Years of decay
Exploring the void with Hal Rotter
Hal Rotter cuts up bodies for art. Usually with an X-Acto knife. Then he pastes them back together and decays them through a process of high-speed aging. Specifically, repeated loops through a photocopier.
The Oak Park artist has made arcane, misanthropic and blasphemous art for Skeletonwitch, EYEHATEGOD, Atriarch, Cattle Decapitation and more, along with churning out fliers for local shows.
You might also recognize him as the guitarist for Plague Widow, whipping his incredibly long hair as he grinds through songs. Rotter currently works as a graphic designer and assistant for Oakland artist Skinner (notable for creating the art for Mastodon's latest album), and when he's not doing that, he's developing his own decrepit art under his company's banner, Rotting Graphics, which started as a high-school passion almost 10 years ago.
Rotter took a break from preparing for a show to talk with SN&R about finding inspiration in corpses, old-school metal art and photocopiers.
A lot of your work revolves around rot and decay and death. What is it about rot that’s so inspiring?
I'm always fixated on decay and rot, even the colors, the earth tones. It's kind of hard to explain. A lot of my shit comes off as really negative and misanthropic, kind of like the end of all, the end of life.
Do you find yourself there mentally a lot?
Yeah, a lot, actually (laughs). I go through a lot of periods where I feel like I'm stuck in my head too much or fixating on too many negative things, and that's where I think the art is a good expression, good way to get all that out. Same thing with music and everything, too. A lot of the art and the music I do is really similar: The content and the feel and the atmosphere.
Do you have any primary influences?
Huge [influence] from Skinner, especially from working for Skinner in the last four or five years. Definitely this one guy I've come to follow from Texas called Give Up, he's a street artist. He does a lot of black and white, silk screen, photocopy/Xerox stuff. I get a lot of inspiration and feel for what I've done for the last couple years from him. A lot of old school '90s death metal stuff, punk rock, really old punk art, collage art, black-and-white stuff, photocopies. … [album art] like Terrorizer, Carcass, like all that earlier '90s metal art.
Tell me about your primary medium and how you go about creating your art.
It's mostly all Photoshop-based now, but it's a huge mix. I do a lot of reprint, scan, a lot of Kinkos/Xerox stuff back and forth. It depends on the piece. Some album covers, I'll be going back, printing, rescanning, cutting up twelve times at least before I find where it's at. Basically, a digital/physical collage going back and forth, whether I'm making a silk screen print or the cover of a vinyl or a shirt design.
The going back and forth, that’s about getting degradation, right?
Exactly, breaking the piece down to get the grit, that texture. Almost the decay of the image itself.
When it comes to your art and working with clients, do you let clients have a certain amount of say?
It's kind of half-and-half. A lot of bands come to me and give me an idea of what they're looking for, and just kind of give me free rein, or give me a general idea. I really like it when a band has, not crazy strict direction … it's really awesome to bounce off of a person in the band who has a really good idea for what they want and they can see that already in my art and come to me. It's really satisfying to accomplish. … It's another dude's creation as well, but you're bringing it to life.
How did you go about learning design?
I just picked it up in high school. I went to high school in Red Bluff up north, and they actually had a really good graphic arts program. Right when I was a freshman, they opened up a huge graphic department and they actually offered silk screening and screen printing and stuff, and I just wanted to get into that right off the bat, and then learn Photoshop and my way around computers and all that. That was the first year that they introduced it at the school, so the teacher was learning along with us from the book. So I just took off on my own and was making fliers. Pirated the software and took it home (laughs).
Are you thinking about trying to get displayed?
I've only done one gallery, had my art shown once before and that was in New York, last year, and that was really cool. It was really short notice and I was only able to show a giclee print of an album cover I did before.
I got a whole new screen-print setup and I just want to get bigger, do more prints. A lot more physical, hands-on stuff, and getting more dark and dirty and disgusting, pissing people off more, you know (laughs). Just bumming people out.