Double Tap: @sam.rolfes
"I'm not interested in hollow shock value, or trying to piss people off"
Sam Rolfes is an artist, designer and animator living between Chicago and New York. He most recently created the music video for “Distrust,” a Lunice collaboration with Denzel Curry. Rolfes’ work is otherworldly, almost as if it arrived here from another dimension. Utillizing elements that are both familiar and completely alien, he is among a very small group of artists utilizing 3D software in a way that’s far removed from the slick and polished visuals most of us have become accustomed to with the technology. Rolfes has also worked closely with Mykki Blanco, as well as the luxury brands Versace, Dior, and Louis Vuitton.
If you don’t already follow Rolfes on Instagram do yourselves a favor and get familiar, and read our interview with him to learn more about the tradeoffs that come with working in fashion and why rap fans are freaked out by him.
Most artists who work in digital have a very clean aesthetic, you seem to be throwing all of that out the window.
It’s partially a defiance of formalism, or fetishization of the process. Everything these days is a tech demo, which is the result of a number of different forces. It’s cool, and because it’s novelty-based it gets the best response.
How did you link up with Denzel Curry and Lunice?
That was through Lucky Me. Often with these music videos, the label hits you up and they’re like, “Hey man, good to see you again.” This time they were like, “We’re tight on time, we’ve got a week to do it.” I was just like, “Let’s make it happen.” So we put the actual shoot together within like a week, it was super super rushed. They are the best label I’ve worked with so far in terms of them supporting me. I’ve never asked for more time on a project before and this time I said, “It’s not there yet, and this deserves better and it’s important.” They sent me several iterations [of the track] and I had to tell them “This has to be the final version, I’m choreographing to this. If it changes, it’s gonna be a problem.”
Did you come to the shoot with a bag full of gear?
We just got this sweet motion capture that this company Shadow Motion sponsored us for. For this set up we’re tracking both the camera and its relation to the space using a kind of a VR setup, just as a recording thing, and then we’ve got Kinects running motion tracking on the dancer, Aaron Ricks. Then I had him hold trackers as well, so we had an additional way to track his hands.
I’d been playing with fabric simulations for some of the fashion stuff. I started kind of thinking of the material, this kind of like “net-scum.” There’s this weird caustic danger tied to a lot of that stuff, and I was trying to capture that. And then using a dancer to drive all that rather than having a bunch of abstract stuff being torn apart, or blown up, it’s way more suiting to have a person involved in the set up. It was an intentional choice on my part with this video that our dancer Aaron Ricks comes from the LQBTQ community, and we shot it at the Spectrum, a wild queer ballroom in Queens. He’s the one interacting with the space and being choked and enveloped by this kind of wretched imagery.
What was it like to work with Versace?
Working with any corporation, especially the big ones is gonna be tricky because they’re gonna be conservative. That also dictates who my clients are most of the time. I make my income off of experimental weirdo art shit. That is 100 percent my income. I don’t really take random commercial gigs. Mine is all just weird shit, which is cool, but incredibly stressful. Point being, Versace is a large corporation. They have a very set style. They have a very set idea of what a woman should look like, what a man should look like. Not just that, but they’re a company in flux as are many fashion companies.
I was not dealing directly with them, but with the creative director Luca Finotti, who has a talented studio of his own. He wanted to bring in a bunch of digital artists to basically do this one-off social campaign for them. The main thing was an exposure thing, which is normally the cliché thing like, “Oh god, you’re doing it for exposure.” Most of the time it’s pretty corny but this one seemed fun and worthwhile, and we had a contract that stated specifically we were getting tagged.
They’re used to a certain amount of control, so it went through a number of different iterations. and the thing that came out was nothing like what we had actually finalized two months ago. We started this four months ago. My brother and I had been working on it and were totally happy with it, but that’s just kind of how these things pan out. You send it in, then the campaign changes, and then you gotta change it again. It’s a little riskier when you’re not given a script, just like monetary compensation, so it’s a little higher stress.
It’s crazy to see artists working so closely with fashion.
It’s become a good client base, because, for one, they promote it properly. Art groups, any kind of art group, generally does not promote properly. They pay something generous, if you luck out. [Fashion brands are] interested in novelty and being captivating and impactful, which is, to an extent, my value, my priority. It lines up to a certain extent. It’s only satisfying in certain ways. I like putting on that mask and working within that kind of format, but I don’t think it would ever replace music or performance or stuff like that.
What’s most important to you as an artist?
It’s something that’s still developing for me. What is most essentially important for me is that it’s impactful in some sort of meaningful way, whether or not that be negative. One reason I’ve enjoyed rap jobs, is cause I came up on underground hip hop and turntablism. I’ve gone more towards rap and trap, but something about the fanbase really fucking hates my work. It’s not that they hate it, it’s just that they’re freaked out by it.
I’m not interested in hollow shock value, or trying to piss people off, but I like having something effecting that lasts. The longevity of the work itself is something that’s important to me.
In terms of what’s important, I guess it’s about taking all this stuff and taking all this expertise and getting yourself to this very sublime kind of heightened state. Whether you’re scratching or freestyling or whatever, there’s this kind of like improvisational pure place where you can really work out these very impactful performances. That’s another reason I do so much of this stuff live.
I wanna be in the moment, and hit all these things, and then try and come up with a compelling message and not get bogged down by the technology. The technology is just a tool at the end of the day, and a way for us to tell these things. We are limiting ourselves if we just rely on the big eye candy or just novelty for it’s own sake.