Rebel Debutante: An Interview of Chelsea Mak On Her New Collection Inspired By The Sunlit Sexuality Of Los Angeles

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Chelsea Mak is very much a Los Angeles clothing label. It is imbued with the intricate contradictions of a city that is impossible to replicate: diverse and homogeneous, rebellious and formal, old and new money. It’s a city with invasive palm trees and an image invented by outsiders; a glamour perpetrated by movies and popular songs. But only a native Angeleno could dream up a clothing label that plays with these stereotypes. Last week, Chelsea Mak premiered a video, entitled Lost Spirit, for the new SS20 collection at Zebulon in Los Angeles. Inspired by a gorgeously composed song by Paul Dally, and based on the mood of the collection, the video is an idiosyncratic 8mm love letter to a city permanently bathed in a kind of blurring, dissociative sunlight that shines over crystalline swimming pools and wide lane boulevards. We got a chance to ask Chelsea a few questions about her new collection and label. 

 Autre: What was the impetus for starting the Chelsea Mak label?

Chelsea Mak: It was the need for creative expression and having my own voice.  It was honestly also the result of a mental breakdown. I was at a point in my life when I was being pulled into all these different directions professionally and personally that resulted in me hitting the life-reset button hard. I didn't know why at the moment, but there was something 'missing' in my life, and I guess it was this.

Autre: What did you do before fashion?

Mak: I always did fashion!  I had a small stint in fashion PR before doing design, but for the most part I was a designer. I spent the most formative years of my career at Band of Outsiders with Scott Sternberg, who very much shaped who I am as a designer.  I also designed for other LA brands, like Current Elliott, Raquel Allegra and Entireworld before Chelsea Mak.

Autre: Chelsea Mak has really interesting silhouettes in its collections - pattern-wise, how would you define the look of the brand?

Mak: Forgiving and versatile.  So much of womenswear out there is so overtly sexy and form fitting, nipped, tucked and uptight. Or it goes the other way and you're wearing a sack.  The silhouettes speak to the brand’s message, which says you can be elegant/cool, revealing/tasteful, laid back/proper all at the same time.

 Autre: Can you describe the inspiration or mood behind the new collection?

Mak: I was inspired by a few different things, in no particular order: Los Angeles, Sarah Morris’ film 'Abu Dhabi', the 80s, sex, spirituality, and Joel Chen of JF Chen's Instagram.

Because the brand is based here I really wanted to tie the collection back to LA.  I always get such a sense of Los Angeles when driving through Hancock Park and that sorta led me into an obsession with the community and houses there. 

I also watched this amazing film by Sarah Morris called 'Abu Dhabi' while visiting White Cube gallery in Hong Kong last fall. It's very political and I am in no way inspired by that, but the colors in the film are amazing.  There's a lot of driving through the arid deserts of Abu Dhabi - dusty blues, sand tones, the ocean, and then pops of bright colors from commercialism. That piece very much informed the color palette of the collection.

The 80's — I'm always inspired by the 80's. I like to describe the brand’s muse as if Norma Kamali skipped cotillion and went to a punk show. Then the next day had to have dim sum with her godfather before going to an internship in her 80's power suit.

Sex / Spirituality – Everyone seems to be really into spirituality right now — seeking higher meanings, deeper connectivity, finding self.  Maybe it’s LA, or maybe it’s just me, but this year has involved a lot of diving in and doing work on myself. I feel like I've only scratched the surface.  Spirituality, love, sex, self is all one for me.

Autre: You utilize some really interesting fabrics, where do you go to source the materials for your collections? 

Mak: Most of the collection is made from deadstock silks that I find in the local fabric markets in Shanghai.  No one uses silk taffeta and silk shantung nowadays because it seems so dated and old lady but I'm very drawn to it.

Autre: The video you made for the new collection is fantastic, it’s a paean to Los Angeles but also to Hancock Park - is it the architecture, the beauty, the people?

 Mak: Yes! The architecture. I follow JF Chen's Instagram who is a family friend on Instagram and he's always posting these amazing homes in Hancock Park while he goes on neighborhood strolls. Something stuck to me and inspired me.  Also low key obsessed with the people — I'm not sure it's kosher to say I'm obsessed with the Hassidic Jewish community but I'm just fascinated because it's a community I'm not apart of. It feels secret and mystical.

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Autre: You mentioned that each piece in the collection is named after a street in Hancock Park. 

Mak: Yes! Each piece is named after a street in Hancock Park. I always name my styles something funny. Last season all the pieces were named after famous Chinese movie stars from the 80's.  It's whatever I want to tie the collection back to.

Autre: The song in the video is great, was it composed exclusively for the video?

Mak: Yes, 'Lost Spirit' was written and composed by Paul Dally exclusively for the collection.  I discovered Paul Dally through Reverberation Radio earlier this year and listened to his album New American on repeat during the inception of this season.  It's very somber and heart wrenching and spoke to me so much, so that I knew I needed to get in touch with the artist and see if he would do a piece together.  

Autre: How did you and Paul Dally communicate the mood for the video? 

Mak: After a brief intro via DM on Instagram, I emailed Paul with the mood board and described this 'journey' I was feeling for the muse, which was the search for love through spirituality. But in doing so, ultimately surrendering and finding herself.  I wanted the song and the film to feel like an emotional wash more than anything and I was really specific about that.

There was a sense of simpatico right off the bat.  He asked me a bunch of questions in return but before I got a chance to answer them he sent a song over and it really hit the nail on the head. The first song he sent me was a 'go’ and the only big edit we really did was to make it more upbeat for the film so the viewer wouldn’t get too sad.  The original edit is pretty melancholy.

Autre: You are a native Angeleno, how does the city reflect in the label?

Mak: I grew up in San Marino, a stone’s throw from LA proper with landmarks like the Huntington Library and the Norton Simon Museum in my backyard so there’s that sort of Old LA, old world, buttoned up style that you can really feel in Chelsea Mak.

My mom and I were in this mother/daughter organization called National Charity League. It’s funny because while this meant we had “made it” into this part of Pasadena society, we were still one of the two Chinese American families and we were very much outsiders. I remember almost missing my debutante tea because I got too stoned the night before and slept in at my boyfriend’s house.  My parents had sent my best friend (one of the cinematographers of “‘Lost Spirit’) to get me the morning of. I remember her speeding down the 110 freeway to get me to the Biltmore Hotel downtown. It’s not a proud moment but informs this rebel debutante vibe that’s very brand, that and being Chinese.

I’m also always super inspired by how all the kids dress at shows like at the Echoplex or warehouse parties when I used to go to them.  And all the skaters you see on the Eastside, maybe more influential in attitude than anything. So there’s really a lot of LA in a lot of different ways.

Autre: Who are some of your ultimate style icons? 

Oh man, this is hard.  Sometimes I wish I could dress more like a man than a woman — Pablo Picasso, Bernard Sumner in the 80s, all the ladies who lunch.

Autre: What kind of advice would you give to young designers starting out in a rapidly evolving retail economy?

Mak: I think the advice I would give is...be authentic to your vision, stay humble and don't be afraid to ask for help.   No matter how much you think you know or think you can do yourself, there's always someone else with more experience, connections or even just more time.  And when it's your turn don't forget to pay it forward.

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Tokyo Los Angeles: An Interview of Darren Romanelli On The Creative Alchemy of Sushi

Darren Romanelli on limited edition chairs, part of Richard Prince’s cannabis brand,Joan Katz and John Dogg, on view soon at MedMen in Los Angeles

Darren Romanelli on limited edition chairs, part of Richard Prince’s cannabis brand,Joan Katz and John Dogg, on view soon at MedMen in Los Angeles

interview by Emilien Crespo
photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

For the last twenty years, Darren Romanelli, or DRx, has been alchemizing his disparate interests through experiments with fashion and art, through his agency Street Virus, and through his brand Dr. Romanelli. It’s a laboratory of sorts where he has dreamed up collaborations with the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Black Sabbath, Nike, Coca Cola, and artist Richard Prince. Art is the foundation of everything and art is everywhere in his agency’s office.  With the upcoming 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Romanelli has been thinking a lot about Japanese culture and his countless visits there. To celebrate the 20th anniversary of his agency, Romanelli and Tortoise Agency will be hosting a unique one-night invitation-only Japanese street market called Darren San’s Sushi at LA’s premiere fish distributor, Art & Fish. Complete with sushi flown in fresh from Tokyo and a number of craft beer brands that are appearing in the US market for the first time, Darren San’s Sushi is an evolution of Romanelli’s community driven effort Pancake Epidemic, which he hosted at his mid-Wilshire office above IHOP and became a staple on many a creative’s social calendar in Los Angeles. We caught up with Romanelli at his office to discuss Space Jam, sushi and the power of community. 

EMILIEN CRESPO: Next Friday in Downtown LA, there’s this event called Darren San’s Sushi. Can you tell us what it is?

DARREN ROMANELLI: It’s the second Darren San’s Sushi event at Art & Fish, which is an incredible sushi hub run by my friend Taka. Taka provides sushi and distributes fresh fish to a lot of the most amazing establishments in Los Angeles. We decided to come together on this concept, which would give people an opportunity to experience the same electricity that I feel in Tokyo, specifically inspired by Tsukiji market. The relationship I developed with fish at Tsukiji market over the years and the ability to overnight that fish, have it arrive at LAX, and go all the way to Darren San’s Sushi, giving our guests a chance to see the fish come off the truck, select their fish in real time, and have it made in the kitchen. I think that’s one experience that we’re excited about refining with these experimental sushi gatherings, which are going to be periodic. And then, we decided to also create a Tokyo Cat Street vibe, which is the idea of cramming in a bunch of brands, whether it’s a noodle brand, a green tea brand, a curry brand, a Japanese stationary company. In Tokyo, real estate is a lot more sacred, so things are a lot smaller. We want to squeeze in authentic Japanese community, riding off the freezer. That’s what Darren San’s Sushi is—a little bit of Tokyo in Downtown LA.

CRESPO: Los Angeles has a lot of creative people, but one thing that I think has been a common thread through your career is collaboration and bringing people together. You had this practice, for instance, in this very office, the Pancake Epidemic that was so much in your DNA?

ROMANELLI: Our offices are above IHOP, and I love coffee, so I decided to combine these two things. The early days were literally pancakes from IHOP and Stumptown Coffee. We would have a barista on hand, a La Marzocco, and Stumptown would ship us beans from Oregon because they weren’t in California at the time. So, this was the only place for a couple of years where you could drink Stumptown Coffee, and I decided to create this Friday morning event where we would send out a bunch of emails to different creatives and invite them by to have pancakes and coffee. It became this staple of everybody’s week, but then I started to think about having something other than pancakes. So, we started bringing chefs in, and we’d theme the Friday mornings out, and I’d have new art in the office. The offices slowly became showrooms and then it became a full-scale think tank. We opened cafés in South Korea, we did a pop-up at the MOCA Geffen. We really used coffee, and our relationship to coffee as connective tissue with our clients, and potential future clients, and friends, artists, other creatives, curators. It really became a safe environment to break bread and exchange ideas. 

CRESPO: So you went from pancakes and coffee, to sushi from Tsukiji Market…

ROMANELLI: Yeah, I’ve been thinking a lot about 2020. For me Tokyo 2020, the Olympics have always been something I look forward to. I moved to LA in 1984 from San Francisco. We moved to what I thought was Coca-Cola land, because they were the title sponsor for the Olympics. I started collecting Coke pins and Coke swag, and I did a project with Coke, five or six years ago and I got to celebrate those memories, bring those back, flip them a bit as I tend to do with Dr. Romanelli. At the same time that the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are happening, the stadium’s opening in Downtown Inglewood, and my agency has been working on the retail development for the last few years. So, my job specifically is culturally curating the retail development. Thinking about how to bring in interesting anchors to differentiate the developments from other developments.

CRESPO: 2020 is also the twentieth anniversary of your fashion label and your agency.

ROMANELLI: There’s a lot coming together on this year, but I also feel like I’ve been a brand for twenty years so I’m more confident in what I can offer, how I can add value. These puzzle pieces seem to organically be connecting together, which is exciting because I’ve been going back to Japan for the first time in a while, and I just did an installation there, and I’m thinking about how I can create a larger bridge between Tokyo and LA. Tokyo is so great and I end up travelling there a few times a year, but it’s getting more difficult with kids now, so I want to bring an authentic Tokyo to LA, but I want it to come here with the right anchors, the right brands, and the right people. 

CRESPO: Your history with Japan started a long time ago, because I think that one of your first clients was Beams.

ROMANELLI: Yes of course, well, they saw my Nike jacket at Maxfield, they bought the jacket, and I did seven collections with Beams. At that time, streetwear was just really starting out, so early 2000s. There was definitely a movement, but it felt DIY.

 

Rams helmet by Sayre Gomez

 

CRESPO: What did you learn in Japan?

ROMANELLI: I learned the meticulous craftsmanship that goes into production out there is on a whole other level. I understood what it meant to be a brand, and this is before smartphones so everything was magazines, it was really important to go to Sawtelle, to go to the Japanese bookstore to buy the magazines, a lot of clippings, a lot of mood boards with magazines. But also thinking about how I could contribute to the movement in Tokyo, and I was lucky enough to have that relationship with Beams. Then I had a relationship with this store called Celux, which is a members-only boutique on top of Louis Vuitton Omotesando. I did a bunch of projects with them. Then I went to Loveless, and then tons of work with Poggy and United Arrows, and then of course different consultancies on a lot a of projects out there. I would always look at doing my best work for Tokyo because it meant the most for me, the consumer and the market is the most critical there on details, on quality control and hardware. I would always think about Tokyo first, and that’s how I’d set the bar.

 CRESPO: Back to your Los Angeles community, we talked about fashion, we talked about food, we talked about art and music, what is the common thread among your community?

ROMANELLI: I think the common thread we share as a community is that we all want to be inspired, we all want secret things. The same need and want to connect on imagery and distribute imagery. To share it creatively.

CRESPO: What do you want to bring to Los Angeles with your upcoming projects?

ROMANELLI: I think something that lacks here compared to other places is authentic community and being able to really connect with a group of people that share the same interests other than the gallery opening, or the institution opening, or the house party. But to really have a network of creatives that can share this common want of connecting is something that I think LA is lacking and has lacked.  

CRESPO: Is there any specific project you can talk about to bring the community together?

ROMANELLI: Yeah, well I’ve been working on a project as you guys know in Inglewood the last couple years. So, one dialogue that I’ve been paying attention to is how to create something unique that can pass the test of time. It needs to be relevant for the next decade. I’ve been experimenting over the last year or so at the Brixton market in London, which they’re calling Brixton Village now. We’re building a recording studio above the market, and we’ve been acquiring a bunch of great emerging contemporary works that we’ll house inside the studio. We have the ability to take those works and experiment in the market when the vendors are in between leases—sometimes these storefronts will go up for a month—and highjack those with the work that we have, and then it energizes the market and make a space feel more approachable.

CRESPO: I think one thing that’s always fascinating about your various projects is that it’s kind of always unexpected. You worked with Nike, you worked with Coke, with Mick Jagger, with Kanye West, with Disney, with Felix the Cat, there’s so many unexpected crazy things. Very few creatives in the world have touched so many different universes, and mixed and remixed them, even if you may not like the term remix, but I think I read in an interview that your dad also worked on Space Jam?

ROMANELLI: Yeah he started Warner Brothers consumer products in the 1980s. 

CRESPO: When you explained that he took you to Nike to meet Michael Jordan, I thought maybe that was part of the explanation. Because suddenly it was like a guy in a room said, “you know what? Bugs Bunny, Michael Jordan and Nike, let’s do it.” That’s kind of what you’ve been doing ever since in a way.

ROMANELLI: Yeah it’s interesting because that trip to Nike was super important in my deciding where I went to college, plus I saw the Grateful Dead at Autzen Stadium. I went to college in Oregon for four years because of that experience. Primarily that weekend of meeting Jordan and seeing Jerry at Autzen was like a dream. My obsession with the brand, with the swoosh really was over four years being at school in Eugene, Oregon, where Nike was born. And thrifting. I came back after four years with incredible vintage Nike. Not knowing what I was going to do with it—just collecting them. Growing up, I was always collecting. Whether it was Swatch watches, or Jordan shoes, Stussy shirts, whatever it was at the time, Coca-Cola gear, Polo gear…. Whatever I was collecting, I was just collecting it to have it. So, I didn’t know that I was going to be reconstructing these vintage Nike pieces.

CRESPO: To end on Darren San’s Sushi, this feels like a celebration of this community, of this energy, but it’s also almost like a teaser for what’s ahead. 

ROMANELLI: There’s definitely something unique happening now. It’s incredible, we did one on June 13th and it was really unique to feel authentic Japanese energy in Downtown. I know we have to perfect it, and this is the second one, but you’ll come experience it, hopefully some of the readers can come experience it. For me, more than anything similar to how the Epidemic events were back in the day, was more that authenticity, the organic connectivity between like-minded individuals exchanging ideas, and the power of that to me is ten-fold with this event because it’s coming with 2020. So I don’t know, come and see.



 

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Soft Power: An Interview Of Nathaniel Mary Quinn

 
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text and interview by Adam Lehrer
portrait by Kyle Dorosz

 

In the late artist Mike Kelley’s 1993 essay on visualizations of Freud’s “uncanny,” a term referring to the feeling of confronting something simultaneously alien and yet familiar, he connected manifestations of the sensation to memory. “This sensation is tied to the act of remembering,” wrote Kelley. But Kelley also made the claim that the uncanny sensation is typically one of dread or muted horror. And to be sure, many of the art works that Kelley wrote about in regards to the uncanny and showed in the exhibition he curated based on his text; Hans Bellmer’s anatomical dolls, Cindy Sherman’s photographs of fetish dolls (partially influenced by Bellmer’s constructions), Ron Mueck’s hyper-realist figurative sculpture of a teenage girl in a black swimsuit, etc; are connected by horror. But is it possible for an object, or an art object more specifically, to evoke the uncanny in a positive light? Can an uncanny artwork actually uplift the viewer or make him/her aware of his/her alterity and connection to the universe at the same time? Historically, I would have said no. But that was before I came to know and love the work of New York-based artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn.

Quinn’s work, renderings of bold and psychologically dense painted and drawn portraits, often look like collages upon one-dimensional viewing. Quinn depicts the human face with a network of symbols that often illustrate the humanities and complexities of his subjects infinitely more than a realistic rendering of facial attributes ever could. It is upon closer inspection that these fragmented faces are actually created with oil and pastel paint applied through a highly skillful technique of using certain oils to prevent the component parts of the portrait from bleeding into one another. The result is a very peculiarly uncanny image.

From one perspective, the fragmentations and symbolizations of human faces can feel strange and disorienting. But Quinn’s work is also deeply humanitarian. He himself has lived an incredibly painful life, having lost his mother and been abandoned by his father at a young age, and has emerged at the other end as one of the most important artists of his generation. It’s not that his work suggests anything close to the neoliberal dictum of “pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” on the contrary, it suggests that all humans are connected by our traumas, our sadness, and our pain. But this notion in Quinn’s work isn’t horrific in the sense that the uncanny is usually understood to be. Going back to Kelley’s essay, Quinn’s work does evoke troubling memories but it also addresses the fact that we all are haunted by uncomfortable memories and finds beauty in the universal nature of trauma. Quinn’s work is an uncanny that makes you feel more connected to the world than isolated from it. Perhaps this emotional resonance is what has pushed Quinn’s work beyond the confines of art world insularity and into the spotlight of mass recognition and, evidently, major collector interest. “Even when people look at something that might be alien to them, or even disgusting, abject, uncomfortable to look at,” says Quinn. “They know they are looking at something with a real emotional resonance to it.”

When I last spent time with Quinn in 2017, he was on the cusp of major art world success. And now, after having been signed to Gagosian Gallery in April and about to be the subject of his first Gagosian solo show in Beverly Hills, that success has undeniably arrived. Over the last two years, Quinn has been pushing his practice deeper into an inner psychological space. The work that will be on display at Gagosian plumbs the depths of his psyche. More and more, his work seeks to render his own insecurities and difficult remembrances. The kernels of self-doubt that are omnipresent but often left unspoken are filtered into Quinn’s pictorial space. The aesthetic of the works that will be shown at Gagosian hue closer to abstraction than works made by Quinn in the past, generating a space of empathy and consciousness raising for both artist and viewer alike. “What does it look like to make a work that renders an insecurity?” asks Quinn. “I would say this: empathy and vulnerability are tools in my practice as important as charcoal and pastels. This is what I’m pursuing.” 

Quinn’s first Gagosian solo show, Hollow and Cut, will feature thirty-six works ranging from 16x13 inches to 96x48 inches. Talking to Quinn by telephone, he is equally excited and restless. This is a monumental point in his career: his first solo show with the world’s most profitable gallery.  He understands what the weight of a show at Gagosian, a gallery subject to praise and criticism in equal measure, holds for his future. But he also is filled with an immense sense of pride, and he has earned it: Quinn has emerged as one of the most important contemporary painters in the world. “You want to make sure you come out strong,” he says of the impending opening. “But you can't think about the public when making your work. Your concern has to be your practice and creating.”

ADAM LEHRER: So, last time we were together you were on the cusp of success. Now you're on your first solo show with Gagosian.

NATHANIEL MARY QUINN: The good thing about Gagosian is you can create the bedrock of a career that you want. They have the resources to materialize that for you. Larry, c’mon man, he has relationships with all the museums, the directors, even if they have somewhat of a...

LEHRER: Weary relationship...

QUINN: Yeah, they have to deal with him. He's like the emperor. Gagosian generates up to a billion dollars every year in art sales. David Zwirner is number two and they earn 500 million dollars. I was in a different place the last time we met, I was growing. Now, here we are again, man, with Gagosian Gallery. I can't believe it.

NATHANIEL MARY QUINN
C'mo' And Walk With Me, 2019
Black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, oil pastel on Coventry Vellum Paper
50 x 38 inches / 127 x 96.5 cm
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Gagosian

LEHRER: What is the psychological impact of knowing that you are at the top of the art world food chain, so to speak? Is it pressure-inducing or is it freeing to know that so many more people are going to be seeing your work?

QUINN:It is freeing on one hand because of the gallery’s resources. As of five years ago, I had to pack all my own work. I remember [my wife] Donna and I used to ship it all out ourselves. We don't do that shit anymore. That's exciting.

In regards to the pressure, I think it would be fair to say that I feel some pressure. Any time you're making art in the public sphere it will present some pressure. If you're the kind of artist like myself, engaged in the exploration of the self, or finding ways to lay your wounds and memories bare and trying to make that visual, it presents pressure. But that is then coupled with the fact that it's Gagosian Gallery! Now, there are collectors interested in the work for any number of reasons. You start to think, “What would happen if someone finally places my work on public auction?" But you can't worry about it. Some collector is always going to be seduced by the alluring nature of generating a large profit off the work.

With that, I'll tell you, I'm very excited. For me, it's a big deal man. I think it's quite an achievement.

LEHRER: I'm psyched for you. Given these last few years, your work has obviously evolved a bit. What would you say distinguishes the works in this show compared to works of the past?

QUINN: This [show] is very personal. It’s called Hollow and Cut. When you remove whatever you've been taught to believe in, when you have cut and hollowed out all the exterior layers, what remains? This show is a courageous pursuit of excavating my internal self. I have deeply rooted insecurities. I don't talk about it much, but I don't feel worthy sometimes. These works are reflections of my fears and doubts. I did a piece called “How Come Not Me.” It's a small work on paper. When I was in high school, we had a thing called Parents’ Weekend. At that point my family was gone from my life. And I'd think "How Come Not me?” Until this day I struggle with that.

These ideas, these insecurities about my life or my looks, are tied into the actual creation of the work. I'm constantly pushing my practice. For this show I knew that I had to move to that next level in my work, so I used a more abstract approach. Even doing that was very challenging because you go through high school, college, grad school and you are making art the whole way through and then you find yourself making art a certain kind of way. That doesn't mean the work you are making is a real reflection or what you can do; it just means you've been trained or conditioned to make art in a certain way. But to make work that is closer to where you are emotionally in and of itself requires a lot of courage and doggedness. You have to go for it. l. 

LEHRER: Yes, this reminds me of that quote by the great pessimist philosopher Emil Cioran "Chaos is rejecting all you have learned. Chaos is being yourself." In a sense you are tapping into this inner turmoil, or chaos, to boldly visualize your psyche, and push yourself further into the art making process.

QUINN: Yes, that’s perfectly placed. For example, normally in my work I would draw an eye, or a nose would represent a nose, but if I'm trying to articulate these deeply embedded insecurities within me, my fears and my doubts and a sense of unworthiness, then what I am trying to articulate is not actually definitive. It's not a real figure. It's an affectation. How do you visualize that? I'm not saying I achieved that in the show, but I've made progress from work one to work thirty-five. By the time I got to the 35th work, it began to take on the kind of abstraction I had been aiming for. It feels much more palpable to me, much more honest, much more real. Much more free. Most people don't want to be free. They want to comply. And fall in line. Freedom requires real courage. You have to fight to be free.

