- The Artist
"Dynamic colors and captivating, vivid light are the vehicles artist Rob Kaz employs to lure viewers into the atmosphere of his paintings and leave fans wanting to stick around for awhile. "I want you to long to be in the painting," Kaz said, "to take comfort and smile with a sense of whimsy, a sentiment in my paintings that can be contributed to my influential background in professional studio animation and video game art."
Kaz, one of the most phenomenally talented breakout contemporary artists working today, has plied his trade in the gaming community and Disney animation, while also creating his own paintings now featured in galleries all over the country, all of which has garnered him much-deserved accolades. He approaches each painting with the specific intention to balance between earth and water—most of his paintings have water, even if its existence is only implied. "I find natural beauty and a soothing logic in water that meets land that I hope relates as emotions, even if not parallel to my own," he explained.
A self-trained artist, Kaz took an interest in artwork even as a child while watching his father create with watercolor. Throughout his childhood, he drew, mainly on notebooks or homework assignments or napkins in restaurants, before taking an interest in oil painting, though it remained just a hobby while growing up in New Jersey where he enjoyed surfing, skating and hockey. After graduating high school, Kaz sought warmer weather when deciding on a college and wound up in Orlando where he earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice from the University of Central Florida. After too many cold and snowy winters, Kaz decided to remain south permanently. As for his ongoing surfing exploits, it fits nicely with his love of water, but only a hobby, albeit an unusual one for a kid who grew up in New Jersey. "I never got good," he said, "I just liked doing it."
When Kaz began his fine art career, he knew one thing for certain. "I want people to be happy when they look at my work, so I create stories that personally make me smile or laugh. But I also want people to notice the technical side of my paintings. I put a lot of emphasis on lighting, composition and color when I paint. I think all of these aspects ultimately play a factor in deciding the emotional outcome of a finished painting." As for his creative process, Kaz keeps it simple, relying on his ability to render paintings directly from his head onto a canvas. "I don't paint from photographs. Everything that winds up on my canvas is an image that is first painted in my mind…or a character that is developed by my imagination, except for my Disney licensed pieces, which of course are scenes and characters from the films."
Rather than focus on the likeness of another, he allows his mind's eye to imagine. When painting, he imagines "Places I'd Rather Be" and "Friends Along The Way," two categories that occurred naturally as he began building a body of work and have remained recurring themes throughout his work. One particular "friend" is Beauregard the frog. Since his inception with "Hey You" and "Hey Me," Beau has appeared in every single painting he has created. If a painting is not focused solely around Beau, Kaz will often hide him in the painting, a fact that fans have latched onto, as they seem to enjoy competing to be the first to find him in the release of each new painting.
Ironically, for Kaz, the signature is always the most complicated part of any painting. "I find it extremely difficult to ever call a painting complete. But if you view my painting and find yourself there leaned against a palm on the shore while your mind authors a light rain or a curious butterfly taking flight, then I suppose a painting is never quite complete."
After his post-graduation hopes of working for the government in criminal justice came to a halt with a hiring freeze, fate stepped in when Kaz began working as a color stylist for a number of small animation studios in the Central Florida area. At that time, Disney had recently relocated their Florida-based animation studios to California which left behind many animators in Central Florida who chose not to uproot. As a result, Kaz found himself working "alongside quite possibly the most talented artists I've ever known, right there in those small studios. Their influence was invaluable." While working alongside other world-class artists, Kaz had the opportunity to work in many areas of film. In particular, the time spent in character creation and environments heavily influenced his painting style. Embracing his love for art, Kaz began teaching himself 3D animation and became a modeler and lighter. Eventually, he was hired as an art and scene director, being credited with a feature-length film shortly thereafter. While at the studios, he had the opportunity to work in many areas of film. In particular, the time he spent in character creation and environments heavily influenced his painting style. As his career continued to flourish with animation, Kaz had the opportunity to work in many areas of film production. In particular, the time spent in character creation and environments heavily influenced his painting style.
Kaz is one of only a few artists granted the unique opportunity and license to paint Disney films (he is a Legacy artist with Disney Fine Art). "I am one of the biggest fans of animation art you'll meet and being able to paint Disney is really an honor," he says. "I have had the privilege of working with many Disney artists and they inspired me to make the transition from animation to fine art. I want artists and fans alike to enjoy how I try to expand on the movies and add something more from my perspective." With each Disney painting he begins, Kaz sets the ultimate goal. "I want to have the story creators and animators of the movie see my work and give a thumbs-up. In no way do I wish to dishonor their masterpieces."
For a long time, Kaz balanced two careers—creating art for Electronic Arts (EA Tiburon in Maitland, Florida) for half the year and painting professionally during the other half. As a character artist for Electronic Arts (EA Sports Tiburon), one of the leading sports entertainment brands in the world, with top-selling video game franchises, he has created and fine-tuned a multitude of elements that all contribute to photo-real human likenesses in the game, including the faces of gridiron legends Brett Farve, Tom Brady, Champ Bailey, Eli Manning, and Donovan McNabb along with many other marquee players in games such as Madden NFL football and NCAA® Football. For NCAA, he worked on the uniforms and mascots for many other college teams, totaling around 180 unique sets with complete authenticity right down to the stitching. For both games, he created the arm and leg skin and its movement for team players, a result that proved worthy enough of becoming the standard for other EA games, too.
Kaz has held many jobs—candy maker, movie projectionist, bike repairman and bar back—but by far, he says, this the happiest he's ever been is being an artist. He admits that, ironically enough, the economy ultimately led to his serious pursuit of a career in painting. After being laid off from an animation studio shortly before its close, he took a short break to reflect on where he was in his life and career and where he wanted to be. When his last contract ended with EA, Kaz took a leap of faith and began painting full time. When buyers became fans and then collectors, he began to believe his leap of faith was justified.
"My inspiration comes from so many different places," he said. "From sunsets to vacations to films to conversations I overhear to simply walking around my neighborhood and noticing my environment... regardless, the inspiration for most of my paintings comes from actual experiences that I try to romanticize." When discussing his creative process, Kaz shares the source of his motivation, "I suppose a lot of my inspiration or drive comes from seeing reactions to my art. Basically, I just want my viewers to smile when they look at one of my paintings. So, in that regard, I suppose a lot of my inspiration or drive comes from seeing reactions to my art. My paintings are not 'thinkers' in the sense of having a hidden meaning that needs to be interpreted. With my artwork, what you see is what you get. If it's a frog on a surfboard, then it's a frog on a surfboard. I want to set a scene and let the viewer's imagination tell the story. You can build a back story about how the frog got there (which I encourage and love to hear about), but the frog on a surfboard does not represent any profound message about the meaning of life." It's no wonder why his art is such a fan favorite.