ZINGCHAT: HAYLEY RICHARDSON'S STRANGE DREAM

Spread from "A Strange Dream" with Still from Mirror Animations (1956-1957) on left and Untitled (c. 1977) on right

 

Art historian and newly appointed Dikeou Collection Director Hayley Richardson's contribution to zing #24 "A Strange Dream" features the work of Harry Smith, a revered beat-era visual artist and experimental filmmaker, self-taught anthropologist, and explorer of esoteric knowledge. While Smith's life's work and interests were multi-faceted, from recording Kiowa peyote ceremonies to creating a Tarot deck for the Ordo Templi Orientis, to organizing an anthology of American folk music, his self-proclaimed primary role was that of a painter. Richardson's past research on Smith has directed her toward this less explored (and less preserved) yet primary aspect of his work. Pulling from the collection of New York's Anthology Film Archives, Richardson includes in her project four previously unpublished paintings and drawings among various stills from his more well-known films. "A Strange Dream" offers an entry point into the fascinating world of this cultural sage, while advocating for the primacy of his painting practice.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

You first discovered Harry Smith as an undergraduate student. Why has he stuck with you all this time, "making a racket in [your] brain ever since"?

It was a very formative time in my education, that last semester at University of New Mexico in particular. I was only taking three classes, one of which was a graduate seminar. I don’t recall how I even got into the class, but I was engrossed with the intimate, discussion-based format and how smart everyone was. At the end of the semester we presented our final projects and one girl did hers about occult and magical symbolism in the arts, and referenced this artist Harry Smith throughout her talk as a figure that was one of the last to truly understand, practice, and embed this knowledge in his work. She showed beautiful side-by-side images of alchemical Renaissance manuscripts with Harry’s abstract paintings and stills of his collage films and something just seemed to click for me, that this one artist was a conduit of sorts between the past and the future. As I progressed in my art history studies at University of Denver, I kept thinking about him and how everything he did was connected, his work in painting, drawing, film, music, spirituality, and anthropology, and it changed my way of thinking in a lot of ways. I started to see connections among the most seemingly unrelated things, which has had a tremendous impact on how I understand art and it makes many other things in my life so much more meaningful. I used the phrase “making a racket in my brain” because Harry had a bipolar personality and could be very manic/caustic, so I imagine him like this little gnome in my head getting into shit and stirring things up, reconfiguring my thought patterns.

 

This disparity in form is demonstrated in your project - works in different mediums stretch the boundaries of interconnectedness, but seem chosen for very specific reasons. Perhaps you could shed some light on the curatorial process - why did you choose the works that you did?

Harry had an incredible amount of artistic output, but sadly very little of it exists today. He destroyed or lost much of his art, and his landlords threw out most of it when he failed to pay rent while recording Kiowa peyote rituals in Anadarko, Oklahoma in 1964. This was an extremely distressful event in his life and marked a major downturn in his creative energy for about a decade. So part of the reason the images in my project seem disjointed is because so little is left of his artistic legacy. Some of his works exist in private collections; I am not sure how many. The rest of his paintings and drawings, of which there are about 50, as well as works on film, are housed at Anthology Film Archives in New York City. I was given a list of available digitized works from AFA and made my selections from there. I made a point of choosing works that had never been published, which are the four paintings. Although largely an "underground" figure, Harry was well known for his work as an experimental filmmaker, and the stills I chose are from his films that he was most recognized for, the main one being "Heaven and Earth Magic." So it's a mix of familiar imagery with some stuff that's never been widely distributed before.

 

I’m particularly interested in the drawing on the torn fragment of paper. Can you speak more about how his work relates to esoteric sources? Is he working within a system of his own construction, or is the work more related on an aesthetic level?

I love that drawing as well. I saw it at AFA and I think it is drawn on a napkin, which is demonstrative of Harry's compulsive urge to create utilizing whatever he had on hand. The drawing has a diagrammatic form, and diagrams played a major role in all of Harry's work. When he was a young boy he would attend Native American ceremonies in the Pacific Northwest and create diagrams to correspond to the songs and dances, later he would have synesthetic experiences at jazz clubs and drew diagrams to illustrate the music, and he created elaborate diagrams while organizing and directing his films.

Diagrams are also widely used in hermetic imagery, and this particular image is like a fusion of those sources with patterns from his imagination. Similar markings also appear in the first untitled painting in the project. There is a book that came out in 1948 called The Mirror of Magic, which is a compendium of magical arts put together by Surrealist artist Kurt Seligmann. Harry was an avid book collector and I am pretty certain that he possessed this book because he seems to have pulled a lot of visual inspiration from it. In The Mirror of Magic is an illustration of celestial scripture from Athanasius Kircher's "Oedipus Aegyptiacus" which is pretty much a hermetic alphabet composed of small circles connected with lines in various configurations. The connection between Harry's drawing and the scripture shown in The Mirror of Magic is pretty direct, in my opinion, with Harry's unique flourishes thrown in. Harry's most important works have potent esoteric references, most notably his Tree of Life in the Four Worlds, which is based off the Kabbalah Tree of Life, and the album art for his Anthology of American Folk Music, which is full of that stuff, particularly Robert Fludd's celestial monochord from 1616. His parents were Thelemites and his grandfather was a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar, and one of his earliest childhood memories was finding esoteric manuscripts in the attic of his house. He studied Kabbalah in New York under Rabbi Lionel Zirpin, was an ordained Gnostic bishop in the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica, was a prominent figure in the New York branch of Ordo Templi Orientis, and his friends referred to him as the Paracelsus of the Chelsea Hotel. Harry's engagement with the esoteric in his art goes beyond just aesthetics--he lived it.

 

Your title "A Strange Dream" is very apt for this selection. Does it derive from a specific source?

"A Strange Dream" is the name of Harry's very first film, which he created by painting directly on the film circa 1946-1948. He started making these films when he was first introduced to jazz and wanted to illustrate the music. This particular film was originally intended to go with the music to Dizzy Gillespie's "Manteca," which he also made a painting after but no longer exists. If you play the song and video at the same time they synch really well. I think it's a good title to introduce the project, as it is pretty strange and dreamy, and seems an appropriate description for Harry's life in general.

 

Have you done any other work/projects involving Harry Smith?

I wrote my master’s thesis about Harry’s paintings. There is a lot of information out there about his work in film and music, and people would reference his paintings with admiration but no real academic research had been applied to them. He even said his “primary occupation” was as a painter, so it seemed like a necessary area to investigate further.

 

Interesting that he would say his primary occupation was painting, especially since he seemed to have destroyed many of his own paintings and was involved in so many other fields. Do you have any further insight onto why he would consider himself as such?

It was in a 1965 interview with film historian P. Adams Sitney when Harry said, "I was mainly a painter. The films are minor accessories to my paintings; it just happened that I had my films with me when everything else was destroyed. My paintings were infinitely better than my films because much more time was spent on them." (http://www.ubu.com/sound/smith_h.html)

Yes, he did destroy, give away, or abandon some paintings, but it was in 1964 that his landlords trashed everything, except the films which he had with him or had already given to Jonas Mekas at Anthology or Allen Ginsberg for safe keeping. He went to the Fresh Kills landfill everyday to look for them. Harry started painting at a young age; he painted directly on film, and made paintings to map out the complex projection schemes for his films. Painting was the generative activity for his creative pursuits in other media.

 

Any plans for future Harry Smith curatorial projects?

I’d like to get my research published somewhere, just haven’t had the time to do that. It would also be a real treat to present a screening of his films with a live jazz band to provide the soundtrack. Perhaps someday at Dikeou Collection . . .

 

Speaking of which, you recently took over as Director of the Dikeou Collection. What can we expect there moving forward?

I started as an intern at Dikeou Collection in 2011 and am honored to be the new Director. I have learned so much and seen the collection grow immensely over the years. My main priority is maintaining the upward momentum with programming, community engagement, and exhibitions. Nothing has been formally announced yet so I won't say too much, but there are some big projects in the works for 2016 and 2017. The collection has been open to the public for 13 years, and with the current projects we have on the table I see that we're transitioning from a period of establishment and growth into building a real legacy, so I am hoping to introduce some new concepts that can be carried on long-term.

 

 

ZINGCHAT: HOW SIMON BILL SCHALL BE ARMYED

Simon Bill seated in front of his signature oval paintings. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

English painter Simon Bill has a reputation as an “artist’s artist.” His work, which consists almost exclusively of large oval paintings on MDF board, is collected by a loyal base of fellow British artists who see the depth of consciousness and humor embedded within their often grimy surfaces composed of corn kernels, leaves, and floor varnish. The ovals are like portals into the infinite curiosity and complexity of Bill’s mind in which he pushes himself to make each one completely unlike any other that he made before. These works spring from a psychological interest in visual perception, a field he has studied in depth academically.

In zingmagazine 24, Bill flexes his skills as a writer with a short-story titled “How a Man Schall Be Armyed” about an artist who invests a good deal of money on a custom suit of armor and wears for the first time to a private viewing at a gallery. Bill’s writing integrates such an illogical scenario with real life situations and outcomes so seamlessly that it seems like he wrote this story based off personal experience. I even had to double-check to confirm that it was fiction. Bill’s psychological understanding of perception comes through in his writing and visual art, giving him the ability to convince his reader/viewer of the veracity behind the most outlandish of his creations.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

Your project in zingmagazine 24 is a fictional short story that is hilarious and absurd yet written in a very believable manner. The accompanying images are also funny in this context but relevant and interesting for their obscure historical value. Can you share some footnotes to this story and how you came up with it? Did the pictures inspire the text in some way?

I attached those pictures to the text especially for this ZING publication of it (it has been published once before, years ago, in an anthology called FROZEN TEARS 2003 - pub. Article Press, ed. John Russell). But they are of course connected. The suit of armour described in the story is roughly contemporaneous with the pictures. They come from one of the German ‘fechtbucher’ (fight books) of the mid 15th century – basically martial arts manuals. And I chose them because they are so odd. They show a judicial duel between a man and a woman. The loser gets put to death, or they do if they haven’t been killed already in the fight.

This short story was my first real go at writing fiction. What gave me the idea was an event at which a battle from the Wars of the Roses was reenacted, and afterwards I saw a man in full armour coming out of one those portable toilets. That prompted, more or less naturally, some speculation about all the other contemporary things you could do whilst dressed like that. And since I am an artist, and have at times felt that I was doing almost nothing but go to private views, I wrote it about that.

The theme of the improbability of some actual things, like, for instance, the art world, is something that crops up regularly in my fiction. I am very interested in the strangeness of real things (and I find the weirdness of invented or fantastical worlds completely pointless). The terrific implausibility of these real things, which tends not to be evident to those of us who are involved in them, is made salient by having two such things in one context; one story – here it’s medieval reenacting as a hobby, and the contemporary art world.

 

 

A page from Simon Bill’s project, “How a Man Schall Be Armyed,” in zingmagazine issue 24. Drawings are reproductions from 15th century originals by an unknown artist commissioned by Hans Talhoffer.

 

A 2004 article from Modern Painters says that the first art show you ever saw was Arms & Armour at the Wallace Collection in 1964. I can’t help but wonder if that experience has any connection with How a Man Schall Be Armyed and your interest in medieval European combat. Were you always interested in art and history growing up?

I have been interested  in a great many extremely diverse subjects over the years, and those have been two. Others include neuroscience, BIBA (the shop), philosophy, comedy (I used to collect records by e.g. Bob Newhart, Lenny Bruce, Monty Python), swords, music (Bach and the Butthole Surfers, and I’m very interested in the shoegazing revival), and cooking. And other things…

 

Like in How a Man Schall Be Armyed, your book Brains (2011) also features an anonymous artist as the narrator/main character. Is this individual, in either story, sort of an amalgamation of various personalities from the art world, or reflect aspects of your own personality?

I know some writers of fiction claim that their characters, once created, are self determining, so that the author magically loses control, but if that were true more characters in books would just sit around eating pistachio nuts.

All the characters in my book (with the exception of some very minor ones) are amalgams or composites with various sources. They are drawn from other people and myself, plus a great deal about them is, of course, made up – it’s fiction.

The central character of a book is the one least free to be, as it were, themselves, because they are the character most obliged to do what the book needs them to. The unnamed protagonist of BRAINS has a set of characteristics I find funny or interesting, and is seen bringing those characteristics to a series of situations which I also find funny or interesting. It’s not meant to be naturalistic in any stylistic way, but as it happens that is more or less the way actual characters, real people that is, are formed. We are dealt a hand, somehow, and then we play it.

 

 

Lucky Jim, installation view, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, 2014. Image courtesy of the museum.

 

Last year your solo exhibition, Lucky Jim, at the Baltic Art Center featured more than thirty of your oval paintings from 1999 to 2014. Every piece is composed with different materials and in varying styles, the only consistency being the shape of the canvas. Is there an underlying subject matter or theme that unifies these works?

As soon as I spot a characteristic common to all my oval paintings I do one that doesn’t have it. The point is to do a potentially infinite series with no one thing in common, so, in the context of the whole body of work, what gives each work its identity is just the fact of it not being any of the others. The paintings are defined negatively. This means you can’t have a typical example of my work. And this may be why so few collectors ever buy them. I didn’t think that through very well, did I.

A lot of those paintings have suffered a weird fate. The dealer who represented me, a guy in LA called Patrick Painter, has gone insane, and has put about sixty of them in a storage place in Compton. He wouldn’t even release them for the BALTIC show. I’m expecting to see my work on Storage Wars any day.   