LEHRER: Despite the often uncanny aesthetic in your work, you have broken out to a mass audience. What do you think it is that enables people who aren’t so versed in the avant-garde to connect with your work?

QUINN: Let’s go to Beyoncé. I love Beyoncé. She makes great songs. She’s a superstar. We all know this. Then you got Mary J. Blige and she can't sing anywhere near as well as Beyoncé. And, although she can't sing that well, she's good! She's not Beyoncé, or Aretha, but what she does is real. Potent. Visceral. You know what she's saying and how she's saying it is honest and pure. But when you present something real, people believe it. 

LEHRER: Is this bravery, this courage to find freedom, something you are constantly looking for in art across all media?

QUINN: I think it's important to understand that you can't grasp the scope of humanity within one tradition of art. You have to look at all of it: comedy, film, poetry, reading essays and books. Public speaking. Not just art but all forms of work and all traditions of creation must be dealt with and confronted or perused at the very least. So I'll look at a Dave Chapelle; this guy works very hard to be free. Because this guy's fighting for his right to speak his mind as a comedian, his first job is to be funny. And in addition to being funny, he's a cultural critic. He observes the culture, and criticizes it, and tries to portray it in a different light. 

I look at the works of artists like Yue Minjun, Adrian Gheni, or Neo Rauch because they have a certain freedom in their work. So many artists are afraid to confront who they are. They continue to feel empty in the face of their achievements. Why is that? [Art] isn’t just technique, skill and rendering, it is an activity in which empathy and vulnerability are necessities. I'm not just moving the needle in my work; I'm moving the needle in me. I'm not a walking Instagram page. I'm not putting up a highlight reel. This is real life. No one is happy all the time. It's impossible. I want to use the work to push back on this era’s values. An era where people are ashamed to be real. 

LEHRER: In your portraits you often shun direct representations in favor of symbolic representations. But these symbols seem to illustrate the depths of you and your subjects’ complexities infinitely more than a direct rendering of physical attributes ever could. Your ability to use symbols to pierce the symbolic order and address the... 

QUINN: Make no mistake, I like to think that every artwork I make has some representational element. But there's still evidence [in this show] of me taking that courageous step forward to push beyond traditional forms of representation. We should shoot for a higher ground. A higher level. The first comedians would walk down the street and slip on a banana peel, and that was funny. That's surface comedy. But deep human comedy is where the fragility of men and women are brought to the surface. That's deep comedy, the kind that Dave Chapelle engages in. That Pryor engaged in. I wanted to make art like that.

Nathaniel Mary Quinn “Hollow And Cut” will be on view until October 19, 2019 at Gagosian Beverly Hills. 456 North Camden Drive Beverly Hills, ca 90210

NATHANIEL MARY QUINN
Jekyll and Hyde, 2019
Oil paint, paint stick, gouache, soft pastel on linen canvas, diptych
14 x 22 inches
35.6 x 55.9 cm
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Photo: Rob McKeever
Courtesy Gagosian

Pacing Around My Desire: An Interview Of Carmen Winant

Honey Lee Cottrell Papers, #7822. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell Papers, #7822. Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

interview by Abbey Meaker

In her new book titled Notes on Fundamental Joy; seeking the elimination of oppression through the social and political transformation of the patriarchy that otherwise threatens to bury us, Carmen Winant offers a poignant question: Does hope have an aesthetic? If it does, you may find it within the pages of this provocative book.

Designed by Jena Myung and published by Printed Matter Inc., the book is both an artist’s project and an historic collection of found images, photographs whose function was not only to document women-only communities formed in the 1980s across the Pacific Northwest, but also to subvert the pervasive dynamic in photography of man as subject, woman as object. Through these photographs of an almost unfathomable utopia of feminist & lesbian separatists, we can contemplate a world that exists outside of patriarchy. A safe, inclusive, fantastical space in which art is central to community making, connection, experimentation, and purpose. 

Meaker: Can you talk a little bit about the title and how you feel like it was relevant at the time the photos were made and how it’s relevant now? 

Winant: Part of the reason that I gravitated towards this material in the first place is because it held such promise and joy. I’ve known photography to occupy a space that can be more severe or competitive. The women photographers I idolized as a student, people like Francesca Woodman and Diane Arbus, all killed themselves. It wasn’t just that I felt that it was difficult to be a woman in the world. I also understood photography as entangled with that problem, that it was violent and incurred violence onto bodies, and onto the photographers themselves. And when I encountered these images, I felt inside them a whole new kind of promise—something that was bound up in the word joy, as well as world-building in this case of stepping outside of patriarchy altogether, and using photography as a new way to see the world. That felt really powerful. I was starting to do this research during the presidential campaign. It’s not a far reach to understand why I felt I needed to move towards not subverting the patriarchy from the inside, but instead looking at people who had just left it all behind. I understand that now that that impulse came from being confronted with the ugliest parts of our patriarchy. For me, the project is tethered to that moment in historical time.

Meaker: Looking at these images and thinking about these communities in the ‘70s and ‘80s, is it discouraging to know where we are now, and see that it failed in a way? Or did it?

Winant: Yes and no. When I first encountered the images, I had the same binary logic around it. But the longer that I researched, I started to feel that there was more nuance in this question of what it means to succeed and fail. There were so many thousands of women that cycled through these women’s lands, and even if the community ended up dissolving, that consciousness still permeated into those bodies, and that sort of changed the way they lived their lives, how they moved through space, how they related to other people, how they engaged with politics, community, relationships, child rearing, and so forth. This is what coalition building is. It’s messy, it’s difficult, people get pissed off and leave, and it’s not built to last. But that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t succeeded.

Meaker: Totally. When looking through the book, I felt that it was a fiction. It’s so hard for me to imagine existing in such a utopic place, free of the critical eye of white cis men. Man-as-subject, woman-as-object is such a pervasive dynamic in photography. Why do you think that photographs were central to these communities, and do you think it served as a medium of documentation as well as a kind of rebuttal?  

Winant: Definitely. And let me address the first thing you said too, which is the fantasy element of it. So much of my own relationship to this material is really romantic, and I brush off the things that don’t feed my fantasy, like the conflicts that happened, and the wars they lost with the landowners, and the bank, and the disabled women who left because there wasn’t space for them to survive in the country. Not to mention how few non-white women there were, and non-middle class women. It took me some time to come to this, but I realized that this is a part of the project, to follow the discordances. The way I teach feminism is as the prospect of world-building, and the imperative of a feminist is to imagine that a different world is possible. Without that imagination, we have nothing. We have no values, we have no politics, and we have no essential selves if we can’t imagine something outside of the world that we’re living in, or living under. And so, I think it’s really important to think about my own feminist politics as kind of revolving around that promise.

A lot of the different women’s lands built wet darkrooms, although the book in fact revolves around the ovulars, which are these photographic workshops that were offered on one particular women’s land, which was called Rootworks, in Oregon. An ovular is a take-off on seminar, which means the spreading of semen, etymologically. So, they instead called them ovulars, and the women who took them were called the ovulators. It was a new way to see themselves, and each other; to reframe desire, and kinship, and affinity and self, and sight, and insight, but also to stand as evidence. When so many of these women came out as gay, they were kicked out or they were left with nothing. Some of them had their children taken away from them. They had no evidence of their lives, in some sense. So it existed beyond the metaphoric idea of needing to reframe the way we see, and into something quite tangible, about how to make new evidence of our lives in this state of being reborn.

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Meaker: Knowing that it was probably finite.  

Winant: It depends. When you read their accounts, some women feel as though it will last forever. And others that are far more skeptical are dipping in and out. So, I think there’s quite a big range. 

Meaker: Did the women teaching the workshops come in as photographers, or did that come from being a part of the community?  

Winant: So far as I know, there were six different organizer midwives that cycled in and out. They all went on to become pretty serious, and I think they were pretty serious already. They still remained on the margin, but they were dedicated photographers. The ovulars ranged from technical workshops to making lesbian erotica, or how to make photographs about love and sex.

Meaker: I love that art making was such a central activity. 

Winant: It really is difficult to live in the country, particularly when you are arriving with no skill about how to irrigate, how to you know plant food in the ground, or how to build structures. The fact that they carved out the space for this kind of production feels really critical.

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Honey Lee Cottrell, courtesy of the Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

Meaker: How did you happen upon this work, and when did you know you wanted to do something with it?  

Winant: Years ago, I read an article in the New Yorker by Ariel Levy, and it was about the Van Dykes, who were a separatist community. I just remember feeling so amazed by the prospect of this. My work has been about looking for another world, and trying to imagine a world outside of patriarchy, so to come across this felt revelatory. I started to get deeper into it and I discovered this vast photography archive, and I was amazed. They felt like such important historical documents, and were also incredibly striking photographs. The project is an homage to these communities, as well as a platform to make the photographs exist in a public space together.

Meaker: These women were unknown, and you were naming them and crediting them. So many women artists are subsumed by their male contemporaries, so this was exciting to me. In your last book, My Birth, many of the photos are anonymous.

Winant: Yeah, all of them, in fact. That was really different in this project. Normally, the way that I work is I gather the images that I want, I remove them from their sources, I re-contextualize them, and I call it fair use. That was never going to be an okay way to work here for a couple reasons. It wasn’t possible administratively, but it also wasn’t possible to do in good conscience. These are art objects. We got the copyright for every image, we paid the artist for the image if they were alive, and we got permission to reproduce. To be honest, I’ll probably never work this way again because it was so time-prohibitive. Sometimes I spent days just trying to get a single image.

Meaker: And did you always imagine it as a book?

Winant: No. At first I thought it could be an exhibition. But as I was thinking through possibilities, Printed Matter reached out to ask if I wanted to make a book. I thought that that could be an interesting way for those photographs to come together. I’m delighted it’s in the form that it’s in, in part because in the archive, many of the photographic objects exist in some sort of magazine or pamphlet. It doesn’t exist as a conventional photographic archive, and so a book really made sense.

Meaker: It feels so intimate too. It’s nice to hold it and touch as an object.

Winant: I’m so glad you say that. We spent a lot of time talking about that.

Meaker: What attracted you to such era-specific imagery from the ‘70s? 

Winant: I think there are a couple ways to answer the question, the first being that that era is where so much printed matter lives. There is an enormous glut of books that are published from the late ‘60s through the early ‘80s as a certain personal-is-political kind of feminism comes to bear. Those books are replete with photographs. That doesn’t exist in the same way anymore. But it’s more than that, of course. So much of my interest, conceptually and politically, as a person and an artist, is about working to understand the feminism that begot my feminism, the history that begot my history, and the space between us. I look at the feminism that belonged to my mother’s generation, and it feels, in some ways, so foreclosed. My work has always been about trying to reach backwards and understand what it means to inherit a memory, what it means to reckon with the idea of women’s liberation fifty years later.

Meaker: And how do you think it changed?

Winant: It changed in so many ways. Regarding the name “women’s liberation,” I don’t think that we, for the most part, believe in the idea of liberation anymore. We don’t belong to radical feminism anymore, and we can understand that by looking at these photographs and understanding that they look like a fantasy to us. There are so many different qualities that have shifted, that have made it more progressive, and more inclusive, and at the same time, I mourn the loss of those things that I mentioned.

Meaker: The photographs in the book are of naked women, and their bodies all look similar. The world that is depicted in the book feels inclusive and safe, but the images of the women aren’t. How did that sit with you when you were bringing together these photographs?

Winant: There’s another scholar who’s done some research into the ovulars. His name is Andy Campbell, and he’s a professor at USC. He's said in a talk that I noted, “To leave everything behind can be a privilege.” I think, in some cases, he’s right. There’s one African-American woman who appears over and over in the ovulars. Her name is Lynne Reynolds, she lived in Brooklyn at the time. I’m always so struck by her presence in that place; she stands out as the only nonwhite participant, as far as I can see. It reminds an onlooker that there is an issue of who has the ability to participate in the first place. The ovulars were absolutely incredible for their radical inventiveness, for the creatively, for their dedicated feminism. I admire them from deep down. And they also make me wonder: who has the ability to leave it all behind?

Carol Newhouse, courtesy of the artist

Carol Newhouse, courtesy of the artist

Meaker: To me, your broad practice has recurring themes relating to origins, materiality, the fecund body, and also, a drive to subvert the notion that the pregnant body is the ultimate representation of abstraction. In your book My Birth, the photographs are really aggressive and they demand to be seen. At the same time there is desensitization in the repetition of the images. What are your thoughts on that?

Winant: After I gave birth the first time, I was amazed, horrified, delighted, and terrified at what that experience had been. So much of how I relate to my experience is to try to make it intelligible through photographs, and it became very clear to me very quickly after giving birth that I couldn’t do that. It’s not that there were no photographs of birth, but there were vacuums. I didn’t recognize it anywhere in contemporary art, for instance, with very limited pockets of examples. I think some of the work was intended to fill up that space. But in a larger way, I understood that there was not going to be any photograph that would be able to account for that experience as fully as I wanted it to, for all of its sensate abjection. Part of the repetition was about working to insist on that image over and over, so it could be seen and knowable, and at the same time, doing so with the distinct understanding that it was a failed premise.  

Meaker: And where do you think the new work fits in with that?

Winant: It was an incredibly agitating experience to look at bodies opening up and pouring out. I needed to look at something that felt unabashedly joyful. It was important for me to find images to live with that occupied a different experience, a parallel experience.

Meaker: You pose a question in the book, which is, is there an aesthetic to hope? And I wonder if this project has offered an answer to you.

Winant: At the beginning of this project, I wrote a single note that I put above my studio desk: what does a free body look like? And I think there are a lot of different questions in that question. Do pictures look different when women make them? In that sense, do women have a different photographic aesthetic? Do lesbians? Do feminists? What does joy look like? How do we see it? How do we frame it? I’m really interested in the relationship between politics and aesthetics. These photographs feel so distinct, yet they have such deep echoes of one another that I have to ask, how has this experience actually changed the way that they see?

Meaker: Maybe it’s more a feeling than an aesthetic.

Winant: Definitely. That can be a really difficult thing to account for. As an artist, how do you come to learn and occupy a photographic feeling? 

Meaker: I think maybe it is an innate ability, because not all photographs have that.

Winant: I agree. It is innate to a person, but also to a place and a moment in shared historical time.

Concept 005: An Interview Of Nordstrom Men’s Sam Lobban And Union Los Angeles Founder Chris Gibbs

Founded in 1989, Union’s history first started in New York’s Soho with the gracious ambition of giving a space to young, local designers on their way to recognition. The Los Angeles shop followed a few years later and strived to maintain the same principle born thirty years ago: embracing the creativity of fresh designers within the city while being inspired by trends coming from Japan and the UK. Union Los Angeles has now become one of LA’s prime destinations for men's contemporary fashion and streetwear. Earlier this month, Chris Gibbs, who used to work at the original NYC shop and is now the owner and operator behind Union LA, announced Union’s first ever collaboration with a national retailer: Nordstrom.

Concept 005: Union & Company features over 170 exclusive pieces across clothing, accessories and shoes from a roster of 13 brands curated by Chris Gibbs and Sam Lobban, Nordstrom’s vice president of men’s fashion. We had the opportunity to speak to both of them about their recent collaboration, but mostly about streetwear, its evolution, and its relationship to high fashion.

AUTRE: How did the two of you meet?

SAM LOBBAN: Chris and I were introduced by a mutual friend, and then we would bump into each other in showrooms during Fashion Week market around the world and talk shop. We always seemed to have a similar vibe on product and brands, which I for one found interesting and pretty cool given our very different professional backgrounds.

CHRIS GIBBS: Sam seems to remember us meeting in Tokyo…but I don’t remember that specifically. I just know that over the course of the men’s fashion gauntlet: Tokyo, Paris, Italy, NYC…I would often see Sam in the usual haunts, and over time, recognized that we shared a lot of sensibilities and we formed a friendship.

AUTRE: In collaboration on this concept project, what were some of the first conversations you had about what you wanted this pop-up to look like, and which brands you wanted to include?

SAM LOBBAN: From the start, the Union & Company concept was about giving Chris and the team a platform to tell the Union story to our customers. It was important to us that we convey what Union is all about, but at the same time have its own unique spin as a pop-up concept, hence the thirteen brand, 170-piece exclusive capsule collection featuring all but two brands which Union usually carries. For the additional two - Cactus Plant Flea Market and No Vacancy Inn - both Chris and I are fans of what each brand does, and thought they would add an interesting addition to the concept as a whole.

AUTRE: Were there any particular inspirations that you both found to be the driving force behind this pop-up? Whether it be a different concept store, another city, or even a style of design?

SAM LOBBAN: From my perspective the major inspirations would be the ideas behind Union and what they stand for: great product, an open and inclusive environment and representing a diverse range of brands and ideas across price points. I think it would be fair to say that the campaign and overall aesthetic feels pretty rooted in LA style too!

AUTRE: Are there any brands that you think are ushering in a new wave of streetwear design?

SAM LOBBAN: I think what Cactus Plant Flea Market is doing is super cool, along with the Camp High guys...I like their super interesting take on color, graphic and print placement & technique on jersey, sweat weights and shapes.

AUTRE: Do you think these kinds of pop-ups risk putting cult streetwear at risk of becoming too mainstream?

CHRIS GIBBS: I do think there is a narrative where that can happen… And some brands might succumb to the glitz and glamour of it all by overdoing it. But we (Union) have a thirty-year track record of ‘keeping it real’ and by that I guess I mean playing the long game and never overexposing any one brand or trend. The core of our business has, for some time now been Japanese street wear and three of the four brands we started with over fourteen years ago are still the leading brands in our store (Neighborhood, Wtaps and Visvim). My feeling has always been as long as you keep true to your brand ethos and don’t start doing things and making product that isn’t really true to the brand, then you don’t run the risk of saturation. This project is the perfect example. It’s a two-month pop up with a highly curated edit of brands and styles in only ten doors in the world. That isn’t mainstream.

AUTRE: Do you think streetwear has become less accessible to consumers due to the influx of luxury brands tailoring their aesthetics?

SAM LOBBAN: Personally I think the opposite; aside from the ambiguity of what ‘streetwear’ as a term really means - which seems to be a catchall for anything cool that’s going on in menswear at this point - I’d argue that more customers than ever can and want to buy into streetwear because of the range of price points available. At Nordstrom we have Union tees for $42 to Dior tees for $560, and everything in between.

AUTRE: Do you think streetwear has evolved along with high fashion brands as they have adapted to their collections to appeal to more trend-oriented customers?

CHRIS GIBBS: Sam kind of spoke to the “catchall-ness” of the term streetwear. So this is kind of tough to answer. My job as a curator, for lack of a better term, is to try and sift through everything and bring the best to our customers. Not to sound repetitive but again I would lean on our thirsty+ year history of being Los Angeles’s best kept secret. Correct me if I am wrong, but Autre is a LA-based magazine who has covered many brands we sell, designers we offer, artists we support and this might be the first article about us. And I kind of like that. There is something kind of cool and mysterious about what and how Union exists. Guess I digressed there, sorry. Ok, so the question was has streetwear evolved to be more trendy? Some parts of it have for sure…some of streetwear’s most respected and longstanding brands are now household names, that said, others are still wildly successful, yet still super niche and underground. Streetwear is very pluralistic in that way.

AUTRE: Has the ethos behind streetwear as a cultural concept been diminished by high fashion?

CHRIS GIBBS: I will admit, I do think high fashion brands are doing their best to use the ‘streetwear’ playbook and unlike most streetwear brands, high-fashion brands have multimillion dollar ad campaigns and marketing teams behind them. And I will go a step further and say some are doing a really good job at it. I suppose for me we have always been a niche store and have largely enjoyed support from the customer who really gets it. The guys and girls who want honest, organic and holistic take on fashion. In those people we will always have support and they aren’t as easily lured away as most. There are some high fashion brands that for sure are using streetwear’s new found popularity to keep themselves relevant, while others are working with, not against streetwear in a more collaborative way that I think is healthier.

AUTRE: Do either of you think that there is any single city that consistently ignites global streetwear trends?

SAM LOBBAN: I think by its very nature a number of major cities add their own trends to the global streetwear conversation, rather than any single one. I think there are lines which you could draw back to New York, LA, Tokyo, London and beyond.

AUTRE: Would you consider Los Angeles to be a city of a trend-starters or of trend-followers?

CHRIS GIBBS: What I would say is this, I am a firm believer that streetwear was born in NYC, but at some point during the early ought’s it seemed to migrate west or at the very least become bicoastal. So there is a very strong, very dope LA version of streetwear, which is a community that I think is really dope. The Japanese streetwear that we introduced to the US, for example was really done from LA and that is a huge part of streetwear. And for Union we wouldn’t be here today without the support and patronage of some really dope trend setters in Los Angeles.

AUTRE: How would you describe the fashion aesthetic of this generation?

CHRIS GIBBS: My wet dream. A truly free and democratic mix of all genres and subgenres of fashion - high, low, vintage, contemporary, hippie, cross dressing, you name it.

AUTRE: Do either of you have any trend forecast predictions for the near future of streetwear?

CHRIS GIBBS: As high fashion willingly blurs the lines, the pendulum can swing both ways…streetwear will start using their playbook, but through a younger more innovative lens.

 

The pop-up shops will be available July 11 through September 1 at select Nordstrom stores and Nordstrom.com/NewConcepts.

 

 

 

Getting Off: Brad Phillips Interviews Author Erica Garza About Her Journey Through Sex & Porn Addiction

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In the following interview, Brad Phillips speaks to author, Erica Garza about their mutual experience with sex and porn addiction. In Getting Off: One Woman's Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, Garza challenges the stereotype that sexual addiction is within a man’s nature, and for a woman, the result of sexual trauma. Recounting a life of “revolting” fantasies both imagined and realized, she lays out a lifetime of orgasmic pressure begging to be released, and courageously retraces her road to recovery. Throughout the conversation, Phillips and Garza share their experiences of responding to fans who look to them for guidance, the benefits of being triggered, and the sexual taboos that continue to plague our sense of moral authority. 

BRAD PHILLIPS: I wanted first to say how happy I felt to discover your book. Having written about sex addiction myself, it felt valuable to read about a woman’s experience with participating and recovering from the same addiction. Particularly in that you wrote about it without nostalgia or redemption. What motivated you to write the book? Was there a sense that this was something you wrote in an attempt to process your experiences, or was it more of a desire to share with other people; make them feel less alone?

ERICA GARZA: It was a bit of both. I've always turned to writing as a source of comfort—a way to get troubling thoughts and memories out of my head and body, and onto the page. When I started writing about sex addiction, I did so in an essay online for Salon. I'd already been experimenting with telling my story in therapy and 12-step, but this was a more public telling. The response I received was overwhelming. So many people reached out and thanked me, and they were from all walks of life. I felt then that I could serve others by continuing to write about this. We aren't often presented the opportunity to help a wide range of people, and this was my chance.  

PHILLIPS: Sometimes there's trouble in writing about personal subjects that are taboo, in that readers develop projections about you, and a sense of attachment. Have you had any response from people who felt like they were connected to you in a way that felt creepy? I also was curious if men reached out to you, ignoring the aspects of shame and recovery you write about, and simply saw you as someone “into sex,” and approached you that way. Has that happened?

GARZA: Several men (and a few women) have reached out to me because they see me as someone “into sex.” This ranges from unsolicited dick pics, to requests to meet up, to full-blown erotic stories they want me to read. I usually block them immediately, or if I have the energy, I tell them they’ve crossed a boundary and we have a discussion. But I receive more messages from people looking for help because they’re dealing with sex/porn addiction. I always try to acknowledge and address these messages because I know how isolating addiction can be. I usually direct them to 12-step meetings because they can offer connection and community, but sometimes this isn’t enough for them. Some people reach out to me as if I’m a therapist, as if I have the magic solution to their pain, and this can feel overwhelming. I am not a counselor. I’m just a person who shared my story as honestly as I could. They have access to this honesty too. The best I can do for those who put me on this pedestal is to bring myself down to eye level. To remind them that I’m just as vulnerable as they are. The biggest difference is that I’ve come out of the shadows—maybe they should too.

PHILLIPS: It’s interesting and disappointing that people might read your book and completely miss all the shame and intense pain you discuss; things which go hand-in-hand with addiction. You mention other people coming out of the shadows. I think that there are certain people who find the shadows themselves sexual. I feel like on some level there would be very little new information to discover about men coming out of the shadows, which again is why I think your book is important. You’ve done mainstream press, and mentioned to me that you were told there were certain words you couldn’t use, or certain parts of the book better left not discussed, because they could ‘trigger’ someone. How do you feel about this climate, where we’re told we need to prevent triggering strangers? 

GARZA: I tend to disagree with the sentiment that there’d be nothing new to discover by men coming out of the shadows. I think the act of telling can help the addict discover a world of new information about who they are or what they want. And other people can be positively affected by hearing these confessions, because they too can confess without fear of judgment or criticism. As far as people being triggered by stories of addiction and sexual language, I’m sick of it. It reeks of Puritanism. We can watch zombies eat off people’s faces on prime-time television but we can’t see breasts. What does that tell us about what we fear as a culture? Our own animalistic primal nature? Our complicated desires? Our grip on control? When I’m triggered, instead of acting out or shutting down, I become curious. Why am I being triggered? What is being reflected to me? By asking questions like these, I learn more about myself.

