Australian artist Ross Radiation’s work is evocative of the pop art and comic book greats, yet imbued with it’s own aesthetic: hyper color, bold lines, ooze, seemingly drunk / drugged out eyes and immensely powerful women.
Ross gained his initial artistic foothold via his work in the 1990’s Australian underground comic scene – a time of beer, bongs, flannel, rock n roll and no internet. During this time Ross worked and befriended fellow Australian luminaries such as Glenn ‘Glenno’ Smith, Anton Emdin, Stu Stratu and Louise Graber.
Today Ross works as an artist and freelancer in both traditional and digital art to a loyal and ever growing legion of fans and admirers.
(A recent picture of Ross, below)
A man constantly working, growing and pushing his art, now is the perfect opportunity to get to know Ross and his art, by reading the highly informative Art Talk, below…
Basics/Getting to Know
Name + D.O.B?
Ross Radiation – Born 24th Feb 1976
City, State n Country you’re Repping?
Marrickville, Sydney, NSW, Australia.
(Picture below of some art by Ross)
Describe a memory from three stages of yr life ….basically trying to piece together Mr. Radiation’s pivotal moments.
Concerts, art, action-figures, women, school, crime… ANYTHING man!
* age 10 – beginnings:
This around the age I start watching old monster movies like Frankenstein and King Kong. Prior to this most of my drawing/interests are cartoons from the 50/60s like Looney Tunes, Flintstones etc.
I used to copy characters from old comics and also draw from TV (as it was in motion, we didn’t have VHS then).
I remember creating what I thought was my masterpiece, a colour pencil rendition of the Disneyland castle which I thought was incredibly accurate. I don’t have it any more but this was one of the only times in my life I was really proud of a drawing of a building or architectural structure. Ha ha.
It was probably shit.
(Picture below of Ross as a child)
I am drawing my first strips with original characters for a year or so, and this is when sex, gory violence and alcohol take over as subject matter, this is inspired by stuff like Freak Brothers, Zap and Viz mainly. I used to photocopy them in the school library and I remember being really worried that a teacher would see what I was doing.
I was a pretty quiet kid and I was a good student but I was clearly a disturbed individual and still trying to hide it. We lived far from the city and I couldn’t get “good” (bad) comics in the local newsagent until one day a comic showed up by S.C.A.R. (who I didn’t know at the time), my friend was reading this story where this guy starts spewing maggots and he started dry-retching like he was going to puke too. I just thought that was great, what a reaction to a fucking comic book! That moment sort of inspired me.
(Picture below of Ross aged about 19)
* age 20 – adult mode:
Putting out first zines and mini-comics in 1996, I started contributing to anthologies and other people’s comix the year before but 20 was the year I printed my own and sold in record stores and comic shops.
I did at least two comics that year “Radiation Sickness” and a collaboration with my good friend Anton Emdin called “If Pain Persists”.
Also this is my last year of art school and I am pretty much living and breathing “art” more than previously.
We did some exhibitions that year that were cool, one with a whole bunch of underground cartoonists from Sydney and Canberra, we promoted it a lot and the turn out was huge. It was a really hot, hot night and you could hardly get in the place to see the art.
I met a lot of good friends that year too, people that were in the mini-comics crowd like Glenn Smith, Stratu, Louise Graber and Michael Hill.
Very good year.
* age 30 – continuations:
Too busy to take notes around this time. I am working multiple jobs designing websites, teaching animation and design at a university, still producing cartoons when I can.
Five years into my relationship with Wiz, living together but not married and without kids.
This is also during the period where I am producing lots of mutant characters designs like the ones that appeared on all of those Sideshow Alley posters I did for the Lansdowne Hotel gigs. They had a little gallery section of my art that you could look over as you were on your way to the toilets.
It’s better to have bad taste than no taste at all.
Also a big fan of Frank Zappa and Roky Erickson & The Aliens.
I listen to metal, hip-hop, punk, psychedelic, whatever… I listen to a lot.
I am a sucker for a good (bad) novelty song or good (bad) outsider act, I’d rather hear a tone-deaf Swedish Elvis impersonator than listen to Prince or Springsteen.
(Picture below of a gig poster by Ross)
Favorite TV show(s)?
Mostly cartoons from the 1950s and 60s, old Sci-Fi like Twilight Zone and Night Gallery.
The show I have really enjoyed recently is American Horror Story, I really, really love horror. I’m a complete nerd for it.
Favorite sport(s) + teams?
I have spent my entire life avoiding sports and exercise. Ha!
I played on the school hockey team for a bit, I think it was made up of degenerates that couldn’t make the rugby, soccer or Aussie Rules team.
