An Interview with Artist Topher Sipes
Last month Velvet Cartel's Alisa Longoria sat down for an interview with graphics artist, Topher Sipes. Velvet Cartel takes pride in working closely with local artists to build our business in a way that will benefit the quality of the community we live in. Read the full interview below. We went through the typical interview procedure, the checklist of questions that one may ask an artist, but what struck me so deeply was his recollecting an experience as a kid who was deemed a ‘good drawer.’
Topher Sipes, endowed with a keen ability to construct vivid worlds and emotive responses with a pen, was no exception to the rite of drawing inappropriate pictures for classmates. He promptly received proper parental reprimanding for his involvement in such vile, adolescent activities of drawing things beyond his years. If a classmates asks you to draw a ‘naked anime chick,’ chances are they won’t be the last to ask.
Yearbooks desecrated, groundings given, Topher’s reasoning for his compliance struck a chord with me, someone who went through something so incredibly similar: against our own wishes, we don’t always create art as a reflection of self. Instead, someone else will at times art direct, and as visual and artistic communicators, we oblige for the sake of the client (in this case, a bunch of hormonal preteens). But there is a threshold, and at some point if those client endeavors don’t entirely reflect our perceptions and our own passion for our craft, we find a way to instead work for ourselves. Topher Sipes has succeeded in doing this very thing and moving even further--making art that is collaborative, yet entirely all his own.
It was a few months ago that I was at Cheer Up Charlie’s for Roger Sellers’ Primitives album release show. After what felt like an arm’s race for putting up posters around town (verdict: Roger is much faster than us), I was intrigued to see this show--particularly, the constant radio shout outs to Topher’s work on the visualization of the album’s artwork; word on the street was that this guy’s work was impressive. After watching the show, I do have to say I was very glad to have attended. The music was immersive and sublime, and the projections brought about a fantastical connectivity with Roger and the music that went beyond most concert experiences. I instead felt I was in a filmic short, minimalist in dialog but heavy on visual impact.
There is something so spectacular about the branding of Roger’s latest album and all related collateral; there were very beautifully crafted designs in both the album cover and the live performance, and a sharp cohesiveness that one does not typically ever see; it leaves a stamp, a visual connection that asks one to understand the art a bit more fully and more evocatively. Rarely does one see life mimicking art so fully, and art mimicking life so concretely.
Topher’s methodology for how he brands lies heavily in how deeply influenced he is by nature, and our environment around us--from branding for Sacred Roots, Soundself, Savvy Grant Works, to a number of other ecology minded projects. He reasons that much of his drive and influence stems from being able to project the balance of humanity in nature through his branding; we are deeply influenced by our environments, so how does one simplify and make a notion brandable? For Primitives, it’s pretty apparent: use something man made, something that is dynamic and digital, in a tangible space for a deeply visual interactivity.
Topher explained to me that he and Roger did indeed have a “strikingly similar vision” with the inoculation of the Primitives artwork; the idea of putting to paper a distinct, recognizable energy, one that is so apparently Roger set as the starting point and central vision for the project. It seems now that Primitives could not work and be so visually distinct without the understanding of how important it was to showcase the brevity of live performance; to make it concrete, tangible, and a part of a collectorship for listeners. When comparing the album artwork next to live performance, there’s a definitive linkage in palette, design, and tonality. It’s hard to make the human spirit, as well as impactful improvisation,in both music and performance concrete and understandable, yet Topher set out and succeeded so beautifully.
Topher is known for his work in animation and projection art. In relation to this particular project, Topher explained, “The visual intention in the live, performance projections start with light and dark palettes. Gradually, the lights move towards becoming more colorful; from two toned to rainbow-like, mirroring the album artwork in the idea of duality versus full spectrum...in the strokes and the rainbow visuals in the album’s contained environment.” Looking at the album artwork, one notices this duality, and it’s a linear progression in the live performance of Primitives on stage. The palette starts off starkly in black and white, surrounding Roger as his performance picks up. It progresses forward gradually into sprinklings of light, whimsical colors until a full explosion of color and emotion come about in beats until the chaos fills the stage in the denouement to tie in the entire performance.
