At a towering 6 feet 4, artist Bill Rude is a figure somewhat akin to the grotesque and menacing characters which populate his extraordinary work. A full-time effects, graphics and animation professional in film and television, Rude leads a shadowy Jekyll & Hyde double life, dividing his time between mainstream show business and creating his deliciously lurid horror-sci-fi-monster-themed artwork.
Rude, whose Retro Horror Art Show will have its opening reception at Magnolia Park’s 8 Ball on Saturday, Sept. 14, has a definite knack for the sinister.
“We are going to have quite a few pieces at 8 Ball, with several different series of work,” Rude said. “Some are posters, there’s a series of shadowboxes of pulp and horror magazine covers, and also some pen and ink drawings of horrific fairy tales, I have Little Miss Moffett, Hansel and Gretel. A lot of it spills over from my professional design work for movies and TV, where you need to create all kinds of renderings. So there are many different mediums, but a lot of my work is about the accuracy of the designs.”
Many of his pieces are presented as posters for never-made movies and magazines, yet somehow each of these spring, with fully imagined exposition and denouement, from within Rude’s own imagination. “They just present themselves,” he said. “I venture into the realm of B Movie Horror, but it’s always based on a narrative line that comes from me personally.”
With a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Film and Digital media from the prestigious Minneapolis College of Art & Design, most of Rude’s formal training was aimed at commercial application, yet his penchant for the gruesome, long simmering within his psyche, had to come out.
“I taught myself to paint about four years ago, I had never done it before, but I just had this idea to do a fame movie poster and it just went from there,” he said. “It’s always about expressing a story and they tend to intertwine together. One inspires the next, so it really is a false history, a medium that never existed but it does blur the lines between reality and art.”
It’s an impressive melding, particularly his large, multimedia shadowboxes, where printed title graphics (“The Sinister Serpents of Saturn VI — Trapped in a Mysterious World’s Slithering Landscape of Danger & Adventure”) and multiplanar images (of a flying saucer being menaced by giant slimy, Octopus-like tentacles) create a wild, otherworldly depth.
His paintings, with such subjects as “Zombie Greaser” to a portrait of the late, great TV horror hostess Vampira to a series of homages to the ghosts of Disney’s Haunted Mansion, are all rich, evocative examples of Rude’s spicy, tormented inner perspective. His work, executed with impressive technique and pop culture genre-appropriate sense of design, are collected under the banner of his loose, self-styled 7 Hells studio.
“I had the 7 Hells name back when I was in high school,” Rude said. “I originally wanted to use the name for a skateboard sticker company, but now technology and my own ability have caught up with me, and I realized it was what I personally wanted to express.”
Rude’s fixation on these dark, mythic creatures carries a universal appeal, and his combination of artistic technique, old school show biz exploitation and deft psychological manipulation elevates his work to an impressively macabre height. But his output is never depressing or overwrought; Rude maintains a seat-of-the-pants, suspenseful aura of anticipation, that self-imposed, open-minded, thrill-me-now desire we know as willing suspension of disbelief. Some may call it lowbrow, or childlike, but at its core, Rude’s work opens the doors of imagination.
“It’s funny. My notebooks today look the same as they did when I was I was a teenager,” Rude said. “I was always drawing monsters. I never had any artistic integrity!”