Interviews

Interview Exclusive: ‘Avenging’ Artist Rob Prior Aiming High!

Rob Prior, Avengers: End Game
Image: Scott Hattox

Artist, director, entrepreneur and all around awesome guy, Rob Prior continuously adds a fantastic flair to Fan Fest events. With the music pumping, fans flock around and absorb his animated talent… Rob’s ability to entertain is only slightly secondary to his seemingly chaotic ambidextrous painting skills. His unrestrained ‘drippy’ (Rob’s word) style has generated an enormous amount of attention in the entertainment industry that has recently including a live painting appearance at the Mann Chinese Theater for the Avengers handprint ceremony. What?! Yes, Rob did his thing as cast members walked past hoards of fans awaiting the highly anticipated Avengers: End Game release.

Avengers: End Game
Avengers cast – handprint ceremony at Mann Chinese Theatre. Image: Scott Hattox

I was fortunate to catch up with Rob this past weekend at Fan Fest Chicago and even more honored that he carved time out of his busy schedule to grant me an exclusive interview to share right here at Fan Fest News! After we reminisced for a bit, I asked Rob to talk about his incredible journey over the past few years. From saving elephants to honoring the legendary Mr. Stan Lee, Rob continues to raise the bar with his cunning creativity.

(Note: Specific details for Rob’s project involving Stan Lee cannot be divulged at this time. Keep an eye out though as it and more exciting updates are coming your way at Fan Fest News!)

Linda: This is so weird, I think 2016 was the last time I interviewed you, I wasn’t even writing for Fan Fest yet. To see your progression is incredible. I mean, we see each other often but its been a while since we’ve actually sat down and talked. You just keep going up, and up, and up…  these huge projects. What are you learning along the way? How are you getting it done, Rob? 

Rob: I don’t know.

Linda: It’s insane.

Rob: Honestly… You know, I have this new thing about life in general. It’ll sound morbid when it first comes out, but my goal now is to make sure that when I’m long gone, my family never has to worry.

Linda: Good for you.

Rob: The only way to do that is to remove myself from the equation, mentally, and just physically move forward through everything. Like doing a movie. It’s a good hobby but doing it was hard. And now doing the next ones… it’s because that builds into the art and it all sort of makes a house, and I don’t want my house to be built of cards. I want it to be built solid.

So I just pile it all on. I find there’s a way. There’s a way. It’s when you don’t do it that way, you shut your own gates. Everybody does. Everybody shuts their own gates, and sometimes you just have to say, “Yeah, I’m gonna do it. I’m gonna try it. Something new? Let’s do it.” And you put your all into it. No matter what, you’re gonna learn a lesson. You’re gonna learn from it.

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Ok, I’m back. I will now be able to post more often now. So much crazy but great stuff is happening in my life, but it has all been stuff I can’t talk about, but finally, I can talk about one of them. So….here is one painting from just one of those secret projects I’m working on. This is one of 7 paintings I revealed at the #stanlee memorial. This was one of the last things that Stan was working on. I was so happy to know that each one he looked at and signed made him happy and laugh a bit. I’m humbled to honor a great man and an amazing creator. I will be sharing all seven paintings over the next few weeks. Soon I’ll revealing MANY more pieces in a gallery show (stay tuned). I hope you like them. And I will quit rambling 🙂 @princetonbrush @holbeinartistmaterials @cansonpaper_northamerica #ask #askquestions #creative #creativity #youcandoanythingyouwanttodo #artistsoninstagram #draw #drawing #paint #painting #stanlee #comicbooks

A post shared by Rob Prior (@prior2art) on

Linda: Good or bad, you take it away.

Rob: If we didn’t have the bad lessons, we could never make the right choices for the good lessons.

Linda: It’s true.

Rob: That’s how I literally see everything now. I know I’m doing at least one documentary. It’s not the one that I thought, but we’re working on my documentary with the BBC. They’ve asked me to go to Africa to paint this thing, a rare animal breed. I’d be the first artist to do it, I was like, “F**k yeah I’ll do it.” We’re trying to figure when I’m gonna have the time to do this.

Linda: And you were just there not too long ago.

