Meryl Meisler's Disco Versailles: An Interview

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Text by Adam Lehrer

Photographs by Meryl Meisler courtesy of Steven Kasher Gallery

What lifts the medium of photography into the realm of fine art is contrast. During the 1970s, Meryl Meisler was a teacher by day and a disco dancing queen by night. She photographed everyday life in Bushwick, and she documented the wild scenes of the discos. In her work you find sobering scenes from an impoverished and crime-ridden city, and yet its inhabitants can be found each night celebrating their fundamental rights. The right to don a more perfect look each night, the right to be a free sexual agent, and the right to dance. Her recent book, A Tale of Two Cities, depicts the stark contrast between the aching realities of life in Bushwick and the opulence of a nightclubbing scene that the artist describes as her Versailles. In these photographs, she channels humanity’s ability to rise above the chaos and revel in the miracle of life. I spoke with Meisler on a balmy day in New York to talk about the state of the city in the 1970s and the sanctuary that was the disco scene. 

ADAM LEHRER: I know your grandfather and your father were both photographers. Was that your initial exposure to the form?

MERYL MEISLER: They were a tremendous influence: their styles and purposes and just that they did it. My dad did mostly family portraits. I have his negatives and large prints. You can see pictures of his brothers, pictures of when he was in the Coast Guard, self-portraits of him writing letters, photos of when he was dating my mother. They were just really beautiful black and white portraits.

Were you already looking at photography as fine art while you were in art school?

I did not, but I saw purpose in it. My last year of undergraduate school I came home and went to see the Diane Arbus show at MoMA. That was the first time I ever saw photography as art. All the Arbus classics staring at me. I was moved. I took a class with one professor in college and he introduced us to documentary photographers and Henri Lartigue. My mindset became “this is art.”

I can see some of the influences in your work because it had some of the poetry of Arbus, but also Lartigue’s glamour. Did you think of the disco as your Paris or your ‘place of action?’

I thought, “This is my Versailles.” I knew disco was a scene that was wild and interesting. But those places were full of photographers so I never showed these photographs. When I did, I was pleased that people found a uniqueness within them. I always felt I had a special eye. I saw things differently. Even as a kid, I would look up at trees and say to friends, “aren’t they the funniest trees?” I capture a certain energy.

Absolutely.

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When I was in graduate school, I went to go see a psychic who could read spiritual things in photographs. Looking at a photo of my grandfather, she said something terrible happened with this person. My grandfather took his own life. I think that photographs have a spirituality.

What I really love about your photographs is how well the Bushwick and Disco photos juxtapose each other. New York at that point was in ruins, crack was at its worst, and Bushwick was crime-ridden, but you found joyous moments. Was that intentional? To paraphrase Keith Richards discussing ‘Exile on Main Street,’ were people partying in the face of tragedy?

I realize now I was taking pictures of things I found uplifting because I couldn’t afford to quit teaching. Bushwick was tough. But I also found it to be friendly and warm. Whereas the disco stuff, I wanted to go deeper. There were darker things on the disco scene. As dark as Meryl gets.

What did you prefer about disco, as opposed to punk rock?

I liked the big club, I liked the lights, I liked the fashion, the bathrooms certainly were a lot cleaner, you could dance. I went to CBGBs, but disco was my scene.

How did this reappraisal of your work at the Bushwick bar, Bizarre, come into fruition? 

During Bushwick Open Studios one year I went to get lunch and Bizarre bar owner Jean-Stephane Sauvaire says, “Hello, this is my place!” and he showed me what he was doing there. They didn’t even have a food license yet. And then he showed me the basement that he painted dark and he said, “I’d like to show photographers like you here.” I told him, “I’ve shown in museums and now I’m gonna show in the basement of a bar where they’re stealing stuff off the walls!” and he says, “don’t be such a snob.” 

That’s how you introduce it to a new viewership.

He said, “I want to publish a book.” I’m thinking this guy is out of his mind. I’m thinking okay,  “I want it to be about Bushwick and my disco work, these worlds connect.” He asked to see them  and I just started scanning them. My spouse Patricia Jean O’Brien designed the book and we put it together. Bizarre became my publisher, which is the most bizarre thing. 

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An Interview of Nobuyoshi Araki

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Interview by Dan Abbe

Portraits by Tom Fraud

 

NOBUYOSHI ARAKI: What kind of questions will you be asking? There’s nothing really to ask, is there? Because my photos are pretty chatty. I'm not joking! They're just the same as talking to me. If I was going to put it in a cool-sounding way, it’s like they translate my subjects as they really are. So, there's really nothing to talk about! 

DAN ABBE: [Do you] look at the internet much? 

ARAKI: No, I don’t have it. I don’t even own a mobile phone. Nothing like that. I don’t like being shot with a digital camera, especially a really good one. It's too good, you know? I feel like digital cameras miss what’s most important, emotion and wetness. These things get lost in digital photography. And before you know it, you get used to that. I’m not talking about shades or shadows being lost, or anything like that. But I almost feel as if digital photography takes away the shadow of the person taking the photo. That’s why I don’t use digital cameras. 

