The Underside Of Glamour: An Interview Of Kia LaBeija

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text and photographs by Annabel Graham

In her vibrant, dreamlike self-portraits, Kia LaBeija offers us a keyhole through which to peer into some of her most tender and fragile moments—yet she peers right back, engaging with the viewer, watching us watching her. Her gaze is direct and unflinching, often laced with grief, or defiance, or whatever emotion might have been coursing through her body at the particular moment when the shutter clicked—at once reminding us of the ultimate artifice of posed portraiture and stating, simply, "Here I am."

Now twenty-seven years old, Kia LaBeija (née Kia Michelle Benbow) was born HIV-positive to an untested mother, who passed away from an AIDS-related illness when LaBeija was just fourteen. Much of her work explores her own firsthand experiences: reimagining and rejecting rigid cultural stigmas about those living with the virus, laying bare the beauty and pain of existing in—and learning to love—her own body, with all of its complexities. Born and raised in the heart of Manhattan’s theatre district, Hell’s Kitchen, LaBeija trained as a professional dancer and soon became involved in the underground subculture of voguing—which is, in her own words, “a style of cathartic movement or dance birthed by black and Latinx LGBTQ communities in New York City.” She worked her way up the ranks, walking and competing in balls, and now serves as the Mother of the House of LaBeija, which was founded in 1977 by ballroom icon Crystal LaBeija.

In all their thrilling, glittery, performative glory—their multilayered explorations of persona and artifice, identity and womanhood and trauma—LaBeija’s self-portraits faintly echo those of Cindy Sherman. Yet while Sherman plays a whole host of different characters in her images, LaBeija plays just one: herself. “Glamour dresses up the oldest wounds,” writes David Velasco, editor-in-chief of Artforum, in the letter that opens his astonishing inaugural issue (the issue is aptly titled "Uses of Power," and features Kia LaBeija alongside the likes of Nan Goldin, Adrian Piper, Johanna Fateman, Sable Elyse Smith and House of Ladosha). The trope of glamour throughout LaBeija’s work pays homage to her roots in voguing, yes; but it does more than that. It expresses, symbolically, just how beautiful an HIV-positive body can be. Above all, glamour represents one facet of who Kia LaBeija is: an actress, a chameleon, a performer, a ballroom queen, a daughter who loved to play dress-up with her mother. An artist. A woman.

I sat down with LaBeija, who is currently in the process of relocating to the west coast, in between her apartment viewings one morning in early January. It was a rare overcast day in Los Angeles, the sky a dull muted gray, and I was nervous about the flat lighting—I’d be shooting some portraits of her after our conversation. Curled up on a velvet couch in the home of her half-brother’s mother’s partner (say that ten times fast), a mug of hot tea warming her slender hands, LaBeija was thoughtful and circumspect as she answered my questions—barefoot and barefaced, her voice resonant and clear. She was kind, open, calm, forthright, remarkably deep—and considerably more down-to-earth than I’d anticipated, especially after watching her vogue fearlessly and persistently through the streets of Bogotà in a baby-blue dip-dyed spandex jumpsuit (in the electrifying music video for Pillar Point’s “Dove”).

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Could you talk a little bit about the dynamic between power and vulnerability in your work?

KIA LABEIJA: It’s just a part of who I am. I think that dynamic is something that happens naturally. It took a long time to share these pieces of me. When I did it, I took one photograph, which was the first photograph, which is in Artforum. I’m in my bedroom in my underwear. I took that one, and then I had these ideas to make a series based off of these moments of my life that felt very private and quiet, because I felt them starting to creep up on me in that way that’s like, “If you don’t start talking about this stuff you’re going to explode.” A lot of these images are my way of exploding a bit.

GRAHAM: How did you originally get into voguing?

LABEIJA: As a dancer, I knew about it—and also just being from New York, I knew a little bit about it. I had seen Paris Is Burning when I was sixteen. It’s an incredible documentary. There are a lot of queer people all over the world that don’t know that that exists. Then they see something like that and they feel like, “Oh wow, I can just be whoever I want to be.” I got into voguing because I met someone who was in the scene. We worked together at Webster Hall in New York. She brought me into a house, which was the first house I was in. Once that house closed, she joined the House of LaBeija. Basically I followed her. I call her my gay mother. She taught me everything I know.

GRAHAM: And now you’re the Mother of the House of LaBeija. How did you become the Mother? In Paris is Burning, they say that the Mother of a house is the person with the most power.

LABEIJA: I mean, for many years I had been kind of mothering the House of LaBeija in a way that was just kind of helping to guide it. I became the Mother this past year, in 2017. That’s when I kind of made it official.

GRAHAM: How, if at all, did growing up with HIV affect the way that you work as an artist and the kinds of images that you make? And conversely, how has your work as an artist, if at all, helped you navigate life as a queer woman of color with the virus?

LABEIJA: The first time I made art around HIV was after my mom died, when I was fourteen. I had this jean jacket, and I painted an AIDS ribbon on it and put her name on it, and I remember I showed it to my dad. It kind of hurt his heart a little bit, it was just kind of hard for him. He didn’t like it. I remember I went into my room and cut it up and threw it out. When you go through traumatic things like that, you don’t necessarily want to be reminded of them. So for him, his way of dealing with it was to not have that be a focal point in our lives. But for me, I needed to explore it, because this was something that I was growing up with, and will continue growing with. Being able to make these images and being able to say, “This is what’s going on with me,” because I don’t tell a lot of people what’s going on with me. That was one of my big things growing up with the virus—feeling really lonely. You don’t see representations of young people living with HIV, or children living with HIV. Women living with HIV. People of color living with HIV. People are so secretive about it, so quiet about it, that it’s hard to find your people. I found my people when I met my gay mother at Webster Hall. She invited me into a world where there were lots of other people around my age that were living with the virus. Being around other people that were living with this thing, but also being so alive, and being able to have this space to perform in any kind of way that I wanted to, just felt like the most amazing thing.

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GRAHAM: Do you also feel that making your work has helped you with the loss of your mother—understanding and moving through that?

LABEIJA: The thing about talking about people, and speaking them into existence, is that they don’t go away. It’s hard because, physically, you can’t experience them. But they live here, [points to her heart] and they live here, [points to the walls] and they live in my photographs, and they live in the hearts of other people that see the work too, because they see the story and they know the story and they feel it. Talking about her, putting her in my work, because she’s so much a part of me, and I am so much her. It’s crazy when you start to get older and you’re so much like your parents. I remember there was this one day that my mom was taking me to the school bus and we were walking, and she said something, and then laughed and went, “Oh my god, I just sounded so much like my mother!” And I laughed at her, and she said, “You just wait, one day you’re going to sound exactly like me. And you’re going to think of this moment, and you’re going to go, ‘Wow, my mom told me this was going to happen.’” And it happened. And it seems like it happens more every day. It’s this beautiful, sad thing, because part of it feels like, wow, I can remember so much, because I’m feeling all of her physicalities and the tone of her voice, or I’m laughing in that similar way, so it’s like this way of her being so close to me—but it’s also kind of sad, because sometimes I’ll do things and think, “Whoa, I’m so much like my mother,” and then I’ll remember, “Oh, she’s not here.” It’s this kind of dueling thing.

GRAHAM: I read in an interview of yours that you’ve learned over the years that you can’t hold on to physical objects. As an artist, and as someone who has experienced loss at a young age, what is your relationship to physical objects and spaces, especially the ones that you photograph?

LABEIJA: We take on all this stuff, we build up all these stories in our heads, and then it becomes all this junk and clutter, and we can’t move forward, or past, or move through anything else because we’re just stuck. So in my head I was just like, “I need to get unstuck. I need to be okay.” I took this drawer that had all of my mother’s things in it and threw all this shit on the ground and was like, “What is all of this stuff?” In the midst of being in that moment, I took a photograph of it. And after I took the photograph, I threw a lot of that stuff out. Because that clears space for new energy, for new things to exist, and prosper, and come into fruition. But space and objects are so important to my work. That stuff really interests me, because those things, those kinds of energies—they stick to walls. They stick to all this stuff that’s not living [knocks on wall] and make it alive.

GRAHAM: Can you talk a bit about your Artforum cover? In your own words, what did you intend with that image?

LABEIJA: I love this question. The piece that’s on the cover of Artforum is part of a series of images. That one is very different than all the others. I’ve never released any of the others, besides those two. There’s the one that’s on the cover, and there’s the one that’s inside, with David’s statement. The one with David’s statement is a little bit more like the rest of the images. It’s hard to talk about it because the image, unlike my other work, isn’t something that’s so specific that it’s like, “This is what it’s about.” It’s kind of an accumulation of a lot of things. The original idea for the image came in that moment where I was feeling unpretty, unloveable, tainted, all these kinds of things, and I wanted to create something where I looked like an X-Men character. It took me a really long time to finally create the picture. I made the image and funny enough, the one that’s on the cover was just a test shot.

GRAHAM: Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.

LABEIJA: It’s kind of about facing your darkness, and being able to be your darkness. It’s also about being powerful in that and being vulnerable and still being sexy in that. It’s really awesome, because my work has been so HIV-centered, and I’m moving past that now. Not to say that I’m not going to still be making work that thematically goes through that, because it’s a part of who I am and that’s a part of my story, but I don’t want that to pigeonhole me. It’s not all of who I am. The fact that this particular image could be on the cover, and it’s not an image that is so HIV-focused, felt so empowering to me.

GRAHAM: Where or what do you draw inspiration from?

LABEIJA: Yeah. Love. I get inspired by all different types of things. When I started really doing photography, I was going off my own thing, but I did have one big influence, Philip-Lorca diCorcia. I saw his “Hustlers” series a long time ago in school. What he did was he came out to LA and he photographed different sex workers and he paid them the amount of money that they would get paid from a client. He asked them how they ended up here, and he would take them to a set and photograph them. It was this balance between reality and something that's kind of manicured and posed, but also the beauty and the pain. I wanted to do something that felt similar to that.

The thing about Cindy Sherman is that she plays different people, different types of women, characters. Whereas with me, I play one character, which is myself. I had a period of time where I was like, “Should I stop taking pictures of myself?” It started feeling… not selfish, but narcissistic. That’s not what it is. It’s an exploration of this body, of this person, and saying, “Who am I? Where have I been?” One of my photographs [in the January 2018 issue of Artforum] is called The Greatest Aunts. It was in front of my great-aunt's house. I used to go visit them all the time when I was younger. My great-aunt had a diner where Langston Hughes used to come. That was the first time I started exploring identity in terms of race. My 24 series is more specifically about living with HIV and being a young woman of color, but this was like, “Wow, I’m photographing this space that was important to the women that came before me on my dad’s side. My dad’s black, and my mom is from the Philippines. You’ll probably see that coming up in a lot of my work. I identify as being a black artist, but I’m also a mixed artist too. I’m Filipino, and African-American, and Polynesian, all different types of things.

GRAHAM: What made you decide to move out here (LA) for the second time?

LABEIJA: I went back to New York, because I was like, “There are a lot of things that I haven’t done yet.” And in those five, six, seven years… I fuckin’ did all of the things that I needed to do, and then I was like, “Okay, I can go to LA now and just chill.” It’s a lot about quality of life, and New York is just really hard. It’s intense. I’ve lived there forever. New York is in an interesting space right now. My community, which is like the underground queer POC community in New York, everyone feels it. Everyone is like, “It’s dead out here.” Everyone is moving. People are going to Atlanta, a lot of people are moving to LA. People are going to Canada. There’s a lot of budding artistic energy that’s out here right now. It just feels like the place to be.


Purchase the current issue of Artforum to experience Kia LaBeija's art cover and photographic essay. Text and photographs by Annabel Graham. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


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THE THINGS HE CARRIED: MAXIMUM HENRY COHEN

“Living in New York City… has taught me to be extremely compact and intentional about the things I carry with me,” says Maximum Henry Cohen, the slight, unassuming 22-year-old mastermind behind Brooklyn-based leather goods brand Maximum Henry. “There’s a lot of baggage that we carry around with us out of habit.” Cohen is sipping Coca-Cola from a glass bottle, sitting in one of the sweeping factory windows of his Williamsburg waterfront studio, a loft space shared by a few other artisans and draftsmen. In the background, the dull hum of various machines cutting wood and shaping metal creates a strangely comforting white noise. Outside, a tranquil snow of the early-March variety falls on red brick scrawled with graffiti. One of Cohen’s goals in creating his own artisan leather goods brand was to downsize, to eliminate that unnecessary extra baggage, “to make something... that someone could carry and really consider their own.” Everything about Cohen—from his humble, down-to-earth personality to his streamlined workspace to his pared-down website to his handmade business cards— suggests an understated elegance. He pays the utmost attention to detail in the creation of his rustic yet sleek (and amazingly affordable) wallets and belts. “I was… that kid who would make duct tape wallets in the seventh grade and sell them to his friends,” Cohen remembers. Eventually, he set out to make the perfect leather wallet; a wallet that was just big enough to fit everything he needed but nothing more. Beginning in his bedroom with some scissors and a pair of discarded leather shorts that he rescued from their bleak thrift-store fate, he eventually moved into his living room and finally to his own studio, a modest space carefully curated in accordance with his taste for the basic and pure. A weathered steel architect’s lamp casts warm light over the dye-stained wood of his leatherworking table, over which a Singer sewing machine, a relic of vintage Americana, presides. Various tools are arranged neatly above the table, held upright by a homemade leather strap. He keeps his sheets of leather in a beautiful old footlocker and his finished belts, hung from hooks high above his drafting table, cast long shadows on the white walls of the studio. The objects Cohen crafts are simple, functional, full of charm and integrity—the kind of objects one wears or carries for years on end until those objects almost become a part of them. “I get the most inspired when I see something that’s been carried for more than half of someone’s life,” he says thoughtfully, “Once you carry something for a little while, you establish a connection to it.”

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Can you tell me about how you started making your own leather goods?

MAXIMUM HENRY COHEN: I’ve been making leather goods for... let’s see, five years now. It started when I would make duct tape wallets in the seventh grade and sell them to friends, but I don’t really count that.

GRAHAM: I remember those!

COHEN: I was the kid who would sell them to his friends, I made a lot of them. I stopped when I got a little more interested in film, stop-motion animation, and claymation, and skateboarding and things like that... until I started high school, which was actually a reform school in Montana for two years. I learned how to sew there, I made some pants and things like that, but I also made teddy bears and things to send home to my family. That’s where I really started to feel a little more comfortable with a sewing machine, creating things and turning flat fabrics into objects that had character and life and substance. My first leather wallet was in the summer of 2008. A friend of mine’s girlfriend was planning on donating a pair of leather shorts to Beacon’s Closet but she gave them to me instead, I just cut them up to keep the leather. I couldn’t find a wallet that was simple enough and didn’t have an obtrusive logo in it and I was going through a phase of just not wanting to wear or carry anything with anyone else’s logo because I didn’t feel like it reflected my own character. The only wallets that I could find that didn’t have a logo on them were really high-end, and it felt a little silly to me that the cheaper wallets were the ones that were overdesigned and too big… They were also covered in logos, while the really expensive ones were very simple. That was the premise, kind of my mission statement for my first wallet, to make something that someone could carry that had room to be really broken in and age well.

GRAHAM: Did you make your first wallet for yourself or for someone else?