Rob: I was. Did you see the pictures-

Linda:  Yeah-

Rob Prior
Image/Artist: Rob Prior

Rob: There are elephants running by, that was so eye-opening. What’s funny is, I didn’t wanna go, I don’t like Africa, it’s not on my bucket list. I really don’t wanna go, and my wife was like, “You get a chance to save rhinos and elephants? You’re f**king going. You’re going.” So I was like, “Alright.” It was such an eye-opening experience. Ridiculous. I think a lot of how I think now really stems from that trip. I got to teach village children art, that there are other things out there besides poaching. It was crazy. And they don’t know. They kept saying, “This is what you do for a living?” And I was like, “Yeah. You can do anything you wanna do if you wanna do it bad enough.” If I say that at my household one more time… my wife is like, “Don’t… say it… again!” So the African trip, it was just so great. I started painting my normal way, and then all of a sudden I started using these colors that I never use, ever. I just started shifting everything. It’s the most different collection of art that I’ve ever done.

Rob Prior
Image/Artist: Rob Prior

Linda: Okay you’re bringing up a really great point because I feel a lot of artists are like, “This is my style,” and they only stick with that. I believe, if you have something in your head… go with it. Like you’re saying, it’s not what you had done.

Rob: Look, I like to challenge myself at all times. I started looking at pieces I started with and I was like, they don’t have any life. They aren’t breathing to me, in some weird metaphoric way. So I said I gotta breathe life into this. It can’t be from my past, it’s gotta be something that I’m heading towards. And that’s how I changed everything. The whole collection went from about 4 pieces to 25 pieces I think? About 4 pieces normal, maybe 5, and then they started shifting colors, and crazier, and crazier, and crazier. And I just kept going with it.

Linda: So what is happening to those pieces as you’re creating, where do they go?

Rob: You know San Diego Zoo?

Linda: Yes.

Rob: I didn’t realize what a prominent zoo that was.

Linda: Oh it’s huge, yeah.

Rob: They’ve asked me to come paint, I’m actually doing three paintings, for their once a year billionaire luncheon. So I’m gonna paint live, I’m gonna donate a painting. They said, “Would you do the official… we’re building this whole new children’s thing, your painting becomes part of what we have forever.” And I’m like, “Sure. I’m honored.” I’m still thinking, “Why me? Have you seen my work?” God. So I’m doing that. And then during all of this I’m working on my next movie.

Linda: Yeah, I was gonna ask what the future has in store? You just talked about going back to Africa, how would you find the time? A lot is happening right now. Split Rob into 5?!

Rob: Oh god, I forgot about one other big thing that’s happening.

Linda: Of course you did. (laughs)

Rob Prior, Avengers: End Game
Rob in action – Avengers handprint ceremony at Mann Chinese Theatre. Image: Scott Hattox

Rob: You know the Mann Chinese Theater?

Linda: Yes.

Rob: They came to me, and they were like, “We would like you to paint,” you know, in front of… all of their handprint ceremonies are national and international. It’s insane. I did it for the Stan Lee thing because he asked me to paint at his star. When he got his handprints, I mean. I was like, “Sure, Stan.”

And so they came back to me and they said, “Would you open every single handprint ceremony we have?” So on Tuesday, I’m opening it for The Avengers, with Robert Downey and all those guys. So part of my deal was, absolutely…. if every actor that I’m painting there signs it.

Linda: And?

Rob: So they’re like, “Okay.”

Rob Prior, Avengers: End Game
Robert Downey Jr – Avengers handprint ceremony at Mann Chinese Theatre. Image: Scott Hattox

Linda: So that’s your next week.

Rob: That’s my next Tuesday because then on Wednesday I’ve got like 10 other things to do. They now have a handprint thing in the back, in a different section for music people. I’m gonna do like four of them. I’m just like, okay, alright.

Linda: I better be getting some pictures, I wanna see pictures of all this stuff, Rob!

Rob: I’m absolutely gonna do that now.

Linda: I’m gonna be on you.

Rob: All you gotta do is just say, “Hey do you have a picture of this?” Because I will forget.

Linda: I might split this into two different write-ups at this point.

Rob: I’m not worth two different interviews.

Linda: Believe me, you are.

Rob: And then… I should drag you out to the movie when we’re doing it, for a couple of days and just sorta hang out-

Linda: I would be honored.

Rob: I’m completely different… I don’t joke, maybe, I guess I joke. A very famous director, a guy that I hung up on the first time, probably one of the most famous directors out there, said to me once, he goes, “You direct your film, you have to have an answer for everybody. No matter what, and if you don’t know …”

Linda: You fake it.

