During the time I spent walking around in circles at ACE Comic Con in Glendale, AZ, I also had the great opportunity to chat several of the creators and exhibitors who set up shop. One of the most interesting and impressive was Clinton F. Hobart, a painter and licensed Disney Fine Artist with an impeccable artistic pedigree. What immediately caught my eye was the art on display: photorealistic depictions of classic Disney characters and scenes, paintings of cosplayers in costume, and, most arresting of all, paintings of snack foods! I had to investigate further. And to his credit, Clinton was happy to chat about the genesis of his snack food painting series, how he became involved in displaying his work at comic cons in the first place, and what being a fine artist means in spaces dedicated to pop culture and comics.
Hey Clinton! So nice to chat with you here at ACE Comic-Con. So, I wanted to start off by asking about the area you occupy at conventions: fine art. What’s your opinion on the current state of creators and fine artists at conventions currently?
I think it’s being eliminated and getting worse and worse each year. Creators are canceled at shows in order to add another celebrity to the roster. I’ll do a show and you will literally feel that because you’re an artist or you’re a writer, you don’t feel as valid as someone who appeared Battlestar Galactica or whatever TV show for fifteen minutes twenty years ago. It gets frustrating when an artist is cut at the last minute to accommodate some celebrity. I wish the scene was more even, where creators and artists get the same respect as actors and actresses in the business, because they’ve worked just as hard. And they deserve it.
So, this trend of substituting celebrities for creators is a trend you’ve been noticing recently? Or has it been more slow-going?
It started a few years ago, but it keeps getting worse.
Ok, let’s step back a moment, You’re a classically trained painter. What are you doing at comic book conventions?
I never wanted to be a fine artist. I wanted to be an illustrator like Norman Rockwell, wearing a nice shirt and smoking a pipe. But, I was in the fine art world for fifteen years, showing my work in galleries all across the world. I had interned at Disney in the late 1990s and had tried to work with them over the years. And about five years ago, I decided to make a series of Disney themed still-life paintings from items that I had collected over the years. Disney saw my paintings and released them as limited edition prints. Not long after that, I got a phone call from Steven Shamus to be a guest at my first comic con—Wizard World Cleveland—about three years ago. I thought it was going to be my only comic con ever. But three years and fifty shows later, I am loving this world.
What keeps you interested in the comic-con scene?
You know, I never felt like I was fully accepted in the fine art world. I’ve done a bunch of group shows and two solo shows, but I’ve had sporadic sales. I feel that my work in the pop culture art and comic con world has had a quicker resonance with people. And in that way, I’ve been lucky to find where my work was able to find an audience. Indeed, at one of my last appearances at a con, I sold seven original works, including three paintings of snack food.
Wait, hold a second. Snack food paintings? What inspired you to do paintings of snack foods?
My brother is a sixteenth-century French literary scholar, with a double doctorate from Harvard and the Sorbonne. One night, we were talking and he said: ‘I don’t know what you’re painting apples and egg shells for. That’s what they ate 500 years ago. If Rembrandt were alive, he’d be eating Cheetos and Doritos, because that’s what this country eats now.’ As soon as he said it, we both knew that had to be my next painting.
So, we searched on Google for a bit and found that no one had ever painted Cheetos or Doritos as a serious painting before. So I did it as a joke. A few months later, I’m doing a show and Michael Rooker [from Guardians of the Galaxy] is there. He comes by my table and we’re clowning around and mid-sentence he looks down and asks ‘You’re painting Doritos?’ So, I tell him that story. He thinks it’s hilarious and buys the original. We get a picture together and I post on my social media. It gets something like 15-20 likes. Michael posts that photo on his social media and gets 15,000 likes. I started getting people asking me to paint Funyuns, Spicy Nuts, all those things. And people started buying the originals. And ya know, I saw Rooker a few shows ago, and told him ‘I don’t know if I should thank you or kill you.’ And he told me, ‘If I turned you into the next Andy Warhol, you’ll be thanking me forever.’
How long does an original painting you do usually take?
Anywhere from six hours to a year. My smaller paintings began as six-hour studies. During the time of the financial crisis, the opportunities to show work at galleries—any work— was drying up. I took a job at Macy’s, where I’d be standing for six hours a day for 10 bucks an hour. One day, I thought, ‘Hey, if I work on a painting for six hours and sell it for 60 dollars, that’s equivalent what I’d make standing around a Macy’s. So I started doing these 6” x 8” oil paintings and putting them for sale online. And soon I was finding that these paintings were selling for 100 or 200 dollars at a time.
For some artists, they just paint the same thing for seventy years and that’s it. For me, I had to keep reinventing myself and find new avenues to explore. I went from painting still life, to selling small paintings on eBay, to selling original works of Mickey Mouse and Cheetos.
As you said, you’re a classically trained painter. Where did you find that your fine art background best meshed with comic con culture?
When I first started doing comic cons, I noticed that the Harley Quinn character was super popular. So my girlfriend at the time modeled some of the costume, so I could see how the lighting worked. It always seemed that other comic book guys draw or make the characters out of their heads, or use stock photography, but didn’t look that people they’re painting people in real costumes. I like to paint subjects that haven’t been before or done have been done very little.
It’s less about the costume and more about the person in the costume itself. They are like miniature portraits. It’s the classical approach to paintings with a distinctive comic con spin.
What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on reinventing the fairytales that I liked in a kid. For instance, I painted a scene from Hansel and Gretel—which people always seem to think happens in the summertime—and created something in a winter scene. I’m reinterpreting them as still life, which, again, goes back to my ethos of creating something that I’ve never seen before.
Hey, thanks so much for taking the time during the Con to chat!