Sam Spratt is a prolific artist who's currently working closely with the creators of Angry Birds to breathe a whole new life into the franchise. He's internet-famous for his beautifully rendered paintings of various memes and thanks to being a house illustrator for Gawker Media, where he's essentially a digital Norman Rockwell with a caricaturist's bent. This gig has brought Spratt notoriety (and groupies!) but what spare time he has is given over to turning pop culture into fine art. Maxim quizzed the 23-year-old on booze, babes, and a bear-cowled Dwight Schrute.
Maxim: You keep a bottle of Johnnie Black Label on your Tumblr (and work bench). Are you a scotch man first and foremost?
Sam: I drink scotch and beer almost exclusively.
Maxim: Does booze ever loosen up the drawing hand?
Sam: I keep drinking largely away from my artwork as my imagination is far too active to let a buzz start navigating my hand into making all the twisted shit up in there.That said, a glass of scotch to inch away at while I work is never a bad thing.
Maxim: Has anyone ever tried to pay you in bottles?
Sam: No but I wouldn't mind a really nice Bowmore if you feel like sending me a gift.
Maxim: You're working with Rovio, makers of the wildly successful Angry Birds. Can you share the details?
Sam: I'm supposed to be fairly quiet about it as I'm basically spear-heading a new endeavor of art, merchandise, and design for them. However, if you are familiar with my brand of realistic painting and the Angry Birds franchise--you can probably get an idea of what to expect.
Maxim: Do you feel there's a difference between your digital style and the physical one?
Sam: My digital technique is built upon my classical training as an oil painter and I have since let my technique evolve digitally. When I return to oils--I'll let you know if they're still in line with one another. That's the key to the digital medium to me: It's a synthesis of the elements of the traditional--not an easier way out.
Maxim: You do a lot of genre work. Do you have any geek obsessions?
Sam: Definitely. For example, for shits and giggles because I'm a big The Office fan, I did a portrait of Dwight wearing a bear. It ended up going viral and Rainn Wilson ended up snagging a private print from me as well as using it across his social media platforms. In fact, the way Rovio Mobile found me for Angry Birds is because I did a painting of one of the pigs by request of a fan. My genre work and paintings build off of existing brands I treat as my advertising for paid work.
Maxim: Have any other celebrities responded to their portraiture?
Sam: Les Stroud (Survivorman) purchased a print. However, the portraits are really not made for the actors in any way, shape, or form. If that were the case I wouldn't ever get to artistically shit on them.
Maxim: True. You have a marvelous eye for caricature, which probably demands some distance. How'd you end up painting RageGuy & Co.?
Sam: I was actually thinking about Warhol one day and how he took popular culture and brought it into a painted form and I just felt that taking something incredibly universal--yet totally mundane and the antithesis of "art", then treating it with fine-art sensibilities... would be as much a challenge as it would be popular. These "Rage Faces" were the perfect subject matter and the result and reaction exceeded the intention. The first one blew up and then the demand for more was enough that I decided to humor the internet with a full set.
Though I still get many messages asking for more internet icons so I'm not hanging up my hat in that regard quite yet.
Sam: Haha, I'm keeping an open mind to my next iteration of the painted internet.
Maxim: Are there any properties or subjects you'd love to tackle but haven't yet?
Sam: I'm almost perpetually content with what I'm doing--when something excites me enough to paint it--I go for it. If there is something or someone I'm dying to paint--I do it. That said, I have been mulling over for awhile how to best bring to life Louis CK, who is one of the best human beings in the celebrity realm right now. I'll add to that actually: I recently did a 9/11 tribute painting. I tend to stay away from heavy subject matters as I feel uncomfortable capitalizing on mass-tragedy--but I found the experience challenging to pay respects and yet more rewarding than almost anything else I have done. I would like to have the balls to do that more often.
Maxim: It seems in your work you [and Louis CK] both illuminate humanity by embracing the shadows that contrast it. Have you ever had to shy away from the warts in a subject against your own instincts?