I’d like to ask you about your recent exhibit at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Art, "Ojo Shashu: Photography for the Afterlife." How do you think it went, either in terms of the content, or the reaction from the audience? 

The museum tried to make it seem like I was dead. For me, putting something together always means pulling it apart. For this exhibit, it worked, though. I mean, the museum is designed well, as a place to show photographs. When I first started, I thought that photographs should be shown in books, not in museums. At that time, I thought that museums were like graveyards, at least for photography, you know. This exhibit was good. Presenting my works in an exhibit like that instead of through a photo book, I feel like I was able to express myself even better. It’s like climbing Mount Fuji—it’s usually better to see the sunrise from the 8th station, but for this exhibit we went straight to the top. 

Did you try out anything in particular with the presentation of your work? 

I try to switch things up to make it look as rough around the edges as possible. You know those people who pay really careful attention to the way their works are exhibited? Like, some photographers focus on the layout too much. That’s wrong. It should just be slapped together. I didn’t even put the photos up myself. I entrusted all that to people who understand me well—I just said, "do it however you want." It was a success. I’ve always acted on the principle of pulling everything apart and always presenting something new. 

The next exhibition I’m doing is called Ai No Tabi [Love Journey] in Niigata Prefecture. (pointing out a photo in the catalog) This one is of my balcony when I was living in Gotokuji. This is the western sky. Heaven, in other words. Around March 11, 2011, my apartment building was demolished, so I moved to Umegaoka, a neighborhood close by. I did up the rooftop and began shooting the eastern sky from there. That’s where the sun rises, you know, reborn. In this sense, I take photographs in the same way that I live my life. 

It’s not just a simple shot of the eastern sky; it’s loaded with my feeling that everything starts from there. Let me tell you something: as you can see, the sky in the east gets darker and darker. Now look closer, and it becomes a mirror, or a window of myself. Before March 11, 2011, I had to face my father’s death, my mother's death and my wife’s death. Then around March 11, my cat Chiro died. So recently, the Grim Reaper has been hovering around here. And over there is a goddess (gestures at the woman sitting next to him) so these days it's the three of us! (laughs) I got prostate cancer and did radiotherapy, which messed this up (points towards his pelvis) and made me piss blood. Then I lost sight in one of my eyes. The blood in my urine is from the radiotherapy. But I also had a circulatory problem, a blocked artery, so now I’m taking a blood-thinning agent, but it's thinning too much and making me piss blood. So here I am going through all this, and now you want to ask me these questions! (all laugh) 

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Your exhibit "Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Eye]" was showing at Taka Ishii Gallery recently... 

Yeah, I took the title from van der Elsken's "Seine Sagan No Koi [Love on the Left Bank]." It could have been Love on the Sumida River for all I care. My wife loved "Love on the Left Bank" too. I was a fan of his work when I was around 20. I guess I’m paying homage, or really just playing around. What did you think of it? 

I thought it could be appreciated as painting, too. The show that's up there now [an exhibit by Kunié Sugiura] also combines photography and painting, so there’s a connection. Anyway, I was interested in the gaps where the light breaks through the paint a little bit. 

That’s what’s great about those works. That you can kind of see them, but you also can’t. After this, I thought about painting over the left half as well, and calling it "Light and Darkness Lost." Light and Darkness is Natsume Soseki’s posthumous novel. It seems like a waste, but I painted over photographs of nudes and so on in black. Still, if I went too far, it would seem like I was trying to do some sort of trendy art, so I’m holding back. It's tough though, my genius makes me do these things! (laughs)

I want to talk about your recent work. Every time you produce something new, you do it under the name Araki, which means that the bar is always set high. Yet I think you’ve been clearing it each time, and I wonder whether people don’t think: "well, it's Araki, so of course it’s going to be good." Do you think you’re taken for granted?

I mean, I’ve decided that I must do something different every time. If I don't keep transforming, I’ll just become a master. It's no good being a maestro. (laughs) I always want to work as if I’m a novice. I never want to reproduce or reshoot anything I've already done. I do always say that photography is about reproducing, for instance the reproduction of a person, or the reproduction of an era, reproduction this, reproduction that, but actually I think it's bad to keep reproducing your own work. 

I actually wanted to ask you about this word reproduction, or replication. The same subjects often appear in your work, and I wonder whether you would also consider that to be a kind of replication, too. Based on what you just said, though, I’m guessing no. 

That's right. So his style is a little different, but it’s like looking head-on at a Picasso painting. (looks at the woman next to him) From a different angle, she looks Chinese, different. From the front, the back, at an angle.... What you see and what you feel is up to you. My subjects are multifaceted, and that’s what I find appealing, that they’re appealing in different ways. When I photograph a woman, I see many different sides to her.

Is the sky similar as a subject in that it's different every time?

Yes. To me, that's why it's "heavenly." There are no two skies that look the same. Later, I will exhibit “Eastern Sky” at Shiseido Gallery. I’ve been shooting the sky every morning for nearly three years, since I moved to my new apartment after March 11. 