PHILLIPS: Censorship and the aversion to natural female bodies on Instagram is insane to me. Curious is a good word my therapist uses, it helps take the shame out of self-reflection. I think the complication of desire can feel scary to express because really, we’ve never seen it done. When you say animalistic, do you think it’s elemental to our fear of expressing all the ways we’re still animals? 

GARZA: Maybe being reminded of our bodily functions and the natural impulses we share with animals only reminds us of the other most natural physical experience we fear most—death. If we stick with our intellect, we can form elevated ideas about what’s right or wrong, and we can let religion and the media tell us how to desire and how to express that desire in the same way that religion and media tells us that we don’t have to die. But I think all of that is a distraction from being present in our mortal bodies, accepting and indulging our natural impulses.

PHILLIPS: Having once been close to death I’m no longer afraid of it. That hasn’t helped in managing my daily unease though. I recently read, for a radio show, the entire list of paraphilias from the DSM-5. What shocked me was that the only two paraphilias classified as mental illnesses were sadism and masochism. I’ve seen it be particularly shaming for masochists, especially women, to be told that what they like in bed makes them ‘wrong’ in multiple ways. There is a lot of very quiet research around the idea pedophilia is an innate sexual preference in the same way that homosexuality is. The recidivism rate for pedophiles offenders is above 99 percent. But these are the pedophiles that offend. There are far more that don’t, and by default are repressed. Sympathy for the pedophile isn’t something people want to get behind. Maybe you could tell me how you think these more ‘extreme’ sexual predilections could be managed, or re-evaluated.

GARZA: I think the fear of things like child sex dolls and cartoons for pedophiles mirrors the fear that some have about tolerance to porn, not just the most extreme kind. If you see images repeatedly, those images might lose their charge and so you’ll need more extreme images to feel something again. Pedophilia is one of those subjects that upsets people because the trauma can be devastating and I understand why people shy away from the subject because they are trying to prevent any more harm being inflicted upon those who’ve suffered. They want, justifiably, compassion to be directed to the victims. But I do think that there is value in trying to understand the pedophile’s motives, by conducting more research, and by including them in the discussion. As difficult as it may be to hear their stories and understand the why of what they do, the better equipped we are to prevent future incidents of harm. I think when something has been deemed socially unacceptable and there’s so much fear around the thing that we won’t even talk about it, then it’s a good indication that we MUST talk about it. Silence eventually implodes and the aftermath is rarely pretty.

PHILLIPS: Long ago Susan Sontag predicted ‘image fatigue,’ which she related to the Vietnam War photographs being relayed back to American viewers, and how they would eventually lose their impact. That same thinking can definitely be extended to pornography and the absolute nadir it exists at in 2019. I agree with you and have tried myself to address the idea that if things are uncomfortable or difficult to talk about, then it does mean we should. There is difficulty in seeing both the victim of a crime and the perpetrator as two separate people involved in a scenario from which information could be gleaned.     

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Erica Garza’s book, Getting Off: One Woman’s Journey Through Sex and Porn Addiction, published by Simon and Schuster, is available through Amazon, Google Play Books, Barnes & Noble, and likely your local bookstore.

Follow Erica via Twitter and Instagram - @ericadgarza

The Decorator's Home: An Interview Of Marco Castillo On Cuba's Incomplete Aesthetic Revolution

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Interview by Oliver Kupper
Portrait by Summer Bowie
Install images courtesy of UTA Artist Space

Marco A. Castillo’s The Decorator’s Home – his first solo exhibition in the United States after 26 years in Los Carpinteros collective – is a microcosm of the dichotomies and failures of modernism’s utopian ideals. Amid a raging Cold War that extended far beyond the US and the USSR, modernism infused a tinge of fascism disguised as national pride in the name of aesthetics, whether it be the folksy arts and crafts dreams of Frank Loyd Wright, or the concrete and rosewood pavilions of Oscar Niemeyer’s Brasilia. Cuban Modernism offered the same sense of freedom and hope in an embargoed state of isolationism and Marxist fervor. Needless to say, the movement didn’t last long – it sputtered out in the tropical miasma of communism’s last island holdouts. In A Decorator’s Home, Castillo captures this fervor: the dreams of space travel, the dreams of high-minded aesthetics, razor sharp lines, rich wood, and rare materials. All of this is imbued with the paranoia of a global race to the cosmos, and the coded languages of spies trading secrets while their Cuba Libre’s sweat into hotel coasters. In the back of the exhibition, a solemn and heartbreaking film, called Generation, is a symbolic six-minute epitaph for Cuban Modernism’s ambitions, it’s lonely siren songs of paradise, and youth crashed on the shores of their aspirations. In the end, Cuban Modernism’s shipwreck wasn’t due to lack of demand or desire. It was the sense of control that the architect’s of The Revolution – namely Fidel Castro and Che Guevara – needed in order to legitimize their violence and delusions of grandeur. As the movement died, many of the buildings were converted to hospitals, schools, and public works facilities. We got a chance to speak to Castillo about his exhibition, curated by Neville Wakefield, and about his own take on Cuban Modernism’s successes and failures.

OLIVER KUPPER: Where did the name for the show, The Decorator’s Home, come from? 

MARCO CASTILLO: I had been doing research on Cuban Modernity, and there was this generation of designers at the beginning of the revolution that got involved in creating a new static for these people that were going to be the future of this country and the future of the world, because Cuba thought that they would convince the rest of the world to become communist. This needed to have an aesthetic. 

KUPPER: It’s funny how revolutions need an aesthetic.

CASTILLO: This generation designed most of the objects we were supposed to use, like furniture, and also interior design for the spaces, for the workers, for the buses, for the hotels, and for the farmers. But at a certain point, the government stopped being interested in that.

KUPPER: Was it too ambitious?

CASTILLO: I think it was the mood of Fidel Castro. He got radicalized, he got very into Soviet politics, and he militarized the country. And so the static artists became an enemy because they were the creative people. 

KUPPER: Yeah, a little utopian.

CASTILLO: Yes, too liberal. In the seventies, there was censorship for writers. The government destroyed the movement, the design, and the taste. 

KUPPER: How many years was that?

CASTILLO: Twenty years, I would say. In Cuba you have Art Deco, Art Nouveau, but I’m fonder of this utopic moment. People were importing resources from the human past. For the colonial time, they were based on identity and they mixed it with the high-quality design from the northern country.

KUPPER: The northern influence is in your pieces, too.

CASTILLO: Yes, what I’m doing here is basically because this movement was interrupted. This stirred a frustration in all of us; we couldn’t have a complete aesthetic revolution. I behaved like an interior designer at the time, creating my own objects. They are not furniture, and they are not art. They are something in between. 

KUPPER: Object-art.

CASTILLO: Yes, this creates a lot of influence in them. They look like decoration.  

KUPPER: At times it reminds me of Brasília. 

CASTILLO: Yes, except the Brazilians use rosewood, and we use mahogany. Cuba has the most beautiful mahogany. It’s darker than the rest. Also, we have a little bit of the Soviet influence over furniture—more practical. The Brazilians were more like peacocks, more exaggerated at times. 

(walking over to another piece)

KUPPER: What’s that?

CASTILLO: This is the type of wood people use to make cabinets. It smells so good. 

KUPPER: When did you start using caning?

CASTILLO: It was after the Cuban movement. I realized they were using this old material to do things that were very modern. Also, they were doing a lot of screens. There was a very tropical feeling in every piece of furniture—very delicate—you couldn’t really read it immediately. For example, they use a combination of mahogany and white surfaces. It would remind you of a coconut. I did the same here (walks towards screen). I designed the outside of it. I made it white, so it looks a little bit like pieces of coconut. A screen in a very important place called Salon de Protocolo El Laguito, the Protocol Room of El Laguito, inspired this. There is a huge screen that reminds me of this one, but it doesn’t have the alphabet. I added an alphabet because it was sort of an addiction of the Cold War.

KUPPER: Coding…

CASTILLO: Yeah, people really wanted to know these codes; there was lots of paranoia. (laughs) What are they saying? It became almost like art.

KUPPER: Would you consider there to be a Brutalist element to any of these pieces as well?

CASTILLO: You know when you’re dealing with this socialist element, Brutalism is always there. This (pointing to a caning piece with stars) reminds me of our monuments. This is pure Brutalism. 

KUPPER: This is very symbolic.  

CASTILLO: It represents a little bit of the revolution. I come from a country that had a lot of fun—a beautiful, turbulent country. Cuba was very rich in the beginning, but not after the revolution. I represent that as a circle. Simple, beautiful, perfect. It turns into a star, which is a very complex, geometric figure. At the same time, it reminds me of the back or the bottom of a chair. 

KUPPER: What about the rifles?

CASTILLO: The whole exhibition evolves from more abstract work to the more committed, symbolic, and engaged with the later alternative reality. It’s easy for me to imagine that an artist or a designer could have made a poster creating optical art with rifles as a monument, as a creative item. It never happened, and I never saw it, so I made it. 

KUPPER: Was it a military aesthetic?

CASTILLO: There was a moment of militarization. I had to start learning shooting when I was thirteen, and I got these preparations every year until I was eighteen. 

KUPPER: You weren’t going to join the army?

CASTILLO: No, it was not for me. (laughs) I don’t even like weapons. It just fascinated me—the shape of the rifle when you buy it creates a completely different object; it turns into something else. This is an American gun. I think it’s the Springfield. 

KUPPER: It’s a pretty common rifle.

CASTILLO: My grandfather had it. It’s the rifle I always saw when I was a child. He was a hunter. You know what we hunt in Cuba? Guinea chicken. 

KUPPER: What’s a Guinea chicken?

CASTILLO: It’s a beautiful animal.

KUPPER: Not like a Guinea pig?

CASTILLO: No (laughs), it’s a chicken, but it’s so beautiful. It’s a very strange animal. It looks like it’s from a patisserie.

KUPPER: Interesting.

KUPPER: (gesturing towards the sculptures across the room) These definitely remind me of the Cold War shapes—space-age shapes. 

CASTILLO: Totally, because all these amazing designs started in that era. 

KUPPER: It was the beginning of these explorations with satellites and this idea of our future in space.

CASTILLO: The future would be space, the future would be socialist, the future would be capitalist, which there was a big doubt about—there was a fight about it.

The Decorator’s Home is on view through July 13 at UTA Artist Space 403 Foothill Rd. Beverly Hills, CA 90210

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Allegiances And Convictions: A Conversation With June Edmonds And Luis De Jesus

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Interview By Luis De Jesus
Introduction By Summer Bowie
Photographs courtesy of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles


When tasked with defining America, the forefathers of this country attempted to create a union that, though forged in rebellion to an oppressive regime, was ultimately funded by slave labor. By declaring this land a union where all men are created equal, only to deny representation and basic civil liberties to all who are not white men, the framers of our constitution bequeathed to us a contradiction that we are still working to correct today. Almost 250 years later, with the divisive nature of our political system and a multitude of bifurcation points within each party, it seems that defining the American identity has become nearly impossible. While interviewing June Edmonds about her series of flag paintings that comprise Allegiances and Convictions, the current exhibition at Luis De Jesus Los Angeles, Owner/Director Luis De Jesus observed that the colors of the American flag were lifted directly from its British counterpart—it seems reasonable to suggest that our flag is due for an update. Vertically oriented, Edmonds’ flags vary from one to the next in color and pattern. They employ the primary hues of red, yellow, and blue, the three colors necessary to create a full spectrum of brown skin tones. During a recent public conversation between Edmonds and curator/writer Essence Harden hosted by De Jesus, an insightful teenage art student asked about the literal and conceptual roles that labor plays in the surrounding artworks. The student noted the meticulously painted smaller stripes that comprise each of the larger flag stripes, and the uniformity of each performed painted stroke. In person, these paintings certainly provoke questions about all aspects of American life, including the shrinking labor force that is so often leveraged by politicians on both sides of the aisle for personal gain. In an age when the average American seems illiterate or oblivious to abstraction and the power of art, it seems that the emblems to which we are asked to pledge our allegiances are in need of redefinition, and that definition necessitates an honest reflection of who we are: multi-hued, multi-faceted, of varying size, and in constant flux. The following conversation between Luis De Jesus and June Edmonds was conducted this past April at her studio at the Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, CA, in advance of her first solo exhibition at the gallery.

LUIS DE JESUS: You’ve said that the idea of the flags came to you in a dream in 2017, six months after you returned home from an artist residency in Paducah, Kentucky. What was it about that place, that landscape, that inspired your dream?

JUNE EDMONDS: Being out there, there is a different relationship to the flag. There is also that additional flag. Paducah is pretty much a progressive island within Kentucky, but outside of it is not. While driving to Memphis one day, I saw on top of a hill a Confederate flag as big as this wall. So, if you’ve got a Confederate flag that big in front of your house you really want the world to know something.

DE JESUS: So that planted this idea, this question in your mind about the flag.

EDMONDS: ...and about the power of flags, and what flags communicate, and how flags are appropriated.

DE JESUS: And the fact that you were on that land, you were in a place that played such a big role in the Civil War.

EDMONDS: Applying to Paducah I thought, “Okay, I’m going to No Man’s Land.” I’m going to a place no one’s been to before. But after Trump was elected and America started taking on this new tint, going to Paducah became a whole other idea and I was apprehensive. I was at a party and someone joked, “Well, at least you’re gonna be close to the Ohio River, because if it gets too deep you can swim across.” That sort of planted the seed in my mind. It’s really kind of meaningless right now, but that really meant something at one time. It became really interesting to me—the thought of being on that land 150 years ago. So, I started doing some research and I learned about Margaret Garner. I named the triptych “Ohio Story” after her. Her life is what inspired Toni Morrison to write Beloved. It’s about this woman who was a slave that was as close to the Ohio River as I was at the time.

Story of the Ohio For Margaret, 2017. Courtesy of artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

Story of the Ohio For Margaret, 2017. Courtesy of artist and Luis De Jesus Los Angeles.

DE JESUS: How long were you there for?

EDMONDS: One month.

DE JESUS: That visit had a big impact on you. When you came back it stayed with you for a long time, it permeated your daily reality and your dreams, obviously, because you had the dream about these flags some months later, which kind of kicked off this whole project. Tell me about your use of color in these flags because it’s very specific. It’s very different from an earlier body of work, the mandalas inspired by your meditation practice. Is this something that just came naturally? Did you say, “I’m going to paint these flags; I’m going to create a flag.” Did the colors happen naturally or was it something that you had to think about and it was a conscious decision—your decision—not to use bright colors?

EDMONDS: Oh, it was conscious all the way. There are two things that inspired the color. The flags that came to me in my dream were black, but I was already thinking about using skin tones—brown skin tones. “Unina,” a painting I started in Paducah, is evidence of that. When I came back to LA I looked at another painting I started the year before called “Primary Theories” (2016), which used primary colors in brown tones. The idea is that all skin tones come from these particular primary colors that I was using in those works. If life started in Africa, then all skin tones come from that African skin tone. And then I thought back on how African black skin tones are referred to colloquially. You’ve got yellow—you know, we use that term. We use the term red, meaning this sort of Indian black skin tone, and we talk about really dark skin being blue black—primary colors. Those are the three colors that we use to talk about skin tones, to describe somebody that lives down the street.

DE JESUS: This is not something most people know about—unless you’re Black. I’ve never heard of this before.

EDMONDS: I’m really surprised! You being from DC and all!

[Laughter from both]

DE JESUS: Yeah, but I think Black people talk with each other differently.

EDMONDS: Of course, absolutely. When I think of the flag, I’m not going to do red, white, and blue. I’m doing red, yellow, and blue. I’m using the primary colors but still these are primary colors to brown. Very, very loosely, more and more and more loosely, I do consider that. I do consider that orange to be a red, or I consider that purple to be a red violet, or I consider that green to be a blue green. So, it just gets looser and looser.

DE JESUS: We’ve been asked, does she ever create horizontal flags? What’s behind the decision to keep these flags vertical?

EDMONDS: Okay, so two things. First, I dreamt them that way. The second thing is I wasn’t inspired by Jasper Johns, but I am inspired by Jasper Johns–the idea came to me independent of his flags–but I welcome the juxtaposition of those flags. With that said, his are horizontal and I want to keep mine distinct.

DE JESUS: And, typically, that’s how most people identify Johns flags—horizontally.

EDMONDS: These flags are standing for something, so I’m gonna to keep them standing.

Installation view of JUNE EDMONDS:  Allegiances & Convictions , 2019. Courtesy of Luis De Jesus os Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.

Installation view of JUNE EDMONDS: Allegiances & Convictions, 2019. Courtesy of Luis De Jesus os Angeles. Photo by Michael Underwood.

DE JESUS: Also, a vertical has references to the standing figure. Seen together like this they sort of become these signposts. Each one has something to say that is unique to it.

EDMONDS: Cool. Do you feel that it abstracts them more?

DE JESUS: Well, that’s something I really love about them. I’ve had to point out to some people that they are flags. They don’t necessarily read them as flags, though some people do. Once I point it out they see it. I love that about it; it’s not obvious. You have to contemplate it a little more. But then the titles give it away.

EDMONDS: So that’s what I like: more abstracted, for it to come to you, and not be immediately legible.

DE JESUS: I have another question for you: have you ever felt that you were creating a new American flag?

EDMONDS: I’ve been thinking about this statement. It’s such a big idea that I shied away from it when you first asked me. But over the days I’ve been thinking, “Well, what are you painting for anyway? What are you doing this for anyway? Don’t you want to shift some ideas?” A new American flag says that we are shifting the idea of what something stands for. I accept that now.

DE JESUS: I love it! You’re embracing it now. I mean, it’s very powerful! To me, this whole idea of interpreting the flag in these colors, in these forms, is very provocative. As people in the art world we can appreciate it on a certain level. But a person who may not have that same connection or perspective may respond very differently. Their response may be similar to yours when you saw that Confederate flag outside of Paducah. They may look at your flag and say, “Oh man, that scares me!” It’s not just that you are making your own statement about the American flag, but you are proposing something quite radical here. It’s like you said, it’s an opportunity to really look at what this stands for, to think about its history, how it has impacted people—not just Black Americans—but all ethnicities who have come to this country, who embrace the flag, who embrace the country, and yet are always going up against things that keep them out, keep them from becoming fully realized Americans.

EDMONDS: I listen to a lot of audible books. One of the last ones I listened to is, The Rebellious Life of Ms. Rosa Parks. You hear about this person who came before Rosa Parks, who didn’t get up, but nobody knows her. Claudette Colvin was 17 years old and months before Parks did what she did somebody told her to get up from her seat. At the time she was studying government in school and she replied, “Don’t you know what the Constitution says?” I thought that was so powerful! So, one of these flags will be named for her.

DE JESUS: I consider what you are doing quite radical. All of your flags are becoming the new American flag. This constant change happening, the shift in colors from band to band and from flag to flag—this is not a static object, but something that represents evolution and change and progress.

EDMONDS: I like that. It’s sort of becoming.

DE JESUS: It’s always becoming, always working towards the goal, the ideal. What you said about the colors made me think of the stripes and the stars, how the design and meaning came from the tradition of European monarchies. The colors are from the British flag. We brought those ideals to this country and it became part of our own design. Yet, the ideals never became fully realized.

EDMONDS: Those colors were intended to stand for something. They probably said: “Okay, this is what it’s going to be. Red means valor. Blue means courage,” or something like that. But the flag is used to validate: this is what’s acceptable and this is what’s not acceptable in America, under this flag. If a person, behavior, or thing is not acceptable, it has no courage, it has no valor... and we all know that’s bullshit. This is important to me.

A Conversation With Adam Miller And Devon Oder, Co-Founders Of The Pit, About The Gallery’s History And Fifth Anniversary.

Interview By Agathe Pinard
Photographs courtesy of Adam Miller


While most newly created galleries couldn’t make it through the hard reality of the art market in Los Angeles and pass the fateful milestone of the first two years, The Pit is about to celebrate its five year anniversary this month. I met with the co-founders and artists, Adam Miller and Devon Oder, for a chat at the gallery’s location in Glendale. As they gave me a tour of the three gallery spaces that make up The Pit , Adam stopped to point out a literal pit on the ground. “Here is The Pit,” he told me. In the forty-five minute long conversation that followed, we retraced the history of The Pit, talked about the benefits of doing it yourself, and pictured LA’s forthcoming art scene.

AGATHE PINARD: Can you tell us a little bit about the artists you’re currently showing?

ADAM MILLER: In the main gallery is Hilary Pecis, she’s an LA-based painter, and this is her first solo exhibition in Los Angeles. In The Pit II is Dani Tull, he’s been working in Los Angeles for many years, and has exhibited internationally. He makes sculpture, installation, and paintings. Hilary’s work is more of a painter’s painter practice: depictions of still lives, snapshots from Los Angeles, moments of her daily life; whereas Dani’s work is more conceptual. A lot of his work deals with mysticism, new age philosophy, and religions. In the zine shop, we have ceramics by Jennifer King, also a Los Angeles-based artist. Finally, in the back gallery, otherwise known as “The Pit Presents,” we have a group exhibition that was organized by Left Field, a gallery from Los Osos, California.

AGATHE PINARD: I heard that before running a gallery you were a musician. Can you talk about that a little?

ADAM MILLER: I moved to Los Angeles in 2006 to get my MFA from Art Center College of Design in Pasadena; that’s where Devon and I met. Previously, I was living in Sacramento where I was involved in the music scene. I moved there when I was eighteen and was already playing in punk bands, and then I moved more into garage and ‘60s revival music. But there was a real DIY ethos in Sacramento. Everyone ran record labels, booked their own tours, organized shows in alternative venues like laundromats, old theaters, and backyards, people made their own t-shirts, etc.. So, when I was young, that’s how life was, and when I was in bands, oftentimes, I was the person who did all that.

DEVON ODER: Of course, he did. As you’ll find out, he gets a lot done. (laughs)

ADAM MILLER: I do a lot of things. That’s basically how I learned to silkscreen. We’d make our own t-shirts in the bathroom of our apartments. During the four or five years I was living there, I helped set up my band with a record deal in Germany, and we were able to tour Europe. When I was in that band, I played the bass and I got a deal with the company, so they were sending me free bass guitars to play while on the road and things like that. So, pretty early on, I realized the benefits of doing it yourself, being super active, and not waiting for people to discover you or do things for you.

AGATHE PINARD: Were you going to school at that time?

ADAM MILLER: During that period of time, I was studying at Sacramento State University majoring in graphic design with a minor in fine art. Which also comes into play because I did a lot of the graphic design for the bands. Now, I do it here for The Pit. After two years, I switched to major in fine art and started organizing art shows at warehouses and underground venues in Sacramento. My first art show was at Kevin Seconds’ coffee shop, from legendary punk band 7 Seconds. Since I didn’t write the music, I felt like there was a shelf life to playing in the bands. I just started feeling less fulfilled playing music because I wasn’t fully expressing myself, and I had less control over it. So, I dropped out of all my bands and decided to apply to grad school. Getting into grad school was my real initiation to the fine art world. In Northern California, there was a bigger sort of graphic, street art component that related to the music scene, so I had been more involved with that.

When Devon and I were in grad school, we really wanted to figure out the LA art scene. We weren’t dating yet, but we both started working for the artist Sterling Ruby. She was the first office employee and I was the second studio assistant. So, while she was doing a lot of logistical, behind-the-scenes stuff for his exhibitions, I was doing fabrication, shipping, and installation while finishing grad school.

We finished grad school in 2008, the economy collapsed, a lot of the galleries in Los Angeles went under. So, I just kind of fell back on the way I was doing things when I was in bands. I started finding alternative spaces around Los Angeles and I would curate a group show. At that time, I’d put my own work in the show, and people were critical of that choice because hardly any artists were doing it. And every time I organized a show, I would make a zine and we would silkscreen the covers.

DEVON ODER: And it was also about extending our community. When you’re in graduate school, you’re in a super tight bubble, and then when you get out, you’re in your studio and you’re kind of twiddling your thumbs. The shows were really this great way to do a ton of studio visits and expand our world.

ADAM MILLER: Devon worked for Sterling Ruby until we opened the gallery in 2014. I worked for him until 2011, and then I decided I wanted my day job to be completely out of the art world. So, the other side of me as a person is that I’m involved in animal rights activism, so I worked for PETA in their grassroots campaigns for five years.

DEVON ODER: And he kept being like, “Let’s open our own space, let’s open our own space!” And at the time, it freaked me out.

AGATHE PINARD: So how did the idea of creating the gallery finally come together?

