INTERVIEW: ANYA KIELAR SHAPES ART TO TIME

Anya Kielar reflects on weird New York living situations, love, motherhood, and the turbulence of art-making

 

 

 

Installation view, Anya Kielar, "Pop Up 1: Montauk," presented by Fabiola Beracasa and Art Production Fund, Montauk, NY, August 1 - September 8, 2013

 

With her thrift store clothes, self-described New York brassiness, and uncanny ability to solve with simplicity the unusual formal problems that only artists have, my first impression of Anya Kielar some six years ago was that she was so damn cool. I was 23 years old, working at the Dikeou Collection in Denver, CO, and Kielar was assisting then-boyfriend now-husband Johannes VanDerBeek with the installation of his piece, “Newspaper Ruined.” Now married and a mother, Kielar has stayed on schedule with her own career as an artist making most recently “sprayograms” (one of a few innovations) and sun prints of women’s clothing that are reminiscent of the packaging used to contain Barbie clothes. Kielar refashions the artifacts and marks of femininity – long opera gloves and big pouty lips, for example – into surreally vibrant characters with personality. Large noses and eyes and lips made from painted garbage and sand turn an exhibition wall into a female face that’s something like a stylized she-Frankenstein of archetypal womanhood. In the SoHo apartment where she grew up in the 80s, Kielar reflected on the identity of “artist” and what it’s like for artists to start a family.

 

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

You grew up in New York in the 80s, which is looked back at as the heyday but it was also the AIDS crisis. It seems like there’s a lot of nostalgia right now for what New York was back then and you grew up right where it was happening.

 

I definitely was influenced. We had galleries right across from us out the window. Those were galleries for a while, not offices. I was a big fan of Basquiat when I was in high school of course. When I was applying for Cooper Union, I had a lot of terrible Basquiat/Edward Gorey influenced work. Terrible paintings.

 

Where does your interest in the female form as Other come from? It’s interesting that your work is described as depicting the Other because I don’t really get a sense of “otherness” from your work. 

 

I think it’s always been me trying to relate to myself as a woman in the universe and how complex that is. At the very base of it, I think it’s all simplistically self-discovery or about the strangeness of what femininity is, and how women are depicted in art history and culture. I’m especially fascinated by ancient cultures and drawn to things that were made to carry out some symbolic purpose or that had some kind of belief structure behind them. I think that’s something similar between my husband and I. The idea that a fertility figure or a figure that’s supposed to harness somebody’s soul after they’ve passed away – I just find that really fascinating. I think a lot of my imagery comes from Prehistoric work.

 

The work certainly depicts womanhood very differently compared to much of art history. You just said something about art that “carries out a symbolic purpose . . . ”

 

I think that’s the end goal and I can only hope my work captures a little bit of that power of conveyance through its symbology . . . It’s so hard given everything that can be watched, read, or heard in once day to expect a viewer to have a lingering memory of your work.  But if you put yourself fully into your work, almost like it’s a vessel then I think even in the short amount of time someone looks at an artwork there is a chance you can give them something to hold onto. Again, I can only hope my work carries some kind of meaning that sinks into the viewers in a lasting way. I struggle a lot with how to make an object have that effect. I watch movies all the time and I think, “I’ve never cried at something I’ve made or that one of my friends made,” the way you do in a movie.  So sometimes I’m like, “Am I in the right field?” But then I think there is a real power to the fact an object is made by a single person who is struggling to capture the quality of the world they feel is around them.  That their reasons behind making it as an art object is to represent something they see in their culture that is worth depicting in a new light.  I think when it comes to an art object you can get a better sense of the insatiable, underlying desires of the individual behind it. I think that’s what I’m most inspired by. Not to say that contemporary art doesn’t harness that, it’s just that there is a bareness and vulnerability to work that was made to harness the spirit world. I think it’s a really hard thing to capture that quality. It may be why I’m always changing my materials and my process constantly because I’m using my work like a barometer for my soul. I know maybe in the long run, that’s not the smartest tactic as an artist. You’re supposed to have your thing and I feel like I haven’t found that thing yet, but it always excites me to work with new stuff, but maybe that’s also a quest to find that one thing that emits all the things I want to emit to the world. That’s what makes art making exciting. If you found that formula, you’d probably be disappointed.

 

There is, I think, a contemporary jadedness about what art does in the world. 

 

It’s hard because when you’re creating this tiny drop in this sea of cultural-whatever, it seems kind of like it just gets washed away or something. But you look back and you mention an artist’s name and you can see all the ripples of how much Brancusi has affected so much contemporary sculpture to this day. Time will tell that.

 

I also believe in luck. I just happened to be lucky that I had that one show and things snowballed. Not to say that it’s only luck.

 

Yes, there is a formula I think of talent and luck.

 

I have some very talented friends who have never broken in. Then I have friends who are doing exceptionally well. It’s interesting what happens over time if you’re friends with very talented people. It’s almost like it’s just this lucky twist in the road and some people make that bend and some people don’t and it’s hard to figure out why. It’s impossible to even think that way like, “How can I make something that will be successful in the marketplace?” It doesn’t work like that. There definitely are artists that think like that and are very successful at it. Hopefully, you work really hard and it leads to other things as well like a better teaching position or better grants, not just solely relying on sales.

 

Then on the other side, there’s the manufacture of wunderkinds, people who can afford to participate in the market and people the market sensationalizes.

 

Yeah, there’s a lot of those, but I feel like it’s a really good time to be a female artist, more so than any other era. Out of my friends, I can say that the majority of them who are doing really well are my female friends. So I find that really inspiring. I mean, ask me in 50 years if I think that I was totally naïve, but I think it’s a good time to be a female artist. There’s inequality in every aspect of life. But things are changing.

 

I agree that there’s this old school worldview that’s essentially dying off. I just saw Baselitz in The Guardian today defending remarks he made a year earlier about women being unable to paint. But the reaction to his statements seemed to be a combination of both anger and comedy. People seem to regard his comments as silly.

 

And dated and weird.

 

The way I was as a young person absorbing things, I never was somebody who got very upset about things. I think I generally have a ridiculously positive attitude toward being a female artist. But I get a lot of calls for group shows last minute and I call that “lady filler.” They’re like, “Shit, we need another woman in the show.” I don’t want to say that because there are people who did curate shows or it was a conscious decision to have me in the show, but that’s a pretty common thing among female artists. It’s always kind of funny, but I’m glad it happens.

 

 

 

Anya Kielar, "Jacket and Stocking," 2013, acrylic on canvas, 76 x 54 inches, 193 x 137.2 cm

 

The stereotype of what an artist “is” used to be this idea of the singular, tortured man. What’s interesting is that the stereotype of the female artist involves an assumption of eccentricity and madness.

 

In general, the characters are more amusing so that gets played up. If you look into anyone’s personal life or how they conduct themselves throughout the day whether they’re eccentrically dressed or whatever, people are just really strange. It’s more about the way things are romantically remembered.

 

I am reclusive in a weird way and sometimes I want to be around people. My husband will remind me, “You chose this career,” but to be productive you’re pretty much by yourself in a room all day. It’s a strange way to live your life. You kind of become a little strange because when you’re just around yourself all day, how you relate to people and how you relate to the world can become a little different.

 

Something I think about a lot is being alone and also how strange it is to constantly try to tap into your inner being to call out these images or things to attach to a feeling I have to compel me to do this thing. It’s very emotional, a very strange thing. It’s like being in therapy all day by yourself. It’s exhausting and it’s kind of weird to do that all the time.

 

I’ve had two periods of my life where I’ve had mental breakdowns and it’s always had a lot to do with insomnia and you get delirious when you don’t sleep. The thing with insomnia is that it’s a snowball effect brought on by anxiety. So I attribute the breakdown part, the depressiveness and stuff like that to the insomnia, but the insomnia is an effect of something different. I do think that introspectiveness, always trying to figure out what you’re trying to say or why you’re trying to say something or what you’re trying to hide or what’s revealed in your work . . . the two times I had episodes of depression, looking at my work was painful. When I was making it, it was just happening. The last time was right before I got married, the first time we moved upstate and I think the extreme isolation wasn’t good for me and it was also a difficult time in our lives. I kind of hid from everybody that I had this thing with insomnia until I got really kooky and I was taking Ambien, which made me crazier because it wasn’t working. So all these weird things were happening while I was trying to work on a show. I think what you’re supposed to do when you’re feeling anxious or a little bit depressed is to put yourself in the world or maybe stop asking yourself things that thoroughly, you only get propelled into a crazier state. I remember at that point, looking back at the work that I’d made several months ago, I’d made these plaster pieces and they were a lot about the female body and aging, and I remember making them semi-consciously, but not really, it’s also just dipping things in plaster very simply, but then looking at them I was like, “Oh my god this is what I think of my body.” Everything was a lot more psychologically in tune, or I thought I was a lot more in tune with my work. That’s kind of the crazy thing is that you can be making something and it never really can be stream of consciousness, you’re always conscious or you’re always quoting something or you’re always trying to say something, but it is kind of crazy if you look back at your work and you can draw the references to how you saw yourself or the world. But in the moment, it doesn’t seem that charged. It’s been a real eye opener. It really keyed me in on the subconscious effort that goes into making work and that’s something you want to harness. 

 

I think when I met you at the Dikeou Collection when I was about 23, you and Johannes had been together a few years. I recall you and I having a conversation back then about how hard it can be to be a woman pursuing a career and trying to have a personal life. You mentioned something about seeing other strong, driven women you knew being trampled by men in romance, which is something I’d kind of thought about as well.

 

It is such a big part of life. You have to be so vulnerable and such an idiot to fall in love and to be with somebody. It’s a daily thing you work on, but it’s really nice to have one person that you’re not competitive with. I really just wish him the world and hope for him more success than I have, and I know that he has the same feeling toward me, and that doesn’t really exist with anyone else.

 

As I recall, there’s a funny story about how you and Johannes began your romance?

 

We were in Cooper Union and I saw him on his first day of school. We hooked up when I was graduating and he still had two more years. It was the end of his second year when we hooked up. The first time I saw him at school, he had a heart on his shirt and we locked eyes and he didn’t look away. I was with somebody at the time, but I was in love with him for like a year before I ever talked to him. Then he was working on this giant Crazy Horse sculpture. [At Cooper Union] you basically got a desk to work at with maybe six feet of space and three feet on the side of the desk and the horse didn’t fit in that because it was nine feet tall and maybe 10 or 12 feet wide. It was a larger than life horse. He was working on that and we both kind of liked working alone at school late at night. While I was working on my senior show, every night I would walk past him, it was like a fairy tale, he was literally like a prince on a horse and he’d be like all powdered and white because he was using plaster. He was even really clever back then because the plaster was free, he used like 30 bags of it. He’d be doing that all night. Everybody on the floor knew when his piece was due because everyone was always rooting for him because he was this sweetheart always doing these crazy, impossible things, and his Crazy Horse was supposed to be a comment on American culture or something. It was turned into a miniature water park and it had a motor in it and he actually hooked it up to a pump. Of course it leaked and was crazy, but everybody was helping him before crit, so I grabbed a spray paint can and was spraying one of the slides for him. He stood up and dusted his hands off, and said, “We’ve never been formally introduced. My name is Johannes VanDerBeek” and I went, “I know who you are, Johannes,” and that was pretty much it. I think a couple days later, I literally grabbed his arm. He was standing in the lobby and I was like, “You’re going to walk me home.” I was living here, in this loft in SoHo, and I made him walk me home from Cooper Union. Then I said, “You’re going to meet me here tomorrow at 7p.m. and we’re going to go on a walk.” I was very aggressive because I knew he was a special human being.

 

How has having a family changed working for you and Johannes?

 

Our second year anniversary was this October. So our first year anniversary I was just beginning to be pregnant or whatever. It was kind of old fashioned because we were together for 10 years and then within six months of being married I was pregnant. I mean we had been planning on it. That was a big life changing moment. It literally made us change our lives from being in a big live/work space in DUMBO. We knew we had to get rid of that. We would be washing, like, resin in our sink and you can’t do that with the baby.

 

Your kids just demand your full attention. It was really trying this summer because I was asked to do two solo presentations within five months of each other so we quickly had to learn about how to straddle a heavy work schedule and keeping Talula happy.

 

I’m a Cancer so I’m a big homebody. So [before having a baby], I’d be like, “Oh I’ll reorganize the pantry and work in the studio and do laundry and then work in the studio.” When I could really focus was at night so that’s what I really miss is that night time when I’d be in my studio from nine to one a.m. or something. When I envision my memories . . . like, my music on really loud and having some wine and working in my studio and I think, “Oh my god, it’s going to be a really long time before I can do that again.”

 

It’s kind of good too though. Everybody said this. You’re a lot more efficient in your studio practice [after having a baby]. You’re thinking about your work all the time and then when you get an hour to work you’re actually physically working. In the past, there’d be a lot of sitting and thinking and a lot of wasting a lot of time. So now, I feel like I’m more productive when I do get to work.

 

 

 

Installation view, Anya Kielar, "FACE," Rachel Uffner Gallery, New York, NY, February 25 - April 4, 2010

 

Have these time constraints changed the work?

 

Yes now I find myself coming up with pieces that can be made in quick bursts of time. My last two show were paintings done on wet pieces of fabric out in the summer sun so they had to be completed within the time it took for them to dry. But it’s great when your life changes and forces you to adjust because it can lead to completely new ideas. Over the summer I also came up with these canvas pieces that I called “impressions,” that were literally impressions I took from clothes that were saturated in paint and laid down on canvas. It’s like a stamp where I put one on, walk away from it, feed the baby, and come back and do another one.  I think your work just naturally evolves to what your life is and how you need to work.

 

My impression is that you and Johannes have been very intelligent about finding ways to fund basic living while still having time to make work and that’s really the rub for a lot of emerging artists.

 

We’ve been kind of lucky. Right out of college, Johannes started working with Zach [Feuer] and I took a year off and then I went to graduate school. I was just figuring out what I wanted to make and I applied to with very different stuff. It was performative/photo-based digital stuff. In graduate school, I realized I enjoyed making more of the work rather than the final photograph. In graduate school you’re given a chance to dive into your head and challenged to dissect your interests. I realized what I really loved doing was making the sets or props or objects for the photographs and then I thought, “Why am I stressing out so much trying to make these finished photographs when I enjoy more of the sculpture and handmade aspect of the work?” Also, Johannes has always really influenced my work and he’s done a lot with sculpture and I think that influenced me subconsciously.