But you know, when it comes to showing these photos.... It’s not like I think the audience won’t understand, or that I would be making fun of them, but shooting photos and showing them are two different things. When you exhibit, you should have at least some entertainment. 

For example, I do this thing that I call "kurumado" [this is a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “car,” kuruma, and “window,” mado] where I shoot from the inside of a taxi. Everything looks great from the window now. I used to photograph all the time, but looking makes me more tired now, because I can only see with one eye. So now, I only shoot when my taxi stops at a red light. When I stop at a red light, the shot is framed perfectly by the side window, because the photography gods are on my side.

But anyway, when I show these photos of basically nothing to an audience, I feel like I should make it more entertaining by throwing in some nudes here and there, even though I call my work "Shi-shashin" [I-photography]. 

The content of these three shows in Aichi, Niigata and Tokyo are all very different. 

Yeah, it’s not a “traveling exhibition,” I don't do that.

Because that would be a repetition?

Yes, yes. Otherwise it’s like, “Oh, I saw the same thing in that city too.” 

Are you making three different catalogs too? 

No, just one. There are going to be some photos in the Niigata section of the book that didn’t even make it into the actual exhibit. Also, I’m only using one photo from the Eastern Sky exhibit I’ll be doing at Shiseido. I took it on New Year's Day, this year.

I bet something's going to happen within this year. Like a nuclear power plant or Mount Fuji is going to blow, something like that. It won't be a reborn eastern sky anymore. I feel like the entire sky—north, south, east, west—is beginning to resemble the western sky, in other words heaven. Still, I want to live to be over eighty. That’s how my photos make me feel. They encourage me. The sky that I’m looking at right now has become a mirror. 

What’s the difference between the eastern and western skies? 

Ah. It's very chatty, you know, the western sky. A real loudmouth. In the olden days, it was considered to be the Pure Land. It’s where the sun sets, and when it does, it’s quite dramatic. I think life’s the same way too. 

The sun rises in the east, so I thought that the eastern sky was flat, because of all this backlight. But these days, it's getting more complicated. Perhaps because of El Niño, what the hell do I know!

Here's the interesting thing, though. Because I’m shooting against the light, the bumpy tops of those buildings look like graves, or gravestones. You could almost say it’s like a graveyard sky. You look at the sky, you look at the heavens, you look at the world. And see, that’s where the road is. When I see roads, I feel like they’re life itself. At every moment. 

Mornings from 7 to 8 am, there’s always a girl running in high heels, click clack click. If only she’d leave the house a little earlier, then she wouldn’t have to rush, and the station is so close, too! Someone's walking their dog, and there are families and married couples. I’ve been shooting the same scenery for three years, so now there’s room to think thoughts like “I wish I saw new couples instead of the usual ones.” Or “I wish he’d get a different girlfriend.” That’s what I think about when I’m shooting. (laughs) You can see the essence of this whole year in these photos. (points to a section of the catalog)

So these are all photos you took from your rooftop?

That’s right. I’m making a photo book entirely of this series. It’ll be out in a month or so. But without anything else, I think it will be kind of boring for the poor saps looking at it! (laughs)

But you’re not bored of them yourself, are you.  

Oh, nowadays this is all I need! It’s a bad example, but they're better than Balthus’ road. ["Le Passage du Commerce-Saint-André"]

In Japan, words like “path” [michi] or “sky” can easily take on deeper meanings. That’s why I’m using the word “road” [doro]. If you say “path,” people might take this to be spiritual or symbolic, they might think of paths with no one in sight, or a painting by Kaii Higashiyama, and this is not what I’m going for. I want to say that everyday things can tell us a lot about everything. It’s the everyday that’s alive. That's why I shoot every single day.

So every day without fail, you shoot the sky and the road from your rooftop. Is there anything else that you do every day? 

People often decide this kind of thing, right? Like, "I'm going to shoot such and such a thing." If I had that kind of time, I’d rather just take photos of myself. That's why I take “I-photographs.” You have to keep on breathing, keep your heart pumping, and in my case clicking the shutter is the same thing. That's why I'm not going to go photograph a war, or something like that. 

It's weird to say I’m moved, but I guess I'm most affected by things like pissing blood. When things like that happen, the first thing I think is to grab my camera. That’s what I’ve been doing for about fifty years. (laughs)

I wanted to ask you about something I read in the remembrance you wrote for Shomei Tomatsu, in which you said that he'd influenced you in terms of your thoughts about history, or politics. 

Oh, I wouldn't write that. "politics" and such. I think it depends on when you were born. He was born 10 years before me, so he was hung up about the fact that we were occupied, that's why he went to Yokosuka and Okinawa. I’m personally more hung up about things like the atomic bomb. I shoot a lot in August: the 6th, the 9th, Nagasaki, and the 15th, the day the war ended. When I was working on Pseudo Diary, I messed with the camera's dating feature, so in some sense I have an obsession about this, or about the Showa Emperor. Again, this all depends on when you were born. On August 15, I would, without fail, go to the Imperial Palace and shoot. I was really into that. I have a thing for the date August 15. I would change the date of the camera to August 15, take regular photos of daily life, and some other meaning would appear. March 11 overlaps with the atomic bomb in my mind.