COHEN: I didn’t even know who it was for while I was making it, or what I was doing for that matter. I ended up giving away my first fifteen or so prototypes. I would carry it for a few days and if I liked it I would give it to a friend, then make myself a new one. I would do that with all different styles for a while. Sometimes I would make one and it would feel too big and clunky, or I would make one that would be too small, and couldn’t even fit money or a Metro card, so it would be pretty useless. Once I established the pattern that I still use today, I started taking it a little more seriously. The internal stitch was a big breakthrough for me. I realized that you could sew something inside out and then turn it outside in and the stitching would be on the inside, that way it won’t tear when you carry it through the years, because the stitches aren’t exposed. That was also exciting for me because I was still learning how to sew leather and I had to work around the fact that I couldn’t sew straight, the internal stitch hid my messy stitching until I learned how to control my sewing machine.

GRAHAM: When you started out, were you just making the wallets out of your home?

COHEN: Yeah, I was making them in my bedroom, with desk scissors, a box cutter and a ruler. There were leather scraps all over my rug, all over my desk, in my trash can, just everywhere, and it was really messy, but really fun and kind of... it felt really natural and homemade, because it was, entirely. In the beginning it was literally with things I found around the house, and I just figured things out as I went along. Then I moved into my living room and I had this little table, this really low table, and I was just hunched over it for what felt like five hours a day, just making all sorts of little things, little tobacco pouches, iPad cases, wallets, all sorts of stuff.

GRAHAM: So you’re from New York.

COHEN: Yeah. I was born on the Upper West Side, and then when I was nine my little brother was born and we moved up to Westchester County. I remember I had never really walked in grass without shoes on before, because I was a city kid, and the whole suburban thing was a big transition. It didn’t really fit that well, I didn’t really enjoy it very much and I missed the city a lot. I moved back at my first opportunity after graduating high school early. I was able to live in Harlem and to work for my dad’s company for a few months, then I started college, and I’ve been back ever since.

GRAHAM: Is there anything in particular that inspires you in your work?

COHEN: I get the most inspired when I see something that’s been carried for more than half of someone’s life. My grandpa’s possessions really amaze me, as well as a few pieces I’ve found at flea markets and garage sales, things that have stood the test of time. Not just because they haven’t fallen apart, but because they haven’t been thrown away. Once you carry something for a while, you establish a connection to it. I’ve always been intrigued by people’s wallets, I found it was an interesting way to connect to people, because most people have a very intimate connection with their wallets. Sometimes there’s kind of a strange story behind how they got it, or a happenstance kind of thing, like, “Oh, I got this because it was seven dollars at a garage sale in Missouri,” or something like that. And then they end up carrying that for fifteen or twenty years, and it transforms into a totally different object with different meanings. I found that a lot of people were just looking for something that was really simple, and there were so many brands that were over designing that I just wanted to make something that is simple and functional.

GRAHAM: It’s interesting, you carry a wallet every day, it’s just this one thing that’s always with you, it almost becomes a part of you.

COHEN: Yeah, and it wears in in different spots, depending on how many cards you have in it, or how much cash you carry, or if you hold on to receipts. It wears differently if you keep it in your front pocket or your back pocket, it’s very personal.

GRAHAM: How did you start making belts?

COHEN: It started with the first apprenticeship I did in the fall of 2010. I was working for a guy named Ryan Matthews, who is an oddities collector and leather smith. He collects taxidermy, old medical artifacts and some really beautiful antique lamps. He’s got the most incredible collection of weird stuff I’ve ever seen in my life. He used to do leatherwork for Polo and he would design belts for Double RL and Ralph Lauren vintage collection. He would make these Navajo recreation belts that would sell for something like fifteen thousand dollars at the Ralph Lauren store. He taught me how to dye and edge leather, how to attach buckles and to distress the leather to make belts that looked really old. My next apprenticeship was with this woman named Barbara Shaum, who is, I believe, 87 years old. She has a leather shop on East 4th street between 2nd and 3rd where she makes sandals and belts. It’s a really old-school business, and everything that’s made is made right there, either by her or by someone who works with her. There would be all these guys who would come in saying, “Hey Barbara, it’s time for me to get a new belt, it’s been forty years on this one,” and they would take off this decrepit, old, worn till the very end, belt… something that she had made in the 70s that had lasted 40 years. She taught me how to cut leather from the hide, how to mix dyes to get all different shades, how to attach buckles in a way that they’ll never fall off, and a bunch of other little tricks.

GRAHAM: You’re also interested in film, right?

COHEN: A little bit. My dad works in television and did throughout my entire upbringing, so I grew up visiting his production office on the upper west side all the time, and visiting his friends on sets in LA too. Most of my best friends now are people I met through the SVA film program. I’ve drifted in such a different direction from what they’re doing now, but because we have such different backgrounds, and we spend all day thinking about our specific crafts, we’re able to offer each other advice and insight from different standpoints. My friend Tom just started a production company called Yellow House Pictures, and they’re working on a lot of really cool, exciting projects. I feel like I’m been more in love with written stories than films specifically, just as a form of storytelling. I love reading and I love short stories... historical fiction is my favorite genre. If I were to get back into film I think it’d probably be from a writing standpoint. I dropped out of SVA after one year. I was really turned off because there were all these teenagers who had grown up in the suburbs and were so self-righteous and overly confident, myself included. [LAUGHS] I didn’t feel as though had enough life experience to be a story teller just yet, I was disgusted by how much money I was spending to not be taking school very seriously. I dropped out and started barbacking at a bar in Williamsburg called Hotel Delmano. I was working really hard mentally and physically, I would go home at the end of the day with some money in my pocket, feeling tired and good. It was really fun because while I was working I was also training to become a cocktail bartender. I was promoted to a bartender just after my 20th birthday. I’ve met more people through the bar industry in New York City than through any other social experience of my life. I was fortunate enough to work in three of the best bars in New York over a period of 4 years; Hotel Delmano (in Williamsburg), Elsa and Black Market (both in the East Village).

GRAHAM: All of those bars have a really cool worn-in, vintage-looking aesthetic that sort of matches yours.

COHEN: That’s not by accident. “Objects with character” is sort of a consistent theme... They were all built acknowledging things that have withstood the test of time. A few of the owners of Hotel Delmano are metal workers and furniture designers that make the most beautiful things. They have been and continue to be huge role models for me. I would constantly notice new details about the bar that I had never seen before, like, “Oh my god, I didn’t even see that little chandelier that’s hanging in that corner, or the way that they painted that pipe, how it’s a slightly different color than the wall, or how they distressed the whole room to simulate aging and water damage.” It takes you to a different place. Seeing the way those people have turned making beautiful things into their full-time living is so inspirational, because that’s really all I want to do, is make things that people admire and feel good about.

GRAHAM: You live in Williamsburg now. Having grown up in Manhattan, what’s your feeling about Brooklyn?

COHEN: I’m so happy to be here. It feels like home to me. I’ve made friends with so many people around the neighborhood, from the guy who makes my sandwiches at the deli to the shopkeepers at all of the cool little boutiques around here. I know the buildings so well, and walking down the street I almost always run into someone I know. It has a neighborhood feel that makes me really comfortable. There are so many inspirational small businesses. Sometimes on Sundays I set up a table and sell wallets on the street, which has helped me a lot to see absolute strangers’ gut reactions to what I’ve been working on. After you spend X amount of hours on something, you grow attached to it, almost the way a parent feels about a newborn baby. It takes you out of your bubble. It really helps me to see how differently people react. My products’ quality is a reflection of my level of craftsmanship, even looking at things that I made six months ago makes me shudder sometimes, because my work is constantly evolving.

GRAHAM: Going back to literature and writing, who are some of your favorite authors?

COHEN: I love George Saunders, Denis Johnson. I would say E.L. Doctorow is my favorite author, and Ragtime is my favorite book. It’s set at the turn of the century, and it covers both fictionally and non-fictionally what was going on during that time period, which is my favorite type of book. Before that, I read The Cider House Rules, which I really enjoyed, but my friends would make fun of me for it, ‘cause I guess it’s kind of a girly story. [LAUGHS] I also like some more spiritual pieces, Siddhartha is really beautiful and influential, about how one can live with absolutely nothing. The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran, has been a staple in my life. I wouldn’t consider myself religious in any way, shape or form, but I do try to stay in tune with my own integrity and karma, and that was a guiding light for me in my late teens. My ideal day would be cooking my own breakfast, riding my bicycle to the studio, working and making things all day, hopefully meeting with some clients who are really excited about the products I’m making, eating a delicious dinner at one of the amazing places in the neighborhood then going to bed to do it all over again the next day. That’s pretty much it.

GRAHAM: The books you named and even your ideal day all seem to go along with this theme of almost simple, Spartan existence—making things yourself and existing without all the “noise.”

COHEN: We’re living in the information era and there’s just so much everywhere, and it can be really overwhelming. To take a step outside of what’s going on and to look at what you connect with and why you connect with it... I don’t think you connect with things for the reasons you think you do right off the bat, there’s usually something underneath it. That’s what I strive for in my work, to make things that look upon first glance like something that’s almost normal, but then once you wear it and once it becomes a part of you, you fall in love with it. It has a much longer life span then something that is flashy and will end up falling apart one day.

GRAHAM: And the more you study one of your wallets, the more little details you notice.

COHEN: I tried to design them to be as simple as possible. I try to leave room for character to be developed, to just lay the foundation and then the rest is up to whoever wants to carry it. I have friends who have drawn on the insides of their wallets with Sharpies and things like that, and it’s the coolest thing because they’re taking something that I made and just transforming it into something that is theirs. I did start putting my brand on the on the inside of the wallets, but they are also available without them. I don’t want to throw my image in anyone’s face, you know, if they want it, they can have it and adapt it to their own style. The original concept for things without logos came from Hotel Delmano, which is really inspiring. They don’t even have a sign outside, they don’t have a business card, they don’t have coffee to go with their logo on the cup. There is no logo for Hotel Delmano. You can seek it out and go there, but you can’t take any of it out with you. That’s why people keep coming back, it’s because their product and experience stands on its own, not a commercial piece of branding. My favorite client is someone who has been referred by someone else who already has a piece and really appreciates it. I’d rather have those people tell their friends, or get them for their friends, instead of having advertising to bring in customers.

GRAHAM: So you don’t want your face on a park bench anytime soon? [LAUGHS]

COHEN: [LAUGHS] No, definitely not. That’s kind of the wrong idea... At least for right now.

GRAHAM: What’s your goal for the future?

COHEN: I’ve been in a developmental stage for a really long time, making different prototypes and styles and colors, and I would really like to go into production mode and be able to make ten times what I’ve been making in the past, and expand to make new products... eventually even a clothing line. For the time being, I’m just focusing on nailing down my craft and making some things that feel like they can be taken through anything. I’ve been working on some guitar straps and some small bags. I’m also looking for retail stores outside of New York to carry my pieces. I’d really like to see the wallets around the world, in France and London and Italy and Australia. It feels really local right now. I’ve already gotten them in pretty much all of my friend’s pockets, so I’d like to start moving on to other likeminded people that I don’t know just yet. I’m also really excited about a couple projects I’m working on with my friends that are using their skill sets and combining them with the things I’ve been working on. I just shot a look book with my friend Dave, and my friend Alex is putting it together in a little printed book that I can pass around to friends and shops around the world. Basically, this craft is so exciting for me because it’s given me the excuse to base a profession around the things that I like doing and the people I like interacting with. And to me, that’s what it’s all about—work that doesn’t feel like work. I look forward to coming to my studio in the morning, which is a sign of moving in the right direction.

GRAHAM: If you could be anywhere in the world right now other than New York, where would you be?

COHEN: There’s this lagoon in Jamaica called the Blue Lagoon, which is fresh water that comes from the center of the earth, so they say, and it tastes amazing. Swimming there is one of my ideas of paradise. It’s pretty easy to think about being other places when it’s wintertime in New York. [LAUGHS] But whenever I leave New York, I find myself missing it after just a few days. I guess it’s another implication that I’m going in the right direction, missing my home when I’m on vacation.

GRAHAM: Is there a way in which living in New York City and growing up here has inspired or affected your aesthetic?

COHEN: Most people that live in other parts of the world travel everywhere they go in a car that allows them to just throw things everywhere, and they have more space than they know what to do with. Living in New York City on a budget has taught me to be extremely compact and intentional about the things I carry with me, the things I keep in my home. A lot of people’s wallets are bigger than they need to be, because they’re carrying things that they don’t even remember they have in there. It’s essentially baggage from the past that’s unnecessary and weighs you down. Because my wallet design is smaller than the standard one, it almost forces people to downsize, to simplify their lives. There’s a lot of baggage that we just carry around with us out of habit. It’s pretty important to have a streamlined existence [in New York], because extra things just drag here, and that’s why I like the “no frills” design policy.

Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre. Visit the Maximum Henry website to view more. 

Preschool Tintoretto: An Interview With Adam Green

Adam Green is standing under the fluorescent pink glow of the Veniero’s Pasticceria sign on East 11th Street. Lanky, shaggy-haired and clad in olive green corduroy pants, a red paisley 70’s Western shirt and a somewhat ironically ostentatious two-toned fur coat to fend off the icy December air, he could almost pass as another twenty-something traipsing about the East Village—yet I immediately recognize him as the anti-folk wunderkind. Most know Green as one half of the Moldy Peaches, the quirky indie duo that achieved sleeper mainstream success via the Grammy-winning soundtrack of Diablo Cody’s Juno (2007). Green met Kimya Dawson, the other half of the Moldy Peaches, in the 90s in Mount Kisco, NY, where they both grew up. “She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar,” he recalls. At seventeen, Green moved from Westchester to Manhattan and began following the path of the New York troubadour, playing his guitar and singing on the street and in subway stations. “For a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube,” he laughs. Green has come a long way since then—between releasing seven solo albums in just eight years, exhibiting his paintings and drawings both in the U.S. and abroad, and releasing his first feature film, which was shot entirely on his iPhone—the “screwball tragedy” The Wrong Ferrari, which he wrote, directed, produced, and acted in (along with Macaulay Culkin, Devendra Banhart, BP Fallon, Alia Shawkat and Sky Ferreira. In just a few weeks, Green’s duet album with Binki Shapiro (of Little Joy) will be released. The album, which Green describes as “a nighttime album,” is sweetly melancholic, a fluid indie-pop mélange of the two singers’ styles.

Green, who describes himself as “basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons,” is pensive, focused and effervescent. As he talks, sipping peppermint tea and twisting the various silver rings on his fingers, he radiates enthusiasm and passion. He possesses an endearingly neurotic, Woody Allen-esque demeanor and an offbeat, deadpan sense of humor. He shows me a photo on his iPhone of the engagement ring he designed for his fiancée, using one of his own cartoonish color-block paintings as inspiration. Later on, at his covetable Gramercy Park studio, strewn with oil pastels, tubes of paint, guitars, books, records, paintings and playful set pieces from The Wrong Ferrari, he shows me a framed drawing that Pete Doherty did of him, using, of course, his own blood as ink. What’s next for the charmingly unpredictable Adam Green? Anything is possible. “My next venture is to make my own [film] version of Aladdin,” he says. I’m going to play Aladdin… I already have the lamp.”

ANNABEL GRAHAM: My first question is about 3 Men and a Baby.

ADAM GREEN: 3MB. [laughs]

GRAHAM: 3MB. Can you tell me a bit about that, how it started, what your most recent projects have been?