 

I read that you are currently pursuing a PhD on art and the neuropsychology of visual perception. Has research in this field influenced your own art or changed the way you experience it?

It hasn’t changed my art or changed the way I experience it. But I want to better understand how I experience it. There has been a thread within art theory that brought the psychology of visual perception to bear upon the understanding of art. I’m thinking especially of Rudolf Arnheim. Art theorists have forgotten about this, because of their strong emphasis on ‘Critical Theory’ and a culture critical approach. I reckon they are really missing out. The neuropsychology of visual perception has come on in leaps and bounds since Arnheim, and art theory folk have just ignored it. Too sciencey I guess.   

 

Art, writing, and neurological studies all tie together in your practice. Do you have a specific goal in combining all these pursuits? Does one area serve as the dominating or guiding force in this scheme?

I’m an old fashioned polymath.

 

These days images seem to be superseding words as our primary form of communication. In that same article from Modern Painters you state, “language is slow to adapt to developments in art,” that “writers are stuck for words.” Being both a writer and an artist, do you often find yourself faced with this conundrum? Does criticism of contemporary art have value if its language is supposedly inadequate?

I haven’t got a primary form of communication because they are each good at doing different things. This is why I have no time for those mock innovations in contemporary art that consist only of replacing an existing medium with another one that already existed elsewhere in our culture. So, for example, ‘text based’ art is no innovation because, surprise surprise, people were already writing things down anyhow before artists came along and decided it was a new art form.

And there’s ‘time based’ art isn’t there. A characteristic unique to visual art has been that, while the other creative media such as music, literature and theatre, were all time based, painting and sculpture were not. So making visual art ‘time based’ adds nothing we didn’t have plenty of already. It’s actually a net loss. 

 

You are often associated with the Young British Artists. Do you still feel an affinity with this movement/group?

We have very little in common as artists, but I do know a lot of them. That’s the whole of the association with them really. We have been in the same rooms as each other, sometimes. Plus my daughter and Gavin Turk’s daughter are best friends.

 

 

A page from Simon Bill’s project, “How a Man Schall Be Armyed,” in zingmagazine issue 24. Drawings are reproductions from 15th century originals by an unknown artist commissioned by Hans Talhoffer. 

 

What are some of your favorite galleries/museums/art venues? Any recent exhibitions that really caught your attention?

I love museums, although they have all been done up in recent years, so there aren’t many with that neglected, spooky, feel I used to enjoy. Most of the ones I know well are in London, but the Metropolitan in New York is amazing. You mentioned the Wallace Collection, and that’s still a favourite. The Imperial War Museum (I often think contemporary artists need to look at more things other than contemporary art). The Barbican, near where I live, has OK art shows and an amazing library. The V&A is great. In fact all the main ones in London, The British Museum, The Natural History Museum and the Science Museum, are all great. I would also recommend The Royal Armouries in Leeds, and the BALTIC centre for contemporary art in Gateshead. My friend Brian Griffiths has a good show on there now. The Museum of London has a display of knapped flints I really like.

 

Do you have any upcoming shows or projects you can share?

My novel ARTIST IN RESIDENCE comes out in May 2016 (published by Sort of Books and distributed by Faber). I’m planning a painting show to coincide with that. Not oval paintings. They will be miniatures, painted in oil, on copper plates the size of a credit card.


ZINGCHAT: Alexis Rockman's Investigations in Earthly Delights and Troublesome Truths

Pages from Alexis Rockman’s “Bioluminescence” project in zingmagazine issue 24, 2013, gouache on black paper, courtesy Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, CO

Technical skill and fantastic imagery make Alexis Rockman’s paintings immediately appealing to the appetites of the eye, but his nimble approach in applying scientific and historical anecdotes satisfies intellectual intrigue. The realms of the real and the surreal meet in a place where jellyfish and tabby cats live amongst sunken bridges and in abandoned buildings. These scenes, though imaginary, are informed by very real circumstances and quantitative evidence which tells us that our earth is changing in alarming yet preventable ways. Integrating with nature by traveling the globe, studying the species and environments he depicts, and sometimes using elements of the ecosystem to create his art are testaments to Rockman’s passions in conservation and environmental activism, but his work carries meaning that extends far beyond those ideals.

Rockman’s “Bioluminescence” project in zingmagazine 24, curated by the Drawing Center’s Brett Littman, depicts a dark, watery world where life generates its own light - a domain so opposite from the terrestrial sphere. These images are a continuation of his artistic contributions to the film Life of Pi, and is a series that he has expressed great joy in creating. A continuation of another series, Field Drawings, is currently on view at the Parrish Art Museum in Water Mill, New York through January 18, 2016.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

Your project in zingmagazine 24 features watercolor paintings of deep-sea bioluminescent creatures, as well as underwater entities of your own imagination. These images share a relationship with a previous project you did when you created concept artwork for director Ang Lee’s 2012 film Life of Pi. Can you summarize how the zing project developed from your experience working on the film?

The images in zing were done in the same language as Life of Pi, with the same materials, and about similar ideas. I had such a great experience working on Life of Pi, but the studio that made it, 20th Century Fox, owned that work. I felt it would be great to revisit that type of work several years later for a show at the Baldwin Gallery in Aspen in 2013.

The work I did for Life of Pi was constructing a narrative visually for a sequence called the Tiger Vision sequence which was when the tiger, Richard Parker, and Pi are in such dire straights both physically and psychologically and spiritually that they come together and voyage to the bottom of the ocean and it’s not clear who’s who. My role was to visualize that and create a cinematic experience. I ended up making about 50 drawings that I showed at the Drawing Center several years after I did the work in 2011. These drawings, in sequence, were used as reference by animators and that became a one minute and twenty-three second sequence. The project for zing was done two years later. There were four years between the time that I first met with Ang Lee in 2009 and when the movie was finished in fall of 2012. There was an earlier version that we worked on in development and preproduction for the movie that no one will ever see because the studio didn’t approve it - they thought it was too expensive. So the Tiger Vision sequence was kind of a condensed and stream lined version of what we wanted to do initially. Ironically, I think it turned out better than what we wanted to do the first time, but getting it to happen was a bit of rollercoaster ride. Ang is a master of the long ball. It turned out fantastic. It was wonderful to see the sequence be so close to the drawings - Buf, the company that did it, did a great job.

 

The paintings are gauche on black paper, and I read that you had never painted that way before.

I started out making drawings with black ink around the characters to sort of position them in the darkness of the deep sea with no sunlight whatsoever. Then I realized why not just do the damn things on black paper?

 

 

Pages from Alexis Rockman’s “Bioluminescence” project in zingmagazine issue 24, 2013, gouache on black paper, courtesy Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, CO


There is a style of drawing in India known as kolam, which is characterized by decorative, mandala-like designs, and I noticed that one of your Life of Pi underwater paintings exhibited at The Drawing Center has a white geometric pattern in it that looks very kolam-esque. This design also appears in the movie in the Tiger Vision sequence. I am curious if any visual traditions of India played a role in how you developed this project.

That’s exactly what it is and it was very intentional. That’s what Pi’s mother character does when she’s with Pi and she teaches the pattern and the meaning to him with sand. In our Tiger Vision sequence his mother ends up beheaded by a knife fish.

 

Did any other visual traditions of India play a role in how you developed this project?

The squid and the whale composites in the Tiger Vision sequence made out of other figures. There’s an Indian tradition of having an elephant made out of many other elephants or what have you. Like Acrimboldo, but Indian. 

 

You grew up in Manhattan and your mother worked at the American Museum of Natural History, where you spent a lot of time during your youth and was great place of inspiration for your artwork. Were you able to spend much time in nature, outside from the museum and the city, as a child?

I went to camp, I went to the zoo. That’s not nature, but it gave me a sense of longing. I also went to Australia. I was very familiar with things out in the world looking at National Geographic or through watching Wild Kingdom on TV.

 

You have traveled the globe to become closer with the natural environments and wildlife you depict, and you recently spent time in Michigan studying the Great Lakes region for a show at the Grand Rapids Art Museum opening in 2018. Do you travel in preparation for all your major exhibitions, or only certain ones?

I’d say if I can it’s a good idea. I just spent the last couple of days traveling around New York City, throughout the five boroughs.

 

Was that in relation to your current exhibition, East End Field Drawings, at the Parrish Art Museum in Watermill?

No, it’s for a show I am doing at Salon 94 in April.

 



Alexis Rockman, “Leatherback Turtle,” 2014, Sand from Town Line Beach and acrylic polymer on paper, 18 x 24 in. Courtesy Drawing Room, East Hampton


Can you talk more about the East End Field Drawings exhibit, like your process in creating the work and how it all came together?

The images are made out of material from the area directly and nothing else but acrylic polymer. They’re minimal, but also very maximal in terms of being pieces from the landscape or ecosystem. They’re made out of sand or soil or leaves. The image is actually made out of those materials. For instance there’s a place called Town Line Beach in East Hampton that had a beached Leatherback Turtle. It had been dead for a couple days and gulls were eating its head. It was an amazing scene. I collected sand from underneath it and made drawings from the sand of that turtle and some other marine life that are common to that particular beach. I’ve done this for the past twenty some-odd years in different places. Tasmania, the Amazon, Madagascar, the La Brea tar pits. They are all Field Drawings, but this is a separate body of work.

 

What are some places in the world you haven’t been to yet that you would like to visit, whether for research purposes or just for pleasure?

Borneo or New Guinea, or both, amongst many other places. Burundi, Tibet, The Congo, there are so many places I would love to go.

 

I watched a video of the lecture you gave at The Smithsonian American Art Museum in 2011 and in it you covered a great span of art historical references that have informed your work over the years. Did you begin to cultivate knowledge in this field early in your career?

I’ve always loved art history. Before I decided I wanted to be a painter - I really loved art history and copied many old master drawings when I first started.

 

Your Wikipedia page says that your work “has sometimes been associated with a new gothic art movement,” which is loosely defined as “a contemporary art movement that emphasizes darkness and horror.” Do you feel your work fits with this description, or is there another current movement or direction you resonate with?

(Laughs) Yes, I saw that and don’t know what that is! I didn’t do that page. I am not against it. I’m like, “alright, whatever you say.” I like Gothic and I like horror, so why not? I’ve always gone my own way so to speak. There are many artists that I admire that might be considered that, but it’s not something we discussed.

 

You are known as an environmental activist, yet seem hesitant to consider your paintings as “activist artwork.” Can you explain why that is?

First of all it’s art. I think anything anyone does is political, that’s the position I come from. But to label something as activist artwork it really ghettoizes it pretty fast. I’m trying to juggle many things and there’s a rainbow of meaning. 

 

What do you think is the best vehicle to spread the message of environmentalism to a mass audience?

Probably advertising. The skillful way they can sell alcohol to children is probably the best way to get people to care about conservation. If you can sell cigarettes to kids why can’t you get them to care about the environment? I would suggest putting an attractive person in it and there you have it.

 

Besides the exhibitions we discussed, do you want to talk about any other shows, events, or news that you have upcoming?

I have some things going on but I can’t really talk about it now. “A Natural History of New York City” at Salon 94 in April, 2016. It includes plants and animals from the history of New York City- from dinosaurs from the Cretaceous in Staten Island (145-66 million years ago) to the squirrel in our back yard in the west Village in Manhattan and in between.

 

ZINGCHAT: ART AND STORYTELLING FROM ALIX LAMBERT'S PINK GHETTO


 

Alix Lambert at London Film Festival

 

Alix Lambert is an artist, author, documentary filmmaker, and television writer who seeks out and tells the stories of people whose experiences are swept under the rug, often because they contain truths that many choose to ignore. Crime has been a consistent thread in her work for many years and has taken shape in writing, on stage, in prints and photographs, and on film. Some of her notable documentaries include The Mark of Cain (2000) where she integrated herself within the Russian prison system and delved into its forbidden tattoo culture, Bayou Blue (2011) about one of America’s most dangerous yet unknown serial killers from the South, and Mentor (2014), her most recent film focusing on the brutal systemic bullying in an Ohio high school that resulted in an alarming number of teen suicides. While she deals with serious subject-matter, Crime: The Animated Series featured on MoCATV, creatively imbues humor into difficult scenarios and showcases Lambert’s superb ability to collaborate with her subjects and as well as other artists. Her project in zingmagazine issue 24 provides a glimpse at another documentary on which she is currently working about Jon Pownall, who was murdered by one of his associates. The murder is what initially drew Lambert to the subject, but she is more interested in telling the audience about his life and work and how they come together to tell the larger story about that time and generation in American history.

 

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

 

Page from Alix Lambert's project in zingmagazine issue 24

 

Your project in zing 24, Goodbye, Fat Larry,” displays a collection of images and other ephemera from the archives of deceased director and photographer, Jon Pownall. You are currently working on a documentary about Pownall, and I was wondering if you could talk more about this project and what you’ve learned about him through your research.

I met Lynda, Jon’s daughter five years ago. Working with her over the years and delving ever deeper into this story has been an experience. The story has gotten bigger and bigger, both literally – each individual character has a story line of their own, and metaphorically – the arc really does mirror that of what was happening in America. As a story expands as this one has, I have to also think about the different ways in which it can be told – as a documentary, as a narrative film, as a book, with an app… that has been exciting from the perspective of a storyteller.

 

I read about the app, where users could interact with episodes from the story and respond to it based on the believability of a character or relevance of information. Do you see yourself using technology like this again in the future, and perhaps becoming a trend in film development and marketing strategy?

Yes, absolutely. The app allows me to tell the story in a different way that I find to be valuable and that is different from but related to the other manifestations of the story.

