Lee Howard rocks a union suit like no one else. He is another awesome Canadian and an artist. He paints and he builds these incredibly disturbing things known as the Quiet Room Bears. It brings to mind a thing I first heard from a David Foster Wallace interview, which is that art should "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable." (I am paraphrasing, I think. Also, this has long since become an internet meme. Also, he was applying it to fiction.) I think this is what the Quiet Room Bears achieve in an extremely visceral way. Fans of horror art and those who are not squeamish should love the Quiet Room Bears. Some childhood toys are scary even when they aren't meant to be.
My first experience with the idea that stuffed toys can be scary was in the movie E.T wherein E.T has to hide from the mom amidst a huge pile of Gertie's plush toys. The idea that something alive might be staring back at you from inside a bunch of inert, fluffy cute objects is terrifying. (Yes, I know that wasn't the point of the scene, but still, the strangeness of it stuck with me.) It is that uncomfortable feeling that the Quiet Room Bears tap into. Fear and horror and unease externalized. This kind of art offers catharsis, as can the horror genre.
...And so it is with admiration, pleasure, and a little fear that I bring you the mind behind the madness, the hands behind the brush strokes, Lee Howard.
Q. What’s the best/worst piece of advice you’ve ever received about making art?
A. For the Worst advice, I have had a couple people (mostly when I was a kid, maybe some as an adult) say that there is no future in art, or that you can't make a living with art. Which I believe is super horsesh...uuhhh, horse-poopy. The proof is that there ARE artists in the world who live off of their art, so that proves it's possible. I also just read that apparently when George Lucas was a kid, his parent told him the same thing. And I think he's doing alright these days. As for BEST advice, I think that goes back only a few years ago when a friend of mine, who is also an artist, a guy named Mark Patton (who I made friends with through facebook....& who also happened to be the lead in Nightmare On Elm Street 2, my favorite movie when I was 10, & which introduced me to the world of horror) passed on advice HE was given when he was young, which was "Think BIG". It sounds simple enough, but up until then, I don't think I was 'thinking BIG' when it came to art or what I wanted to do with it. He's been a huge inspiration and good friend.
Q. Warhol or Bosch?
A. Damn, that's a hard one. Warhol's stuff for me, is obviously so iconic and just simple, visually bold images that kind of BOOM, jump out at you, which leaves an immediate impression, but Bosch's work is SO CRAZY looking. There is so much going on, and it's so weird & chaotic. Argh! Do I have to decide? I can't! You can't make me!! I enjoy both of them!! Okay, Bosch.
Q. Fork, spoon or spork?
A. Neither. I ALWAYS use my home-grown utensils called MY HANDS! Especially with soup! It may take over an hour to eat a bowl of it, but the satisfaction when you're done is as rich as a deep mahogany.
Q. Painting wardrobe?
A. Depends on the day - sometimes just jeans, in the winter I was wearing my red onesey-pj's (with built-in footies and the bum flap!), but I can tell you this - literally 75% of all my clothes have paint on them somewhere.
Q. What were you doing right before I started asking you a bunch of inane questions?
A. I had just woken up (yes, at 11:30 am - I didn't fall asleep till 4am, as I was makin' art and stressing out about life. Thank god for Star Trek the Next Generation on Netflix. It always helps guide me to sleep like a sweet, sweet lullaby). So I guess the answer was : waking up, stretching, scratching body parts, making coffee, going pee-pee, checking messages on my phone, turning on the computer, getting mad that I forgot to hit the ON button on the coffee maker, turning on the computer, and here we are!
Q. What’s on your easel right now?
A. I actually don't use an easel! I have before, but my 'station' is me on my couch, and the painting in front of me on this big foot stool (which is COVERED in paint). Right now I am working on a commissioned portrait of a relative, then I'm going to do a personal nerdy piece for me (I always have to balance out personal pieces in between commissions. Just for balance). Also surrounding my painting station is a BUNCH of in-progress Quiet Room Bears & their pieces. I bounce back and forth between working on paintings at the same time as the Bears. I literally just never let myself stop making art, if I can help it.
Q. Favorite food thing of the moment?
A. Favorite Food thing is the MAGIC BULLET! I'm back to an 'eating really well & getting in shape' thing & the Magic Bullet is a goddamn miracle. I've never ingested so many veggies & fruit in my life & I lost like, 8 lbs and feel amazing. Now I ACTUALLY am as enthusiastic & bewildered as all those jackasses in the infomercial. Now I AM one of those jackasses.
Q. Indoors or outdoors? Why?
A. I really like both & I need to make more of an effort to be outdoors. I have become a bit of a hermit in the last year or so, so I want to get out doors. I may even try to get a tan this summer! ahhh, dare to dream!
Q. What is the most gratifying part of the art process for you?
A. Without a doubt, it's the reaction of people when they either see or receive their piece. I have had, like, a dozen people cry when they pick up their commissioned pieces that would be of, say, a relative or a pet or something, & when I can actually SEE the reaction & it is THAT emotional...oh man....it's that moment right there that honestly makes me feel like I am on the right path in my life. Also, I love seeing people's reaction to the Quiet Room Bears in person, especially if they have never seen them before....holy crapballs...it's priceless. Curiosity, fear, intrigue, confusion, happiness...sometimes all at once, it's hilarious and amazing. Even if it's a bad reaction & they don't like them, it's still a reaction, and art should always get a reaction to be successful.
Q. I you could collaborate on a project with anyone living, dead or imaginary, who would you pick?
A. Ohhh MAN, this is a hard one for sure. I have a couple - Vincent Van Gogh (but only at the time of his life when, in Doctor Who, the Doctor & Amy go back, meet him, help him fight a monster & bring him to the future to see how his art changed the world. Which also makes me cry every time.) I would also love to go back in time & meet/help out Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster draw the first issue of Superman. I think that would make my heart explode. I also love the art of Clive Barker & it would be AMAZING to collaborate with him on something. He's a horror genius.
Q. Tell us about your current creative project/s?
A. I have a BUNCH of future painting projects - I had done that series of 14 different 'horror' versions of famous Breakfast Cereal Characters & now I am going to continue that with Mascots (fast food, Kool Aid, etc), I plan on continuing the series of MUSICIAN Portraits, as they have done really well, I still get a lot of commissions as well. And keeping SUPER busy with making the Quiet Room Bears, as their popularity this year has been going bonkers & they are selling as fast as I can make them on average. I am also writing a script for a movie based on them called The Quiet Room, and I also want to find time to work on a project that I've been on and off with for about 15 years, which would be a storybook/graphic novel called Johnny Longfingers which I will also write and illustrate.