Humans are extraordinarily communal creatures. We gather together, care for each other, share knowledge and resources, negotiate conflicts, strive for survival and sometimes even greatness. All good stuff. That’s culture.
The problem for many of us, hardwired to be visual artists, is that we can feel a bit out of sync with the wider culture’s more pragmatic proclivities. At first, we may be the only artist we know (assuming we can even give it a name). What to do?
Enter the educator. Most illustrators, when asked, will sight a particular instructor who recognized and nurtured their talents; profoundly influencing their trajectory. Rob Clayton, a Full-Time Professor at ArtCenter College of Design, is an extraordinary example of that person.
Rob earned his BFA from ArtCenter in 1988. Soon after, he moved to New York City, where art directors began to respond to his edgy Folk Art inspired pieces with commissions that garnered awards. He steadfastly cultivated illustration clients, including Entertainment Weekly, Village Voice, The New York Times, The New Yorker, GQ, Rolling Stone, McSweeney’s and many others. After several years in NYC, Rob would eventually settle in LA after being offered a class to teach at ArtCenter by the then Department Chair, Phil Hayes, who recognized his increasing influence.
While the commissions from clients like Texas Monthly, Newsweek, Time Warner, and House of Blues continued, Rob’s experimental vision caught the attention of the underground gallery scene in LA. He started to regularly exhibit in California and beyond; balancing a growing teaching schedule with shows and commissions as a freelance artist.
One of Rob’s strengths as an instructor is the way he has integrated the knowledge gleaned from his everdiversifying experiences into the classroom. Along with several of his friends, Rob was instrumental in bringing the possibilities of gallery exhibition to a generation of Illustration students. He and others boldly blurred the aesthetics of Illustration and Fine Art, helping to create a West Coast scene that has become an international phenomenon. It was his partnership with his brother Christian Clayton, within the collaborative practice known as Clayton Brothers, that garnered the most attention to that date. The brother’s visionary, kaleidoscopic paintings and sculptures have been eagerly collected out of major galleries in New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Beijing and beyond. Despite this heady success, Rob has always maintained an unpretentious, hands-on approach in the classroom. His focus on analogue processes, media experimentation, and on each student’s personal voice guaranties diverse outcomes.
Currently, Rob has resumed a solo practice, exploring new media and exhibiting regularly. His students know him as an engaging, caring, and tireless instructor. His students feel seen and challenged by someone who takes them seriously. Whether demonstrating mono-print techniques, critiquing personal projects, or helping students prepare their portfolios for graduation, Rob Clayton brings his best.
This award is a well-deserved tribute to Rob’s incomparable impact as an artist, educator and friend.
Written by Aaron Smith, Associate Chair, Department of Illustration, ArtCenter College of Design.