In order to capture both that performative progression as well as a notable image of Roger for the album, Topher sketched out several versions of Roger’s face at different angles and expressions--as the process moved forward, he created the line art around his head fashioned around collages of his older sketches--it became a self-reflection of his work, a culmination of previous experiences and thoughts. It’s funny, because sketching can be a very emotional and reflective study of self, so to include previous experiences in a new type of project becomes in itself a grand revelation of Self to the world. So even though the imagery is explictly that of Roger Sellers, the strokes that create that imagery are implicit containments of Topher’s life experiences and ideas.
Growing up drawing constantly, Topher was motivated by animation and motion. Driven to become like those animators he looked up to, Topher enjoyed replicating his favorite cartoons and video games on paper. For a good deal of time, he went through a phase of imitation until those imitations came into his own style of work--in essence, moving beyond the expected towards self realization. Inspired by Chuck Jones and as an understudy of the illustrious Harvey Williams (Rocky and Bullwinkle), Topher continued to pursue traditional animation with a profound interest in combining hand and digital animation (that duality and combination of forces that is so apparent in his latest projects). He--through college experiences and work thereafter in branding, design, curation, and freelance ventures--became less intrigued by animation and decidedly more inspired by alternative methods for visually communicating with an audience: could there perhaps be a different, more emotional way of communicating ideas?
This led to an eventuality in what is now known as ARTheism--through collaboration with dancer and performance artist Samantha Beasley and improvisational digital painting to music, the idea of dancing with light and communicating with body and environment came into fruition. The movement was impactful, with reactions ranging from approval to appreciative tears; there was something about the art being performative and immersive that prompted some people to react so physically. Even the etymology gives way to understanding the intent of ARTheism: art + theos (‘god’); a taking into consideration how art might affect us in a spiritual, divine way.
Some of the impactfulness of ARTheism may perhaps come from Topher’s connectivity to the subconscious self--a few years ago, Topher began conducting dream workshops after religiously documenting his dreams. When I asked him what his reasonings for documenting something many of us take for granted or don’t even remember, he told me that for him it became a means for problem solving, creative troubleshooting, and maintaining a healthy balancing of the self. I had to think about it for a bit, but I had to concede to his point: we spend so much of our lives in sleep, why not learn from it? Or grow from that realm of constant internal, uninterrupted mental stimulation?
You can see the dream-like, transcendent realizations in how he communicates visually through ARTheism. It’s a calling for connection, understanding, and trust--through most of ARTheism and its related projects, the improvisational nature of Topher’s projection art requires the ability to trust the musicians’ and performers’ intentions. Somehow, in all the years of ARTheism being around, a language between all involved forces has been created--they can speak to one another throughout the performance, based off of movement and light.
I asked Topher how he goes about creating--his ideas range from seemingly divinely ordained understandings about abstract art, yet he has been instrumental in the branding process of many companies. There’s always a connectivity to nature and humanity with Topher’s work. Starting off with ambitions to be a traditional animator, he--through practice and experience--has let the world offer a scope of influence into his original dreams and let them evolve into something far more emotional and human that he might’ve thought as a child. I felt incredibly honored and humbled to have spoken with what I can only describe as a human so wholly honest in his artistic surrendering to the world.
To see what Topher is up to, check him out at http://tophersipes.com To purchase his originals and prints of his work, go to http://tophographics.com To see videos of ARTheism perform and their upcoming show schedule, go to http://artheism.net To understand some of what I’m even going on about, listen to Roger’s latest music here: https://rogersellers.bandcamp.com
*Topher is currently creating the artwork for Roger’s forthcoming Primitives Remix & B-Sides album to be released just in time for SXSW, so stay tuned!
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