 

You have said, crime is a lens through which to look at the world.” This trajectory has taken you on some incredible journeys in achieving your creative goals, from the prisons of Russia to the heart of Middle America. Would you say there was a particular project or moment that solidified your desire to explore within this framework long-term?

I don’t know that I can pinpoint one single moment. I do think my projects kind of overlap each other – hopefully in a good way – I’ll still be thinking about aspects of my last project as I move into something new and those thoughts will manifest in the new work without my even realizing it at first. I don’t think there is much premeditation on my part in terms of what I explore on a long-term basis – I always feel like the work tells me what to do next.

 

Page from Lambert's project in zingmagazine issue 24

 

What do you want audiences to take away from these stories?

It depends on the story – I think my work asks questions more than it has answers – so I am always interested to find out what a person has taken from it.

 

How do you know when a project/story is finished?

Of course it would be easy to tinker with something forever – but then you’d never get to work on the next thing. I guess intuition? The story” is never really finished, but with projects I just decide – not a great answer maybe, but an accurate one, I think.

 

You work in film, photography, printmaking, performance, writing. . . the list goes on. Is there any medium that you don’t have much experience with but would like to explore?

I wish I could sing, or had some kind of musical talent.

 

I saw that you did put together an album, Running After Deer, in 2008 with musician/producer Travis Dickerson, in which you provided samples from your boxing coach. Would you like to do more musical projects that tie in with your work in other media? 

Definitely. I’ve been trying to find the time to collaborate with Travis again, and hope to do that sometime soon.

 

Collaboration is an important part of your practice. What makes an ideal collaborative dynamic for you?

I love collaborating. I get to work with so many people who I respect, admire and learn from. I enjoy when everyone is bringing different strengths to a project.

 

Last year you were an artist-in-residence at the McColl Center for Art and Innovation in North Carolina and it seems like you accomplished a lot during your time there. What did you take from that experience?

Speaking of collaborating, I met and worked with the amazingly talented Tim Grant to make a piece I had been wanting to do for a long time. That was exciting.

 

Page from Lambert's project in zingmagazine issue 24

 

Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture?

I am pleased that people seem to be more accepting of interdisciplinary work than they used to be.

 

How do you navigate between the worlds of fine art and film and television? What advice would you give to other artists who have an interest in interdisciplinary practices?

It has its challenges, but I think people are accepting interdisciplinary artists more than they used to. I hope it continues in that direction.

 

What artists, filmmakers, writers, etc. have been the most inspiring and influential to you and why?

The list is so so long, I don’t know that I can narrow it down – it so depends on what I am working on and what aspect of the thing I am working on that I am trying to learn about. I watch movies and read and look at art all the time and am humbled.

 

I am curious about the name of your company, Pink Ghetto Productions.

It was a slang term for women being marginalized in the work force. “Living in the pink ghetto” or “living in the pink collared ghetto.”

 

What do you like to do in your free time?

I’m pretty boring. I watch a lot of movies and I read books. I take long walks and long baths. I like food.

 

Besides Goodbye, Fat Larry,” do you have any other projects or events lined up that you can share?

I am working to complete my book RESCUE. I’m working on it with the support of Jenn Joy and Kelly Kivland who run the new artist collective: Collective Address. 

 

ZINGCHAT: REMEMBERING TO FORGET WITH DIKE BLAIR

Dike Blair, photo by Aubrey Mayer

As an artist who started his journey in the 1970s by initially dropping out of college, later earning an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and who became an arts professor at the Rhode Island School of Design and an accomplished writer, Dike Blair has had an opportune view of the contemporary creative landscape for several decades. He has exhibited his paintings and sculptures since the 1980s, and a comprehensive showing of his gouache paintings at Karma Gallery this past spring gave not only the public but also himself a panoramic perspective of how much this one area of his practice developed from 1984 until now. In zingmagazine issue 24, Blair brings together the work of four artists and hones in on their harmonious yet distinguished use of color and form in the arc of abstraction. With his range of experience I was interested in his thoughts about the past, present, and future of art and how he blends together his work in writing, painting, sculpture, and education.

 

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

Your project in zingmagazine issue 24, Ash Ferlito, Steve Keister, Bobbie Oliver, Arlene Shechet, represents a gathering of four artists whose work you admire and would look great together. These are also artists you have worked/exhibited with before, but this is the first time everyone has been involved in a single project together. Any plans to take this from the magazine to the gallery?

Ive known Steve and Bobbie since the 70s. Arlene is a prominent artist, but I only got familiar with her work and met her in the last 5 years. Ash was in residence at Skowhegan when I was faculty in 2012. I curated this group for Zing (almost 2 years ago) thinking the pages are the show, but it would certainly transpose to an excellent (if I do say so myself) bricks and mortar show.

 

 

A page from Ash Ferlito, Steve Keister, Bobbie Oliver, Arlene Shechet in zingmagazine issue 24. Top left: Ash Ferlito, Jacket, 2013, paper mache, oil paint, wire hanger, 30 x 24 in.; bottom left: Ash Ferlito, Big Movie Star Mouths, 2011, oil on canvas, 78 x 66 in; Right: Steve Keister, Tripod Plate, 2013, glazed terra cotta, 2 1/4 x 9 3/4 x 9 3/4 in.

 

Last year you contributed to Ferlitos Time Capsule 2014 project at the Marjorie Barrick Museum at the University of Las Vegas, in which all contributors agreed to reconvene in 2044 to open the capsule. Its a long way off from now, but is there anything you see happening now in the creative world that could have a lasting effect on the future of arts place in society? What do you anticipate it to be like to open that capsule?

I rather doubt Ill be alive for the opening of the capsule, but Ash probably will, and I imagine it will be an emotionally rich experience.

As to whats happening now, culturally, that might shape the world, it would certainly have more to do with technology than things like painting and sculpture. One of the nice things about those latter activities is that they are part of a continuum that evolves, and like evolution, there are periods of accelerated change. I dont think were currently in one of those periods.

Art and technology seems a somewhat different story. In general, since more people have tools and venues to express themselves, it does seem that the web of cultural expression has gotten richer and more complexmore and more domains are created. Im not certain about the quantity to quality issuebad art can be made in any medium. And it worries me a bit that because of technology we can no longer forget. If one personifies culture, the inability to forget may not be a healthy thing.

 

Thats interesting you bring up evolution because critic Christian Viveros-Faune made a comment earlier this year saying that the art world is now in the Jurassic period, where teeth and claws are necessary for survival in the financial jungle. He suggests that development in contemporary painting has stalled, though, because artists and the venues that show their work are trying too hard to mimic what was successful in the past to please collectors. Do you think this is partly why painting and sculpture are in a slow period? What might be some other potential reasons?

Despite having just done so, Im hesitant about negative judgments about the state of the art world. Its so age appropriate for the old guy to grumble about how things were once better. Certainly more artists, particularly young ones, have the opportunity to sustain a practice. I remember other bull market periods when the art world attracted clever, lesser talents who enjoyed success and why not? There will most likely be some kind of correction, but Im not necessarily wishing for that.

 

 

Dike Blair, Untitled, 2015, gouache and pencil on paper, 20 x 15

 

Earlier this year Karma exhibited Gouaches 19842015, and, from what I understand, the paintings were exhibited chronologically. What was it like seeing 31 years worth of just your painted work at once?

Yes, chronologically, and I have say, the whole experience was edifying. We organized the show and book in a very few weeks, so almost all of the work was from my studio, including stuff from the mid-80s that had sat on a shelf, untouched for 30 years. Those were covered in dust and because I made the very primitive frames with hot glue, they literally fell apart when I picked them up. Showing those first gouaches was a little difficult for me. I didnt really know how to paint when I did them; but Brendan Dugan of Karma and Dan Colen, who brought Brendan over to my studio, were so enthusiastic about them I decided to include them. I was a little surprised that people responded so well to them.

 

Your apprehension showing the early paintingsdoes this relate to your worry about the inability to forget?

Not directly. I think most artists like to think the work theyre currently engaged in is their best. Of course thats not always true, so one needs to delude oneself.

 

Your paintings are mostly untitled, except for a few that note a persons name or a location in parentheses, whereas your sculptures have enigmatic titles like a seagull suddenly submerges. How do you name an artwork?

I think the representational dont need titles. Its a cocktail, or a sunset, or something. The sculpture is more enigmatic and something suggestive can encourage poetic readings.

 

How do you balance your time between making paintings and making sculptures? Do you work in the two media simultaneously or focus more on one and then switch after a while?

I have two studios. A small one in the City that is only appropriate for the small paintings on paper, and a larger one upstate where I can work on sculpture and other large projects. So I tend to work on sculpture in the summer, and paintings during the school year.

 

 

Dike Blair, 129, 2014; painted wooden crates, framed mixed media. H 72  W 105  D 99

 

What are some of your favorite galleries/museums/art venues? Any recent exhibitions that really caught your eye?

The Noguchi Museum in Queens is probably my favorite museum. Hes one of my favorite 20th century artists, and the space is serene. I saw an exhibition in LA of Archibald Motleys paintings that blew my mind. Somehow I was ignorant of his work and its amazing. That same show, I think, will travel to the Whitney this fall.

 

You attended a number of different art schools in the 1970s and are currently a painting professor and Senior Critic at the Rhode Island School of Design. How would you compare what art school is like now to when you were a student?

Schools and the art world were obviously very different back then. Of course the scale of everything was smaller, and theory wasnt so predominant. Professors were generally less demanding, and some (and I emphasize, only some) of them considered teaching as something like a professional grant rather than a job. I demand so much more of my students, namely attendance, than was demanded of me. Id also note that I would hate to have had me as a student. I would have to slap me down.

 

I attended a talk earlier this year with a group of artists who founded some of the first DIY art spaces in Denver in the 70s, and they discussed how todays young artists are trying to make art as a career rather than creating out of passion. Any thoughts on this statement and it how might relate to the shift in how schools/the art world operates? 

Well, I wanted an art career when I was in school in the early 70s, also in Colorado. I think ones approach to making art constantly changes over a lifetime. In my case my sense of accomplishment, or lack of it, was probably more of an external thing when I was young, and now its more internal.

 

Youve conducted and been the subject of many interviews. What do you think necessitates a good interview, from both the interviewer and the interviewee?

One of the things I most liked about interviewing people was the preparatory homework. Of course 95% of that homework doesnt get touched in the interview, but its great to get outside of oneself and really think about the subject. I think in my early interviews I wanted to demonstrate to the interviewee, almost always a person I admired, that I was smart. Well, Im not that smart and I realized the interviews were often better when I didnt try to be.

When interviewed, I try to be somewhat honest.

 

How do your practices in art and writing inform one another?

Well, when an artist writes, inevitably theres a two-way bleed. However, in the mid-90s I made a very conscious effort to segregate the studio work from the writing. I didnt want the art to explain itself and I eschewed starting a work with a concept. I think the art I made might be difficult to write about. Im certainly not prescribing that approach and it seems a great deal of successful contemporary stuff starts with a concept thats relatively easy to translate into words.

 

Christopher K. Ho was asked which art critics have been influential to him, and which artists who write or engage in some form of criticism he respects. He named you, among others, in his response, and Id like to redirect that question back to you.

Thanks for that link. Chris is a friend and colleague and Im embarrassed I didnt even know about Hirsch E.P. Rothko. Chris is brilliant but not one to hoist his own petard. I just ordered it.

I really dont read much art criticism and mostly read fiction. Actually, I dont even read much anymore and mostly listen to audio books. I would like to echo Chris in my admiration for Roger White, I loved his book, The Contemporaries, and with Dushko Petrovich, he creates Paper Monument, one of the only art magazines I read. Like Chris, I admire Rosalind Krauss, however I prefer journalistic art writing to more critical stuff. Dave Hickeys books always grab me, and I just finished Greil Marcuss, The History of Rock n Roll in Ten Songsreally great. (Actually, listened to that, and Henry Rollinss read it really well.)

 

A page from “Ash Ferlito, Steve Keister, Bobbie Oliver, Arlene Shechet” in zingmagazine issue 24. Left: Arlene Shechet, “Night Out,” 2011, glazed ceramic, painted hardwood, 45 x 13 x 17 in. Right: Bobbie Oliver, “Laguna 2,” 2013, acrylic on canvas, 36 x 40 in.

 

What else are you listening to, looking at, or reading to fuel (or perhaps escape from) your work?

The NFL season has just started. Thats an escape. I just heard the music on Jeff Rian's CD thats included in this issue of Zing. Hes an old friend and the music is really beautiful.

 

Do you have projects, exhibitions, or anything else coming up on the horizon youd like to share?

Im really excited to be doing a show at the Vienna Secession early in 2016. It will be paintings and sculpture about windows, walls, floors and doors.

 

 

ZINGCHAT: LISA KERESZI ON LOOKING BACK AND MOVING FORWARD

Page from “The More I Know About Women” by Lisa Kereszi in zingmagazine 24

 

Lisa Kereszi’s upbringing in a family whose business was in junkyards and pleasure was in biker rallies seems like an unlikely lead into a world of art and academia at Bard and Yale, but this background is what enabled her to see the world through a cognizant and experienced set of eyes. Likely possessing an acute sense of self-awareness at an early age, Kereszi was able to understand the precarious but also the remarkable aspects of her environment, making her a determined photographer who has the confidence to work alone on projects that would make others feel leery. Her project in zingmagazine issue 24 is a conceptual reflection on this upbringing, utilizing photographs taken by her father during his biker heydays. This project comes directly out of her artist book of a similar name, The More I Learn About Women, published in 2014 by J and L Books. As a new mother, Kereszi is preparing to explore the realms of family life and childhood from a different perspective than she has in the past. Lisa and I exchanged emails, in which she shared the story behind her longstanding connection with zingmagazine, her interest in sideshow culture, and experiences in photography around the world.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

“The More I Know About Women” in issue 24 is your fourth zingmagazine project. While it features cropped images of women’s eyes, it also speaks about your relationship with your father. Your family has had a strong impact on your aesthetic. How has their influence grown with you over the course of your career?