GREEN: Yeah. It was an extension of The Wrong Ferrari. I made this movie, The Wrong Ferrari, and it’s an iPhone movie, and it stars Macaulay Culkin. And Toby Goodshank, who I used to play in The Moldy Peaches with, he was the cameraman on The Wrong Ferrari, and he helped me to build the sets of the movie. So I guess me and him and Mac were working pretty closely at that time, and I think as an extension of that, we began to treat his house as an art studio. At first it was because some of the sets of The Wrong Ferrari were in his house—for example, in the corner of the room—and they would become like an installation, kind of. I remember we were shooting a scene from The Wrong Ferrari around the time of Halloween a couple of years ago, so the set from that scene sort of became a part of a Halloween party. And I think that he liked that, he liked the idea of having art in his house, and installations… so it grew from there. Mac does a party at Le Poisson Rouge called “Macaulay Culkin’s iPod,” so he has a relationship with that club. So they asked him if he’d like to do an art show, hearing that he was doing paintings, and he said that he would, and that became the reason why we did that show. Because they asked him to. I think it’s kind of funny, I guess almost in a way… you know, people would do lots of stuff, but it’s just that no one ever asked them to.

GRAHAM: So you’ve been painting for a while.

GREEN: I was always really interested in art history. When I was young, I read art history books. Even when I only did music, I would still continue to read art history, and I was a frequenter of museums and exhibits. But for some reason I just hadn’t really had the confidence to make my own artwork. It was actually a weird situation where I got divorced, and I returned back to my old house and found a huge stack of paper, and so I started to paint on the paper, and I kind of made the house really messy, I think I wanted to… mess up the house, and make it my own again, or something… so I think that’s how I started doing artwork. I’d always sort of done drawings, I’d even had an exhibit of drawings at a Swedish gallery called Loyal, back in 2005. Also, I guess I could say when I was a kid I did comic books; I was interested in comic book art and cartoons.

GRAHAM: Your prints are reminiscent of comic book imagery.

GREEN: I was interested in it, but I started to take it more seriously, and I think definitely making a movie, which was largely… the sets were made out of papier mâché, and they were sort of my own visual aesthetic… I think that was my introduction to really doing visual art, and then I guess I really concentrated on it for a few years, probably the last three years, I did mostly visual art, except I did the duets album with Binki [Shapiro]. But besides that, I mostly painted. I made so many paintings… I had three art shows.

GRAHAM: Making music, making films, painting… do you feel that you get something different from each of those forms of expression?

GREEN: I like painting because I almost attribute it to having a social element… I like to just listen to music and hang out with friends and paint at the same time. I like that I can sort of zone out and do it. I think painting, for me, is in the category of something I’ve been doing the longest. I’ve probably been drawing pictures since I was five or something, so I feel really comfortable… it’s relaxing to me. But I guess I was looking for a way to connect all of those different things. I’m obviously always looking for a way to paint the way that my songs are, to sing how my paintings are… I want to all sound like part of the same universe, and I think The Wrong Ferrari was a good attempt to fuse those worlds. It’s written in a half-poetic style, almost like song lyrics, and the script is much in the same pool of writing that I’d write my songs out of. The difference is that songwriting for me is special, because it’s very soothing for me. It’s almost like a meditation, I can kind of walk around and… I just sort of, I guess maybe at my core I think of myself as a singing man, maybe like if there was a circus attraction, or something, I’d be the “singing man” in the tent. I guess I grew up wanting to be a folk singer, and now that I have so many different songs… this is my ninth album, so I guess I’m more of a folk singer now than I was when I was a kid, and I was just thinking of it more as just a style or something. I do think that my songs are kind of like cartoons. I also feel like maybe my artwork is a little bit like a preschool Tintoretto. [laughs]

GRAHAM: A preschool Tintoretto. That’s great.

GREEN: I guess ultimately you just look for fulfillment in any creative area. My next venture is to make a film, my own version of Aladdin. I’m going to play Aladdin. In doing that I think I can write the music and combine my music with the film.

GRAHAM: Would you shoot it yourself as well?

GREEN: I don’t know if I’d shoot it, but I want to direct it, I want to have it look like my paintings, to have my music in it… it’s a cool chance, to have the wishes and stuff. I already have the lamp, so…

GRAHAM: Oh, wow. Where’d you get it?

GREEN: Antique store.

GRAHAM: Have you tried rubbing it?

GREEN: I haven’t rubbed it in a while. [pause] So, the unifying theory of art, music, writing… I think I’m pretty close to being able to do it. Sometimes I think when I’m at my best is when I’m tracing exactly what’s in my head and just making it real. I feel like there’s a world inside of me and I’m just pushing it out through my skin. So I’m taking an inside world and pushing it into the outside. And that’s a good feeling.

GRAHAM: Where can we see The Wrong Ferrari?

GREEN: It was released in a weird way. I wanted it to come out with a bang, and I guess I wasn’t even really sure about the protocol of how to release a film, because my background is in music… and I thought it’d be cool to do it over the internet, and to release it as a free movie. Even though it’s really long, it’s 72 minutes, so it’s a feature-length film. I decided to have the premiere at Anthology Film Archives on 2nd and 2nd, and I decided to release it on the internet the following morning. So I got to have the premiere, and then they released it to the whole world at the same time. And that actually worked pretty well, I think the movie got 300,000 downloads in entirety, which is really cool. So actually a lot of people have that file of The Wrong Ferrari. At the time it was up on thewrongferrari.com, but I took it down because it was really expensive to host it, and now if you go to the film section of my website, there’s a link to download it. You can stream it. But anyway, as it was, the movie got… I don’t know how I feel about the way it was released. I went to Italy and did a screening of it, and I played it in Mexico City, and I played it in LA. But aside from that, I didn’t get to do as much traveling as I wanted to do to promote it. Because of the method that I chose to release it, it was ineligible for any film festivals. So basically, I released it, and a bunch of people downloaded it, and that’s what it is. My intention wasn’t to make it an internet movie at all. I didn’t want people to watch it on their computers, I want people to put it on their TVs and watch it in groups, or to watch it in a movie theater. I think it’s an unnerving and tense movie that I think is interesting to watch in groups. The plot is… we take Ketamine and turn into pets… and I think that’s well-suited for a midnight movie demographic. On a broader spectrum… I really thought that the whole point of the movie was that, you know… the movies we see in movie theaters, like romantic comedies, are so old-fashioned. I thought that all movies in the future would be things that people would make on their phones. I’m surprised that now we go and there’s a new 40-Year-Old-Virgin type movie in the theaters right now. I thought that was over… I don’t understand why the world always stays the same. Have you ever had a friend who was in a bad relationship, but they stay in it for like five years? That’s like our culture with movies.

GRAHAM: So you grew up in New York?

GREEN: I grew up in Mount Kisco, which is a small town about an hour away, in Westchester. It was nice. My parents lived in the city and they moved to Westchester to raise kids, which I think is really noble. I think it’s really good to grow up around trees, parks, fields, fresh air… I think that’s nice. I just got in an argument with this lady who was like “It’s perfectly great to raise kids in Manhattan.” I was like, “Yeah, you’re saying that ‘cause you have some nanny or something…” I think my parents made the right decision, they were pretty selfless in doing that. I think my parents were pretty good. I’ve got a high opinion of them.

GRAHAM: When did you move to Manhattan?

GREEN: Well, my parents moved back when my brother and I grew up. When I was about seventeen, they moved back here, and I just kind of started wandering around. I became a folk singer.

GRAHAM: Did you ever play in the subway?

GREEN: Definitely. I played in the subway, on the N R train, on the 8th Street stop, quite often. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with Turner Cody, who’s a really great singer. We would alternate. I also played on the street. I guess for a time I almost became one of the kids that’s just sort of like at Astor Place near the cube. For a little while I was kind of a cube kid. But then I also found my way to the Sidewalk Café, which is a folk club, and I started performing there. I think I was a decent subway singer, and I played mostly original material… I think that was cool. I don’t know why, when I get on the train, I don’t see as many people doing it. Maybe they’ve cracked down or something. I definitely think I wrote some pretty barbed lyrics to get the attention of people walking by. It was cool, because I met the local peers of mine in the subway… they were my first friends.

GRAHAM: Is that when you realized you wanted to make music a career?

GREEN: I really, really didn’t want to work at McDonald’s or something, and I didn’t have any training to do anything but fine arts, so I knew I had to do music or something like that… and I guess I got cracking really young, I was just everywhere. I was always on the street, and I always had a bunch of CDs and flyers, I was just on a mission. Maybe also because I think my parents didn’t really want me to be a singer, so that helped to motivate me. I feel like for years, my dad really couldn’t look me in the eye because he thought I was delusional.

GRAHAM: Doesn’t it feel good now to prove him wrong?

GREEN: Sometimes, and then sometimes I feel like they were right. [laughs]

GRAHAM: How did your first album come about?

GREEN: Well, I recorded a set of songs around the same time as The Moldy Peaches album came out. The Moldy Peaches is a collection of different home recordings that are mashed up together. I think the main difference between my first album and The Moldy Peaches is that it’s just songs that Kimya [Dawson] didn’t sing on. I think I’d probably offered or showed

GRAHAM: How did you and Kimya Dawson meet?

GREEN: She’s from Mount Kisco… from a neighboring town, Bedford Hills. She worked at the record store, and I worked at the pizzeria, so I would come to her on lunch break and I’d bring my guitar. I met her at a poetry reading at the art center in Mount Kisco. She’s a lot older than me, and I think at the time everyone thought we were really an odd couple. She was like 21 and I was like 14… She’d come over to my house, and my parents would think, like, “Who’s your older friend…?” But that seems to be in keeping with me. I’ve always been friends with whoever I thought to be friends with, and I never really cared if people thought they were the “right” friends that I should have.

GRAHAM: Can you tell me about your collaboration with Binki Shapiro? Your album’s going to be released next month, right?

GREEN: It was my idea to make a duets album with her, just because I thought she was really talented, and I really liked listening to her sing. I thought it’d be fun to try to write with her, and work with her, and we’d known each other as friends for a bunch of years. I’d toured with Little Joy in Brazil; I was a supporting act. Little Joy is really popular in Brazil. I think [Binki and I] had kind of bonded on that tour, and then a couple of years later the idea popped into my head… it wasn’t like there were a bunch of other people I wanted to work with, she was really my first choice. So I just went with it. I think I also wanted to write with somebody because I’d just done something like six or seven solo albums that followed The Moldy Peaches. That’s like a decade of having no one ever give their opinion about anything I did artistically. So it was pretty fun to work with her creatively, because I hadn’t let anyone in for a long time. GRAHAM: I read about it being a breakup album of sorts… can you elaborate?

GREEN: I definitely think it’s a nighttime album. I would encourage people to get the vinyl and listen to it like that. It’s far from a collection of pop singles, it’s much more of an album –album. It’s not very long, only about ten songs. I think in my head I can sort of piece together a narrative about a dysfunctional relationship inside of the track listing. The track listing was one thing that Binki and I really agreed on, so we must see some sort of picture of the album as a whole that we share. But I don’t know, we both were going through different kinds of weird relationship stuff during the writing of the album. I think when we both started writing, she just came over to my house… we drank a bottle of wine, we were writing a bit, we went out and got Chinese food… maybe it was our third writing session that we started to realize that we were in some really messed up relationships. We didn’t even really talk about it, but during the course of writing the record, we found that our relationships fell apart. So we were using each other as confidantes in the writing process, and it was great to be making these composite situations, sort of Frankenstein-ing together different things… also putting ourselves in the head space of each other, so that we could know or at least propose things for each other to sing, which was interesting, and I liked the result of it. We did a lot of articles and interviews on it, and really now we’re just waiting for it to come out. I just feel like… are the people that are reading the article ever going to hear the thing? So that’ll be cool, when it comes out. I feel like it’s a bit like Groundhog Day, it’s like every day of the year I wake up and think, “Oh, this album’s not out yet?” It’s been pushed back quite a bit. We recorded it without knowing what was going to happen, we just made it to make it. And then we both had to change management during the course of it, so it slowed everything down, which was kind of annoying. But I’m really proud of it, and excited for everyone to hear it. And honestly, people have been so kind about it. I think most of my things have a punk element to them that is distasteful to many… People brush off a lot of my stuff immediately, but people seem to be acting kinder about this album. Maybe they’re able to hear it because they think I’m not trying to be a punk about it. I guess my natural inclination’s always been to punish the world until they learn to love me for who I am.

GRAHAM: Do you think you’ll stay in New York forever?

GREEN: I’m certainly not tempted to spend any more time in LA if I can help it. When I was there, I found myself to be really isolated, because I don’t drive, so I was kind of at the mercy of anyone who had a car. I think I’ll probably stay here, but you know, you have fantasies, touring around… But this is how I know that they’re fantasies, essentially that whenever you tour anywhere vaguely vacation-y, like Italy or Spain or something, I think to myself, “Oh, it’d be so nice to live here,” but I probably need the hustle and bustle of New York to feel good. I spend almost every weekend at the Met, or somewhere, and it would be really disappointing for me to not have access to the things in New York that I like. It’s also the only place I know how to get around. I don’t have a good sense of direction, and I’m actually starting to feel confident that I know how to get around everywhere in Manhattan.

GRAHAM: What inspires you?

GREEN: Probably the same things that inspire everybody… definitely love, sex, anything romantic… seeing visual art, anyone that’s interested in analysis, I love critical thinking. I hate when people are like, “Oh, you’re overthinking that,” that’s the worst thing you could say to me. I love when someone wants to go straight in, really deep on something. In art, I love when something’s so mind-blowing that you don’t even have to question how amazing it is. Something like Alejandro Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain.” I really, really like him. When you see something that is unquestionably so amazing. I think I’m basically an adult who likes to draw with crayons, I guess I’ve accepted that I’m sort of charmingly a man-child. I think I’m basically a naughty boy who’s grown into a man.

GRAHAM: Who are some of your favorite artists and musicians?

GREEN: I like visual artists like Georges Rouault and Erich Heckel. I like Jodorowsky a lot. I like that new Dirty Projectors album, Swing Lo Magellan. I’ve been listening to that a lot. I’ve been listening to George Jones, Nick Cave… I really like that album Let Love In, I’ve been listening to that a lot lately. Shirley Collins, just because I think she has a really natural voice, I love that album Oar by Skip Spence. Eddie Martinez… and George Condo.

You can purchase limited edition artwork prints by Adam Green by going to Exhibition A. Adam Green and Binki Shapiro's album will be officially available on January 29, but you can preorder here. All photos and text by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre

An Interview With Christian Bland from The Black Angels

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Spectrum

The sprawling, dilapidated Seaholm Power Plant on the southwestern edge of downtown Austin, Texas is an ideal venue for a haunted house—or, incidentally, for the purpose it served on the weekend of April 29th; the creation of a dark, otherworldly atmosphere to celebrate the current resurgence of psychedelic music and commemorate its Southern roots. The vast cement edifice, its original purpose defunct since 1986, now serves as a occasional venue for performances, festivals and other events, resting dormant for the remainder of the year. For this year’s Austin Psych Fest, the Seaholm plant housed two stages, a sweeping bar, a band merchandise area, several local vintage clothing and record-vending stands, an outdoor food court where one could procure face paint, henna tattoos, feather jewelry or a massage, countless mazelike passageways leading to various vacant, roped-off chambers and a private upstairs area decorated with giant dream-catchers, draped string lights, communal hookah pipes, plush fur rugs and sunken couches for artists, their guests and members of the press to unwind in.

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Upon entry, we descended into a hypnotic, cavelike haze of smoke, fog and ethereal technicolor lights. The immense, dimly-lit industrial space was interspersed with mind-expanding, optical-illusion-inducing installation art pieces by Austin-based contemporary artist Jeremy Earhart (a collection of moving images projected onto a “wall” of moving mist, several arrangements of meticulously carved, seemingly undulating mirrors and transparent, fluorescent-colored acrylic and plexiglass lit with strobe lights). Over the course of the three-day festival, we met some fascinating characters and listened to an array of incredible music performed by an eclectic mélange of bands hailing from all over the country—ranging from Roky Erickson, one of the founding members of original 1960’s psychedelic band 13th Floor Elevators, to cult experimental Spacemen 3-offshoot Spectrum, to sugar-coated electronic psych-pop-synth group Black Moth Super Rainbow, to breakout neo-psych bands such as Crocodiles and The Soft Moon.