Right, I mean you've said that your photographs are all about yourself, but I think that March 11 has become a surprisingly big theme for you. 

It's influenced me, yes—but it's more like I’ve had no choice but to be influenced. It’s probably the influence closest to me personally, strange as that may sound. But it was its own expression. Photographers, you know, aren't people who express things. It's the world that does the expressing. Time, too.

One role of photographers is to respond to such expressions through shooting. I'm not like that, though. Even now I sometimes think maybe I should have gone, but I'm the kind of photographer that squeals out, "nice!" when I shoot. As a photographer, it would've been a fantastic landscape—a boat sitting on top of a love hotel—but I wouldn't have been able to keep my mouth shut. I get like that when I hold a camera. So that's why I couldn’t go, didn't go.

So many photographers have gone to Tohoku and taken photographs, but personally I'm not sure it's adding up to much. 

Well, I basically don’t look at other people’s photos. It’s not that I’m cynical, but I’m interested in other things, like the silly people trying to save this lone pine tree that miraculously survived. That’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. It's kind of a goofy or foolish thing, but it's really interesting to me. 

Okay, let's talk about the sky again. You're now facing towards the east, but as far as I know Tokyo Skytree has never appeared in your work. Is that intentional? 

I’m loyal to Tokyo Tower, I grew up with it. I went up Skytree for a job, but it was cloudy that day so it didn't even matter!

I’m worried that Skytree will ruin the shitamachi [Tokyo's older district] by turning it into a regular place. Of course Tokyo is always changing, but I wonder how you feel about this.

Cities are always changing, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. Even if it does become all digitized, I don’t mind the idea of a digital shitamachi. 

I don’t like photos that don’t have a feeling of nostalgia. Nostalgia lasts forever. Even if you can’t see it, nostalgia remains. People look down on nostalgia and sentimentality, right? Like they're not virile. Tears are good. 

Everyone is losing touch with this kind of thing. Not just in photography, you know, but in the way they're relating to each other. I mean, what is this—Twitter and so on. Pick up a damn brush and write out the characters! (laughs) That’s why people get frustrated and stab one another, because their words aren’t getting through to others. That's something good about the shitamachi though. You can see siblings going to calligraphy classes together after school. Ah, I just love that, I can't contain myself. It’s so great. 

(Araki looks through the catalog)

A little while ago I said "Light and Darkness Lost," making a joke out of Soseki's Light and Darkness, but I’m not necessarily inspired by literature. It’s the photos I take subconsciously that teach me the most. I took a photo of a cat’s shadow, you see? (picks out an image in the catalog) That’s because I felt that there might be more truth in its shadow. Regardless of whether that’s the right thing or not. There are some men who prefer shadows to bodies, you know. (laughs) 

Something I like about your work is that it's extremely pure, but it’s not naïve. I mean, this is sort of a strange thing to say, but I have this idea that your mind is more Greek than Japanese. Before you mentioned how tears are good, right? A few years ago, when I saw your exhibit about Chiro, Sentimental Journey, Spring Journey at Rat Hole Gallery, I was so overcome with emotion that I nearly burst out into tears right there. It feels to me like you relate to things, whether animal or human, in an almost cosmic way.

With Chiro, if you look at those photographs you can see that her feelings towards me were much stronger than my feelings towards her. I did not respond enough to her love. Her love was deeper than mine. The photographs make this clear. Look at her final portrait, when she gazed at me. I just feel that my love was weak. That's why the photographs of Chiro are good. My photos have always been about my relationship with the partner in front of me. 

How about the people looking at your work—what sort of "partner" are they? 

I’m not so concerned about them. For me, it’s all about the subject in the photo and nothing else. That’s why, when I present my works, I feel like I need to add an element of entertainment for the audience, even if it's a lie. 

(showing images of Chiro) This is when she’s so thin that they can’t even find a place to put a drip in her arm. I asked her to stand one last time for a photo, and she did. But you know what? This face, with her eyes closed, when she was dead—that was the most beautiful shot. 

Here, she’s already got rigor mortis. It sets in immediately after death, you know. That’s why she’s the same shape. (shows Chiro after cremation) I told them [i.e. the crematorium staff] to keep her in this position. 

Here I’ve painted onto the sky. (points at an image) I made these works for the exhibition one year after Yoko's death. It's a pity to exhibit black and white photographs on white walls, so I created a sky dedicated to her. A sunrise or sunset, a sky for her. I can’t help it, I’m naturally gifted. These are great, aren't they? (laughs)

I’m curious to ask about Setsuko Hara, who has appeared in your work a few times— 

Yes indeed! That big-boned, Russian-looking woman. There's the word sonzaikan ["presence"], but I have a particular term that I use when I’m referring to a woman, nyozaikan [a portmanteau of the Japanese words for “woman,” nyo, and “presence”], and she had it. She isn’t cute or sexy at all, but I like women who are full of resentment, who have some poison in them, and I was attracted to those qualities in her. 

In that sense, what do you think about the girls of AKB48? 