I was a terrible sportsman, the worst… my favourite memory was when we played against an agricultural school and a goat stole one of my teammates school bags and rubbed it in it’s own faeces. I thought that was great.
I’m pretty obsessive, especially about horror and cult stuff.
Some of my favourites: Basket Case, The Wicker Man, Taxi Driver, Videodrome, Deadly Spawn, They Live… big fan of the Hammer Horrors and Universal Horrors.
Favorite books and comics?
My favourite novels are Frankenstein, Clockwork Orange and Brave New World.
My favourite comics are Asterix, Black Hole and MAD magazine.
Favorite other artist(s)?
Basil Wolverton, Robert Crumb, Richard Corben, Jack Davis, Don Martin, Tex Avery, Todd Schorr, Dr Seuss. Ray Harryhausen and countless others.
Worst aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
Too often work by artists is undervalued.
Anyone can easily knock up a poster, t-shirt design, video, website etc. recycling an image they found online, unfortunately this diminishes the value of work by original or professional creators.
And it’s not only cases of “art theft” but the “why pay an artist when my 15 year old nephew can do that?” mindset too.
Best aspect of the contemporary art-hustle?
On the flip-side the technology also has allowed us to communicate ideas and art with so many people, it’s fantastic.
Communication with the rest of the world has really opened up for artists.
Plus equipment and technology is so affordable these days, we can operate from home at little cost.
(Picture below of Ross’ home studio)
Do you consider what you are making to be ‘art’, ‘design’, re-hashed crap?
Yes, all three.
“Art” is such a loaded word, in my mind I strip it of pretentious bullshit, to me art is anything you create that you are proud of.
I hate when people say things like “Is that what is considered art?” or “Is this art or a cartoon?”.
Personally I feel design is important to art. I tend to not like art without concern for design, I prefer figurative art and I don’t mind pure abstraction but I just can’t appreciate purely conceptual art.
Shit still has to look good.
(Picture below of some art by Ross)
When and why did you first start making ‘art’ (drawings, paintings, anything)?
I was pretty good with crayons as a preschooler and I always enjoyed drawing. I can’t recall not being interested in drawing, I think I always did it.
Painting was a difficult thing to start doing, I didn’t do much before I was 18, mostly drawing with pencils and pens.
What did you draw or make as a pre-teen child?
I always drew characters from cartoons and comics. I don’t remember doing those “mum and dad, happy family, house and trees” drawings most kids do. I would rather draw Yogi Bear or Spider-man. I have stacks of them still from about age 4 onwards, all sorts of cartoon characters.
I used to make little books from folded paper and write my own comics or illustrated stories, mostly using famous characters but sometimes stories about friends going on adventures.
Real kid stuff!
What did you draw or make as a teen?
Probably about the time I started high school I started making comics with my own characters, mostly black and white with Artline pens. These were mostly humorous slapstick stuff with funny animals inspired by old theatrical cartoons.
I also started drawing gag cartoons inspired by stuff like The Far Side and 3 panel comic strips.
I didn’t do much painting in high school but I did colour drawings using marker, coloured pencils and waxy crayons a lot.
I also started fucking around with computers, I had a Commodore-128 and created computer graphics, simple animations and my own arcade games. For a lot of that stuff there was no visual editor, so I plotted drawings on graph paper and then converted that to basic programming, calculating angles etc. It was pretty challenging, that was my introduction to computer graphics.
Why + when did you decide to go in on the art hustle?
By the time I was 15 I was pretty sure I would do something artistic, I was interested in possibly going into animation or graphic design, I did some work experience around the place but I really felt like a fish out of water in the office environment.
I knew I needed to improve my drawing skills and needed time to find my calling, so I applied for a lot of different TAFE and university courses before leaving school, one of the courses I was accepted into was a Fine Arts degree and I started studying at CoFA just before I turned 18.
(Picture below of Ross working on some art)
Any pivotal artistic moment/influence?
I never really enjoyed art in high school, starting art school and meeting people with similar interests and being around so many creative people everyday was huge.
The discovery of underground comics and subsequently the mini-comic scene really changed everything I wanted to do, that was very huge.
Describe the method of making a ‘Ross Radiation’ work? (dot point all o.k.)
* your cartoons and comics?
Ideas usually come from doodling, but if a script or story is needed I might need to take a long walk to clear my mind.
People often forget that doing comics is as much being a writer as an artist, and writer’s block is a real bitch.
For me often the simplest idea is what works best when translated to a graphic story.
I usually draw a thumbnail storyboard in something like biro, very loosely just to get the idea on paper.