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The Black Angels

Christian Bland, lead guitarist for Austin-based headlining band The Black Angels, founding member of the Reverberation Appreciation Society and creator of psychedelic art & design collective Bland Design, was able to answer a few questions for us about his fourth year curating and participating in the burgeoning festival.

ANNABEL GRAHAM: The Black Angels curated Psych Fest. It seems like you guys had a significant impact on the aesthetics of the festival. Can you tell me a little bit about your involvement? What was your experience in curating the show this year and in forming such an environment for your music?

CHRISTIAN BLAND: We started the festival in 2008. After touring the US, Canada, Europe and the UK since 2005, we've met hundreds of like-minded bands. We figured what better place to bring all our friends’ bands to town for a psychedelic weekend than the place where psychedelic rock was born. The first 3 years I did most of the booking, but this past year we've been so busy touring that Rob Fitzpatrick (one of 4 members of the Reverberation Appreciation Society) did 90% of the booking for APF 4.

GRAHAM: As demonstrated by the festival, the genre of psych-rock is undergoing a major reemergence. Psych Fest is one of the only modern-day festivals dedicated purely to the genre of psychedelic music. What are your views on the manner in which the genre is reemerging in relation to its past (similarities/ differences)? What are your predictions on the future of the genre?

BLAND: It seems like psych rock is gaining more popularity than it has since the late 60's. Hopefully it'll take over the radio waves; then we can start the revolution. I honestly don't think the masses are ready for psych rock to hit the mainstream. It almost seems psychedelic rock is meant to live underground. Maybe one day it'll boil over and take over the world, but I think it'll take a re-awakening of some sort.

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Crystal Stilts

GRAHAM: How did this year’s Psych Fest compare to previous years? It’s definitely grown in size and notoriety since its founding in 2008.

BLAND: This was the biggest year yet. Every year it’s grown more and more. It seems to be a testament to the rising popularity of modern psych rock.

GRAHAM: I’d love to know a bit more about your solo endeavor, Christian Bland and The Revelators. How is that developing, and how is it different from your work with The Black Angels? What new avenues or directions has it allowed you as an individual musician?

BLAND: If the Black Angels could put out and album every year, then I probably wouldn't have a side project. It's really an outlet for me to put out as much music as I possibly can. I'm constantly writing new songs, so I need different avenues to release my music other than The Black Angels. I've got another project called The UFO Club with Lee Blackwell from The Night Beats as well.

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GRAHAM: The city of Austin has a rich history in the realm of psychedelic rock. In your opinion, in what ways is Austin a prime environment for the reemergence of the genre? Do you think that Psych Fest’s location has contributed to its success?

BLAND: Yes, for sure. It’s the reason we have Psych Fest in Austin, and the reason The Black Angels started there. We owe it all to the 13th Floor Elevators.

GRAHAM: I’m sure you’re still cooling off from this year’s Psych Fest, but any ideas brewing for next year?

BLAND: The 5th anniversary’s gonna be the best year yet. Hopefully we can get all the bands we've wanted over the past 5 years, but haven't been able to get.... Clinic, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, The Zombies...

Text byAnnabel Graham

Color photography by Annabel Graham

Black and White photography by Sebastian Spader

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Patti Astor: Queen of the New York Underground

“New York is the only place where a girl can graduate from the Scarlett O’Hara School of Business and build an art empire held together with Aqua-Net,” Patti Astor told New York Magazine in 1983, at the height of her reign as “Queen of the Downtown Scene” and co-founder of the legendary FUN Gallery. Astor, who René Ricard famously called “the first natural blonde in town since Edie Sedwick,” has succeeded in doing just that. The Manhattan it-girl, underground film star, and groundbreaking curator tells all in her memoir, FUN Gallery… The True Story

“We did it, motherfuckers!” the diminutive Astor, clad in shocking pink, cried gleefully at her October 6th book launch party at Clic Gallery in Soho, pulling guests Lee Quinones and Charles Ahearn into a tight embrace. FUN Gallery began in 1981, when Bill Stelling approached Astor at an art opening and barbecue being held at her “hideous 65-dollar-a-month apartment” on East 3rd Street (attendees included Keith Haring, Jeffrey Deitch, Futura—who was painting a mural on Astor’s wall, and Kenny Scharf—who busied himself customizing Astor’s kitchen appliances with “cowboy and army figures and glitter”). Stelling had an East Village space that he wanted to transform into a gallery—and social butterfly Astor knew artists (did she ever!). FUN became the first gallery to give important solo shows to Scharf, Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Thanks to the ever-bubbly and vivacious Patti Astor, the gallery brought widespread recognition to graffiti as an art form, showcasing work by emerging street artists such as Fab 5 Freddy, Futura, Zephyr, Dondi, Cey One, Jane Dickson and SHARP. In her memoir, Astor gives us an exclusive look at the glory days of FUN—that short-lived, magnificent, ever-transforming hodgepodge of glamour, sleaze, hip-hop, disco, punk, paint, glitter, knives, garbage cans and two-dollar beers—with the effervescent, unmatched spirit of adventure that made it all possible.

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Can you tell me a bit about how FUN Gallery started?

PATTI ASTOR: What I describe in my book is the path that led me to the opening of the FUN Gallery. I moved to the East Village in ’75 and when I first moved over there, all my friends said, “Oh my god, we’re never going to visit you, it’s too dangerous… See you!” And that wasn’t true at all. CBGB’s was the local bar, and Blondie and Talking Heads were the house bands. So we would go there every night… and this period, which covered from maybe ’75 to ’77, ’78… was sort of the punk rock band, the music period… and the film director who I went on to make two feature movies with, with Debbie Harry as a co-star, was Amos Poe. I met him at CBGB’s, and he had done this movie called Blank Generation, which documents CBGB’s. It’s a great movie to look at… if it was sync-sound, it’d be worth like 20 million dollars, but it’s not… but it shows the bands at CBGB’s. So I met all of those guys, and I was very young, about 25 or 26… drinking the two-dollar beers, and that was when I acted in my first feature. And so the next thing that came along after the bands was the underground film scene. Jim Jarmusch is probably the most successful person that came out of that period. Over the next two years, I would make over fourteen beyond-low-budget movies. In Rome ‘78, we’re all running around in togas… We shot Snakewoman entirely on location in Central Park, for five hundred dollars… it’s our homage to the 40’s jungle movies. So everybody was just doing these wild, creative things. What happened though, which is interesting, is that a lot of Underground U.S.A., which was probably my best role, the sort of Sunset Boulevard punk rock version, was shot in the Mudd Club. We couldn’t afford to rent the Mudd Club, so we just shot while it was open, but it’s a fascinating look at the club. Later on, when I did Wild Style, which is the ultimate hip-hop movie, it was the same thing—we were so broke that we just shot in the midst of it. So you get the real scene. All that existed—you’re not going to get some scripted thing. That came later. So I met Fab 5 Freddy…

GRAHAM: How did you meet him?

ASTOR: It’s a good story! It’s actually the pivotal story—this story is what I start the book with, because I just happen to be very lucky. I’m adventurous, so that helps. But I really think that our meeting was so pivotal. I told you about Underground U.S.A., which was playing at St. Mark’s Cinema—which now has turned into a GAP. But at the time it was the hip movie theater, and Underground U.S.A. was running as the midnight movie there for about six months. This is the end of 1980, and no one downtown had heard of rap music, break dancing or graffiti art. It did not exist. We had no idea it was going on. It was all going on in the South Bronx and in Brooklyn. Fab had dragged Futura and a couple of other guys down to see the movie. So the next day, I think it was… I was really hung over, I remember… Duncan Smith, who was a poet-philosopher, was having a big party at his loft for the 100th birthday of Stéphane Mallarmé, the poet. He was serving vodka and cucumber sandwiches. So we’re there, and I see this black guy… which was not that usual on the scene… with the porkpie hat and the shades and everything, and I’m like, “Woah, who’s that?” And of course, everyone was too cool to introduce us. It was a birthday party, so Fred took a little paper plate and he walked up to me and said, “Patti Astor, you’re my favorite movie star. Can I have your autograph?” And I said, “Oh, yeah, of course! You must be my new best friend.” And of course, that’s what he was, and that’s how it really all started. Fred said that I was “down by law.” That’s like the beyond-silver-platinum-American Express card in hip-hop. That means, like, Patti A. is cool. So that meant everybody would talk to me and everything. I got to know all of the guys, and this was when the clubs were all really big, and I was going into Peppermint Lounge. So now the uptown guys are starting to come downtown, they want to go to the clubs and everything. So Futura and Dondi and Zephyr were outside the Peppermint Lounge, in line waiting to get in, and they were like, “Hey Patti!” And I’m like, “Yo guys, what’s up? Come in with me!” Because I always went into the door, and, you know, as soon as they found out that with me they could get into any club in town, I was like double “down by law.” So then what happened was that Futura offered to give me a painting, because that was something that they would do.

By this time, I realized that it was cooler to have a mural, because a mural could not be bought or sold. So I was living in this hideous dump, a sixty-five-dollar-a-month apartment on East 3rd Street, across from the man shelter, which was… we called them “bums” then, but it was like a homeless shelter. It was an awful apartment, but everyone lived on that street. Eric Mitchell, John Lurie… all the stars. I always call it the Street of the Stars. So I said, “Listen, why don’t you just come over and do a mural on my wall in the morning, and in the afternoon we’ll all have an art opening and barbecue! It’s gonna be great!” And so Kenny Scharf also offered to join in, because… and this is what’s so fascinating, I don’t think it happens anymore—that we would just do something. We wouldn’t worry about, “Are we going to make money? How much is this going to cost? Is it going to be organized?” You know, we’d just do it. So Futura and Kenny did their art. Kenny was customizing my appliances… he took my blender and decorated it with paint markers, and glued all these little cowboy and army figures, and glitter and whatever… and then your appliance would be customized. He did that, I made potato salad and ribs, Futura was painting… and then in the afternoon we had the art opening and barbecue. So we’re all there, we’re drinking the two-dollar beers, and Keith Haring is looking out the window and he goes, “Oh shit!” So we all rush to the window, and we see Jeffrey Deitch, who’s one of the biggest figures in art—and was then, too, because he was the art buyer for Citibank—getting out of a cab with Diego Cortez. Even the bums—the bums would all come out when we had parties, they would sit on all the garbage cans outside and listen to the music—they were so impressed that they didn’t even bother to panhandle. So we were all like, “Jeffrey Deitch is coming to this little downtown party… There’s something going on here.” However, that had nothing to do with starting the FUN Gallery. At this point, I needed to get all these guys and all these beer bottles out of my apartment. So my partner Bill Stelling came up to me and said, “I have this little space that I want to fix up and make into a gallery, do you know any artists?” And I said, “Yes, I do.” People always ask me how we got started… we just started. It wasn’t even a graffiti artist at first, it was my ex-husband, Stephen Kramer. We had twenty colored pencil drawings—he was a genius, they were beautiful—he cut them out himself, and we were so broke that we couldn’t frame them, so we shrink-wrapped them like albums. We put them up and sold everything the same day; we made a thousand bucks.

GRAHAM: How do you think the gallery scene has changed nowadays? Had it been a different era, would the FUN Gallery have happened, or was it a product of the times?

ASTOR: You know, I don’t think it’d be possible today. When I did the LACMA show last year, “Art in the Streets,” I had a room that was the FUN Gallery original crew, the people who made the gallery what it was. Those were the men—and one woman—who had one-person shows in the FUN Gallery. I’m looking around now, and over half of those artists are gone. I’m here to make sure that they’re taken care of, that their reputations and their artwork are given the respect they deserve. I’m seeing a younger generation—but I think it’s so difficult now, and I don’t think people really have that spirit of adventure anymore. People are saying, “Patti, bring it back! Bring the FUN Gallery back!” What I really need to bring back is that spirit of adventure—because without that, it’s never going to happen. So find it within yourself. You can make a difference.

You can find Patti Astor's book FUN Gallery… The True Story at Clic Gallery & Bookstore, 255 Centre Street, New York, NY or online. Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre

Chanteuse Fatale: An Interview with Sophie Auster

Singer-songwriter Sophie Auster got her start at the age of eight, when a teacher spotted her potential, singled her “shaking little voice” out and gave her a solo in the school choir. At just sixteen years old, she had already collaborated on a record with musical duo One Ring Zero (using English translations of French surrealist poems and other famous literary works as lyrics) that was picked up and released in Europe. After that, it seemed, the writing was on the walls. Auster’s first full-length solo album, Red Weather, which she produced herself, is slated for released later this summer—the title pays homage to a Wallace Stevens piece, giving a nod to Auster’s literary upbringing (her parents are celebrated writers Paul Auster and Siri Hustvedt). Though she has, inevitably, been dubbed an “It Girl,” the Brooklyn native (“I lived in Brooklyn when no one lived in Brooklyn, and I moved out of Brooklyn when everyone moved in,” she laughs) is not your typical 24-year-old singer/actress. Auster’s demeanor is gentle, poised, thoughtful, warm and quirky. Her TriBeCa apartment is filled with the trappings of an intellectual aesthete: books, paintings, photographs, guitars. She is well-spoken and well-read; a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied a mixture of philosophy and art history.

Auster’s stage presence is commanding, even disarming— she engages fully and passionately with her audience, baring her soul through a powerful physicality: Piaf-esque hand gestures, the soulful eyes and voice that have (not surprisingly) garnered comparisons to the likes of Fiona Apple and Dusty Springfield. Wary of being perceived as “too soft, strumming the guitar, dandelions in my hair and that sort of thing,” Auster explains that she gravitates towards grittiness and eclecticism in her music. She cites Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Antony & The Johnsons as some of her favorite lyricists; Nina Simone, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald as inspirational female vocalists; dreams and emotional states as sources of artistic fuel. It’s hard to believe that the steady, husky croon she has cultivated was once that “shaking little voice.” Auster’s hopes for the future? Just “to keep going.”

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Can you tell me a bit about your first experiences with singing and songwriting? How did you start out and how did you realize it was something you wanted to make a career out of?

SOPHIE AUSTER: Well, I started singing when I was eight years old in my school choir. I was always a kind of rambunctious kid, and I was always pretty creative, but when I was in my really early life, I thought I was going to be a painter or an illustrator or something like that; that’s kind of what I was gravitating towards. And then I really think that this one teacher helped me realize that I had this passion for performing. She singled me out and gave me a solo in the school choir when I was eight. I still have a recording of it, it’s like this… shaking, shaking little voice that… you can tell that there’s something there, but it’s quivering! [LAUGHS]

GRAHAM: Because you were nervous?

AUSTER: So nervous! I thought I was going to die. I had never sung in front of anyone before; that was really my first foray into it. So [the teacher] told my parents that I should start doing music, start taking voice lessons and all this stuff. It really started then, but then I didn’t really know that I was going to be a singer-songwriter until much later. So I collaborated on a record when I was sixteen, and I would record during the weekends and my summer holidays, and that record got… through a family friend, the record got picked up and released in Europe, just accidentally. It was very lucky, and kind of before the record business turned. I think it was then that I started realizing that I could really do this as a professional thing. And I think that record, because I was only collaborating to some degree on that, so I wasn’t writing everything myself, and I wasn’t… I didn’t collaborate on the music, so I just stepped in as a singer and contributed lyrics and that kind of stuff. So that kind of pushed me into trying to find what kind of sound I wanted to make on my own, and I think after that experience, that was when I started taking it very seriously. So I guess around my late teens, seventeen, eighteen, was when I decided what I wanted to do. I always knew since I was a kid that I wanted to do something in that area, in the arts, but I didn’t know… if I had Broadway aspirations, if I was going to sing and act and combine everything together… so I didn’t figure out that I was going to be a singer-songwriter, until a bit later.

