PAINTING is just one of Randy Akers’ many talents.
He got his start in the film industry and has taught cumulatively for 15 years, both in upstate New York and here in Savannah at SCAD.
Akers imbues his topographical landscape paintings with social issues as a way to keep him focused. He recently took a trip to Morocco, which inspired him to begin work on a new series.
Akers is represented in galleries in Memphis, Tennessee, and New Smyrna Beach, Florida, and adds a third in Atlanta soon.
We spoke with Akers last week.
1. Tell me about your current body of work.
I typically do topographical landscape that’s abstract, and it has some kind of social conflict, whether it’s about race or economics or social injustice or what have you. That gives me an anchor to work with and stirs up my passion.
That being said, it’s kind of branched out recently into architecture. I’ve recently had a lot of interest in the architectural paintings from galleries, so I’m focusing on that, but I’m still trying to make it have those limitations. So maybe it’s a distressed area where the architecture is really interesting, or it’s indigenous, or whatever.
Then Morocco comes into it, and my head is just jammed with firecracker synapses. That turned my whole thing around. I’m just consumed with that right now, and probably will be for the next six months, but still using the same vocabulary.
2. How did you decide to go to Morocco, and what were some of the issues that came up while you were there?
I saw a Spanish telenovela that was all subtitles about three years ago, and it was about 1939 in Chefchaouen, Morocco. It was kind of sappy but gorgeous. Ever since I saw that movie, I thought, “I’ve got to get there.”
The thing that kept coming up over and over and over again was women’s rights. How women’s rights have evolved, and even though they’ve evolved considerably from that culture, it’s still a hundred years old. There still might be women wearing jeans occasionally, but mostly it’s women that are covered up, that are isolated, that have to go to separate mosques—it’s all that kind of thing, and it’s pretty jaw-dropping. And that’s one of the most liberal progressive countries in that culture, which kind of says a lot.
3. What’s your process like?
I have 1500 photos I’m sorting through and cataloging, and the idea is, what do I do next? I have a residency at Brush Creek Foundation of the Arts in Wyoming in September, and it’s going to be very cool. Typically, people go to Wyoming and they take in all the landscape and the beauty and the nature and all that stuff and reflect on what that is.
That’s not my agenda. Mine is to take Morocco and break it down—I have maps and names and notations and diaries and photos—and I’m going to begin the process of developing the work. I can’t even explain how that’s actually going to happen except I’ll start small, on paper, with a limited palette and limited tools and let it expand into some sort of natural progression.
I had a residency in Wyoming about four years ago and it knocked me for a loop. I thought it was so gorgeous. I did a series of about a dozen paintings and, interestingly enough, every one of them sold. I think for an artist, you paint what is authentic and speaks to you. If you try to do any less than that, it is usually a failure.
That’s where I’m at right now. Morocco is really on my brain and will be for quite a while. The way this is going to work, because this is such a large project, it’s going to be almost academic. It’ll be like doing a research project. It sounds really mundane and boring but it’s so big in my mind that it’s the only way I can break it down.
4. You began in the film industry and began painting after. What was that transition like?
I was directing commercials and music videos in New York and Los Angeles. Because I was used to dealing with film crews, usually strangers you never meet until you’re on a set together, you had to get into this teaching mode and gain their trust quickly, within seconds. You had to be able to give them tons of concise instruction—there was lots of money at stake. So my teaching kind of followed that path.
The film industry teaches you there are some primary things that follow through with art. I always think of visual art as being cinematic. I think all the artists I love were all kind of film-based. Even though the stuff isn’t moving, it’s got movement to the painting. With film, one of the things you’ve got to do is establish the foreground, mid-ground, and background. That sounds really elementary but you’ve got that to work with.
Secondarily, with film you’ve got to know how to measure with your eye. With art, you draw it. Drawing is seeing. It’s what you see and how it extends itself through your hand. So those two things really become the foundation for what I did in the art world. I just transferred some of that knowledge to painting.
In film, everything is rigid and tight, and I rebelled against that when I started painting. It was time to free it all up and don’t get all fussy and pristine. Make mistakes, seize the moment, all those little clichés, but I try to make that happen. It’s more personal. If nobody likes it, they don’t buy it, and I have nothing to lose.
5. What do you hope for Savannah’s arts community?
I wish that Savannah as a place could develop the arts a little bit more strongly. I think it would take an endeavor that involves the city, SCAD, local artist, and even SEDA (Savannah Economic Development Authority).
It’s not going to happen unless that realization comes to pass. When you think of places like Asheville, smaller towns that have a really active arts community...we have this huge institution here that is just cranking out some great people. But we don’t have an audience for it, and it’s not that they don’t see it, but we don’t have an audience to it.
Savannah is thought of as this romantic, wonderful, historic city, and it needs a third tier so we’re an art destination. That will only help Savannah as a whole—it’s a big picture situation. I don’t know how to solve it, but I know those three elements need to come together, and until they do, it’s not going to change.
I don’t sell here. If I show, it’s really minimal. I have a gallery in Florida, a gallery in Memphis, and soon to be a gallery in Atlanta, and I wish I had one here. There are some great artists, senior artists that have names and are really great. The Suzanne Jackson events were a great example of that. We don’t pay homage enough to some of the people we’ve got in our own backyard.