Bob Conge is an American multidiscplinary artist who first came to our attention thanks to his art toy works released under the ‘Plaseebo’ brand. Born in 1939 Mr. Conge has seen many trends come and go over the years, but he has forever remained his own man, pursuing a lifelong dedication to the arts – in all it’s forms.
Indeed, whilst many know Bob primarily through his art toy works; that aspect of his work spans only 10 years of over 60 spent as a professional artist. During that time Mr Conge has taught, run an art gallery, worked as a freelance designer, gained respect and adoration for his paintings, fell in love with vintage toys and much much more – the very definition of a fully lived lifetime in the arts.
(Photo below of a Nightgamer sofubi by Bob / ‘Plaseebo’)
With Mr Conge and ‘Plaseebo’ continuing to push artistic boundaries now is the perfect time to read one of the most revealing and insightful interviews we have had the opportunity to do, below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
City, State n Country you currently call home?
Springwater, New York, USA
City, State n Country you’re from?
Rochester, New York, USA
(Photo below of the Molezilla sofubi by Bob / ‘Plaseebo’)
Describe a memory from some stages of your life ….basically trying to piece together some pivotal moments. Concerts, art, action-figures, romance, school, crime… ANYTHING really!
* age 5 – beginnings:
Watching ants digging holes in the dirt of my back yard.
(Photo below of Bob aged 2)
* age 10 – continuations:
Wondering about our solar system and outer space.
Outdoors all the time, collecting insects, buried arrow heads, etc.
Reading comics like “The Witches Cauldron” and other EC comics.
Watching Universal Monster movies at the theatre, Frankenstein,Wolf Man etc.
Making drawings and paintings of outer space, insects and monsters.
* age 15 – getting serious:
NOT ! Hated school, undiagnosed dyslexia, could not concentrate on most subjects other than art class.
Was kicked out of the school near my home in the suburbs and transferred to a trade school in the city where all the other schools dumped their “Problem” kids. It was a zoo, we became experts at making 22 cal. zip guns and casting brass knuckles but learned NOTHING else. Home life was not much better with a Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic father.
Senior year I was the only one that did not have enough credits to graduate. I took a summer school course in Biology with a GREAT teacher who inspired me to make a full color illustrated note book for the course and not only did I get an A for the first time, I realized I was not as dumb as everyone said I was.
* age 20 – young adult:
Based on my portfolio of drawings, I was accepted on probation in the School Of Art at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
At twenty, I read my first book ever and fell in love with learning.
Four years later I completed my BA near the top of my class. That fall I began work on my MFA with a full scholarship and teaching assignment in the School of Art at Syracuse University. Near the end of my last year at Syracuse I applied for and was awarded a Louis Comfort Tiffany grant for painting which would afford me some travel and a studio space for a year or so.
I had also taken out a student loan, I didn’t need, to use to buy vintage tin and cast iron toys by knocking on doors and asking if folks had any old toys in their attic they would like to sell.
(Photo below of Bob at 20)
* age 25 – adult mode:
Upon graduation left Syracuse N Y for Provincetown Mass on the tip of Cape Cod and opened an Art Gallery which I ran for two years on a break even basis.
At the end of the second year I was offered a teaching position in the School Of Art at the Rochester Institute of Technology and returned to my home town where I taught for the next four years.
Then left teaching to start a freelance commercial illustration and graphic design studio based in Rochester N Y and to continue working on my personal paintings to show in galleries.
* age 30 – fully formed:
I had begun drinking alcohol on a fairly regular basis in my twenties and by thirty I was a full blown alcoholic. I believed I would be dead by my early thirties and lived like it.
I was now living with the love of my life and on weekends my two boys from a previous marriage joined us.
My freelance business was building nicely and I still had time to paint most evenings.
(Photo below of Bob at 30)
* age 35 – adult continuations:
My freelance expanded to include some national clients.
My work for clients and my personal work was winning awards right and left.
It seemed I could do no wrong.
* age 40 – meanderings:
At 40 my drinking caught up with me and the shit hit the fan big time.
The previous two years or so were a continuous black out even though I was somehow able to keep up the pace of work. Sue was about to leave me and I had back to back car accidents. I knew I could not go on like that but I did not believe I could live without drinking.
I had to try something and I got in to a 30 day treatment center followed by two AA meetings a day every day for the next four years. Needless to say it saved my life and gave me the opportunity to see life in a whole new light. My sobriety did not happen overnight, it seemed like one of many veils over my eyes was removed every few months for the next ten or so years.
I was 41 by the time I was able to begin rebuilding my freelance business and start painting again.
(A self portrait by Bob below – aged 40)
* age 45 – middle age creeping:
My freelance business slowly began to build again and within a few years I had national and international clients exclusively.
My painting also began winning awards again as well.