Sam: I hate to do so, but it's happened. Generally speaking, the two best kind of people to paint are the ugliest men and the most beautiful women.
I did a portrait of Zach Galifianakis that won a bunch of awards and while I genuinely love the guy, he's not exactly Hollywood's male ideal. I had the absolute best time painting his wrinkles and pores. I don't think I have a single Jon Hamm or Brad Pitt in my portfolio because they're just boring as subject matters. What [Louis CK] does so well is show at least the intrigue of the shitty aspects of life. When I paint an old or ugly person, I go into it with the same mindset.
Maxim: You're letting the character dictate the aesthetic?
Sam: Absolutely. Painting a portrait of a person and not having that person in mind as anything more than a reference point is absurd. I mostly paint people because of our ability to see the distinction from one to the next. I'm sure cats can all tell the nuances between each other but to me, a cat is a fucking cat. Every anatomical nuance amongst us is fascinating and when you can not just make those unique to a person, but also bring in their personality, I think that's powerful.
Maxim: You have a pretty formidable internet presence. Do people ever send gifts?
Sam: I've received a number of donations which is nice, but totally unnecessary, as I left the label of "starving artist" a long while ago. However, on my 23rd birthday a few weeks back I had a ton of people make paintings for me. There was one girl who set up a birthday cake and photo of me in sort of a shrine and snapped a picture. It was very flattering (and maybe a tad scary in that healthy sort of way).
Maxim: You do seem to be popular with the ladies. On your Tumblr they're asking for pictures of you almost as much as pictures you've done. Is that cake picture the sweetest thing a fan has done for you? (and/or the pleasantly scariest?)
Sam: I think the sweetest thing a fan has done, and it's actually happened half a dozen times now, is one telling me that I inspired them to go back to school and study art. Some of these people are my age and some are twice it... I'm not really one for emotions but I admit, that plucked at the heart strings ever so slightly.
Maxim: When you're feeling creatively dry, are there any artists who similarly inspire you?
Sam: Fellow artists always tell me I'm a jackass for this, but I'm just never creatively dry. I have a constant mass of ideas in my head and I don't think there has been a single moment since I started as a professional artist where I have had to pause to think about what to make. I hate the hippy notion of being one with the world, but it baffles me when people struggle creatively. Look outside your window for a minute and you should see something utterly incredible. Perhaps that goes back to seeing beauty in the trivial facets of life though.
However, that's not to say other artists don't inspire me. Steve Brodner, Bobby Chiu, Malcolm Liepke, and several old masters like Peter Paul Rubens all have contributed massively to becoming an artist and striving to be a better one.
Maxim: That's going to make my callback question look trite. Have any female fans met you in real life and hit on you?
Sam: Definitely. The two go pretty much hand in hand. I think it's sort of scary at times because even though I have "fame" on such an insanely microcosmic level, there are still crazies out there and I've got my fair share of anonymous psycho-stalker propositions.
Maxim: How do the hipster girls in Brooklyn react to meeting an artist?
Sam: I think the internet has "fame-goggles" where they see thousand people following me and my youth, talent, and looks are magnified far beyond reality in their minds. I don't care for hipster girls, but they react pretty well. I prefer the professional lady over the grungy one who rides a fixed-gear. Despite being an artist, I really loathe a lot of the artsy things about it.
Maxim: Less talk, more walk?
Sam: Indeed. When your painting is meaningless without a big long artist's statement talking about the juxtaposition of fuck-all to the contrasting socio-political taboo word vomit, I think you've failed as an artist. Not everything needs to be drenched in pseudo-intellectual meaning to be powerful or beautiful.
Maxim: As long as people can have a reaction to it, then it's saying something.
Sam: Exactly. I think the readers of Maxim can relate to that, haha.
Maxim: Sometimes a great ass is just a great ass, that's our motto.
Sam: I think Nietzsche said that.