They’re all the same... That’s what I'd call “digital.” It's okay for what it is. They’re all cute, and that's not bad, no? But there are girls from the same generation who exist in a different realm from AKB48, and I think they're amazing. The AKB girls are manufactured. I guess some people will find them interesting, though. 

But they're not your liking? 

Oh, some of them I like. (laughs) But they all look the same to me. I’ve shot some of them, too. In thinking about what I would want to shoot, my own mettle came out. So, you had Atsuko Maeda and Yuko Oshima. In the election, Oshima had won— 

You're surprisingly familiar with this!

So I thought I’d get some sort of reaction if I made them stand side by side, and in fact there's one shot where they're almost wrapped up together. You could just feel their rivalry. That's interesting to me, to shoot two people in that kind of situation.

Let’s talk a little bit about foreign countries. What has the response to your work been abroad? 

People overseas responded to my work immediately. When I showed Akt-Tokyo in Europe, the photos spoke for me, especially since I didn’t speak the language. It convinced me that photos are better than words. 

Do you think that Japanese photography culture has anything to teach overseas? 

Probably not, right? (laughs) Anyway, it’s not about teaching or being taught—as long as you’re ready to learn from your subjects, you’ll definitely be fine. And by the way, everything around you is fantastic.

Overseas, they try to force all this emotion into the frame, right? But it’s better to think of the frame as something from which emotions and such can escape easily. 

How would you look back on your experience as a judge for the Canon New Cosmos competition? In some sense, you helped shape an era. 

I've been bashing digital today, but these days, digital shots that people take of friends of friends seem to be valued pretty highly. Maybe that’s because I used to select those kinds of photos all the time at the competition, though I selected other things too. 

We had guest judges sometimes, like the director of a photography museum in Paris. He told me that he understood my photos, but that he didn’t understand the photos I'd selected as a judge. You know, people like HIROMIX. 

I mean, the stuff that guy selected was amazing! A reflection of the moon in a pond, that kind of thing. Come on! (all laugh) So I guess it's not surprising that, coming in as a guest judge, he couldn't understand photographs taken by young Japanese girls. Maybe that work could tell him something like, "Hey, dad, this is how photography is really done!" 

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Temporary Places: An Interview of Robert Montgomery and Greta Bellamacina

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Text by Mazzy-Mae Green

Photographs by Flo Kohl

There is something appeasing about the strong political messages that come through in the works of Robert Montgomery, a Scottish artist who deals in text-based pieces, and Greta Bellamacina, a filmmaker, poet, and actor from Hampstead. In a time of political turmoil, both Robert’s three-dimensional works and Greta’s way of interpreting her surroundings, have cemented their place in the contemporary fabric of London, as they lead a new wave of literature and poetry

Greta and Robert have been composing poetry together since the first day they met and, just over a year and a half ago, started New River Press, a poetry-publishing house in London that bears closer resemblance to an indie record label than it does to a traditional publisher. Although they run New River from their home in bustling Fitzrovia, they also keep a studio space in the more tranquil area of Bermondsey, which Greta describes as a welcome contrast when it comes to musing ideas as it creates equal variation within their work. 

We catch up with them in a café just down the road from the studio. As I walk inside, they’re sat around a small table in the corner as Lorca, their child and evident creative influence, totters from edge to edge, seeing if there is enough worth tempting down to his level. I’m told to keep a watchful eye on my coffee. 

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Mazzy-Mae Green: So, as a question for both of you, maybe Greta you could go first here. Where did your love of poetry come from? Were you around books growing up?

Greta BELLAMACINA: I found poetry quite randomly. I always wrote it before I read it. I started writing from a young age and then only later when I began to study and go to the library did I really start to read poetry. I never called it poetry at the beginning; it just kind of was what it was. But when I first edited a book, I got to read for 6 months to find the best poetry to put into it. It was such an amazing learning curve for me. 

Mazzy: How did you come to find it, Rob?

ROBERT MONTGOMERY: I went to a state school in Scotland, but really had a good English teacher. When I was 12 years old, he would bring his own books from home and give them to kids in the class who he thought liked poetry. He’d come up to our desks at the end of class and say, “Hey, Robert and Donna. I think you guys would like these.” So it started with Siegfried Sassoon and the First World War poets, and then he’d bring in Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes and give them to us. And so I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12 and it blew me away. 

Mazzy: That’s quite an early introduction to Plath…

Greta: I think I read Sylvia Plath when I was 12. I read the Bell Jar and didn’t understand it. Then I read it again when I was 16 and I was like, “This book is my life.”

Mazzy: There is obviously a lot of value in the written word and preserving the written word – was this sentiment something that you had in mind when you started New River Press?

Greta: Definitely. I think we both found the poetry industry frustrating. There didn’t seem to be any regeneration. There seems to be a lot of reprinting and a lot of safe books. As a young writer, I always found it hard to find a place to publish my work. I found it frustrating. And I think also seeing how many incredible poets we knew who had also faced the same thing. It did seem that we needed to find a way of preserving that language - a language that is so relevant now. 