Once all the boxes are drawn I usually pencil In the text of all the panels first and then the drawings (unless the strip requires very little text in that case I do the drawings first).
When I ink I normally use artline pens, the 0.4 an 0.6 tips are my favourite pens to draw with and I have been using them since I was about 14.
Erase pencil lines before scanning into the computer.
If I need to make corrections or colour the strip I do this in Photoshop.
I work fast.
(Picture below of a cartoon by Ross)
* your sketches?
I like to sketch in biro or texta initially, I then either simply redraw the sketch in pencil or trace using the light-box.
Sometimes I trace that sketch a second time if I am not happy.
I then ink using the Artline markers, on a rare occasion I might ink a drawing digitally using the wacom tablet with Photoshop or Illustrator (but I prefer using a pen).
(Pictures below of some of Ross’ sketches)
My paintings are generally mixed-media. I don’t work with oil paints. I use acrylic paints or goauche quite often mixed with ink, pencil and collage.
Painting has always been an experimental process for me, so I have no set approach or style, I enjoy the freedom of trying things.
I am going to do more paintings soon, I intend these to be a little looser or abstract. I am not simply trying to recreate what I already do with my cartoon drawing or digital colouring.
The paintings I am planning are messier, slightly more abstract and textural than what I was doing the last few years. I am looking forward to it.
* your digital work – such as your work on the ‘Pod People’ video for Liar?
I have done a lot of digital work over the years and I am especially interested in video and animation.
The “Pod People” video was a different approach as it was quite abstract in structure, even though the themes such as “death” and “purgatory” are relatively consistent throughout, I usually work in a linear “storyline” structure.
Glenn Smith created all of the artwork.
We sat down looked at a huge bunch of drawings and came up with ideas of making abstract patterns from them. There was a storyboard but it was loose and often had blank scenes where I would just create something that fit.
I composed all of the scenes using a combination of Photoshop, Flash & After Effects, it took quite some time but it was fun.
I am working on some ideas for a future animation project, it will probably be horror themed. If it’s good I’d like to submit to a few local film festivals.
I had a very short film in the Trasharama A-Go-Go festival a few years back, I love that festival, it’s fucking crazy.
Please describe your experiences growing up in Sydney, Australia?
I grew up on the Northern Beaches of Sydney, there is a real surf culture there, I don’t know if I really fit into it but I used to go to the beach and do beachy stuff.
I spent a lot of time riding bikes about, playing computer games, watching movies on VHS… I grew up in that era where we saw all of those crazy technological advances come in for home entertainment, home computers and game consoles etc. Like a lot of kids I was very interested in all that stuff.
(Picture below of a Ute aka The Australian Workhorse covered in Ross’ art)
How, in your opinion, has the rise of platforms such as Instagram and Bigcartel/Etsy impacted the life of an emerging artist/creative?
I started using social media sites pretty early on. Originally MySpace and DeviantArt where I got in contact with a lot of people from all over the world. This was the first time I was building connections and an audience outside of Australia and the local scene.
That was beneficial and it has lead to work opportunities and collaborations that wouldn’t have existed if not for social media.
I haven’t used Big Cartel or Etsy yet, but I plan to.
I am a member of lots of social media sites and art sites. It’s the best way to promote what you are doing and it’s free, the only other thing that works for me is “word of mouth” aka referrals from other people, that is still my number one avenue for getting work.
How did you come to be the go to artist for Sydney, Australia band ‘Triangle’?
I had been friends with Josh Shipton from Triangle for a while, I went to his house and he had all these great band posters by artists like Frank Kozic and the like.
Our appreciation for poster art and weird music was something we had in common, so when the band played their first show I offered to do the poster.
I think I did about 50 for him and I did some for a few other bands but I didn’t get as many requests as I hoped for.
(Pictures below of some of Ross’ art for Australian band ‘Triangle’)
Any plans to expand your apparel line further than your ‘Red Bubble’ designs?
Over time I have sold quite a lot but most of the good sellers seem to be my older stuff, I can’t explain why.
I am a little disillusioned with the world of print-on-demand sites, I have tried them all and I keep coming up against the same problems: It requires a lot of promotion to sell the work, you don’t get paid much per sale and inevitably my work gets banned and taken down.
The things that sell well seem to be pop-culture references, like Doctor Who mashed up with Calvin & Hobbes, and I don’t know if that is the direction I want to be heading in honestly.
(Picture below of one of Ross’ designs available from ‘Red Bubble’)
How did it feel finding out that game nerds had somehow bootlegged your designs and added them as a downloadable Spray Pack in ‘Half Life: Team Fortress’?
At first I had no idea what I was looking at and was a bit disturbed by it.