I’m not sure I’d say it has “grown,” exactly, but receded, deepened and changed, as I have gotten further and further away from my formative years. It’s the “You can’t go home again” Thomas Wolfe thing in play. This book was collated and created when I was expecting my child, so that new role I was about to embark on had a lot to do with the impetus and my need for making this piece. There’s a section in the book that depicts children in the rough and tumble biker world I grew up in, dragged to keg parties and hillclimb motorcycle competitions, Bike Week in Daytona, camping out in the Chevy Nomad with it’s Harley stickers on the back, while my parents went out to see Joan Jett (my favorite!) perform at the Harley Rendezvous in Upstate NY. I would never raise a child like that, although I guess it did have positive effects, but it was strange and sort of painful to go through.

 

You have cited other influences like Nan Goldin, Brassai, and Robert Frank. What other artists, outside of photography, do you connect with or feel inspired by?

Although I just bemoaned my alternative lifestyle childhood, I love John Waters, and his sincere pushing of limits. I’m not a limit-pusher, but I appreciate it and sort of live vicariously when watching characters like Divine, Edith Massey, Mink Stole and David Lochary practice their filthy behaviors. I guess I also love how he pulled this real and true underbelly of poor Baltimore into the art world’s sights, something I can relate to, being born on the wrong side of the tracks outside Philly. Speaking of which, the imagery, mood and character-creating of Bruce Springsteen’s work has always hit me right in the gut. I love David Lynch’s pure weirdness, Louis C.K.’s brutally funny honesty. I grew up on SNL.

 

 

Lisa (right) with Erin Bardwell celebrating the release of her book, Fantasies, at the zing office in March 2008

 

Aside from having multiple projects in zing, you have photographed numerous zingmagazine parties and your “Facing Addiction” series is part of the Dikeou Collection. Could you talk about how you first became acquainted with Devon Dikeou and the zing milieu?

I think I was probably working for Nan Goldin at the time, and she got so many invites to so many cool parties that she would never have time to go to herself, so me being a 21 year old, I took a few of them as invites to go myself! A very early zing party was one of them. I was showing at Pierogi 2000 in Brooklyn, and I think Devon just connected with the work I sent her after I learned about zing at that party. I think it might have been at a bowling alley near Union Square. There were so many fun zingparties that I can’t remember each one well on their own.

 

Some of the projects featured on your website, like Fun n’ Games and Fantasies, span several years. Are the themes of these projects thought out ahead of time as something you’d like to explore long-term, or do the relationships between certain images taken years apart emerge later on?

I think I come at it both ways. But for the most part, I’ll be interested in one specific thing that is related to a bigger concept, movie theaters or strip clubs, for example, and then I’d go seek out permission to photograph a handful, or a whole bunch, of them. It isn’t until later that they combine with pictures of Coney Island or Times Square or Florida into something bigger, like the series you mentioned, even though my interest in each of them stemmed from the same unconscious (or semi-conscious) place.

 

Can you recall a time when you felt especially challenged by your subject matter or territory?

I suppose working with family and the failed family business was at the same time both easy and difficult. But you just put your blinders on and press forward. Also, I think finding permission for locations, such as strip clubs, has been particularly challenging, on a practical level. On top of it, sometimes you get the written or verbal permission, and show up to shoot, and the message has either been lost in translation, forgotten, or was never passed down the chain of command to the gatekeeper. It can be frustrating.

 

Have you ever worked collaboratively with another photographer or other artist?

Not really; I’m a bit of a loner. I don’t even like having assistants!

 

As a photography professor at Yale you must enjoy sharing your knowledge and experience with students. What has working in the collegiate atmosphere been like for you?

It’s been like getting a second degree all over again, between the re-learning and also the constant flow of interesting people and work going through the building. You have to teach yourself more than you knew before in order to teach the students anything. You need to have something to say, too, a position, a mission, in addition to knowing the technical stuff. It’s also about helping someone find oneself than really recounting experiences, although experiential anecdotes can certainly help someone to understand how things work in the real world.

 

You had an early interest in writing before photography became your main focus, correct? What kind of writing interested you, and is it something you still do at all?

Oh, I guess I thought I’d be a poet, which is sort a ridiculous career path – but so is visual art! I had an English Lit teacher in college tell me that I didn’t have the love of language necessary to be a poet. It stung, but he was right – at the time, at least. I write a little bit now, but no poetry, just statements about work and essays about things I am interested in, photography-wise.

 

 

Installation shot of “Sideshow” exhibition curated by Lisa Kereszi at 32 Edgewood Gallery. Image courtesy of Yale Alumni Magazine.

 

You curated an exhibition, “Sideshow,” at Yale School of Art’s 32 Edgewood Avenue Gallery earlier this year. What was it like organizing this show? Did you learn anything new about sideshow history?

It was a great experience, a lot of work, and a long time in the making. I was inspired by the traveling show that curator Robin Jaffee Frank put together at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, which I unofficially consulted on and in which I have two pieces. “Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland 1861-2008” opens at the Brooklyn Museum this November. When it was at its home museum, in order to run a concurrent show, I was given the opportunity to use the freestanding contemporary gallery at the School of Art by our Dean, the artist and curator, Robert Storr, who is as interested in the low-brow richness of sideshow and carnival culture as I am. If anything, I only wish my “really big show” (over 70 works, and a massive list of programming that included people like Ricky Jay coming to speak) was a REALLY BIG SHOW, but Storr reminded me that this was not a museum show, but one at a one-room alternative space with a limited budget. I had tried showing him a salon-style hang with over 150 works borrowed from far and wide, and I quickly realized as we installed it in January 2015 that he was right – it needed to actually be curated.

I knew a fair amount about this world and who the players were before hand, but the depth of the knowledge of these people is really truly frightening (in a good way.) Performer Todd Robbins got a preview of the show being installed when he hand-delivered his Feegee Mermaid sculpture, and schooled me on details and anecdotes about the pieces in the exhibition and the characters depicted, including artworks that I own, but knew not enough about. In the upcoming catalog, I include my curator’s notes, which explain who the people are who are depicted, so that they are fully developed human beings in a viewer’s mind. It includes background information on people like Eddie Carmel, the Jewish Giant of Arbus fame, and Mat Fraser, actor, performance artist and disability activist.

 

“Visions of an American Dreamland” is currently at the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art and I am always curious how traveling shows are received by audiences in different parts of the country, especially this one with a regional specificity. Do you have any thoughts on how people might respond to it differently on the west coast vs east coast?

Well, even in Hartford, where it opened, it must have been a bit removed-feeling. That said, I think the show deals with universal and very democratic things – like the human need for escape from reality. But the big moment, in my opinion, is this Fall when it opens at the Brooklyn Museum, just a subway ride away from the real thing. It’s going to be a big show, although it reminds me, in some ways, of the work and little show I did about Governors Island, which was at the Municipal Art Society in 2004, and then shown on the island later in an old commanding officer’s house. I think about that project, because it’s about a contained, specific place, and it’s also an island of New York, for sure, but I think about the throngs who will go to see this show who have personal, historical, deeply-felt experiences from the place. That was one of the interesting things about doing that Public Art Fund project – people who lived on the island saw the show, and had visceral, personal reactions to some of the depictions of place. For me, it was like my own private photographic ghost town, but to them, a few thousand people, it was once their home.

 

As an artist who has traveled, exhibited, taught, and photographed all over the world, have you noticed any major differences in how people engage with photographers (or art(ists) in general) in different countries?

The world is a very big place, and the more I teach and meet people from all over, the more I realize how small my place really is! Each culture forms a different kind of museum-goer, who has unique background and connections to make with new work. If anything, I am more aware of how people in public react to the presence of a photographer on the street. Some are very trusting, like in Shanghai, and some are quite the opposite, like in Paris. Some places fear photography, like here, but other cultures value it and understand its importance, like in Berlin or London, I think.

 

What are some areas of interest that you would like to investigate photographically that you have not done yet, or would like to revisit?

I’m not sure I’m ready to do more revisiting than the current zing project does. Not for a while, at least. I have some ideas up my sleeve, the most pressing of which is something to do with being a new mom. It’s already well-mined territory, but I will find something new to say, hopefully. I also have a pile of junk that I have been adding to all the time - sad, little discarded things I just want to make very basic still-lifes of with a 4x5 camera, when I get my act together and set up a little studio in my office.

 

What do you have coming up in the near future?

See above!

 

 

ZINGCHAT: OLAV WESTPHALEN WALKS INTO A BAR. . .

Olav Westphalen performing “Even Steven,” at Index, Stockholm, photo: Santiago Mostyn

 

Olav Westphalen describes himself as a “provincial artist without a province.” For some this may seem like a challenging position, but he maintains it just fine by having an open mind and a sense of humor. Using cartoons and comedy as his main vehicles for creative expression, he is able to transcend cultural barriers and address serious topics in thoughtful ways that will make you laugh. Inspiration is found within the intricate web that connects art and entertainment, creativity and industry, and people and places, which enables him to forge peculiar collaborations with professional dancers and experimental musicians or pull off stunts like burning tires in the Arctic. Westphalen’s project in zingmagazine 24 draws attention to the absurdity that lurks just beneath the surface of the ordinary, and serves as a handy tool for artists and non-artists alike to grasp the power of this absurdity. He and I chatted via email about his creative influences, the art market, polar research missions, and bad jokes.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

Your project in zing, A junkie in the forest doing things the hard way, was initially an exhibition of the same title at Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois. It is interesting to compare the images on a page-by-page basis in the magazine to that of installation photos from the gallery. Can you talk about how your work fluctuates/relates to the presentation context?

I made this group of drawings, combining a super-standardized cartoon language with - equally standardized - big, gestural brushstrokes in bright colours. They had a very graphic appearance. When we showed the series at the gallery it made sense to arrange them on the wall in a kind of layout. The reference material comes from print media, so it wasn’t surprising that they suggested the printed page. That’s also why I thought this specific series was going to work well in zingmagazine

Generally, I love printed drawings. It’s something about the tension between the accidents of the hand and the precision of the technical reproduction. What can get lost in print, though, with this specific group of drawings, is the painterly aspect of the large swaths of color you mentioned. They do affect you in a different way when seen on the wall, simply because of their size and saturation. The brush strokes are pretty silly design elements, but they are also just a square meter of cadmium red, which you will, at least for a moment, perceive as a sizeable stained surface with all the accompanying painterly connotations. This slightly perverse experience may be harder to get from the printed drawings.

The overall project (“A junkie in the forest doing things the hard way”) was a way to think about inspiration, wit, creativity, those rarefied instants in an artist’s experience, as mechanical processes, as industry. I often felt that creativity was a type of mechanism. Certain elements, relationships and criteria are brought into play. It could be a given form, like the limerick or High Modernist painting. It could be a given content, material, or several of these elements. And then, in quick succession, random data is run through this arrangement. I think the difference between the formalized brainstorm at a creative agency and a poet waking up in the middle of the night, her heart aching with a deeply felt new image, may not be a categorical difference, even if the results differ a lot.

Glenn O’Brien wrote a great text, “The Joke of the New, ” in the catalogue for Richard Prince’s show at the Whitney (in 1992). In it he mentions the cartoonist’s gag wheel, an aide for newspaper cartoonists invented in the 1930s. It’s made up of three concentric discs, which you can spin to line up randomly. The innermost wheel lists 25 types of comical situations. The center wheel lists 25 standard settings and the outer wheel 50 characters. This generates over 30.000 unique gag-premises. I loved that, and I made a whole set of wheels with different types of content for myself. I’ve used them in a cartooning workshop. They worked wonders for inexperienced cartoonists. For the ones that are already doing good work on their own , the difference was less dramatic. I think they had already internalized these mechanisms and could run them below the threshold of awareness. They were probably running them all the time. You know, we’ve all met some incurable punsters. There’s one in every extended family. It’s like Tourette’s. They scan every bit of conversation for a possible double meaning. For those people every good pun comes at the cost of many embarrassing moments. I guess the difference between the tedious uncle constantly issuing awkward remarks and the professional comedian may just be selectivity, having the restraint to not blurt out all the bad ones.

I have used the gag-wheel with performance artists and it worked even better. It made a shocking difference to some peoples’ work, maybe because some performance artists overrate authenticity. They can have a bit of a rigid notion of what they are truly about. And that gets redundant. So, the cartoon elements of these drawings are all entirely generated by a set of customized gag-wheels. And they are not censored. In that way, I am totally the embarrassing relative. There are some excellent jokes hidden in the series, there are some really lame ones and there are a lot of premises that never made it to the punch line.

 

 

Page from “A junkie in the forest doing things the hard way” by Olav Westphalen in zingmagazine issue 24

 

The swath of solid color across each image is another interesting element. Can you describe the purpose of the color?

The gestural over- and under-painting was meant as a parallel operation only in a formalist vernacular: a totally mechanical, repetitive way of producing these sweeping, expressive marks. I wanted them to be a caricature of abstraction. I think a lot of contemporary, neo-formalist work, knowingly or not, has that type of relationship to its historical models. I guess there was also an intended nod to an idea Mike Kelley once laid out - I think it was in “Notes on Caricature” – namely, that modernism was characterized by two opposing movements towards abstraction: a movement towards the idealized, heroic abstraction of modernist painting and a movement towards the abject, grotesque abstraction of caricature.