ADAM MILLER: It was a mix of things. We had done a lot of these shows for like five years and there weren’t many artist-run spaces still in operation in Los Angeles at the time. In 2013, Laura Owens opened 356 Mission, and that was radically inspiring. I think that’s when I was like, “I want to open a space.” I was so inspired to see an artist of her stature taking control of her own career, doing things for the community, for other artists to do things beyond just their own studio, their own practice, their own career, but to think more expansively about what an artist can do for the greater LA art community. Seeing someone just do it, and really shake off the judgment that people had about an artist showing their own work—that you shouldn’t organize your own shows— … Just get rid of these old ideas of what artists should, and shouldn’t do, and just be like, “I’m just gonna do it, and fuck it.”  I thought it was so amazing and we started to look for a space about six months later.

DEVON ODER: So, we had this building as our studios, the part that you’re in right now, and we kept on thinking, “If we open our own space, how are we going to do that with day jobs, with our studio practice, and then another lease?” All of these things were adding up. Then, we were talking to our landlord about some ideas that we had and he was like, “Well, I’ve got these garages and I’ve just had my junk in them for over twenty years. You can have them if you clean them up.”

ADAM MILLER: It took us nine months to remodel and fix up the space; it was really crazy. The building had been a cabinet maker’s business at some point. So all the walls were covered in cabinetry and pockets of storage stuff that had just been gathering dust, and there was a dropped ceiling, broken windows, molded walls. It was a big undertaking.

DEVON ODER: We were wondering if this even could turn into a nice, pretty gallery?

AGATHE PINARD: You’d have to be pretty imaginative.

ADAM MILLER: It was 2013 when we started building the gallery. Most other galleries were still in Culver City, Hollywood, and Downtown was the new place where galleries were cropping up, but no one was located as far east as us. So that was another thing; we wondered if anyone would ever even come here.

DEVON ODER: When we opened it wasn’t a commercial gallery; it was a real artist project space. We did group shows curated by us, as well as by other artists. We did that for a couple of years.

ADAM MILLER: Yeah, we were several years in before we even had any public hours. I think we did two years of appointment-only.

 AGATHE PINARD: At the beginning, in 2014, The Pit was a project space for wide-ranging group shows. Five years later, The Pit now has three galleries and a zine shop. Can you talk about the evolution of the project?

ADAM MILLER: We’ve slowly been able to take over more and more of the building.

DEVON ODER: Adam’s whole motto is if there is any available space you need to do something with it.

ADAM MILLER: What happened with The Pit II is that someone living across the street had a fancy car and just stored it in there. Every day that we would be here working he would pull it out and wash it in front of the gallery. It was a really funny scenario. This older guy would take his shirt off and wash the car, wax it, and stuff.  Anyways, eventually he sold the car and didn’t need the space anymore.

DEVON ODER: And we always said right when we met him: “if you ever want to give up that garage, we’ll take it.”

ADAM MILLER: The first Pit II show opened in February 2015, so we were a year and a half in. That was the first time we ever did a solo show. We had only done group shows up to that point. That was a big moment for us because it  really shifted the direction of the gallery. We started finding that working with one artist for a longer period of time on a solo project was so rewarding. Doing group shows was such a different experience. Group shows are really, really fun, but when you work with a friend, or someone who becomes a friend, you help them realize this vision; this big thing for their career—which is a solo show. It just feels like such a monumental thing in an artist’s life and it just feels more collaborative. Then somewhere along the line we started doing art fairs and became more commercial, started selling things, and I was able to leave my day job at a certain point.

 AGATHE PINARD: The Pit Presents, one of the exhibition spaces, hosts galleries from other cities in a series of residencies and swaps. Can you talk about the initiative behind it?

ADAM MILLER: The back gallery (The Pit Presents) was three single car garages that we took over. A laundromat was using them for storage. The landlord asked if we’d want to take another chunk of the building and we snatched them up because, in my mind, if any space is available we should do something interesting with it.

DEVON ODER: We had no plans on expanding at that point.

ADAM MILLER: To be frank, at the time, we weren’t making enough sales in order to take on more overhead. So, we thought let’s just remodel it and we’ll rent it to another gallery. Then we’ll have a neighbor, and we can have shared openings and parties together. That was our initial idea. So we built it out, made it really nice, and started looking for someone to rent it. We got the space in 2017, and September 2018 was the first show. We were contacting people about renting out the gallery and we were speaking to a friend of ours who runs a gallery in Mexico City, who had an idea to run it as a collaborative. So he and four other gallerists from Latin America rented the space, and they called it Ruberta, which is the name of the street that we’re on. Each gallery got to do one show throughout the year. During that time The Getty was doing the Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative, which had an emphasis on Los Angeles and Latin American connections in contemporary art. They rented the space, created Ruberta, and then their exhibitions and projects were promoted through the Getty and associated with Pacific Standard Time. So, it was a really amazing thing. That was only going to be one year. It ended last summer and we were trying to think of what to do with the gallery moving forward. I’m the primary salesperson, and we don’t really have the staff or manpower to fully program and sell a third space year round. We were trying to think about what was successful with Ruberta and how to start doing something similar, but in-house. So, basically we could insure it, staff it, and have a little more control. An issue with that was that they were all out of town, and had very limited hours. People were constantly asking us to open it up and we were uncomfortable doing that because it wasn’t our space, and we couldn’t speak intelligently about all the art, all the time.

That’s when we decided to do The Pit Presents, which is almost like a residency. We invite other galleries, whom we select, they put on a show, they program it, and they sell it, in most cases.

AGATHE PINARD: The art market being what it is right now, which aspects of founding a gallery have come most naturally, and which have been the most difficult? 

ADAM MILLER: Well, the financial aspect is probably the most difficult. The best part is working with the artists and having a platform to support them. It will always be my favorite thing about owning a gallery.

DEVON ODER: The hardest part is being a business person.

ADAM MILLER: We’ve had to figure out how it worked. I think we have a different business model than most galleries. To be frank, that’s why we’re in Glendale: keep our overhead as low as we possibly can—and part of that is being outside of the normal gallery hubs. That’s why we now do so many shows at a time. We’re always trying to think outside the box. I would say that a normal gallery’s business model is to have a really nice space with fairly high overhead, and then do one show at a time of pretty expensive artworks, and depend on selling enough of that to cover everything. That’s the opposite of us.  We keep it as low as we can, and we have lots of different opportunities for sales at various price points. We also sell shirts, artist books, limited editions, and host a lot events to keep people coming back to the shows and spend time in the zine shop.

DEVON ODER: Which allows us to be able to keep doing experimental things that might be more difficult to sell.

ADAM MILLER: You have to offset those with other things and figure that out. Budgets and profit/loss reports… that’s the not fun part, but it’s an important part that you have to learn.

AGATHE PINARD: How does an artist-run gallery compete with, and cohabitate with, much larger, blue-chip galleries, and such? What’s your relationship to them?

ADAM MILLER: Our roster of represented artists focuses primarily on emerging artists, but we work with a fair amount of larger, mid-career artists. So, usually, when we work with a bigger artist, we’re trying to see how we can collaborate with their bigger galleries to make it successful for everyone. We do really well with getting press for artists; they’re able to do more experimental projects that they might not be able to do in a bigger space that has a different type of overhead.

When we work with a bigger artist that’s been showing in a bigger gallery, I almost feel like we become their PR machine. Ideally, we’ll get them a lot of press. We have done quite well with certain artists, where they’ve been showing at great galleries, but maybe things have slowed down a little bit, and then we’ve been able to do a show with them and get them press by really pushing things hard on social media and through our networks. And the year after that, we’ll see that they have two or three shows with different galleries and they’re being taken to different fairs. Not that we are exclusively responsible for that, but I think we can help re-kickstart things and get a different audience to look at the work.

DEVON ODER: And then, we get to work with some of our idols; people we admire. That’s been so exciting.

AGATHE PINARD: You just participated in the first ever Frieze Art Fair in Los Angeles earlier this year. What was the experience like?

ADAM MILLER: It was an amazing experience for us, really great. It felt like a real validating moment—being one of the artist-run spaces. We were by far one of the smallest galleries there. The reception was wonderful. We did incredibly well both in networking and sales. It was also super good exposure for the artists. From a sales point of view, this is the strongest year the gallery has ever had, and a lot of it goes back to starting the year off so strong with that fair.

DEVON ODER: For a young, small gallery like us, fairs are the trickiest thing ever because they’re so expensive to do and if they don’t work it’s hard to recover. But when it does work, it can be so beneficial. Frieze was invitational and we just felt very great being there. It had a good vibe, good energy.

ADAM MILLER: It really felt like the LA art scene was championing us a little bit, it was really nice. We felt like the underdogs who made it to the big leagues or something. As Devon was saying, for us one fair can be a quarter of the year’s overhead. So, if we take a big hit on a fair, it can completely screw us up financially for the year, so we have to be very careful.

DEVON ODER: The artists that we represent tend to be emerging, so we have to sell more pieces because the price points tend to be lower.

AGATHE PINARD: How do you envision Los Angeles’s artistic landscape in the future?

ADAM MILLER: I picture it continuing to spread out away from the hubs in Hollywood and Culver City and Downtown. Galleries will start being more independent, in terms of looking elsewhere for lower overhead, rather than clustering together. I feel like when galleries cluster together it ends up driving up the rents in those neighborhoods, and eventually they leave looking for new spaces, and in the process a number of the galleries will close because it’s expensive to get a new space and move your business. I hope that there will continue to be more artist-run spaces. There are a plethora of young artist-run spaces now, which is amazing, and I hope that more will continue to open. We need more new galleries too, not just artist-run spaces, in particular we need more smaller galleries.

DEVON ODER: What’s so exciting now is that I feel like there are so many artist-run spaces again. So many artists are doing interesting things; it feels very active. Los Angeles just feels so active and free. People are opening spaces wherever. There’s artist-run spaces opening in Alhambra, Pasadena, everywhere. That’s exciting, it creates more opportunities for artists and allows for more diverse practices to thrive.

AGATHE PINARD: I also feel like the DIY movement that Adam was talking about in Sacramento is going strong right now in LA. I have friends opening mini art galleries in their backyard shed; they just remodeled the whole thing and made a tiny gallery that can maybe fit five or ten people at the same time.

DEVON ODER: Yes, if you’ve got the space, just use it! I love apartment galleries… just utilizing the space, just getting the work seen, and having that accessibility is really great.

 AGATHE PINARD: What’s coming up next for The Pit?

DEVON ODER: Our five-year anniversary is next month, so we’re throwing a huge party. We’ll have a solo show by Benjamin Weissman in the main space, who is an artist that we’ve known and loved for years. He taught both of us at Art Center and we now represent him at The Pit. In the Pit II, Jaime Muñoz will be curating a  group show. Tyler Mako will be in The Pit Presents. In our zine shop, we will be doing a solo exhibition by Christina Tubbs which will also be a benefit for the Exceptional Children’s Foundation Art Centers. The ECF Art Centers are a series of four professional art studios located across Los Angeles County that create artistic opportunities for artists with developmental disabilities. We are very excited to be able to support this amazing non-profit and to showcase the work of one of their talented artists.

ADAM MILLER: At the party, we will have a performance by KISK, a KISS tribute band, which includes the artist Jon Pylypchuk. He is a good friend of ours and a supporter of the gallery from the beginning. 

DEVON ODER: He was in our third show here at the gallery. He’ll be performing, we’ll have food trucks, our friends will be DJing, so please come!

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A Voyage Into Sight, Sound and Surf: An Interview Of Filmmaker Chris Gentile

Interview by Agathe Pinard

Self Discovery for Social Survival is the surf/music feature film born from the collaboration of Chris Gentile from New York-based surf brand Pilgrim Surf + Supply and Keith Abrahmsson from the record label Mexican Summer. Together they started this ambitious project to connect surf, sound and sight and make a film that would satisfy most senses. World-renowned surfers including Stephanie Gilmore, Ryan Burch, Creed McTaggart and Ellis Ericson joined musicians Allah-Las, Peaking Lights, Connan Mockasin and MGMT ’s Andrew VanWyngarden on this surf journey starting from a secret spot in Mexico, to the southern atolls of the Maldive Islands, and ending in the cold waters of Iceland. The film is narrated by a man who is often referenced as the godfather of American avant-garde, the late Jonas Mekas. I had the chance to talk to the artist, photographer and film director Chris Gentile about the making of his first feature-length film, bringing together artists and surfers, and working with Jonas Mekas.

AGATHE PINARD: I wanted to start by asking about the meaning behind the title, Self Discovery for Social Survival, can you explain it?

CHRIS GENTILE: When we started to conceptualize the film, myself and Keith Abrahamsson from Mexican Summer, we were thinking a lot about music and its relationship to surfing. Surfing is this activity, this pursuit that people engage in and that kind of helps people detach from what they’re do day-to-day, give them some contemplative time to sort of go inward and we were trying to come up with this name, and along the way I came across an old book that was written for climbing, for people who would free climb and climb up mountains. It was basically a book that gave people a pathway to overcome fear. The book was titled Self Discovery for Social Survival. Keith and I both felt like that really resonated with the spirit of what this film was about. Surfers are constantly looking for that open and free space to have a moment in nature, where two forces are meeting each other and the surfers are in the space where the energy that’s coming from nature is dying and being born at the same time. We felt like this title had a lot of metaphoric possibilities and decided to go for it. It’s a mouthful, it’s a big title.

PINARD: This is an ambitious project that mixes surfing, music and animation done by the in house designer of Mexican Summer…

GENTILE: Yes, Bailey Elder but also Robert Beatty, who’s an independent artist and illustrator.

PINARD: How did the idea/project come together ?

It was evolving the whole time we were making the film, it was a very open-ended and experimental process. The one thing that I really wanted to maintain was an open-endedness with everybody involved. So there are multiple points of influence that went into the filmmaking. I didn’t give the surfers any directions while they surfed. We travelled together, we picked these particular places, and they were reacting to the waves that were there for a two-week period of time, and the cinematographers were reacting to the way the surfers were surfing, positioning themselves to get the shot that felt right. I really left a lot of that control up to them. The musicians who were involved were on these trips and they were in the water and surfing the same waves that the professional surfers we travelled with were surfing. They have a first experience and perspective on what was going on. The idea was to let them go back into the studio and have complete creative freedom over the music that they wrote in reaction.

PINARD: What about the animation?

GENTILE: When that came into play, we showed a rough cut to Bailey and Robert. Then Keith Abrahamsson picked a couple of songs that he felt were appropriate to transition from one location like Mexico to the Maldives. To put a song and an animation that would kind of be like a mental palette cleanser, Keith came up with these two fantastic songs. One was an archival song from the seventies, “Void Spirit,” and the other one was a song that was made by Jefre Cantu-Ledesma for the film. Jefre isn’t a surfer, he wasn’t on the trip but he made these beautiful compositions inspired by the idea of being under water, being under the ocean. So, those tracks were given to Bailey and Robert along with the access to this footage, and they reacted and created these animations. Everything was very independent to one another, every aspect of the film. I kind of kept everything on track and helped people when they need my help, but really it was exercise––relinquishing ego and control, and letting everybody’s influence come in and affect the overall project.

PINARD: That’s funny, last week I interviewed Connan Mockasin and we talked about the trip he made to Iceland for the movie, and how he was impressed at the beginning to be around these professional surfers like Stephanie Gilmore who’s a seven-time world champion.

GENTILE: One of the things that I had to do was to think deeply about the personalities that we were going to introduce to one another on these adventures because most of the people didn’t know each other. And taking a surf trip, you don’t know what you’re going to get. There’s no guarantee that the waves are going to be good, or that the weather is going to be good, or a tire may go flat. You may miss opportunities or you may get opportunities that you would never expect. When we went on these trips I had to think about how the group would feel and I was just going off my own instincts and my own guts. The trip to Iceland was really special because it was a group of really different people. They all had a sincere admiration and appreciation for one another. Everyone became fast friends. Iceland was interesting because we were traveling all over that country chasing these storms and these waves. Sometimes getting them and sometimes missing them, but we spent so much time in these vans just traveling across this incredible landscape. Everyone got a lot of time to know each other, more so than on the other trips because on the other trips it was a lot more surfing, people were getting tired, it was different. Iceland was the one where I think the actual chase for the waves was the beauty in that trip, more so than the wave riding.

PINARD: For the movie you took some surfers and went on a trip to Mexico, the Maldives and Iceland, which one was your favorite ?

GENTILE: That’s a great question. I mean, I’ve been to that spot in Mexico so many times and it’s one of my favorite places on the planet. I loved the opportunity to go down there with that group of people, but I have to say the Maldives was really unique and special, because we had this group of Australian surfers together that were kind of like a brotherhood. That trip, we were on a boat, the whole entire time, on an old, old boat. It travels really slowly, had a lot of character and a great captain and a great crew. It was not posh by any means, it was kind of a busted boat. But it was so fun because everybody was just excited to be around each other, find waves, fish. The kind of boredom that you experience on these boats, these guys were wild and doing the most hilarious stuff. Some of it we couldn’t put in the movie it was crazy, drunken backflips off of the boat completely nude at like 3 o’clock in the morning. It was incredible, very memorable.

PINARD: The film is narrated by the late, legendary Jonas Mekas, it might have been the last project he worked on...

GENTILE: I know that Jonas filmed his life every day, so I’m sure that that footage is truly his last work. On this project we were so fortunate to have him agree to come and narrate. The words are Jamie Brisick and Jonas read them. It was so special to get to meet him and experience his humility and his generosity, it was fantastic. If it weren’t for Jonas, I don’t think we could have made a film like this. He’s had so much influence on me as a young artist throughout my life. He gave us, me and the rest of the people at Mexican Summer, everyone, he truly gave us the license to make the film. So, to have him narrate it was an honor, it was so special.

PINARD: How did you get him to work on the project?

GENTILE: Keith Abrahamsson is really responsible for that. Keith presented him with this idea and had already been working with Jonas on a couple of other things, helping him with his archives. They had a working relationship together. Keith asked him if he would be up for narrating the film, and explained to him what it was, and I think it was so strange that he thought it was worth doing. It wasn’t very difficult. He got in a recording studio with him, drank a couple glasses of wine, and I think in one or two takes he nailed the narration. It was great.

PINARD: The movie will premiere in LA this Saturday, are you excited? How do you feel about it ?

GENTILE: I’m a little nervous, I’ve never directed a film before. I’ve made a lot of short films, experimental films, but nothing that’s feature-length, and at this scale, and this level of production. I’m so grateful to have the experience. I’ve learned a lot from it. I’m really excited to see it in front of an audience, see the reaction, see the bands perform live to it, it’s going to be so special.


Self Discovery For Social Survival will premiere in Los Angeles this Saturday June 15 at The Palace Theatre with a live score by Connan Mockasin, Andrew VanWyngarden of MGMT and Allah-Las

The film is out digitally on June 18 and available to pre-order now at https://geni.us/SDSS .






The Meme Is A Virus: An Interview Of @JERRYGOGOSIAN

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Misery loves company, and the art scene is full of miserable people. In our vast, virtual memetic culture, @JERRYGOGOSIAN is dissecting the great unregulated art market and its strange ecosystem of fear, lies and egomaniacism. Everyone knows she, or he, is on the inside, but the constant guessing only fuels the fire: Who is @JERRYGOGOSIAN?

 SUMMER BOWIE: You’re making memes about a very niche world that takes itself very seriously, but do you think it’s the very fact that you’re allowing serious people to laugh at themselves that makes it resonate so deeply?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: At every level of the art world I’ve ever occupied, I like to remind myself that I’m not curing cancer, disarming landmines, or figuring out what to do with nuclear waste. When I was an intern, there was this other intern that would cry everytime we got bitched out by the director of the gallery. I would stand there holding my breath and pinching my leg so I wouldn’t burst out laughing. Like I’m spending my time working for you, for free, on menial tasks so you can go to Nobu for lunch and get a pedicure in before your event tonight at MoMA and then you talk to me like I’m an imbecile and expect me to obediently serve you? LMAO. I might just make a “few more mistakes. Oops!” I’ve always been irreverent to the art world structure, especially the hierarchy because it is genuinely absurdist.

BOWIE: Which of your posts has garnered the most engagement, and do you have any theories as to why? 

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: People love the character profiles that I write. They’re all amalgamations of real people I know in the NYC and LA art world. I don’t have to try to be witty or smart. As we all know, the more you observe it, reality trumps fiction any day. For every character profile I write people either comment “that’s me” or “I know her.” Despite these descriptions seeming pretty specific, there are some overarching caricatures in the art world that may or may not have been articulated until now. Some people have accused me of being harsh on my characters and I’m just like “no, no, that’s like the combination of four people I love.” I write about each one with so much affection. We’re all idiosyncratic and predictable at some point. I think it’s cute.  

BOWIE: Have you noticed any topics that trend more than others?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: Like any good propagandist, I’m tapping into an unconscious, herd mentality system of fearful, false beliefs. In essence, this page wouldn’t function without insecurity. People are obsessed with the following: exclusivity, FOMO, class, financial competition/disparity, and the art world pecking order. Ironically,for me to make these memes, I’ve got to be pretty honest with my own internal dialog about the art world. I don’t exclude myself from insecurity, but I’m highly sensitive to what it looks and sounds like because ultimately I’d like to spiritually transcend this rung of middle school hell. The realer the post, the bigger the response I receive. Insecurity is trending on the semiotic level disguised as cultural cache, flippant coolness, excessive wealth, recklessness, art world privilege, and jet setting.

BOWIE: Like anyone who indicts with mockery on the Internet, you’ve received both praise and angered criticism for your posts. What are some of the assumptions people make about your identity or perspective?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: I keep trying to remind people that Jerry’s page is not the court of public opinion. I’m one person putting images to text based on my lived experiences and observations. If it read any other way, it would be disingenuous. I’m not going to larp in the digital realm to please every demographic that comes across

To date, I’ve been called a misogynist, racist, sexist, a MAGA supporter, a white feminist, a classist rich bitch, an art bro, and the list goes on. Bare with me here, but there is some major “Yanni/Laurel” cognitive dissonance going on politically which spills over into the art world. I’ve had to nicely try to explain to people in my DM’s that if they can’t decipher the court jester pointing his finger at the king and calling him an asshole, then I really can’t help them develop a sense of humor.

BOWIE: Do you take any of those criticisms into account, or do they affect your perspective in any way?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: Someone attacked me the other day for not investigating whiteness enough. I had no good response other than to challenge them to make a funny art meme page which they felt better “investigated whiteness.” What else could I say?

My skin is pretty thick from all the angry gallerists I’ve worked under. I can also play rhetorical gymnastics like the best of them. At the end of the day, none of these people know who I am IRL. They can project their feelings onto this fictitious character, but alas, it’s all micro-fiction coming from one subjective experience. My therapist tells me I’m not responsible for other people’s feelings. She's making more money than me, so I’ll respect her authority.

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BOWIE: The role of the art critic has changed dramatically now that we live in a world dominated by social media. I constantly hear the critics referencing art history, theory, and words of wisdom from venerable curators. However, this is a rare occurrence with artists or even gallerists. Do you feel like artists and gallerists are still reading criticism—apart from what’s written about them personally?

 @JERRYGOGOSIAN: I don’t think people honestly read art criticism anymore unless they’re in grad school or they’re an actual art critic. I think people use art journalism like Yelp reviews, skimming it over for a few names and key buzzwords before clicking over to PornHub. I mean with rare exceptions, isn’t most art journalism and fluffy “critique” pay to play at this point? Don’t get me started on Artsy, Artnet, Art Forum, Art in America, etc. In the “deep fake” state we live in with 24-hour news media cycles and all-consuming social media platforms, I’m not sure you can really trust anyone other than yourself to truly be critical.

BOWIE: Your Instagram handle is clearly an amalgam of @fuckjerry, Larry Gagosian, and Jerry Saltz. How do you feel about these titans of the Internet and art world, and what do you think the future holds for them?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: I’m sure they’ll all be human centipeding in hell, but in this life they’re living like gods. Larry Gagosian is the scariest man on earth and I wish he was my father. I’d like to inherit his empire and then slowly, but surely, dethrone half of his artists and celebrate alternative versions of the art world narrative. His gallery has constructed what most people believe contemporary art to be through market manipulation and monopolization. I admire and resent him for that achievement.  @jerrysaltz I met a few times in NYC. One time he walked up to me and asked me if I was (me IRL) and I said “Yeah, why?” He said, and I quote, “You’re a real artist, ya know that? You know how to frame perversion and that’s a gift.” I’d have wet my panties if  John Waters or David Sedaris had said that to me, but I guess that was my Jerry Saltz review and I’ll take it. He’s got charisma and hates Trump, but he could tone down the pussy stuff on his Instagram.

BOWIE: I want to talk about the phenomenology of the 21st-century meme. Do you think it’s a sign of human advancement that we’ve whittled complex ideas down to a few words and an image, as opposed to a short fable like Adam & Eve, or is it a reflection of our devolution that the average reader no longer has the capacity to weigh the many complexities of our world?

 @JERRYGOGOSIAN: I love this question! First off, never underestimate the power of a cave man’s grunt, Cesar’s thumbs down, or a death stare as powerful and effective forms of communication. Simple is always best. Why should the efficacy of a meme be classed any different? If anything, it takes high forms of cultural literacy to put together the puzzle of each piece of micro-fiction that writes each joke.