GRAHAM: And you started writing your own songs around your late teens?

AUSTER: Yeah. I had always written poetry and kept a journal, so I was always writing and penning things of my own, but then composing music and playing and putting it all together came a little bit later.

GRAHAM: Can you describe your musical aesthetic and style? Influences?

AUSTER: I think that when I was a kid, I really gravitated towards female torch singers, and this is what I really liked. Even the video [for “Run, Run, Run”], I think there’s some of that, bringing it back. So I really liked Roberta Flack and Nina Simone and Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald when I was growing up, and I sang a lot of Gershwin when I was younger. So I think these things kind of influenced me, and it’s the base of a lot of things that I do, but then obviously it’s developed, when I started branching out and listening to different types of music. As songwriters, I really like Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen… Antony & the Johnsons is someone I really like… so my style would be kind of… it’s definitely eclectic, if you hear the mini-record I just made, Red Weather, there are a lot of different influences on it. I think that I gravitate towards something that’s a little bit more gritty, so I always had this fear that I would be too… because I had a “pretty” voice, that it would automatically put me in this category that I didn’t want to be in… Feminine, too soft, strumming the guitar, dandelions in my hair and that kind of thing. So I think I always wanted to get some kind of dirty thing in the music. I wanted my voice to contrast some of the musicality of the songs. I mean, there are actually literally trash cans on one of the songs. So there’s that kind of contrast that I like. I think it’s always developing. I do think that I’ve found where I feel comfortable, and I don’t feel like I’m all over the place anymore. I was writing all these different kinds of songs and they were in such different genres that it was a little like, “Who am I? What am I doing?” But I think it’s come more into focus now.

GRAHAM: How has it been working on your new album, Red Weather? Can you tell us a bit about it?

AUSTER: It was very difficult, I have to say. It was a lot of fun, the experience was very empowering… but you know, there were just hours and hours spent in the studio trying to figure out what I wanted, what kind of sounds I wanted. I produced it myself, which I’ve never… I’ve never done anything like that before, so I was really there alone in the studio with the musicians and the engineer, and then also stepping in and doing the vocals and listening back. Your ears get so much better after a while that you start hearing things that you weren’t hearing before. So it was a great experience. Would I want to self-produce again? Yes, but maybe not the next step. I would probably like to work with someone next time around, and then go back. I do feel like it taught me so much that I can now, if I do work with someone maybe more established, or who’s been doing this for many years, at least now I can have an in-depth conversation with that person, so I’m not just coming in completely naïve. It’s a whole different ballgame once you get in the studio. It’s one thing to write a song, and then to produce it, make it come out, all the things that you’ve envisioned in your head, to actually put that together is a totally different game. I’m really happy that I did it, and even more happy that I’ve gotten something that I was happy with. That was the main thing. But there was a lot of trial and error, and just figuring out what I wanted. I would go and listen to songs that I really liked and try to pick apart why I liked them, what instruments, what’s going on in the track, so that I could use that as some kind of inspiration.

GRAHAM: You’re also an actress. Do you feel that acting provides a different sort of creative outlet than singing? What do you get from each?

AUSTER: Yeah. I think that for me, my main focus is on music, just because I feel like I have so much more creative control than I do when I’m acting. But I love acting, I love the kind of communal thing that goes on, and these little families that are formed within a set, or a play, and I’ve always really liked being part of a group. I think it’s probably because I was teased as an adolescent, so I love being a part of things, so I always gravitated towards being a part of a little clan, a little theatre clan, or something like that. When you’re working with really great people, it can be a completely different kind of experience. I think for me, like music, I get a lot of catharsis out of what I’m doing, so I channel something that’s going on in my life into the creative thing… I think they’re similar in one way, but I do think that some of the obsessive control I have over my music… it’s kind of nice to relinquish that control when I’m working with other people in an acting atmosphere, because I have to trust the director and then I can just kind of do what I think I should be doing. It’s kind of nice not to be the director of everybody, telling people what to do, also making my music and all this stuff… so as much as I like that, I also kind of like just being an actor in something too.

GRAHAM: How do you feel about the creative atmosphere in New York?

AUSTER: I’ve been lucky enough to travel a bit recently, and I always feel like it’s great to get away from New York, but it’s so good to come back. It’s this funny thing, because New York is so alive and there are so many different things going on that, you know, at any given moment, someone will be performing or having an art show… you’re constantly finding out about different things that are going on. Even the film that you and Sam were in… just that there’s this communal life in Brooklyn somewhere where all these films are going on… All these little subcultures are going on. So that’s a really nice thing, and especially that there are so many avenues for people to go. There are so many venues, so many things that you can do creatively… People play on the subway, people play in the street, people show their artwork everywhere. It’s a nice atmosphere for that.

GRAHAM: Do you think you’ll stay in New York?

AUSTER: Yes.

GRAHAM: You grew up here, right?

AUSTER: Yeah. I grew up in Brooklyn, in Park Slope.

GRAHAM: How do you feel about Manhattan vs Brooklyn?

AUSTER: I always joke that I lived in Brooklyn when no one lived in Brooklyn, and I moved out of Brooklyn when everyone moved in. So, maybe just to be contradictory or something, I don’t know. [LAUGHS] I love Brooklyn. It was a nice place to grow up, I still like it, but for me I like being kind of in the middle of things right now. I think if I wanted to have kids and found someone I fell in love with, I might eventually want to move back to Brooklyn.

GRAHAM: If you wanted to have a backyard or something.

AUSTER: Yeah! I mean, I have been thinking about… I don’t know, in a few years, building a studio or something for myself and selling this place… I just don’t know where I would go yet. I like Red Hook, but there’s no transportation, so…

GRAHAM: Can you tell me about your musical-literary project, As Smart As We Are?

AUSTER: The musicians that I did my first record with when I was sixteen, they had a duo called One Ring Zero. The way we met was because they were doing a literary project using lyrics written by famous writers. So they got lyrics from my father [Paul Auster], who is a writer, and then made this project using different well-known contemporary writers. They came over to the house when I was in high school, and they were collaborating with my dad, who gave them some lyrics, and then we sat down and started talking about music. I think my dad told them that I was interested in music, and they were like, “Oh, why don’t you sing one of the songs on the record?” So I stepped in, sang a song, and that’s how that art project came about. They were like, “Oh, you’re a great singer, we should do something together just for fun.” So that record that happened just for fun actually turned out to be getting released. I found poems that I really liked, and put them to music with the guys, and also gave them a few of my lyrics as well. So that was a kind of novelty project that we did, and this record [Red Weather] is really my first record of all original lyrics and music.

GRAHAM: You grew up in a literary family. Did that influence your songwriting?

AUSTER: I think so, because I think that I had a big advantage because I grew up reading a lot, being around a lot of literature, knowing about a lot of writers that maybe a lot of people don’t know about. My mother also read to me for about two hours every night until I was about twelve, I think. I mean, we read serious books together, she used to read to me before I could read, and then once I could read we took turns reading to each other back and forth. But it went from The Secret Garden to, you know, David Copperfield. It was those kinds of leaps that really helped my writing a lot. I just think that the more that you read, the more you know, and if you have some kind of gift for language it just helps you even more.

GRAHAM: They say that if you want to be a writer, you should be reading a lot.

AUSTER: Yeah. And I think that a lot of writers don’t. A lot of writers have a few books that they gravitate towards, but they’re not devouring literature all the time. My parents are so well-read, they’ve just read everything. I have a lot of catching-up to do, but I did get a good background with that.

GRAHAM: Who are some of your favorite musicians?

AUSTER: Let’s see… I have to throw The Beatles in there.

GRAHAM: Who’s your favorite Beatle?

AUSTER: George Harrison, I think.

GRAHAM: Why?

AUSTER: Because I like his solo stuff the best. The Who, David Byrne, The Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, I like Fiona Apple obviously… and… God, I have so much music going around in my brain.

GRAHAM: What inspires you?

AUSTER: For me… obviously there’s inspiration everywhere, but I find that emotional states influence me a lot, whether I’m really exuberant or really sad. I also find that I have very vivid dreams, and that usually finds its way into something that I’ve written. So I would say being an emotional person with all these different energies, as well as my subconscious.

GRAHAM: Any projects for the future?

AUSTER: I’m just crossing my fingers that I have a fall tour set up, and that I’ll start, you know, playing a lot. That would be what I’d really want right now. And that people buy my record and like it. Just to keep going… and make some money. That would be nice. [LAUGHS]

Visit Sophie Auster's website for more. Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre. 

Man on Fire: An Interview with Brian Duffy

The end of the 1950s saw a drastic change in fashion photography—a kinetic, freewheeling, rule-breaking “documentary” style pioneered by three unlikely East London working-class “bad boys”—David Bailey, Terence Donovan and Brian Duffy. Perhaps the most technically sophisticated of the three, the inventive and wildly acerbic Duffy initially picked up photography “as an easy way to make money” after seeing a few contact sheets in the office of a fashion magazine he was working for as a freelance illustrator. It turned out that his instincts were correct, for him at least—Duffy soon found himself at the forefront of a rebellious, groundbreaking new photographic sensibility that would document and reinvent the image of 1960s London.  Duffy, Bailey and Donovan, who quickly became notorious throughout London press as “The Terrible Trio” or “The Black Trinity” (the latter nickname bestowed upon them by photographer Norman Parkinson) ushered in the visual spirit of the “Swinging Sixties,” meanwhile completely changing the image of the fashion photographer established by the predominantly upper-class “gentleman” photographers of the 1950s like Parkinson and Cecil Beaton. As Duffy himself once said, “Before 1960, a fashion photographer was tall, thin and camp. But we three are different: short, fat and heterosexual.” The three even inspired Michelangelo Antonioni’s first entirely English-language film, the cult hit Blow-Up, about a jaded young fashion photographer working in mod London. Irreverent, short-tempered and wholly unafraid to take risks, Brian Duffy embodied the playful dynamism and vibrancy that would come to characterize the 1960s, replacing the static, untouchable ambiance of 1950s imagery.

Throughout his incredibly successful career as one of Britain’s reigning photographers, Duffy created revolutionary spreads for Vogue, Elle, Glamour, Esquire, Queen, The Observer, The Times and The Daily Telegraph. He generated some of the most iconic images of the 1960s and 70s—from the album cover of David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane to some of the most renowned images of celebrities like Jean Shrimpton. Grace Coddington, Jane Birkin, Michael Caine, William S. Burroughs, Debbie Harry and others. Within the realm of advertising, the prolific Duffy lent his unique vision to two Pirelli calendars and shot award-winning campaigns for both Benson & Hedges and Smirnoff.

In 1979, Duffy grew tired of the business and decided to give up photography, going out in a characteristic “blaze of glory” as he spontaneously set fire to most of his negatives in the back garden of his London studio. Though a great deal of his images were lost, his son, Chris Duffy, has spent the past five years archiving those that remain—and this arduous process (which remains ongoing!) has culminated thus far in both the publication of a book of Duffy’s images and the openings of several retrospectives around the world. These exhibits showcase, for the first time ever, the oeuvre of Britain’s own enfant terrible: a visionary who created his own unique visual language, changing the face of commercial and fashion photography for good. I was lucky enough to sit down with Chris during the opening of the first-ever stateside Duffy retrospective at Clic Gallery in SoHo for a brief chat about his father’s legendary life, work and the infamous negative-burning incident…

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Your father captured and helped create the image of the “Swinging Sixties.” What about his particular method, style and personality do you think most set him apart from other photographers of the day?

CHRIS DUFFY: Ultimately… and it’s changed today, but I think photographers of the sixties had a lot of power. Clients came to them because they had a particular look and way of doing things. I mean, if you think of Helmut Newton pictures, no one else did that kind of picture, a Guy Bourdain could only be done by Gilles, and that was because photographers did have immense power, they could say how or what they wanted to do, which I don’t think really exists today. Most pictures that I look at, I mean I see hundreds of names all the time, but I couldn’t tell you one photographer from another. It all looks exactly the same. I think in part that has to do with technology, because the digital medium now has changed the game plan. I mean, in this period, in the sixties, all these pictures you look at are a fraction of time on a piece of film. The digital medium, with your recorder there, which is also a camera… if I take a picture of you, first of all, where does it exist? You can’t see it, taste it, smell it, touch it… so, I take a picture of you now, you email it to someone, they change the color of your hair on PhotoShop, they email it to someone else, and they put a background in, and then it comes back to me, where does it exist? There’s no way of knowing what the picture is, because you’ve extended the envelope of believability by digitally compositing elements. Now, traditional mechanical photography, the dynamic it deals with is a metaphysical condition, it’s about a slice of time, a moment in time. And a great picture is not a moment before that or a moment after that, it is that moment… and so it’s a very different, I think you need to differentiate between traditional-style photography and the new digital medium. So, in a roundabout way, in answer to your question about what made Duffy different, ultimately, it was a reflection of his personality. Every photographer infused and had different techniques to get people to react in certain ways or they had affections for certain styles, certain looks with cameras and lenses and techniques… it’s just a reflection of his personality.

GRAHAM: Which was?

DUFFY: Which was, well, he was a natural anarchist… he pushed himself very hard and always tried something new. I think that’s always risky, in a way, it’s much easier to be safe and keep producing the same kind of image, and people like that and you get paid for doing it, but he always wanted to kind of push it as far as he could go. He had a short fuse, he didn’t suffer fools lightly, and he was an incredible intellect; his depth of knowledge on so many subjects, from jazz to food to art to furniture to poetry… So photography was just one part of his makeup, really, I mean it was the medium that he expressed himself in.

GRAHAM: I read that he originally just picked up photography as an easy way to make money.

DUFFY: Well, yeah, originally, he started out, he went to St. Martin’s [School of Art], and he wanted to be a painter. And then what he realized in his class was that there were so many brilliant geniuses, so he went into the dressmaking department. So he had an innate understanding of fashion. Then he started illustrating and got freelance gigs for magazines like Harper’s, and it was when he was in the office of one of the magazines that he saw a set of contact sheets, and he said, “Oh, these all look the same!” and the fashion editor said, “No, no, if you look carefully they’re all different!” And then he realized at that point that that was probably much easier than sitting down drawing things. So he took up photography.

GRAHAM: And he happened to be good at it!

DUFFY: And he happened to be good at it. Well I think actually he would be good at anything he put his mind to.

GRAHAM: Yeah. It seems he was good at a lot of different things.

DUFFY: He was incredibly talented. He then went into film, into commercials, and then when he jumped out of that he’d always had a love of furniture and he was very good with his hands, at making things, he had an amazing workshop at the back of his studio, and he went into furniture restoration. I think by ’79, after working from the late fifties, he saw the writing on the wall, or what was going to happen with photography, and its demise.

GRAHAM: That was actually one of my next questions. What do you think sparked his ultimate disenchantment with the world of fashion and photography, and the burning of most of his negatives in 1979?

DUFFY: Well, I think that after being in the business that long, he felt that he wanted to go out while he was still at the top, and not just water down, you know, become a pale imitation of what he’d done before. I think he’d just had enough.

GRAHAM: He went out with a bang.