Became serious about collecting vintage Japanese tin robots, space toys and 70’s vinyl figures.
* age 50 – midde age freak out:
No freak out, life is good.
(Photo below of Bob at 50)
* age 55 – over the hill and far away, or so they say…:
Far from over the hill but wanting to be far away from maddening crowd.
The boys were long out of the house and building lives of their own. Sue and I decided to move to the country.
In 1994 we found an 1840 farm house on a dirt road with a 100 acres of woods and a carriage house for my studio in the finger lakes area of N Y.
* age 60 – late life rebirth:
I closed my freelance business to concentrate on my own work in painting and sculpture.
Began work on my series of Shrines and other pieces.
(Photo below of Bob at 60 with some “deer friends”)
* age 65 – phoenix rising:
My son, Mark dragged me kicking and screaming into the computer age. I discovered the internet and the designers in Hong Kong, like Michael Lau, who were making their own limited edition and one of a kind figures.
In 2004 I founded the Plaseebo studio and began making my own Limited edition and one of a kid figures. My first vinyl figure was the Plaseebo Mummy and it was produced in China. A lot of vinyl and resin under the bridge since then.
*age 78 – reinvention:
I have recently returned to my Shrine series and begun a new series of large watercolors.
(A self portrait by Bob below – aged 78 + one of his recent “Shrine” works)
“My work is my only voice in this wilderness of noise”
Why the name ‘Plaseebo’?
Well is is a play on the word placebo and my tag line is “It’s not what you think” implying my work will be constantly changing and hopefully surprising.
I hate repetition.
I do not want to do today what I did yesterday.
When and why did you first start making art of any type!?
By Art, I assume you mean making drawings and such. Like most folks, 2 or 3 years old.
It seemed like the right thing to do and came more naturally than words. Still does.
It is not a matter of choice, the desire to make stuff is as constant as breathing.
(Photo below of some art by Bob)
Any pivotal artistic moment(s) / influence(s)?
Every morning is pivotal ! Every one I have ever met or read about and everything I have ever seen influences me on a daily basis.
I am a sponge that when squeezed emits a concentrated expression of all I have absorbed in life.
Do you consider what you are making to be art, ‘design, re-hashed crap?
I do not believe anyone should refer to what they make as “ART”. The determination that something is “ART” can only be made by the audience, not the maker. It is all in the eye of the beholder and what they believe is “ART” to them. I would not presume.
My job is to go to work every day making things I am moved by and let others decide what it is or is not.
(Photo’s below of Bob’s current multi level, multi dwelling studio)
Worst aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
Having to spend time on marketing, promotion, packing and shipping, etc. rather than making things.
Best aspect of the contemporary art hustle?
Having the opportunity to make things I am interested in every day.
(Photo below of the Skulloctopus-From-Outer-Space sofubi by Bob / ‘Plaseebo’)
Favorite other artist(s)?
All my favorite artists are dead.
You are a major fan of the seemingly lost art of the artist statement and writing in general…
* why do you have a need for this – to explain your work, your creations, your artistic world, to ponder it etc?
Language, like paint, is just another medium in which to express ones self and I enjoy sharing what moves me.
I read almost exclusively biographies of painters, sculptors, writers, poets, and musicians. Having an extensive knowledge of them as an individual gives me insight to their work and a deeper understanding of their vision, thus a richer experience of the works.
For example, I will on occasion while driving in the country see a view of a landscape and say to myself if Van Gogh were in the car with me he would say “pull over I want to paint that”.
* will we ever see a whole book from you?
I doubt it as I can’t seem to stand still long enough to write more than a few pages.
Always too many other things to work on, if I live to 150, most of what I have ideas for will still be unfinished.
* is the author really dead – or can an author / artist dictate a singular meaning to their work?
I do not see the value in hoping to dictate a single meaning in ones work. I do the work for my self and hope others will find something in it for themselves. Like the creator of the work, the viewer comes to the work with a unique set of life experiences that determines what meaning the work will have for them.
You can not bring away from a work much more than you bring to it.
Designer Toy Questions
Describe the process of producing your toys? – from original sculpt, moulding, production, to finally holding that sweet sweet finished product in your hands… (dot point all o.k.)
The following example of my process illustrates the making of my “War Inu” ( i.e. “Bad Dog” ) sculpt…
1) Most of my ideas for pieces come to me just after waking up in the morning, so I keep some small pads in the bedroom to make rough idea sketches and notes.
2) The armature for the head is roughed out in styrofoam on top of a female piece of pvc plumbing fixture.
3) The armature for the body is roughed out in styrofoam below a male piece of pvc plumbing fixture.
4) The female piece of pvc plumbing fixture on the base of the head fits over the male piece of pvc plumbing fixture securing the head to body.
The figure will be cast in 2 parts that will held together by a pressure fit.
