"Robot Artist" and Hollywood Animation Pro Dave Pressler Mounts Career Retrospective

Courtesy of Dave Pressler
Dave Pressler

The Emmy-nominated co-creator of Nickelodeon's 'Robot and Monster,' whose works have been collected by J.J. Abrams and Scarlett Johansson, looks back on 20 years with an exhibition at MOAH in Lancaster, California.

Artist Dave Pressler makes robots, and you can, too. That’s the idea behind his new show, Idea to Object — opening Saturday and on view through Sept. 30 — at the Lancaster Museum of Art and History (MOAH) in the desert suburb 60 miles north of Los Angeles. For those who don’t know Pressler, the artist and art director — who has worked on projects for DreamWorks Animation and other Hollywood outlets — is commonly considered the most prolific "robot artist" in the world, with his work collected by such stars as J.J. Abrams and Scarlett Johansson.

"If somebody sees a piece of my art and it makes them laugh or it makes them feel something, when somebody is motivated enough to purchase that piece of art to put it in their homes, I think that's cool cause you’ve sparked some emotion in them. And that’s why I say it's more a commerce of feeling," Pressler says of selling his work. At an event dedicated to his company, Bad Robot, at Gallery 1988, Abrams purchased a sculpture of robots in a criminal lineup. Before that, Johansson bought two figurines at Munky King gallery when it was still in L.A.'s Chinatown.

Those works are typical of what can be found in the new show, which features pen, ink and pencil drawings, acrylic paintings, resin sculptures, limited edition sculptures, toys and other items normally found in specialty galleries. With the retrospective of his 20-year career and an accompanying book Idea to Object: The Art of Dave Pressler by esteemed art critic Shana Nys Dambrot, the self-trained Pressler aims to demystify the process of art making. "If someone is interested in getting into the profession, hopefully it will be a little inspiration that if you put the work in and put the time in and just keep doing it, you can, in some form, express yourself," he says, slyly adding, "Whether you'll be employed or not, I don’t know."

Pressler arrived in Los Angeles in his early twenties when he performed in black box and improv theater, occasionally appearing in small parts in indie films and on TV. In the 1990s, he made a dramatic career shift into character and production design, watching and learning from others, until his debut as art director on the Jim Henson Company's B.R.A.T.S. of the Lost Nebula. Discover Kids' The Save-Ums was next, and Team Smithereen for Disney XD came after that, followed by his breakout, Robot and Monster, a 2013 Daytime Emmy nominee that he co-created with Joshua Sternin and J.R. Ventimilia about a pair of mismatched best friends.

More recently, Pressler was art director on DreamWorks Animation's TV series The Boss Baby: Back in Business, and before that he created the company's stop-motion series, How to Do Everything! With Garrick and Marvin, the set of which will be included in Idea to Object. Part of the exhibition will be Pressler himself, who is installing his studio in the middle of the main gallery and will intermittently work there.

Married to producer Lisa Henson, Pressler nevertheless refers to himself as a "blue collar" artist. "It was harder for me to get into the business because I didn’t have the training at first," he explains. "I'm not good at copying someone else's style, which usually, when you work in animation, you're doing that for a while as a storyboard artist or character designer. So it was motivating me to get better on my technique so I could get good enough to hire, and also I should work on my own style, too. I did stick with trying to come up with original ideas and original shapes and silhouettes, just so when people look at it they’ll think it looks like one of your characters. I want somebody someday to go, 'I want a Dave Pressler-type thing.'"

Idea to Object is part of MOAH's larger exhibit, The Robot Show, featuring works by Karen Hochman Brown, Jeff Soto, Patrick McGilligan and Robert Nelson, as well as site specific installations by Alexander Kritselis, Cristopher Cichocki and Chenhung Chen.