As a child, lifelong artist Randall Smith used to wear out VHS copies of Star Wars from watching them repeatedly to draw what he saw in the films.
“I remember my mom throwing away my Return of the Jedi VHS because it just stopped playing,” Smith said.
Since then, Smith has made a name for himself in Orlando’s local art scene for his iconic robot paintings called “junkbots.”
His junkbots are displayed in the Mills 50 district on the Ten10 Brewing Company building and at his annual art show at Bart. The downtown bar, arcade and art gallery also displays Smith’s work year-round on its outside dumpster, which Smith painted as part of the Mills 50 dumpster project, an initiative to beautify the area.
“I’m known for the junkbot shows,” he said. “People are familiar with them. Maybe they don’t know me, but they know my robots.”
Though his junkbots usually don’t have names, Smith recently created two unique junkbots, named Apollo the Hero and Luna. He and his business partner, Drew Fin-Kelson, want to popularize Apollo and Luna into popular children’s characters like Snoopy or Spongebob Squarepants.
At first, Smith called the Apollo junkbot by a different name, Zero the Hero, and first painted the junkbot at a Superman-themed art show in a comic book store in 2013.
“For whatever reason, the first thing I could think of [painting] was a robot ... so instead of painting Superman, I painted a robot with a cape around his neck,” he said.
In 2014, Smith met his business partner, Fin-Kelson, who owns a T-shirt company and asked Smith for permission to print Zero onto a T-shirt. The two began meeting and talking about what Smith wanted to do with Zero the Hero. Smith told Fin-Kelson that he wanted to make a children’s book featuring the junkbot, and the idea expanded to creating him into a popular children’s character.
The name changed after Smith discovered that the name “Zero the Hero” was already taken, and around the same time, the idea for Luna came about when the duo decided to create a female robot so that the book and paintings can appeal to boys and girls.
Smith was lying in bed one night when he came up with the names and background stories for the junkbots.
“[Zero] could be [named] Apollo and the girl could be Luna,” Smith said. “Then I got this idea that they were both robots that a NASA-like company built and sent into space ... so it’s all related to the moon.”
While in space, Smith said that a programming malfunction caused Apollo and Luna to have child-like minds. He compared Apollo the Hero to a child playing pretend and tying a cape around his neck to become superhero. The more Apollo believes in himself, the more his powers work.
“There is this underlying theme of confidence,” Smith said. “[Apollo] is a little shy and Luna is super outgoing and she is the driving force behind it.”
Apollo and Luna are featured in a children’s book, coloring book and paintings that can be purchased at the Orlando Museum of Art gift shop, online and at Smith’s art shows. Smith and Fin-Kelson are still developing ideas and working with others to expand Apollo and Luna as children’s characters and as a brand. The two have discussed creating a YouTube page for cartoon shorts.
Before cranking out his iconic Junkbot paintings, the aspiring character creator worked as a sign artist for Publix drawing and designing signs for about 15 different stores. In 2007, Smith picked up a paintbrush and began painting without any formal training.
“Nobody really taught me how to do it,” he said. “I just got it.”
From 2008 to 2012, Smith displayed his artwork every Sunday at the Lake Eola Farmer’s Market where people started taking notice. He was also given a wall space to display his artwork by the owner of the old Blank Space Gallery, which was closed and converted into a 7-Eleven on Rosalind Avenue and Central Boulevard.
“This was before I did [junkbots] in shows, and I would paint them all the time,” Smith said.
Smith was given the wall space after gallery owner asked Smith to paint an old Coca-Cola vending machine to look like one of his iconic robots.
“I had a section of a wall where I used to put three or four junkbots ... and almost every weekend [the owner] would tell me to come bring another one,” Smith said. “People still know me by that vending machine.”
Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at EricG@CentralFloridaFuture.com.