A friend explained it to me and he seemed to think it was cool and I should take it as a compliment. The guy who did it credited me and said he was a fan, I never contacted him about it.
I have no idea why he didn’t email me and ask, I would have probably agreed.
(Picture below of some of the bootleg Ross Radiation ‘Half Life’ Spray Pack art)
Odds n Ends
What role did toys play in your childhood?
I loved toys and still do.
My favourites were figurines of cartoon and movie characters, especially weird monsters and aliens from Star Wars or Master of The Universe. Those things still influence my character designs.
I have lots of toys, my favourite is a vintage Popeye figurine made from celluloid, it’s pretty ruffed up but it’s probably from the 40s or 50s so there isn’t many like it.
Who was your 1st crush and why?
This is quite embarrassing but I think it was Kim Richards.
She was in a kids movie Witch Mountain that I saw when I was about 7 and I loved her. She is on some Reality Housewives of Beverly Hills type show now and has been busted for getting wasted and beating cops. A friend tells me she is going to be in Sharknado 3. It’s not good.
Does sex change everything?
Yeah, too much sexual activity will slow down the productivity.
Too much money and booze will do the same.
Please describe your latest dream in detail…
I had this dream last week where myself and two friends went on a weekend away. We stayed in a holiday house near the beach (for some reason every dream I have involves staying in a different house).
So we drive down to the beach and there’s this huge tidal wave coming towards the shore. We jump back in the car and somehow (even though we are driving uphill) we outrun the tidal wave.
We make it back to the holiday house and after a meal we go to sleep. When we awake the next day I look out the window and the whole house is floating on the ocean. There was a drowning dog so we rescued it.
The house eventually comes to rest at a pier where these old guys are fishing. We get out and talk to the fishermen and they inform us we are dead and in purgatory.
(Picture below of some digital tomfoolery by Ross)
Have you ever tried psychedelics of any sort? And what was the experience like?
I’ve tried a few things here and there. It was ok, but when I was a kid I used to hallucinate if I had a fever. I remember one time trees growing in my room and another time seeing these two guys having a boxing match as I tried to hide under the covers.
Another time I was in hospital and was really doped up on painkillers, they have an underground tunnel at RPA that goes under Missenden Rd, I was being wheeled in my bed through the tunnel at night and was convinced I was being abducted by the government for some conspiracy.
Of everything you have done what would you most like to be remembered for and why?
I think the best is yet to come for me, I definitely have not created my greatest work. It might be a comic, or a painting or an animation … or something else completely.
How has your friendship with fellow Convict Town art legend – and fellow ‘Art Talk’ sufferer – ‘Glenno’ aka Glenn Smith impacted your personal and artistic life?
We have been pretty close friends for a long time now, we met through zines and drinking with zine people, crashing on couches, art exhibitions and comix jams and all that stuff that happened in the nineties.
We have done quite a bit of work together since like the comic series Entrailer Trash, a few video projects, art shows and other print stuff.
A good friend, he was the best man at my wedding in fact.
(Picture below of a birthday car for Ross, drawn by ole Glenno)
Drugs – waste of time or gateway to the universe?
In terms of creating artwork I have never found drugs or alcohol useful, anything I have drawn under the influence could have been greatly improved by sobering up first.
Caffeine is good for early morning and late nights. And sugar.
Please describe what you think the Australian Psyche/Zeitgeist is today?
Everything is fast, cheap and disposable. And we want it faster, cheaper and disposabler.
I think a lot of people are racing to be more like Europe and the USA, they want to compete with the big boys, but I think a lot of those countries are falling apart faster than we are.
I find mindset of a large percentage of Australians to be frightening, the media and politicians are turning people against each other when we should be collectively turning against them.
Any collaborations on the horizon?
Nothing set in concrete just yet.
A friend and I are talking about making a monster-themed computer game. That’s should be something a little different for me.
(Picture below of some art by Ross)
Any major projects you want to hype man?
The next big one for me is my upcoming wallpaper store castlewallart.com.
I am currently designing wallpaper that I will be selling through my online store. So you’ll be able to decorate your entire house in my designs. There’s going to be all sorts of wallpapers, stuff for kids, totally weird shit, romantic stuff for the boudoir… ultimately I would like to carry designs by other artists too.
The website is under construction now, I’ve been trying to get it together for a long time. But it will happen.
I have a comic in development for a year or so, it’s about barbequing and alien invasions, but I don’t want to say too much. You never know who might be listening…
- Ross Radiation – site
- Ross Radiation – Facebook
- Ross Radiation – Instagram
- Ross Radiation – Deviant Art
- Ross Radiation – twitter