Today we’d like to introduce you to Scott Coblio.
Scott, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I grew up in a creative household where we were encouraged to be artistic. My creative sensibility came into focus at a very young age. I was the baby and my two sisters had gone off to school, and I would hang out with my mother during the daytime, and watch TV with her. My mother had been a theater actress and I would pour over her old scrapbooks like they were movie magazines. She was very glamorous in all the photos and she seemed like a celebrity to me. She had also saved a bunch of sketches she’d made of women copied from ads and fashion magazines.
I became sort of transfixed by all this. It represented some kind of an escape-to world for me. Like a planet where everything was elevated and people showed up dressed to the nines for normal life. There was nothing basic or humdrum about the world they depicted. It had a sense of theatricality, of being almost in-costume for life.
This was the 1970’s, which meant your television got 4 channels that showed mostly old movies and reruns of 1960’s TV shows. So I developed this hyper awareness about eras I didn’t yet realize were already extinct or bygone. Besides, some people in the 70’s were still keeping them alive—mostly the older generations–men going to barbers and wearing suits and hats, women going to the beauty parlor or refusing to leave the house without lipstick on. Buying shoes and handbags in sets for that perfect color match. All that kind crazy attention to detail. So the embers of fashion as something formal and couture were still glowing here and there. The last of the 50s/60s residue hadn’t worn off yet.
Into this mix came two other influences; Hammer films and Barbie dolls. These may sound incongruous, but hear me out. Every Saturday, a local New York station would host a “Monster Movie Matinee” and we’d all hunker down and watch Christopher Lee’s eyes turn red in yet another Dracula film. Or Barbara Steele getting burned at the stake in some 1960’s witch movie. Naturally, our storytelling vernacular was limited largely to what we’d seen on TV, so we emulated these plots when we’d play with our Barbie and Ken dolls (I was allowed to play with Barbie but not to have my own—remember that—it comes back later). We’d make very cinematic plots involving vampires or a witch coven, zombies or a rabies epidemic. We were never interested in just having them go get a malted at the soda fountain or whatever. There had to be tension and suspense!
Well, then it was my turn to go to school and all this stuff got sort of buried under new experience. I remained creative though, taking pictures once I got my own camera in 10th grade, writing songs and even writing and putting on plays with my sisters for the family.
I continued photography as a more serious pursuit throughout my college years, mostly turning all my friends into models. Luckily for me, everyone I knew was a ham! It was a fun way to spend time together: “Let’s do a photo session!” In those pre-cellphone days, there weren’t many people walking around with 35mm pro cameras. You had to be pretty serious about it because photography and processing were expensive and not that easy. You couldn’t just take 1,000 free pictures and luck into a few winners. You had to really plot out your shot and compose it carefully because you only had however many exposures were on the roll (12, 24 or 36). I kind of miss that now. Every image was special because it was more rare. Nothing was taken for granted.
I continued to amplify and distill a cinematic quality in my portraiture. I was a film minor and watching a lot of Ingmar Bergman films which increased my taste for moody, atmospheric and brooding imagery. I tried to bring some semblance of this to my work. On the other end of the spectrum, I was discovering Andy Warhol, Edie Sedgwick, the mod 60’s and pop art, etc., so my whole angle became a mash up of old movie melodrama and that “pop” sense of everything being fun and comic bookish. Those are weird styles to mash up, but I think it makes for an interesting, if slightly schizophrenic, aesthetic!
From 1991-1996 I sang in an original band named Koo-Koo boy, for which I wrote all the music. The music was retro–a 60’s/80’s hybrid, and the stage show had a circus-like element. (Our first album, “Every Freak For Himself!” was re-released on vinyl by City of Quality Records in 2017.). Our biggest radio hit was a single called “Vampire Girls”. We brought that retro glamour in a little bit through the use of very stylized-looking stage guests, Miss Marble (on keyboards) and Miss Demeanor (go-go dancer).
In the late 90’s, I moved from New York to LA and started photographing vintage Barbie dolls. Here’s where not being allowed to have my own doll as a kid comes back into play. Obviously, no adult is going to “play” with a doll as they would have when they were kids, but photographing them, trying to show Barbie to other people through the prism of my child’s-eye view, was how I “played with’ my dolls.
It also sublimated an otherwise hoarding type of hobby into something creative and productive, which I think you should always try to do with anything you’re obsessed about. Don’t just collect it–turn it around and share it with other people. There’s a reason you’re obsessed. Even if people don’t identify with the reason, the fact that the work has “heart” will still resonate with them. “Somebody loved something here….” Without that, art has no soul. It’s just cleverness or technique but it’s not haunted or inhabited by that fierce connection of the artist to his subject.
I continued to take pictures, contributing to Taschen’s mega-book “75 Years of DC Comics” in 2008, production designing the Days of Our Lives 40th Anniversary event at the Hollywood Palladium (in which the venue was turned into a 1965 Airport interior, with Atomic family home, park, drive-in, tiki bar and “Space Bar”. Food Network covered the event on their “Behind the Bash” show.
