Visual Artist Feature: Keith Rankin
Volume 033: Static In Motion was our dive into the world of vaporwave, a genre whose visuals are just as distinct as its music. We needed an expert in the field to place our volume in that universe, so we turned to Keith Rankin. Keith is a towering figure in the scene. He and his friend Seth Graham run Orange Milk Records, one of the most influential curators of vaporwave and underground electronic music. Keith does almost all the artwork for the label, as well as contributing art to other underground labels, so it's fair to say his art has helped shape the visual direction of the entire genre. If that weren't enough, Keith is also a musician in his own right, with projects like Giant Claw and Cream Juice garnering a following of their own. Read on to learn more about the man behind it all.
Keith grew up in Dayton, OH. As he tells Juxtapoz, "I was doing visual art since I can remember...if you can remember being that young almost everything you hear is mind-blowing and new. What I heard and saw on the radio or movies for example was pure stimulus and inspriation." But despite strong rock and harsh noise music scenes in Dayton, Keith found his musical community in online forums and peer to peer sharing networks, where he first discovered the wide world of electronic music.
In 2010, he started Orange Milk Records with Seth Graham to track the growth of the underground music he had grown to love. "People were fetishizing synths and 70's German electronic music and experimenting with more free composition. I think we wanted to be a part of that evolution at that moment, whatever it was to become," explains Keith to Dummy Mag. Keith contributing his art to the label became part practicality and part artistic philosophy. "Unless we want to hire outside artists for every release, which becomes really expensive, it makes sense to use my art. And I think if you repeatedly pair audio with visuals, they start to spawn a new merged identity, or natural connection points emerge." It's these connection points that give Orange Milk Records such a distinctive artistic style, even though the music and visuals on one release can be very distinct from another.
Album art for DARK WEB by Giant Claw, Keith Rankin's solo music project
Vaporwave builds its musical style by borrowing from a huge range of influences, and Keith's artwork is no different. He saves images he finds online in a giant digital folder, drawing inspiration from sources as diverse as surrealists such as Picasso and Joan Miró, Japanese air brush artists like Peter Sato, fantasy & sci-fi artists like Karel Thole and Frank Frazetta, and modern artists such as Robert Beatty and Nicole Ginelli. This digital curation adds more than a massive breadth of ideas - it made Keith realize that the computer screen destroys any sense of scale. "On the net, the Mona Lisa is presented on the same platform and scale as an animated GIF, a massive Matisse mural, or floating web browser...We're relating to art less and less through a horizon line, and more through an endless digital window. That thought can be both liberating and terrifying, depending on your perspective."
Indeed, much of Keith's art straddles those two extremes, as digital dreamscapes flip between bright color palettes and disembodied organs, melting faces and nostalgic video game images, sometimes all in the same piece. 3D rendered objects and Japanese typography make frequent appearances, as do images of classic "consumer luxury": Roman statues, marble tiled hallways, porcelain vases. Introspection is a common motif, as the subjects of his art are often gazing at reflections or walking through thresholds. His works offer more questions than answers, and it's up to the viewer whether they enjoy them as visual spectacles or choose to plumb endlessly through rabbit holes of hidden meanings and heady conclusions.
We could go on about Keith's work, but it feels more appropriate to direct you his proving ground, "the Internet", to make some connections of your own. Perhaps listening to the latest Giant Claw release or the expansive Orange Milk Records catalog will give you the context you need. Or maybe scrolling through Keith's art tumblr will inspire you in ways you couldn't imagine. Either way, you can expect much more from this multidisciplinary artist in the years to come.