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Hot Cents: The Cathartic Art of Rick Froberg

By Pat McGuire on August 13, 2010


“I never went to art school. Or any other kind of school, really.” Somehow, listening to Rick Froberg offer this information as I stare at the distinctly linear yet astoundingly diverse images of the ink drawings, etchings, gouache and Flash-made renderings that adorn his website, I am convinced of two things: This guy is true punk rock, and I could have saved about $100,000 by not going to college and instead showed up at Froberg’s doorstep with a blank notebook and a fresh set of pens.

Growing up in Southern California’s ’80s and ’90s punk scenes, Froberg has played in some of rock’s most ardently feral bands, including Drive Like Jehu, Pitchfork and Hot Snakes. Combining DIY ethics, killer tunes and ferocious onstage intensity, Froberg’s steady output of trailblazing sound was viscerally complemented by the unmistakably stylized art adorning his bands’ album covers, tour posters and shirts. Punk kids visiting the merch table were impressed to discover that the sweaty dude they had just seen rip it up onstage was now selling them a t-shirt of his own design, and that in addition to touring in a rock band, he also sustained himself as a successful visual artist and graphic designer.

Froberg’s art shares some of the same qualities as his music—it’s bold, skilled, sinister and primal, yet intelligent, referential and nuanced. He genre-hops with ease; from digital drawings to acrylic paint to heavy ink and back again, creating stark images of character collages, WWII-era comic figures and Dali-esque cartoon landscapes. Self-taught in classrooms of his own creation, in the form of design rooms at Transworld Skateboarding magazine and from books in his bedroom, Froberg is living proof that you don’t have to play by the system’s rules to operate successfully inside it.

“You can’t be a purist. A purist, what is that? That’s over,” he says, laughing. Punk or not, in today’s market-yourself-or-starve world, Rick Froberg’s two cents ring truer than ever.

I can hear a single riff on a Hot Snakes record and automatically identify it as Hot Snakes. Can someone look at a line you’ve drawn and identify it as Rick Froberg’s?

Rick Froberg: More and more it’s getting to the point where I do have a certain style—particularly with lines. I pay a lot of attention to lines; the way they’re put together. Lines are a premium, that’s the thing. It depends on the medium—if I’m doing printmaking or etching, I might have to draw using lots of little lines. And I like doing that every now and then because I don’t normally do it. I normally draw with really broad lines, like a brush. I also draw on a computer in Flash, which is basically like drawing with brush and ink.

How important are visual things like album covers, concert posters and t-shirt designs to a band?

That’s always important. That was kind of an extension of my job of being the singer—it’s basically my job to take the music and add meaning to it somehow. Even if you can’t sing that well, like me, you’re trying to give it a vibe or a feeling. And I felt the same way about the artwork. Once you add the artwork and add meaning to it, it becomes a genuine piece of pop culture.

While listening to a record, I’m affected as much by the album art as I am by the music.

Sure, everyone is. We’re all human. At the same time, it’s not like it’s tyrannical, like a music video, which doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for the viewers to interject their own interpretations of the music. With a static picture, it doesn’t really do that. It’s nice; you can direct people towards how you want them to feel about the music a little bit, but it doesn’t tell them exactly how they should feel about it.

Is there something specific that you’re trying to say in both your art and music?

Sure. With art, there is something aesthetic you can try to say. You’re trying to put your two cents in the big continuum of pop culture. Whether it’s music or art or whatever, you’re saying, “This is my medium. These are my values as far as what I think looks cool or what I think represents artistic values like mystery and beauty and things like that.” You’re saying the same thing with music. It’s pretty hard to articulate, though.

Do you come across people who are fans of your art but don’t know your music?

I do, mostly through work. They find out and I have to direct them towards my music, and then they hear this screaming rock and roll. Sometimes you don’t want people to know about that. I keep that kind of separate.

Your art websites are also clearly separated into two categories: “Commercial” and “Fine Art.” Why is it so important to make this distinction?

I don’t know. For me the line is so blurred. I’m not strictly fine art. I didn’t go to school. I don’t hang out with fine artists. I don’t know shit about it. I’ve had a couple galleries. I’ve been in shows, but I couldn’t begin to tell you what the hell is going on with that. And with commercial art, it’s the way I make my living. It’s the only thing I can do.

What do you think is the best thing about being an artist?

You have a clear, accessible vehicle for self-expression that’s always available for you. And that will make you that much more sane and healthy overall. Some people don’t have that at all, not any kind of way to express themselves, you know? They don’t have the words, there’s no musical ability…they need to find a way to express themselves.

Those are the people who get drunk and fight.

Maybe. Getting drunk and fighting is a way to express yourself. Some people are really good at fighting. It’s an art form. But yeah, being an artist is a good, healthy way to express yourself…and the hardest part about being an artist is to look at the blank piece of paper and ask, “What am I going to do with that?”

When you work, do you think, “Today, I’m going to do something and I have no idea what that something is, but here’s the blank space”?

I never have any idea what I’m going to do. I try to steer clear of an idea. I try to just start going, and once I have a few things, then I start adding on to them. And then the picture starts to emerge. Or I combine things. I change things. I try to fuck with things. I usually try to keep things very unspecific. You want to find out something about yourself by doing it. It’s kind of a…is “catharsis” the right word? I’m not sure. But that’s the idea. F

For more of our conversation with Rick Froberg, visit

This article is from FILTER Issue 29