Animator Rodney Lambright II Explores the Concept of “Unwanted Sympathy”

Illustrator Begins New Residency While Working on Art Exhibition

When Rodney Lambright II produces an animation or comic, he wants viewers to feel invested in the characters. Lambright is a storyteller, illustrator, writer and animator who searches for innovative means to immerse audiences.

Credit: L. Malik Anderson

“I want to explore this idea of imagination and how opening up a book opens up a new world,” he said.

Lambright will stride into the New Year as the Bubbler Artist-in-Residence at Madison Public Library, the theme is Unwanted Sympathy. Unwanted Sympathy is an exhibition he is currently working on which will investigate the psychological traumas embedded within our unconscious minds.

Originally from Waukegan, IL, Lambright and his family moved to Racine, WI around the seventh grade. In Illinois, the young artist met his childhood best friend and lived around extended relatives but he spent his formative years in Wisconsin attending Case High School. Lambright was always an artist, or a doodler at least, drawing comics and cartoon characters around 12 or 13 but never took art seriously until senior year of high school.

“I think I’m interested in staying in the realm of Hip Hop and cartoons but it’s interesting where it can go,” he said.

After attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a full-tuition scholarship through the Pre-College Enrichment Opportunity Program for Learning Excellence (PEOPLE),majored in both Art and Communication Arts (TV, Radio, and Film), Lambright secured an internship at Wisconsin Public Television (WPT) which later transformed into a full-time position as a producer and animator. He now lives on Madison’s West Side with his girlfriend Mischa Cole who continues to encourage him to share his art alongside his loving family.

“My biggest thing next year is I want to a do a big gallery show, a traveling art show,” he said.

On a normal day, you might see a regular guy walking on the sidewalk wearing a hoodie wearing a skull cap or snapback depending on the season. In fact, many student residents who lived in Witte Residence Hall at UW-Madison from 2015-2016 remember him this way, however, Lambright is a talented artist who keeps himself busy and is always looking for unique opportunities and ways for people to feel connected with his work.

“It’s interesting where my career is going,”  Lambright said.

Credit: L. Malik Anderson

Most notably, people will recognize his original comic, Beakniks which he released in 2016 but he’s worked on Hip Hop U, a documentary based on UW-Madison’s First Wave Hip Hop program and on an original animation Something About A Flower which both aired on public television. In addition to those credits, Lambright worked on several animated shorts, documentaries, and more recently an interactive video game for fourth graders called Jo Wilder and the Capitol Case.

“I’ve also been doing a lot of single covers and album mixtape covers,” he said.

Lambright describes himself as a self-taught artist. He developed his skills through experimentation in his craft. Lambright is definitely a mogul in his own right, however, he never imagined himself creating art for a gallery space.

“The art gallery felt like a space that I wasn’t welcomed in,” he said. “I never really fit that mold.”

Lambright, who is both a visual artist and graphic designer, explained he never saw himself ever being apart of the contemporary art world before. He enjoyed drawing comics and cartoon characters which did not seem like it belonged in a gallery setting, however, after witnessing the success of artists like KAWS, Doug cartoonist and a renown toymaker, Lambright felt inspired to explore new avenues in his own career.

“I think I’m at the point in my career where I want my artwork to get weirder and try to illustrate things that aren’t in the world,” Lambright said.

He is interested in challenging himself to work in new mediums and do things he has never done before. Lambright cited Pablo Picasso as his influence for this artistic endeavor. While Lambright has never really liked avant-garde art as much as he liked kitsch art, he plans to enter in a marriage between the two.

“The residency was about I’m going to take my ideas and now I’m going to do the work,” Lambright said.

Rodney Lambright II discussing details for his two-month residency with Bubbler Program Assistant Carlee Latimer.

During his residency, he will focus on exploring various stimuli to help young artists develop unique stories within the mediums of comics and animation. Lambright plans on doing this by exposing them surreal cartoons and anime, later breaking down the different elements involved in making them.

“One thing that I’m planning on doing is that I’m planning screening sessions, film sessions,” he said.

While working as a resident for the Bubbler, Lambright will also focus on producing his own artwork for his upcoming exhibition. This long-term project will be embedded in surrealism and how psychological trauma affects the unconscious mind.

“The whole point of my work is seeing life through different perceptions. It’s been really exciting to dive deeper into the work I’m trying to create,” he said.

Lambright said his work for Unwanted Sympathy will investigate the realities we create to cope with pain, the manner in which we express emotion, and the ways in which we see through our own perception. In other words, he plans on exploring the different worlds people can create for themselves through characters audience can empathize with.

“I wasn’t always a big fan of reading and now it’s coming full circle,” Lambright said about his residency at the library.

Unfortunately, he will have to slow down on Beatniks for a while until after he finishes working on his exhibition, however, he said the exhibition will include storytelling. Lambright said Beatniks will return after the show.

“I went super heavy into doing this graphic novel but this art show came up and I decided the art show comes first,” he said.

For 2019, Lambright will base his art on Unwanted Sympathy, appreciated and unappreciated. He will dedicate his time to exploring the complexities of human emotions.

”Everyone is going through something and everyone has that thing but that doesn’t mean you have to pity them,” Lambright said. “Or on the other hand, everyone is going through something so how do you deal with that?”