 

Installation view "A Junkie in the forest: doing things the hard way" at Galerie Georges-Philippe & Nathalie Vallois, Paris, 2012. Image courtesy of the gallery.

 

You are frequently associated with artists like Paul McCarthy and Mike Kelley. Which artists working today do you feel a strong connection with?

I like Mike Bouchet and his work a lot. I think Jessica Hutchins is great and in some weird way I think of her as a moral authority, even though I haven’t spoken to her in over a year. I love Alex Kwartler’s paintings. Peter Rostovsky is great and we have been friends and regular interlocutors for many years. I have learned a lot from that. I think Roe Rosen is amazing, as are Joanna Rytel and Mike Smith. I think Lisi Raskin is great. She just allowed me to borrow/develop on an idea of hers (“A rocket a day”). Lately, I have been doing music performances together with Lars Arrhenius, which has been so much fun. And of course cartoonist Marcus Weimer with whom I’ve published comics and cartoons for decades now (under the name Rattelschneck) is a real influence. But these are all people I have in some way worked with, or with whom I have at least a tenuous personal connection. I could name some household names and historical influences, like Cage and Kaprow. But also Fischli and Weiss, Rosemarie Trockel, Georg Herold (Herold much more than Polke or Kippenberger). Andy Kaufman, Nicole Eisenman, Allan Sekula (weirdly), Christopher Williams (I think he’s quite funny). But the personal connections are more important. I have realized about myself that I am basically a provincial artist without a province. I am always most intensely involved with the stuff that happens right around me, wherever that is. Even if, as was the case with Stockholm, there wasn’t a huge group of artists who shared my interests to begin with. A lot of the people I work with in Stockholm arent in the art world. They are comedians and film-makers etc. I convinced the philosopher Lars-Erik Hjärtstrom-Lappalainen to perform with me. You develop some type of loosely affiliated scene.   

Your music project sounds interesting. Are you a musician? Can you talk more about this?

Ha! I am probably the least musically inclined person you will ever meet. But I like writing and I like using my voice on stage. So, my contribution to “Lars & Olav” is mostly the written and spoken word. I am pretty serious about the texts. Lars is musically very good and writes both music and texts. When we perform the sound is mostly pre-programmed, with us singing, speaking, shouting out texts live while we stand around awkwardly. It has all the quaint stiffness of a fluxus performance, but some of the beats are so well-written that people kind of start to dance against their will, or at least bob around.

 

With your history of moving around so much throughout Europe and the United States, what location would you say gave you the most inspiration, creative energy, meaningful involvement, etc.?

I guess that would still be Southern California. I had met and worked with an artist from California back in Germany, and that basically got me interested in contemporary art as opposed to comics and cartoons and perhaps writing. Because of that connection I went to San Diego for graduate school, which was probably the most formative period for me as an artist. People had an attitude towards art, very serious AND very open at the same time, which I still find really important.

 

You draw cartoons in English and German, and exhibit and perform your Art around the world. Deconstructing the barrier between artist and viewer/participant is an important element in your practice. How does having such a diverse global audience, which you engage with directly, influence your ideas and process?

I am not interested in getting rid of the artist/audience divide. I am OK with that division of labor as long as it is explicit and precisely articulated. I have done a lot of pieces in which the audience becomes actively engaged, makes a lot of the decisions and may even take the work away from me, but it was always a matter of ethics for me to make it very clear, that I was playing the role of the initiator, host, game-master etc.

When it comes to different audiences, I think one of the reasons I have been so attracted to entertainment as material and form, is that it transcends a lot of cultural specificity. But, still, sometimes you connect and sometimes you don’t. That’s where art is different from entertainment. It can be really interesting to be completely misinterpreted. Bad entertainment can be good art and vice versa.

 

Theres a video of your Even Steven performance at Art Brussels. And in that video you say how much you love art fairs and the market because they help artists evaluate their own work and provide the financial means to foster their ambitions. Have you always felt this way?

Well, there was irony involved. I don’t know any artist who doesn’t find art fairs at least somewhat problematic. That doesn’t mean they don’t serve an important function. You know the expression: An artist visiting an art fair is like a cow taking a tour of the slaughterhouse?

“Even Steven” starts out as a location-specific stand up comedy. So, as I was invited to perform the piece at Art Brussels at that time, I did a stand up routine about art fairs. It kind of meandered between acerbic criticism and a naïve embrace of the phenomenon. At some point in the performance I confessed that I was tired of being smart and critical all the time and that I really wanted to do something beautiful. I asked a professional dancer on stage and he danced a modern piece. It was about that contrast. Very touching. Only I couldn’t just let him dance but asked him to let me to dance together with him and then I became kind of competitive, even though I really am not a good dancer at all, which devolved into awkwardness. Still touching, but differently so.

 

Whats your opinion on the recent record-breaking auction sale of Picassos "Women of Algiers"?

Is it ok if I don’t have an opinion on that? I mean, it’s been quite some time now that the top end of the market has lost pretty much all connection with about 99% of living artists producing art, thinking about art, developing art, having amazing and important ideas and conversations. So, every new price record is a little bit like reading that the universe is made up of 500 more galaxies than we thought. You know, to me it seemed really, really big already. Who really cares? We read a lot about the market. But if you think about how much it is about social and monetary criteria and how little it actually deals with important questions, what a relatively small group of people we are talking about, you realize that it is quite provincial in its own right.

 

You are currently teaching at the Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm, correct? What kinds of courses do you teach?

Yes, I am a professor in fine arts with a focus on performative practices. The school is still largely in the tradition of the European Beaux Arts model. That means I don’t teach regular courses, but I work individually with students. I have a group of 15-20 students whom I follow pretty closely in crits, group crits, study trips, exhibition projects.  I do can arrange arrange seminars and workshops, but that’s usually based on my own and the students' interests. I am finishing up a one-and-a-half-year research project on Dysfunctional Comedy, basically a series of public events and experiments on joke strategies in contemporary art. Like I said, bad entertainment making good art. We’ll publish a book about this together with Baltic Art Center. That’s one advantage of the academy, that some projects which might have been funded through that system. What else? Together with the painter Sigrid Sandström I have been doing a recurring journey, where we take students to the Swedish Polar Research Station. They meet the scientists up there. And end up making work under pretty extreme conditions. We’ll go back there this coming winter. I think the best teaching is if it’s an extension of what you would be doing as an artist or an individual anyway.

 

Have you made any work at the research station, or another place with extreme conditions? What has the response been like from students participating on these journeys?

I haven’t produced any finished work at the research station. But on another trip to the arctic, to Kirkenes on the Barents Sea, I did make a piece that kind of flopped. I had had this image in my head, before the trip, of a completely white landscape, almost like a blank canvas. And I thought wouldn’t it be great to burn a stack of tires there, so you would get this column of smoke rising up vertically, a black line dissecting the plane. When I got there the landscape was white, but with so much variation in it that this cartoon-formalist idea of the arctic didn’t really apply. I got some tires anyway and found someone with a van to drive us out to some frozen lake. When we burned the tires it got really messy and even th­­­­ough the smoke was nice and sooty and black, it never really rose up as high as I imagined. So, the video we shot made it just look like a really far-fetched and lonely act of vandalism. Afterwards we had to clean up all that scorched and melted rubber. I am not sure it was worth it.

 

With your practice involving different media and collaborations, I am curious what your usual working environment is like. Do you have a dedicated studio space, or do you have a more variable/flexible kind of arrangement?

I have an office and next to it a modestly-sized studio. Both are very close to where I live. That’s important, that I can go there whenever and not spend time in transportation. I use the studio a lot when I actually produce something, but then there are times, sometimes weeks, when I don’t really go there and just read or write or sketch and do work on the computer. Which can also happen at home or wherever. I am not a post-studio artist, but an intermittent studio artist.

 

Is there any medium that you have yet to experiment with that you would like to try, or become more acquainted with?

I just now produced a digital animation for the Thessaloniki Biennial. It is based on a series of drawings I made. I really like that malleability, that the drawings already suggest their manifestation as virtual 3D-objects in a film. I would like to use 3D-printing to translate some of the objects from that film into physical sculpture. That’s a plan.

 

 

Gag-wheel in issue 24


Being a humorist, do you have a favorite joke?

Comedy is highly contextual. It doesn’t easily survive being transferred to another situation. That’s when you shrug and say: “I guess you had to be there.” Jokes on the other hand are supposed to be portable comedy. They are like the easel-painting of comedy. They carry their context with them, or rather, they rely on such commonplace contexts that they become, relatively, context-independent. I am terrible at remembering jokes. But I once worked for a German TV-show as a gag writer and the head writer asked me the same question, what’s your favorite joke? And then proceeded to tell me his. And that joke I remember till today.

 

What was the joke?

His favorite joke went like this: There’s a guy walking out about town and suddenly he sees a penguin in the middle of the city. He takes the penguin to the nearest police station and says: Look, I found this penguin walking around on its own, what should I do with it? And the policeman says, “You have to take it to the zoo.” The next day that same policeman is out on patrol and runs into the guy who’s walking down the street with the penguin. He walks goes up to him and saysgoes: “Hey, what’s going on? I told you to take that penguin to the zoo.” And the guy goes: “I did that was yesterday, now we’re going to the movies.”

 

What do you have coming up in the near future?

I am working on two book projects and we’re expanding the repertoire of Lars & Olav.  We are preparing for a performance at a club in Athens in September and decided to produce a new piece, a love story between a woman from Kreuzberg and a tour guide on Crete, titled “Eurolove.” It’ll be danceable Greek-German techno.

 

ZINGCHAT: JOSHUA ABELOW WANTS YOU TO CALL HIM ABSTRACT

From Joshua Abelow’s project “Fourteen Paintings” in zingmagazine issue 24

 

Creative energy and instinct runs in Joshua Abelows family, passed down through the generations from his grandmother, his mother, and then to him and his sister. Growing up in Maryland, detached from the contemporary art world, this instinctual need to create art allowed him to develop a personal style based on the purity of form, the complexity of color, inferential reasoning, and a sense of humor. Abelows formal entrance into the New York art scene began just as organically, when gallerist James Fuentes discovered his work on Art Blog Art Blog , which Abelow started in 2010 as a means to get his art into the world. The blog not only allowed him to showcase his artwork alongside other creative figures he admired, but also served as an extension of his practice and as an artistic exercise with a distinct beginning and end. The blog inspired Abelows interest in curating, a role that is still very much tied to his work as an artist. Now with a project featured in the newest issue of zingmagazine, a series of paintings recently installed at Dikeou Collection, a gallery space in Baltimore, and an upcoming show at James Fuentes Gallery, 2015 seems to be the year when all his creative endeavors will coalesce more potently than ever.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

 

Where are you right now?

Im in a gigantic hay barn that I rented to make large paintings for the summer in Maryland, where I grew up.

 

When did you move into the barn? When did you start doing this?

I started doing it last summer. I found this barn on Craigs List sort of by chance. I was home visiting family and was just messing around on Craigs List to see what might be available in terms of studio space and I got lucky. Last summer was great and I couldnt stop thinking about it so I decided do it again.

 

How big are the paintings youre working on right now?

Im working on a series of paintings that are 98 inches by 78 inches. Last summer I made 80-inch by 60-inch paintings and then a few other ones that were a little bit smaller than that. You know in New York, everything is soyou know there is a different energy out here which is kind of great because theres obviously the space and the head space, but then theres also, you know, theres like ducks and chickens running around. Its the complete opposite of working in New York.

 

Are you still working in a similar style, with your geometric backgrounds and color patterning?

That kind of geometric work is ongoing. Its like a daily ritual and keeps me busy no matter what. But also this past winter I focused on a lot of drawing, and now some of these larger paintings are based on the drawings.

 

In your curatorial statement for the latest issue of zing you wrote a poem, and I am curious how you would characterize the interplay between your poetry and your visual artwork.

I think theres definitely a relationship, and maybe sometimes its more obvious and sometimes its not as obvious but everything I do is connected. The poems are diaristic. I used to keep handwritten journals, but then the blog replaced that and the poems are a way for me to continue messing around with words. There was a time a few years ago that I was only painting words. The relationship between text and image continues to interest me quite a lot.

 

In the poem you say that the pictures were inspired by dancing figures in a movie. Is this a literal statement, and if so what movie was it?

Its not really literal, its more metaphorical.

 

Whats the story behind the Famous Artist paintings in your zing project?

Theres a Bruce Nauman quote thats been stuck in my mind for years referring to one of his neon signs he says, It was a kind of test like when you say something out loud to see if you believe it. Once written down, I could see that the statement was on the one hand a totally silly idea and yet, on the other hand, I believed it. Its true and not true at the same time. It depends on how you interpret it and how seriously you take yourself.  I did a show called Famous Artist in Brussels in 2012. I had never done a show in Europe and I thought the title might get peoples attention, which it did.

 

 

Call Me Abstract (Self-Portrait at Age 36), 2013, oil on burlap

 

We recently installed Call Me Abstract at Dikeou Collection, a series of 36 paintings with your cell phone number. Visitors have called this number and left voice messages for you. Have you listened to them?

Yes, I have. Ive gotten a number of phone calls and some text messages. If I dont pick up the phone I always listen to the message and sometimes I might respond with a text. I started developing the Call Me idea in early 2007. The first paintings just said Call Me and then I wanted to literalize that idea by painting my phone number. One time, actually more than once, a professor called me up and put me on speakerphone with his class while I was eating lunch. And you know thats kind of the idea to create an unexpected situation with painting.

