Ace, May 1989
Kentucky Artist Rodney Hatfield (ArtSnake) appears in new movie, Next of Kin
BY MELISSA LAMB
Blackberry Creek, Kentucky is the birthplace of actor, musician and painter Rodney Hatfield. It reveals more than his rural
upbringing; it is the wellspring of creativity which feeds his art in each and every form.
As an actor, growing up a Hatfield in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky lends legitimacy to his first role in an upcoming movie, Next of Kin, as one in a clan of mountaineers. The bluesy whines drifting from his harmonica during sets with the
Metropolitan Blues All-Stars are only descendants of the bluegrass/country sounds indigenous to his home. And images of his birthplace, transformed with literal eyes, become a thick, molten blackberry stream — an apt comparison to the vivid hues of his unmistakably modern paintings.
“I have a lot of heroes: Picasso, Chagall, Matisse, Miro,” he said. “The list is endless. I first came across their works in books and when I finally made it to a museum, there’s just nothing like it. You can see the runs, the drips, the spatters.”
His mother and a few of his aunts painted, but other than musing over modern masters and inquisitive experiments as a child, Hatfield claims no formal training. “I started drawing and painting as a child and I just didn’t stop.”
Lexington is now his home and locally he has shown his work at ArtsPlace, Alfalfa, and most recently at Caper’s restaurant. You may be familiar with Hatfield’s work, but not know his name. Hatfield, the painter, is known as ArtSnake.
“The name is a play on words,” he said. “Art is for art’s sake. I felt a need to separate the musician from the painter. Besides, I like having another name.”
Although painting has been a lifelong fascination, ArtSnake has only officially promoted his work since 1985. He has since shown and sold his work in Chicago and San Francisco.
“I used to trade my paintings for pieces to add to my own collection,” he said. Impressively, his own collection includes a Picasso vase.
The identity of ArtSnake developed to distinguish the painter from his seven-year musicial affiliation with the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars. He shares vocals, plays harmonica, and is one of the band’s founding members, along with Frank Schaap and Nick Stump.
“I enjoy painting and playing for different reasons,” he added. “When things are just right, they strike a natural balance.
They even generate and feed each other.
“When the band is on the road, I take my painting supplies with me,” he said. “I’ve done some of my own personal favorites in hotel rooms.”
“Going out on the road is a nice release and refuge,” he said.
“I go stale if I sit in a studio day after day. Ordinarily, I might never get out of the house, but music forces me out into situations and interactions with people, which feeds the art.”
The success of the band has increased with year-round touring, although they maintain a faithful following in Lexington with regular appearances at MainStreets, a downtown restaurant and bar. A few weeks ago, the band made its third appearance on National Public Radio’s Mountain Stage program.
“It’s great fun and it’s a great show,” he said, “but we were billed as a new sound from Mexico, Los Focas Ristas! We joked about it all week.”
In addition to inspiring each other, the two identities often collaborate. ArtSnake has designed both album covers for Hatfield’s band. “The albums are sold all over the country and now, even in Europe. In a weird way, my art is distributed to a mass audience.”
An appearance on KET’s Lonesome Pine series last year catapulted Hatfield into the acting arena. The casting director for Next of Kin, with Patrick Swayze and Liam Neeson (which is scheduled for release next summer) was scouting for shooting locations in Kentucky, and spoke with Appalshop in Whitesburg, a multimedia production company which records for the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars.
“The casting director saw the Lonesome Pine videotape and I met her at Bluegrass Airport for about five minutes. On the strength of that, I got the part,” Hatfield said.
“People are killing themselves in Los Angeles and New York to get roles, and here I am sitting in Kentucky, and I get a speaking movie role.
Part of the movie was shot in Chicago, which gave Hatfield a chance to hold a showing of his work.
“The gallery I had shown in before was undergoing renovation, so we held it in one of the actor’s penthouse apartments, and it was great. Neeson even bought a few of my paintings.”
“I just returned home from San Francisco where I was on vacation, and it was really nice…I have considered a bigger move, but I have mixed feelings,” he said. “There is a nagging challenge that still exists, but I like coming home to a slower pace too.”
But home in Lexington doesn’t necessarily mean an organized arts community.
“I never felt part of an organized arts community,” he said. “I think I am very much a part of a community of people who love and appreciate different kinds of art, but I don’t think they’re organized.”
Although he believes arts organizations are important, he doubts whether the benefits filter down to him.
“Artists always complain about the state of things, but I think it is our job to do something,” he said. “Showing in alternative spaces is one way to open up the established community. ArtSnake has shown in restaurants locally, and a showing at Deja Vu, a clothing boutique, is planned.
Asked to chart the growth of his work, to make comparisons, he said, “I don’t see progress in art. You respond to different influences, but my former work is as strong as what I’m doing now. My work is constantly changing and evolving.”
“I’ve had heated discussions over whether art is emotive or cerebral, and all I know is that mine is constantly changing.”
For now, he’ll continue to create paintings, characters, and bluesy melodies near his home.
“Inspiration is the unknown factor,” he said. “I try to take one woman’s advice, which was, ‘when it just won’t come, go dancing.’ Unfortunately, I keep on trying, even when I should go dancing.'”
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