I think there is an art to reading and writing memetic language that reminds me a lot of “reading people, style, or situations” a la Paris is Burning <3 If you can keep it real, do it fast, and crack the funniest joke it feels like a genuine discourse (on Adderall.) It’s semi primitive in its output, but highly effective for spreading information quickly and sharing sentiments.

BOWIE: Do you feel like you have any agenda when it comes to your participation with the art world?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: I used to want to be Larry Gagosian’s arch nemesis, but I’m a little more zen about it these days. My only agenda is to make people laugh and give people a gentle reprieve before they’re demeaned for misprinting a price on a checklist while working for minimum wage or being asked to give a collector free psychotherapy on a sales lunch.

Some of the lesser liked, but very real memes tend to be about my spiritual connection to art and my inability to escape it. Despite all the shit I talk, paintings regularly make me cry, I read poetry out loud, real artists are angel/aliens I’m blessed to know, and I watch long, boring European cinema with great delight; allowing it to depress me for days. I am a sap who loves art more than anything else in the world. It has completely taken over my life.

So my agenda is basically to just talk about all my complicated feelings to an audience that needs a chuckle.

BOWIE: If there were one thing you could see change within the art market, what would it be?

@JERRYGOGOSIAN: Only one? (sigh, ok) I’d cancel fake art. Andy Warhol was a genius, but I think he was intentionally misread by a bunch of morons who basically turned the zeitgeist of contemporary art into a market-driven hoax manipulated by charlatans. People, in earnest, are always telling me they want to “start the career of a fake artist” and I’m like “why don’t you give a real artist a fucking chance?”

And don’t get me started on the CIA creating abstract expressionism as a ploy to play Cold War espionage games and then I’ve got people telling me there’s something wrong with me when I feel nothing at the Rothko Chapel. I’ve sat there and done the staring thing for long enough. I once licked a Rothko in Washington DC. It did nothing for me.

CANCEL FAKE ART. Buh-byyyye.

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Bad Sin Frutas: An Interview With Painter Morgan Mandalay

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text and photographs by Summer Bowie

Are you staring directly into the mouth of the beast, or are you indeed sitting inside said mouth, observing the surreal landscape below? This is just one of the many visual homonyms that are ever-present in the works of Morgan Mandalay. For his first solo exhibition at Klowden Mann in Los Angeles, the Chicago-based artist has painted worlds that are rife with reference to human figuration, though only vaguely, in the form of phantom hands clutching at tree branches, or humanoid eyeballs peeking through leaves. Traces of our existence are evident in the still life formations of pitted fruits, or in fish hung by twine, and most conspicuously in the presence of a large brick wall. Otherwise, these worlds seem to be inhabited by fruit and flora that rot and burn on the vine, trees that seem to bear both lemons and pears simultaneously; a world where omniscient angels are standing by for either the sake of protection and salvation, or eternal damnation. Bad Sin Frutas tells a story of exile using the memetic power of the Garden of Eden as a template for processing the Mandalay family’s exile from Cuba, and it does so in a time of global refugee crises. As far as its temporal grounding, Morgan sighs with a reticence to use the term “post Anthropic” when he points to what this world might be gesturing towards. The mild humiliation on his part seems to come from two places. The first might be a feeling of sounding trite, knowing that the post Anthropocene is a well-explored subject in contemporary art. The second might be that he and I have known each other since we were teenagers in San Diego, or perhaps, we only know each other as teenagers, and having only recently reconnected, he knows this is a term that our teenage selves would find grossly didactic. To me, it seems a perfect paradox for this parallel universe we seem to be inhabiting where the past is constantly colliding with the present, further perplexing our sense of the future. I got a chance to preview the show with Morgan and talk about his perpetual use of quizzical homonyms, his nomadic life as an artist, and the interdependent qualities of one’s creative and administrative efforts.

SUMMER BOWIE: Let’s just start with the title of the show, Bad Sin Frutas. Can you tell me a bit about it’s meaning? Is it Bad Sin [Spanish pronunciation] Frutas, or Bad Sin [English pronunciation] Frutas?

MANDALAY: (laughs) Yeah, I mean that’s it. Well, my titles are generally a play on language and scrambling language, or a play with the mutability of meaning, as an extension of understanding a fluid self. Language, in whatever form, be it written, spoken, painted or whatever, as a kind of marker of self. "Norman Amygdala" was an anagram of my name, "Scene of Shipwreck", "Thank you squash banana. I'm not an ape, you are"…they’re all plays on homonym or mistranslation. Originally I’d been thinking the show should be called “Sin Frutas,” but I was also toying with “Bad.” My partner (Kim-Anh Schreiber) is who suggested the merger and I think it was way more effective. Bad Sin Frutas

BOWIE: You have a multi-pupiled demon that started showing up in your work in 2017, in this series of works they appear but are hidden in lean layers, can you tell me a bit about where that came from?

MANDALAY: Right, the cherubim. They come from the book of Ezekiel and they appear to be demons, but they’re actually angels who guard the gates to the Garden of Eden with a flaming sword. They’re described as having multiple faces, and the multiple pupils convey the motion of their eyes, which are all-seeing, and constantly observing and judging and protecting.

BOWIE: So, they were basically like the Biblical Big Brother? (laughs) When you say cherubim, the image in my mind is that of a bored, chubby baby.

MANDALAY: Well, yeah we have a very diluted idea of angels nowadays, but in the order of angels there are cherubim, seraphim, the throne, archangels, and four others. The seraphim are usually depicted with six wings and the cherubim have four wings. They all have different purposes that they serve, and were we to have grown up in Europe during the Middle Ages, we would more likely be familiar with the types of angels represented in these Biblical paintings, and the roles that they play in the Bible. However, we grew up on Touched By An Angel, and City of Angels, and Michael, and Angels in the Outfield, so at this point most of us are imagining someone sexy with washboard abs or, yeah, the like…Rococo fat Cupid baby.

BOWIE: Can you talk about Géricault’s “The Raft of the Medusa” and how that fits into your work?

MANDALAY: Sure thing. I think I alluded to my interest in homonym before­––a thing that looks like one thing and means another, or can hold two meanings at once. Lots of people seem very certain in their beliefs, and part of those beliefs is that the opposing beliefs are certainly wrong. And hell, some things are wrong, of course. I’m not some extreme moral relativist but…some things can look like one thing and mean something else. “The Raft of the Medusa,” previously titled “Scene of Shipwreck,” is a painting that could be two events. It could be sunset or it could be sunrise because there’s nothing in the painting to tell us which direction we are pointed. The ship on the horizon, silhouetted, could be coming closer or going away. The people of the raft are either being saved, or they’re being left to die. It all depends on how much you know about an obscure piece of 18th century French history that at the time seemed important enough to be commemorated on a giant canvas, in basically Géricault’s only well-known painting, and then travelled around England.

BOWIE: And what about the role of still life in these works?  

MANDALAY: Kind of the same answer. But also I like that still life painting was, and in many ways maybe still is, the “lesser-than” form of painting. When I started making still lifes I would do it with my leftover paints on my palette, or with the pigment sludge at the bottom of my turpentine jar. They’re….I don’t know, humble.

BOWIE: Sure. There’s definitely something to be said for Manny Farber’s “termite art” approach. After living, studying and working in San Diego, San Francisco, Portland, New York and Chicago, do you feel as though the dramatic change in settings/scenes has affected your work?

MANDALAY: Yes and no. I think not knowing what I am, or stability has definitely shaped my work. I think my work often doesn’t know what it is. My paintings, I hope, are always similarly trying to locate themselves, or asking the viewer to join in that attempt.

More directly I can say, I’ve certainly picked up nuggets along the way or been affected differently by where I was. San Diego is my home and everything I guess stems from there. In San Francisco, I think I always go back to studying with Keith Boadwee specifically as formative. When I dropped out of SFAI and moved to Portland, that’s where I guess I really dove into paintings as my primary mode of making, and then spent the next 5 years learning more about that in San Diego. Somewhere between San Diego and Chicago probably taught me everything about being a part of a community of artists, and running a space as a way I enjoyed being a community member.

 BOWIE: That’s right. You went back to San Diego and opened your own gallery, SPF 15. Can you talk about the intention behind that gallery?

MANDALAY: I wanted to have a space that spoke to the locality. In terms of programming, I wanted to create a program that would bring people to San Diego, and show artists from San Diego alongside these other artists that are doing interesting things. Obviously, I benefit from that as well. I wanted to be able to be in San Diego, and be an artist, and not disappear. There was a talk that Tyson Reeder gave when I was living in Chicago. I often would harken back to on this—talking about all the projects that he and his brother Scott did in Milwaukee in the early 2000s. Really before the easy access of Instagram, it was a way of being visible, doing these projects and inviting people to this city that they potentially aren’t thinking of as an “art city,” but one that has abundant resources. To me, that was part of it too, he referred to it as a telephone line to the outside world. SPF15 was a telephone line to the outside world.

BOWIE: What does it stand for again? I remember you telling me once that the intention was to do exactly 15 exhibitions... 

MANDALAY: It was Sunday Project For 15 exhibitions. We’ve done 14, so there’s still one to go. We did a few fairs and things like that too, but those don’t count as proper, nomadic beach exhibitions. 

BOWIE: Do you think you’d ever like to go back to curating and running a gallery space?

MANDALAY: Yeah, I think about it a lot. To me it’s a part of being in a community. It’s really hard for me to separate that from my overall practice, or I don’t know, personhood.

BOWIE: Was it ever weird, switching hats from being the artist to the dealer?

MANDALAY: No, it should be weird, but as an artist, one of the things I get to do is make decisions about what I want to see in the world, and as a gallerist or curator, that’s part of what I’m doing too. Hopefully, creating thoughtful exhibitions, working with artists that I really believe in that add to the overall diversity of aesthetics, but also...that I want to see. Seeing is a big part of it. Both have these invisible administrative arms to them. Being an artist, there’s plenty of administrative work as well. I learned a lot about being an artist, in terms of the professional side of it, from being on the administrative side of running spaces. I don’t think of them as all that different. One hand washes the other.

BOWIE: What brought you back to Chicago?

MANDALAY: My partner is getting her PhD at Northwestern. It’s good…it’s cold. But our apartment is beautiful and my studio is next to our bedroom. And I’m working at a radical progressive studio here, Arts of Life, working with an amazing group of artists with developmental disabilities.

BOWIE: The color palette of this series of works feels very different from previous works, almost like Southern California after a massive fire. Can you talk about that?

MANDALAY: I live in Chicago now. I needed some color. No, for a while I’ve been making somewhat monochromatic paintings or just…darker. But I used to use a lot of color and I think I couldn’t tell if I was making good paintings or just pretty colored paintings so for a few years I thought I needed to strip them of candy sweet colors. But I feel really confident about these paintings. I’ve tried to deploy color meaningfully and more as a lure than as the fish.

BOWIE: I remember you being a drama kid in high school, how were you introduced to painting?

MANDALAY: It’s true! Oh my god, yeah. I don’t know if you remember this but I got to direct this one act that Neil and Serop, and I (to a lesser degree) wrote together called Schizophrenia. I think that had a really lasting impact on me. It really was like, the only art I did, and then I went to art school at SFAI. Which is its own long story.

It took me a long time to circle back to theater in my work. I think I was having a conversation with someone about the history of canvas, like, the material and realized that canvas had played this massive role, not just in art but in globalization (as sails), and theater as well, as traveling set pieces. Like, canvas is all about nomadism. I started imagining my paintings as stage flats and got to realize this in Italy with Kim-Anh Schreiber, my partner and amazing writer. We collaborated on a piece called “Meatloaf,” in which a ghost couple float from home to home for 500 years trying to decide what to make for dinner.

BOWIE: That’s hilarious. Do you see yourself branching out into other media at any point?

MANDALAY: Not really. I think the past few couple of shows, this one and the recent exhibition at BWSMX in Mexico City, are the first shows in a long while that were just rectangles hanging on walls. Pictures. And I quite liked those shows. Maybe I’m getting more boring, or maybe I’m getting a better idea of what I want, or I’m maybe just feeling more confident. Like, I love working with other people, but it’s been really nice to just trust that my paintings are doing enough heavy lifting all on their own, thank you very much. Ha.

BOWIE: What’s next?

MANDALAY: To quote a line from “Meatloaf,” “the future, the future, you’ll never be ready.”

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Growing Up In Wallace Berman's World: An Interview Of Tosh Berman

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interview by Jason Schwartzman

Wallace Berman carves a mysterious, counter-cultural figure in the cave wall of Los Angeles folklore. His legend is enhanced by a tragically early death on his fiftieth birthday as a result of an automobile crash with a drunk driver in Topanga Canyon, further cementing his myth as the beatnik of the Southern California chaparrals. There was only one public exhibition of his artwork, at the legendary Ferus Gallery. After the opening, the vice squad got a tip about explicit material in the show.  He was arrested and later convicted for showing lewd and obscene works. There is an outsider quality to his jazz and bebop inspired assemblage work and a Zelig-like quality to his persona, popping up in unlikely places, like a scene in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider or the cover of The Beatles Lonely Hearts Club Band. In a new memoir, entitled Tosh, Berman’s son opens the opaque curtain on the enigmatic artist through a bildungsroman of the Beat Generation and hippie counterculture, a childhood on the frontlines of 1960s Los Angeles and San Francisco freakdom. Tosh Berman and Jason Schwartzman got together for a public conversation at Skylight Books to discuss his memoir and growing up in Wallace Berman’s world.

 

JASON SCHWARTZMAN: I’m gonna just start with a very simple question, but I am curious, why now did you decide to write a memoir?
TOSH BERMAN: Well, first, it took me ten years to write this book, Tosh, and, I wrote it because a gentleman by the name of Terry Lauren, from Detroit, was editing a special art journal online at the time. Terry Lauren was part of the group, or art collective, called Destroy All Monsters with Mike Kelley and Jim Shaw. He was the other power trio person. He came up to me to ask if I would write something about my father. At the time, it was sort of totally unthinkable that I would even consider writing anything about my life or my family.

 SCHWARTZMAN: Why?
Tosh Berman: Because I was sort of taught by my father not to write about the family, really, in a certain aspect. And it wasn’t like a law type of thing but just something that was not encouraged to share with, um…with you. So, when you leave, don’t tell anybody.

 

SCHWARTZMAN: The memories and the stories in the book, were they all there (snaps fingers) in your head? You’d just been waiting to write them? Or was it a process?
BERMAN: I believe so. I mean, in a sense, my childhood is the most vivid part of my life, so far. It stands out more than anything else in my adulthood, for instance. Though, definitely, as an adult, I find great importance in enjoyment and etcetera, etcetera. But definitely, my childhood had such a vivid stamp on my memory—on who I am—that I still, to this day, feel like a child. I’m very fortunate to have been photographed by my father at a certain age, from a certain time, so when people see me, they think of me at that age. I think the identity of Tosh is very much me as a teenager or as a child.

SCHWARTZMAN: In the book, you're taken out and you're just a part of your parents’ lives in a way that I think is great. But did you feel like a child when you were a child?
BERMAN: Yes. For instance, I would be taken to an event and I would sit on my mom’s lap. I have very little memory of going to childhood events, or children’s parties. All my thoughts are exclusively about going to gallery openings, or going to, you know, Marcel Duchamp’s opening at the Pasadena Museum.

SCHWARTZMAN: I am just so curious about what you were aware of at the time. You know, like you met Marcel Duchamp.
BERMAN: This is my relationship to Marcel Duchamp. I went to his opening and everybody was dressed really nicely. It was kind of a formal affair. When Duchamp, or Marcel, was in a room, his presence was so strong that all the people in that room had their focus on the presence of Marcel Duchamp. At the time, he was still like an underground, cultish figure. But, Marcel Duchamp was such an incredible presence for other artists at the time, not for the general audience, you know.

SCHWARTZMAN: Yeah.
BERMAN: But, to me, I knew he was French. And that made a big impression on me because he was a foreigner. I also knew he was an artist, and he made a sculpture with a bicycle wheel. As a child, the bicycle wheel was so common for any child. I mean, I didn’t ride a bike at all, but I knew people had bicycles, and I’d seen bicycles in comic strips and books, you know. So, seeing the bicycle wheel on the stool meant a lot to me because I totally understood the piece. It’s a bicycle wheel! I didn’t think about it as, “Is this art? Not art?” or an ironic piece of work, or a ready-made. I just knew that it was a bicycle wheel, and I loved that it was a bicycle wheel.

SCHWARTZMAN: Have you ever been star-struck?
BERMAN: That’s a good question. Yes. I’ve been star-struck in a sense. One of my oldest friends is Billy Gray, who was in a show called Father Knows Best. It was a huge show in the ‘50s and early ‘60s and he played Bud. So, when I watched TV, I realized that’s Billy, our friend, and I could not really distinguish between Bud and Billy, at all.

SCHWARTZMAN: What you do in the book, though, you have an admiration, almost, for things that have an artifice...
BERMAN: Yeah, what’s the artifice and what’s true? The one time I was star-struck as a child was with the Rolling Stones. And then eventually, I met Mick Jagger at the T.A.M.I. Show.

SCHWARTZMAN: At the run-through of the T.A.M.I. Show?
BERMAN: Yes.

SCHWARTZMAN: What’s more amazing is that it wasn’t the actual T.A.M.I. Show.
BERMAN: It was a dress rehearsal.

SCHWARTZMAN: You were, like, one of the four people.
BERMAN: My father went to the dress rehearsal. We were invited to stay at the T.A.M.I. Show, but my dad didn’t want to stay for the show, which was fine.

SCHWARTZMAN: Why not?
BERMAN: For some reason, he was not interested in seeing the whole show, I don't know why. Oddly enough, and this is going to go into my dad’s work, he always had an 8mm camera with him, and he was shooting whatever he found interesting. He had the camera at the rehearsals, and this was before copyright, you know, he just shot anything he wanted. And it wasn’t until the T.A.M.I. movie — the T.A.M.I. Show was a rock & roll variety show in the early ‘60s. It was taped at the Santa Monica Pacific, and it was, like, the Supremes, the Stones, James Brown did a famous, incredible performance.

SCHWARTZMAN: Beach Boys?
BERMAN: Beach Boys.

SCHWARTZMAN: All in one day.
BERMAN: All in one day. One time. When the movie came out in the movie theater, we saw it and my dad filmed it from the movie screen. So, it’s interesting that back then, he could’ve filmed it there, in person, but he actually preferred the distance of that world, like a filter.

SCHWARTZMAN: But this relationship to fakeness and Los Angeles, because to me, the book really is—I’m from LA, and you’re from LA—
BERMAN: I’m from Los Angeles.

SCHWARTZMAN: But there’s Los Angeles, San Francisco, London—
BERMAN: Larkspur.

SCHWARTZMAN: I love when we walk around and you say, “That used to be that, that used to be that,” but when I was reading the book, I realized that you were a kid in Los Angeles, but you were in Topanga Canyon and it was forty minutes to get to—
BERMAN: Thirty to forty minutes to get out of the Canyon. It was basically two lanes going in and out of the Canyon, so you’re between Malibu, Santa Monica, and then you have the San Fernando Valley on the other side. Canyon areas are very interesting to me because it’s a very restricted area, you know. You’re, sort of trapped between two worlds. I never felt like Topanga, or any canyon, is the world, it’s a bridge between two cultures or two societies. And, as a teenager, I did not like Topanga.

SCHWARTZMAN: Really?
BERMAN: It was dusty. To tell you the truth, it’s a secluded culture. The whole hippie thing was exploding, and I think the whole hippie culture-world was at its strongest and its greatest for a few months. And then, afterwards, it became a fad people with deep problems are attached to that culture, and Topanga to me conveyed the sour side of the ‘60s. You know, there’s people like Charles Manson in Topanga and stuff like that as well.

 SCHWARTZMAN: You were put off in a way by the hippies. What I love in the beginning of the book is when you talk about your father and music being so important to him. Then, towards the end of the book, it’s all about you becoming a teenager and how much music meant to you. You escaped musically.
BERMAN: Music has always been my escape or my portal to another world, not a better life, but a more interesting life.

SCHWARTZMAN: Growing up, art was a major nutrient. As you, then, became a teenager, were you extra snobby? I don’t know how to say this. You are the most excited and adventurous person that I know. You’re always looking for more new music and new books. You’re always onto something.
BERMAN: I’m really hungry.

SCHWARTZMAN: I often wonder, as a person who was treated like a kid but with all the adults and who was welcome in a lot of exclusive spaces, how you still remain interested in things, and you’re still open to things. A lot of people would be like, “I don’t know. Uh, I saw that in real life, ‘the wheel.’”
BERMAN: Yeah. For example, I had certain taste as a child and as a teenager, but my father had really great taste. He had a great antenna. For instance, he brought in the first Velvet Underground album to the household, and to me that was like weird stuff. There was a song called “Heroin.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You talk in the book, too, about someone, injecting heroin in front of you?
BERMAN: Well, that’s different.

SCHWARTZMAN: But did you ever feel scared?
BERMAN: I felt very secure, very safe. My family is very structured; there was a mom, there was a father, had grandparents, when a lot of people in Topanga were, you know...some of the moms had a biker boyfriend or drug dealer. So, there was a sort of, wilderness. Among all these ruffians, I felt like I was Oscar Wilde.

SCHWARTZMAN: And then, when you got your car, had the music, you would drive people around. Were you always a sharer? Were you always into curating a moment in a way?
BERMAN: Yeah, ‘til this very moment, I am still a sharer. One thing I liked about school—the only thing I liked about school—was “show and tell,” where I think in the first grade or in kindergarten you take something from home and you show it to the public or to your fellow students. I loved that. I loved bringing a record, book, picture, whatever it was at that time, and to this day, you know, I started this press called TamTam Books and really, it’s nothing more than show and tell.

SCHWARTZMAN: There’s a story in the book that I don't fully understand. The Limited Edition story. Can you just talk about that for one sec?
BERMAN: As a child, I had a comic book collection, not as serious as other people’s collections but it nevertheless was my collection. It was Marvel comics that I was into. It was probably when I was like twelve or thirteen, fourteen, something like that. So, I became, sort of, obsessed, like, if I’m gonna get one, of course I have to have issue number two, and of course number three, and even though number four, sort of sucked, I had to complete it. So, I had a good inventory of comics, but not crazy, insane, amount, but a good, honorable collection.

SCHWARTZMAN: Right.
BERMAN: And I had piles. So, I looked at the top of the pile and I noticed on the cover was a stamp, “Collector’s Item,” not from the magazine itself. It was actually stamped.

SCHWARTZMAN: Collector’s Item.
BERMAN: The one below that: Collector’s Item. And, then below that: Collector’s Item. And then, I went to the very bottom, like number one—stamped: Collector’s Item. And then I looked in the drawer—I had a secret stash, unclassified comics that I hadn’t even put in inventory yet—Collector’s Item. So, I’m getting kind of creeped out. I realized every comic book was stamped “Collector’s Item.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You were scared.
BERMAN: So, my dad was home—my dad was always home—looking at the newspaper or whatever, and I said, “Dad, I have to talk to you about something really serious right now.” So, I tapped his shoulder to get his attention, and he looked over and said, “What?” and on his forehead was “Collector’s Item.”

SCHWARTZMAN: And then what was the moment after that?
BERMAN: I didn’t have a magazine collection anymore. I sold it or—I traded all my comic books.

SCHWARTZMAN: Why?
BERMAN: Because, I felt at the time, like it didn’t really ruin my collection. It just brought out how ridiculous it is to have a collection of something. Possession—it’s terrible. To possess something, like, collecting comic books is meaningless and stupid.

SCHWARTZMAN: Was that what it was? Do you feel like it was a lesson?
BERMAN: To me, that comic book collection was very important. But, I totally took the opinion that this is all pointless, you know? Though, it struck me as funny, because he did these really strong, crazy, practical jokes.

SCHWARTZMAN: You never sat down and talked about much. Ever?
BERMAN: Well, not in that sense, no.

SCHWARTZMAN: Right.
BERMAN: We never discussed why he did that. Like, was it funny? Was he trying to teach me something? And that duality is something I sort of lived with, and sort of, had to understand to not understand. I didn’t have a comic book collection afterwards. When you read the whole book, you’ll find pathways and roads. As a teenager, my dad had a collection of View Magazine. View Magazine was the official Surrealist publication in English from Surrealists who moved to New York during the war years. My dad had a complete View Magazine collection and his mother threw it out. I know he was totally upset about it. I think my comic book collection was a similar situation to him, but not like, “I lost my View magazines, therefore, I’m gonna destroy my son’s comic book collection.”

SCHWARTZMAN: You told me a story once, I had left something in a wrapper for a long period of time, and I said, “I’m afraid to ruin it, but then once it gets ruined, I kind of love it.” But then, you said something that really affected my life, where you talked about the mudslide in your home, and things being taken away.
BERMAN: Yes. We had a mudslide in our home, when I was like, ten—two days after Christmas. So, we had a mudslide that destroyed everything. I had nothing. The only thing I had was what I was wearing, and what was in my pocket at the time. So, I did suffer a great deal of physical loss, yes.