Rob: You fake it. Or, and I’ve done this several times now, you say, “Wait a minute, answer this one … while you’re answering this, think of the answer to that one, and then go back and give them answer.” That’s it. There can’t be “I don’t know,” ever.

Linda: But isn’t that how you paint too? I remember you said when you get stuck on something, you go to something else and then it’ll come to you. I feel like you’re good like that.

Rob: Thank you.

Rob Prior, Jenna Elfman
FTWD Jenna Elfman paints with Rob at Fan Fest Chicago. Image: Christina Riesebeck

Linda: I’d love to see you in that (directing) arena.

Rob: On the first film I just did, which we’re finishing up… oh my god, the first week was… I literally wanted to grab a bottle of Jack and go cry in the corner.

Linda: Really?

Rob: I thought, man, I’m wasting these people’s money, why am I doing this, this sucks. The first scene of my first movie, of my first anything in this, I had the most difficult actress in the world. Oh my god, and my wife is watching on the phone, silenced. She told me later, “I could see it.” She goes, “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you in a panic situation.”

Linda: Yeah you’re like, “Oh sh*t.”

Rob: I’m over my head. I’m so over my head. So at the end of the week, we had an on-set editor, and I was just down. And the producers came to me like, “No, no. Keep doing what you’re doing.” And they showed me a clip and I was like, “Oh, okay.” So the next week I was like, “I’ll finish this movie, I don’t think I wanna ever do another one, but I’ll finish it best of my ability. 1,000%.” By the third week I was like, “Give me another movie.”

Linda: Nice.

Rob: Just, f**k it, let’s go. So that was my experience in China. I’m gonna go back to shoot a new opening to the movie, just so it works better. There are a couple of things, but it’s testing right now. We’re two edits away from being done. And it’s testing at 98%.

Linda: Awesome!

Rob: It was really my wife, though, because it was my most nervous point. I don’t care who all the f**k else sees it, whatever. If people don’t like it, whatever. Everybody’s got an opinion, just like an as**hole. But I sat down with my wife, and the whole time I’m (chewing my nails), and she looks at it at the end and she goes, “Holy sh*t, honey, you have a movie.” And I was like… “Okay.” Because if she didn’t like it, she would have butchered it. We have this saying that we’re always dead honest with each other.

Linda: That’s how you gotta be.

Rob: Yeah. It was a trip.

Linda: It’s something, it’s not painting, it’s something else creative, and you love it.

Rob: It’s so hard [and] that is what makes it so intriguing. There are so many problems to solve and solve them immediately. I love it. I can do my split brain and I can just be like no this, this, this, this. What I found is, no matter how much prep I did, and I’m glad [for] the amount of prep I did… but I threw all my storyboards out. Every morning I would be there before everybody, starting the second week. My little drawing pad, starting the second week. [What] I did all the first week … was just not me. I ended up coming in $75,000 under budget, and a half day early.

Linda: That never happens.

Rob: So, we went into this whole f**king production with no prep. We had a week to prep the film. No rehearsals for the actors, work case scenario for everything. There were five languages on set. It was Romanian, Bulgarian… if you count me it was six because I can speak Hungarian. But Bulgarian, Romanian, Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. And then me, I just throw in Hungarian because nobody else knew it, so I just talked to myself in it. It was a war zone. And I loved it. I loved it. It was great. I was like… this is practice what I preach.

Linda: I also want everyone to know… you have a personal life. You have a wife, you have kids. I don’t like to expose all that kinda stuff, but you’re-

Rob: They’re what I live for.

Rob Prior
Inspiring youth at Fan Fest Chicago. Image: Christina Riesebeck

Linda: I hear the excuse over and over again, “I don’t have time, I have this, I have that.” You find the time, you make the time.

Rob: You know there’s a lot, like this weekend, I can’t be there for them, but I’m always… I’ll stop painting, I’ll walk over, I’ll do Facetime. I really try to be home at the very latest at 5:30 every day. But I’m usually home at 5. Or even a little earlier sometimes. So I cram a lot into a day. And every morning I cook breakfast. I get up before everybody, I make breakfast, I set it all up, I get the girl’s breakfast ready, every morning. Every morning I’m there, obviously. Because otherwise… they wouldn’t eat. Sometimes we lose sight of the important things.