 

Call Me Abstract is painted on burlap, as well as a few other of your paintings. Why did you choose to start working with this material?

I paint on burlap, I paint on linen, I paint on canvas. Ive experimented a lot with all kinds of different materials. My work is often systematic and pre-planned, and so the burlap, because theres a great texture to it, it butts up against the paint in interesting ways and theres always room for the paint to do something unpredictable like bleed. I buy the stuff at Jo-Ann Fabrics and I can tell that the people who work there wonder who this guy is showing up to buy burlap all the time.

 

 

Untitled ("René Magritte, 'The Art of Living,' 1948"), 2015, Archival ink jet print on Hannemhule paper, 4.6 x 6 inches

 

I was looking at some of your new work on your website where you have reproductions of modernist works by artists like Magritte, Kirchner, and Pollock with the Mr. Peanut character inserted into it. Could you discuss what these are about?

Thats a specific body of work that I produced for a show that I did with two artists in Brooklyn recently at this gallery called 247365. The show was called Situational Comedy and it featured work by me alongside Brad Phillips who is based in Toronto and a guy named R Lyon who lives in New York. The whole idea was to put together a show of work that might not look like other work weve made, or at least thats how I was thinking about it. One of the things that was funny and interesting was that at the opening people would come up to me and say, Hey, we know youre in the show, wheres your work?, and I would be standing next to one of the pieces. Theres a performative element to a lot of what I do and the conversations at the opening seemed to embody the spirit of what I was trying to do. Mr. Peanut is basically a stand in for me. I wanted to take out my hand all together and just make something from appropriated imagery. I was thinking a lot about Kenneth Goldsmiths uncreative writing ideas. Eliminating my hand changed the decision-making process and put more emphasis on placement and scale. Those works are really small a little larger than postcards.

 

Ive read that Magritte in particular is very influential on you, so I understand why you would use one of his pieces. Could you talk about the other artists that you included?

All six images that youre talking about were taken from art books that Ive collected over the years and those are some of the images that I keep around the studio and look at all the time. When I make drawings I often lift material from these art books. Another thing I like about the Mr. Peanut works is that they are reproductions of reproductions of reproductions so the content of the work is layered and not as straightforward as it might appear. This interest in reproduction was something I explored in my blog for five years and those Mr. Peanut pieces are strongly related to the blog, and in a way, the end of the blog because I stopped running the blog around the time of the opening.

 

 

Untitled, 2015, Pencil on paper, 30 x 2

 

Your drawings generally have a more fluid and varied appearance than your paintings, and have a distinct lack of color. To me they are reminiscent of drawings by people like Warhol, Jean Cocteau, and Picasso. The drawings and paintings share certain aesthetic tropes like the stick figure, running witch, and use of text, but they seem to be coming from a very different place in your mind than the paintings. Ive even noticed that the paintings and drawings are exhibited separately from one other in galleries. Can you talk about the relationship, or even the dividing factors, these two mediums have for you?

Yeah, I think a lot of what you just said is totally true. In simple formal terms, with drawing, Ive always been interested in line and gesture, and with painting Ive always been more interested in form and color and shape. Most of the solo shows Ive done have featured drawings and paintings but not side by side. My first show in New York was at James [Fuentes Gallery] in January of 2011 and I, very intentionally, set up a situation where I had small paintings on the left side of the room and on the right side of the room I had my drawings. The idea was to create a situation where the drawings on the right side of the room would essentially undermine or argue with the logic of the paintings on the left side and vice versa. In the drawings I was satirizing the idea of the painter in the spirit of Paul McCarthys piece PAINTER. I wanted the entire exhibition to function on a satirical level. It was sort of up to the viewer to come in and determine what was going on and to try to make sense of it. Im always thinking about that kind of thing in my work Im always thinking about the relationship between things - the relationship between paintings and drawings, or the relationship between, say, a geometric painting next to a painting that has my phone number on it or a face or some other figurative reference. And I am interested essentially in storytelling, but a kind of abstract storytelling where the viewer really has to do legwork and get mentally involved.

 

So youre bringing them together more? Would they be exhibited in an integrated way like that too?

Well, like the running witch that you brought up before, I dont know if youve seen too many of those paintings because its a relatively new image that I started developing last summer and that came directly out of drawing. And even the stick man with the top hat and the funny dancing shoes, that came out of drawing, too. So there are moments when the paintings and the drawings gel and then there are moments when they dissipate and dont look anything alike. I like that fluidity, I want there to be that kind of openness. I think of it like experimental music rhythms going in and out.

 

You come from a family of artists. Your sister, Tisch, is a painter, curator, and blogger. Ive noticed that her paintings have a similar emphasis on geometric formality and color interaction as yours do. Can you talk about what kind of influence you two have on each others work, or life in general?

Yeah. I think my sister and I were both influenced by our grandmother who is a really wonderful painter. Shes 92 years old and lives and works in West Virginia. She studied at Cooper Union back in the late 40s, but she never pursued a career as an artist, and I dont think that was even an idea that would have been remotely possible for her at the time. But we grew up with some of her paintings and drawings in the house and she had her work up at her place, and I would say her work is reductiveits based on observation but its definitely reductive - shape, color, line. So, I would say that my sister and I are both indebted to her. My sister originally wanted to be a writer (like our mom). She went to Sarah Lawrence to study creative writing and didnt make her way into painting until later. In fact, I think she actively avoided painting for a long time because thats what her older brother was doing and she wanted to do her own thing. When she was a senior she took a painting class and started painting at that time and has really kept it up since then.

 

Yeah, Im almost thinking of like this genetic thing thats embedded in you guys, that you sort of share this aesthetic between you all that just grows through the generations. Like if one of you two had kids one day you could see it manifest again in some other way.

Absolutely. In 2013 I published a monograph called Art Fiction with reproductions of my work alongside some images by my sister and images by my grandmother. My sister and I showed our work together at a small artist run space in Philly back in 2010, and my grandmother and I exhibited together at the Prague Biennial a few years ago, and that opportunity led to a small solo presentation of her work at a gallery in Milan called Lucie Fontaine. My sister and I went over there for the opening. My grandmother couldnt go but she was excited about it anyway.

 

In 2010 you started your Art Blog Art Blog where you posted your poems, as well as excerpts from books, information and images about other galleries, shows, and artists you were interested in. It was updated constantly; averaging 2500 posts a year and had a sizeable following. Why did you decide to stop updating the blog this past March?

You know theres another interesting Bruce Nauman quote that I wanted to get into this interview. This one is taken from an interview he did in 1978, and he says, Art is a means to acquiring an investigative activity. And that kind of thinking is what got me started with the blog. Unlike other blogs, I was thinking of my blog as a form of artistic activity, and so in other words it was always intended to be an art project in and of itself so therefore it would have a start and it would have a finish. When I started it I wasnt sure how long I would keep it up but when I hit the five year mark it felt like a good time to stop because otherwise I think I would have wanted to do an entire decade and it was too much. I felt like I made the point after five years. It didnt really seem necessary anymore.

 

It seems like with how much you interacted with it, it seemed like something that was really part of your routine. Was it strange when you stopped doing it? Did you have to remind yourself, No, Im not blogging anymore. Im not doing that today.   

Thats a great question. The thing thats really strange about it all is that there was a lot of nervousness on my end leading up to the end, but after I finished it I felt uncomfortable for about an hour or two. I look back and I cant even believe I spent that much time doing it. I dont even think about it now. Its weird.

 

Yeah, thats kind of surprising to me actually. I figured it would have been something that you would have been more attached to as far as seeing something and being like, Oh, thats cool Ill put it on my blog. No wait, I cant.

Well you know what saved me was Instagram.

 

 

 

"Self-Portrait with Television," 2003, Oil on linen, 24 x 18 inches

 

Yeah, thats what I assumed. And that leads into my next question: Looking back at an old interview in a 2012 with Frank Exposito for James Fuentes Gallery, you mention a self-portrait you made in 2003 with a television on your head, and related the artist and the television as transmitters and receivers of information. As an artist who uses the internet heavily, especially with Instagram now, do you think the computer is now the more dominant force in this exchange, or does the television still maintain the same power you attributed to it 12 years ago? 

Hmmm, I definitely think its all about the computer. I think in that interview I said television and I meant television basically because at that time when I made that work, it wasnt immediately following 9/11 I guess but it was in the wake of that, and I was living in New York not far from where that happened. And I think every artist and every person in New York and elsewhere was trying to grapple with what happened, and its like how do you make something, how do you make a painting or a meaningful artwork when an event of that magnitude has happened. So basically for a long time I was leaving my television on watching the news nonstop and I started making work again with the TV on and I was watching TV all the time while I was in the studio. But with the TV, when I said it, I meant it more metaphorically like the way we connect to technological devices to get information and having this connectivity has changed the world and continues to change the world.

 

Yeah, and I saw that when we posted Call Me Abstract on Instagram you were instantly engaged with it and put it on your blog right before it ended, so I thought it was kind of cool that connection was made at a somewhat crucial time because it was just really days before you ended the blog so it was kind of cool that it made it up there at that time.

Its also, I mean, the phone number piece at Dikeou is coming right out of the same kind of logic as the painting youre describing with the television on my head. Its this idea, with the phone number, its a self-portrait in the technological age like these numbers signify me. Even beyond that they signify New Yorkanybody whos lived in New York knows that its the 917 number, its a New York phone number, theres this relationship to the idea of the New York artist which is really intentional because if I didnt have a 917 number I dont know if I would have evenI might have made something else. I wanted those numbers to signify a bunch of different things but in the most basic abstract way.

 

Yeah, I can relate to that because living in Denver I dont have a Denver area code on my phone number and so when I share my phone number with people it immediately brings questions like, Oh, wheres that from? How long have you lived here, that kind of stuff. So it is definitely tied with your identity.

Definitely. And you know I think thats also young artists, or artists of any age I guess, who are movingI mean I always say New York and I dont know if its old fashioned or not but I still feel like New York is where (L.A. too) artists still want to go. You know young artists are moving there out of art school to go make an identity for themselves, you know, so this idea of a 917 number, a New York number, its something so many people can identify with. Its like that same thing if youre from Maryland or wherever and you move to New York and get a New York state drivers license, its like the birth of a new identity.

 

In another 2012 interview with Matthew Schnipper for The Fader, you made a comment about there being a growing number of people who make art as a career whereas you make art out of necessity. Youve been quite fortunate, though, to make a living doing what you love.  Do you feel like the career artists make things more challenging for the ones working out of pure passion? How do these two types of artists interact with each other, or how do you see the differences in how they navigate the art world?

Hmmwell, I think of myself as a late bloomer. I didnt have my first show in New York until I was thirty-four, which by todays standards is on the late side. Many of my peers started showing way before I did and I just plugged along. Now I feel much more connected to younger artists a lot of the artists I talk to the most are a decade younger than I am and I like that actually. If Id grown up in New York City with parents who were in the art world and taking me to all the art openings and if I had been exposed to the world of contemporary art at a young age, then Im sure I might not have felt that pursuing art was going to be like climbing down into a dark tunnel for the rest of my life. But in Maryland where I grew up that just wasnt the way it was when I told people I wanted to be an artist they just looked at me blankly and I could tell they felt sorry for me. I didnt know anything about contemporary art or that you could make a living as an artist, really. I wasnt thinking about it from a practical stance I just knew that I was an artist and that I would do whatever I could to keep the world from robbing me of what I felt compelled to do.

 

Would you say that youre surprised at all by your own success, or expect it to grow into what its become now?

I think being an artist is a gamble. I think what happened with me is that a real shift in my thinking occurred when I was in graduate school  I stopped thinking of myself as a painter and started to think of myself as a person involved with art as an activity in a broader sense. I got interested in Peter Halleys writing and I became more aware of the role that art can have on a social level. And that really opened up a lot of doors. Im happy that I have been able to carve out a space as an artist and I want to continue to push the work forward and work hard.

 

Can you talk about your background/experience as a curator?

Curating came out of Art Blog Art Blog and Art Blog Art Blog came out of my studio-work so I think of curating as an extension of my studio. I think thats really why I started the blog thinking a lot about arrangements of things. The other thing about the blog is that when I first started it I was not showing my work much, I didnt have gallery representation, I wasnt even living in New York at the time, and so it was a way for me to contextualize my own work alongside the work of other artists and whatever else in any way that I wanted. If you go back into the archive, the first year or so of the blog is primarily images and a lot more of my own work and my own poems in there because I was trying to get some visibility for myself. It was surprisingly effective. Less than a year after starting the blog I started working with James and suddenly there were a lot of eyes on what I was doing, and so I kind of backed off a little bit on featuring my own work on the blog and became more interested in showing work by other emerging artists. It was an exciting time in NYC because the market had crashed and there was a lot of DIY energy in the air and I think ABAB captured that energy and harnessed it to an extent. I started showing work by famous artists, both living and dead, alongside someone like a 23 year old that I met in Brooklyn and did a studio visit and thought their work was interesting and it might have some kind of obvious or not so obvious relationship to, lets say Magritte or whoever. And then I would put it online and allow the viewer to make these visual and conceptual connections. It was so amazing to feature certain artists you know I would promote certain people on the blog and the next thing you know theyd be showing all over the place. I had a strong hand in it that, although I didnt really expect the blog to have that much influence. That happened organically. But yeah, thats how I got into curating.

 

Is curating something you would like to continue to do?

