FINISHING TOUCHES | Artist Robb Conover puts the finishing touches on the original painting he created for Dallas Voice’s cover this week. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

Pop! Bang! Bam! Robb Conover brings drama to every day life

When Robb Conover was asked to create the cover for Dallas Voice’s Art Issue, he couldn’t say no. He loves when his artwork can support the gay community.

“I’ve always been very active in the gay and arts communities,” he said. “Whether it’s at Gay Bingo or Black Tie Dinner, [I’ll do] anything to help.”

In his 40 years as an artist, Conover has produced a variety of work, including abstract and realist pieces. But he is best known for his pop art.

Conover said he came from a family of artists; his father worked for Disney for a while. He enrolled in the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York City and studied commercial art and was known for his fast turn-around on assignments. “My professors said it was my gift,” he recalled.

But Conover was also at the epicenter of the burgeoning pop art movement. Some of the movement’s most well-known artists were producing groundbreaking works. They were dramatic, sometimes kitschy and visually stimulating, just like commercial art.

These artists, some of whom were gay, influenced him. Among the most influential were Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, whom he evokes in his painting for the Dallas Voice cover.

Though he trained primarily in creating work for the advertising industry, Conover’s skills crossed over, given that commercial art did in fact influence pop art. He was also in very queer company.

Conover wound up in Dallas after a chance encounter with an influential journalist on a plane ride.

It was after the 1996 Olympics; Conover was a popular vendor, and was looking for what to do next in his career. He met Ashleigh Banfield, then a reporter at Dallas’ Fox 4 television station and now a CNN host, and the two talked about their careers. As he said, Banfield saw his portfolio of work and was sold.

Conover was commissioned to do a series of murals in the city. And he hasn’t ever left.

The artistic process is demanding. It’s no different for Conover, who said he can’t fall asleep while working on a piece. He keeps a journal by his bed so he can sketch any ideas or concepts at any time of night. He said a commission like the Dallas Voice cover was no different. It had its own specific challenges and questions.

Given the artwork was for a publication, he knew a Lichtenstein-style comic book was the best fit. When it came to choosing a piece for the cover, he was divided. Should it be serious or fun?

“I liked the drama of the screaming woman in the comic book,” he said. “But it is over done.”

He had one answer but still had a dozen more questions. What is the subject? What should the text bubble say? How could he engage the viewer without overtaking the week’s content?

After all of the thinking and sketching and scheming, he chose fun over serious. He left the text bubble blank. And he wanted a lot of the work, like many of his other pieces, to be left to interpretation.

In short, he chose his signature style.

“I like to make art involved and fun for the viewer. Art is a serious thing but shouldn’t be taken too seriously,” he said. ­

— James Russell

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 28, 2014