SCHWARTZMAN: Can I ask one really silly question? I hope it’s not too personal, while we’re talking about your memoir.
BERMAN: Yeah.

SCHWARTZMAN: Nowadays, when I’m with my wife and children, if we have a disagreement or something, there’s an effort to, you know, “let’s not talk about this now.” In a house, in that situation, how much were you aware of your parents’ relationship?
BERMAN: That’s a good question. Tell you the truth, in our small house I didn’t really notice anything, like, tension. They worked perfectly well together. I mean, to me it seemed like it. There may have been arguments and stuff. When you’re arguing it’s always upsetting for a child, but usually the next day, you won’t remember.

SCHWARTZMAN: Was he [Wallace] regimented? Just because his workspace was at your home, it gets blurry, the lines between when you’re working and not working.
BERMAN: He seemed to be always working.

SCHWARTZMAN: Always?
BERMAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s not like a 10-to-5 type of situation, but he always did work. He was always working.

SCHWARTZMAN: But you always could talk?
BERMAN: Yeah, but sometimes I’d talk and I would just sit there and watch him do his work, and sometimes I’d help him hold the frame. I’d put the records on. One thing he would do is play music over and over again. Like, he played forty-five singles, but I think he liked that format because it’s the perfect song, you know, ‘A Side,’ it had to be perfect. So, what I would do is play something like “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” not once, or twice, but we’re talking like thirty times in a row. I would play Nat King Cole’s “Who’s Next in Line?” over and over and over again.

SCHWARTZMAN: Can you look at the art and separate it from the music or no?
BERMAN: Well, for him, I think it’s a way for him to focus on the artwork. He loved working with music. He also played Paul Bowles’ recordings of Moroccan musicians, which are very chanty, very hypnotic. So, I think a Phil Spector record used in the same format, you know, it was very hypnotic.

SCHWARTZMAN: When you would talk about art or music, could you guys disagree with each other?
BERMAN: No, because we never had discussions like that.

 SCHWARTZMAN: I have one last question for you. What are you reading now, or listening to now, that you’d like to share with everyone now as a recommendation?
BERMAN: Vic Damone’s Greatest Hits. I find it the missing link between Scott Walker and Jack Jones. And, Stravinsky’s very minor work that nobody knows—he did a disco record. (grins)

SCHWARTZMAN: How is it?
BERMAN: Well, it’s for the Ballets Russes, so it’s a very early disco record that he and Picasso put together. I’m the only one who has a copy of this. It’s very expensive.

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FETISH KING: A Conversation Between Rick Castro and Rick Owens

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The unedited version of this interview can be found in Autre’s Spring 2019 Print Issue. Preorder here.

Rick Castro is a legend in the queer underground scene of 1980s and 1990s Los Angeles. It was a time when Santa Monica Boulevard was rich with male hustlers, shirtless in the California sun, and the nightclubs were liminal landscapes of desire and liberation. To those who know him, he is "The Fetish King." Alongside artists like Ron Athey, Catherine Opie, Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan, Vaginal Davis, Kembra Pfahler, and Bruce LaBruce, Castro utilizes queer identity and the physicality of the body to express themes of marginalization and oppression. A one-time fashion stylist for the likes of Bette Midler, David Bowie, Herb Ritts, and Joel-Peter Witkin—the latter of which helped him buy his first camera—Castro’s fantasies, fetishes, and fascination with the demi-monde manifested into imagery involving extreme leather bondage and rope play. From his factory in Italy, fashion and furniture designer, Rick Owens chats with Rick Castro over the phone. They discuss fetish as an idée fixe, their former love life, the subcultures of Los Angeles and Castro’s upcoming retrospective, Fetish King: Seminal Photographs 1986–2019, curated by Rubén Esparza, opening at Tom House in April.

CASTRO: Hi, Rick! I haven’t talked to you on the phone since the ‘80s.

OWENS: (laughs) Yeah, but I’ve seen you in person since then, don’t make it sound so tragic. So, let’s talk about when we first met. We met because you had seen the nipple ring I lent to you for a shoot?

CASTRO: I didn’t know who made it at the time, so I asked the storeowner if she had any more, and she gave me your number. So, I gave you a call the following day. I used those on the saxophone player for Tina Turner.

OWENS: I remember! It was an amazing picture. That might have been my very first credit!

CASTRO: It was your first credit! Those were the days, Rick Owens. I remember like it was yesterday…

OWENS: How do you do your contemporary B&D imagery? I feel silly saying B&D, is that what I call it?

Castro: Just call it fetish. I always like that term, fetish.

Owens: Fetish.

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Castro: You know Rick Owens: our connection has always been fetish, whether we understood it or not.

Owens: I agree with you, we both have a love of fetish. But I always thought the leather bar aesthetic was about ritual, and about men who were oppressed and brutalized for being gay, taking control and going up against their oppressor. They were creating that cycle under their own terms. The new generation is more liberated. It doesn’t have that darkness anymore. Because men don't have as much oppression as they used to. This is just my interpretation, which could be all wrong. There was real triumph in becoming the master after being submissive for so long. In that small arena, in those dark rooms, you became the master… Are there more questions you want me to ask?

Castro: I’m more comfortable asking questions than answering questions...

Owens: Oh, god, you always have to be a top.

Castro: (laughs)

Owens: Although, you were kind of a bottom...

Castro: (laughs) I don’t see it in those terms...

Owens: Oh, okay. (laughs)

Castro: (laughs) To me, your aesthetic is very much like the dark side of Los Angeles.

Owens: Yeah, I agree.

Castro: Well, we romanticized it, for sure, and the idea of it being so esoteric. There was that whole cult side of Los Angeles. There were more cults in Los Angeles during the silent era, even to this day. But in Los Angeles, you can do anything. I've always thought in my mind that I can do whatever the fuck I want, even when I was a young kid. I used to just rebel for any reason.

Owens: I think we both were interested in the whole mythology of the movies, and the whole corruption behind it.

Castro: Well, we would definitely take the way we were seeing it. I remember when you had your studio on Las Palmas, and when I came to visit you, you had Veronika Voss on, and that had been on for a week, right? You just watched it over, and over, and over, like a backdrop.

Owens: Yeah.

Castro: And then, you would switch to Death in Venice and you would have that on for another few weeks. That's fetish my dear, that's fetish. (laughs)

Owens: (laughs) Well, I’m glad everything is coming full circle. Congratulations on everything.

Rick Castro’s retrospective, Fetish King, opens on April 6, with a reception that runs from 6pm to 8pm, and runs until April 27 by appointment. Click here to learn more. Preorder Autre’s Spring 2019 issue to read the unedited version of this interview.

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The Grandeur of His Epic: An Interview With Choreographer Jay Carlon

interview by Summer Bowie

photos by Oliver Kupper

Defining a culture that comprises 7100 islands, centuries of colonization, and an overwhelming desire to assimilate is profound and Sisyphean. Unlike a migration that takes place over land, the ocean seems to wash away all evidence of the traveled path. The historical narrative that has framed Filipino-American immigration is fraught with this eternal question of identity and belonging. Being part Filipino myself, I learned very little about my grandmother’s life story while she was alive. It wasn’t until after she passed away and my grandfather published her memoirs that I learned just how harrowing her journey had been.

After attending the world premiere of FLEX, a dance theater piece that explores primarily the story of choreographer, Jay Carlon’s father and his immigration from the Philippines to the States, I realized that the erasure of these stories is rather commonplace. Jay’s father was not only a senior citizen by the time Jay was born, but it seems that he liked to let others tell his story for him. It wasn’t until his father passed away that Jay started to make heads and tails of the man versus the myth, and the role that he and other Filipino-Americans played in the United States throughout the 20th century, from World War II, to the Labor Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, and beyond. The work explores the story of Honorio Carlon and his immigration to the States, as well as that of several other Filipino-Americans and their children. This pastiche of memories serves as a paean to those whose stories have been lost in the shuffle of sublimation. In the following conversation, we discuss everything from the Filipino sartorial sensibility, to the homoerotic Renaissance paintings of “Jacob Wrestling the Angel” in the book of Genesis, to the implications that result when one must prioritize survival over preservation.

SUMMER BOWIE: First, I want to talk about your upbringing as the youngest of 12 children, and what that’s like to have such wide age gaps between both your siblings and your parents. Were you all very close?

JAY CARLON: I suppose this question is difficult to answer succinctly. My dad had 3 wives and my mom was the last. Let me provide some context: My dad, Honorio Carlon, immigrated to America in 1932 during the Great Depression, while the Philippines was under US occupation. Filipino immigrants were almost exclusively men due to gender expectations in the workplace. These immigrant men started bachelor societies for solidarity. Due to anti-miscegenation laws (anti-interracial marriage laws) these men found it difficult to start families in America. Despite this, my father married twice and had 6 children. It wasn’t until the 1970s when my dad was able to make it back to the Philippines to eventually meet my mother and bring her back to the US. Now back to the question, my siblings: 6 of them are my half siblings and the other 5 are my full siblings. Naturally, because of age and generations, I am closest to my full siblings. The strange thing is some of my half siblings are older than my mom, which is a weird dynamic having half-brothers older than your mom. My relationship with my father, however, was somewhat distant. Ever since I was born, his death was imminent. He was 74 when I was born. He kept to himself; perhaps my expectation of him as a father was to simply maintain this “Big Fish” legacy and the grandeur of his Epic, being among the first wave of Filipino immigrants in America. He lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Labor Rights Movement, the Civil Rights Movement, etc. He never talked to me about his experiences, also I was a child, so I couldn’t really understand why any of this was important/interesting. However, doing all the research I’ve done for FLEX, I’ve been able to fill in some of these gaps in his memory, his narrative.

BOWIE: I grew up in a suburb of San Diego with a large Filipino population, and my being only a quarter Filipino meant that I had a lot of Filipino friends, but I was never Filipino enough to call the parents of my friends Auntie and Uncle the way they did with each other. Did you grow up with that idea of the extended cultural family?

CARLON: I grew up in a large Filipino community and both my parents are from the same very small island in Philippines. My dad immigrated here with a group of about 8 men, some his cousins and some his friends. Those 8 men stuck together and worked as migrant workers throughout the Southwest. Every Labor Day Weekend, they would all come together and have a fiesta. This tradition has been going on since the ‘50s and still happens today. From those 8 pioneers, there are now over 500 descendants, and we all still gather in Santa Maria, California. All those 500+ extended family members are my uncles and aunties, whether I’m related to them or not! 

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BOWIE: It seems like you did an extraordinary level of research into your father’s life while in the process of creating this work. Do you feel like you see your father in a different light now that the work has been fully actualized?

CARLON: Like I stated earlier, a lot of my knowledge surrounding my father’s history was from oral stories told by uncles, and aunties, and cousins. Some of these stories seemed to be conflated or exaggerated, as most memories are. 

Last year, I was interviewed by an Asian periodical and was asked how my work was influenced by my identity as a Filipino American. The question really caught me off guard and I felt uneasy and confronted with this responsibility to be more or less Filipino. I am a contemporary dance choreographer. Some of my work is abstract, some of it is conceptual, and some of it is expressionistic. The general topic of my work was often surrounding migrant issues and labor rights, but as far as a direct Filipino relation to my work, I was stumped. I thought of an article that I came across by Miguel Gutierrez in BOMB Magazine called “Does Abstraction Belong to White People.” The article resonated with me and elicited introspection: as a Filipino-American abstract choreographer, what am I doing here, and why, and how did I get here? Soon after being asked the question about my identity and coming across this article, L.A. Dance Project asked me to be their first recipient of the MAKING:LA Residency, a new work by a Los Angeles-based artist. I knew I wanted to make an unapologetic work about the diverse tapestry of Southern California. My father’s, mother’s, and my story seemed to be the perfect backdrop for that opportunity to create and share a hella Filipino [untold] history.

To return to the question: the process of researching my father’s history and filling in the gaps of his narrative allowed me to create a more human understanding of who he was. My dad was this historical figure to me once I was born. I wouldn’t say we were emotionally close. I have few memories of him, some of which include dropping me off to kindergarten with whiskey on the dashboard. (Laughs), it was a different time I suppose. But I never had conversations in length with my dad. Doing all the research I’ve been doing has made him become a more human and tangible person in my life. This research has also served my relationship with my mother, who is still alive and thriving. I seem to understand her better; why she is the way she is. My mother and I never had conversations beyond the weather or my financial situation, but now we talk about memories, family back in the Philippines, and emotions (which, for a Filipino family is huge).

BOWIE: You grew up training as a competitive wrestler. How did you find dance, and how do you think your wrestling background has influenced your approach to choreography?

CARLON: My first introduction to physicality was wrestling at the Boys and Girls Club. I followed my older brothers, who joined the wrestling team to stay out of the streets. I was 5 years old when I started wrestling and competed throughout my teens. I learned partnering and momentum, strength and velocity, and nuance between force and flow. I loved these concepts, but hated competing. Wrestling is brutal. I watch videos on YouTube now and think, “Goddamn! I grew up doing that?” I found the arts in high school, first with architecture, then voice (choir), and eventually the body (dance). I knew that I could channel these learned skills into a different medium.

I am also inspired by the image of “Jacob Wrestling the Angel” (Genesis 32:22–32). The story has been depicted by many Renaissance artists in painting and sculpture form. The artworks inspired by this scripture tend to look very homoerotic. I wanted to use this image as inspiration for FLEX to represent the Filipino peoples’ resistance to colonization, and perhaps the obedience as a result of colonization. The image also reminded me of Filipino male affection, and I wanted to use this image as a way to display the way different cultures showcase affection.

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BOWIE: FLEX tells the stories of several Filipino-American immigrants and their children. There’s a very militant scene, it feels like boot camp and the dancers are counting in Tagalog, I believe. Can you talk a bit about that scene and the story behind it?

CARLON: I love that scene. I wanted to integrate Filipino languages in the work. I don’t speak Visayan (my family’s dialect), but counting seemed to be a natural and relatively easy way to integrate Tagalog (the national dialect of the Philippines) into the work. We made 16 gestures/movements and gave them each a number. I noticed the sequence of movements with the counting in Tagalog sounded very militant. This section made me think of the Philippine American War (1989-1902), where the Philippines fought for their freedom and independence from America.  I wanted to create a scene where the wrestling drills, something I grew up doing in America, paralleled the guerilla warfare in the Philippines.

BOWIE: The dancers you cast for this piece are all incredibly athletic, they’re poetic with their movement, and they’re multi-talented. At times they lend voice, either in narrative or song, and your choreography demands a certain versatility as well. How did you go about casting the work?

CARLON: I only cast people I trust. Trust is a very important component of my work, for the performers, the audience, all the natural and simulated elements, etc. I have worked with all my collaborators in the past on projects at REDCAT or The Annenberg Community Beach House. In my process, I like to [safely and consensually] push physical and emotional boundaries. I also like to work as a multidisciplinary director and see how I can integrate each and every individual's skill[s] into the work.  The cast of FLEX is incredibly dynamic and I had a wonderful time learning about their multiple talents and how I could incorporate them into the work.

BOWIE: Your dancers seem to go through a marathon from the beginning to the end of the piece. Some of their faces were dripping within the first 3 minutes, and you see the way that the movement becomes increasingly more demanding, pushing them into a deeper synchronicity with one another. What is the warm-up and rehearsal process like for a project like this?

CARLON: I often like to focus on sensory improvisational tasks to begin a process. I like to work with eyes closed to privilege the other senses, especially touch. We start with an improvisation with eyes closed while being guided through the space. The participant with the eyes closed will recall a memory and tell that memory to the person guiding them around the room safely. This mode of embodiment and memory primes the dancers for the process of creating FLEX.

BOWIE: There are two very deep Americana references that you included in this piece, the first being the opening monologue from Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, the second being Patti Page’s “Tennessee Waltz.” The Tennessee connection seems coincidental, but can you talk a little bit about those choices, and the Filipino rendition of the song that you included? Where did it come from?

CARLON: I wanted to create a 1950s Filipino American ballroom, a place in which my father and his comrades found solidarity--the only place they could escape and have fun without judgment. My dad loved the Cha Cha and music from the ‘50s. The Tennessee Waltz was incorporated into the work because the lyrics reminded me of the loss of their home. 

We also changed “Tennessee” to “Philippine” in the live version of the song. I did this because I wanted it to be clear that these Americana attributes were coming from a sense of otherness, or perhaps reappropriation.

I was dancing with my darling to the Tennessee Waltz
When an old friend I happened to see
I introduced her to my loved one
And while they were dancing
My friend stole my sweetheart from me

I remember the night and the Tennessee Waltz
Now I know just how much I have lost
Yes, I lost my little darling the night they were playing
The beautiful Tennessee Waltz

BOWIE: The musical score was really beautiful. I think Alex Wand did a phenomenal job. How did that collaboration come about, and what was it like?

CARLON: I began working with Alex Wand on a previous project that took place in a parking lot with my car about mental health and stability. We used audio recording from the iconic moon landing as well as solar system sonifications (using the orbital speeds of the planets and creating a sound score). After that project, we became obsessed with sonifications and played with amplifying sounds of a cardboard stage, we made synth sounds activated by waves by putting Wii controllers in a buoy at the beach, and made a resonant frequency plate that used sand to predict the vibrational sound, etc. Prior to FLEX, Alex went on an epic bike tour across the Mexico-American border, biking from LA to Michoacan (the Monarch Butterfly migration path). We used field recordings from his bike ride for the ambient and environmental sounds in FLEX. I love finding parallels with Alex’s interest in ecological sustainability, like with the Monarch Butterfly migration and my interests in immigrant stories, and visible vs. invisible borders.

BOWIE: The costumes were really lovely. I understand that many pieces were from your father’s wardrobe. There’s one story you tell, called The Filipino and the Drunkard by William Saroyan. Can you talk about your father’s sartorial sense and the role that the costuming plays in this piece?

CARLON: My dad, though being a strawberry picker for over 50 years, never left the house without a suit. He never wanted people to know we were poor. He wore pressed suits and tailored clothes daily.  He taught me how to shine my shoes and slick my hair back. I always felt that Filipinos had this sense of showing off, and I never understood why. When I heard The Filipino and the Drunkard, it brought to light the complexity of Filipinos not wanting to look poor, to assimilate. This is one factor why I decided to call this work FLEX--slang, to show off.

Over 70% of the costumes were sourced from my father’s wardrobe. However, the garments were quite large and boxy. Ching Ching Wong, soloist for FLEX, also served as a costume production assistant and tailored the costumes to fit the performers. 

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BOWIE: Throughout the show, there are times when characters can be seen in the back folding, unfolding, and refolding jackets. You also have a previous work literally called, Fold, Unfold, Refold. Can you explain this theme a bit?

CARLON: The integration of the folding in the background came out of this notion of hidden labor.  I integrate labor a lot into my work. The work Fold, Unfold, Refold was a work about monotony, and repetitive gestures, and the performance of labor. I’m obsessed with the performance of labor. The folding in the background of FLEX was inspired by my mom’s immigration story. My mom lived in the shadow of my father’s epic and I wanted to pay homage to her. I thought about the invisibility of domesticity within our Western culture. I tried to incorporate as much folding in the background as possible to remind the audience of a sense of forgotten work.

BOWIE: The history of Filipino-American culture and its contribution to American development has been widely overlooked. However, Filipinos are the second-largest population of Asian-Americans, second only to Chinese-Americans. Why do you think this history is so easily overlooked?

CARLON: The Philippines is such a uniquely eclectic culture that is constantly evolving and trying to understand itself. From the 7,100 islands within the archipelago to the large amount of immigrants all over the world, Filipinos are great at adapting to cultures while still maintaining their own culture. There are so many influences, mainly because of colonization, but it’s hard to pinpoint what a Filipino is. I think assimilation, the desire to fit in, is a result of our culture being forgotten. I also think erasure is just a part of the Filipino diaspora; through centuries of resistance, the Filipino mentality is primarily survival, not preservation. That’s why I think it’s important for more Filipino stories to make their way into pop culture, and media, and academia. I think we’re getting there.

BOWIE: Where else would you like to take the work from here? It’s so emotionally compelling and educationally-rich that I could see it playing at a number of different venues.

CARLON: My dream is to share this story with other Filipino-Americans. I want to focus on touring this work throughout California, to start. From San Diego to the Bay, California is home to the highest number of Filipinos outside of the Philippines. I would also like to take the work to New York and other Filipino populated cities. It would, of course, be a dream to even take this to the Philippines.

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Follow @carlondance on Instagram to learn more about FLEX.


The Tao of Maceo: An Interview Of Multi-Disciplinary Artist & Behavioral Economist Maceo Paisley

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interview by Summer Bowie

photographs by Dan Johnson

What does it mean to be a twenty-first century renaissance man? For Maceo Paisley, a wide range of disciplines comes together in a positive feedback loop that supports his indefatigable exploration of human behavior. Using embodied inquiry, he investigates his own identity and presents his findings in performance and film. A prolific writer of prose, he just released his first book Tao of Maceo, which takes inventory of his personal beliefs and aims to define his perspective more acutely. Stepping off the stage, he cultivates community through his Chinatown gallery, Nous Tous and a multi-pronged community practice/social innovation agency called Citizens of Culture. When he’s not writing, choreographing, curating, advising, and organizing, you might find him modeling or dancing for the likes of AirBnb or Justin Timberlake, respectively. Or you might find him enjoying a day to himself with a great book in hand. In the following interview, we learned about Maceo’s ever-expanding artistic practice, his time in the Army, and his unique approach to community organizing.

SUMMER BOWIE: Your short film, Dynamite investigates gender and identity, specifically the black, male experience through embodied inquiry. Can you talk a bit about the concept of embodied inquiry and any discoveries you made about your identity through this process?

MACEO PAISLEY: Yes, embodied inquiry, as I see it is a practice that deepens the thinking process by approaching ideas through the body. From the neurological perspective, we tap into kinetic intelligence, and somatics. From the more spiritual or philosophical perspective we tap into the bodies natural, sensual wisdom, as a reference point for our conceptual understanding.  

The most interesting discoveries have been around relationships, in partner dancing, where trust, communication, vulnerability, and boundaries aren’t just metaphorically applied, but fully actualized in the bodies of two dancers.

BOWIE: Speaking of masculine expression, I understand that before your career as an entrepreneurial creative, you earned a Bronze Star for your service with the Army in Iraq. Can you describe your tour in Iraq and do you feel this is a testament to your masculinity, or something else completely?

PAISLEY: I think that my time in the Army, was challenging, but it gave me access to a kind of masculinity that, when untempered appears as violent aggression, but when honed, can actually be useful as clarity and assertion.  It took me going to the extreme to know what limits I was comfortable with, but through that expression and exploration I was able to find a balance point and operate from there.

Iraq was a mixed bag, everyday was different, some days were almost boring, and other days there were mortar rounds blasting over our heads.

BOWIE: Aside from being a multi-disciplinary artist, you’re also a model, behavioral economist, an entrepreneur, a writer/magazine publisher, the president and director of Nous Tous Gallery in Chinatown and you oversee strategy and vision for a nonprofit called Citizens of Culture. That’s a lot to unpack and we’ll come back to these projects in detail, but have you always been such a polymathic person, and how do you manage to wear so many hats?

PAISLEY: It seems to me that my work is actually quite dynamic in practice but almost singular in focus. At core, I am deeply interested in the humanities as a field, so that might be the qualitative measurement of human behavior, or it could be the observational study of a couple arguing in a coffee shop, or the of publishing of works across whichever medium is most suitable for the audience.  

Art & science are often posed as opposites, but I believe that they are like twins separated at birth, who are both often misunderstood, yet each necessary to gain as robust a picture of humanity and it’s surroundings as possible.

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BOWIE: You just had your first book published, Tao of Maceo, a personal inventory of your beliefs in writing. You say that by putting your views on paper, you gain a better understanding of your fallacies and limiting beliefs. What’s the most important thing you learned about yourself through the writing process?

PAISLEY: The most important thing I learned about myself has to be that for as much as I am open and perceived as vulnerable in my work, I am a very private person, who isn’t nearly as open in my relationships as I am in the controlled context of sharing art.

BOWIE: You’re an avid reader and you publish a biannual print magazine called Correspondence. Who are some of the authors and magazines that inspire your writing and publishing, respectively? 

PAISLEY: Well, in 2016 I read about 115 books, both fiction and non-fiction. I really have to say that Oliver Sacks is one of my favorite non-fiction writers because of his range of experience dealing with the human mind. In the fiction realm, Octavia Butler is really a titan, that I keep wanting to go back to. As far as periodicals, I really love the Copenhagen Institute for Cultural Studies magazine SCENARIO, it has the most fabulous images, and deep insights about culture and identity from the individual and macro perspective.

BOWIE: You seem to be on a highly proactive odyssey toward excellence. Are you seeking an arrival point, or are you simply trying to see how much you can accomplish within your lifespan?

PAISLEY: The latter, I don’t know that “excellence” is the goal, it certainly was at one point. Now, I am more focused on finding peace and living in an urban environment, and contemporary society makes that a worthy challenge. My biggest goal at the moment is to understand what “enough” means to me, and how that idea changes accordingly with changes in my environment, and at various stages of life.