 

I basically had my first show with Daniel Reich a month after my thesis show. All my thesis work went into that show plus I made a couple supplemental pieces. And that was kind of at the height of the market before it totally fell out. So we were kind of lucky to have shows where you’re modestly able to kind of live off of that. We also had the gallery [Guild and Greyshkul] and we all got a small – really small, small – salary from that. I think we were living in this place in Hell’s Kitchen that was a floor-through that was 12 feet wide and at the narrowest nine feet. We had a room that was 30 feet so we both had a section of that so my studio was nine feet by 15 feet. We also had the basement and the gallery and that was our house and our studio. Johannes made this giant wax bush in this crazy apartment where I would have to literally bend under it to get to the bathroom in the middle of the night. And that piece that’s at the Dikeou Collection, the newspaper piece, he worked on that at the Hell’s Kitchen apartment, but there wasn’t room to fully set it up so I remember we had the dining room table and these pieces were all over the table and any surface in the apartment including the galley way kitchen.

 

Also, I think that’s really influenced how we work with materials. It’s not like a fake folksy-ness. The newspapers were free. Or, I literally found objects and furniture on the street. I also lived by the Salvation Army and so I used a lot of thrift store finds. Not so much now, now I’ve been working in fabric, but with modest materials. Now I’ll try to go to the fabric district and try to find the cheapest and highest quality fabric per yard. My dyes that I got, they’re powder so they last a long time.

 

The thriftiness is still within us. We’re both kind of hands on. I really believe in making my own work. I’m not an artist that can have an idea and have other people execute it. Maybe I will one day. There are things that you just cannot do. But I think that also comes from kind of enjoying finding materials that you can transform into art materials. There are shows where the material budget was really limited. For example, I did a show at Rachel [Uffner’s] with these things called “Sand Paintings.”

 

I believe the Dikeou Collection owns at least one of these pieces?

 

Yeah, well basically, for all that work, the only thing I really purchased was masonite, paint and sand, and for all the objects on it, I would take walks at night through DUMBO and find fruit containers or sticks or detritus or recycled materials or wine bottles – those I would find in my own house. You just kind of come up with these things where you need to work like that. As you move through different periods of your life, your work is totally affected by what you can manage and what you can’t.

 

It makes so much sense that so many New York artists turn to garbage for materials. I hear that almost every time I interview an artist for zing.

 

New York is just crazy. Now our place looks pretty spiffy, but I grew up just going to flea markets. This area used to be good for that. On Canal there actually were three different flea markets and my dad would go every weekend. I grew up like that. All my clothes were from thrift stores and I’m still like that. I get most stuff from thrift stores. It’s more fun and it’s very inexpensive. New York is a great place for that. There’s so many people, it’s so diverse, and so much waste comes out of everybody, it’s just a great place to find stuff.

 

What are you working on now?

 

My most recent work were these sun prints I made up in the country. They involved wetting fabric and applying dye and then laying objects on top of the painting. The sun does the rest and it’s kind of amazing. The areas around the object dry faster than the areas where the object is so the heat pulls the dye away from where you have an object.  It’s similar to the process of the photograms and they look really photographic but they also involve a lot of painterly moments where the ink bleeds in unexpected ways that are ghostly and foggy. I was making them late into the fall after the success of the summer versions but it was getting colder so the sun wasn’t strong so the images were really faint. In the beginning I thought, “Oh god these are failures and I hate them.” And in the end, those were my favorite ones because they were so elusive. That’s what’s interesting about art and process, is that you can get kind of mechanical with the process and you know what it’s going to look like. But it’s always kind of the best when you don’t know what it will look like. The better things come out when there’s a little bit of fuzziness about how it will look in the end. Then it was funny because I was trying to emulate the ones that were failures, but it never works out that way.

 

One body of work always leads to another. So my last two bodies of work have all been in fabric and I’ve been working in dyes and I’m excited about where those things went, but working on the sunprints made me want to reinvestigate my spraygrams or working again with the airbrush, but maybe bringing the hand back into it. The previous show was really painting different mediums on fabric and the last one was using objects as the main handmark, but I kind of want to meld the two a little bit and I think maybe I want to get into three-dimensionality again. 


Follow Rachel Cole Dalamangas on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

 

photos courtesy of Rachel Uffner Gallery

INTERVIEW: PANTHEISM IS NATURAL TO PHILLIP E. SHAW

Illustration by Nick Sumida

Since the days of my youth, I’ve always enjoyed a nice, weird story. Whether it’s the Brother Grimm, Alice In Wonderland, Edgar Allen Poe, Flann O’Brien, or my father’s improvised bedtime stories about cat gangs, the more bizarre the better. Phillip E. Shaw is an old friend, longtime writer compatriot, and fellow weirdo (among many other things). A section of his manuscript The Takes – a tale of a family assemblage thrown into cosmic crisis - was presented as my project in issue #23 in zingmagazine. Phil’s fiction met my aforementioned standards, and I most likely would’ve been as much as a fan when I younger as I am now. As it so happens, this book is still available to be published [hint hint]. Phil and I corresponded both telepathically and via email. Here are the results:

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

In my intro I called you a weirdo. Are you a weirdo?

You called me a weirdo? I think that's fair.

 

There's a folk gothic quality to this story, like the Grimm Brothers - maybe it's the combination of violence, strangeness, and adversity. Is this due to your German heritage?

Maybe. I read Heidegger's Being and Time a few years before I started The Takes. He's concerned with authenticity, being towards death, and what defines existence. Looking back, it's pretty obvious to me that there's a lot of that going on in the book. I know the Grimm stories, but I wouldn't say I know them that well. I saw the movie a couple years ago with Matt Damon as one of them, hunting witches etcetera. Not a good movie. 

 

The Takes are a family - two precocious kids, Brian and Olivia, and their hapless father Norman. I see Norman as the antithesis of the modern hero, a Leopold Bloom in American clothing sans interior life. Who does Norman represent in our society?

That's pretty right on. The lack of interior life has a lot to do with Norman being not a real person in the natural, common sense. He just doesn't have the complexity, at least at the outset of the book, which other characters have. Brian and Olivia are definitely precocious, and that's probably the more noticeable because of Norman's flatness. But Norman's journey toward complexity is one of the arcs in the book. And so in a way he represents anything that grows from flatness to complexity. He doesn't get there at the end of the first book, though. I'm writing toward that in the next one.

 

I'm interested in this fake-human/real-human thing - the flatness of Norman and his progression toward complexity. It seems like people could relate to this in life - trying to be present or authentically themselves, via meditation, yoga, various forms of art and culture. Is this also coming from Heidegger?

Yeah, Heidegger is batshit for authenticity. His road to that authenticity is through being-towards-death. At least as I read it, if we know that the end is coming at all times, we won't squander the present or indulge in fantasies like "I've got a lot of years left," or "tomorrow is another day that'll make up for today." That kind of mindfulness can be a product of yoga, meditation, and everything else that combines the intellectual understanding of time with physical practices that engage it. But what's hard for Norman is that he doesn't get it at all - he isn't engineered to get it. Even for Brian and Olivia, the idea of loss doesn't really start to have meaning until the end. Can people relate to that? I do, anyway. At least I think I will.     

 

After Helen's interloping Mother rampage, we meet her creator - a low-level Deity who's churning out defective quasi-humans to unleash upon the earth to please his own vanity. This is interesting to me, especially in the age of the Internet, where anybody can release anything in any stage of completion to the big blank Unknown at little to no cost to themselves. Is there any relation here? Or maybe this is a comment on the creative process in general? As he said "It's a lot like poetry, babe. Some compositions just don't turn out as well as others."

I never really thought about it in terms of the Internet, but damn that's pretty close to the bone. I've been guilty of that for sure, shoving out my imperfect, unfinished creations. Why the hell not? I guess the only reasons not to put it out there would be low quality creations cheapen my "brand," or whatever, and dilutes the medium by flooding it. Procrustes has definitely done that. He sees himself as an artist, but his art isn't ready. Just like Norman he's going to grow through the experience of realizing this, of being chastised and cheapened for his transgressions. Which I guess means that there's no room for vanity in art because art outlives you, goes further. And that it deserves to have a that life of its own.  

 

I'm also interested in this pantheistic universe where according to the character 8, "there are no rules except infinity and the inconsequence that not only accompanies but defines it." What's up with the pantheism? Why is the "God" God just a bored dude staring at his television?

Pantheism is really natural to me. Even monotheistic religions tend toward pantheism after awhile. Most, I'm not sure all, monotheistic religions tend to deify some entity other than the primary God, whether it's his son or his son's mother or his son's cousin or whomever. We like characters. I decided that 8 should be bored because he's not an interventionist in the sense that he's controlling everything. It's that watchmaker argument, in which God sets things in motion but has no control of the mechanism after its been created. How long can you watch a watch tick? So he's bored.   

 

I just read a draft of a newer story you wrote about a down and out Tony the Tiger who goes on a psychotic drug-fueled rampage. Where are you going with this?

That, not surprisingly, started when I was buying cereal. I looked at the store-brand cereals and the name-brand ones. I wondered how much store-brand mascots made, where they would live if they were real, how they'd feel about the wealthier, more established name-brand mascots. I wasn't sure but I figured Tony was the oldest of the mascots. His fall would be the most tragic, and so he had to fall. But it's also a story about obligatory friendships, identity, blah blah. What did you think about it?

 

I was thoroughly entertained, but with a little reflection I was surprised how believable it was for a giant tiger humanimal thing to be in existence. Like when he's drying off his fur with a towel - totally believable that this thing exists. Maybe it was the dialog that made it more real for me - there was a lot of character and nuance. With that said, I know you're currently working on a few projects across different mediums. Anything you'd care to mention here?

He's definitely real to me, anyway. Projects? Always. I'm trying to do a thing where I release, record, or curate a different 2 or 3 song single every month in 2014. The first one is a "band" called Boner Beach that's available for streaming up or loading down on bandcamp at this moment right now. And I'm working on the sequel to The Takes, which goes back a number of years, then forward, then back again. It's a prequel/sequel that advances the conflict between all those gods with indeterminate goals in the first book. And of course it explores what happens when two kids get absolute freedom, and how debilitating that can become.

 

 

INTERVIEW: LIZZI BOUGATSOS ON ART’S COMING SHIFT IN CONSCIOUSNESS

The planet, gender, and garbage according to the muse of New York’s underground

 

 

"For Thorton," Tree plant, hair from Ashland Mines, canvas tote bag, sage, 81 x 37 x 37 inches

 

Lizzi Bougatsos doesn’t believe in waste. A scattering of Christmas tree ornaments with miniature dildos affixed to them cutely adorns a table in her studio share in SoHo. A natural junk collector (and an artist disinclined to working in a studio at that), she’s using up the materials she already has on hand. When the front woman of experimental band Gang Gang Dance is done working with these items, she intends to make art with different sorts of objects: water, ice, trees. There’s a dilemma in the process, however, because Bougatsos’ understanding of beauty goes beyond the formal properties of material and the conceptual concerns of vision into the ethics of material itself. In other words, in a capitalist economy, art is an expression of consumerist waste, so how to make art that is both a product of creative human construction, but not another excessive object in an economy of exploitation, gluttony, and squander? Bougatsos has some ideas.

 

The first time I encountered Bougatsos’ work was via the Dikeou Collection when curator Devon Dikeou, in collaboration with Artpace's Mary Heathcott, exhibited a trio of 2010 pieces in group exhibit, “Swapmeet” at Artpace in San Antonio. I was surprised at the emotion – a sort of girlish, bitchy glee – that the objects elicited from me. A FOR RENT sign with “my pussy” scrawled in the entry field, Tracy Morgan raising his eyebrows on a Cop Out poster through a vanity light stand, and “In god we bust” scribbled in neon green lights. So irreverent and unpredictable, and most of all, I recognized I thought, the too little expressed reaction of contemporary female identity to the mainstream smorgasbord of celebrity obsession and perpetually confusing/infuriating onslaught of depictions of femaleness. However, Bougatsos’ work is shifting to reflect a shift in consciousness she anticipates for culture.

 

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

You’re known as an icon of the underground and some of your artwork appropriates/parodies the cult of celebrity. I’m curious about your thoughts on the relevance of subculture for unrepresented voices and perspectives?

 

I’m really excited about the youth now. I believe that every 10 years there’s a revival in some way whether it’s in music or art. The other day, my friend had a bunch of New York Times-es from the past month. I went through them all and there was a designer that I knew, there was a musician that I spoke to in a bar recently. They all know Gang Gang, but now they’re making their own albums and they’re in the Times. They’re making their own clothes and they’re in the Times.

 

I don’t believe in hierarchy. When I would curate art shows, one way that I would deal with the underground is put in artists that were emerging or never represented. For example, Rita Ackerman and I used to curate a lot of those and we would put a Louise Bourgeois next to a photographer that never showed in a gallery before – KatijaRawlesknown as a fashion photographer, her work was sort of similar to Marilyn Minter. There was another photographer that was an underground figure in New York for a really long time. Her work is incredible – Robin Graubard.

 

My whole goal in curating art shows was to never have anyone on a pedestal and keep everything on the same plane. And I feel that way about music too.

 

I never believed in idolizing somebody higher than yourself. I like to deface celebrity a lot because there are all the politics that come with it that are so gross and hard to deal with.

 

I would always play the show and then do the merch table after the show. The only reason I didn’t last tour is because I’m getting older and I’m getting tired. But if somebody asks me to come out and sign things and talk to people, I’ll always do that.

I don’t know. I’m excited about the underground in music.

 

With digital media’s impact on culture, is there a scene that is genuinely underground anymore?

 

I think the underground is equivalent to selling out. I don’t know if it exists. I mean I think there’s underdogs. I think there’s people that are coming up that need to be represented, but they don’t stay underground very long now because of the internet. It’s like two walls that face each other and cancel each other out.

 

For example, in the past, when we didn’t have the internet, you got a music contract for a tampon commercial. I always say tampon because Gang Gang was always like well the only thing we’d do is a tampon commercial, like we won’t do a car commercial. But because everything is so free, now you do those commercials. You’re forced to kind of do them. You’re forced to take that car commercial. Because there is no idea of selling out. With the internet, there's survival too. One has to learn not how to be watched. Identity theft is huge. 

