Rob is originally from Rosedale, in Queens, from a big Irish American family. Recently, his "Potato Life" series, which centers around a potato (named Potato), has been getting a lot of traction online.
Potato can be funny – destroying the city ala Godzilla, or appearing inconspicuously in an old school magazine ad – but he can also be serious, taking a stand against diabetes and epilepsy – two issues that are important to Rob. He also seems to have it in for carrots.
IrishCentral caught up with Rob and spoke to him about his ancestors, his art, his Black Irish motorcycle crew, and "Potato Life." You can check out his Instagram, Black Irish Rob, or visit his website here.
What’s your family’s story?
My family came over in 1847 to lower Manhattan. They were laborers and bar owners, like my great grandfather, Gager. My grandfather Tom was a longshore-man and a union boss who started his own weighing company in Brooklyn.
My father worked at his office in lower Manhattan, right where the first World Trade Center was built. My father is a veteran who worked at JFK Airport in Queens. He was the one who played the Irish music and told the stories and kept the heritage alive. He has five sons who all have a good dose of Irish pride! My dad says we're from County Wicklow, but there's not much family there anymore. Almost everyone came over to either NYC or California. I've been back to Ireland – it was the first time I heard my name said correctly.
What does the term “Black Irish” mean to you?
When I was a kid, I heard the term used by people in our church – the nuns were the ones I heard say Black Irish for the first time. My dad always took a lot of pride in his city roots, his moto, and what he always told us was hit first hit fast and get the f**k out of there. Being Black Irish to me means nobody is gonna give it to you, you gotta work hard and get it yourself.
How did you come up with the "Potato Life" idea?
"Potato Life" was something I came up with for an art show in Bushwick, Brooklyn. I have always drawn and when I was younger I was into graffiti. So as someone with a lot of Irish pride the potato was obvious. I use it in Irish themes but also in everyday stuff as well. My dad told me when I was 14 that no son of his was gonna be a starving artist. So I went and got my working papers. I have an older brother who is an incredible artist and he got into motorcycles so I followed his lead and got into bikes as well.
Does Potato have an agenda?
With "Potato Life" I like messing with stuff in the news, but specifically, the potato goes after epilepsy and diabetes. I have a 11 year old son who has both and my mother is a diabetic as well so it’s a personal agenda. The potato is a he just cause I am and I guess I would never assume to know how women see things.
How have people reacted?
I've gotten really good responses from people on Instagram and Facebook and I started an online store cause I'm getting a lot of people requesting my sticker and canvas work. It’s been great. I never saw myself as an artist, but when artists start calling you to do work with them I guess that changes. I’m definitely going to start doing New York Irish themed work as people seem to really like it.
I love that you ride with a motorcycle group called Black Irish! How did it form?
I started the Black Irish with a group of friends I’ve known since high school. It was always a drinking/fighting/being there for each other club more than the bike thing, but the bikes make everything more fun. We all had a common theme and we all had our families come to NYC during the 1840s and all celebrated our Irish heritage. The Black Irish Club has changed a lot over the years. Friends have come and friends have gone, but once we crack a beer together you're always Black Irish to me.
What’s next for you and Potato?
I'm going to do the potato for a while. I'm posting a drawing a day for a year. It’s a challenge and some can be kinda dark, but I guess that's just me.
I do not hate carrots; they're just the other thing you always find in a stew together and they both come out of the ground. I like drawing them. A friend said it’s not so much the drawing, it’s the concepts. I’d like to start a weekly comic strip with it and do more canvas work. The "Potato Life" is starting to take over and I don't mind.