DUFFY: He did. I mean, you know, he actually burned a lot of his… well, we’re not really sure how much he burned, but there are big gaps in the archive where you look through and for example you get Job #900 and the next job will be #1008 or something, you know, there’s a big chunk missing. He just started arbitrarily burning things in the back garden on the bum fire to get rid of them. Luckily, he got stopped by the local council… we’ve got a lot of stuff, but I still keep finding things. There are archives around the world that have got pictures that I’m still uncovering. I mean, he was working every day for 25, 30 years. I worked for him from ’73 to ’79 and we just worked all the time, just continually. Nonstop.

GRAHAM: What was the experience of working for him like?

DUFFY: Well, you couldn’t have had a better apprenticeship or grounding. He was the ultimate craftsman. It was demanding, but in the end, a privileged position to be in… to fly around the world and work with a top photographer and meet incredible people and learn so much, really.

GRAHAM: This is the first-ever U.S. exhibition of Duffy’s work, right?

DUFFY: That’s correct. We had a small David Bowie exhibit last year, but this is the first solo retrospective.

GRAHAM: Now that you’ve been archiving his work since 2007, are there plans for more exhibitions in the U.S. and worldwide?

DUFFY: Well, we just got approached by a gallery in San Francisco, it’s the Modern Book Gallery, I think? So we’ll see how it goes. This year we’ve had… Gosh, I think this is about our eighth exhibition already this year. We started out at the Alinari National Photo Museum in Florence, and that’s been a major success, they extended it twice… We are in Monash Art Gallery in Melbourne, we just had the original Aladdin Sane dye transfer at the Victoria & Albert in London, we’ve got this show, we’ve got one in LA, and then we’ve got plans for Spain and Germany at the end of the year. We’ve got another UK exhibition at the Montpelier Gallery in Cheltenham at the end of the year, so it’s pretty full.

GRAHAM: Will those exhibitions show these same photographs?

DUFFY: Well, in the end, it’s up to the gallery, what they think works. For me, all of the pictures work in whatever way you want to put them together

GRAHAM: Do you have a favorite of your father’s photographs?

DUFFY: Well, there are so many pictures that I like… but one of my favorites is this portrait of William Burroughs over there, taken in 1960, with the soft machine and the typewriter, which actually William Burroughs offered to my dad for 15 francs… which he said he bought, but I haven’t found it yet. If I do, that will be an amazing feat… But he photographed him again in 1974 in London, and the portrait was Burroughs holding that picture, and it was shot for Rolling Stone, but he cut Burroughs’ head off. It’s just his body holding the picture of himself taken in 1960. It’s in the book. That’s one of my favorite pictures, because it’s just so anarchic. To take a portrait of someone, and cut their head off… I mean, if I told you I was going to take a portrait of you and cut your head off, you’d say I was mad.

Text by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre

Duffy: A Retrospective of Photographs by Brian Duffyis on view until June 3, 2012 at Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, New York.

Suck them in with beauty, knock them out with the truth: An Interview with Kathe Burkhart

Clad in her signature all-black attire and plum-colored lipstick, with a pensive disposition and a laugh that can only be described as infectious, the artist Kathe Burkhart presides regally over the massive paintings and wooden haiku letters that fill her light-dappled, paint-spattered Brooklyn studio. Black-and-white stills from Elizabeth Taylor films, old love letters and lists of materials are pasted to the walls; tubes and cans of acrylic paint, mannequin parts and other random artistic accoutrements litter the desks and floors. Burkhart takes me on a tour through the studio—which is gargantuan by New York standards—first the room mainly occupied by her infamous Liz Taylor paintings, which are awe-inspiringly large in person; then the living room area, the walls of which are adorned with several of her nude photographs (mostly taken on a nude beach in Spain); then the bedroom, which houses her S&M Series—a collection of paintings of various medieval torture devices, each inspired by and named after a different ex-lover (“I stopped because I ran out of boyfriends!” Burkhart confesses); the “print room,” in which Burkhart keeps many of her prints, drawings and photographs from the pornography series (a collection of photos chronicling the changing window displays in Amsterdam’s red-light district sex shops). Since the mid-1980’s, Burkhart has been known throughout the art world and beyond as the original “bad girl” artist. Her work is political, nonconformist, deeply personal, acerbically witty and intensely provocative—one need only refer to her performance video piece American Woman (2001-2) in which the artist dressed herself in a burka made out of an American flag, then sat motionless in front of a screen onto which original footage from the September 11th terrorist attacks was projected; all the while blasting The Guess Who’s American Woman. Burkhart is arguably best known for her Liz Taylor series, a collection of iconic, extremely large-scale portraits of the notoriously audacious, often profligate violet-eyed screen siren (who Burkhart calls an “unapologetic hedonist”) interwoven with autobiographical elements from the artist’s own life. Drawing inspiration from actual film stills, Burkhart emblazons each Liz Taylor portrait with a different provocative phrase, making a tongue-in-cheek commentary on women’s sexual emancipation. Throughout the series, Liz oscillates between the roles of abject victim and dominatrix heroine, playing out each seemingly unshakeable stereotype that persists throughout Hollywood and the media. In Junkie, we find a middle-aged Liz on a street corner, draped in fur (made from dozens of real minks Burkhart glued to the canvas). On the dirty sidewalk surrounding Liz’s high-heeled feet, the artist has attached real syringes, used condoms, discarded heroin baggies, a Vicodin prescription label, pill bottles, razor blades, temporary tattoos, plastic croissants, a sterling silver spoon and cooker, an abortion flyer, a cervical cap and other miscellaneous paraphernalia. The word “JUNKIE” is stenciled in giant red block letters across the canvas. In Blueballs, Liz reclines seductively on a large brass bed with a dealt hand of tarot cards spread in front of her on the teal duvet. It’s the small, personal details Burkhart adds that bestow yet another layer of meaning upon the work— the ones I might not have even known were personal without speaking to the artist herself—the tarot card reading in front of Liz was Burkhart’s own actual reading; on the bedside table rests not only a stack of Burkhart’s own books but her then-boyfriend’s prescription for Cialis; in the upper right-hand corner of the wall behind the bed hangs a subtle framed painting that appears abstract upon first glance but is actually a scanned and printed photograph of what Burkhart calls “my strange hoo-hoo.” Burkhart is also a prolific writer—she has published three books of fiction and poetry (and, I might add, a series of chocolate haikus!) and has plans for a possible film project in the future—an adaptation of her novel Between the Lines, which she describes as “sort of the female Brokeback Mountain.” Much like her muse, Liz Taylor, Burkhart embodies the role of the noncompliant subject— utterly unapologetic for her own “unladylike appetites,” she breaks down accepted notions of femininity, reevaluating the role of the woman artist throughout her body of work.

ANNABEL GRAHAM: What is your conception of feminist art? How do you think perceptions of feminist art have changed since you first began your career as an artist, both for you and for the public?

KATHE BURKHART: Well, I think I’m an artist who happens to be a feminist. I don’t know what “feminist art” is anymore. I mean, it had a certain connotation in the 70’s and now, it just has a totally negative connotation…  I think that the more women are shown in the art world, we have more of a presence, but feminist issues, feminist art, feminism and the social field - the art world is just a reflection of the rest of the world. And we’re in a period of terrible retrenchment right now, where your generation has to think about the right to control your own body again, which to me is insane. In 1992, I did this installation called The Abortion Project, with the signatures of women who had had abortions, and you guys have to fight this still… On International Women’s Day I posted stuff on Facebook with it, I was like what happened in the intervening years, was the intervening generation asleep at the wheel, or what? What happened? George Bush, but women were still sexually active and maybe needed an abortion from time to time, no?

KENDALLE (Burkhart’s studio assistant): Not on his watch.

BURKHART: Right? [LAUGHS] That’s good! We’ll be putting that one in, Kendall… that was excellent… good call. So… I think that there’s a real negative connotation to the word [feminism], because we’re in a time of retrenchment, but that’s silly…

GRAHAM: Yeah. I mean, I think a lot of people equate the word “feminism” with bra-burning, men-hating…

BURKHART: That is so incredibly old-fashioned. I think that now we see feminist issues are being addressed in culture… in art, in movies, in literature, and the reason why is because women are consumers. That’s why. So parity will be built through that. But I do feel like the previous generation was maybe a little bit asleep at the wheel, because we have like half-hookers now, and that’s really sad. I would think that a young woman in 2012 would be able to buy her own cocktail, you know?

GRAHAM: Yeah. I don’t know if that’s quite the case yet.[LAUGHS] So what’s the climate like for women artists today? How has it changed?

BURKHART: We have more visibility but we still don’t command the same prices at auction as men do; women are still considered a “bargain.” You know what the new market is? Old women. So, if you don’t die, you’ve got a chance in your 80s to make a market.

GRAHAM: Wow. Okay. So there’s hope for us yet!

BURKHART: [LAUGHS] There’s hope! You can be Alice Neel. I always wonder, what the heck will I look like?

GRAHAM: It’s interesting to think about. You work with a number of different mediums; painting, writing, installation art. Would you say that you have a favorite, or one that you gravitate towards more than others? Do the different ones help you express different things?

BURKHART: Yeah. Different ones help me do different things. Come, we’ll take a small tour. So this is… we’re in the painting studio now. [We walk into the other half of the studio, where several of Burkhart’s photographs are hung] These are some of the nudes… This is funny. [She gestures towards a photograph of two men sleeping naked on a nude beach in Spain] These guys were sleeping… I went away, and came back, and they were still sleeping… [LAUGHS] Nice nuts, you know? So, having such a big space, I’m able to break up the bodies of work a lot more; I can really turn it into… [We walk into the bedroom. The walls are lined with paintings from Burkhart’s “Torture Series.”] TThese are all paintings from the Torture series, so these are all old boyfriends.

GRAHAM: So you title them with the ex-boyfriend’s name?

BURKHART: Yeah. First name only! There are more of these… but I stopped making them at a certain point because I ran out of guys. [LAUGHS] That could always change again. But I made these from about 1992 to 2000. [We walk into the next room].This is the “paper room,” where I have all my prints and stuff, but also photo prints are kept in here… This is the porno series… in Amsterdam. I started shooting them in the early 90’s. So I was really shooting porno shops in the Red Light district in Amsterdam, and the weird thing was that I had kept the negatives shelved because I couldn’t afford to print them for years, but I then I had access at NYU to make these prints, which was great, and I did a show with them in 2005.

GRAHAM: Wow. So you had no idea what they looked like until you printed them up?

BURKHART: I knew what they looked like, but not this big… and all the ones that were shot on film had to be meticulously cleaned, because they were full of dust and scratches… and then I started shooting digitally, and, you know, that took care of that. But the odd thing is that now, all of that’s online and there are fewer and fewer porno shops… they’re being overtaken by young clothing designers and stuff. The whole neighborhood’s being gentrified; people buy this stuff online now. So a whole visual culture is disappearing. Something that was at first kind of documenting my reaction to this, what seemed to be openness, but is really just commerce… started out that way, and then I realized, wow, I’m kind of documenting a moment in history that is going to disappear eventually as everything goes online. And now it looks like this. [Gestures towards a photograph of a “tasteful” window display in an Amsterdam sex shop] That was taken this summer, in that neighborhood.

GRAHAM: It looks like an installation piece, almost.

BURKHART: Doesn’t it? I know. Here we have your tasteful tit and ass prosthesis for rich trannies, or something. It’s got that… I mean, it’s still the surrealistic kind of mash-up, but it’s all… everything costs more. I’m going for a residency this summer at the Center for Contemporary Art in Majorca, so I’m going to shoot a ton more of these nudes. I’m going to be a photo machine. I am a camera.

[We go back into the painting studio through a secret passageway]

BURKHART: [Gesturing towards one of the Liz paintings involving a voodoo doll and pins] And this one has pins… Many many pins. You can really see how many if you look back here.

GRAHAM: Wow. Guess you have to handle that one with care. So… what’s your reaction to the perception of you as a “bad girl” artist?

BURKHART: Well, it really morphed into something that I didn’t intend very quickly. We didn’t have words like “gender nonconforming” when I was your age. You were gay or straight, or you didn’t exist, basically. Now, fortunately, we have that word, gender nonconforming, which encompasses sort of what I meant by being a “bad girl.” It was picked up and marketed… it was strange, it was like suddenly to be a bad girl was to be a lesbian. I didn’t get that, I mean, there are plenty of “good girl” lesbians. So, I wanted to represent a kind of woman who wasn’t represented, who wasn’t complicit, who was a noncompliant subject… and that’s what I meant by it, more or less. Gender nonconforming, a noncompliant subject with agency…  Liz Taylor’s a good container for me to dump all that personal history into, because she’s unashamed about having appetites… for sex, for food, for money… for all of the material things that we associate… with hedonism, really. So, in a sense, it was like an unapologetic hedonist, and a linking-up of a punk sort of resistance. It wasn’t about cowgirls, or lesbian mothers, or any of that… What happened was, I was on the cover of Flash Art, the article was called “Bad Girl Made Good,” it’s the first time that term was used in contemporary art. But then it was picked up on by the media and applied to artists like Lisa Yuskavage, Tracy Emin, etc...people who really wanted to be…'good'. So some women who basically wanted to be part of the tide seized upon the “bad girl” mantle, which also for me encompassed a bit of performativity; that the work would come out of the life, and for that to work,  the life had to be interesting. So it was all of those things and more, but it quickly spiraled out of control when the Bad Girl shows happened. So it was considered stupid… Laura Cottingham wrote an article called “How Many Bad Girls Does it Take to Screw In a Lightbulb?” and… it really spiraled out of control and became totally negative, of course. I mean, you say “bad boy” and people just snicker. Soon it became kind of feminist infighting. Like, “I’m not a bad girl, that’s stupid, whatever, I’m a prisspot intellectual. I’m neuter.” [LAUGHS]

GRAHAM: Can you really be “neuter” as an artist?

BURKHART: There is that kind of position. There’s a neuter position, women who are not attractive and so they can’t factor their sexuality into it, because they don’t have it, so they’re not threatening. So, when you’re a young woman you can have a lot of success with your sexuality up until you’re about 35 and you have power. So then it’s like, you have a little bit of power and you’re sexual and good looking and smart? That’s really fucking scary. So they put you out to pasture until you’re like 50, and don’t pay any attention to you.  That’s how it is. Because they’re figuring that you’re going to breed and leave the field. And if you don’t breed and leave the field, or if you breed and make money anyway, after you’re about 50 and you’re not dead yet, then they can… then you’re harvestable.

GRAHAM: So it’s a bleak future.

BURKHART: I’m sorry.

GRAHAM: No, it’s good to hear. My next question is about your Liz Taylor series. Can you tell me a bit about the concept behind the series, and how it’s maybe changed throughout the process of these… how many are there?

BURKHART: Oh, god. I don’t know. Three hundred and something? It’s been 25 or 30 years… Crazy. I don’t know how many I’ve got. There was a photograph, an advertisement from The Little Foxes, which was on stage in LA, and that was the very first Liz painting.

GRAHAM: And then from there, did you have the idea that you’d do a series?

BURKHART: No… I guess that’s when I started to collect the images. And then I did another one, and another one… you know, and then I kept going. But I was doing other things at the same time, of course. I was taking pictures and making videos and writing.

GRAHAM: So what is it about Liz Taylor that merits such extensive exploration?