 

Censorship was a big issue that came up like three years ago. That was going to be a big issue. We’re seeing it on like Facebook and even imagery on Instagram, but now everyone has a voice. If you want to be in a movie, just make your own. If you want to make a song, just put it on iTunes. There’s no need for a label even anymore.

 

What are the underdogs?

 

They’re the ones that haven’t been discovered yet, have the drive and will be a part of culture.

 

I think culture is a force, but I think that a big part of it is common sense. You need street cred. You know what I mean?

 

You gotta work for it and you gotta have common sense. If you're from New York, it helps. If you act in a mindful way, you will be rewarded.

 

I went to this art lecture once. Jerry Saltz was giving a lecture about how to make it in the art world. He had this pie diagram and it was really funny because being in the right place at the right time was a big part of that pie, like 65%. Like Yoko Ono when she met John Lennon – as far as I’m concerned he was in the right place at the right time. It’s really interesting, like, there’s about 65% of life that is about chance. 65-85%. I think he said luck went hand and hand with chance. I’ve heard actors say that too. 

 

What were your ambitions when you were 19? How did you perceive the career in front of you when you started out?

 

I’ve been thinking it about it recently. I perceived it exactly as I perceive it now. I remember my girl friend was dating this hot Columbian guy whose dad owned a deli and they had to move out of their deli and they put all this stuff in the garbage. I went into the garbage and I took out this huge tube and I took it home, coiled it up and put it on a piece of whiteboard and that was the sculpture that I made. I remember taking it off of the board and placing it on the beach and placing it on the lawn. I just believed in performance ever since I was in that garbage. It was sticky. It was filthy. There was, like, Coke syrup. I remember everyone saying, “That’s disgusting. That’s garbage.” There was nothing gonna stop me from making performative land art out of this sticky, disgusting tube.

 

Later on, I met Pat Hearn who was one of my major mentors and she was the first person that ever said anything to me about my art. She was dying of cancer at the time and she was so thin. She looked kind of like a shaman. She had this huge turban on and she said, “You remind me of Joan Jonas.” She said, “You work with error.” And that’s kind of why I kept working. Then I met this other artist, Suzanne Anker. I met her in New York when I was in college. She said to me, “This is sculpture” [throws a no. 2 pencil in an arc.] That was another thing that made me, it just stuck. Every single place that that pencil went in the air from the moment that it was kinetically and chemically in motion, it was performative sculpture.

 

Have you ever doubted your practice as an artist?

 

In 2009, I had an art show with James Fuentes and I got really upset. I didn’t have an art studio. I had to borrow one for a month. I never had an art studio. I always made art out of my apartment. I wanted to make this sculpture of a tongue that moved so I went to the sculpture store and I bought this material, it was $100, and I brought it to the studio and I read the directions and I was like, “Why am I buying this $100 material to make sculpture with when I have no money to eat anything?” So I brought it back and ever since then I’ve been really skeptical of what I put out. I just didn’t want to contribute to anymore waste. Waste is such a huge problem for me. I recycle almost everything. Everything that I own, I usually put into my artwork if I don’t sell it or give it away.

 

Three years later when I saw Urs Fischer make that tongue sculpture, I said to my friend Spencer, “I wanted to make that and I didn’t make it. Did you ever get upset that you didn’t make something and then you see someone else do it?” And he said, “Yeah, sometimes I get upset, but they did it first.”

 

How do you come through the other side of doubt?


I think it’s just a survivalist thing. I mean that’s the only way I’ve been able to make art or even music. I’ve always had a purpose for making music. With art, it’s really a survivalist thing. I get upset when I see really crappy art, but I don’t know why I keep making it. Because people really like it and I do get joy out of it, and I think that’s the communion side of my makeup. I really enjoy when people are laughing.

 

There’s a strong element of provocation in your work – an intense emotional charge and sense of humor coming out it.

 

That’s the performative side, I think. I think that it’s about gratification really. I think I get a lot of gratification from taking a knife and stabbing it into the wall and hanging pearls from it or a microphone and having that be my self-portrait. If it’s visually balanced, then I’m so satisfied.

 

You make work pretty spontaneously?


I have a tough time laboring. I am not even a studio artist. The fact that I have this studio, I mean, it’s pretty tough for me. This isn’t the way that I work.

 

Lately, I’ve been dealing with more physical forces of nature. Like ice or plants, dirt. Those have been the driving forces for me lately. You can’t own them. If you do own a plant, like the piece I put in my last show, a tree, when someone bought it, I gave them instructions on how to take care of it. I believe in making things that grow or that you can’t really own anymore. Like, I’m a feather. That’s how I’m thinking about my art right now.

 

You mentioned your problem with waste and described in other interviews your interest in a “shift in consciousness.” What is art’s and music’s role in a shift in consciousness?

 

I mean people put so much money into the fabrication of things that aren’t beautiful. Everything that exists in nature is already beautiful. That’s the dilemma I’m having now. I almost believe that art is the anti-Christ of what is beautiful. It’s basically a gluttonous production of waste and more garbage and more things that we’re going to have to bury. This is a dilemma that I face almost every few years.

 

I remember I was on tour and we were in Ireland and there were these stone statues facing the sea at the top of this mountain. And I thought, “This is the kind of art that will withstand the test of time. This is the kind of art that never goes away. This is the kind of art that you remember.” You can’t throw it away and it will erode naturally. When I look at those, I never want to make art again.

 

In the year I’ve been doing these interviews, one question I’ve asked almost every artist is do you think the world is ending because of environmental problems with material?

 

No.

 

I’m hoping that there will be a shift of consciousness that’s more mindful and more humane. The truth is there’s always evil because there’s always holiness and there needs to be a balance of yin and yang. I don’t think the world will end, I did almost think that for the Mayan calendar and I was a little bit scared, but I knew that that just meant that things were going to change and I was just hoping for a mindful consciousness among humans.

 

In a mindful world, where do you think art would be situated?

 

I have no idea because evil still holds the leash of art.

 

I mean this all goes back to how I studied ceramics for eight years. I knew that clay was from the earth and it was the only thing that wouldn’t pollute the earth, it would just go back into the earth. So I never considered myself making waste when I was working in clay because it could be recycled. When I did work in clay, I also believed that medium was equivalent to those sculptures on top of the hill.

 

You’re also considered a fashion icon. How does fashion matter to your art and music or vice versa?

 

I’m in this position where one of my closest friends, you know, she’s a fashion icon and she designs cloths. I get all of her hand-me-downs and it’s funny because sometimes I’ll have these really incredible things, but it’s not about having these incredible things, it’s about playing with them. I think this is where being an underdog really comes into play. You’ll see this hat at Balenciaga and it will be like a helmet with a crazy visor on it and there’s no way you could afford it, but if you’re creative you can recreate it, some version of it. So then you don’t have shell out $8,000 for this hat.

 

Some designers make the most beautiful art, wearable art and its so linked with performance. I loved when Björk wore that swan. I even liked when Lady Gaga came out of the egg. I love those crossovers. I love erratic creativity that sort of disturbs.

I’ve been called a muse by a lot of different people over the years and I’ve been told that I inspired this and that. My friend that I was talking about likes to watch me get ready. 

 

It’s interesting because fashion also involves the use of material – “wearable art” as you called it.

 

Exactly. But it’s the man too. You have to know how to wear it.

 

You’re referred to as a feminist frequently and there is this irreverent revelation of female identity happening in your work, but you never actually describe yourself as one.

 

Well, I do identify, but I never believed in calling myself a feminist. The people that I’ve always admired or wanted to be more like were men because somehow they always get a break. It seems like the women who get the break to be in the group show with the men are really in the show because they’re not a force, they’re not a threat. I’ve always considered myself a humanist instead of a feminist. I admire people who earn their keep. I don't care whether they are men or women.

 

I do don’t think it’s easy for women. We’re a threat. We’re able to create physically and a man can’t do that so I think that opens us up to having more psychic powers or something. We sort of see in circles, like mother universe, and men see in squares. That is why they so-called "succeed." Most of the men in my life have A LOT of female in them. That's why they wanted to do a tampon commercial, he he.

 

What are you working on now?

 

One piece is a sculpture that I’m envisioning right now that will go in somebody’s house, it’s a tree sculpture. The other piece that I was making was supposed to be a waterfall made out of ice, but I couldn’t make it happen. I got a movie job and I acted in a movie.

 

Photo courtesy of James Fuentes.

See more photos of Bougatsos’ recent work at James Fuentes.

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

 

This article originally featured three different works by the artist from 2010. The article has been updated with a photo that reflects her more recent work.

 

 

INTERVIEW: AUBREY MAYER’S NO IMAGE JUNKIE, IS PUTTING THE HUMANITY BACK IN ART

Mayer chats about gut instincts and the revolution of photography

Pettibon, 2013, Pigment Print, Enamel, Oil, and Acrylic on Linen, 60x42.5

In a dungeon-like basement studio in Williamsburg on a drizzly November afternoon, Aubrey Mayer is settled in an easy chair. Scattered around him are scraps of paper on a paint be-speckled cement floor, a box of American Spirits. A drawing of a kangaroo with boobs adorns the bathroom door – apparently freshly rendered by Henry Taylor the night before. On the wall to Mayer's left, “POLICE THE ART WORLD POLICE” is scrawled in black paint. With a pensive look on his face as he surveys a table covered in ‘brillo’ boxes and several walls of photos and autosheets in various states of construction, he almost seems as if he’s holding court. By his count, he spends about 18 hours a day in the studio and has a lot of work to make considering that earlier this year he began to sell enough of his art to sustain a full-time practice. Wearing a baseball cap, glasses, jeans, and sneakers, Mayer can go from laid-back, twenty-something urbanite who enjoys a good bullshit over a beer, to intense with a hungry look in his eye. And if recent history is any indicator, he does have an all-or-nothing ballsy streak. Before making sustainable sales, he did what almost no one else should do and quit his job to pursue a full-time career as an artist, in his words “threw a Hail Mary.” His talk about the discipline with which he approaches making art verges on old school visions of the great artiste, but then he’ll soften, lower his voice and speak very deliberately about putting a sense of humanity back in images, keeping subjects comfortable, getting audience to literally touch and toy with art. His extensive portraits of other artists, some of which are published in zing 23, exhibits a similar twofold nature. The gaze is decidedly heterosexual and male, but emotionally vivid and nuanced. There is something calculating happening and a strong whiff of seduction, but the expression is anything but cold. There’s none of that stale masculine voyeurism in the energy of the images and subjects frequently seem to be captured on some psychological edge, as if looking out from the frame of a strange film.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

How do you choose your subjects for portraits? They’re usually other artists. 

Yeah, I photograph like one person a year now basically, but when I was really heavily doing a lot of portraits of other artists, one artist would lead to another. Or, I’d get interested in an artist because of another artist. It just naturally umbrella-ed. 

I saw that you photographed Agathe Snow, another zing contributor. How did you meet Agathe?

I met Agathe when I was maybe 22 or 23. Carol Lee (then) of Paper Magazine had me do this thing where I would photograph an artist and ask them twelve questions, actually send them a short interview. So I met Agathe. I think I photographed her for the first time for the Whitney Biennial when she had something at the Armory and that’s where I met her. Then she rented a house on the same street I live on in Orient Point on Long Island. I don’t know how we saw each other there, but then we hung out. It’s where I took my better photographs of her. 

When did you start making art?

I’ve been making pictures for a long time. Since high school. It was never my major. I never got classically trained, but I’ve been taking pictures for a long time. I took pictures as a teenager. I took pictures in high school. Like, I did a lot of nudes starting in high school. 

What was your earlier work like? 

I took some pictures of a couple having sex in high school. I was taking naked pictures of girls and I asked this one girl who was my friend and also doing photography if she would pose nude and she said, “Yes, but can we take pictures of me and my boyfriend having sex, too?” 

 

 

Pleasure Beach, 2013, Pigment Print and Enamel on Linen, 60x42.5

Why do you think you’re so drawn to photographing people?

I don’t really know. I just think that’s the most interesting thing. It was just natural. I don’t know. Everything is just natural for me. Everything I do. Every move I make . . . I just make it and you know I have no idea why. I think that portraits and artwork of people has always seemed like the most important to me until I met Christopher Wool’s work. 

What I’ve learned about my work and what pushed it to evolve is that in the beginning it was hard to get an audience, it was hard to get people interested in the photographs. I felt like I had the best photographs in the world and I had the responsibility to figure out how the fuck to get them out there and that’s what has pushed my work -- that’s what’s pushed my work into the books and now the 'brillo' boxes.

I didn’t go to art school, but I’ve learned a lot from the artists I photographed. I chose which artists to learn the most from. 

Can you describe what you mean by this feeling of “natural”?

It’s gut. It’s all gut. Everything I do is gut. 

So this picture (gestures to black and white photo of creek). I think it’s an amazing picture. But in today’s art landscape, a lot of people would overlook an image like that. So I painted it neon yellow to make sure people didn’t forget to look. That was a gut instinct.

You seem to think a lot about audience. 

Yeah, because a lot of people say that photography is dead or different versions of this. And it’s not dead. 

I believe in classical, traditional photographic techniques, but I believe that photography needed a new energy. I don’t color correct, like shit is straight through. There’s no artifice. I deal with it without artifice. I guess I’m painting on it because other people are ruining it with Photoshop. That’s why photography was dying, because of the way people manipulate images. 

If you want to know why I think photography’s dying, it’s because of fashion photography. 

Interesting. How so?

Because a lot of young photographers come up and they think they have to be a fashion photographer or they use all the fashion photography re-touching and it just sucks the life out of their photos. And also, fashion photographers aren’t even photographers, they just do fashion. They’re getting told what to shoot and how to shoot it. They just have to show up, look pretty, and shake hands. 

What is your process then for creating a portrait?

That’s interesting. It’s definitely a collaboration. I don’t think when I’m taking a portrait. That is a natural thing. I don’t really talk to the subjects other than that we’re hanging out. They don’t even really notice that I’m doing anything. I’ve been told many times that it feels like I’m not even there. I try to make the subjects not feel me, the weight of my presence. There’s just like a right way to do it. I have instincts. 

I think it’s important to note that I went on a photo-shooting spree. I always wanted to be an artist and it always bothered me – it probably shouldn’t have – that people would call me a photographer. What I do is art. We’re all image junkies and everybody’s got a camera. But what I do, nobody else does. So I always thought I was an artist. The whole process of getting other people to realize that was very difficult. Really hard, the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But the most worthwhile, obviously.

