What becomes profound about that speaking, is when literal words arranged within art, actually speak as part of the art itself.
When I encountered this through the late Fred Babb’s work, the words paused my spirit, and set it free again. His work, is as I now experience him, as he who was – a tableau of typography existing as a message to self.
This is his son, Chris Babb on behalf of Fred Babb who still talks through type.
smdlr: I first came upon your father’s art through a Facebook post from Joebella coffee roasters and was immediately touched.
Chris Babb: I’m glad. It’s good to know that, even after all these years, his work still affects people.
s: How does that make you feel knowing that your father’s work is reaching people across such social platforms?
cb: I think it always has, in its own way. Clearly not via the internet, as it barely existed when his work was most popular, but it always struck a chord with anyone in the art world who saw it, and many outside of it. I’ve no doubt that his work was the topic of many conversations over the years, so it’s pretty much always been social, in a way. It makes me happy, knowing that his work is so appreciated nationwide. A guy likes to know that he’s doing something that affects people, so I guess I feel that for him … vicariously, as it were.
s: There is a vibrancy in his work, that pairs play and conscious thought so seamlessly. Can you speak to how your father came to create this kind of art?
cb: From the earliest I can remember, he was playful with his art; that is, around us, his family. At first, though, when he went out on his own making art for a living, he created art by commission, painting portraits on plates or whatever. That was how he made his money at first–creating perfectly realistic pieces that you would never attribute to him without knowing it was his. Whenever he made art for himself, though, it was always something more fun. I remember when I was really little, he used to make huge paintings out of stucco. He’d take a frame like 3 feet by 5 feet and about 3 inches deep and fill it with stucco, maybe stick some hunks of metal in it, and then paint the hell out of it when it dried. My favorite piece was one he’d painted to look like a watermelon. I think I loved it so much because it was a rectangle … and watermelon’s just not rectangular.
s: No, but ah, the power of seeing. How did the idea of having your father’s art come to fruition at Joebella Coffee Roasters.
The owners of Joebella (Joseph and Isabel Gerardis) are my Uncle and Aunt. Joseph is my mom’s brother. They’ve always appreciated dad’s style and even had a digital piece of his printed on canvas for the wall of their coffee house. It’s a picture of a cup of coffee with the caption “Good Morning. Have the day you want.” I think Joseph really liked the idea that we should all be the ones who decide what kind of day we want to have. Not so much “don’t tell me what to do,” but maybe more “I like to think I’m a master of my own destiny.”
Anyway, when I recently decided to revive my father’s business and see if it was still a financial possibility, the idea of doing art prints came up. So I talked to Joseph about whether or not they’d be interested in having a show at the coffee house. They were excited about it.
s: I can see why. So, how did you curate which pieces to display? He laughs.
cb: Well this one’s easy. Those are the only pieces we’ve printed so far. Our capital to revitalize the business was painfully small, so we were extremely limited with what we were able to print. We still have other pieces as originals, but I didn’t want to hang anything I wasn’t willing to sell.
cb: Are you able to share what your fathers artistic process was, did he work early, late, alone and what kind of tools did he like to use to paint with?
He worked early some days, late others. He worked alone and in company. I guess if I had to say what he did most often, it would be that he worked in the middle of the day, and preferred only the company of some alternative rock on the tape deck. He was always happy to have myself or my sister come to visit him in his studio, though. Especially if we wanted to paint, too.
As for tools, it depended on what he was creating. When he first started making Earheads (the ceramic jewelry that effectively made him famous), he would use china paints on glazed ceramics. He had all sorts of brushes of all shapes and sizes. He only used quality brushes, but he’d keep them for a long, long time before going to get a new one. The cost of art supplies pissed him off a little bit, I think.
He didn’t only use conventional tools, though. He used to use Q-Tips for a lot of things, like smudging the edges of paint for shading, or clouds, or something like that. My favorite tool of his, the one I always remember, was this little tiny red rubber thing on a stick. It looked like a red chocolate chip. He used to use it to wipe away paint in a thin, straight line. It helped to create effects like glare on glass. I was always amazed that it made such clean lines.
s: I love learning the how of how artists create, thank you for sharing that. There’s a lot of messaging out there that affects the minds of young artists to the extent where some believe that they cant be living artists, not just surviving off their work. Your fathers art speaks to the opposite, it speaks to the soul of the artist, a healthy artist. Can you share how important art was to your father?
cb: Art was everything to my dad. I mean, obviously family is a big deal for everyone, and he loved us all, but his second love after family was definitely art. It made him happy. It was his go-to when he was upset. It was his place where he could be wholly, 100% him and never have to worry about what anyone else thought or said or wanted.
I recently saw a music video using some clips from Bob Ross episodes. In it, he sings “This is your world; you’re the creator. Find freedom on this canvas.” My dad did exactly that. He went into his world and then he brought it out onto the canvas.
As for whether or not an artist can make a living doing what they do … it’s a tough call…there’s a lot of thought and work that can go into it, but if you’ve got the right mix, you can do very well for yourself. It’s bad form to mention how much someone makes, but suffice to say that my father made more money with his art than a tax accountant.
s: In our present time, coffee shops are becoming like well curated museums. Can you share what you think the value of art within the coffee shop space is? As well, any thoughts on how your dad would feel knowing that hundreds of people on a given week are seeing his art in the midst of a rich historical setting such as the coffee shop.
cb: I think the fact that coffee houses are becoming a common venue for ALL of the arts (rather than just music/poetry as seemed to be the norm in the past) and that we’re beginning to see a wider acceptance of the entire artistic spectrum in them is like the holy grail of the art world.
Art has always had its following, but sometimes they were considered as elitists or crazies (or both), depending on who they were and how much money they had. While art and its history are exciting to some, I’d say that they’re likely in the minority.
Coffee house art gives the majority the chance to see artwork they would never have seen otherwise. It creates a mainstream location for an artist’s message and creations to take flight and infect people’s minds, and while some people look down on the mainstream as something that’s hindering art and creation, I look at the mainstream as the group of people who need to hear the message of these artists.
To see and purchase Mr. Fred Babb’s work visit here.