Interview with Artist, Ray Sumser
21 Jul, 2012
To view more of Ray Sumser’s work visit:
Dig In Magazine had the unique opportunity to speak with artist Ray Sumser recently during his Kickstarter campaign for his current project "The Characternity" and prior to his June 7th show in Dogpatch at Treehouse Gallery in San Francisco, CA. Sumser was born on the East Coast, but lived much of his life on the West Coast, mainly in Marin County, Santa Cruz and most recently, San Francisco. He was inspired by comics from an early age and describes his art as Pop Art. Graduating from Rhode Island School of Design with a dual degree in Painting and Film with a concentration in Belief Systems, Sumser then went onto be a founding resident at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz, CA where he helped to curate and direct events for the First Friday Art
Tour. Sumser has been a regular fixture at San Diego Comic-Con international for the past three years. [Interviewed on May 10, 2012]
Dig In Magazine: Where did you grow up and where are you currently based?
Ray Sumser: I was born in Westminster Maryland and moved to Marin Country at age
eight. I went to high school in Marin and college in Rhode Island.
After school I moved to Santa Cruz for three years and came back to
San Francisco last fall. Overall I am about 50-50 split between East
and West Coast – but I always describe the Marin Headlands as the most
informative landscape in my life. Beautiful.
DIM: What is your artistic background and training?
RS: I went to the Rhode Island School of Design where I received a dual
degree in Painting and Film with a concentration in Belief Systems. I
was a founding resident at the Tannery Arts Center in Santa Cruz, CA
where I helped to curate and direct events for the First Friday Art
Tour. I have been a regular fixture at San Diego Comic-Con
international the past three years.
DIM: When did you begin creating art?
RS: I have been drawing longer than I can remember. My mother is a
brilliant artist and from as early as age four I would ask her how to
draw things and follow her instruction. The first thing I remember her
teaching me was to draw an interlinking chain, something I wanted to
draw so that I could replicate Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant
Ninja Turtles. I’ve always been fond of characters.
DIM: How did you get into art?
RS: Art came naturally to me. I have only recently discovered my athletic
side and I spent most of my youth imagining creatures, adventures and
worlds beyond my own. Drawing has always enabled me to have exactly
what I want, when I want it – the only limit being my ability to
imagine and put idea to paper.
DIM: How would you describe your art?
RS: Broadly, I would describe my work as Pop Art, although I have a lot of
fun getting weird and specific about it. Looking at my titles (the
Comicosm, Cartoonuum and Characternity) you can see I am pursuing
themes on a grand scale using cultural minutia as the details of the
DIM: What is it about comics that drives you to incorporate it into your artwork?
RS: In art school, I did work that came directly, maybe exclusively, from
my heart. It was always brash and bright, big and bold. It was all
abstract mark making and things that ‘felt right’ to my eye and hand.
When I moved back to California I made a conscious decision to make
work that would be more relatable.
My Uncle Greg was an obsessive comic book collector until he passed
away in 2007. As such, I have had access to comic culture my entire
life. I’m pretty steeped in it and feel more than comfortable talking
ad nauseam on the subject. It really intrigues me how anyone with an
interest in pop narrative has their favorite characters. We all choose
to relate to these specific avatars and totems. Mine is Spider-Man,
but I love seeing someone light up over Velma from Scooby Doo, Asterix
and Obelisk, the Little Mermaid or Max and Ruby. That’s really the
driving force in my work, seeing the enjoyment of others in something
DIM: Where do you get the ideas for your pieces?
RS: I’ve got a backlog. There are a million things I’d love to do, and I
try to follow the signs to get to the next project. I initially
imagined a one-off encyclopedic character painting, but the response
was so overwhelming that it has become a running theme in my work. I
believe that the best work comes from a desire to possess something
that does not yet exist and a commitment to bringing that thing to
life. For me it’s like “Who wouldn’t want to see a picture of every
cartoon character ever?” or “Who wouldn’t want to see a Starbucks full
of naked people?”
DIM: What in life inspires and motivates your art?
RS: The future is my chief inspiration. I’m pretty much a romantic and I
have a vision of where I want my life to go, who I want to be with and
what I want to do. I’m committed to seeing those things out as best as
I can. Day-to-day I love riding up to the top of Twin Peaks on my
bike, playing the Ukulele and singing and being with friends and loved
DIM: What artists, past or present, are your biggest influences?
RS: I look up to the greats. It sounds obvious but Picasso, Pollack and
Van Gogh are right high on my list. Reinhardt, Haring, and Warhol too.
Jenny Saville is probably my favorite living painter and Richard
Linklater is my favorite filmmaker. Does music count? I listen to
Doves, the Eels, the Punch Brothers, They Might Be Giants and Paul
Simon. In terms of comic artists my list is Rob Schrab, Humberto Ramos
and Jim Mahfood, in that order.
DIM: Where has your artwork been shown?
RS: I have shown extensively in Santa Cruz and have just begun showing in
San Francisco. As I said, I have shown at Comic-Con San Diego the past
three years, although those were guerrilla installations.
Incidentally, because of the internet, my prints hang as far as
Australia, Berlin and Beijing.
DIM: What are your current projects and can you explain the “Characternity”
project and how you are incorporating others in it?
RS: Right now I am completing the Characternity, a 3′ by 5′ drawing of
2,500 recognizable characters from comic books, cartoons, video games
and visual culture at large. I’m completing it as a Kickstarter to
raise money and to get the word out about my upcoming solo show at
Treehouse Gallery in San Francisco. I’m taking character suggestions
through the Kickstarter. It’s a fun change – I have done work like
this before, but now I am planning to color this one digitally which
opens a lot of options and saves me from the physical trauma of
completing a hyper-detailed image at a colossal scale.
Like I said, one thing that I love is to see others enjoying my work.
People really get a kick out of seeing themselves in art. As such, for
my current project I made a $10 buy in option to have yourself or a
loved one drawn into a digital addendum to the piece. So far I have
over forty people drawn in and they seem to like it!
DIM: Where is your next show and what will it entail?
RS: My next show is ‘The Characternity and Other Funny Pictures by Ray
Sumser,” opening June 7th at Treehouse Gallery in Dogpatch. It’s going
to be a hoot. I have a month in the space and I am planning a wide
variety of events with a revolving show of my work. I’ll attach the
schedule which includes a Ukulele Night, Free Comic Book Day and a
Duck Hunt party.
DIM: What are your plans for the future in terms of art and beyond?
RS: I’m in it to win it. I’ve done alright so far and I figure I’m about a
third of the way through my life if I’m lucky. I’ll keep creating and
learning as long as I can. I will always paint but I also want to
write books, direct movies, record music, act, build, sculpt and play.
I keep dreaming of a house on a hill with a woman I love – who maybe
keeps an art practice, too.
DIM: Where can people find your art?
RS: My work is always at RaySumser.com and I update
facebook.com/raysumserart almost every day. Right now my kickstarter
is: www.characternity.com and event details are at: