I’d be willing to bet that most of you know Dennis Larkins’ work and don’t even know it. Despite his expansive, 40-year-plus art career as a 3D painter and being one of the major players in LA’s Lowbrow movement in the ’80s and ’90s, Larkins is probably best known for his rock art, having created some of the Grateful Dead’s most famous gig posters for their now legendary stints at the Warfield in San Fran and NYC’s Radio City Music Hall in October 1980.
Like many artists, Larkins was well accustomed to having parallel careers, working as a scenic artist, set designer and rock n’ roll art director, while still actively pursuing his own artistic exploits. In the late ’80s, he went from Dead artist to Disney Imagineer, designing exhibits and attractions for Disneyland and Disney World.
But then there was the other side of Larkins’ work: the sci-fi nerdery, the dark humor, the sculpted dimensional relief … this is where it gets particularly interesting, at least from a designer toy standpoint.
Let me put it this way: the whole premise behind the toy movement was to redefine the canvas; to take characters from a 2 dimensional world and reimagine them in 3D. To make them tangible, ‘real’, and in a form that is more interactive for the collector. Well, Larkins had a similar idea about 30 years prior, but did it without abandoning the canvas. Instead, he started building upon it. Using foam, rubber and various plastics, Larkins pioneered a whole new chapter of conceptual realism. By applying a combination of low- and high-relief sculpture right onto the canvas, he’s able to create the illusion of an entire scene popping out at us. Some paintings have many layers, some only a few, but even his ‘deepest’, most complex pieces never exceed five inches. This was entirely new to the art scene in the 70s and transformed the canvas’ expressivity.
I recently caught up with Larkins to discuss his work, his plans with Stranger Factory and his move back to Santa Fe, NM, from LA after a 20 year absence.