In 2007, I wrote and directed my first feature film (Murderess), using vintage marionettes, which won Best Animated feature in LA’s DIY Film Fest in 2008. The movie, which details a double murder that happened in Phoenix in 1931 (and involved a woman traveling on a train to LA with a steamer trunk containing the bodies of her two best friends) has shown annually in Phoenix at The Trunk Space (later Film Bar) every year since its original release. This coming October will be the 12th annual screening.
Around 2012, I switched from photographing Barbie to contemporary fashion dolls because the faces were so much more photogenic while maintaining the 60’s vibe I was after. I wasn’t really thinking commercially, just shooting for my own amusement, at first. I would just imagine scenarios for the dolls, like “what if she was a model who became a movie star and then recorded records too?” And I’d design her imaginary album cover or movie still, her poster or teen magazine layout. I thought this was all more interesting than just taking pictures of a toy that looks like a toy. I tried to animate them so that they seemed like pictures of people, so I photographed them the same way I would photograph a live subject.
I was thrilled when WeHo Wash asked me to come up with an exhibit for their space–it looks like one of those loft-type galleries anyway with the red and yellow walls and high ceilings. I could have blown up a bunch of my B&W portraiture but I thought the doll pictures were such eye-candy and had such immediacy that it would be a perfect fit. And within just 2 months, we’ve sold more than 20 pieces, which says a lot about the community and their support of local art.
Some people have asked what my pictures mean. Am I commenting about fashion? Glamour? Women? I always answer that I don’t know, because creativity doesn’t come from a cerebral place for me. It comes from a compulsive place. All I know is, I’m pastiching and recreating lost worlds and formats and frameworks that had a powerful effect on me, that took root in my own imagination once, when I was very young, and these images are like the flowers that grew out of it all. I have no idea what they mean. To me, they are just beautiful escapism. And that’s enough, sometimes.
Has it been a smooth road?
It’s always tough when you’re not established yet in your field. You have to get yourself out there often enough that you start to stick in people’s heads. If they keep seeing you or hearing about you, eventually they will say, “Okay, what have you got?” and be willing to look at what you do.
Money is an obvious challenge, because even if you can create your art for free or next-to-nothing, with money you can buy visibility. You can do things to promote yourself. Pay-to-Play is, unfortunately, a real thing and if you are flat broke, you’re going to have to be more audacious to get noticed, which can be a good thing. It’s like that old saying, “it builds character”. That said, there were many times I’d rather have had the money than have to build even more character. It’s like, “how much character do I need?” But then, the tensions of struggling to be born are part of the fuel that keeps us going, I guess. Sometimes, you persevere out of spite alone! Or competitiveness. There really is no “wrong fuel” as long as the creative part has its seed in a genuine love for something.
My road was–and is—not always smooth. Real life gets in the way. Work, and personal hardships and loss, all drain you of the energy you could use to be creative. But again, I think that frustration seems to be part of a greater balance. Frustration makes you spring-loaded, so my advice would be, learn to embrace it. Just say to yourself when things are difficult, “think of all the tension there’s going to be on this spring when it finally goes!” Charlie Chaplain said “Tensions are vital to life. If you want a life that is devoid of tension, prepare to feel the poetry of slow death.”
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Coblio Clix story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m a storyteller that works in many mediums–writing, photography, film and music. Whatever best serves the idea at hand. Currently, that medium is photography. I like the immediacy of it. I like the whole process from concept to shooting to grouping and curating shows.
I hope my work is inspiring for its very crudeness, as an example that you don’t need expensive cameras and equipment to take compelling photographs. You just have to LOVE something enough that your enthusiasm for it is contagious.
Of course, schooling and training can help, but they cannot add heart where there is no heart, or soul where there is no soul. Those are by-products of an artist’s adoration for his subject. That’s the part you have to hone. Tune out everything else but your love for the subject, and don’t worry about whether it will make sense or be justifiable or whether it has community outreach potential. Just take the things you can’t stop thinking about and show other people how and why those things are fascinating to you. If you can do that, your work will be compelling.
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Now that everyone’s phone IS a camera, everybody and their sister has suddenly become an amateur shutterbug, and the internet is like one big giant gallery that goes on forever, to house it all. So the challenge of being noticed as we progress into this “the audience is all onstage now” syndrome, will really have to involve distilling that which is YOU and no one else, and then amplifying it. Taking out all that is extraneous or which overlaps with other work. Keep the one color on your palette that no one can quite duplicate. If you try to plot it all out from a strategist’s perspective, you will likely do the opposite and, like a gambler, go with the number that’s been winning. But in the art world, that’s reductive. You need to go with the number nobody’s bet on yet. Because that’s the niche only you can fill.
- Website: www.dollworld.org
- Phone: 323-821-5804
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/scott.coblio