How did you fight the label photographer?

By making the best work I could. I just work hard. I spend 18 hours a day at the studio. 

Elizabeth Peyton is from Orient. When I was younger, that was the first artist that I photographed. She was down the street from these awesome people who I used to stay at their house because my parents used to work in the city in the summer. And I was taking pictures and they’re like, “Oh you should look up this person who lives down the street, she’s really sweet.” And they said something like she wants to learn how to sail. And at that point in my life, the year before, I was campaigning for the Olympics. I was on the 2005 U.S. sailing team. I went to St. Mary’s College of Maryland. We were ranked 1st in the country. My freshman year we won a National Championship. 

 

Laura Owens, 2013, Pigment Print, Enamel, and Oil on Linen, 60x42.5

It sounds like these features of ambition and competitiveness are very much a part of who you are. 

Extremely. Ever since I was little. I grew up very overweight and I was tortured as a child, really ostracized. And my dad would always try to get me to sail and one night when I was like nine years old, for some reason one night, I was like, “Man, I’m gonna go race the older kids.” They were 18 year olds and I kicked everyone’s ass. It gave me something to feel good about. From then on, I sort of just found happiness through hard work. When I was younger it was sailing and now it’s art. I enjoy the process. I enjoy being here 18 hours a day. I enjoy pushing to get it right. 

The StoneScape group exhibit earlier this year was curated as “portrait work that unveils the identity of the artist as well as the subject.” Is that something that’s going on in your work, the revelation of your identity?

I think it’s portrait and about portrait, and definitely because I think that the thing about the new portrait is that the work’s just as much about the person taking it as it is about the subject. 

It’s about including everything. When I was little I would look at a Peter Hujar book and then I would go take a Peter Hujar photograph. Then I’d look at a Robert Frank book and then go take a Robert Frank photograph. Eventually I ran out of people to take pictures like and it all started to become my own, but the one thing it taught me is that portrait and about portrait is an important idea. There’s not one portrait for me. A portrait of somebody is really in one of these auto sheets, you know, hundreds of pictures. The feeling of being with somebody. The warts. The bad pictures. It’s almost like I’m filming. 

I try to do everything so that the artwork can’t be put in one compartment. I use every compartment so as to keep all the balls bouncing, to keep it really alive, really happening, really fun, a lot of energy, fun to look at. It’s by doing everything that that happens, not by doing one thing. My mind is like on a constant hamster wheel. Once it becomes one thing, I’ve hit a wall and now I have to go in the other direction. 

There were three years where I felt like, “Why aren’t people paying attention to this?” [gestures at work hung around studio.

How do you get people to pay attention to art?

I was a photo assistant for years, which enraged me, because I thought I should take the photographers’ cameras and smash them over their fucking heads. It disgusted me to go to work everyday. I was the lighting director on the Gap campaign last year. That was the last straw. [My wife,] Toby and I went to Amsterdam for Christmas holiday to see the Mike Kelley show at the stedelik. I went every day. Over and over again. I got back and I just got in touch with a couple people that had known my work and had bought some things in the past. Thea Westreich is one person who I got in touch with. I was like, “I can’t live like this anymore, I need to make this work, please help me, give me some advice, tell me what to do. I know that I should be an artist right now for a living.” And we talked about the work and she highlighted some things she liked about it and at that point I went from working to living off my credit card. Basically, I was throwing a Hail Mary. And that’s when I came up with the brillo box. I wanted to put all of the photos in one place. I knew they took up too much real estate on the wall, so I put them in a box. The box was a natural evolution from having no money and having to make books for five years. The only way I could look at my photos not on a computer screen was in a copyshop book from Staples. So that naturally pushed me into book-making. I have so much material. The only way to deal with it was to put it in a box. 

It sounds like it’s important for you to have the work in an object form instead of on a computer. 

Yeah, I was so tired of looking at a computer screen because I’d been looking at it only on a computer screen for so many years. I think it’s crazy how people treat books and photography. I wanted my audience to touch it . . . to feel it . . . to be able to experience it like I do in the studio everyday. Not preciously but rather roughly, aggressively, fun-ly. I mean the touching part is really important to me, fingerprints. 

Do you have any self-portraiture?

Yeah, it’s a big naked picture of me. It’s in here. [Picks through brillo box]. Sometimes I hand off the camera to the people I’m photographing too. Wool took good portraits of me, Jacqueline Humphries and Charline Von Heyl did too.

It seems like you take a lot from Warhol, but you haven’t referenced him as an influence so I’m curious about your thoughts on him. 

We just share some things in common because we took a lot of pictures of other artists. That’s it. Also, he’s really good at making pictures. I think about all this stuff and I think about painting and the reason why I wasn’t afraid of it is because it’s all just picture making to me and I think that Warhol is a really prime example of that. He was just really good at making pictures. In a way, that’s how I got people to look at my photographs. I realized that I had to make them into pictures that were imposing, they’re big and on linen or stacked tall in a huge box. They just have to have weight for me. Literally. Metaphorically. Everyway.

 

Studio Picture, November 2013

Another thing that’s been written about you is that your work captures introspection and has a capacity to capture interior life. 

I guess that comes from people just being natural, letting their guard down because we’re just hanging out and it’s cool. I was more nervous than most of these people, especially in the beginning. We definitely collaborate. The most I say is if somebody was sitting in one chair for a long time, I’d be like, “Maybe we can go sit somewhere else.” I want the images to keep changing, to keep moving and I wanted to hang out for a long time so I realized early on that you sort of have to keep the situation stimulating somehow and that’s where the instinct kicks in. Everybody’s different, there’s so many different personalities, but that’s where it really kicks in. What’s this person comfortable with, what’s this person uncomfortable with. The reason why I love my work is because it’s all humanity. 

How do relationships with other artists and subjects figure into your process?

In every way you can possibly imagine.

There’s talk about whether the role of artist is changing and what that role is. 

It is changing. 

To what?

I don’t know, but it is. 

As an artist I’ve tried everything and it’s just gotten to the point where people have started to buy it so I can make more of it and that’s a great privilege to make art for my living. Especially being so young. 

What do you do when you have a failure?

Throw it in the trash. Rip it up. If it’s not good enough for me, if I’m asking the question, for me, it’s not good enough, it's a 'maybe.'  If I don’t totally love it, I throw it out. 

What are you working on now?

Heaps of new paintings on Linen over black and white pigment prints. Wool in Marfa junkyards, Laura Owens in her backyard in LA, Raymond Pettibon stripping his girlfriend in Zwirner’s Gallery, a Japanese Cow, a Wild Horse.

Finishing up the user manual for my new Brillo Box (#4)  'Prisoner of Ismaul Volume 2' . . . It's like a giant puzzle or board game . . . you can make it into a Carl Andre . . . you can make it whatever you want. I'm just trying to make a manual that helps people figure out their own ways to play with it. It's a toy. A giant sex toy for art collecting adults. 

And another sort of felt record tower, I guess Brillo (#5). It's the first printing of 6-17-10B the rest of my photos of Christopher Wool in Marfa on June 17, 2010. Stacked in two sections 9x6 double sided pages mounted on davey board. 22-inch tall tower.

Follow Rachel on Twitter, @rcdalamangas

Photos courtesy of Aubrey Mayer and Amy Stone.

 

INTERVIEW: PETE DRUNGLE RIDES THE WAVE OF IDEAS

 An anecdotal primer on the music and history of the virtuoso pianist/composer
 
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Several Portraits of Pete Drungle by Urs Fischer and his team of sculptors for Clay project MoCA, Los Angeles 2013

 

When I first met the virtuoso pianist and composer Pete Drungle as a guest at zing Editor/Publisher Devon Dikeou’s loft (also the location of zing HQ and Devon Dikeou’s New York studio) I didn’t know his music or really anything about him. But at some point we started discussing the late, great Dan Asher and that sealed the deal. However, for whatever reason, I failed to look up his music. On another visit to New York from Paris, Pete nonchalantly invited me to a performance in a music studio in Times Square. Not really knowing what to expect, I showed up for the early performance in a small studio room with a small group in attendance – an intimate scenario. Pete greeted everyone formally, but warmly, thanking all for attending, sat at the piano, took a deep breath with his eyes closed, then began to play. My jaw dropped. The whole room was hypnotized. Pete performed an astounding 10-15 minute long improvisation, music that had a classical familiarity and beauty yet felt like an intense emotional journey. When the song was finished, Pete got up and bowed to smiling faces and applause. Then he sat back down, did a few more songs, including sections in which he was reaching inside the piano to pluck the strings in a very skilled manner, even playing the keys with one hand while reaching in and muting with the other. The performance ended with another humble thank you, and people began to file in for the next performance. It was then that I knew Pete was a special fellow. His DREAM SEQUENCES FOR SOLO PIANO on November 6 is part of Performa13. More information available here: http://13.performa-arts.org/event/pete-drungle

Interview by Brandon Johnson

 

How did you begin with music?

I discovered that I could play by ear right away and began to improvise and also to write little tunes. I started playing the trumpet early as well, in concert and marching bands. At age 11 I got into synthesisers, sequencers, and recording studio technology and learned the basics of orchestration. During high school, I continued to play the trumpet, played keyboards and bass in rock bands, and also composed scores for school theatre plays. After that, I went to the University of North Texas and studied Music Composition, theory and orchestration, and private piano studies. I lived in Denton, Texas in the early 90's, and it was a great environment for music at that time. There were so many great jam sessions happening all the time, it is kind of hard to describe how much musical activity was going on . . .  

 

Your music seems so classical, yet fresh and explorative. What have been some of your main influences?

I have loved listening to Ravel, Bach, Debussy, Stravinsky, Satie, Ligeti, Scarlatti, Rachmaninoff, Scriabin, Morton Feldman, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, George Crumb, Webern, Cage, Stockhausen, Takemitsu, to name a few.    

Also, I grew up in America so listening to rock music was inevitable; Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, Jeff Beck, Prince, Jane's Addiction, etc.  

In my late teens, I discovered Jazz - specifically the music of Ornette Coleman. The song "Endangered Species" off the album SONG X was the track that got through to me first. Also, Ornette's playing on Howard Shore's score to Naked Lunch was a big revelation for me. That score is a great convergence of composition and improvisation, with Ornette serving as the lead voice in concerto to Shore's orchestra. The sound of it is seductive yet eerily haunting, and every moment of that music is alive.  

I have had the good fortune to become friends with Ornette, and to have played music with him. He has been one of my mentors, and I have definitely been influenced by his music and his philosophies.

In my early 20's, I became obsessed with was Miles Davis. I was under the spell of Bitches Brew, Big Fun, Dark Magus, In a Silent Way, Jack Johnson, On the Corner, Live-Evil and Get Up With It. I drowned myself in this period of Miles' music, learned how to play many parts of the compositions and solos, and studied the music of Miles' alumni - Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Wayne Shorter, Steve Grossman, John Scofield, etc. Miles was incredibly inspiring to me, and his music made all the hair on my body stand on end. Also, Miles had a great sense of style and he dressed really well. 

. . . And John Coltrane - when I learned that John was practicing 12 hours per day, I began trying to do the same. John would work out of the Slonimsky Thesaurus of Scales and Modes, so I did that too (maybe I will get back to that . . .). For me, John's two most striking features as a player were his overwhelming amount of soul (as evidenced on A Love Supreme, and basically everything he ever played . . .) and his ability to play pure melody with an incomparable tone and inflection (i.e. Naima, Central Park West, In a Sentimental Way (with Duke Ellington), etc).  There was always a vast intelligence present in Coltrane's sound, even in a single sustained note, and you always know it’s him.  

Possibly the most important musical influence in my life has been the drummer/composer/bandleader Ronald Shannon Jackson. Sadly, Shannon (as he was called) passed away very recently, October 19, 2013, at age 73. It is a huge loss for music, because the man had more music to write. But Shannon's influence is omnipresent, he was a great mentor and I am incredibly fortunate to have known him. I met Shannon when I was 23, and started to play in his band - The Decoding Society. Shannon turned me on to a universe of great ideas, his house was literally like a small museum with a great library of rare and subversive books on history, philosophy, music and the occult. There were things written all over the walls - ideas, dates, philosophies, names - but there was something written on his wall that I will never forget - the word NON-CATEGORICAL. Shannon taught me about the non-categorical in music, which is the essential ethos of Jazz without the clichés. Shannon did more to help me find my sound as a pianist than anyone or anything else, I owe him a huge debt for that. If my sound "seems classical yet explorative," I would attribute much of that to Shannon. Shannon would not let me play in a "jazz" way when I played in his band. He would say, "Drungle, play classical . . ." meaning that he wanted me to play what was most authentic in myself. (Also, Shannon loved Classical music, and had biographies of composers like Paganini and Liszt laying around his house. He wanted "classical" elements to be present in his music.) Anyway, Shannon simply wouldn't allow me to pick up "the black thing" in my playing, as so many other white musicians were (and are) doing. Although he didn't mean it literally, when he would say "play classical" it would push me to improvise in ways that were authentic for me, and that was very satisfying; I remember that I started coming up with 2-handed "classical" runs, and many other things that have grown and mutated over the years. Since then, I have been working to develop the building blocks of a improvisational musical language that is unique to me, yet it was Shannon's influence that put me directly onto that path.  

Incidentally, Shannon was Ornette Coleman's drummer (and student) in the 1970's, and I met Ornette through Shannon.  Shannon was also the only drummer to play with all three avant-jazz luminaries - Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler and Ornette Coleman.

And it was Shannon who suggested that I play for 24 continuous hours . . .

 

You've related your piano playing to speaking a language. Yet your improvisations seem so pre-meditated. How are improvisation and composition related for you?

Regarding improvisation, I usually don't have any idea what I am going to play before I begin. When I play, I try to let go of my thoughts as much as possible and become the music I am playing. Ornette said, "If you're going to play music, don't think about it!" My body, mind, and breath are in total service of the ideas that surface in my imagination, and I try to ride them like waves.

Improvisation IS composition, except that the process is vastly sped up; improvisation happens in the moment, in real time usually without preconception or editing. However, there is a great deal of interplay between composition and improvisation for me. I find that the more I improvise, the better I can compose; and the reverse is equally true, because composing a lot of music helps to create, among other things, an innate sense of structure and thematic development which is invaluable in improvisation. I love to compose as well as improvise, and in my solo piano concerts I try to smear the lines between composition and improvisation so that they become indistinguishable from each other.  

