Episode 524 – Thomas Woodruff

Virtual Memories Show 524: Thomas Woodruff

“You have to say, ‘I’m going to do this, and I’m going to do it beautifully,’ which is kind of a queer sensibility: I want ornaments on everything. It was a challenge and you need a lot of sharp pencils, but I would just go at it.”

Artist and illustrator Thomas Woodruff joins the show to celebrate his amazing new graphic opera, Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral (Fantagraphics). We get into how Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan floored him and inspired him to make this 300-page extravaganza, what it was like to finally make a comic after decades of critiquing them in his role at the School of Visual Arts, and how living through the AIDS crisis forced an emotionalism into his art. We talk about the terrible glamour of his art, his predilection for making series of works (like his 365 paintings of apples and his ongoing series of apocalyptic, graceful dinosaur paintings), the virtues of carbon pencil and his hunt for the last supply of his favorite paper, and why he treats teaching drawing is like a religious rite. We also discuss his legacy vis-a-vis the students he taught and the programs he built, his philosophy of using the same model for a full year of drawing classes, the story of his first tattoo and the apotropaic act, the difference between having a sensibility vs. a style, why he retired from SVA after 20 years of chairing the Illustration and Cartooning departments, how students changed over that span, the mind-melting experience of watching Diver Dan as a child, The Next Project, and more! Give it a listen! And go read Francis Rothbart! The Tale of a Fastidious Feral!

“A drawing is a map of where the eye has been.”

“I’m always amazed when someone refers to my art style, because I don’t think I have one. And if I thought I had one, I would probably change it.”

“Gay people of a certain age almost feel like they were raised by wolves, because their parents were not terribly accepting.”

“You have to be very obsessive about art to have a career. Some people just want to have it because of a lifestyle.”

Enjoy the conversation! Then check out the archives for more great episodes!

“I always say I’m kinda like the kid putting on a puppet show in his basement, except I don’t even want my parents to come down and see it.”

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About our Guest

Mr. Thomas Woodruff is an artist who loves to draw and tell stories, and make lots and lots of pictures of lots of unusual things. His right hand has had a pencil or a crayon or a brush clenched in it from a precociously early age. Like any honorary member of the Corvidae family, Woodruff has always been attracted to shiny things. In his long, varied, and eccentric career he has had thirty one-person exhibitions of his paintings; cerated hundreds of illustrations for books, periodicals and television; designed for the opera; and curated gallery exhibitions. Woodruff is Chair Emeritus of the Illustration and Cartooning Departments at the School of Visual Arts, where he held the post for 20 years. He spends half of his time in New York City, and the other half in the Hudson Valley observing the weeds, sparrows, rabbits, and skunks.

Francis Rothbart! Is his first work of comic art, and this “graphic opera” was seven years in the making.

Follow Thomas on Instagram and at Vito Schnabel Gallery.

Credits: This episode’s music is Fella by Hal Mayforth, used with permission from the artist. The conversation was recorded at Mr. Woodruff’s studio on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4 digital recorder & interface. I recorded the intro and outro on a Heil PR-40 Dynamic Studio Recording Microphone feeding into a Zoom PodTrak P4. All processing and editing done in Adobe Audition CC. Photos of Mr. Woodruff by me. It’s on my instagram.

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