Sink Your Teeth Into Robert Wallace's Parallel Universe
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
"I've always been inspired by many of the artists during the modernist era, especially ones that tried their hand at many different mediums. For example, Theo Van Doesburg, leader of De Stijl, was a painter, writer, poet, architect and graphic designer. A more contemporary influence would be Paper Rad and their colourful output across zines, animations, paintings, and installations." Given Working Not Working Member Robert Wallace's creative influences, it's no surprise that the London-based creator, better known as Parallel Teeth, works across such an extensive range of media, including music videos, commercials, festival identities, album artwork, installation projections, 360 videos, wall murals, gifs, and prints. It's all the more impressive that he manages to bring a recognizable style to all of his projects, which he discusses in our interview below. "Lately, I’ve been focusing on a few aesthetic ideas and trying to develop them further, rather than starting from scratch each time, especially in my illustration work. Overall though everything has a very graphic look, a playful tone and is very process-driven." We might add "mind-altering" to the mix; catch a glimpse of this incredibly tripped-out Mr Jukes music video and you'll know what we mean.
Tell us a bit about your creative background. Who is Rob and how did he get here?
I’ve been working under the alias Parallel Teeth since my university days while studying graphic design. Music was a big reason for me to study design in the beginning. I couldn’t play any instruments but was drawn to its visual aspect. Just before graduating I started doing a little animation and enjoyed creating short visual rhythms. After making a few personal projects I was lucky enough to get a job with Special Problems. They were a directing duo that created a lot of music videos amongst other things. After learning a lot from them I decided to focus on my own work. For the last six years, I’ve been working as a self-employed director, animator, and illustrator, moving between New Zealand and London, navigating the fun world of work visas.
How would you describe your creative style? Do you recognize a signature style that links your projects, or do you try to excuse yourself and approach each project as its own entity?
I'm always torn between having a recognisable style and not constricting myself to one. However, lately, I’ve been focusing on a few aesthetic ideas and trying to develop them further, rather than starting from scratch each time, especially in my illustration work. Overall though everything has a very graphic look, a playful tone and is very process-driven.
What do you see as the turning point in your creative development and career so far?
The first main one was working for Special Problems over two years. The directors Campbell Hooper and Joel Kefali were very influential in how they approached projects and their eagerness to experiment with new techniques. Amber Easby, their in-house producer, also taught me a lot. While budgeting and organising projects isn't always thrilling, they are great skills to have.
The second turning point was getting represented by Strange Beast a few years ago. With them, I’ve been able to get bigger projects and work with some incredibly talented people. Plus it's a friendly environment to be in.
What were some of the challenges in launching your creative career?
After going freelance, building up contacts and getting consistent work took some time. This wasn’t helped by immediately moving across the globe to London, a city I'd never been to before. I just emailed a lot of people and over time it started picking up some momentum.
Which of your projects are you proudest of and why?
At the moment it's probably the "I’m Easy" music video for Merk. It was just a really fun project for a great song. There wasn’t a storyboard; instead, the clip evolved naturally. The idea was to work quickly, capturing the happy-go-lucky sound of the track and not overthink things. It was also an interesting challenge to work out how to incorporate a live action element even though Merk and I were based in New Zealand and the United Kingdom respectively. Directing remotely isn’t always ideal, but it can be pretty funny.
What would be your dream project or job, or is it already on your resume?
I'd love to do more projects that mix live action and animation. It would be great to have a healthy budget to invest more time into handmade props, practical effects and stylised locations. Then working out interesting ways to integrate the animation to create a cohesive piece.
Who do you see as the best brands, agencies, or studios to work with in the UK?
Maybe I’m a little biased, but Strange Beast is great to work with. It's full of nice people who are pros at their jobs.
How would you define the London creative scene?
It's incredibly large and varied. It's nice being in a city with so many people, it means that niches can have their own scenes around them. There are so many talks, screenings, exhibitions and meetups happening all the time. It can feel a little overwhelming at times.
If not here, where would you most like to live?
I’d love to spend some serious time in New York and Tokyo, though at the same time I’m in need of some proper time in the wilderness.
Who are your biggest creative influences?
I've always been inspired by many of the artists during the modernist era, especially ones that tried their hand at many different mediums. For example, Theo Van Doesburg, leader of De Stijl, was a painter, writer, poet, architect and graphic designer. A more contemporary influence would be Paper Rad and their colourful output across zines, animations, paintings, and installations.
What scares you most about making creativity your career?
That the next job will be the last. Even after all of these years being self-employed that fear always creeps back every so often.
One book, one album, one movie, one show. Go.
Alfred Jarry – Exploits and Opinions of Dr. Faustroll, Pataphysician
John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Quentin Duplex – Wrong
Jack Amiel and Michael Begler – The Knick
What is your most treasured possession?
Probably my urn (it’s empty of course, haha). The intricate patterns are pleasing to look at, though I don’t plan on ever using it; too spooky.
What do you do when Not Working?
What’s the best advice you’ve ever heard or received that all creatives should hear?
"You should sleep more” - my mum
Who are some WNW members whose work you admire and why?
Ahhh, there are so many to choose from. Emily Macrae is one of my favourite graphic designers; considered concepts, strong layouts and a keen eye for stock. Julian Glander is the content king. Daniel Savage is always up to something new. Curtis Baigent, Dan Castro, Craig Black… the list goes on and on.
What’s next for you? What are you working on now?
I’m currently finishing up a few projects, then I'm taking some time off to work on a super-secret project. More about that later :):):)