 

Can you speak about the performative aspect of your music, which seems so crucial? And perhaps a few words about the 24-HOUR CONTINUOUS SOLO PIANO IMPROVISATION performance - what went into preparing for this and just the physical process of playing a piano this long?

I love to perform. I think playing in front of an audience often pulls things out of you that would not come otherwise.  In fact, it is probably identical to a phenomenon that physicists study called 'observer effect'.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Observer_effect_(physics). You cannot observe something without altering it, and when a group of people gather in a room and focus their attention on a performer, it alters him. If a performer is brave enough to "let go" in this environment, it can be an amazing experience for everyone.

The 24-HOUR CONTINUOS SOLO PIANO IMPROVISATION came about at the advice of my mentor, Ronald Shannon Jackson. He saw me engaging in a lot of self-destructive behavior and said, "Drungle - if you want to torture yourself, try playing the piano for 24 straight hours.” I completed the 24-hour improvisation three times in private before attempting it in public. I performed it at SculptureCenter in Long Island City (NYC), as part of Performa07. I didn't have a hard time doing this long improvisation. I loved it - it was more like a love affair than an endurance test. The only real discomfort I experienced in the public performance occurred in the final hours of the piece. By the 22nd hour, my fingers were bleeding and I couldn't feel my arms or hands - and that was when the larger crowd began to arrive - so on top of being in pain and physically exhausted, I felt like I had to play to the audience. I felt a lot of pressure in those final hours, but I pushed myself to stay in the music until the very end. You can hear the final 30 minutes of 24-HOUR CONTINUOUS SOLO PIANO IMPROVISATION, it is posted on my site here: http://petedrungle.com/Music

I am preparing to do this piece again in Paris in 2014.

 

You made a record with Rudolph Stingel. How did this collaboration come about?

I met Rudi through Marianne Vitale, who has been a close friend and collaborator for a decade. The vinyl record was Rudi's idea, he had wanted to make one. Although I have played on many records and composed scores for many projects, I hadn't yet made my own solo record and was really keen to do that - so we decided that I would make PETE DRUNGLE SOLO PIANO in Rudi's studio in NYC. I wanted to have a unique piano sound for this record, so we rented a 9' concert grand from Steinway Hall and installed it in the spray room of the studio. Rudi set up an amazing environment for me in the spray room; in addition to several of his gold series paintings on the walls, he actually installed the piano on top of one of his paintings from that series, I guess he liked to have the canvases slightly damaged. You can see an image of the spray room set-up on the opening page of my website - http://petedrungle.com, and you can hear my improvised "Suite #1" which was recorded there (it will play automatically).

PETE DRUNGLE SOLO PIANO only exists on vinyl, and is a very limited series.

If you are interested in acquiring one, contact me through my website.

 

I noticed you've also collaborated with Agathe Snow, who curated a project in the current issue of zingmagazine. Can you tell us about this collaboration?

I collaborated with Agathe and Marianne Vitale, making the music for their amazing show OKKO. It happened at White Columns in 2008. I hired the trombonist/composer/ Sun Ra-alumni Craig Harris to play duo with me. We improvised accompaniment to Agathe and Marianne's performance (which is impossible for me to describe, but at one point Marianne was up on a table running a jackhammer), and we played a version of "I Wear My Sunglasses at Night" for the finale, at Agathe's request. 

 

You previously mentioned that you had played music in Paris with a drummer you've idolized for years. Could you tell this story?

I have been listening to a great drummer/composer from Cameroon named Brice Wassy since I was about 19 years old. I first heard him on the Jean-Luc Ponty record Tchkola, where Brice played, composed, and music directed the ensemble. I wore that record out! (actually it was a cassette). Some years later, I got a copy of Graham Haynes' (son of drummer Roy Haynes) The Griot's Footsteps, and that is a spectacular record. It showcases Graham's amazing trumpet playing as well as Brice's virtuoso drumming and music direction; the ensemble is comprised of several west African musicians that play astonishingly well. 

Since I recently moved to Paris, I was able to find Brice through Graham Haynes - and I asked him to meet me in a studio to play. So we did that, and it was very exciting for me. I started to write some music with Brice in mind, and then asked my friend the legendary bass player Al Mac Dowell to play with this trio. We did a night at the Sunset/Sunside in Paris a few months ago. I will post a clip from this gig on my music page very soon.

 

What are some of your other dream projects?

I want to work with orchestra as much as possible.  

I’m working on a chamber orchestra w/ piano project at the moment, which will be released in 2014. I honestly don't think anyone has yet done what I am attempting to do with this record, but I don't want to give away the surprise - so I'll tell you about that later.

But to answer your question, my dream project is to compose and perform a piano concerto with full orchestra.

 

What can we expect at forthcoming performance for PERFORMA 13 next week?

I am doing a piece called DREAM SEQUENCES FOR SOLO PIANO, at Roulette on November 6. It is a solo piano concert accompanied by a video collage of dream sequences lifted from the films of Luis Buñuel. It is a collaboration with filmmaker Toby Rymkus, who researched Buñuel and edited the video. Roulette is a beautiful hall with a 9' Steinway Grand, and I think it is the absolute perfect setting for this piece.  I am very excited to be coming to New York to give this concert. Please come!  http://roulette.org/events/performa-13-pete-drungle/ 

INTERVIEW: MARCEL DZAMA WANTS TO GET INTIMATE BEFORE THE APOCALYPSE

Dzama chats about technology, female power, the end of the world, & looking back at 20 years of making art 

Dzama, baby. The artist with bullhead in his studio.

Marcel Dzama doesn’t like horror films, but in a Brooklyn studio peppered with animal masks and the odd serpent puppet, he is ever-ready for Halloween. You may have seen his costume – the bullheaded man in a polka-dotted toga dancing alongside other hotshots of the art world in Jay-Z's performance art film, "Picasso Baby." Underneath the mask is the man with a neat haircut and boyish grin known for the erotic cavalcades and cool anarchy rendered with childlike stylization in drawings as well as dioramas and films. When I ask him what he does when he faces an artistic block, he looks dumbfounded as if he’s never known such an experience. "You mean like what writers face?" he asks with a confused smile. Dzama has been making art as long as he can recall, lacking time rather than inspiration. The testimony to his voluminous body of art is Marcel Dzama: Sower of Discord, a monograph of his work from 1995 to present, which will be out November 5th from Abrams including three stories by Dave Eggers as well as a taxonomy and comparative essay by Bradley Bailey.

Dzama’s project in zingmagazine issue 23 titled “A Coming Insurrection” animates chess pieces into full-blown characters that cavort with men dressed in polka-dotted pajama-like garb and women wearing thigh highs and masks. As with other drawing series, “A Coming Insurrection” portrays an almost-narrative that begins with the penance of medieval femme fatale Jane Shore and moves through army-like processions of ballet dancers, sex parties, the violent execution of a royal, and anarchy in an art gallery before arriving at the grand finale of a Bosch-like apocalypse scene crowned by a fetus-headed woman descending from the clouds. Rich in references ranging from Marcel Duchamp to Federico García Lorca, random bits of personal significance, mythology, and profusions of art history, Dzama’s drawings are chic, lurid visual networks of history, culture, and imagination.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

What are you going to be for Halloween?

A Picabia bull with the bullhead and I have this polka-dot cape that goes with it. There’s this painting that Picabia did of this dictator cow, but I added the weird cape, he just had a toga. I admire his work so I was trying to think of ideas for a new film and I invented this whole character that is based on that painting and now it’s a Halloween costume because I have the leftovers as a prop. It had an appearance in the Jay-Z video, Picasso Baby.

I’m interested in Marcel Duchamp’s influence on your work. How is your artistic practice related to his ideas on process?

He was just an obsession. I remember seeing his work at a really early age because of our first names being the same so it was a bit of an ego thing I guess. I remember picking up this art book and being too young to understand anything in it so I was blown away. It was a TIME magazine thing when they put out these art books. I think I had it as a library book. I remember the “Étant donnés.” Someone seeing that in elementary school for the first time, it was definitely a little bit of a naughty thing to see. It stayed with me and I didn’t understand what it was either because it wasn’t a painting. It’s a sculpture, but it looked so realistic. But I think I just thought everything was a painting back then too so I was like, what is this strange thing? Later on I got into Surrealism in high school and went back to Duchamp.

Regarding your own process, where do you get ideas?

Sometimes I’ll have an idea to do a film or something like that and then I’ll get focused on doing the film, do storyboards, drawings of costumes, and then after that usually there will be a show coming up and then I’ll start doing drawings loosely based on the film, and then sometimes vice versa, drawings that influence the film.

I just jot down weird sketchbook ideas. I read a lot of art books and get influenced by other artists and get inspired by films. Newspaper articles also influence a lot of things. It’s kind of everything. I almost feel like it’s some sort of therapy and getting out everything I’ve read from inside of me.

Earlier this year, The Afternoon Interviews featuring conversations with Marcel Duchamp and New Yorker journalist Calvin Tomkins were published. In The Afternoon Interviews, Duchamp discusses his fatigue with the role of the artist in the world and his concern about what the role of the artist would become. What do you think the role of artist is becoming?

There’s just so much information and it’s so easy to access now, I don’t think any one artist really can do what they used to. I don’t think any one artist can have that much influence on culture anymore. I find some artists give these little boosts to culture, but in a minor sort of way. There’s so many voices that everything is drowned out and you have to search for the ones you like.

What would you be doing if the art career hadn’t happened?

I have no idea what I would be doing. My back-up plan was that my grandfather has a farm in Saskatchewan and I was going to be a farmhand and I could just do art. It costs nothing to live there. I used to help my grandfather farm there and my uncle too. It’s super isolated. There are maybe 30 people in their town. I can deal with that though. They have good radio stations.

On several occasions you’ve described drawing as intimate.

I like the intimacy of it. I always find that painting is a grand statement whereas drawing is very personal and of that moment. There’s an immediacy of drawing also. If you’re working on something for a long time, it loses that moment of inspiration. A lot of times I’ll start with an automatic drawing and then by the end of it I’m organizing it to make a little bit of sense in my mind. There’s a creative spark to creating something brand new and if you don’t get it out within a few days, it disappears or you forget what it was. 

“The Grand presentiments of what must come”, ink, watercolor, and graphite on piano scroll, 2012

In your work there’s an implication of narrative and you’ve worked with writers like Dave Eggers and just recently illustrated an English-language translation of the German novel Momo. Do you have an interest in narrative?

I would like to give a more clear narrative sometimes, but for some reason I do like having a mystery in the drawings. I like letting the viewer decide what happened before and what happens after. Sometimes if there’s too much narrative I feel like I’m just telling the viewer the entire story and then that’s it.

And that seems to relate to your interest in history. When I look at a large body of your work, it looks a bit like a history book. Where does that come from?

When I was growing up, my dad was obsessed with World War II documentaries and books on Vikings, any war-related history he found interesting so I was introduced to it at a really early age. I probably inherited whatever gene he has that is interested in history. At probably too young of an age I watched some of those documentaries with him, especially that World War II stuff with concentration camps and just not understanding it all and being really horrified and disturbed by it.

Besides the art books, do you read often?

Oh yeah. Hardly any fiction, but usually biographies or history and I read a lot of poetry, especially Lorca. I almost relate the drawings to poems in some ways because they’re kind of loose-ended usually.

There are also a lot of apocalyptic events in your drawings. Does that relate to what you were saying about reading history and the newspaper?

Yeah, probably. It seems like in the last few years the whole entertainment industry and maybe newspapers especially have become obsessed with the apocalypse happening and it’s a good subject matter for drawing. It’s kind of grandiose. Also, my drawings have been cluttered with characters and an apocalypse is a good reason to have clutter and chaos everywhere and to give it some form of a story.

There are a lot of apocalypse narratives in the news right now with war and the environment. There’s a lot of chatter right now about what’s going to happen to the world. Do you think humans are going to do themselves in?

Oh yeah, for sure. The technology keeps getting more and more advanced and all it would take is maybe another hundred years and some teenager will be able to blow up the entire world.

You think we have one hundred years left?

Maybe a little more than that.

Or less!

Maybe something weird will happen and we’ll have a normal brain function fixer. It just takes one real disturbed person or a way of viewing the world. I’m not sure. I think we’re kind of doomed. Hopefully we have more than one hundred years.

Earlier in your practice, you worked collaboratively with other artists. Can you tell me about that transition from collaboration to working alone?

I always worked alone, but I would get together on Wednesdays or Sundays and collaborate with The Royal Art Lodge. I did that for five years maybe. We were all socially awkward artists so it was kind of our way of going out for drinks. I find that I still kind of collaborate with other people, but I usually don’t put that work out there. I just go over to a friend’s place and we’ll draw together. I did a lot of drawings with Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze, but we were just trying to shock each other. I think that inspired a lot of more perverse drawings in my own work because it was a lot of fun trying to shock each other. I used to draw with my wife as well. Actually our first date was going to a Spike Jonze film, Being John Malkovich.

An L.A. Times critic once described the figures in your work as “humanoids run amok.” There is a homogeny in your work in which humans are a bit animal-like and animals are a bit human-like.

In the earlier work there were these hybrids and later on I defined them more as costumes. I like the whole idea of the mask and the mask represents what the creature’s purpose in the drawing is.

What in your mind is underneath the costume?

Usually a female character. Except for the polka-dotted men – I just see them as background choreography that’s going on for the main subject matter in the drawing, almost like back-up dancers.

Now that I think about it, there are a lot of female protagonists in your work.

I usually prefer the field of female to be in the power position. I always disliked any kind of sexist artwork or anything like that. It’s been around forever so it’s good not to have it. People that I look up to are usually strong women like my wife and a lot of my friends are strong women.

 

From Dzama’s sketchbooks

You’ve said that you’re not interested in making art with new technology or with computers. We’re living in a technological revolution in which human lifespan will greatly increase possibly to immortality and space travel will become commercial, for example. How do you think this technological leap will change how humans interact with and process art?

I imagine that there will probably always be a certain amount of people that will be fed-up with an overflow of technology and will always come back to the intimacy – I keep saying intimacy – of paper or of holding a book or a magazine like zing. There will always be that, I imagine. Like the way that vinyl has had a comeback, for example.

Well if we’re only here for another hundred years . . .

Yeah, it won’t matter that much!