And look, we all gotta eat. We all gotta do these things. There are two ways to lose sight, one is when you don’t have a choice because you’re working so much because you have to feed the family. But you still gotta [be there], even if it’s sacrifice upon yourself, you gotta make that because it’s worth it. You’re growing people, you know? So you have to, and you have to grow a relationship all the time. I’ve been married, going on 12 years, and it’s just like any piece of art or anything, if you’re not constantly growing and changing, it doesn’t work. And like I said, my family is the most important thing in my life. By the time I die, I want none of my family to worry. At least for a couple of generations. So that’s my goal. That’s why I work like I work. If it was just me I’d be like, “Yeah, whatever. I’m good. I’m good.”

Rob Prior
Image: Christina Riesebeck, Artist: Rob Prior

Linda: Your priorities are straight. I want people to know that it can be done.

Rob: The other thing is I know so many people that literally put their art before family, or put their, whatever. If you don’t have a solid foundation of where you wanna go, with everything, especially family, it’s not worth it. It’s just not worth it. You know? Like I said if it was just me I wouldn’t work half as hard as I do. Not for any other reason then there’s nothing being built, and I’m a builder. I love to build. Not with tools, because I’m horrible. My wife is literally the handyman of the house. She’s the handywoman of the house. Because I try and fix the sink and it’s just wrecked. I’m the guy that goes to a car…

Linda: Looks at it-

Rob: Looks at it, open up the hood, take a hammer, hit it a few times, if it’s not working I don’t know what’s going on. But you constantly gotta build. You gotta build and it’s gotta be worth it. You know? I’m not saying family is the only thing that does that, but in anybody’s life, I truly believe that if you’re not building, you’re building with good bricks, metaphorically, then your house will fall apart. Like I said, I don’t wanna live in a house of cards, man.

Linda: You can’t.

Rob: No. It’s so funny, I don’t know how different the interview now and then is… I’m probably still just as driven. You know, here’s the thing I found out [as well], especially since our last interview is, god, so many people are so trite.

Linda: Yes.

Rob: You know it’s all about this fragile thing called an ego. And yet, the best way to not have a fragile ego is just to not f**king have an ego about it, you know? [Though] you have to have a bit of an ego, or a bit of a superego, in order to maintain any kind of movement forward.

Linda: To get anywhere, yes, absolutely. I agree.

Rob: But it’s when it gets debilitating, or it gets to a point where it starts to cause these problems that you’re just like… why? Why?! So, no, I wanna make sure everybody has all their due credits. Even to the point if I didn’t come up with the idea. You know? I could go out there now, at this moment, and be like, my idea! I did this! And you know what? I painted the paintings, that’s all. My art team is there helping me do all the lettering, just so I can speed up a little bit.

Linda: That’s what some artists don’t understand. You gotta surround yourself with good people, supportive people, so that you can do your thing.

Rob: Yeah, absolutely. No, you have to. Even my apprentices… it’s funny, I swore I’d never have another apprentice. And now I have like six. But they’re helping me with the lettering, and I couldn’t do any of it without them. Or any of these guys, you know? I’m very lucky, and I’m very appreciative of anything anybody does to help me. And, I will say, though, I’m really hard on my apprentices.

Linda: Are you?

Rob: Yeah. Yeah. Right now, the ones who have been with me the longest, I’m trying to make it so they don’t just jump to the next level but [instead] go six levels above. And I also try and teach them the business of it.

Linda: Yeah, it’s important.

Rob: I think that’s where most artists, and I’m not the greatest business guy in the world, but I know enough to pull a deal in and figure it out, and all of that. Artists are just usually sh*t at it. So, you know? Just saying.

Rob Prior
Image/Artist: Rob Prior

Linda: What is the best advice you have for an artist?

Rob: That being an artist, you actually get to do 20%, maybe of art. The rest is business and marketing. Maybe not even 20%, you know? And the best advice is always, man, fortitude, and move forward. No matter how many times you get kicked and beaten. Get up, get up. That’s the hardest thing to teach someone. You know? It really is. I always tell them (apprentices), “I don’t ever want you guys to be me, trust me. You don’t wanna be. You don’t ever wanna be in this head. But, try and be a quarter of me. Try and do a quarter of what I do. And if you can do that, you’ll be fine.”

A big thanks to Rob Prior for keeping it real! I am grateful to call him a friend. 🙂 Check out more of Rob’s work on Facebook: @RobPriorOfficial and Instagram: @prior2art

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