BURKHART: Well, it’s a way to talk about myself without being really solipsistic, and to talk about the woman artist. She really represents a woman artist who continually played herself, so it’s completely performative, and, that’s what I pretty much do as an artist, is kind of unpack my own life through the work, but also to talk about the limited range of roles and representations of women. Things have changed a little bit… but not that much, clearly. We don’t have stars like that anymore. I mean, who plays themselves every time? That doesn’t exist. They’ll just play whatever role for money. It’s not like you’re following the star anymore in the same way. The star system’s all over. But what it spawned is that now everybody is a star, of course. Everybody is for sale, for free.  So celebrity culture… I mean, who knew how it would open up, the way it has? So I think that the series, in a way, anticipated that… tracking of ourselves that we do all the time now, how we refract ourselves through culture, through the movies or through what we see in the media. There was no YouTube, there was no Facebook or blogs… I mean, for example, for the film stills, I would go to the still store; I had to collect them. Now I can just do an image search and print them out. Of course, I still get books and stuff like that, but… she’s provided a way for me to talk about myself and also about media, and also to be able to make paintings when you’re not supposed to make paintings. Conceptual artists aren’t really supposed to make paintings, so there’s that too. When I was in school, painting was like the worst thing you could do. It was declared “dead,” you know? At the same time, a painting appreciates faster than a photograph, and gets the highest amount of money at an auction. So it’s kind of a “thumbing my nose” at all of that monumentality, and ideas about mastery. Am I making sense at all? [LAUGHS]

GRAHAM: You are! Definitely. [LAUGHS] You’re also a writer. How do you feel about writing versus visual art? What can you express through writing that you can’t through visual art?

BURKHART: The really personal stuff. [Painting] is a real process, I have to get the picture, and then I project it, and then there’s the painting part, and the collage part, and I have to put the word with it… but with writing, you know, I just write. I always go back and edit; I’m a fastidious editor. Writing’s great, all you need is a piece of paper and a pen. It’s much lower maintenance.  I’m able to do stuff in writing that would be too graphic visually, you know, problematic… and wouldn’t work. I mean, the only way that comes together is in the Haiku series, and those are made with chocolate letters… and there are a few in wood. This one is going to be… “What I want to do/ what I have to do and what/ I don’t want to do". It's the id, the ego, and the superego. This one will be in wood letters, so it’ll last.  The chocolate will melt or discolor. It’ll turn eventually… the milk chocolate will get white streaks, and the white will… parts of it will yellow… the white lasts longer, it’s nothing but sugar. The dark and the milk die the worst.

GRAHAM: Do people ever eat them?

BURKHART: Oh, you know, people kick them and break them. It was very interesting, I did this solo show in Belgium in September, and there was one broken letter, and this museum curator that I worked with was doing a speech or something, and you know, we worked our asses off for this installation; I got there, they had the opening in the afternoon, so I was late to my own opening… and he just started harping on the broken letter. Oh, it was just like… Oh, god. Like it had a special meaning or something. The special meaning was that the letter was broken and we didn’t have time to get another one. [LAUGHS]

GRAHAM: He was talking about it like it was supposed to be that way?

BURKHART: Yeah.

GRAHAM: That must have been interesting to listen to!

BURKHART: That’s why I try to teach my students to try and control the intention of your work, because of all these weird things that can happen that you totally cannot control. You can’t control what people are going to think anyhow.

GRAHAM: Yeah. People can read the weirdest things into art.

BURKHART: They certainly can. So in the haikus, I was able to find a visual form for the writing. That was important for me… but I can’t do it with narrative. I can’t do it with fiction. I write in between fiction and nonfiction anyway, and sometimes I write straight nonfiction. But the fiction is all drawing on life… it’s all true, so I guess it’s in between. I don’t know how I would use narrative in any other way than I have already. When [the Liz paintings] are all put together some day like they should be in a museum show, what will occur is that there will be a narrative of my life… and the people who really know me, who have worked closely with me, will know and will be able to talk about how the life informs the work. And that will be cool… and I actually had a thought, a great idea to do as a piece, to have an audio tour, but the audio tour would be just me reading stories from my books. I mean, it would be filthy sex,…  when I write about sex… I could never do it visually the way I write about it, or it would just look like… porn. And that wouldn’t work.

GRAHAM: Can you tell me a bit about your background? Where did you grow up?

BURKHART: I grew up in West Virginia. I should have never gotten out… most people never leave. It’s about an hour and a half away from Washington, in the Shenandoah Valley.

GRAHAM: When did you first realize you wanted to be an artist?

BURKHART: Oh, really young. Yeah. I mean, I learned to read early, so I started writing fairly early, and I started making art fairly early, and I directed plays that I wrote… so I guess that was the performative part of it very early on. I can’t remember why I stopped the play directing…

GRAHAM: Well, you can always pick it up again!

BURKHART: Correct. [LAUGHS] Well, there’s a movie in me yet. There’s one of my books that I’d like to adapt into a screenplay.

GRAHAM: Oh yeah? Which book?

BURKHART: Between the Lines, which is a book about my great aunt, who lived to be 100, and between 1927 and 1929 she received 79 love letters from a woman in South Carolina, so they had like a romantic friendship… or lesbian relationship, and I published a book in Paris with Hachette,and then a small section of it last year in Esopus… I’ll show it to you, it’s in the front… but it’s really like a female Brokeback Mountain story, so I’d love to make a real movie out of that. That’s a back-burner project. Gender radicals in the family, going all the way back.

GRAHAM: You should do it! So then how did you begin your career, where did you go to school…?

BURHART: Let’s see, I left West Virginia and went to University of Pittsburgh just for a semester… came back to West Virginia and went to Shepherd College, which has an okay art department, but it wasn’t big enough for me, so I applied to CalArts. I found out about the feminist art program… in the library of Shepherd College, I found this catalogue for CalArts, about the feminist art program, and I was like, oh, I want to do that! So of course the catalogue was old in the library, and by the time I called the school to find out if those people were teaching there, they were like, “Who? What program?” [LAUGHS] So there’s the answer to the feminist thing. “What? We only have men teaching here.” They didn’t say that, but that’s basically what it was. So, you know, I set my heart on that school and it was a total conceptual art boys’ club, it really was. There were very few women teaching there. You had to have a personal interview to get in… it was a big deal. They lost my portfolio, they rejected me the first time… so I went up there to meet with somebody and then finally they accepted me. So I guess I had two years of college, about, when I went into CalArts. I lost one year as a transfer student. And then I finished my BFA and got my MFA there too. So once I was there, it was like the citadel on the hill. I had an excellent studio, and I really developed my practice at CalArts; it was really hugely important in my development, and I still pretty much identify as what we call a “CalArtian.” [LAUGHS] There were two things that we called ourselves, the CalArtians and then the CalArts mafia. That’s still operative, because you have all of these wonderful people who came out of CalArts in those years. You have Mike Kelley, Tony Oursler, Steve Prina,Chris Williams, you know, they’re all guys, right? It’s crazy. Only a few chicks. Where are the women? So I get to be a CalArts token, kind of. There are other CalArts women, Ericka Beckman, etc..but we seem to get treated differently by the art world.

GRAHAM: And then you stayed in California for a while?

BURKHART: I stayed a year after school. And the scene in LA was really taking off then, and while I was in school I worked at LACE, Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, which was a lot like artists’ space in those days, it was a very well-funded nonprofit artists’ organization. I started a bookshop there, and then I came to New York in ’85. I think I’ve had this space since ’86.

GRAHAM: Wow. So you live in the Netherlands part-time as well, what’s the difference between the artistic climate here and there? Can you compare the two?

BURKHART: It’s really different, and yet things are changing to make it more the same, in a sad way. You know, when all that “bad girl” stuff erupted, like ’94 or so… it’s funny because that was delayed… when that term was used, it was around the end of 1990, and then people picked it up around ’94. It’s funny how things linger, you know, in its original potent form, nobody wanted anything to do with it, but dilute it down a few years later and everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon, kind of. Around that time I left and started to immigrate to Holland. I was going back and forth, and spending more and more time there each year, and around ’95 I officially started to immigrate. And that’s when all that stuff took off here, and this market in figurative painting for people like John Currin, and all that stuff which I considered to be incredibly reactionary, and, you know, my work was too conceptual for that, it didn’t really fit in. So I found a lot of support in Holland, there’s a wonderful grant support there. I mean, I wouldn’t have been able to pay for my studio in New York if I hadn’t gotten Dutch grants. So they were incredibly supportive, they understood the critique of American culture, the sort of political stance in the work, the anti-capitalist stance… they got it, you know? That you could be personal and political at the same time, that it didn’t have to be prescriptive. So that was really freeing and great for me… also to be in a place that was seemingly much much more tolerant than the United States, and much cheaper to live, with a higher quality of life and a lower cost of living. It’s kind of like an escape from New York, so that’s been good. But things are changing there now, and they’re dismantling the support system for artists, and the individual grants may well be gone in four years. So I don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s very conservative there now, there’s a lot of anti-immigration sentiment there now, and that’s being extended to people who have dual citizenship, it’s being extended to artists… artists are the next to go, and that’s sad. I hope that the E.U. kicks in to put more money back into the system. Now they’re like, “We’re going to follow the American system.” I mean, what system? We don’t have one. So there, up until now you could have a career without having a big market. IT was possible. But now they want the market money too, and it’s kind of disgusting. It’s changing a lot. There’s a lot of support there though, because people are smart.

GRAHAM: Who are some of your favorite artists?

BURKHART: Louise Bourgeois… I just saw a beautiful Hans Bellmer show, can’t stop raving about it… Cady Noland, Barbara Kruger... and some of my favorite writers are Hélène Cixous and Clarice Lispector.

GRAHAM: Last question. What inspires you?

BURKHART: Popular culture, films, literature, daily life, relationships. Suck them in with beauty, knock them out with the truth…

Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre

TOAST OF THE TOWN: An Interview with LORIN STEIN

The editor-in-chief of The Paris Review, Lorin Stein, doesn’t watch Gossip Girl. He does, however, stand on tables when giving toasts—something he is quite adept at. Tonight’s is in honor of Pulphead, a new collection of essays published by the esteemed literary journal’s Southern editor, John Jeremiah Sullivan, or “JJ,” as Stein lovingly dubs him. Ever charming and poised, Stein relates from his lofty perch, to a mixed audience of bright-eyed Ivy Leaguer interns and lit-world “old boys” alike, the story of his trip to Scotland with JJ, their semi-successful hunt for the mythic beauty of Loch Lomond, and JJ’s baffling wildflower-picking excursion (“When I find a really good wildflower, I like to take a picture of it so I can look it up and identify it when I get home… don’t worry, I don’t use it in my writing or anything like that”). The first time I met Stein, he advised me not to go into the editing/publishing business (find out why in the interview below).

The second time, we ended up having an in-depth discussion about Gossip Girl as I photographed him sitting in an armchair in his spacious, book-lined office at the very back of The Paris Review’s Tribeca loft (the inside of which resembles the late George Plimpton’s living room, cozy and replete with books, framed black-and-white photographs and old Paris Review posters, oriental rugs and taxidermied birds—purportedly the addition of Philip Gourevitch, the second editor-in-chief, who Stein succeeded in April 2010). To be fair, the conversation arose in an academic discussion—but I was nonetheless surprised, and pleasantly so. With Stein, it seems there is never a dull moment. At just 39 years old, he is the third and youngest-ever editor-in-chief of the prestigious literary journal—and while he plans to steer the Review back in the direction of its Plimptonian, purely fiction-and-art roots, there is no doubt that he brings a fresh, unique and decidedly hip perspective to the table. His attention to detail in combination with a certain facetiousness make him into a perfectly Baudelairean mixture of the ephemeral and the permanent, the modern and the classic— much like the Review itself—and though (like George Plimpton) he enjoys a good party, the eloquent Stein radiates editorial dexterity and pure, joyful devotion to his work.

“They’ll of course use the smoking picture, won’t they?” he smirks when I ask him to hold the hand with the cigarette up for another shot. He drapes a leg over the arm of the chair, sipping his whiskey—and yet somehow, in his revelry, he remains utterly composed. About a week later, I was lucky enough to spend some time picking Stein’s enigmatic, highly coveted brain. We talked about the editing and publishing business, the future of print and the effects of technology on the literary world (and later, off the record, about Morrissey and David Bowie).

ANNABEL GRAHAM: When we spoke last spring, you told me not to go into the editing/publishing business. Can you explain why? Do you have any advice for young people who want to go into the literary business?

LORIN STEIN: Well, because… book publishing is contracting, and within book publishing, and within literary book publishing, the sales forces are contracting, but the editorial departments are also contracting, so I don’t think I would have had the kind of luck I’ve had if I were to do it now, and I’d hate to see someone spend three years… you know, slaving away as someone’s secretary, essentially, and then not even having the chance of a promotion. It was always true that most people who worked didn’t then get to become editors, but I think it’s gotten even trickier now.

GRAHAM: Are sales contracting?

STEIN: I don’t know whether sales are contracting, but in literary publishing, new literary publishing, it seems to me that there are fewer jobs. There are fewer books that are… there are fewer houses that are devoted to that… I think that there are fewer books that are in that kind of very special corner of the world of letters. I think the publishing business has pretty quickly gotten used to the idea that the future is going to be gizmos, and they’re getting smarter, quickly, about gizmos.

GRAHAM: You mean like the iPad, the Kindle…

STEIN: Yeah, reading devices. E-books. So, if you and I talk in a year… and I hope this won’t be true… it may be that the climate has changed.

GRAHAM: Right. Well, going off of that, do you feel that publishing is a dying art? Will print ever be obsolete?

STEIN: I think print is in more trouble than most people think. And less trouble than some people think. James Wood just wrote this very good piece about trying to sell off his late father’s library—in last week’s New Yorker—and he stumbled on this fact, which is that there isn’t really the market for second-hand books that there used to be. That market is changing so quickly, and nowadays what’s going on is that these used bookstores, these used book-dealers are buying up, very cheaply, they’re filling these warehouses full of these books that they’re making available online, but more and more, you can pay a low price—you may not get to see a photo of the book the way you have been able to do for the past five years, you’ll get a book in some condition that you don’t know what it is, maybe you’ll buy five copies before you get an okay copy, but right now the price of these books is very depressed, so they’re very available, but the shelf space, I think, is about to disappear, and in about 10 or 15 or 20 years, I think there are going to be books that are actually very hard to find. Which is really different from the way it is now.

GRAHAM: Yeah. You can find anything.

STEIN: You can find anything, which is not going to last forever, it’s going to be very hard in cases where you need the hard copy, and there are a lot of books that are not going to be easily found. And I know your question was about print, and presumably what you mean is new books or magazines?

GRAHAM: Well, no, I think what I was asking is whether you think the internet is going to completely take over, if for example in the future The Paris Review might be only online, or books may only come in the virtual form, like on an iPad.

STEIN: I do think that there will be more and more books that will only come in the virtual form. There’s a really good argument, one of the really good arguments, for The Paris Review to always put out a print edition, which is, do you have anything stored on CD? Emails or anything, stored on CD?I worked for a publishing house that, around 1999, started using email regularly. It didn’t happen all at once; different editors took longer to do it. You would still hear people giving dictation and typing when I started.

GRAHAM: Wow. [LAUGHS]

STEIN: And I had never had an email account. And my boss and I both learned how to use email together. And if you look at the archives of that publishing house, all of our correspondence—the company would delete things after 90 days or something—so we were keeping email files but we realized… I took my email files, the ones that I’d saved, I copied them and put them on a CD, so that I could have them… it turns out that CDs that you buy at the drugstore, they only last for a few years! And even just getting the email off my computer, it took someone who was an expert, really, because just in the 12 years I’d been there, the systems had changed so much. Now, if you put a book on a shelf, if you put a piece of paper on a shelf, it stays there until you tear the shelf down. If you store things electronically, you need always to be… what’s the word I want… every time you switch hardware, you need to re-save them, you need to transfer them to a new medium, essentially. And sooner or later, you’ve done it, you know? And that’s part of the reason for publishing stuff on paper, if you do care about the lasting value, I mean maybe you’re kidding yourself, but I don’t want something to have that—that as soon as the hardware finishes it will disappear. I want to be the hardware, I want to own the hardware!