BOWIE: I want to talk about Nous Tous (French for all of us). What made you decide to open a gallery/community space and what does the decision process look like when curating artists and hosting events?

PAISLEY: Well, to be frank, we’ve never really said “No.” to anyone who wanted to show at Nous Tous. It would be contradictory to the name if we were to be exclusionary. Instead, I see my role as gallerist to be more of an editor, highlighting the best elements of whatever work is brought my way, and to coach the artist to trust in a shared vision, or in some cases, simply submit to the artist’s vision, and work to support it as best we can within our parameters and resources.

We have a manifesto that we reference, and works that fit naturally within it are usually what we attract, and other times we offer rental agreements to allow works to be shown with more autonomy. We then use that financial support to uplift other programs.

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BOWIE: Can you talk a bit about Citizens of Culture? How it came about and what you guys do.

PAISLEY: Citizens Of Culture is really about creating a place to have all the conversations we find difficulty having otherwise. Whether it be race, sex, politics, death, money, or morality, we support individuals and businesses as they approach cultural challenges in the hopes of providing the kind of clarity that can inform values-based actions. Practically, we are consultants for innovation, diversity and belonging, in companies, and that work supports, free or low-cost programs that are art-based, therapeutic, or support economic empowerment.

We have weekly meetings on Wednesdays, 7pm at Nous Tous in Chinatown if anyone wants to pop in and check it out.

BOWIE: Through Citizens of Culture you conducted a dating social experiment called, No Pressure, No Shame. What do you think are some of the current challenges that single people face in our current dating culture, and do you have any wisdom to impart for those who are currently trying to navigate the dating scene?

PAISLEY: The biggest challenge is that we have only been trying to marry for love for a short while in human history, and we don’t really have stale or universal definitions for what “love” is. So there is this mythology around it that we are trying to live up to, all while the ground shifts beneath us as to how we are supposed to go about achieving a loving relationship.

We first try to encourage people to clarify their intentions in the dating world, and that might mean having a flexible, working definition of what love looks like, and how a romantic partner might fit in to an ideal life. The next thing would be to set up some goals and boundaries that feel appropriate for our stage in life, and realizing that the work is never really done, so having compassion for ourselves and others along the way.

BOWIE: Is this an ongoing project or was it more of a one-time thing?

PAISLEY: No Pressure No Shame, started in 2015 with a 150-person queer, sex-positive, consent-based dating event, and we have been activating different iterations of the program as talks, art events, and parties ever since then. We activate something larger each October.

BOWIE: I’m really interested in a video series you feature on Citizens of Culture called Talking in Circles. Can you talk a bit about the concept of this series and any future topics you plan to cover?

PAISLEY: We believe that every great movement in humanity starts with people coming together to make collective decisions. Every one of our programs has some element of this, in the past we have covered technology, religion, police brutality, gentrification, and other issues, and moving forward I think we should be speaking more to addiction, sex-work, ideas of normalcy, economy, and mental health. As we move forward, we would like to be a go-to place for all of the most important conversations of our time.

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Maceo Paisley will be officially releasing Tao of Maceo and signing books Thursday March 14 from 7:30-9:30pm @ NAVEL 1611 South Hope Street. Please join us for a screening and performance of DYNAMITE, as well as a short Q&A with Maceo Paisley & Summer Bowie.


The Power & Vitality Of The Image: An Interview Of Controversial Artist Darja Bajagic

We are both among the first rain drops which indicate that there is a massive purifying storm approaching (2018)

We are both among the first rain drops which indicate that there is a massive purifying storm approaching (2018)

interview by Adam Lehrer

photographs courtesy of Darja Bajagić

Where the political left was once the clear bastion of free speech and expression in the U.S., it could be argued that the new left silences thought and speech perceived as antithetical or offensive to its values almost as much as the right wing does, or did. This is a problem for culture, and evidently, for art. “Political correctness,” says Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek, “is a desperate attempt by the public norms to tell you what is decent, what is not.” What Žižek suggests here is that political correctness can be harmful in its ability to obscure the truth and dilute public discourse; by sanitizing rhetoric we sanitize cultural meaning. This climate of over-the-top, politically correct theatrics has infiltrated the art world; art’s job is ultimately to push back on societal taboos and interrogate prevailing norms. Good art is almost always offensive to someone.

I first came across Montenegro-born, Chicago-based artist Darja Bajagić at the Independent Art Fair in 2017. Bajagić uses (mostly) monochromatic acrylic painted backgrounds to transform images found within the dark corners of the internet and other non-web sources. Screen-printed atop her canvases are symbols of evil or complex/dual meanings, pornographic images, and pretty girls and boys. Subsequent research reveals these girls and boys to be victims and/or perpetrators of abductions or murders. Bajagić also refuses to over-explain her work, nor does she seek to moralize it (responding to a reporter about her use of a Greek meander motif in recent works was met with Bajagić’s claim that her work is about “the banality of evil”). Her stance has led to her work being misread and mischaracterized. While Bajagić was attending Yale’s Painting and Printmaking program, the Dean suggested she seek professional help. Years later she found herself being censored when her piece Bucharest Molly was removed from an exhibition at Galeria Nicodim.

The cancelation of a duo show between Bajagić and industrial music pioneer, writer, and artist Boyd Rice at Greenspon Gallery reveals the toxicity of political correctness in the art world. Stemming from revelations of numerous events in Rice’s background, such as his usage of fascist imagery in “Non” (an industrial music project), these “revelations” caused an artist-resource listserv entitled “Invisible Dole” to ultimately threaten the gallery’s owner, Amy Greenspon (though it remained installed and was shown privately to those that wanted to see it.) The animus towards Rice was eventually transferred to Darja as well. What they don’t understand about Bajagić is her belief in art’s ability to create conflict, to provoke thought, and to deal with the complexities of the world with nuance and clarity.

If the art world keeps presenting this utopian, groupthink version of the world, art itself is going to collapse. Artists like Darja Bajagić make us look at what we might find ugly, distasteful, and upsetting. I want to be upset. Please offend me. When you offend me, you are forcing me to think for myself. Being offended is healthy. Darja and I corresponded over the Internet to discuss this fiasco as well as her work at large.

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

“German Madeleine McCann” (2019)

ADAM LEHRER: I assume you knew that showing alongside Boyd Rice at Greenspon might ruffle some feathers, but did you anticipate at all that the show would be so offensive to others that it might actually get cancelled?

DARJA BAJAGIĆ: I did not expect any feathers to be ruffled. Only two years ago, in fact, Boyd took part in a group show at Mitchell Algus Gallery. So, I definitely did not foresee the show’s cancellation. The show itself did not cause offense; what generated offense was a series of falsities spread on a “private” listserv by a number of terribly misinformed “art world” persons. As a result of subsequent harassment directed at the gallerist by a select number of those aforementioned persons, including threats to the gallerist’s well-being as well as the gallery’s, the show’s opening was cancelled. Nevertheless, it was installed, and viewable by appointment.

LEHRER: How did you come into contact with Boyd Rice? Had you been a fan of his music and writing? What was it about showing work alongside of him that you thought would be interesting?


BAJAGIĆ: Chris Viaggio, the curator of our two-person, approached me with the idea in January of 2018. It goes without my saying it that Boyd is a pioneering artist.  I’ve always appreciated the ambiguousness of his output. Rather than providing any answer(s) to what he re-presents, he functions as a big question mark—forcing the [concerned] individual to answer their own question(s). They must answer it. This modus operandi is now, more than ever, relevant and necessary in the face of the rising, violent insistence to identify and [over-]define to the point of infantilism.

LEHRER: Your work has often been misread and mischaracterized. Are you finding that it’s getting increasingly difficult to show work that is challenging and at the same time not in line with the typical “art friendly” topics of the day, such as identity or inclusivity?

BAJAGIĆ: Yes. First, They Came for the Art. What’s remarkable is that, this time, it’s coming from within [the “art world”]. Artists are fighting to censor other artists. It’s truly absurd. They are executing what they claim to be fighting against, and using Gestapo tactics. Their democracy is, in reality, totalitarianism. They are cowards, essentially. They fear the unknown (we have come back to the violent insistence to identify and [over-]define). What they fail to understand, time after time, is that the subject of art is not the artist. On top of this, it must be acknowledged that, today, the motive of profit outweighs the pursuit of art, in its truest sense. Opportunism is a widespread disease. Complexity is unfashionable, especially if it risks affecting [your] financial stability; an added incentive to degrade [the status of art]—as have we, so has art become reduced. Vapid ornament.

LEHRER: No longer can people seem to grapple with the fact that a depiction is not an endorsement. Obviously, when Pasolini made Salo he wasn’t saying “I like fascism and child abuse,” but he was using the extreme violence as a way to show how power destroys both the victim and victimizer. You, like Pasolini, don’t take a moral stance on the work, which further complicates readings of it. Do you ever fear that if the art world keeps moving in this direction there just won’t be any room for work like yours anymore?

BAJAGIĆ: It is evident that there is a pathetic tendency towards greedy mediocrity. There is an inability or unwillingness to deal in any depth with complexity. Now, when it is needed most, complex systems of aesthetics, or even provocations, are suppressed. That certain things are uncertain or unknown is simply an impossibility and certainly not permissible; you see, Google has all of the answers—as one listserv member wrote, “With one quick google [sic] of Darja and a look at her instagram [sic] I found some pretty questionable stuff.” This included my following the account of Neue Slowenische Kunst  on Instagram—clearly they are pitifully unenlightened. They go on to say, “To be clear: I have never met her, have nothing against her and know little about her work. That said, fuck Nazis, White Supremacists and Nationalists. Why is she using this imagery with seemingly no indication that it is not in support of it?”. And there you have it. They admit to knowing “little” about my practice but are nevertheless put-out due to my lack of [an indication of] support towards my artwork’s content, which they are only capable of superficially labeling as “Nazi, White Supremacist(s) and Nationalist(s)” imagery. Symptoms of a myopic perspective. This mania for a sterile, essentially dead, art is detestable. Art should not exist within a zone of safety—this would effectively eliminate its true efficacy and potentiality. Censorship occurs when this true efficacy and potentiality threatens the ruling ideology. What the censors fail to see, however, is that, paradoxically, censorship is like pruning: it gives new strength to what it cuts down.

LEHRER: Your work deals directly with “the banality of evil” as you describe it. What is it about the art world, do you think, that makes it so adverse to this subject matter? Certainly depictions of evil, violence, power, and destruction still exist in cinema (Michael Haneke, Lars von Trier, David Lynch, Catherine Breillat), literature (Brian Evenson, Ryu Murukami, Toni Morrison, Cormac McCarthy), and music (noise music, black metal, even hip hop). And the art world, to outsiders anyways, seems like the most radical of all these industries, but perhaps ironically is the most sterilized in its thematic content. Where is this irony coming from?

BAJAGIĆ: Sterilizing art is a way to defuse its power. Fear and the fear of generating offense is one excuse in the defense of sterilization. Offensiveness is subjective and relative. What a person chooses to be offended by is a matter of personal opinion. Hypersensitivity is a[nother] widespread disease. So widespread has it become that it is now a tyrannical force. Everyone is catching it. And, as the Greenspon cancellation attests to, “even” the “art world” is forfeiting whatever semblance of [its support of] liberty it feigned—bigots and hypocrites, welcome. In regards to depictions of violence, violent images matter. We must force ourselves to see. We are not bloodless. Violent images are not dangerous, but what is is the overwhelming effort to sanitize, delete our access to an unvarnished reality.

LEHRER: You keep a fairly low public profile when compared against the endless self promotion of many artists in the digital age. This has me thinking of “cancel culture,” which I find to be inherently childish and a bit faux, which happens on both sides of the political isle (the left canceling Kanye, the right canceling Nike). By you taking a back seat from self promotion and controlling distribution of your image, are you hoping to at least somewhat emphasize the importance of divorcing your work from your persona?

BAJAGIĆ: For sheeple, innuendo trumps truth. Provincialism is rampant. Even opinions that diverge from those held by [these] mentally incapacitated persons spur onset extinguishing—this is a dangerous intolerance; it, in fact, calls for extinguishing as it eradicates the possibility or potentiality of anything other than itself to exist. Furthermore, yes, it is troubling, the death of the “marketplace of ideas”. Everyone deserves the right to express, discuss, their views. However, we have, instead, in place an obsessive preoccupation with victimhood, and it triggers a furious and compulsive cleansing—a moral panic. And, always, the threat takes on a symbolic form, as in the examples you list. It is an irrational one, as is the subsequent response [of the public]. Society’s hissy fit. As to my emphasizing my art over myself—I find the tendency to focus upon the artist reductive. The subject of art is not the artist. Art is impersonal and external, not in the sense of detachment [between artist and artwork], rather in that it is the process of a truth which is external to the artist but to which the artist is committed. It is addressed to everyone. All interpretations are correct.

LEHRER: You have said that those who get offended by your work are victims of hypersensitivity, but also that you are sympathetic to that hypersensitivity. But also, the work probably wouldn’t be as powerful if it didn’t offend at least some, correct?

BAJAGIĆ: I do not regard my art as offensive. What you are referring to was an answer to a question regarding “negative reactions to the subject matter of [my artworks].” And I followed by saying that What is in fact obscene, offensive, and oppressive is this hypersensitivity, imposing morality. With that said, I am definitely out to make trouble for people who like things to be simple. Because they are not. Things are incredibly complex, subtle, and nuanced.

LEHRER: One thing I am drawn to in your work is that it necessitates engagement beyond one dimensional looking. For instance, if there is an image of a young, pretty girl, the aesthetics of the work might trigger a subtle uneasy feeling but it is only through the extra step of research will the viewer find out that this young girl was the victim of an abduction and only then the art work’s full meaning is attained. Is this a conscious goal of yours, or am I reading too much into it?

BAJAGIĆ: Yes.  There is no single definition or “essential nature” of images, and different meanings and use can overlap. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. This is a fact, and it inexhaustibly excites me. Instances of this in my most recent artworks are Beate—helpful, kind, nice, obliging, primitive, subliminally aggressive and vulgar and “German Madeleine McCann,” two paintings that were a part of the Greenspon show. They feature the Greek meander—one of the most important symbols in ancient Greece, and, still today, one of the most common decorative elements. It’s on everything, from architecture to Versace thongs and bikinis designed by Instagram “celebrities,” as well on the flag of the Golden Dawn, a political party in Greece that is ultranationalist and far-right. It is thought to symbolize infinity and unity; to the Golden Dawn, they see it as representing bravery and eternal struggle. So, does this make Versace a supporter of ultranationalist and far-right policies? Of course not. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. However, judging by, say, the logic of the attitudes of the persons who forced the shut-down of the Greenspon show, Versace is unequivocally a supporter of ultranationalist and far-right policies due to their continuous use of the Greek meander in their designs, a symbol now notoriously tied to ultranationalist and far-right policies.

Another instance, in this same body, is Beate Zschäpe in Lonsdale, shrouded in intrigue. In it, Zschäpe is pictured in a Lonsdale top. Lonsdale is a long-running (ca 1960), hugely-popular UK-based brand of sporting clothes. In the late 1990s and through the early 2000s, neo-Nazis co-opted the brand as a means to bypass laws outlawing the public display of Nazi symbols, as by cunningly concealing the first and last two letters with a jacket, only the letters NSDA were left visible, one letter short of NSDAP, the acronym for Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers’ Party). Lonsdale reacted to this trend by marketing initiatives promoting multiculturalism and sponsoring anti-racist campaigns (“Lonsdale Loves All Colours” and “Lonsdale London Against Racism & Hate”). Notwithstanding, the trend (coined Lonsdale youth) was too widespread and took on a life of its own. It was subsequently selectively banned in schools across Germany and the Netherlands. Still, does this make every Lonsdale wearer a neo-Nazi or a member of the NSDAP? Of course not. The meaning of a word is its use in the language. We have to engage with things as they are and not as they appear to us.

LEHRER: One thing I find interesting, if a bit overemphasized, in your work is the critical focus on your use of pornographic images. The porn in the work is usually softcore, especially in comparison with what people see all the time on pornhub and its affiliate sites. But, by divorcing the porn from its source material and placing it into a fine art context, you are able to amplify its meaning to subversive effect. It’s like you are giving an image its power back after that power has been weakened by the sheer amount of images that surround it on the internet. Is this idea something of interest to you?

BAJAGIĆ: Sure. Art prompts the viewer to see and then re-see, and, in this, the power and vitality of the image [in an artwork] is less likely to go unnoticed. It applies to a pornographic image or another—it could be an image of a potato. Reanimating it, in the context of art, often impels suspicious engagement as it recalls its illusionary status. It reminds us that images are not to be taken at face value. They are symbolic constructions, between us and reality. Therein is their power.


NOTE: Neue Slowenische Kunst, or NSK, is a political art collective formed in Slovenia in 1984 that appropriates some fascist symbols into their output, sometimes juxtaposing symbols from totally opposing ideologies, and their musical wing is the successful industrial/avant-garde band Laibach


Screenshot at 13:49/15:02 of the NSU’s “Pink Panther” confession video (2018)

Screenshot at 13:49/15:02 of the NSU’s “Pink Panther” confession video (2018)




The Anarchy and the Ecstasy: An Interview of Dean Valentine & Mills Moràn Preceding the Inaugural Felix Art Fair

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interview by Summer Bowie

photographs by Oliver Kupper

For anyone who’s seen Velvet Buzzsaw, there were a number of glaring inaccuracies about the look and feel of an art fair, most notably is probably the fact that they’re usually filled with hundreds of slack-jawed visitors under harsh halogen lights who look like they just stepped off a Southwest flight…or a parade float, depending on which day you go. This scene is depicted far more accurately in Mark Flood’s Art Fair Fever, a biting, feature-length parody about the dark misgivings of the art world’s collectors and dealers. So, how does one go about reformatting the art fair formula? How do you pull it out of the white cubicles that we’ve all grown to abhor? For Dean Valentine, Mills and Al Moràn, the answer was to start with the location. Building out a fair in a convention center, throwing up some drywall dividers and pumping the AC may be the path to least resistance when it comes to such an ambitious endeavor. However, the humble team of three decided to use the historic Hollywood Roosevelt with its one-of-a-kind hotel rooms, cabanas and banquet halls to create a mis-en-scène that transcends the typical art fair experience. I had the chance to sit down for coffee with Mills and Dean to talk about their inspiration in starting an art fair, the obsession that art necessitates, and the future of the Los Angeles art scene.

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to talk about the inspirations for the Felix Art Fair, because the main inspiration seems to be the Gramercy Art Fair.  

DEAN VALENTINE: During the time of the Gramercy Art Fair in New York, the art world was completely devastated by the [stock market] crash. I mean ‘89, ‘90 there was just nothing. And so, there were a group of dealers, Pat Hearn and Colin de Land who started the Gramercy International Art Fair. It was downtown, sort of low cost, and eventually that migrated over to Los Angeles. When it came to Los Angeles it became the Chateau Marmont Fair because it was the same idea kind of a hipster-y, old hotel, and that’s where I was at the time. I had just begun collecting and the whole LA art world was actually tiny. It all fit into the hotel, pretty much at one time. Marian Goodman had Tom Schütte sculptures. Jay Jopling had early Damien Hurst dot paintings and Tracy Emin quilts. Just, amazing work. So, people would just wander around, and wander to a booth, and look at art and talk to the dealer and talk to each other. 

BOWIE: Casual. 

VALENTINE: A casual, fun way to engage. 

MORAN: Really communal.  

VALENTINE: I just feel like art fairs over the past few years have become so profoundly over-commercialized. Much closer to a shopping experience rather than an art experience. You know when they first started it was a bit different. You’d go to an art fair and it was become you could see art from all over the world in one place and that was pretty cool, but now there’s like 150 art fairs. 

MORAN: They also used to find things. You know, now, there’s so much pressure on the galleries, coming from the galleries’ side; you have to get your PDF ready two weeks in advance. Most people will buy what they want early on and that’s a wrap. So, by the time you get to the fair, you don't really want to be there.   

BOWIE: Yeah, the element of discovery is gone.  

MORAN: The element of discovery is totally gone. So, as much as the Gramercy and the Chateau were reacting to a different time, to a market that had been decimated a couple years earlier. We’re responding, I think, in a different way; not so much because the market’s been hurt, but also because I think people are looking for something different: to engage with the art, and engage with the community. 

BOWIE: Yeah. I also want to talk about the inspirations for the name of the fair. So, I’ve read that it’s Felix the Cat, the Latin word for happy, and then also Félix Fénéon, the dandy anarchist and critical genius, and I was curious if the curation of the galleries was in any way driven by these disparate, sort of, influences. 

VALENTINE: We were all trying to come up with a good name for it. We kept coming up with these names that just sounded so…art fair-y.  

MORAN: Quirky.  

VALENTINE: Yeah, quirky.   

MORAN: There was no fun to it.  

VALENTINE: We first thought, Alta. One name after another, we kept saying, “Oh, yeah, that’s okay, we should do that,” and then none of us were really— 

MORAN: Nothing hit.  

VALENTINE: I guess it was all three of those things simultaneously, I believe.   

MORAN: It’s not too corporate-y, and it’s not totally whimsical at the same time.  

BOWIE: Yeah. It’s not too pretentious and yet that Fénéon influence grounds it a little bit.  

VALENTINE: I mean, I thought Fénéon and his anarchism touched on the fact that we take art very seriously, but the lightheartedness of Felix the Cat, and the felicitousness of the word seemed to touch all of the bases in the right way.  

BOWIE: Any anarchist sentiments between any of you guys?  

MORAN: Not currently, no. 

VALENTINE: Not yet.  

BOWIE: What aspects were you guys looking for in the curation, in terms of representation?  

VALENTINE: You mean, in terms of the galleries? 

BOWIE: Well, I assume that the galleries are applying based on the artists they plan to represent. 

MORAN: So, it was invitation-only. There was no application process.   

BOWIE: I see.   

MORAN: We looked at a range. We just wanted to get a good range of people, internationally, domestically. I don't think there was ever any one thing we were looking for.  

VALENTINE: Part of the fair was born at a dinner with Anton Kern and Tanya Leighton. It was at that dinner that we decided to go ahead and try to do this. These are people, I think, if you look at all the gallerists, what they all have in common is the fact that there’s an actual person, or people, that are running them. People that are profoundly engaged with artists and what artists make and care about.   

MORAN: Right, it could’ve been top heavy, could’ve been project space heavy. Part of the attractiveness for the galleries is the price point. It’s something that’s just very affordable for everybody. It shouldn’t be tough for people to turn a profit or at least get themselves out there and show their artists. We didn’t want to just have twenty big galleries. We wanted to get that range of some small spaces that we really respect, but then also have the anchor with certain gallerists like Anton or Tanya, that have really robust programs as well.  

BOWIE: Are the gallerists also staying in the hotel? 

MORAN: That’s up to every gallerist, but some people are staying in their own rooms, some people are getting an extra room, that depends on the staff they have. There are a number of people staying in their rooms, which I think is the spirit of the fair.  

BOWIE: That sounds like a lot of fun.  

MORAN: Yeah.  

BOWIE: What made the three of you decide to team up and start a fair?  

MORAN: That’s a good question. I mean, we’ve been good friends for ten years or so, and after that dinner, we walked into the gallery and just started firing off ideas. My brother and I are pretty entrepreneurial, and Dean has a great history. We’ve always respected working with him. Al is really close friends with one of the owners of the hotel, so we brought up the idea of doing it at the Roosevelt, and there was never any other option.  

BOWIE: This hotel has such a rich history. I mean, it was the first location of the Academy Awards— 

MORAN: Yeah, we knew that, and in terms of grounding Hollywood in the last hundred years, this was a special place. We thought, if we could bring that type of energy back to this place, it would be really special.  

VALENTINE: Yeah, the hotel itself has become more of a character in our sort of fair drama since it began. It’s such an interesting place. It has so many nooks and crannies. It has its own life, you know? We were really very fond of the place and its history and its design. I just can’t imagine doing it anywhere else. 

MORAN: We’ve seen every nook and cranny, and every special room, every ballroom, every banquet hall. You’d be shocked at how many things are possible in this hotel.   

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BOWIE: Which aspects of organizing the fair have come most naturally and which have been the most difficult?  

MORAN: I mean, really, getting the galleries was the most natural part. He’s been talking to a lot of these galleries for years, a lot of them are friends of mine. The hardest part was limiting it to the number of galleries we have. We had a lot more people who wanted to be in this fair, but that to me, was a good sign. 

VALENTINE: The hardest part has been the logistics. 

MORAN: The devil’s always in the details.  

VALENTINE: Yeah, it’s the details. All of a sudden, it turns out that in certain rooms there’s a headboard that occupies an entire wall and it’s screwed into the walls. So, that’s a wall that a gallerist would otherwise have to show art, and so it was like, “What do we do about that?”  

