Smile Politely

An interview with local creative pro Ralph Roether

Graphic designer by day. Artist by night. And occasional rock star on the weekends. That’s Ralph Roether III—Renaissance Man. Ralph dabbles in a multitude of art forms and entertainment zones, for fun and for profit. To learn a bit more about the man behind his various personas, we asks Ralph to delve into some of the things that turn him on…

My first introduction to Ralph Roether was in the form of a YouTube video of his 2012 PechaKucha presentation as his manic alter ego, “Fireplug,” a professional wrestler wannabe. My next introduction to Ralph was through his artwork online at which was bold, colorful, and seemingly inundated with female breasts.

Meeting him in person couldn’t be anything less than fascinating. And fascinating it was. While his wrestling moniker is a reference to his tenaciousness and his height, after our conversation I think that “Fireball” would be a more apt name and descriptor. According to the Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions, a fireball is “an energetic and ambitious person; a go-getter.” And that is Ralph Roether. Definitively.

Ralph, who will be speaking at Parkland College later this month as part of the Meet the Pros lecture series sponsored by Parkland, the Champaign-Urbana Design Organization (CUDO), and 40 North, provided some insights into his background, his 15+-year career as a graphic designer at Horizon Hobby, and his overwhelming desire to entertain.

Smile Politely: Give our readers an idea of what you plan to talk about during your Meet the Pros presentation.

Ralph Roether: I basically want to talk about how art saved my life. It sounds a little dramatic, but when I look back over my life, if it wasn’t for the combination of my love of art and the people in my life who recognized and encouraged my talents, I wouldn’t be where I am. I think everyone can look back at pivotal people and decisions in their life and realize how changed their life would be if someone had treated them differently or if they chose another direction.

SP: How would you describe your design style?

Roether: If I’m not following a style guide on a project or if it is just my own personal design work, I would start with “organized chaos.” I’m not the best in describing my style but fellow designers often say I have a specific look when it comes to graphic design. When it comes to everything else, I call it “Rated Ralph.”

SP: Tell me about the Keylocks…

Roether: The Keylocks is the third band I have been involved in. I started the group with Howard Berg, one of my coworkers, in 2007. We were Popgun5 then. Howard and I reformed the band a couple years back and renamed it the Keylocks. The band consists of me on vocals, Howard on guitar, Eric Strubinger on guitar, Eric Wong on bass and Howard’s son Alex on the drums. It is basically a fun rock band that does mostly originals. Howard and I have written most of the basics of the songs. But since we have become the Keylocks, all the band members have started to get involved and hopefully this will help us evolve and get better. Soon we will be putting out our first album called Anxiety and Innuendo. We recorded at Pogo Studios over this past summer, and hope to do a CD release party in the next month or so. I’m not unrealistic about the band—it serves as another outlet for me to explore the art of performance and show, while learning how to actually write, record and produce songs.

SP: Tell me about Fireplug…

Roether: Fireplug is the pro wrestling name and persona I created for myself quite some time ago. I remember a wrestling announcer always calling short stocky guys tenacious fireplugs. I figured if I ever became a wrestler that name would be perfect for me.

SP: Can’t avoid it, so let’s talk about them… breasts.

Roether: This could take some time. I like them, they turn me on, and they inspire me. Put it this way, if you are a heterosexual male, you just can’t avoid the instinct to notice them, be turned on by them, be amazed by them, desire them, stare at them, love them. Men can’t help it… breasts can be really beautiful. Heck, even woman can’t help it sometimes. I do believe it is an animal instinct really. Most men just won’t admit it as much as they would like to, to women. I think I’m just honest about it and I think women should be offended that American society is more disturbed by a woman’s nipples than all the brutal violence that is shown on television and in the media. This is just my opinion and viewpoint.

SP: It seems like you’ve done just about everything—graphic design, fine art and illustration, rock band, DJ-ing at WEFT, stand-up comedy, plays, film production. The big question now is, what do you want to be when you grow up?

Roether: A guy who owns a building that houses multiple art studio spaces, a music studio space, a film studio space, a performance stage, etc. Then I would rent those spaces to local artists and entertainers to practice and hone their craft. Maybe something like a modern day Studio 54 without all the drugs and just the art and sex. Of course, we would have kickass art shows there.

While waiting for Ralph Roether’s fantasy version of Studio 54 to open, you can hear more of his unique perspectives on art and life at Parkland College on Wednesday, November 20th at 12 p.m. Ralph’s presentation is the third event of the 2013-14 Meet the Pros, a creative lecture series presented by Fine and Applied Arts at Parkland College, and sponsored by CUDO and 40 North 88 West. This free lecture series is open to the public and features designers, photographers, illustrators, and other commercial artists in our local creative community.

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