GRAHAM: Makes sense. So… I’m sure you get this question all the time… How has The Paris Review changed since you’ve taken over? I understand that when Philip was the editor, there was a distinct move towards nonfiction and photography that created a bit of controversy, and that you have begun to steer the magazine back in its original purely literary and artistic direction, much like George Plimpton. Can you talk about that a little bit? What is your ultimate goal for the magazine, and where would you like to see it go?

STEIN: It’s true, Philip was interested in publishing pure reportage. And reportage just isn’t something that I know that much about. And I also think that—especially now—even on the web, there’s so much good reportage, that it would be hard for us to distinguish ourselves, I mean Philip could do it, I don’t think I can—and my real love, I mean, I think the thing that needs the most help, is short fiction and poetry. And essays. And by essays, I mean something very…

GRAHAM: Like what John Jeremiah Sullivan [the Southern editor of The Paris Review] writes?

STEIN: Like what John writes. Though he sometimes writes reportage. Some of what he writes wouldn’t be right for the Review. And I guess I think of reportage as things that are tied to matters of real concern in the world, the essays that John writes that we’ve published are more personal essays. I want the Review to be what I think it often has been, which is America’s literary magazine. I want it to be a laboratory for the best new fiction and poetry and this funny thing that you call the essay. And I want it to maintain its integrity of, especially, it seems like choosing the writers—I want it to reflect what we really think is important, not just what’s fashionable or what sells, but the writers who really interest us as writers. And I think that there’s more work for a literary magazine to do now than there used to be.

GRAHAM: How so?

STEIN: Well, the world doesn’t have much room for literary magazines. And, well… you and I could put out a web magazine tonight. And we could take a Xerox machine, and we could pretty easily distribute a magazine together. In fact, there are many, many magazines. But it’s become very hard to reach a large circulation—of people who really read it and care about it. And to make them feel the importance of what you’re doing, that’s what’s gotten to be hard, for lots of reasons.

GRAHAM: Especially since there’s such an inundation of stuff being put out, all over, you know, blogging, and…

STEIN: Bingo. And, well, a lot of it’s very good. There’s a lot of crap, but that’s always been true. The tricky thing is that people like you and me have some very good claims made on our attention. I mean, Breaking Bad is really good!

GRAHAM: Is it? I’ve been hearing that.

STEIN: It is. But the thing is, there are only so many hours in a day. And even—I’ve never owned a TV as a grownup. But now, on our computers, the very things we use to do our work... we have these distractions. That’s the trouble. It’s not the crap so much as it’s the good stuff… that edges out the kind of reading that happens with short stories and poems. And, for that matter, novels.

GRAHAM: Yeah. Did you always know you wanted to go into editing, and can you tell me a bit about the trajectory of your career, how you got started… and what you find to be the differences between editing books and editing short stories for the Review?

STEIN: There was a guy who came to visit my school when I was in second grade and talked about how a book gets made. And I thought that was what I wanted to do. And I started making books, I was always making books. I found it, just… the idea that you could just make a book was just such a big deal for me. I did think I was going to be a writer… I didn’t realize I was never going to be a writer, but… I went to a writing program, I tried to write a novel, and realized that I had absolutely no talent.

GRAHAM: Did you study writing in college?

STEIN: No. After college I didn’t know what to do with myself, and my college advisor said that he thought I could get a teaching fellowship in a writing program. Well, I’d been writing, of course I’d been writing in college. I’d been trying to write poems, and fiction… in high school too, I always wanted to write, and I thought… that maybe I could be a professor of English, and I got turned down from the PhD program that I wanted to go to, and… another PhD program called me and made an offer to me, and they said… maybe you’ve had this phone call… you have x number of years to finish, and just to be clear, you’re going to be working mainly on the 1890s, and also the 1840s, and I’m thinking, I can’t do this…

GRAHAM: So there were restrictions put upon you in terms of what you had to study?

STEIN: Well, no, it was my idea; I had applied. I’d said I wanted to be an Americanist and that the periods that interested me were the 1890s and the 1840s. Once it became an actuality, once it became an actual phone call, I thought, Christ Almighty, get me out of here! My advisor said, the only thing I can suggest is that I bet you can get into this poetry program, and it’ll be a teaching job, so you’ll be paid, and you’ll be able to see what you’re like as a teacher. Well, it turned out that I was a terrible teacher, and I couldn’t write, and… so I came to New York thinking I’d be a novelist, and couldn’t do that, so I got a job as a secretary, essentially, at Publishers Weekly, and started editing a lot of the little reviews. And because I was there, I got to know which publishing houses interested me… and there was one that I really, really liked, so I just decided that I’d get a job there.

GRAHAM: Which one was that?

STEIN: It was the one I ended up working at, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. So I tried to get different jobs that would make me more attractive to them, but no one would even give me a callback, because I was so obviously out of their… [LAUGHS]

GRAHAM: So how did you realize that editing was your calling, so to speak?

STEIN: I edited the literary magazine in high school, and in college, and when I was a kid my father hired me to edit for him.

GRAHAM: Was your father a writer?

STEIN: No, he and my stepmother ran a nonprofit in Washington, where I grew up. I think I must have been kind of good at it, because I loved it from the beginning; I loved it much better than I liked writing. I’ve always found writing very hard and I’ve always found editing a lot of fun. To answer your question, about the difference between editing short stories and novels, it’s very different. With a novel, you really live in the book for a few weeks, and a short story, you read it in a few minutes and think about it, and then you go back to it.

GRAHAM: This is a bit of a loaded question, but who are some of your favorite contemporary writers?

STEIN: Oh, I can’t tell you. Not unless you’re willing to become my bodyguard.

GRAHAM: All right, then how about a few of your favorite authors that have passed away already?

STEIN: Dead people? Recently dead, or long dead?

GRAHAM: Your choice. Either.

STEIN: Last night, as I was falling asleep, I was thinking about how hard it would be to explain to someone who’s not American how much Mark Twain means to us… and to me. I mean, I know that he’s a national hero and stuff, but it’s kind of weird that our national hero writer should also be our greatest writer, and to me he is. And he is an icon for us. And then… Proust matters a lot to me, Tolstoy matters a lot… David Foster Wallace, among the recently dead… I mean, it’s hard to answer that question, you know.

GRAHAM: What is your favorite aspect of your job, and the literary world in general?

STEIN: It’s a lot like being in college. I think I’ve been able to read more than I’ve been able to read since I graduated from college. It’s also like being in college in the sense that there’s often a gathering about to happen with people that you like, and I miss that about college. I think the amount of freedom, and also the chance to… put out a magazine. And a web magazine, too. It’s really fun. It’s all really fun.

GRAHAM: I think The Paris Review definitely looks one of the more “fun” literary journals. Serious, but also fun.

STEIN: We try. If it looks like fun, it’s probably because it is fun to do. We’re all very… we can’t help being serious, and we work very hard but there are not very many of us, its’ a very tiny team, so we’re always up in each other’s business, but it’s really great in the sense that our deputy editor is also in charge of the t-shirts, and that our associate editor, he used to be an assistant but he’s also the guy who organizes the interns and designs our advertisements and thinks about computer stuff.

GRAHAM: That’s nice… not so many fingers in the pot, like a lot of magazines and newspapers.

STEIN: Right.

Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre. 

Visit the Paris Review for more.  

(Annabel Graham is a photographer and writer who travels regularly between Los Angeles, New York, and Paris – she has worked for Interview Magazine as well as the Paris Review, and she is a regular contributor to Pas Un Autre and Autre Quarterly. Read all here articles for Pas Un Autre here)

MODERN-DAY DANDY: AN INTERVIEW WITH CASSIUS MARCELLUS CORNELIUS CLAY

In the summer of 2010, a particularly dapper Yale sophomore, wearing a pair of distinctive, gold-crested Stubbs and Wootton slippers, encountered Kanye West while shopping at Barney’s in New York. As the story goes, West complimented Cassius Clay (no relation to Muhammad Ali—but Clay is, in fact, a descendent of the renowned abolitionist Cassius Marcellus Clay) on said slippers, introductions were made, a conversation ensued and email addresses were exchanged. One thing lead to another, and by the end of the summer Clay had taken a leave of absence from Yale at West’s request and moved to New York to become the rapper’s personal full-time confidant and right-hand man (he eschews the term “stylist” for its unsavory connotations; a more detailed explanation can be found in the interview below). Once the news got out, some were dumbfounded by what they perceived as an abrupt trajectory from diehard academic to celebrity stylist— envy, resentment and incredulity arose with fervor (one has only to peruse the anonymous commentary under any online article published in late 2010 about the Cassius/Kanye partnership to surmise this), yet the always-resourceful young aesthete seized the opportunity to help shape the rapper’s professional and sartorial choices, bringing his unique, quirky perspective to the table and turning the coveted job into an artistic and intellectual experience that furthered his education just as much as his missed year at Yale would have (though in a very different way!). If that’s not enough to convince the aforementioned internet haters of his academic seriousness, Cassius is now back at Yale and currently in the process of completing a simultaneous bachelor’s and master’s degree, both in Art History—a hefty task for any college student, especially one with the unspoken responsibility of remaining impeccably dressed! I hadn’t seen Cassius since we attended Phillips Academy Andover together (I remember quite clearly the feather bowties, pocket watches and other striking accoutrements he sported—I don’t think I spotted him wearing sweatpants once during those three years, not even during finals week—as well as the memorization skills and admirable command of the English language he showcased during the art history class we shared). I spent a beautiful October afternoon walking around New York’s Nolita and Lower East Side with the poised, and drily witty Cassius as he shed some light on “the whole Kanye thing,” his plans for the future, his sources of aesthetic inspiration and his illustrious taste. 

ANNABEL GRAHAM: Tell us the story of how you initially met Kanye West and ended up becoming his personal stylist; what was the whole experience like, what kind of responsibilities did you have, what did you find most interesting/take away from it and how did it end?

CASSIUS CLAY: I met Kanye on several occasions during a summer I spent working at Christie’s in New York. We got along very well talking about fashion, art, film and the relationships between each of them. I was already great fan of his music, of course, but was most impressed by his ambition and the assiduousness with which he pursues those objectives. Those qualities alone convinced me I could learn a lot from working with him. He wrote to me that fall, when I had just started my second year at Yale, offering me a position to work with him on a series of projects related to the release of the My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album. I’m uncomfortable with the word “stylist.” The word risks either oversimplifying fashion’s broader significance to identity and aesthetics, or somehow glorifying dressing-up as some glamorous veneer du jour. I admire Kanye in that he collaborates with many people in realizing a vision, whether it’s a particular outfit, music video, apartment redecoration, or concert performance. I was a creative consultant responsible for working on many of those projects simultaneously, so seeing and developing the connections between those different endeavors was immensely rewarding.

GRAHAM: I’m sure you learned a lot about both the fashion world and the music business while working with Kanye West—can you talk a bit about that? Did it further or change your interest in either of those realms?

CLAY: In fashion-related projects I enjoyed applying academic approaches – research, analysis, criticism – to the generative processes of creative work. I think works that synthesize those modes are always the most successful. Though I’m a great fan of Kanye’s work and convinced of music’s power to induce and communicate a feeling, I must confess that I’m musically inept. My childhood attempts in learning to play an instrument were abortive, and I sidestepped the music requirement at my high school by taking music history rather than music theory. I found the different ways in which the fashion and music industries treat products or talent particularly interesting. The power figures in fashion are often on the critical or receptive end of production: editors, department store buyers, celebrity style icons, etc. In music, the creative side of star singers and major producers have more direct control on the popular outcome of an album or single. That is, I think that Vogue can have a greater impact on a fashion brand than Rolling Stone could have on a musician.

GRAHAM: As you told me during the shoot, you are in the process of finishing a simultaneous bachelor’s and master’s degree (both in art history) at Yale. What intrigues you about art history in particular, and do you plan to do anything specific with those degrees?

CLAY: Many animals have means of communicating with each other – but creative representation is unique to humans, which makes art history very important. I like the idea of art being one of the only pure and universal forms of expression, mathematics being the other one. Artistic production continues to have meaning across centuries and cultures, irrespective of how unfamiliar its context of production is to the time or people that examine it.At the same time, art history is an instrument of social and political history by manifesting the questions, achievements, and fears of a culture. In that sense I think art history has plenty of applications to fields that are not strictly academic, advertising being just one example.

GRAHAM: What intrigues you about fashion? How would you describe your own personal style? Who are your favorite designers, and why?

CLAY:I’m curious about the way that fashion has evolved from something purely functional – Neanderthal necessity for warmth – to its more sophisticated uses today. It can indicate mood and personality, sexuality and sexual availability, wealth, class, or social alignment. Fashion condenses a lot of human civilization into a few bolts of cloth. I respect formality because it requires some effort, but also demand because that requires some thought. Collections by Antonio Azzuolo, Lanvin, Bottega Veneta, Burberry Prorsum, and Alexander McQueen usually achieve that balance. I’m not terribly interested in trends, and I don’t care much about comfort. I’ll be very disappointed if I don’t still wear most of the clothes I have now in ten or twenty years.

GRAHAM: We talked briefly during the shoot about your Halloween costume… I believe you said you were thinking about dressing as the Greek mythological character of Daedalus… did that end up working out? Explain…

CLAY: I ended up using things I already had in my closet, which probably suggests an unsettlingly close relationship between costume and daily wear. I went for pathetic and conscientious this Halloween: a bird in an oil spill. I wore black jeans, black button down, a crinkled Jil Sander blazer with a metallic petrol sheen, an inky coq feather Martin Margiela cape, gold leaf on my nose for a beak and drips of black face paint for the oil.

GRAHAM: Do you have any plans yet for what you’d like to pursue in the future? Or rather, what field intrigues you?

CLAY: Broadly speaking, my decision to do undergraduate work at Yale rather than Oxford was driven by a desire to study both the visual arts while taking courses in departments that are more explicitly political, like history and political science. I have competing interests in aesthetics, analysis, and ethics, I suppose. Still, I’d like to be able to reconcile all of them in some complementary capacity. I’m very keen on the economics of fashion and the art market – particularly in moments of downturn and recession. I’m interested in the dual nature of curation: literally “caring for” by definition, but also meaning critical assessment in practice. I’m sure I’ll be considering applications to law schools.

GRAHAM: What do you find most inspiring?

CLAY: I’m constantly assessing, planning, and thinking of contingencies, so surprises – rain, kindness, a mixed-up seating arrangement – are the most inspiring in that they force you to generate new ideas, reactions, and solutions. Travel involves all of these surprises.

GRAHAM: Do you have a favorite artist or work of art at the moment?

CLAY:My favorite young artist is Winston Chmielinski, based in New York, for his incisive use of color and ability to define and obscure forms in portraiture. The academic art of the 19th century and kitsch art of Soviet Socialist Realism in the 20th century need to be reassessed in most museums. I want to collect Albrecht Durer prints and drawings, sculptures by Lorenzo Bartolini, and paintings by John Everett Millais; I would have wanted Giovanni Boldini to have painted my portrait and William Morris to decorate my house.

Text and photography by Annabel Graham for Pas Un Autre

(Annabel Graham is a photographer and writer who travels regularly between Los Angeles, New York, and Paris – she has worked for Interview Magazine as well as the Paris Review, and she is a regular contributor to Pas Un Autre and Autre Quarterly. Read all here articles for Pas Un Autre here)