I agree that culturally, there will always be those groups of people that come back to the tangible world and to objects.

Maybe they’ll be the ones that survive. They’ll be in caves and they’ll have gas lamps.  They’ll survive because they won’t rely on the technology so much. And they won’t have some chip in their heads that when the power goes out their brains shut down.

There’s hope then, right?

Yeah, exactly.

In your zing 23 project “A Coming Insurrection,” you address a lot of the ideas we’ve talked about, the apocalypse and this naughty S&M stuff and this sense of anarchy. How does art relate to this idea of insurrection?

I was obsessed with the hundredth anniversary of the Armory Show having such an impact and during this series of work I was wishing art could do that again. It’s kind of the nostalgia of it in these drawings.

In “The Grand presentiments of what must come” I was celebrating the birth of my child, so in the center at the top there’s the fetus-headed character coming out of some sort of mythological god. It’s kind of apocalyptic, but it’s also a new beginning.

“The penance of Jane Shore” is sort of the catalyst for the whole series starting. I was working on the film A Game of Chess at the time and was designing the costumes and was working those into the drawings. I also wrote down all the moves from a famous chess game Marcel Duchamp played with someone. Oskar Schlemmer and the costumes that he designed for his ballet were also a big influence.

A monograph of your work from 1995-present is coming out this month from Abrams. How did it feel to look back through almost twenty years of work?

It’s strange to go through it all especially when I was being interviewed by Bradley Bailey because my memory is disappearing so it’s good to get it down now. There’s some really early work from the middle of art school. It was hard to find those. I was also at my parents’ place going through old boxes and trying to find anything that was in there so there’s a few drawings from then too. I like some of it, some of it I don’t. That’s alright. It would be sad if I peaked back then.

follow Rachel, @rcdalamangas

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: TRAVIS EGEDY AKA PICTUREPLANE CHATS ON AN ARTIST'S REALITY

Travis Egedy looks back at his Southwestern roots and reflects on his nomadic present 
 

Travis Egedy, also known as Pictureplane, is a musician and visual artist who currently lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Egedy set out on a journey of artistic development and experimental living in Denver, Colorado before making his move to the East Coast.  His paintings, drawings, photography, and mixed/digital media works have been exhibited in galleries in Denver, New York, and Europe. Egedy has toured throughout Europe and the U.S. performing his unique electronic concoctions of dreamy trance, darkwave, synthpop, and industrial rhythms as Pictureplane. I was able to score a brief Q&A with the artist before he jetted off to a distant land across the Atlantic earlier this summer.

Interview by Hayley Richardson

You're originally from Santa Fe, which is where I hail from as well – I am pretty sure I went to high school with your brother. Santa Fe is a weird place to be a teen and develop an identity. Tell me a little bit about what it was like for you to grow up there - did the small desert town and its history, environment, and/or population have a significant impact on your present style (in art, music, fashion, or otherwise)?

I have been really fortunate in that I have been able to travel quite a lot, all over the world, and Santa Fe, New Mexico is really one of the most interesting, unique and beautiful places I have even been to. And it just happens to be where I grew up. Santa Fe has been a huge influence on me my whole life. The culture, history and southwestern aesthetics where a huge part of my lifestyle while living there as a kid and into high school. It’s just a very magical place that I think is really sacred, no place is like it. I feel like I am really lucky to be from there because it is just so different than how most Americans grow up, in suburbia or the inner city or some sort of really generic and ugly place. I don’t know if Santa Fe is still an influence in my art, but it is a huge part of who I am today and I hold it dear to my heart. I always say the southwest is my spiritual homeland.

I am interested in how an artist's living environment influences their work. Tell me a little bit about your creative development and how it has influenced your moves from New Mexico to Colorado, and then New York.

I would say one of my biggest influences on my creative development was living at Rhinoceropolis in Denver for 6 years. Rhinoceropolis is a warehouse in north Denver that was just a space of pure artistic freedom and expression. Anything was accepted there and I was organizing wild and weird events there for years. It was a large social experiment of living outside of any sort of imposed boundaries within society. It was a beautiful time in my life and, like Santa Fe, made me into the artist I am today. Most of what I do as an artist and as a musician is informed by Rhinoceropolis places like it and also the people who are involved in communities that surround those creative spaces.

 

One of the artist’s photographs exhibited in “Real is a Feeling” at Gildar Gallery, Denver, CO, March/April 2013

I’ve experienced Rhinoceropolis on a couple of occasions and it definitely carries a heavy experimental, DIY energy – one that can be confusing or even intimidating to someone unfamiliar with that type of lifestyle or aesthetic. Your photographs exhibited at Gildar Gallery seem to capture that type of ideal, with images that are gritty and sometimes dangerous, but that also express feelings of camaraderie and revelry of life.  Your aesthetic appears strongly linked to your lifestyle . . .

Yes. A lot of what I do and who I am as an artist is informed by living in an environment like Rhinoceropolis and surrounded by the type of people that share that same lifestyle. The photographs are just documenting this environment and choice to live outside of societal norms.

The “Real is a Feeling” group exhibition at Gildar was named after one of your songs. The song is interesting because it is catchy and upbeat like a pop song, but it still sounds haunting and the lyrics are pretty obscure. The title and the music seem open to the listener’s own interpretations. And I think it’s cool that the title has been used to incorporate the visual as well as the auditory. Can you share more about the meaning of this song?

I guess that the meaning of that song is really just intuitively knowing in your heart what feels real. Just being in touch with yourself.

You studied painting at RMCAD. How you do you balance or incorporate aspects of your formal education with your DIY style?

I was educated just as much by living inside of Rhinoceropolis as I was in 5 years of "formal education" and it wasn't anywhere near as expensive.

You’re on the road a lot performing, and you were recently on tour opening for Crystal Castles.  You’ve performed at venues that range from historic theaters to dive bars and warehouses. What is life like on the road? Any interesting stories you want to share?

I feel really comfortable traveling. It is what I do for a living. I've been able to gain knowledge from it. I just feel really fortunate. I don't know any crazy stories off the top of my head. There are too many. It's all crazy.

 

Egedy’s work from his show “Reality Engineering” at Make Up Gallery, Kosice, Slovakia

In your show “Reality Engineering” (Fitness Center for Arts and Tactics, Brooklyn; Make Up Gallery/BAZZART, Kosice, Slovakia) you pose a powerful question: "Who creates our reality?"  The work you created features a bold combination of Internet stock pictures, corporate logos, and pop culture imagery with drawings, painting, and photographs of your own creation. "Reality" is portrayed as a mixture of the authentic with the manufactured. After creating and exhibiting this body of work, do you feel any closer to answering that question of who creates reality?

Well, I don't think there is any one answer to that question, because everyone’s "reality" is quite different I think. The show is really about being able to create your own reality rather than let it be left up to outside forces to define who you are.

To be continued . . .

All photos courtesy of Travis Egedy.

 

 

 

 

INTERVIEW: Kenny Scharf

 

 

 Studio View of "space vomit," an unfinished work.

 

Original street-artist, vet of the Lower East Side scene when it was still the scene, and Instagram-extraordinaire, Kenny Scharf is picking through a tabletop full of Brooklyn detritus as if he’s a foodie at a late-night buffet. He’s got all these knickknacks including baggies of bright plastic jewels and a turquoise plastic cup dispenser that he’s going to make into what he calls “space vomit” (and who knows what else). In 2013, Scharf has painted a mural for the pediatric and adolescent psychiatric ward of Kings County Hospital, collaborated a fashion show during New York Fashion Week, hosted a Cosmic Cavern party, been arrested mid-tag in Bushwick, and executed a spat of free paintings on cars.  

 

On a warm Thursday September night, in a far corner of his otherwise dim home/studio in Williamsburg, bright lights shine down onto a painted canvas adhered with junk from Metropolitan Avenue. He drops colorless bits of plastic into wet gesso while talking about how much he dislikes the influence of market on art (and if there’s anything to pin on the guy – he’s a workhorse example of not selling out even if his work sells), the difference between Pop and Surrealism, what the Lower East Side was like back in the day, and what’s cool now.

 

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

 

How do you choose the junk that goes into your work?

 

Oh, it chooses me. I collect it and then I save it and then one day it comes in handy. It’s crazy. I mean look, look at all this crap. These are jewels, but there are also these little pieces of plastic. I found this in the street, Solo Cup. Right here on Metropolitan Avenue. That’s where I find most of my good stuff.

 

You just completed a mural at Kings County Hospital. How did the children react to your art?

 

They were so excited. It’s an institution so it couldn’t be more depressing and you want kids to heal. I felt really good that I was able to do that in that environment because it is really bleak and it’s really needed and it stands out. You can see [the mural] a mile a way, like there’s a sign of life in the hospital. It shows the kids that someone cares because it was done for them and no one else sees it because it’s in a children’s psychiatric ward.

 

You coined the term “Pop-Surrealism” and in another interview with I Think You’re Swell you described how the cartoons that make it into your work are coming out of your sub-conscious in a stream of thought rather than being intentionally chosen, so I’m curious what you think about contemporary art that’s appropriative.

 

There’s a fine line between appropriation and just taking something. The fact that the imagery alludes to or has come from common, popular imagery isn’t necessarily coming from the same place as Pop art. I’m a Surrealist purely, and information in my brain has Pop in it and that is just situational because of how I grew up and that’s a really different way of going about using Pop imagery.

 

We’re all always so inundated by Pop imagery.

 

Yes, we are. More and more and more. It’s insane. It’s funny because I’ve been using these images from Hanna Barbera and people ask me all the time, “Does Hanna Barbera ever go after you?” and I’m like I almost wish they would. I didn’t ask to be bombarded with this imagery so I’m just responding to what has been thrown at me and regurgitating it. I’m the television generation so the impact of TV was similar maybe to what the Internet has done to the kids today. It’s a similar kind of thing with the screen.

 

Done with working on “space vomit” while the gesso dries, Scharf suggests we go on his roof because he’s seen the moon earlier that evening and it’s huge and not to be missed he says. A large gray cat – his daughter’s – follows us up to the unlit, unremarkable roof where the sky is purple-gray and the harvest moon sliver by sliver rises above a neighboring building.

 

 

 

 Wall at Scharf's Williamsburg studio.

 

Ever since you started out, you’ve run around with some mind blowers, Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in particular.

 

I met Jean-Michel and Keith within my first month of arrival [to New York] and they both became really important, inspiring people in my life.

 

The friendships were intense?

 

Yes, they were very intense. Keith and I always got along real well, and Jean-Michel and I had kind of a tumultuous relationship of intensity. They’ve been gone for a long time. They’ve been gone for what, 25 years already, or more. Oh my god, it’s crazy how many years they’ve been gone and how they’re still so important and part of my whole dialogue.

 

How does that impact your art?

 

When Jean-Michel died I was still in my 20s. When Keith died I was 30. That was very profound to be a 30-year old survivor. When you’re younger, you expect to lose all these people when you’re old so that was profound in so many ways. They were not only my art friends, they were my cohorts. I kind of felt very lost. It was a really strange feeling back then to be the survivor. Now we’re talking over 25 years later, it serves me in a different way. I feel like I’m continuing a lot of the spirit and philosophy that we had all believed in.

 

I know you’ve spoken about it before, but could you share some of that philosophy with me now?

 

It’s an anti-elitist philosophy. I don’t want art to be an elitist thing that only certain people can understand what I’m doing. I know that there’s an elitist audience and I went to art school and I studied art history and I’m aware of that and it’s important to me to be part of that dialogue, but at the same time, I’m also aware of so many people who don’t know about that. It’s important to me to reach out to everyone and offer something for all different audiences, whether it be the art elitist or the art-uninitiated person on the street.

 

There is also a language of beauty in your work too.

 

I get inspired by things that I find beautiful and I would think that maybe I could add to the notion of beauty. Not always, but often. I want to express beauty and embrace it.

 

On that note, I think it’s important to try to discuss what beauty is.

 

Notions of beauty are so different. There’s the notion of beauty that society says is beautiful and then there are things that a lot of people would find ugly that I find beautiful. For example, what I’m doing now with the space vomit. It’s crap, it’s garbage. I find beauty in things that aren’t necessarily what people would think of as beautiful. I like to find it and bring it out and celebrate the beauty in ugly. If you can get other people to see what you can’t photograph because it’s in your mind, that’s pretty cool and I think Surrealism can definitely do that.

 

 

 

 Pitt Street Pool, Scharf's first mural

 

How has New York changed since you arrived?


When I first arrived, it was punk rock. It was a big free for all. It was a very raw place. Here we are sitting in east Williamsburg. Back then we wouldn’t be sitting in east Williamsburg right now. No one would ever want to go here. Where we all lived on the Lower East Side was bombed out enough. I’m sure over here must have been really funky back then. I can’t imagine how funky it was. It was a completely different world. I can’t think of a better place to spawn amazing things.

 

Why is it that intense landscapes have that impact on art do you think?

 

Depression, economic depression. A lot of it has to do with the fact that it’s not based on any kind of market. Maybe there was a market, but not so far as we were concerned and what we were doing, and that’s very liberating when you’re not like, “Oh I hope it sells,” or “I hope this collector likes it.” It was the farthest thing anyone ever thought about.

 

You could find a weird abandoned floor in some building somewhere and claim it as your studio. The opportunity to make things without money – it’s still there actually. That’s why I use all that trash and junk in my work, it’s right there and it’s interesting to me. It has a life, it has a history, it has a meaning beyond what the object is. It has connotations of being garbage. There are so many levels to me about garbage that I find really interesting.

 

How has your art responded to this change in the landscape?

 

When I started making art out of trash in the early 70s, I was using old radios and 50s refuse. Now I’m finding keyboards and computer pieces and cellphones, so just the actual electronics themselves have changed over the years.

 

Oh – I just saw a shooting star. It looked so close. (Points to the sky). In the city! It was really bright. It went straight down and then it stopped.

 

You do have this fascination with space too. Where does that come from?

 

That comes from my childhood. I was born the year the Space Age started. The first satellite, Sputnik, Russia, took off 1957 and burned up 1958, the year I was born. So my childhood, everything outer space was the huge thing. I was always and still am all for the fantasy of space and what space represents to me is the ultimate spirituality. What is beyond the universe makes you seem very small and it makes your problems and everything we are so concerned about materialistically seem insignificant. That’s the kind of thing that turns me on.

 

Regarding this “bigger awareness” you mentioned, do you have a spirituality that is being exercised in the creative process?