Robert: I mean, I make my living as an artist obviously and I feel as though to get noticed these days you have to really get your own work out there in quite a self-sufficient way. And the poetry world in England is so stuffy. It feels as though the old publishing houses are still run by an almost patrician system. So we wanted to see if we could apply an indie label philosophy to a poetry press. So we looked much more, when we started New River Press, at music labels like Sub Pop than we necessarily did at traditional publishing houses to structure a kind of collective. All the poets get half the money from each book sale. 

Greta: Which is really rare. We went on BBC Radio 3, on this show called the Verb. And we were with this other poet and she was saying how she wrote her book for three years, how she was getting it published by one of the biggest poetry publishing houses, and how she was getting paid £400. And we were like, “Oh my god, how are you going to survive? How are we going to preserve the next generation of people coming in, who probably won’t choose to be poets if they can’t afford to be?”

Robert: And I don’t believe the myth that poets shouldn’t get paid. If you sustain this system where poets don’t get paid properly, you’ll end up with only posh wankers being poets and we want to be carving a new path for serious books and finding ways to fund that self-sufficiently. 

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Mazzy: To come back to this indie pop label approach to poetry publishing, do you think that it is working, or do people still need convincing?

Greta: I mean, I’ve been really surprised. I read a statistic the other day saying how poetry sales have risen for the first time in...god knows how many years. We are living in a time of political worry and there’s negative press everywhere. I think that people look to poetry as an almost democratic voice, a sort of easy, automatic voice of its time. With New River Press we’ve done no traditional press. It’s all been on Instagram or online. The amount of people that have engaged with it online and been like, “I want to find out more about it, where can I find out more about the readings and the writers”. I edited this collection of all-female poets called Smear, as a feminist collection, and we completely sold out within the first month. So it does show that there is this very real element of engagement. What do you think?

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I think poetry is an antidote to materialist language. I think that the language of capitalism and news media in the world is so incredibly harsh at the moment that poetry is the necessary retreat into a more spiritual place. 

Mazzy: It’s interesting that there is a growing poetry readership because, in the same way that painting is often associated with old museums and stuffy art, poetry houses are often associated with stodgy and traditional literature. Do you think, then, that there is a new wave of contemporary writing happening at the moment?

Greta: I do! I think we are living in this time where we have a free platform for anyone to write. I don’t think it matters whether that is good or bad. What matters is just that this freedom is given, this freedom to choose, for people to decide for themselves. So you don’t necessarily need to rely on a publisher. You can self-publish your work. It’s a really pioneering time for writers.

Robert: Also we felt that when we started New River, a year and a half ago, that traditional poetry houses were afraid of political writing. For example, Heathcote Williams, who we’re publishing, is really the grandee of British, political, anti-establishment, left wing poetry. He didn’t have a publisher, even though he’s one of the most important poets from the 70s and 80s. That speaks for itself. So we felt with New River that we were carving out a face for political poetry, too. We didn’t know at that point that things were going to go to shit as much as they have over the past two years, so that’s now even more necessary: poetry that’s politically engaged, that is part of the movement for positive social change. 

Greta: Like everything in the art world, it has to reflect the time you live in. It has to challenge the time you live in. I think that poetry is one of the most automatic ways to do that. When I edited Smear, I was really amazed by how honest the poets were in talking about abortion, body image, marriage and motherhood. I don’t think these things would necessarily be the first things people would expect to read when picking up a poetry book. 

Robert: I think there’s a dawning realization in the art world that there has been this lazy disengagement with politics over the last 20 years that has partly helped lead us to where we are and I think artists and poets now see, more than ever, a need to reengage with politics - and I think we are going to see this intensify over the next 4 years.

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Mazzy: Greta, how do you feel motherhood has affected your poetry and Robert your practice as an artist?

Robert: Lorca come back over here...

Greta: I feel incredibly refreshed by it. I wrote a lot of poetry about the internal feeling of being pregnant. I feel like no one ever really writes about the emotive side of being pregnant. There’s so much prescriptive writing; you must eat this, you must drink that, you must do this. I’m quite an emotional person anyway, but I didn’t realize I was capable of delving into even more emotion. You feel so connected to other women. I think that’s been really enlightening. 

Robert: We kind of share it. We share those mothering duties. 

Greta: We do. I wrote a poem at Shakespeare & Co.  You were there. It has this line in it that says ‘we are two mothers.’ 

Robert: Yeah, I mean, I don’t know if it’s changed my practice as an artist. It’s changed my life. It’s made me feel happier and part of a new family, like I’m in this bubble of love. I lost my own father a year and a half ago and I was really close with him. Being a dad is really good therapy on that front because I see little bits of my dad in Lorca. 

Greta: And also I think it makes you think about time a lot more. You see yourself on this strange string and you’re like, “I’m there at the moment, and he’s there.” So it does make you feel sort of semi-more connected to the world, but also sort of connected to death as well, which is quite amazing. 

Robert: Ah the fragile thread of mortality. (Comedic voice) We are just barely holding on to the fragile thread of mortality. 

Mazzy: And so you guys live in Fitzrovia, right? 

Greta: We do, in a matchbox flat right under the BT tower. 

Mazzy: And do you then see London as a fertile ground for creativity?