MORAN: And that’s a big difference from the ‘90s fairs. You cannot touch the Gramercy Hotel. You couldn’t take a thing out of it, you couldn’t hang onto the wall; you couldn’t do a thing. We’ve been blessed with good partners at the hotel— 

VALENTINE: —They’ve been amazing.  

MORAN: They’re allowing us to drill into the walls, we’re building walls in the cabanas because they need an art wall, we’re moving beds. It’s all kind of wide open.  

BOWIE: Really? 

MORAN: (laughs) But it all makes things a lot more complicated. 

BOWIE: I’m sure it’s a logistical nightmare.  

VALENTINE: Yeah, each of the forty-two galleries has their own room. Because it’s an old hotel—it’s not like the Sheraton, where every room is the same—each room is different.  Every floor is different. The cabanas are pretty much the same. But each person has their own demands for what they want in their room.   

BOWIE: It’s well known that Dean, you come from a background in television. You were a media executive, turned prominent art collector, and you’ve also served on the boards of the Hammer and MOCA. And then, Mills, you and Al have said that have no formal art education or training, so what would you say led the three of you guys to being such notable purveyors of art?  

MORAN: From my standpoint—it’s always been the relationship with artists that has driven my career, and early on, before we formed the gallery, we befriended artists. We knew artists and that drove everything. So, as a gallery, we’re very artist-centric. Very rarely will I go into a studio and edit somebody’s show, and that relationship, to me, has been able to transcend and build the gallery and the career we’ve grown into. This business is the most relationship-business I can think of. You have to be there for the openings, you have to be there for the dinners, you have to be there for your artists at all times, and I think that’s always driven us. So, once you have those relationships in place, everything else sort of cascades down. But, you gotta have the passion for it. To me, the passion is with the art and the artists and the relationships, and that’s how I’ve grown my career.  

BOWIE: It’s an experience-based practice.  

VALENTINE: Yeah, I mean, I think for me, I was a journalist for twelve years before I was a television executive and I’ve always been around writers and artists, and that’s been the core of my professional life. Even as a TV executive, there were writers, there were designers, there were directors. So, I’ve always been around creative people. I mean, art, specifically, was a revelation to me. At some point I came on the idea that it was a different way of understanding the world through these material metaphors. That it wasn’t just this thing that hung on a wall; it was a language and a way of looking at things, and I became obsessed by it. Once I got obsessed, I guess I had the means to acquire it, but, for me, it wasn’t just about the object, it was always about being part of the art world. Engaging with artists and gallerists. I don’t have an art education, obviously, but my graduate school was working with art dealers. Stuart Regen at Regen Projects, Tom Soloman, Andrea Rose, and Lisa Spellman, those are the people that taught me about contemporary art. So, I value that.  

BOWIE: It’s an ongoing discourse.  

MORAN: Yeah, and I think, obsession is the right word. It’s almost impossible to be successful in this industry without that obsession. You can’t do it halfway. People smell it from a mile away, if you’re not passionate about it. I think that’s the one thing that ties the two of us together, and Al as well.  

BOWIE: Yeah, if you think that it’s going to be a fun way to make money...  

MORAN: (laughs) It’s certainly not. (laughs)  

BOWIE: What would you say are the hallmarks of an emerging artist with enduring potential? 

MORAN: Well, I mean, the way that everything’s been moving in the last ten, fifteen, twenty years, is you have to go to a good school. It’s hard to just appear on the scene without having an education. Whether that’s good or bad, I have no idea, but it’s certainly good for the art schools and some of the art programs. You know, people used to say, “You need to be identifiable, people need to recognize your work,” I don't know if that’s true anymore. I think you need to have a voice, and you need to be unique. You need to bring your own genuine language into the conversation.  

VALENTINE: As with anything else, you want somebody that has talent, that has a point of view. 

MORAN: Most artists will have downs. All of them. It’s how you manage through it. It’s the things you do during that down time that speaks a lot more than when you’re having success. I tell all my artists, “I want to be able to sell your work now and fifty years from now as easily as we can now.” That’s a goal that someone should try and achieve; to have that kind of longevity in their career.   

BOWIE: Yeah, I think that back in the midcentury there was this accepted notion that being an artist wasn’t a career choice, it was an identity.  

MORAN: There’s so much more awareness now about artists, especially with people that would’ve normally never paid attention to what an artist was doing. So, that could be dangerous, and to fall into trends, or to fall into market forces, or to fall into what people expect you to make or expect you to say. That, to me, is a pitfall that any artist needs to try and avoid.   

BOWIE:  We’re seeing the arrival of Felix, and of course, Frieze LA, Spring Break, etc. Do you guys think that February in Los Angeles is going to turn into December in Miami? 

VALENTINE: Well, we hope so. I mean Miami’s actually a pretty small town, and it doesn’t take a lot to get its boosters together to keep interest going in this kind of thing. LA’s not a small town. It’s a very big town. It has a lot of other stuff going on and people do all sorts of other stuff. I mean, you’re competing with the Lakers, the beach, the mountains, and all that stuff. It’s hard to focus people’s attention, you know? It’s always been hard to focus people’s attention on anything. There’s just so much happening. So, whether the market’s reached a critical mass is still an open question.  

MORAN: I also think the key is, in some way, baby steps. Like, we could have had eighty galleries in our fair.  

VALENTINE: Right.  

MORAN: Frieze could have done two hundred galleries in their fair.  

VALENTINE: But they’re both small. 

MORAN: They’re both manageable. 

VALENTINE: And, also, it’s probably right that it’s relative to the size of the art market here. I mean, New York is vast, but there’s also a vast market there - journalists and galleries and collectors. LA is vast in terms of the number of artists. In terms of the infrastructure, it’s still relatively small and developing. So, I think Frieze is doing seventy galleries; that’s perfect. We’ll do forty-two galleries.  

MORAN: The key is to provide an experience for everyone. I think that will really help the notion of this process.  


The first edition of Felix LA will take place from February 14-17, 2019 at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Click here to learn more. Follow @felixartfair on Instagram.


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Unearthing Embedded Knowledge: An Interview Of Rosha Yaghmai On The Occasion Of Her Exhibition At The Wattis Institute

interview by Summer Bowie
photographs by Oliver Kupper

Walking into Rosha Yaghmai’s studio is a little bit like walking into the laboratory of a junkyard hoarder/mad scientist. There’s a distinctly pleasant organization to the vast collection of Los Angeles detritus that extends from the studio to the backlot outside. The walls are plastered with images from torn magazine pages, postcards, posters, watercolors and collage works. It’s as though you could hold a microscope to any detail in the room and discover a tiny world within. This is especially the case when viewing the centerpiece of her upcoming exhibition Miraclegrow at the Wattis Institute in San Francisco. In the center of the room sits a giant sculpture of a human hair. Pubic? Maybe. This mysterious hair sits on a floor which acts as a pedestal of giant, reflective bathroom tiles. Encapsulating this familiar scene, the walls are covered in large black tiles, effectively wall works that appear to drip with the glistening traces of warm condensation. The hair itself is a sedimentary composite of industrial materials, cleaning products, bathroom products, nail polish, and so much more. Layers and layers of genetic material soaked in personal history. I had the chance to sit down with Yaghmai just a few days before the works made their way up to San Francisco to talk about her upbringing as a tinkering, junk-collecting Angeleno, her work and its relationship to personal heritage, and how she so compellingly defines the cosmic in the microcosmic.

SUMMER BOWIE: I want to start by just talking about your beginning. I understand that you started as a photographer and then transitioned into sculpture. What kind of photography were you making, and why did you lose interest in it?

ROSHA YAGHMAI: I started off making photographs really young. In the sixth and seventh grade. I was really interested in taking photographs. Really quickly, when I went to photo school, I spent most of my time trying to use the chemicals to do things you aren’t supposed to do. So, I never was making straight photographs. I was always altering the image, adding weird color.... I was trying to make the photographs more like paintings, but I think I was just trying to make sculpture. I would combine Xerox’s so there was this approximation of the real that I was really interested in, which seems like a natural link between photography and sculpture. I eventually started making fake diorama-like environments with the photographs, so again, pushing into sculpture. I was at SVA in New York at the time and I ended up transferring to CalArts. As soon as I got into the desert landscape, photography was gone, and I started making sculpture. I haven’t made photographs for a long time.

BOWIE: That is interesting because you often hear of artists coming to LA, discovering its unique light and then naturally pushing into photography.

YAGHMAI: I am also from here, so it was less about that, I just wanted to create environments when I moved here.

BOWIE: The work you presented at Made in L.A., Slide Samples (Lures, Myths) includes projected slides from photographs your father took when he first emigrated to California from Iran. Have you always wanted to work with these images, or did the urge come to you recently?

YAGHMAI: They’ve always been around our house. We had this one print, and I thought it was just an eighties photo, and I didn’t think much about it. My father was interested in photography and that’s how I got into photography. I had all his cameras. etc. and I saw those slides and started making slides, but nothing like that. They [the slides] have always been lingering for years. I finally just asked him about them. I knew he had made them in Berkeley. I knew he used abstract color, they were trying to be psychedelic because of the timing, 1969-72. When I asked him about it, just the process of his thinking, it was very similar to how I was making resin that I was calling slides. He was taking hunks of glass from the Coca Cola Company in Oakland and using different sources of light and filters (light from the television, etc.) to make reflective surfaces. I thought it was an interesting, strange way to connect with a new culture but also realizing there were some similar physical properties with my work: the resin, using lenses and different filters. I think up until the Hammer most of the work that I have made was some sort of screen or a way to alter a site and I linked it with that work once I knew he had made it.

BOWIE: You were born right around the time that the Shah of Iran was overthrown.

RY: He [my father] emigrated here in the mid-60’s and my parents got married and they moved to Iran... and I was actually conceived in Iran and we lived there...then the revolution broke out and we came back to the United States...and I was born.

BOWIE: Growing up in Los Angeles, what was it like being in the wake of these events as a first-generation Iranian-American?

YAGHMAI: I think my dad was so involved with being an American person that we never really talked about that stuff... I didn’t really understand until later but I feel like...I am realizing...how in much of my work there is a subconscious draw to that...or a feeling of wanting to traverse long distances, or different perspectives comes into the work. I am so disconnected from that part of my lineage, and I could ask my family, read more about it, and I do; but, I feel like I am in the process of unearthing some embedded knowledge and I think the misunderstanding and not knowing is really generative for me.

BOWIE: That makes sense. Maybe your dad was seeing America through a lens that is slowly revealing itself to you.

YAGHMAI: He only went back to Iran maybe five or six years ago, maybe because it was so awful and painful. It never really came up.

BOWIE: You said once that you take pleasure in the sort-of trashiness of LA. What aspects of that trashiness appeal to you most?

YAGHMAI: I don’t know if it just being that I am a beach-desert person, and there’s moments in that hair that are in this zone. You know, like a piece of glittering trash like in a desert landscape. Just these little moments of collage really interest me. But in terms of trashiness, I really thrive and enjoy a casual environment. I don’t know if trashiness is the right word, but I feel like (it’s not this way anymore) the feeling of complete freedom here. But now it is not quite like that. I grew up between Alta Dena and by the beach, we would just ride our bikes out, and go to the junkyard and find weird stuff, and my grandfather was a bit of a hoarder and a handyman type. We would just be tinkering. I think that is it. Thrift store shopping and finding some weird historical gem. I also have a real interest in outsider architecture.

BOWIE: I can see the psychedelic influence of your father’s work with those weird remnants of Americana that seem to litter the streets and the junkyards that used to exist. Santa Monica and Venice were very different places back then.

YAGHMAI: It was so wild there when I was growing up and trashy. It was great! The beach towns were abandoned—it was a bunch of old people and skaters. Weird remnants. It was magical, I feel lucky I grew up here during that time.


“I am realizing how much, basically, “dusk” is my color palette. That is where the light and space of California comes into my work. It is “dusk” but it is city dusk; that moment when the sky has that color and there is the neon turning on. That in-between time...”


BOWIE: You use a lot of found materials, industrial metals, liquids, resins, do you have any favorites or least favorites?

YAGHMAI: They are all a pain (sighs). I definitely do like working with materials that are liquid to solid. In terms of favorite, detrimental to my market, I just move through and use what I want. I don’t really have the usual approach. So, this show has a completely different approach than the one at the Hammer. I do like working with transparency, like this super clear, very toxic resin. My work relates to light and space because of my history and the physical properties of the work (color and all that), but I feel like for me it is much more about collaging. So, if you have one thing that’s transparent, you're altering what you see behind it, and for me that altering and blending of sight is really important. I also really like using silicone, the type of silicone you make prosthetics out of. Platinum silicon. And that has a translucent quality too but I like using that material as an approximation or stand in for the body, clear resin and that are the two things I go back to.

BOWIE: Your work has a quality about it that invites viewers to temporarily enter a foreign world and quietly meditate there for a moment. Is this an experience you look for when viewing the work of other artists?

YAGHMAI: I think you always fantasize that you make different art. I like going into a full on crazy installation...just something that looks like a playground. So, I am not always drawn to a contemplative space... I think that in my work that kind of emerges because up until very recently I was very stubborn about (sternly, “I make objects, I want to make objects”). Yet, it is teetering on installation because these objects when in relation to one another create this sort of psychological environment and their relation to each other creates an oddity you want to linger with. I feel like this show is the first time in a while that I am making an environment. I mean each object in the show... like the floor is the pedestal for the hair and the panels are paintings and they can be separated so they are still existing as objects kind of coming together for this moment but they are not props and still are works of art, or sculptures. I really think a lot about putting things together that are a bit perplexing or strange that makes one want to linger a bit and figure it out. I think that may be the color palette. I am realizing how much, basically, “dusk” is my color palette. That is where the light and space of California comes into my work. It is “dusk” but it is city dusk; that moment when the sky has that color and there is the neon turning on. That in-between time... which I think is a very contemplative time, when you are driving around that time.

BOWIE:  Always in LA... I think you said that your color choices are kind of the most intuitive part of the process...

YAGHMAI: I made this whole series of silicones for this show in Germany and I realized they are all colors from my childhood--wetsuits that were around. It just emerges, “oh, of course, that’s why I’m doing that...”

BOWIE: In this show, you said you wanted to create an environment that takes on a spider's perspective on the floor of a bathroom. What inspired this particular perspective?

YAGHMAI: I was really torn about what to do for this show. I feel like the Hammer project was sort of the end to a couple years of thinking. So I felt a bit stuck, to be honest, and I was trying to figure out what the next step was. I knew I wanted to make an environment. I was super frustrated, came home to the studio, threw down my jumpsuit, and I noticed (I hate spiders. Sorry, I’m trying to change my perspective on that) a spider trying to crawl into it, so I snatched it away. And the spider kind of stopped, and I was just watching, and thought, “what the hell does that thing think just happened?” So, I had this moment where I thought, if I am trying to make work that alters perspective in a very physical, literal embodied way, why wouldn’t the next step be to try to empathize and project myself into something of which I could never understand what their perspective would be. In terms of psychedelic properties, I think that’s the most honest way to go about it. I just wanted to physically remake it, but in a skewed way.

BOWIE: Has it changed your feelings towards spiders at all?

YAGHMAI: My husband got me this Louise Bourgeois book, and so obviously, she has those big spider sculptures, and she talks about them as a symbol of renewal. So, I’m trying to get into a Louise Bourgeois way of thinking about it, rather than just thinking about them crawling on me at night. So, I think I can empathize with them a little bit more. How scary must it be? I just wanted to make a direct approach to the show.

BOWIE:  There are so many materials that went into that hair sculpture. It has this sort of sedimentary value to it...can you just talk for a moment about the different materials that you used in creating it?

YAGHMAI: I mean... it is the hardest sculpture I ever made, not in a physical way, but just that you’re really fighting the form. Not to be too literal, but your hair is a shedding of some kind of skin, and I knew I wanted to cast my body and incorporate it into the work. Almost like it is carved out of some kind of stone, or I wanted to make it seem like something that happened or something that is really forced. You don’t work on growing your hair, it just happens, but if you think about all the energies that go into making it... I used a lot of materials that I’ve used before, like limestone, graphite, household plastics like shampoo bottles, laundry soap, and shopping bags. I melted those down and put them in. It’s almost like coral where it absorbs anything that is in the environment...I was thinking about that with all the chemicals in the body and how they can all be traced in a single hair. And also, thinking back to my father and my parents, and just thinking about what you absorb in your DNA, what is trapped in there, trapped knowledge that I don’t know about. I wanted to have this sort of spacey, geological tone and I was looking at images of the sand dunes on Mars, which is basically the whole brochure for the show, which is a reach, but it’s cosmic level shit. You know, like you’re sitting here and now our molecules will be tangled forever. Things that are blowing my mind. For me it is kind of fake because it is cast and modified material, but I was trying to be really genuine and putting together a lot of stuff that I’m around on the regular.

BOWIE: There seems a deep desire to capture moments or feelings in your work; to encapsulate and oppose the forces of entropy. Would you agree with that interpretation?

YAGHMAI: I think so... there is so much in my work that is the familiar becoming foreign, and so there's this flip all the time of something so familiar (that maybe you take for granted) turning on you. I feel just that awkwardness—making you aware of your existence, of your body interacting with the object.

BOWIE: You have referred to the desire to freeze time, but is that something you feel like you want to do permanently or temporarily, and if so, for how long, what is that desire to hold things in space?

YAGHMAI: I mean that’s sculpture (laughs). If I had one power, it would be to stop time. You know when you play that game. Just slowing down the process and pointing to that one thing and using force to stop that moment or those moments and to have it on display. Not that my work is usually that figurative, but to slow it down. Having a one-on-one relationship between the object and the viewer.


Rosha Yaghmai's exhibition
Miraclegrow opens on January 15th and runs until March 30th at The Wattis Institute. 360 Kansas St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Rough Cuts: An Interview Of Chuck Arnoldi On The Occasion Of His Show At Desert Center Los Angeles

Some interesting facts about leopards: they are solitary animals that hunt in open terrains, they are difficult to track in the wild, they are extremely adaptable to new environments, and they often leave claw marks on trees to mark their territory. In Chuck Arnoldi’s expansive Venice Beach studio, a dusty, taxidermied leopard is perched, mid-roar, above the kitchen alcove. There is something strangely symbolic about this once ferocious, now inert genus of panthera.  Arnoldi is not a hunter, but he is quick to note that this leopard is one of the best examples of taxidermy in the world. Among the Cool School cohort of artists, like Ed Ruscha, Billy Al Bengston, and Larry Bell, Arnoldi may be the lesser known, but he may also be the most prolific. His chainsaw sculptures – which can be quickly described as chunks of painted wood with blade marks slashed into them – are his most well known, his Girl From Ipanema. They are dangerous and allude to his misfit youth. These hyper-mystical geometries can also be seen in his Machu Picchu paintings, which mimic the mysterious architecture of the ancient Incan citadel. Arnoldi’s latest show at Desert Center, entitled Rough Cuts, includes a number of recent chainsaw paintings made in and around the Yukon. A day after the Woolsey Fire broke out and threatened the artist’s home in Malibu, we sat down at his studio for a chat.

OLIVER KUPPER: First off, I want to talk about the fire because it came very close to your property in Malibu, what did you do to fight off the fires? 

CHUCK ARNOLDI:  We weren’t going to leave because I have so much art in the house--I have a little Warhol I got for nothing...that is worth two million dollars, you know. We felt comfortable, because the house is quite high up there. We knew if the fire came, we could always go to the beach. If you go up to our roof, you could see the stuff coming. They looked like atom bombs, flames a hundred feet tall. I didn’t think my house was going to burn. I took the Calder and the Warhol...I got a lot of stuff, about a hundred-fifty pieces of art at least in the house. I took it all outside and put it in different places. It took me 25,000 steps to take it out and 25,000 steps back to take it back.

KUPPER: The fires tune in to your work in a way, because some of your most well known works deal with using discarded materials or recycled materials, like your stick paintings, which came from a burned down orchard, can you talk a little bit about that?

ARNOLDI: I had an artist friend from Malibu and he told me one day, there is an orchard...and it had oranges and avocados and he told me to go steal some fruit. It was his special little thing…he’s an odd guy. So we were out there stealing oranges and avocados. The perimeter had all these leaves that had burned off, and they looked like charcoal lines. I thought those are beautiful, so I took my sticks back to the studio. The first piece I made, I took four sticks and tied them together at the end and I put two nails and hung it on the wall. It’s really about something being the sum of its parts, gravity.

KUPPER: Is it true that some of your stick paintings have come from your childhood home in Ohio?

ARNOLDI: No, but you see those thorns up on the wall? When I was a little kid growing up, those were from a tree in Ohio. So I made those paintings from thorns. I’ve been avoiding Ohio like the plague. I have a very dysfunctional, bad family. 

KUPPER: What was it like growing up there?

ARNOLDI: Most of my buddies are dead, a lot of them went to prison. I was just in a bad place. I had no art history at all in my childhood. I have an uncle who was a portrait painter, he wore a beret and had a little painting studio. I used to go there and I really liked the smell of oil painting. He was my only exposure to art and at one point I got a modeling job at an art institute. I was broke and they would pay me to pose. One of the directors convinced me to take my clothes off and then he wanted me to get a hard on. This fucking guy, I’d like to meet him today. No fucking way.  

When I was a kid, I made tree houses and forts and if I saw a Tarzan movie, I would make bows and arrows and spears. As I got older I got involved with cars. When I graduated, a teacher told me, “You are the most talented with the least amount of vision of anyone I have ever met,” and it made me feel terrible.... See, when I was growing up, I got attention for doing stuff, I was really good with my hands.

KUPPER: Seems like the whole Venice School came from places like Dayton, the mythical American city, what was it about LA that was such a beacon for you guys? 

ARNOLDI: I was a senior in high school and I had gotten in a little bit of trouble, they were gonna put me in a foster home. My father was living in Southern California with this woman he ran away with and he flew me out to California. I had never seen a freeway. It blew my mind. When I got back to Dayton I wanted to move to California. After I graduated high school, my mother had about six dollars and twenty-eight cents, so she gave me that and I left with four buddies of mine. I had a ‘55 Chevy with a ‘53 engine. We were terrible thieves.

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KUPPER: When did you get serious about art?

ARNOLD: While in Los Angeles, it was time for me to go to school. I drove out to Ventura and I chickened out, I just couldn’t do it. I wouldn’t even go to an art history course. It was way over my head. I would just go to the art classes, ceramics for instance. The guy who ran the art department, Mr. Deets, saw my work and he came to see me and said, “You know son, since Picasso, everything is bullshit. You need to be an illustrator. I can make you one if you do what I tell you.” I could draw perfectly. I had the skills.

KUPPER: How did your later experiences at Art Center influence your perspective?

ARNOLDI: I’d be doing a painting and the guy would come and go, “That’s done.” To me, it wasn’t finished, but to them I was ruining it. They would take your work away from you. In painting class the first thing they taught you is that you have to wear a tie and how to wear it so you don’t paint on it. This was all bullshit to me. I’m sitting there thinking this is fucked and I quit.

KUPPER: You seem like a bit of a daredevil – can you talk about your chainsaw sculptures, because those sort of put you on the map in a way?

ARNOLDI: I just liked the way it looked. But one little slip and it’s really bad. I’ve been doing the Machu Picchu thing...these multi-paneled paintings. But the chainsaw sculptures were just one of those things that was on my mind. I don’t like to make sculptures because they are bulky. But these sort of made sense.

KUPPER: Some of the work at your current show was made in the Yukon?

ARNOLDI:  I went up there not expecting to make work, but I was sort of coaxed into it. The guy who owned the property has a gold mine. He asked if we wanted to get to work, so we go down to a river to find some wood. There were these two rough kids – one of them had recently slit a wolf’s neck that tried to attack him. So we are up there and they start to cut down some trees for me to make a sculpture. One kid said, “What do you want me to do?” I tell him to cut five slabs off and to get me some kind of platform. I said, “Kid, you’re good with the chainsaw. I’ll draw the line. You want you to give me this much of an angle.” (makes the vroom, vroom, vroom sound of a chainsaw) I look over and the other kid wants to do it too (vroom...vroom...vroom). We worked for two hours and made a few pieces. By the end, we made nine... and the new chainsaw pieces were painted in red, black and yellow. When I used to make the old chainsaw paintings, there would be splinters all over, so I would torch them away. I went and bought a serious blowtorch and all the kids were so excited.  The kids cut trees down like crazy, and never thought of doing anything beyond that. I bet that within a year these kids would be making furniture and shit out of logs.

OK: Your upcoming show at Desert Center is called Rough Cuts – there is a connection to your work and some of the other Venice artists to music, the improvisational nature could be compared to jazz?

CA:  Somebody once told me something and I felt rather flattered:  “Your chainsaw paintings are the closest thing I can think of to Pollock.” The reason is....Pollock in a sense did a dance, it was spontaneous, you know--he was physically involved. Man, then you start cutting in references and you are making hundreds of decisions a second, but it's a physical thing, you’re actively engaged in it.


Chuck Arnoldi: Rough Cuts is on view now at Desert Center Los Angeles, 7466 Beverly Blvd. Email for appointments: desertcenterlosangeles@gmail.com. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper


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