 

Totally. My spontaneity in a way is my spirituality because I’m having faith in something outside of myself that will guide me and take me somewhere that I don’t even know. So every single time I’m faced with a big white wall and I’m like, “Here I go,” I’m putting faith out there that something outside of myself is going to come to me and I’m going to bring it out. Every time it’s that exercise in faith that something will get me to that special place. All you are is the facilitator. There’s something big out there and you let it enter you and then you let it out, it comes out your hand, and there it is.

 

Speaking of technology and the mortal condition, Google just announced that it’s going to try to solve mortality. Which is interesting because the question of class arises and who could afford the benefits of such technology.

 

Why would you want that? How would you know it’s not better when you’re not living? Maybe you’re just running around out there in outer space. Just because it’s unknown doesn’t mean it’s not 100 billion times better.

 

You’ve been called an arbiter of cool. So what’s cool now?

 

When I see kids doing stuff now and I think, “These kids are really cool,” the attitude and their ideas of success are not the traditional ideas of success, like the idea that in order to be successful you have money and this and that and your car and your house and you’re obtaining all these things. I think it’s cool when you can just say, “I’m going to do great stuff, I’m going to create, I want to help, I want to add.”

 

You know what’s cool? Being conscious. So many people just live and they’re not even aware that they’re part of some whole system designed by people’s pockets. I’m not saying I’m Mr. Perfect and I’m above it because I take airplanes and I go to the store and buy food that was brought in a truck and has packaging on it. It’s not like I’m moving some place off-grid to grow my own food, which is an alternative and I have thought about that before, but I also want to keep my foot a little in this Pop – popular world – so I’m part of it.

 

Photo of Pitt Street Pool mural courtesy of Kenny Scharf Studio.

Follow Rachel, @rcdalamangas

INTERVIEW: Michael Garcia

 

 

Michael Anthony García was born in El Paso, Texas, but has lived all over the state through the years. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Austin College in Sherman, TX in 1996 where became an Adjunct Art Faculty member after graduation. His work has been seen throughout Texas, Mexico and Brooklyn, New York and although he has explored a variety of media, the bulk of his constructions are true to the traditions of found-object sculpture, performance art and installations. Most notably he has presented work at Mexic-Arte Museum, the Lawndale and in the 2011 Texas Biennial. He now lives and teaches in Austin, TX and is a collaborating founder of Los Outsiders, a creative and curatorial collective that has organized exhibitions in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Houston and Austin, TX. He was a recipient of the 2012 Austin Critics Table Award for best group show curation as well as being selected as the 2012 Austin Visual Arts Association‘s (AVAA) Artist of the Year, 3D.

Interview by Josh T Franco

 

I’m glad we finally met. Seems like our worlds circled one another for a few years. To business: you’re a busy guy. This summer, you curated the 18th annual Young Latino Artists (YLA) Exhibition at Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin, had work up at the People’s Gallery (aka Austin City Hall), and had a solo show at Red Space, also in Austin. Are you exhausted? Ready to get back to teaching in the Fall? And pre-kindergarteners no less...

The summer took off like a rocket for me and taking on projects back to back the way I did, was very exhausting, but since then I have had the chance to relax and recharge my batteries. This summer I had the pleasure of living in an art world mirage by curating and creating/exhibiting my own work, but now I have to refocus myself on my day job in education. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a bit of a let down, a postpARTum dip, if you will, but these things always come in cycles so I have learned to adapt.

 

We started at Mexic-Arte, walking piece by piece through the show. Off the bat, we got the question of identity out of the way, putting it very much in the way. The YLA has a different curator every year, and I assume the first question this person must ask herself is: What do I consider Latino/a? Yours is perhaps the most international exhibition to date. How did this end up being the case? (after some discussion with next year’s curators, I want to be a bit chismoso and say, they are going in a very different direction!)

In regard to your question about what constitutes Latino Art for me; in organizing the YLA, I was very conscious of what the public expected of it, and that wasn’t necessarily the direction I wanted to go. Whereas many would be quick to assume that Latino Art has to be graphic in some way or somehow safe or traditional, I specifically wanted to go in the other direction. Mind you, my elimination of most of those elements is not a critique of those ideas, rather an exploration of “what else is out there.” I am more than open to exploring those elements in future curatorial endeavors, but for this opportunity I wanted to turn expectation on its head. As I myself work in performance, installation and found- object sculpture, I wanted the focus on those mediums as a way of putting my stamp on this year’s iteration of YLA. I hope it also helped to challenge the public’s preconceived notions of what is expected in an institution like Mexic-Arte Museum.

You ask about the international nature of my YLA and I think it went in that direction because of my personal experiences with Latino Art abroad. As I have traveled extensively through Mexico over the years, I have made many connections and life-long friendships. These experiences have opened me up to art communities and individuals that reshaped my own expectations of Latino Art. And, it is through those friendships that I first approached the idea of making YLA more international. I started exploring the friendships I have made in Mexico and began reaching out to art world academia in South America to bring a broader perspective to the exhibition. In fact, one of the most rewarding aspects of the curatorial process for me has been connecting with fellow creatives either through Skype, email or Facebook as I assembled the group of artists in the exhibition. The artwork in the museum eventually comes down, but the friendships and conversations continue regardless of where we all live. Gotta love the internet for that!

 

One tension of your YLA was the co-presence of abstraction and affect. So much abstraction is significant in this particular exhibition, as past works often narrated issues of ethnicity, borders, and immigration. But the warmth of affect still pervaded. Sometimes, they co-exist in one piece, such as Eureka by Daniel Adame (though accident has to be discussed here as well). This tension is demonstrated too by the stand-off between, say, Ricardo Paniagua’s Unknown Source and [TITLE?] by Nelda Ramos and Javier Vanegas. The former behaves like interactive (for a studio assistant or privileged viewer), re-arrangeable logos. Logos with no corporate references. Eye candy. The latter video piece was difficult to watch for all it’s saccharine crooning and indulgent editing of young love. But, if I remember correctly, I made it through the whole damn thing!

As a viewer, you picked up on a different tension than the one that was more evident to me. Coming at this exhibition from the route of the curatorial process, I found the tension behind the creation of the work to be the most palpable. This is not necessarily experienced by the public, as they were not privy to the behind the scenes process, but by challenging the artists to work collaborate on new pieces as I did, there were huge swaths of time during which I didn’t know what the resulting exhibition would look like. The unknown really amped up the energy from my perspective! However, I think the tension really comes from the resulting artwork being physical manifestations of the artists’ collaborative experiences and having all those relationships and conversations playing out in one space. Again, it’s not necessarily something visitors to the museum can readily pick up on, but it’s there nonetheless.

 

I was struck by the quietness of the installation at Red Space following the rowdy exhibition we left behind. Your emphasis on site-specificity in conversation comes to mind. Here in this bedroom-cum-gallery, the bedroom is what is foregrounded. But not without artfulness. Beyond the selection of plaid fabrics—that pattern that moms inevitably get their sons as they send them off freshman year—how did you achieve this? Was it an aim at all?

I’m glad you picked up on how important the spaces themselves ended up being in my projects. I have always been interested in exploring site-specificity with my work, and it just so happened that it naturally flowed through in many of my creative endeavors this year. Over at Austin City Hall, the idea behind my piece, El Pórtico, had been swimming in my head for a while, but when I was exploring the building for an area to install, the stairwell space leading from the first to second floor jumped out as the only space that fit the idea of the work itself. It is a nether-space, perfect for a piece about an otherworldly portal straddling a buttoned-down reality and an escapist-unknown-plane. And, in the YLA exhibition, because discussion about the museum’s physical building has been a heated topic as of late, I was compelled to layout the work in a way that brought more attention to the architecture itself. But, it was with the installation I developed for Red Space, that the room where I installed was just so pregnant with it’s own identity, that I had to create something around that identity itself. As the space is traditionally used as an apartment bedroom, I had to talk about what happens in bedrooms and navigate the fact that there is a window in the middle of the far wall. It became a masculine (hence the plaid) boudoir. It became an installation about sexuality, attraction and exploration. Also, as a large portion of my work references the body through the use of clothing, I wanted to clothe the room itself in a larger than life “outfit” that captured both masculine and feminine traits. It’s at once a private and intimate space and a stage on which one is expected to perform.

 

I was taken with the precarious wooden constructions throughout. They’re not furniture, but not exactly sculpture. They are structural support, but so exposed and undone?

In that installation, the use of raw wood seemed a natural choice for some reason. As the piece itself is supposed to be a machine, albeit a useless machine that does not serve it’s purpose, I wanted a material that spoke to the notion of sturdiness but not permanence. Wood is a common material and much in the way birds build their nests with sticks, twigs or even trash they find, the wood is a readily available, familiar and not very far removed from it’s natural state.

 

Finally, I want to think about a quiet signature of yours: red bows. (Did you know it was a signature?) They are present at Red Space, tied non-functionally—but not exactly decoratively—at the corners of the wooden frames. They are present on the work at City Hall as well. One Chicano to another, I can’t help recall Amalia Mesa-Bains’s description of rasquachismo: “Aesthetic expression comes from discards, fragments, even recycled everyday materials such as tires, broken plates, plastic containers recombined with elaborate and bold display…and even embellishment of the car. The capacity to hold life together with bits of string, old coffee cans, and broken mirrors in a dazzling gesture of aesthetic bravado is at the heart of rasquachismo.” I wonder if the red bows are your rasquache bits of string.

As far as the “rasquache” ribbons are concerned, I began using red bows a few years back as the final phase of installing my work. It adds a delicate final step that makes the process feel complete. The idea that the work is tentatively held together by these precarious red flourishes appeals to me, because many of the ideas and concepts in my work exist in a similar intangible state. Undo the right ribbon and it just might cease to exist. And, in liu of “rasquache”, I would call them a “Mexicanada” -fixing something in a humorous, but not necessarily sensible, yet quintessentially Mexican way. They are used in the same vein as a mariachi decorates a “masculine” song with “feminine” gritos.

 

 

INTERVIEW: Sebastiaan Bremer

 

Still Life with Shark on the Bosphorus, 2007,Unique hand-painted Lambda print with mixed media

There is a palpable intimacy to the phantasmic and fantastical photographs of Dutch artist, Sebastiaan Bremer, who has been working out of NYC since 1992, exhibiting internationally at such venues as Hales Gallery, Galerie Barbara Thumm, and PS1 MoMA to name a handful. The multimedia works present rich visual palimpsests wherein Bremer draws appropriated images, private symbols, and expressive patterns directly onto photographs. To hear him describe the intricate process of finding a photo (often stashed away in his personal collection for years) and “caressing” it with the X-ACTO knife, is akin to listening to a surgeon recite the details of an operation, and if a surgeon’s science is the body, then Bremer’s craft is a psychological study in how the mind processes art. His awareness of how a viewer’s eye surveys an exhibition space and sweeps across a photograph and works at detail is precise as well as exhaustive. This is perhaps why these photographs – never staged or intentional – trigger a sense of the real becoming realer (which is a very welcome impression in a hi-tech, data-driven world). Of many artists I’ve talked to, Bremer is the most obsessed with the dexterity of the eye.

His studio in Williamsburg is nominal: a big empty table and chair. A couch below a shelf. On the opposing wall an enlarged, severe photograph of crop rows in Brazil, which he will tell me is from the early part of the 20th century.

Interview by Rachel Cole Dalamangas

What are you currently working on?

I have just finished the last works I’m creating for a show for the Edwynn Houk Gallery here in New York. I’ve used other people’s work before, found photographs or in some rare cases pictures that I really needed to use. But this time I took this a bit further. I discovered other, older artists that had intervened on the surface of the photograph in different ways. Brassaï really cut and scratched into some of his negatives. So I decided to work with parts of this imagery, but then combined it with other works that seemed related. I made collages, really quickly and partly chance based, in Photoshop, which I would normally never do, and made marks, cutting into the surface of the photograph with a knife. So I started making these collages and cutting into them, and these became new alloys. Part of it is reflecting on my practice. “What am I doing, where am I going?” I’ve been making art with photography for about 15, 20 years, and I got to a certain point where I am able to reflect a bit more objectively.

What is your interest in Brassaï specifically?

He was a photographer who hung out with a lot of painters in Paris, like Picasso, Matisse, and everybody else in Paris it seems, and he photographed their studios among other things. He’d take pictures of the sculptures by Picasso as documentation on commission, but then sometimes he would leave photo negatives behind in the studio, and Picasso started scratching and drawing on top of those negatives, bridging the two practices, and then Brassaï got inspired to do the same thing on his own work.

There have always been boundaries between the different arts. Photography was definitely the newer and lesser cousin of painting. Brassaï was able to bring it to another level, and play with the medium. Man Ray is another of course. By now, photography is entirely integrated in artistic practice all over, but there’s still kind of a separation in a sense . . . I think it’s changing, and this upcoming show is a comment on the history of that. I decided if I’m going to go steal from these people, I should steal from the best, (like Pablo said) so I’m using a little bit of Picasso on top, without holding back, just trying to collage something completely new out of their work, a little bit like Frankenstein.

The Picassos are what is etched onto the photograph?

Yeah, sometimes, or I took a photograph with my iPhone of an image in a catalogue and used that. It’s hard to tell by now what is what, even for me. There are works where there are five images or more images layered on top of each other. They turn into something else, they turn on each other almost, all these spirits crowded together in one image suddenly, creating a new and in some cases abstracted composition. It feels a bit Shamanistic.

I didn’t blur the transitions and edges, I used them as part of the composition. In some places too, you can see the different processes used in the parts that make up the collages, in some parts clearly a digital photograph, in some parts the Ben-Day dots of printing. I think when you see it, you can smell where it comes from.

How do you do the etching?

Just with a small X-ACTO knife. I just draw basically with a knife to cut into the surface of the emulsion.

And you take some of your own photos, but some of them are found.

I usually take my own photographs, but in this particular series it’s almost all other people’s photographs. Normally I work photographs from my family or pictures that I took myself. It’s all over the place.  Like, this is a picture of a coffee plantation from 1900 in the north of Brazil (points to large photo of rows of crops) and a friend found a glass slide of it in a yard sale. I don’t know what it is going to be yet, I have worked on other slides like this, but that was a few years ago. This image just looks so strangely modern because of all the rigid lines and the empty space, but it’s really from a long time ago.

How did you come to photography?

