Look at the faces on some of these characters. Demon of the Harvest. Crookneck. Jack the Ripper. Even little Alice, concealing silverware as she awaits Humpty Dumpty’s fall. The characters look so happy, and they’re all obviously so nasty.
Welcome to the worlds of Robert Blair, a sculptor who knows our childhood fantasies are only a breath away from our childhood nightmares.[caption id="attachment_1140" align="alignright" width="180" caption="The Cheshire Cat."][/caption]
A craftsman shapes wood into a boy, and that creation magically comes to life. Would this child be the sweet but musically mischievous rascal Walt Disney envisioned, or would he be Robert Blair’s creaky, splintery, grasping monster? I liked the cartoon version when I was younger, but now I get a bigger kick out of the chiller Robert calls Gepetto’s Nightmare.
Robert’s work is so familiar, yet so different. His Garden Gnome has the beard, tall hat and outfit you expect, but this little guy is dangerous. His Nosferatu shares the bald pate, long nails and robe of all Max Schrek figures, but it creaks with extra age, malice, and long, weird arms. You wish his Cheshire Cat would turn invisible so you wouldn’t have to look at that nasty, wrinkled thing.
Robert Blair, 53, lives in Aylmer, Quebec, a small town just outside Ottawa. He worked as a hairstylist for 32 years, but retired from that. In addition to sculpting, he molds and casts, and produces his works, available to fans through his website, blairsculpture.ca. He has also painted most of his own pieces.
To date, Robert has primarily sculpted horror and comic kits. “I can proudly say most of my works are original concepts or my own takes on comic book characters,” he says.
His wife created and maintains his website.
Q&A WITH ROBERT BLAIR
Resin the Barbarian: Are you as fascinated with the macabre and the humorous as your work suggests? If so, could you say how this came about?
Robert: Well, I suppose you could say I have a certain fondness for the dark side. I’ve always found it a lot more interesting. I particularly enjoy sculpting pieces like Gepetto’s Nightmare or the Alice figures because I suppose I get a certain sick pleasure in taking children’s fairy tale characters and twisting them into murderous psychopaths.[caption id="attachment_1142" align="alignright" width="400" caption="Robert Blair and his wife plan to travel from their home near Ottawa to Louisville, Ky., for this year's WonderFest."][/caption]
RtB: Many of your creations strike me as thoroughly evil yet very happy characters. Demon of the Harvest and Crookneck are good examples, as are the Demons of Dance I wrote about in 2006. I get the idea that these are folks who enjoy a good joke. Is this something you do intentionally?
Robert: Yes. I feel there is nothing creepier than a creature with a sinister smile. You just know there is evil lurking behind that smile.
RtB: The sculptures that capture my eye are usually very stylized. Even if the character is familiar, the execution isn’t what I conventionally expect, which is part of why I admire it so. Would you say that this is helpful or a hindrance to your efforts to expand your career as a sculptor?
Robert: Well in one way it is a hindrance as far as making a living at it. I am very well aware that “original” concepts do not sell as well as movie figures or comic characters. On the flipside it is very helpful to me because I can create my own characters or sculpt well-known comic and movie characters with my own twist to them. I find it far more gratifying to sculpt what interests me. I work much better that way, and I am a lot happier for it. In the past, when I tried to sculpt figures that other people wanted, but that I was not really interested in doing, it wasn’t fun anymore. It was more like a job, and if I’m going to sculpt, I have to have creative freedom in order to enjoy it, or what’s the point?
RtB: I know little of sculpting and even less about styling hair, so please forgive me if this is particularly ignorant. To me, the image of a salon (correct term?) is bright and chatty, while sculpting is solitary and, your work often suggests, fairly dark. Is this a fair characterization? Are any similar skills required to succeed at both?
Robert: Well, I suppose you could say that they are both artistic, so they both employ the same side of the brain. Both involve working with your hands and your eyes. But yes, a salon is a much more sociable work environment. However, while my sculpting may be dark, I feel there’s also a lot of humour in my sculptures, and I don’t take things too seriously.[caption id="attachment_1145" align="alignleft" width="210" caption="Robert Blair's Mr. Hyde."][/caption]
RtB: Am I correct in seeing a hint of Fredric March in your Mr. Hyde sculpture? Or is that just something I brought to it myself?[caption id="attachment_1148" align="alignright" width="276" caption="Jack the Ripper, painted by Jim Capone."][/caption]
Robert: To be honest with you I have never seen the Fredric March Hyde movie. My Hyde is something I came up with on my own.
RtB: Did anyone serve as the “model” for your Jack the Ripper?
Robert: No, I just referenced some old late 1800s photos for him.
RtB: When you decide to do an original creation, what creative impulse would you say is the one that drives you most? What do you hope you’ll end up with, and what impression do you hope it gives others?
Robert: That depends on the piece. With Gepetto’s Nightmare what I wanted was something exactly the opposite of the popular Disney version. I believe the original story was actually a lot darker. But instead of Pinocchio the good little wooden boy created by Gepetto, I wanted this Pinocchio-gone-wrong. Here Gepetto is whittling away creating a wooden boy out of a small log, but the Pinocchio is totally twisted and very sinister, not only in his appearance but his body language as well. I like to give my pieces a dark sinister appeal with a twist of humour thrown in.[caption id="attachment_1152" align="alignleft" width="267" caption="With knife and fork concealed behind her back, Robert Blair's version of Alice seems to have more sinister motives than Lewis Carroll depicted in "Through the Looking Glass"."][/caption]
RtB: You seem to enjoy creating your own versions of very familiar characters. In addition to Hyde and the Ripper, you’ve done the Blairstein, Pinocchio and a fun depiction of Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Wonderland. Could you say what Robert Blair’s version of Dracula would look like? Or perhaps Robert Blair’s Fairy Godmother?[caption id="attachment_1155" align="alignright" width="193" caption="A Symphony of Horror, Robert Blair's Nosferatu."][/caption]
Robert: I have never given either of those characters any thought, to tell you the truth. I really couldn’t tell you right now.
RtB: Do you have any other major occupations or interests?
Robert: Well I like hockey, NFL football and I fish as much as I can. I love old movies, especially the old Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce), Mr Moto, Mr Wong and The Thin Man series.
RtB: Who would you say is your biggest fan, and why?
Robert: Well, I’d like to say my mother…but she’s dead. My dog, maybe?
RtB: WonderFest approaches. Do you attend that or other shows?
Robert: As a matter of fact my wife and I are going to WonderFest this year for the first time. We are really looking forward to meeting fellow sculptors and people in the industry, as well as the three or four fans I’ve acquired over the decade. Thanks guys — you ROCK!
RtB: Anything you want to add?
Robert: Nope. Just thanks for the interview and your interest in my work.