Greta: I do because I think it’s incredibly diverse. We have a lot of friends that live in very non-conventional ways. Having traveled around a lot, for me, London is that one place that really challenges you and it does still have that kind of fresh, young, underground scene. Having said that, just living here is incredibly expensive.  

Robert: If they don’t fix the housing crisis in London, then it’s going to be a fucking cultural desert in ten years because all the young artists, all the young musicians and writers will be outta here. 

Greta: Yeah, I think the housing crisis is petrifying. I think that it is definitely one of the things that fueled Brexit. Not to say that I agree with Brexit, but I think people’s living conditions were so bad that they wanted to shake things up a bit and be heard. 

Mazzy: So in both of your poems there is this recurring theme of the ethereal, of angels, of ghosts. Is this to say that you believe in angels?

GRETA: I love that question! I always love Dreamtime Theory. I feel like the city is a bigger thing. I feel like it’s more of a centralized mind, a centralized heart. So I think the idea of angels for me is the idea that an angel could be a tree, or it could be a person. I think it’s just about having a group voice, a group mind.  

Mazzy: So the angel for you is a collective consciousness?

Greta: Yeah, I think so. That’s my take on it. 

Robert: Yeah I think cities are ancient, sacred places. All of these shiny new buildings in the sky are built on the graves of our ancestors. So there’s this real sense that they are magically alive places. And I am fascinated by that idea of the collective unconscious. I was always fascinated by surrealist writing on the collective unconscious and André Breton’s idea of the collective unconscious and how it mixes with the romance of the city. I think I was a slightly haunted child. 

Greta: I said this to Rob the other day, but I feel like you could almost survive just off sunlight. I love the idea that the plants, the trees, the flowers, the land, that they’re always being renewed by sunlight. And in a way I kind of see that as a symbol of angels. It really is that renewal that makes me feel closely connected to the ethereal. 

Mazzy: Robert, when did you first decide to turn your poetry into three-dimensional sculptures? 

Robert:  I don’t know if I decided that at any point. I mean, I went to art school to study painting and I read poetry passionately in the library. I tried lots and lots of different ways to make painting and writing go together. From the time I was at art school until now I tried lots of ways that failed, and I just kept trying until I’d bashed out a couple of forms that worked. I started working with billboard space, and hacking advertising space in 1994, right back in art school, so I’ve been doing that for a long time. 

Mazzy: With the projects you were doing in off limits spaces, did you ever get in any serious trouble?

Robert: Hmm.... I once did an illegal billboard piece in Bethnal Green, actually it was in the lead up to Brexit and it said: 

“England is the first lie. England is a lie the invading kings told you to take your actual land from you. This land is your land from the flat Norfolk night to the blue Cornish morning. Just a wild Pagan land with no name and no flag. Just this cold beach that nourishes you/just the wind on this grassland that nourishes you/just the rain on your face in the morning in this blank springtime that nourishes you.”

And for some reason I was doing that billboard and a police van pulled up really fast and five cops got out and they dragged me into the back of the van and...

Greta: He says whilst picking up a baby bottle. 

Robert: ...And I was sure I was going to jail. But then one of the four cops in the van, I discovered I could speak to. He was a bit softer. We started talking and I said, “Look, what I’m doing is public poetry. This is really about how the land should belong to everyone, about how the land should belong to you as much as it should belong to the queen.” I always carried this little book of poems with me if I was doing any of these illegal things, and I took out the book and started showing him some of my other poems. We talked about it for about 20 minutes. He had the other police officers let me go. 

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Mazzy: What an incredibly fortunate time to run into a fan of poetry. 

Robert: I just hope as the years go by, more and more police officers will become fans of poetry. I mean, we should start sending them books.

Mazzy: I sense some future billboard plans. Greta, you recently released a film about the decline of British public libraries, and you spoke to a lot of people whilst you were making it. What was that process like?

Greta: It was very DIY. I’ve always been a massive advocate for public libraries. I see them as temples of learning. I know a lot of students who couldn’t afford wifi at home. They went to the library just to get through exams. At the beginning it was meant to be a short call-to-action film. It was almost like a visual essay. So we got Stephen Fry to come in and all these kind of talking heads. John Cooper Clark. Rob was in it. We went to the first ever public library built in Scotland by Scottish miners in 1754. And once we got into the history and started to really research what was going on, I realized quite quickly that it would need to be a feature length film. Just because it was so relevant to what is going on now. There were so many stories, so many campaigns, and so much history attached to every single building. And it felt like to give it justice, it needed to be a longer thing. So it took a year to make and was edited quite quickly and then it launched in cinemas last February. Since that time, the response has been amazing. It’s something that people feel passionately about.  

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Mazzy: What effect do you think Internet platforms such as Youtube and social media have had on the written word?

Greta: I think it’s helped enormously. I think it breaks the snobbery around the art form. I think it really lets people decide for themselves if they like something or not. I mean, there is that element of, unless you know what you’re searching for, then you might not find the material you want to find, as well as the whole role of subliminal advertising. But I think for artists it’s so refreshing to break away from the traditional output. 

