Have you ever had a nightmare so real, so horrific, that you swear it actually happened? That’s what looking at Rob Sato’s artwork is to me—a gateway into a dreamworld filled with morbid creatures acting out their wildest and uninhibited fantasies. Death, decay, and an insatiable deconstruction of the human anatomy are all staples of his work, but even then you’re just starting to delve into the curious fascinations filling his head. In person Rob’s a modestly humble, down-to-earth kind of guy, but hand him a paintbrush and you’re dealing with a certified madman.
You do paintings, illustrations, comics, and all sorts of different projects. How do you approach different mediums?
Everything is different. I get an idea and work it out in a sketch pad or scratch paper and see where it goes. Usually the best ideas come out of the shittiest paper.
A lot of the images in your work feature grotesque and surreal figures, is there a common significance to this theme?
I don’t know why, I start with this little funny, happy thing and then it just turns into something horrible. I don’t how it happens, but usually something funny comes out.
Like the paintings of people dying playing video games?
I liked the idea of doing some mundane activity that just kills you. For that one I think the idea came from playing Halo. I’d play it online and get some little kid from Germany shooting at me and I’d just want to shoot him in real life.
Speaking of which, I read your piece “Peace at Last in a Future Passed” was based on an old Transformers figure you had—how’d that come about?
Yeah, it was Jetfire I think. I used the toy as a jumping on point; same kind of model, same kind of hand position. It started on this whole concept of airplanes that they’d crash and the people would just leave them. [The figure] was just there and was a result of the idea.
Do you still have it?
Yeah, it’s like one of only three toys from my childhood and it’s in severe disrepair.
From afar it’s hard to see, but when you get up close to your painting “Followers in the Fog” there’s all these intricate, hyper-detailed little characters—what’s the larger concept behind the piece?
It started when I was drawing people in line, at the grocery or the post office, and I just thought, “What would happen if people had to spend their entire life waiting in line?”
What about the “Buzz Bomb” painting?
Originally it was going to be the album art for this heavy-metal/hardcore band, and I thought the best thing I could do would be to kill myself in the painting. So I took some photos of my head and torso and put them under some tracing paper and started attacking my body, then pretty soon the head was just covered in maggots. I guess the idea is that it becomes this self-sustaining ecosystem, that one brain gives away to millions of little brains.