My relationship to the arts is kind of funny. I never really had any formal training. I was always drawing and was a comic book fanatic and ended up working in a comic book store. They figured they should pay me since I practically never left the store. When I was finished with high school, I decided that the next step was to go and paint, it seemed like the logical next step.

Growing up I spent a lot of time at home just looking at photo albums over and over again. I have this particular relationship to the object, the photograph.

When I started painting, I started using the passport photo booth in the train station as a place to take a picture of myself or whatever I wanted to paint, and I would use that picture as a sketch or study. I would square it up and use them as a template for my painting. A lot of this practice is boring and stifling – you’re copying from a photograph and making a painting and there’s a whole problem in the transition between the two states. And it shows, you can see it at a glance when someone works this way. Projection is even worse I feel. Franz Gertsch found an interesting way through that, but few others do, in my opinion. It took me many turns and eventually I started working straight on the photograph. I realized it was the way for me go because you get whatever is underneath as the battery that’s charging what you’re doing. The mechanical kind of boring part of painting that’s just copying, I did away with.

My first impression of your work, what I found so striking about it, is that it’s just so unabashedly beautiful. A lot of art right now is more antagonistic and perhaps even anti-beautiful. I like that art too, but I’m curious about your regard for beauty.

I think perhaps that has to do with how my relationship with art started: comic books. There the art is fundamentally a language and seduction is part of this, it draws you in.

I guess that’s become part of my nature, in a sense, to automatically feel an affinity with art that doesn’t shy away from beauty. For example, I really like the paintings of Ingres. I don’t think if something’s beautiful that that immediately makes it superficial or silly. It’s my inclination to work that way and it’s my way to relate with the subject matter in a tender way, to bring certain things out. If you have something that is aesthetically appealing, you can hold people’s attention in a certain way and then you can suck them in, and then a communication can start. I never had a fear of doing that. It’s not like I was trying to make pretty pictures, but I guess just the way that I related to what I was making and the subject matter that I was dealing with. With my drawing I was almost caressing the images underneath, in the beginning especially with these undulating lines that were just squeezing themselves between the emulsion of the photographs. It is just part of language.

But I like the more antagonistic art too – don’t get me wrong. I just find myself doing what I do, and I don’t feel I should run away from that.

It’s interesting too I think in terms of how that process deals with gaze. There’s the photograph, the initial image, but then there’s this weird work of the eye that’s happening in the etching.

Exactly, it’s almost a registration of me, especially in the first works on photographs, of the process of looking at the image and my direct response to it.

It was partly subliminal and not really calculated. A ‘flow of consciousness’ kind of work and it’s a registration of how my eye goes, and I think in some lucky situations, the viewer can have that same experience, as if you’re seeing through somebody else’s eye.

After making works that had these allover approaches, my work became larger and I was perhaps more confident. I wanted to work on a different scale in order to open the work up more, rather than have this small picture that you’re gazing at. I started to work at a more painterly scale. Whereas originally the drawing was a net, a scrim that you would see through, later I started consolidating the drawing more into certain areas of the photograph, making objects that seemed to stand into the picture plane of the underlying photograph. So I would draw, for instance, a goose or something on the right bottom and try to make it voluminous and three-dimensional, and try not to have this web where you have figures hidden, but I would create more solid objects. That changed the work a little bit, but it also played [with the gaze] a different way because I became more adept at the drawing and was able to get into the atmosphere of the photograph in a different way. I could make things appear in the picture that seemed solid and had equal weight to the photography and reality. I was able to balance the two and play tricks on the eye in some cases where you wouldn’t be able to tell if it was drawn or if it was photograph. So I treated them equally in terms of volume and color and brightness. I hope to do the same thing where people would see the picture, and then step back and see how it’s made, and then have the reality of that intervene, and then again spend time with it. So you would still have that engagement without the allover treatment. I work out of my own desire, but at the same time, I want to conjure up something for other people to see and spend time with.

That’s intriguing because that was my experience with your work – this game of zooming in to see the detail then zooming out to take it all in then zooming back in to examine the detail some more.

That time spent is precious because this is the experience I’ve had seeing other people looking at my work and I see myself doing this. It can happen that you walk into a gallery or a museum exhibition and you kind of scan the works and it’s: “This is my thing” or “This is not my thing” and then you walk out again. If you have this moment where you are able by whatever means to capture somebody and hold them just a little bit longer so that they investigate, then the communication starts and it’s not just a relationship to an object against a wall, but a gateway to someone else’s ideas and psyche and materials and whatever. Viewers can still disregard it, but it’s a communication process that has started, and that’s something that I appreciate.

Can you tell me about how you gather the subject matter of photographs?

I usually have some kind of obsession or interest already going, and I find a photograph that goes with it. I spend a lot of time browsing through my own collections of photographs that I’ve taken over the years and it’s often that I take a photograph and only end up using it six years later or ten years later. It’s not very often that I go goal-oriented with a camera to capture an image that fits a particular idea, though I have done that. I’m not a real photographer per se. I use photography.

I’m more of a painter because I have to find the material that suits the idea that I’m working with. But none of this process is particularly linear. It takes a while.

For example in 2006, it was palpable that there was a shift in the balance of powers in the world. The West had been the center, the dominant power, in art, economy, what have you. Here one didn’t really consider contemporary not-western art very much. But in 2006 you really could feel a shift, and everybody started talking about China for instance, for the first time as a serious cultural and economic force. Finally the dominance of European culture shifted and rightly so, and it was really funny feeling. I felt like this automatic dominance of western art and the whole iconography that is part of that, the still life paintings or the interiors, the European tradition of landscape painting and the particular styles and ideas related to it were all thrown into question. It felt that the west was the decadent, tired old man, and I wanted to make work that reflected that. It was a looking back, a saying goodbye.

I started to make a lot of work on black and white pictures, and used imagery that was related to the European seventeenth century traditions. I wanted to show the inside of a tired, rotting, old castle. I took pictures in the style chambers in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and I used some older interiors that I’d shot over the years, some pictures that I found that my uncle Paul had taken around the 60’s and 50’s around the Netherlands, dark and gloomy interiors. So that’s how in that particular case that I found my imagery to fit my story. The bulk of this work I showed in three solo shows: at Galerie Barbara Thumm the solo show titled Cold Turkey, and Tryptich (Spinoza's Trials) at James Fuentes LLC, and the third at a presentation Hales Gallery organized in Basel. There is still a lot to be reevaluated I feel, about the history of the Western dominance and how we depict it. So many stones left unturned.

With the mountain series, the Schoener Goetterfunken works, the opposite happened. I was looking to work with colorful work and something much more positive, alive. The dark I had surrounded myself with was getting me down perhaps. Color, and a sense of present and energy showed up first in works I showed in the Panta Rei show I made for Bravin Lee in Chelsea. I had found a bunch of old color negatives that I had never seen before, had never seen printed. When I found these images, they seemed just way too strong. The magic of developing these for the first time, and see them appear, so colorful, so alive, so glorious there was nothing I could do, I had to surrender, I had to fit my ideas around the pictures. In some experiments I seemingly reduced the photograph, but the photograph was so strong and so ebullient and joyful that I had to put my personal concerns and preconceptions aside and allow myself to delve deep into and surrender to this really blissful, happy imagery and not critique it in any way, but just try to pump up the volume and bring it fully into the present.

 Large Shoener Goetterfunken XI, ‘Whoever has had the great fortune’ (Wem der gross Wurf gelungen’), 2010, Unique hand-painted chromogenic print with mixed media

In those photographs, that’s your family in the Alps, but you weren’t there, right? They took the pictures and then you worked with them?

Yeah, they were shot in 1973 most likely, and I was a baby at that time, and not there. I was left with my aunt and uncle for the summer. The thing is that like any personal narrative, things are not as they seem, but you have dreams and hopes of how you wish it to be. I have a good relationship with my brother and my sister and my father and my mother, but we don’t gel as a group that often. That’s okay, but seeing these perfect slices of this wonderful family and everyone is dressed to the nines and the sun is shining and the mountains are beautiful. No melting glaciers, no pollution in the air, no labels, no pettiness, no strife. This is not how they remember that trip of course, but they just look so great. Then I started thinking: I should look at the history of ‘happy art’ and found there is almost nothing, very little. The art I did identify with was the beginning of the Romantic era around the 1800's when Beethoven was making the “Ode to Joy,” the beginning of Enlightenment. So I used that thought as a template to see how far I could go. I wanted to see how far I could go into making those people in the pictures appear to realize how lucky they were to be in that moment. This multidimensional magical reality we live in all the time, but you rarely ever really experience, truly, fully, completely with all the energies that are a part of it. I ended up rubbing and painting these large, colorful blobs in the works and on the works, making it seem as if they were in touch with the power of it all, the wonder of it all. It was a way, again, to relate tenderly to the individuals in these pictures who mean something to me, but they also could be anybody’s family, an uncle you don’t know about. My parents never took pictures that well, they are truly sublime. And also the film was never developed, so I was the first one to really see them, so magically happy, perfect. And since I wasn’t there, I had not been part of that trip, this is my participation in that situation.

As a fiction writer, sometimes I think about that. Just once and awhile, I want there to be a happy ending. I want the love affair to work out, but I want it to still feel authentic, not cheesy.

It’s difficult and I think it’s the same thing that a lot of writers and directors say about making a good comedy. A truly good comedy is supposedly much harder to make than a nice dramatic, dark, gloomy story.

There is funny art. I would consider some of the work of Claes Oldenburg happy. There is David Hockney . . . I think there’s not a lot of happy art because people mistake beauty and joy and happiness for shallow, and perhaps fear of being perceived that way too. And there is a common mistake to equate dark, dirty, and gloomy with deep. It’s just a default position that people fall into. If they look for something profound, then they think it has to be dark and morose. Maybe that’s a northern European thing.

I think in other cultures there is a stronger tradition of joyful, happier emotions reflected in art.

This is something I really envy of people who work in music. I don’t think a lot of artists consider being on the stage such a wonderful experience all the time because it’s not the creative part necessarily, but I would say that the energy communicated and experienced by live performance; by standing on the stage can be extremely powerful, and must be invigorating and reinforcing.

I must be hard to do, but if it’s done well, it hits home in a powerful way. The moments that happen like that for me in the studio are just excellent, it doesn’t happen all the time but when it does it is just such a sense of moving forward, of change, of tapping into some current, which makes it really clearly a worthwhile endeavor. I feel really lucky then. I imagine that sensation experienced in a group, on a stage, must be even more invigorating. I am at this moment also full of desire to go there again in my work because it’s just so exciting, if you can hit the right vein, to be able to transfer that kind of energy. I am starting on new work where I will go straight for this. Hopefully.

You said you were the first one to develop the film for those photographs too?

Yes, and when they were printed, it was like they were taken yesterday. The colors were incredible, crisp, like few I had ever seen before.

For me, there is still this preciousness, a magical thing about the photograph. I have almost an aversion to taking photographs to add to the enormous amount of photography that is being taken all the time because I have this feeling that there is so much there already and it’s so precious. I can’t throw photographs away. You have all these slices of time that need to be treated well. I mean, it’s silly to think that way, but I really, truly feel that.

 
Imperial Bedroom, 2008, Unique hand-painted gelatin silver print with mixed media

Your work is sometimes described as nostalgic, and as I hear you speak I notice this interesting idea of relating to art in the present tense, but life itself is happening all within memory.

I think “nostalgia” is maybe not the right word because that is reductive and takes away from direct experience and is maybe more like a pining for something that was there and is never going to come back kind of thing. I think your medium is really important and carries a lot of weight for free. If you have an audiocassette tape and you play it, there’s a sequence of the songs, the clicking of the tape and the texture of the sound. I’m not saying one thing is better than the other, and the same is true of a camera phone picture or whatever. They all have their own set of parameters and own language. It ticks off boxes in your head automatically and puts somebody in some place, the same way smells work. I have the same relation to books. I’d say I’m more of a bibliophile than a nostalgic person. I just like objects from different periods. You can mix them all. It’s not like you have to be reverent and sit on your knees and put them on a little silver pillow. I feel that you should just use it. I think, especially in art making, there should be no rules, anything is game, and you should feel as free as possible in order to go where you want to go. Play and irreverence are quite important.

When I came to New York, since I never really went to art school, I went to people’s studios or curated small shows and tried to contribute something, and so I found my way into other people’s studios just to see how they did stuff. Seeing what others did, I found a possible road. One of the first studios I visited in New York was Donald Baechler’s. He part of the generation of Basquiat and Haring. For me, arriving as a 22 year old in New York – that was really cool. I saw him make his paintings and he had these bits of embroidery that he had bought in Egypt. They were ancient, they were like 3,000-year old little pieces of textile, and he would just throw them on the painting and then with latex paint would just make them part of these enormous collages he was making. I was a bit of an Egyptophile as a kid so I was like, “Oh my god, this is really wonderful embroidery and it’s really old, and you just smack it in there?” And he said, “Yes, never respect your source materials.” By putting it in there, of course, he does use a little bit of the magic and a little bit of the history or the texture or the smell from something else. It’s a magical object, you imbue it with power, but at the same time, it destroys it and kills it and puts it in there.

I likewise relate to objects. Even the x-acto knife that I’ve been using for the past few months has now become bendy in the right way and blunt in the right way, and I got to know it really well and now it’s imbued with a history of my hand. If somebody would come in here and take that, I would be more upset than if they took anything else. I think you can relate to photographs that way too, and to textures and mediums and so on. I wouldn’t say that’s nostalgic, it’s also practical.

Does your process ever fail?

Yeah.

What do you do after that?

I do something good.

On the same work?

I try to, yes.

There is no mistake. In music, for example, there is no false note if the next note in relation is right and then the one before it becomes right. At least, that is what Miles Davis said I think. Sometimes, of course, you really make it muddy and nasty and muck things up, but I’m pretty neat and I have a good steady hand. And I can fix things, save things. And I know that things are going to go wrong. I just have these prints out too long, the process can spread out over years, so something might happen. I’ve had plenty of accidents to have had hundreds of heart attacks while working. But the mistake might be an opening to something else and you just don’t know. Every time you start something, it’s just having the courage to manifest things and see how they end up. Of course you do tweak things later, but the crucial part is having this attitude of a naked warrior on a horse like Don Quixote. You cannot have fear while you do something.

All images courtesy of Hales Gallery, London and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NYC and Zurich.

Follow Rachel, @rcdalamangas