Local illustrator works with bands, dreams of planes, makes a statement with T-shirts.
Many wandering eyes have been caught by the colorful and whimsical illustrations of Mark A. Ritch. He’s the guy responsible for the cartoon-surrealist show posters and T-shirts that are spicing up Chattanooga.
Mark has done work for many local bands, including Opposite Box, Milele Roots, Smooth Dialects, Afro, Machines Are People Too, The Average, New Planet, Soul Mechanic, Shabti and Space Capone. He’s currently working with Ballyhoo Productions on art for the creators of Mystery Science Theater 3000 for an upcoming documentary, and has three published comic books, “SKABS 1 & 2” and “Barbarian Women #3”. His style is a ton of fun, just like this interview was:
The Pulse: What are your earliest memories of making art?
Mark A. Ritch: What kick-started me was watching a TV show when I was really young. I think it was the “Lost in Space” robot. I asked my mom to draw me a robot and she gave me a blue ballpoint pen and a brown paper bag and said, “You draw it!” I just haven’t stopped. I loved to draw my family members and my favorite cartoons.
I was fascinated with “Archie” comics because I really liked the way they drew the girls. I’ve been drawing them that way ever since. I loved the way they drew Betty and Veronica…and Sabrina the Teenage Witch—I had a big crush on her. Still do. Not the ’90s version—she was cute, but not as cute as the original cartoon.
TP: Who are some artists that influenced you?
MAR: ’60s underground artists like R.Crumb, Gilbert Shelton, Jay Ward, Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, and Robert Williams.
TP: How did you get into doing show posters?
MAR: I started doing them a long time ago in the San Francisco Bay Area and San Jose. I did a lot of punk rock show posters for bands like The Gits, The Vandals, The Dwarves, Fang, The By-Products and a bunch of bands you’ve never heard of. I’d trade for beers and get my hand stamped, because there’s no money in punk rock.
I love it to death, it’s my favorite music in the whole world, but it is what it is because it will always be in the gutter, and I love it for that. Doing art for the punk bands, getting to meet all the musicians and club owners, really got the ball rolling, really got me jazzed. People were getting excited about my art and I was getting excited about their art, and somehow it all meshed together.
Then when I moved to Chattanooga, I found a niche here where people are interested in my illustrations.
TP: How long have you been in Chattanooga?
MAR: Eight years. People are always asking why I moved from the Bay Area to here, and it’s like when you’re living in the middle of Disneyland, you wonder what’s on the outside. What’s over the mountain? Chattanooga is as interesting as the Bay Area and the stuff here is just as good.
It’s more spaced out, not as concentrated and intense or insane as California is, but everything is still here. Things are spread out evenly where you can make sense of them. It is sensory overload out there.
TP: What else are you up to besides show posters?
MAR: I sell commissioned work all over the country. I just sold a piece in Washington State to an aircraft enthusiast of a B-17 bomber with a hot cartoon girl in uniform marching in front of it. I’m doing surfboard designs and skateboard designs, too. I like long boards. I buy the naked boards and prepare them, then I paint them and throw the trucks and wheels on ’em. I’m also doing design work for Kaleidoscope Apparel on Frazier. They do really high-quality laser-printed shirts. I just finished a mural for them.
I have some album covers coming up, and I’d like to start painting the backs of leather jackets and maybe a bus. My dream is to paint on the side of an old World War II airplane. That’s when I can be like, “OK, God, you can take me. I’m done. I can die now.”
TP: Do you have any advice for artists?
MAR: I have a sign in my studio with a line from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” that says, “Don’t dream it—Be it”, and it’s so true!
For more information about the art of Mark A. Ritch, visit facebook.com/mark.ritch, or email firstname.lastname@example.org