Im running a semi-anonymous space in Baltimore. Right now were on the tenth show. Its been interesting, its been a way for me to sort of crystallize a lot of the thinking that went into Art Blog Art Blog a more focused version because the gallery is named after Freddy Kruger, and all the shows are sort of dealing withtheres a kind of dark humor vibe to the shows that were doing.

 

 

"Running Witch," 2014, Oil on linen, 80 x 60 inches

 

What are you currently reading, listening to, or looking at to fuel your work?

Keith Mayerson sent me Eric Fischls memoir, Bad Boy, which I have been enjoying. Im half way through it. And the chickens and ducks, those guys are the true inspiration.

 

What else do you have coming up in the near future?

Im working on a show for Fuentes, which I think is going to be in January. I dont want to say too much about it because I want it to be a surprise but I will say that its going to be a multifaceted show with an Internet component.

Last fall I did a two-man show with Gene Beery, and I interviewed him when I did my first Art Blog newspaper. Gene is a text-based painter who also messes around a little with video and photography. Gene has been a huge part of my blog an active contributor for at least two years, and when I knew the blog would end Gene and I did a countdown everyday hed send me a new image that said something like 14 days remaining or whatever with a design. Anyway, Gene is an under-recognized artist who is one of my heroes and so its been amazing to have this ongoing web-based collaboration with him. And last fall our collaboration was translated into a two-man show at this artist-run spot called Bodega in New York and at Freddy in Baltimore. Now were working on collaborative silkscreens. I dont know where the silkscreens will end up yet but I just wanted to talk about it for a minute because Im pretty excited about it.

ZINGCHAT: EXISTING IN BRAD KAHLHAMER'S THIRD PLACE

Bowery Nation, Installation View, The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum, 2012

 

Brad Kahlhamer walks the line between worlds. Or better yet is continually creating a path of his own—a “third place” where imagination and identity are joined at the hip in a patchwork of Native icons, punk vibes, pop reference, all dripping with the language of expressionist gesture. Born in Tucson, Arizona, Kahlhamer has been in New York working across mediums since the 1980s—first as a design director at Topps Chewing Gum and soon an artist in his own right navigating the energies of Lower East Side, a mythic territory since woven into his evolving visual narrative. Today we find Kahlhamer coming off high-profile exhibitions at Chelsea’s Jack Shainman Gallery and a residency at the Rauschenberg Foundation in Captiva Island, now immersed in the role of Brooklyn’s flaneur and on the verge of a trip to Alaska. Most recently, Kahlhamer contributed an essay to the catalog for Fritz Scholder’s Super Indian exhibition, opening at Denver Art Museum in October. I met Brad at his studio in Bushwick to discuss underground cartoonists, hardcore bands, the art world, Native culture, sketching, and the one dream-catcher to rule them all.

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

You’re about to depart for Alaska?

Next week. I’m doing this thing called First Light Alaska Initiative. I’m one of six people who are going up to conduct workshops on two weekends. Then we are going to hold over in Anchorage. I hope to get some fishing in if it’s not too cold or iced up.

 

What are the workshops?

It’s a woman named Anna Hoover who’s taken it upon herself to create a workshop and eventually a brick-and-mortar space. She’s bringing up a number of people. One, a “gut-skin sewer,” which is the old way of making clothes out of seal intestines. There’s also a chef coming up, and a musician, all from upper Alaska and Canada. We are traveling together as a Native entourage.

 

How long are you there for?

Eleven days. That’s a pretty good amount of time. I’m going to bring sketchbooks, do a lot of thinking. Just take it all in since I’ve never been up there.

 

Now let’s return to the beginning. How did you get involved with art making?

I came to New York in the ‘80s and worked at Topps Chewing Gum for about nine years as a design director. I was working with a lot of underground cartoonists like Art Spiegelman, who created Maus which became a really big deal. Others included Mark Newgarden, Kaz and Steve Cerio—it was a full immersion in the downtown creative world of that time. But I was also making watercolors at lunchtime and scavenging for sculpture materials on the Brooklyn waterfront where Topps was located. I finally quit Topps in ’98 to go full on with my own art and it seemed like the next day I was asked to be in a show in Amsterdam.

 

You were making your own work during your time at Topps?

On and off – I was cobbling together pieces as much as I could. I was putting together these giant sculptures out of rubber tires, these kind of impossible, belligerent things—dark, bleak, and black that summed up the Lower East Side at the time. I was also playing in a band. I recall we played with the Cro-Mags and people were throwing beer cans at us. It was all part of the experience.

 

You were in a hardcore band?

Well, we were in a hardcore show at Danceteria. At the time we had a rehearsal studio on Ludlow next to Bad Brains’ space and our lead singer knew a couple people around that band. Anyways, Ludlow Street had a lot of that history. So that was exciting. In ‘96/97 I started showing with Bronwyn Keenan and her start-up gallery downtown. In ’99 I was introduced to Jeffrey Deitch who had this idea to dedicate part of his gallery to the expressionist painting that was going on at the time.

 

And you were part of this grouping?

Yes. I was seeing myself as a next generation New York painter. I had been painting brushy expressionistic oils, not a popular direction at the time. The canvasses were smallish, probably due to finances and limitations of studio space. But Jeffrey had this idea. He was seeing yet another resurgence of this type of painting and brought me into the fold. There were to be four of us—one of which was Cecily Brown (who later went on to Gagosian). I stayed with Jeffrey and did three shows. The first was in '99, "Friendly Frontier," which was just a great experience and made me realize a broader context of the New York art world. Jeffrey was really looking for artists who were able to conjure up and present an entire universe and there were a number of us who were doing that at the time.

 

 

First Blast, 67" x 64", oil on canvas, 1999

 

Is creating your own universe something you sought to do as an artist?

No. I'm fairly natural in my production. I try not to over-think things. The idea of mating Western, Native American mythology and history with downtown New York created a world necessary for me to exist—a world I call the Third Place. The First Place being the life I would have lived had I not been adopted and the Second Place being the life I actually do live. The Third Place was the intersection of all my passions, the artwork, and the reality I created and was living. Jeffrey recognized that a number of people had similar visions at that time and picked up on that. Really exciting time to be showing. First of all to be living and working in downtown post-'80s and second to be part of the Deitch experience. I don't know if that sort of thing can even happen anymore—the amount of experimentation was pretty remarkable on the scale that he offered.

 

Do you feel that post-Deitch you've had to seek a new direction?

It was such a moment unto its own. When that all ended there was a regrouping that had to happen. The outside world was also changing in New York with the economic collapse. It wasn't just me, it was everyone. Everyone was scrambling, It was a time of changing and shifting. Yeah, it seems like 2008 was the year referred to over and over.

 

What was your situation in 2008?

I had always been hardwired to make art since I was a kid. You can retrench but it's not like I'm not going to be an artist. I learned a lot during that period and became more self-sufficient. It’s all worked out. Jack Shainman approached me and we’ve taken it to the next level—in Chelsea now as opposed to downtown.

 

When I was in your studio last to put together the zingmagazine project, you showed me images from Bowery Nation, which I think eventually ended up being shown at Shainman?

Jack showed that piece in October 2013 just after I joined the gallery. It had already been acquired by Francesca Von Habsberg and TBA21. Jack borrowed it for the show, “A Fist Full Of Feathers.” Super generous of him to bring it to 24th street where the New York Times and a number of others reviewed it.

 

I remember you had it shown at the Aldridge Museum prior?

Yes, I completed Bowery Nation in 2012, capping it at a hundred figures and twenty-two birds. Richard Klein brought it to the Aldridge Museum and then it immediately went on to the Nelson-Atkins and their beautiful building, and soon after to Jack Shainman's 24th Street space in New York, and finally ending up in Guadalajara at the MAZ (Museo de Arte de Zapopan) where it's currently awaiting transportation to Bogota. Bowery Nation is going to be on the road for a while, which is thrilling. Guadalajara in so many ways reminds me of the Southside of Tucson, which is where I grew up. So it was cool to see those figures in an environment similar to where I came from. Growing up in Tucson, I was aware of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona. Around 1975 or so, I was visiting the Heard and for some reason the Barry Goldwater collection of kachina dolls made a huge impact on me in sheer number and quality. That's a whole cosmology unto itself. Later, in the mid-90’s, I saw a Pow Wow Parade at Crow Nation in Montana, and subsequently created this conceptual Pow Wow float, which is why Bowery Nation looks like it does. I basically assembled my studio furniture and built an improvised platform. My idea was that anyone could do this and take part in the parade. These were the intercessors and ambassadors of this creative universe. It had a noise level that I really liked.

 

Was there any specific inspiration for the individual figures?

Again, going back to the Topps Chewing Gum experience, there was the anthropomorphic nature and characterization within the comic worlds. Combining that with things I had seen in the Heard Museum—the overall human idea that the doll or figure is translating myth and history to a younger generation is a universal concept. It seems to be a natural from time immemorial. The next level of figures I showed at Jack's gallery in "Fort Gotham Girls + Boys Club" are more involved in articulation with their own dream-catchers. Recently, I was at this incredible residency in Captiva Island, Florida at the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation. There was a kiln and so I started picking up clay and building forms. That seems to be a huge new direction in translating my painterly impulses into my need to build objects.

 

How do you feel your work relates to Native culture? You are clearly interested and purposefully seek it out. But there also seems to be a rift.

That's an excellent question. I'm currently in this show called "Plains Indians: Artists of the Earth and Sky" at the Met. It's hugely important—spanning two thousand years of Native cultural history to evolving contemporary Native work. I feel great about being in it, but it's also making clearer my position in relation to Native culture—this kind of inside, outside thing. I've created this bubble for myself and the show is bringing that more into focus. It was a very direct and conscious decision that I occupy a unique position in relation to both the Native and the contemporary art worlds.

 

And it makes sense because Native culture has been so interrupted historically. You're not trying to preserve traditional culture but instead representing this position you've sort of found yourself in.

In my talk at the Met, I refer to it as a "collision of cultures."  When you see the show it is fairly clear from the late 1800s on. My work is more like you're driving along and come upon the immediacy or suddenness of a car wreck that hasn't quite been cleared off the highway. That's not the most typical narrative.

 

That segues nicely into your zing project in issue #23, "Community Board"—a montage of images from photos to drawings, found pieces, and video stills.

Yeah, it's beautifully designed. I love the way it turned out. There's an incongruity or uneasiness from image to image, much like how the Plains ledger drawings work. Spatially, in the ledger drawings, multiple events occur within one page. When you think about it, some of them are more progressive than comics today. Ledger drawings were America's first graphic novels.

 

What are you working on now?

The sketchbooks started last summer, reconnecting to a tradition I've always followed. It was this idea of drawing the new orbits of creative activity around Bushwick and Williamsburg. It's based on the older tradition of the flaneur - the Parisian artist roaming the streets and recording. I think it's just extending the studio practice out and beyond. Having a glass of wine with dinner at night and sketching. Keeping it going. It's really that simple. That's the beauty and brilliance of the sketchbook.

 

Does this feed into other work, like your paintings?

Well, traditionally, that would have been the case but now I'm posting them on Instagram (@bradkahlhamer ), which led to a show at the Wythe Hotel of selected spreads in three of the penthouse rooms. Suddenly the sketchbooks have their own life. I like the public/private nature of this exhibition because it goes back to the intimacy of the sketchbook as well. It's the grand tradition of observational drawing. I've always drawn the figure. The reason I sketch is to drive up the intensity of the experience and make it more known to me. It's natural for me to not make one but 248 drawings of, let's say, skulls for my Skull Project (2004). It comes out of music because I play by ear and it was always the idea of repetition of learning that was ground into me as a teenager.

 

 

SuperCatcher, 11.5' x 11.5' x 12", wire and bells, 2014

 

Tell me about your latest work, SuperCatcher.

The idea was to take every dream-catcher in the United States, whether it's on a pickup truck or in a single-wide trailer, somebody's bicycle or baby crib, and weave them all together in a cosmos, a universe of industrial wire. The spiritual rebar for an enriched dream reactor. I’m very pleased this particular work will be hung at the 2016 grand re-opening of SFMOMA.

 

Find more about Brad Kahlhamer on his website www.bradkahlhamer.net. View his new music video “Bowery Nation” here and follow him on Instagram: @bradkahlhamer .

 

 

ZINGCHAT: Rose Hartman's Incomparable Couples


In 1977 only weeks after the opening of Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell's legendary Studio 54, the young and beautiful Bianca Jagger rode onto a colorful strobe-lit dance floor on a white horse ringing in her 27th birthday. Steve Rubell knew that the up and coming New York photographer Rose Hartman was working on her first book, Birds of Paradise, and personally invited her to the club that night. Armed with her compact Olympus SLR she was poised at the ready and captured the moment with her most iconic image, what Bob Colacello labeled: "the shot that was heard around the world!" Bianca on a white horse appeared on the front page of every newspaper from New York to Singapore and heralded Hartman who would become a major force on New York's glamorous nightlife and fashion scene tirelessly shooting all the best parties, the fashion shows and capturing the demimonde, the club kids, and the private parties held beyond the velvet ropes hosted by the international glitterati. For more than 30 years Hartman's images have appeared in newsprint and fashion magazines including Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vogue, Vanity Fair. Her second book Incomparable Woman of Style features over 200 photographs including reproductions of vintage silver prints Hartman developed in a studio she set up in her West Village home. We recently caught up with Rose at Sant Ambroeus on Lafayette Street to talk pictures and her new book Incomparable Couples, a glittering compendium of dynamic duos: mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and lovers, designers and muses.