5) The form of the head and body are sculpted with a 2 part epoxy clay over the armatures.
6) The spiked collar is fabricated from leather with sharpened pieces of wood dowel and added to the head around the female piece of pvc plumbing fixture.
7) The cinderblock accessory is sculpted out of a piece of styrofoam which will have the texture of the real block.
8) The finished sculpt is sent to Japan for the mold making and casting of the edition in vinyl.
The first step in this process is to create a wax version of my sculpt that will be the basis for the metal mold. The wax stage is my last opportunity to make changes before I give my final approval to proceed.
9) The cast vinyl pieces are shipped to me from Japan and I hand paint the finished pieces in the edition.
The example in this photo was cast in a swirl technique of clear yellow and clear orange vinyl.
10) Close up of the head detail.
11) I commissioned William Hand to create the artwork for the header card for the packaging.
12) The is an idea sketch for one of the other editions that would be cast in pink vinyl and flocked in pink.
It was not produced because of hand flocking costs in Japan.
13) The is an example of the “Fetish War Inu” edition that was cast in a green and orange vinyl swirl. In all I think we made 8 or 9 different editions over a period 2 years.
There were 12 pieces in each edition, 6 offered in Japan and 6 offered in the U S.
Digital Vs Hand sculpting – what wins and why?
For me hand sculpting is always preferable. I am hopelessly in love with the tactile engagement with the material and the hand process encourages one to push off in unplanned directions that keeps the work fresh and the process interesting to me.
If I am not learning something new, the process is wrong.
Are art-toys for the kids?
Sure, if they can afford them.
Is the rise of art toys an indication of the changing nature of art? OR just a bunch of nerds with too much money and time?
It is all in the mind of the beholder and time will tell if it has any long term value to society as a whole. I do believe much of the interest in “Art Toys” is a reflection of the human desire to possess something unique in our throwaway society.
One of a kind stuff is quite scarce.
(Photo of a 10th Anniversary Mummy figure by Bob / ‘Plaseebo’)
Thoughts on the current state of the ole American Art Toy Scene?
I see the beginning a big shift in the scene moving from Japan and the U S to Hong Kong and China, in terms of production, creators and collectors.
Most of the fresh and exciting new work is coming from there already and once the collector base builds to the potential of a prosperous China, well what could be better.
What role did toys play in your childhood?
They were the main tools that enabled me to create a reflection of the world at large and feel like I could influence what was happening around me.
WW 2 was still fresh in everyone’s memories and “Dinky Toy” war vehicles, tanks and planes enabled me on many afternoons to crush the Germans on the dirt pile in back of our garage.
What are the top 3 toys you own?
(Please include photos or drawings of them!)
The “Lavender Robot” 1950’s Japanese battery op tin robot by Masudaya.
“Kendoras” 1974 vinyl from Ultraman Leo
“Man” 1980’s by Twist ( Barry McGee ) Vinyl figure with a shoe shine kit inside.
If people wanted to collaborate, work wth you or just buy some art – how should they get in touch?
Email to: email@example.com or visit the Plaseebo website: http://plaseebo.net/
Odds n Ends
Please describe your experiences growing up in the USA?
GREAT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! except for a family life devastated by alcoholism.
So I spent most of my time away from home, often alone exploring the world around me.
Please describe what you think the American Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
(Photo below of a small part of Bob’s toy collection)
Who was your 1st crush and why?
Angela, she was cute and kind.
Does sex change everything?
Sex is a major distraction from more meaningful human endeavors.
It is a biological drive we share with every other life form on this planet, certainly we have more unique abilities to invest our interest in.
Squirrels fuck a lot, so what?
Which cartoon character would you most like to see in a tribute sex toy, and why?
I wouldn’t like to see any!
Who would win in a fight and why: A Molezilla Vs. A Nightgamer ?
Well I am pleased to say, they wouldn’t fight.
The Molezilla seeks revenge only against humans involved in animal testing for pharmaceutical companies and the Night Gamers are above all else peace loving beings who live on nectar from flowers so as to not impact the environment by killing any other life form, plant or animal.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
Mostly I just daydream a lot. I usually do not remember my night dreams.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I haven’t done it yet.
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
Waste of time, energy, intellect, and everything meaningful in life.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
I have a new vinyl head sculpt in collaboration with Rampage Toys and Skull Head Butt that will be available in a few weeks: “The Cyclops”.
(Photos below of the upcoming The Cyclops sofubi by ‘Plaseebo’ X ‘Rampage Toys‘ X ‘Skull Head Butt’)
Any major projects you want to hype?
I just completed a sculpt for a large new figure to be produced in vinyl “The Land Shark” and I am currently working on my series of 24” x 36” watercolors.
(Photo below of The Land Shark sculpt by ‘Plaseebo’)