An Entertaining Interview With Robel Kassa

Above: Robel Kassa’s recent works “revolve around an idea of
distance: physical, mental, and conceptual. So there are “dark”
concepts that are portrayed in bright and cheery colors. Serious
social taboos presented in utter abandon and humor.”

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, December 10, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Talented graphic designer and entrepreneur Robel Kassa has some of his most recent works currently displayed at La Carbonara Restaurant in D.C. The display “revolve around an idea of distance: physical, mental, and conceptual. So there are “dark” concepts that are portrayed in bright and cheery colors. Serious social taboos presented in utter abandon and humor,” says Robel. Below are photos from opening night and an entertaining interview with the artist.

Tadias: Please tell us a bit about yourself – where you were born, raised, school, current work, etc.

Robel: I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I was circumstantially stationed for residence and schooling procedures until I completed my high school studies. Upon said completion, the forces that be (commonly referred to as “one thing led to another”) decided that I relocate to the the University of Pennsylvania. I’m not sure of the coordinates, but I’m fairly certain it was located in Philadelphia. That’s what the brochure said, anyhow. I managed to acquire a black cap and gown (which I was ultimately forced to return … the bastards!) and a US Letter sized piece of heavy stock paper with elaborate calligraphy that indicated I was now fit to flaunt my ego and fatten my wallet wherever I please … within the realm of creative/digital arts. So in the spirit of economic synchronicity and tongue-in-cheek irony, I now work for the American Bankruptcy Institute, in all manners and shapes and sizes of graphic design and web development … making bankruptcy entirely way too sexy and irresistible. Of course, this being America (the land of mirages and camouflages), I have assuaged my cubicle farm shenanigans by setting up an independent design firm with a few partners: : global domination seems a lofty goal, but we’re taking it one click at a time. (*insert ominous soundtrack here*)

Tadias: Over the years, we have seen your impressive and evolving digital artwork. What other mediums do you use?

Robel: I’ve used and continue to use oils, acrylics, and other mixed media. Everything from razor blades to condom wrappings to pages ripped out of the bible make for legitimate resources.

Tadias: What motivates you?

Robel: Motivation had been elusive for a long time, actually. And whenever it happens, it’s fairly whimsical, egged on by irony, cynicism, music, literature, film, social/political situations, and a healthy dose of humor. I’m not sure what I just said answered your question satisfactorily, but feel free to chalk that up to “artistic quirkiness.”

Tadias: We understand that you have a show of your new artwork in D.C. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Robel: It’s hosted by the kind ladies of Spirito di Vino, and opened last Wednesday at La Carbonara Restaurant. It will be up for the remainder of the week for general veiwing as well. The works, most of them recent and not seen before, revolve around an idea of distance: physical, mental, and conceptual. So there are “dark” concepts that are portrayed in bright and cheery colors. Serious social taboos presented in utter abandon and humor.

Slideshow: Photos from Robel’s Art Show at La Carbonara

Photos courtesy of the artist’s Facebook Page.

Tadias: Which individuals influence your artwork? philosophy?

Robel: A lot of individuals do. Aesthetically, it ranges from Jackson Pollock to G/Kristos Desta to graffitti artists and comic book illustrations. I try and stay away from what is visually recognizable as typically “ethiopian art” … whether it’s the big googly eyes, or the Tilet-like patterns, or even the nauseatingly melodramatic and self-righteously judaeo-christian iconographies. I feel that’s just a gimmick and selling point that furthers the exotification of non-Western art as something ethnic, tribal, primordial, and other-worldly. It can be limiting, I suppose.

Tadias: If you were given a chance to spend a year to create an original work what would be?

Robel: The ultimate “original work” would probably mean less to me than the year spent trying to create and destroy and re-create and lather, rinse, repeat. Whatever that original work would be though, I feel it probably would either be a book or a film. Something that would purge the world of all its evils … and cure AIDS … and bring about world peace. And I also like walks on the beach.

Tadias: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Robel: Read books; they’re good for you. Never underestimate the beauty of honesty.

Tadias: Thank you Robel and good luck!

Robel: Thank you, Tadias. This has been utterly discomfiting.

4 Responses to “An Entertaining Interview With Robel Kassa”

  1. 1 EM Dec 10th, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    Hey Robel,

    We have never met but I have friends who know you and I have always admired your work. I think you did a great job designing Helm Magazine. You have always been a brilliant artist and you have really grown and have expanded your mediums. With your sense of humor about life , you are posed to live long and to create more. All my best, EM.

  2. 2 Nolawi Dec 10th, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    wow robel.. nice

  3. 3 Maura Kerse-McMillin Apr 30th, 2010 at 10:38 am

    Tadias, Robel!

    Coach T and I were thrilled to check out your work and interview! We always knew that you would “blaze new trails.” We now live on Cape Cod with our 2 boys. Come up and visit any time. Was that Terry in a shot? Who else from ICS are you in touch with? We’d love to hear from you all. We’re so proud of you.

    Take care,
    Maura Kerse-McMillin, aka Ms. M

  1. 1 Talented graphic designer and entrepreneur Robel Kassa | Good News Ethiopia Pingback on Dec 10th, 2009 at 2:17 pm
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