 

Mary Barone: Rose, congratulations on the book. It's got some spectacular images. The cover image of David Bowie and Iman. I don't think there's a person on the planet who doesn't know who David Bowie is, but beyond that did you choose it as the cover because it was one of your favorites?

   

Rose: Totally, there's no question. It is one of my favorite images; look at it, how he’s biting his lip! That’s what I love.

 

Brandon Johnson: Was that in response to something you said?

 

R: I don’t know. Obviously, I’m in front of them, but I’m not engaged with them in conversation. Let’s make that clear. Sometimes I am, but this time I wasn’t.

 

B: But you’re acting as the observer - as the photographer, you are looking for the moment that you want to capture.

 

R: Absolutely, isn’t that what photographers do?

 

M: Rose, but Iman looks at you so lovingly.

 

R: It’s amazing. The truth is I was actually in Mustique. I had been invited by a very nice friend who has a house there so I went and they lived there too. I can’t remember if that was before or after, but she obviously recognized me because I was always shooting the fashion shows. I was always backstage. But we were definitely not having a conversation that I could remember.

 

M: As a way to look at the pictures beyond the surface, for example the picture of Carmen and Horst.  For the zing community who might not know who Carmen is, that she started her modeling career when she was 14.

 

R: Yeah, and now she’s like 84!

 

M: And she still actively models, but looking at the photograph do you remember the event. The picture is so colorful and lively, I can almost hear what was going on.

 

R: It was a book signing, a book party for Horst at Bendel’s department store on 5th Avenue. That’s all I can tell you. Lovely people came and obviously he had photographed Carmen in her earlier career and they were just having one of those moments.  Beyond the surface is a relationship between two people. Obviously the model really respected the photographer, who was a genius, and the photographer really respected her and that’s what you see in that picture.

M: And I also see those great Chanel earrings she's wearing!

 

R: See, now that’s so interesting!

 

M: They are fantastic.

 

R: Well, let’s put it this way, she’s not going to go out in vendor earrings.

 

M. Hahaha, that's true . . . certainly not Carmen with her wicked sense of style.

 


 

M: I love this one of Annie Leibovitz and Jerry Hall.  A photographer always seems to give a great picture. 

 

 

R: It’s probably the best picture I’ve seen of her. I am bragging now because I’ve seen thousands of pictures of Annie Leibovitz where she looks frozen.

 

M: Yeah, it's true, most images of her she can look timid but in this one she looks so alive. She's got a beautiful smile.

 

R: So it was taken at the Algonquin Hotel and I believe it was some kind of book party, but you know it’s really hard for me to remember. This happened almost 25 years ago.

 

M: Of course, but the images are so lively and glamorous! It’s fun to hear you talk about them. Like this one of Cher and Bob Mackie.  It's at the height of Cher and Bob Mackie looks so handsome!

 

R: Bob Mackie would always design her clothes so he would always take her out and you’d say, “Oh my god! Cher, you look fabulous!” and he would be happy because it would make his career rise.

 

M: Forget the people who try to shock and transcend the norm now. Cher was wearing things by Bob Mackie back in the day when no one would take those kinds of fashion risks on the red carpet, and she did it with so much style and elegance and deadpan. She's a genius!

 


 

R: And the photographers would just go crazy. But, of course, for me the interesting moment is that he is glancing at his work.

 

B: Is that the movement in this photograph that you were looking for, when he is looking at his own work on Cher?

 

R: Yeah, you understand, let’s say I’m chatting with you but you’re not famous, but I like you. We are having a lovely conversation, but my eye is always over there. I know exactly who’s in the room, so I would know if they were nearby. I think that was at the Costume Institute Gala at the Met, back when I’d be invited inside.  Now it's become a very guarded event.

 

M: The picture was taken in 1985, in fact. 

 

R: Yes when I would have had such great freedom. But again, I’d be chatting; I wouldn’t be standing in front of them. But at the moment I could feel something, I could sense something, and I don’t even know even how to verbalize it. I would just have that sense.

 

M. I saw in WWD the other day that Cher went with Marc Jacobs to this year's gala and she was wearing a beautiful Marc Jacobs gown. She's still supporting designers' careers.

 

B: So Rose, your picture of Cher and Bob Mackie was taken at a time when photographers had more freedom to roam, to be more  intuitive. Was the picture pure intuition?

 

R: Totally, because it’s a question Elle Magazine Croatia came and asked me. They did a big story and I’m laughing, because they want to know 'why I took the picture'  and I think you’ve answered it absolutely correctly.

 

B: Do you feel like you developed this sense over time? Did it become easier for you to find these moments, or is it an ability you feel you naturally have.

 

R: This is also a good question, I don’t really have the answer. In other words when I met you, I’m already looking at the stripe on your t-shirt, I’m looking at you visually. It’s always interesting to me and it always has been. I will say this, I was born on the lower east side at 9th and C when it wasn’t gentrified and my mother would subscribe to Vogue. So I was looking at Vogue as a very young girl and it stuck with me because I was thinking, "my god, those people are having such a fabulous time, and they’re so beautiful, so immaculate," and that excitement I'd feel looking at those pictures has never left me.

 

B: So you were seeing these pictures and these images and fashion, and you were clearly influenced by them and it seems you developed your visual repertoire through this database you've stored in your mind.

 

M: It probably didn’t hurt growing up on the lower east side of New York.

 

R: I can’t imagine growing up anywhere else.

 

M: Yeah in terms of the visuals and the people and the architecture … 

 

R: Yes! So you know, my favorite walk at my age now is being on Madison Avenue at 7 o’clock  at night when no one is there and looking in every window. You can’t get better. I don’t want to be with anyone; I just want to take it in and there’s no one there between 59th and 79th streets.

 

M: I love that same walk. Sometimes if I’m leaving a museum opening or something, I do that walk. It’s pitch dark, it’s only the spotlights shining on the mannequins in the boutiques and the silhouettes and the clothing. You certainly don’t feel alone but it's also so quiet.

 

R: Quiet, yes, and I also feel very safe when I’m walking there, but I feel like it’s a very comfortable part of New York at night time. 

 

M: On the subject of New York, let’s face it, these two, certainly for my generation, we watched John-John and Caroline Kennedy grow up on TV, in the newspapers, but looking at this photograph of them … I mean Rose … this is really something.  It shows all the sibling love. That sibling energy is so dynamic.

 

R: I don’t think Caroline has seen it.

 

M: She hasn’t seen it?

 

R: Well, it’s not like I’m knocking on the door of the Ambassador to Japan, am I?!

 

M: Maybe you should!

 


 

 

M: Here's another great brother and sister duo: Donatella and Gianni Versace.

 

R: Look at how shy she was, and look how beautiful she was.

 

M: And look at how beautiful and tanned Gianni Versace is.

 

R: Well, he was signing his perfume bottle at Saks Fifth Avenue.

 

M: I love the little details in the shot, the neoclassical decoration on the chair. It’s so Versace.

 

 

R: Well, hello! I think that’s why it was placed there. I would like to know how many other people notice that.

 

M: It’s brilliant how you get it all, Rose. 

 

R: And so I was there; they were there and … 

 

M: Rose, Dominique who is assisting us today, is a second year undergraduate at NYU Gallatin and before you arrived she was particularly drawn to this picture of the Rueda sisters.

 

R: So many people have said that and this is my most recent shot.

 

Dominique Lufrano: You photographed them this year?

 

R: You know, the book needed to be published so I took it last year.

 

M: So it was a setup?

 

R: Totally, don’t you see? When hands are like that.

 

 

B: It looks like a painting.

 

R: I met them at an exhibition opening at the Lincoln Center for Klaus Lucka, the photographer.  It was an evening where they projected his photographs on a wide screen with ballet dancing and these women were there, tiny as they are in extraordinary Spanish mantillas, they were so beautiful. I introduced myself but I didn’t have a camera, so I asked them, “do you think I could visit you for tea?” to which they told me that they lived on East 52nd Street and that this one on the left, Caroline is her name, I think she's a couture designer. So they invited me over and we had tea at their home which is minimal gothic, so otherworldly, and then they were dressed like that. I almost fainted. You know, they’re like each a size 0 .. and then they sat there and were like "whatever," and then I said to myself, "Okay Rose, quick! before they get into a pose which would be so boring!"

 

D: I love her whole gaze. They're so sculptural.

 

R: She’s like a piece of sculpture! The one on the left, Caroline, she speaks a lot of English but her sister Elise doesn't and just sort of nods “yes” or “no.”

 

M: Where are they originally from?

 

R: Romania, Spain, France, it’s all mixed up. So that’s that story. So what’s your comment? I’d rather hear from you, Dominique.

 

D: No, I just think they look so classically Southern European, and I just wanted to know what the story was behind the photograph.

 

R: Well, that’s the story. Everyone asks about that photograph because you don’t expect to see anything like them.

 

M: The book is filled with so many iconic figures and celebrity icons.

 

 

R: Like Yoko Ono?

 

M: Yeah, look how adorable Sean Lennon is! What's the date?

 

R: 1994.

 

B: I wanted to ask you about photographing couples, a duo. It’s obviously not the same as classic portrait photography. Do you approach photographing pairs differently than you would an individual?

 

R: No, whatever I’m doing, I’m doing whether it’s one or two or three. I’m trying to get it to be the most interesting picture. Of course, two presents challenges that one does not present, but the results I find are somewhat more interesting.

 

M: Speaking of couples, this one of Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, taken in 1996. They're adorable.

 


 

 

R: I don’t think she’s seen it either. I keep looking for her. She’s a neighbor, but she doesn’t hang out. I mean, it would be great to bump into her and show her the photograph.

 

M: In fact, many of the married couples in the book seem happy together except this one of Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt, who seem completely detached both physically and psychologically. 

 

R: True, I think they were married for about six months.

 

 

B: Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt.

R: Yes, he’s the ex-husband of Elizabeth Taylor. Suzie Hunt doesn't look like she was having a good time either.

 

M: Versus Mick and Bianca who look like they were having a lovely time in 1977.

 

 

R: Well, are you asking me? I can’t comment on how lovely a time they were having, I can only comment on what I took.

M: Well, it looks like a candid shot, it’s just the extreme opposite of the one of Richard Burton and Suzie Hunt on the previous page.  I’m just putting it out there. The pacing of the book, the contrast of happy versus miserable is so interesting.

 

M: These two pictures side by side of Calvin and Kelly Klein in 1986 at the Costume Institute gala, when Cher was there with Bob Mackey.

 

R: Tell me your comment on these two photographs.

 

M: Oh well, in one they're just arriving and Kelly looks happy and in the other they're leaving and she looks pretty unhappy.

 

B: It looks like he did something wrong?

 

R: I don’t know if he’s done something wrong, but he’s definitely not being attentive to her.

 

B: It's a curious picture. It’s interesting.

 

 

 


 

M: On the note of pacing, it was an interesting idea of the art director to pace it this way with the coming and going. But again, Calvin Klein looks distracted, perhaps someone called his name and she sort of just seems to be in a moment. I mean, they're not as clearly detached from one another as the Richard Burton/Suzie Hunt picture. I mean, that is a striking image of a couple.  It's dark.

 

R: [Pointing out the back cover image] You know, that’s Keith Richards's son Marlon with his wife Lucie de la Falaise, LouLou's niece.

 

 

M: Rose, I have this one last question. 

R: Please.

 

M: Is much of what you do your own design, because for years I’ve seen you everywhere, uptown, downtown, crosstown, midtown. Do you have an editor who says, “Rose, go shoot these three events.”

 

R: I’m very glad you asked that. When I started my career I was with a photo stock agency called Globe Photo, it was one of the largest agencies at that time next to Getty Images. I asked them to get a list, a fashion calendar so we could start to plan stories. 

 

B: So you started out with Globe?

 

R: Yes, I would go to the office and review the calendar.  For example, one event would be on the calendar, it was a party Armani was throwing to celebrate the opening of their New York boutique. I knew the PR woman, and they  knew I would do something beautiful, so they’d invite me.  And there you have Sophia Lauren presenting a book on cooking, which seemed a little strange, but Mel Gibson is standing by her side. What more could you ask for?  It made a marvelous photograph! 

 

B: You kind of pioneered the fashion aspect at Globe?

 

R: Yeah, I absolutely did. Pioneered is the word. No one at the agency knew anything about models or fashion. I was working on my first book Birds of Paradise ...

 

B: … and this was for Globe? The party photos?

 

R: No, Birds of Paradise was not for Globe. The book was published by Delta Books in 1980. It included pictures I'd taken while working for Globe, but images where I owned the copyright. I always kept images for myself, like Bianca on a White Horse for example.

 

B: And you kept the negatives and the transparencies? You didn’t hand them all in?

R: No!

 

B: Because now images are so easy to grab right off the internet. Back then a photographer had outright ownership with analogue film.

 

R: They were my negatives. I was writing a book, Birds of Paradise, an Intimate View of the New York Fashion World. It's how I was invited to Studio 54 for Bianca Jagger's birthday party.  Steve Rubell knew I was working on the book. I was writing it and had been taking photographs of models at Studio 54 so he personally invited me to the club that night.

 

M: On that note, you recently had an amazing exhibition at FIT, the central image being Bianca on a White Horse. It’s a beautiful picture.

 

R: It’s my most iconic picture and a picture I still love to look at, it brings back memories when New York nightlife was so vibrant. It was such a thrilling time to be a nightlife photographer in New York.

 

 

Bianca on a White Horse, 1977 from Incomparable Women of Style by Rose Hartman

Rose Hartman will be in conversation at New York Public Library on May 11th at 6:30.  Incomparable Couples is published by ACC Publishing Group and available on Amazon.com