Chris Spollen is younger than me, but we both got our first illustration jobs for Crawdaddy. Crawdaddy was a NYC rock ‘n roll mag founded before Rolling Stone was born. Chris studied printmaking at Parson’s School of Design. His earliest published illustrations were etchings.
With help from his mechanically-inclined brother Tom he built an etching press from the recycled wringers of an old washing machine. He’d etch the plates in acid, ink them, run them through the wringers, then stretch his wet prints on plywood. He would hand deliver prints to Crawdaddy’s office on 13th St. and 5th Ave.
Chris’s fantasy sculpture work is currently on exhibit in Scranton, PA at AFA Gallery until March 27. I met him there. He and I and Veronica Lawlor are exhibiting together. Chris calls his Staten Island home studio ‘The Steam Powered Art Factory.’ So naturally, he was thrilled to visit Scranton’s Steamtown National Historic Site, just 2 blocks from the AFA Gallery. The opening, by the way, was a jam-packed event. Clearly, Scranton has a hopping art scene, and AFA is a big part of it.
Spollen shared one of the trade secrets of his 3-D work. Amazing Goop. It can bond seemingly incompatible materials, wood, cloth, metal, ceramic. I asked him, “Are you a hoarder?” He shook his head no. “I am not a hoarder, I’m a tinker.” I asked if he used any of his new sculptures for editorial illustration. “No,” he said with some pride, “They are absolutely useless!”
For a time, his Staten Island neighbors were suspicious of the robotic creatures in his yard. In 2014, local writer Nicholas Rizzi visited The Steam Powered Art Factory and shared some great photos, here. So Chris’s neighbors are more understanding. Nowadays, he finds strange offerings left on his steps: bakelite stove knobs, brass gears and assorted unidentified appliance parts.
Chris Spollen has had an illustrious illustration career. His work has appeared everywhere from Penthouse to Scholastic. He has illustrated stories of H.G Wells for The Franklin Library. He had a one-man show at The Society of Illustrators in 2011. He still teaches illustration at FIT and at the Hartford Art School MFA program. Our mutual friend, Ted Michalowski calls Chris Spollen “the most eccentric illustrator I has ever met,” and illustrators tend to be eccentric.
Chris revealed he is now a card-carrying member of AARP, but the man shows no signs of slowing down. In fact, he is speeding up. Another of his passions is HPV’s or Human Powered Vehicles. If you can get to Scranton this month visit AFA Gallery to see his work in person. If you can’t get to Scranton, do check out his site. Find his Steam Powered Art Factory on Facebook. He has posted plenty of pics, including sketch-to-finish process shots of his many amazing contraptions.