you bloggers out there (Toysrevil, Kaiju Korner, Toybot Studios) for supporting and exposing my work. Special shout out to my friend Will Long who has become my brother in monster/robot creation.
K.P. That’s it kids. The formula isn’t that difficult. Work your ass off at what you love and never give up and it will all come together. Thanks Todd for your time, it’s artists like you that keep me excited about art and creativity in general. I still have that lightbulb painting on my wall and some day I will have a toy on my shelf as well!