Robert: Yeah, for contemporary art, it’s definitely a healthy, democratizing medium. It expands the audience beyond the gallery, which is a really healthy thing. I mean I was very optimistic about the Internet as a force for good until I saw how insidiously Facebook was used to manufacture consent for Trump. It’s really making me rethink how positive I think the Internet is as a whole. 

Mazzy: What are you guys working on at the moment? 

Robert: I just got short-listed for the National Holocaust Memorial, which is the permanent memorial to the holocaust that will be built on this side of the Houses of Parliament. So I’ve just finished that and submitted it. I’m also currently doing some paintings in the studio, which is something I haven’t done for a while - so I’m really enjoying that. I’m going to do an exhibition in May in Mexico of some anti-Trump declarations in Spanish.

Greta: I’m currently making my first fiction feature film, Hurt by Paradise, which is this kind of conversation about how society has these rules and ways and if you don’t fit within them then you are an outcast. 

Robert: I’m excited about your film!

Greta: I’m really excited. I’m just finishing the first draft of the script, so I’m hoping to film by this summer. I’m just busy roping in lots of people at the moment. And we’re getting married!

Mazzy: Oh wow, congratulations! 

Greta: We’re really excited. We’re doing it as more of a festival of art and love. We’re not doing any of the traditional stuff. We hate traditions. We’re making our own traditions. We’re not going to have a priest. We’re going to make up our own vows and just say them to each other. 

Mazzy: I just had one last question. It’s not something I’d planned to ask, but I’m suddenly interested in what you might say. Do you have a favorite poem? 

Greta: Oh, I do. My favorite poem is Love Song, by Ted Hughes. 

Robert: So many Lives, by John Ashbury. So many Lives, by John Ashbury. 

Greta: Love Song, by Ted Hughes.

(Laughter)

˚ 

La Petite Mort: An Interview With Natalie Krim

The first thing you notice when you meet Natalie Krim is her voice. She has the dialect and pitch of 1940s movie star and the demeanor too. It’s a cool glamour, a poised glamour that is as sharp as a razor blade. Perhaps the Hollywood lineage isn’t too far off – her grandfather was a Hollywood portrait photographer who shot everyone from ---- to ---. Her grandfather is also most likely where she gets her creative gene. Krim’s illustrations, which are highly erotic in nature in all manner of repose, self-pleasuring, orgiastic and mellifluously sensual, are feminine and delicate, like she is, but hint at darker overtones. They are a world all her own, alter-egos, characters from the unconscious, coquettish nymphs, desirous, wanting and wanton – they recall a world created by Henry Darger or the illustrations of Gustav Klimt. Before her current show on view now at Little Big Man Gallery, we got a chance to ask her a few questions about her work, sexuality and secrets.

AUTRE: I want to talk about your origins, and where you started to pick up your first sort ofinspirations and motivations as an artist. Both your parents were artists right?

KRIM: My mom is, and my dad was a mortgage banker. So complete opposite. But he always wanted his kids to be artists and creative.

AUTRE: Was there a photographer in the family?

KRIM: Oh my grandfather! He had a photography studio in Los Angeles that my mom grew up in. And he would shoot all the old Hollywood movie stars, and that was kind of her upbringing.

AUTRE: Amazing, did you ever get to meet him?

KRIM: I didn’t, he died before both my brother and I were born. But I grew up looking at all ofhis photographs and it was very much a part of my upbringing.

AUTRE: So basically he was a glamour photographer that would take pictures of the stars?

KRIM: Yeah, we have photographs from all over.

AUTRE: Did you get to see any of his photography?

KRIM: Oh yeah we have a ton of it. Clark Gable, everyone. It’s very interesting.

AUTRE: Did they encourage you to make art? Or did you know that you wanted to be an artist at an early age?

KRIM: Not until only this year would I even call myself an artist. It was never a thing growing up. It was just how we were taught to express ourselves. I mean I always had journals and my mom would wake me up at 3 o’clock in the morning to watch a Channel runway show. It was just a part of our upbringing. I didn’t go to art school.

AUTRE: Can you remember the first drawing you ever made?

KRIM: I don’t know the first drawing, but I do have a drawing from preschool of a panda that the teacher wrote “you should have put more effort into it”. I felt like she was such an asshole.

AUTRE: So it wasn’t an erotic panda?

KRIM: (laughs) It wasn’t an erotic panda. I remember I used to draw girls as rectangles, that was my first go at it.



AUTRE: When did you discover your style?

KRIM: I started drawing the girls that I draw after a breakup. I hadn’t really been creating anything up until that point. It was just a way for me to express myself, and I just had so much fun. Then I started dating an artist who really just pushed me to keep at it, and kind of taught me to wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is draw.

AUTRE: Your persona is perhaps one of the most interesting things about your art. It seems like you’ve developed a persona, because you’ve seemed to take on the characters in your artwork. Is that something that happened over time?

KRIM: Well they aren’t really characters, they’re really self-portraits. So I don’t think of my work as work, because it’s just how I write a diary. It’s all of my experiences, it’s my relationships with lovers, or myself. So I don’t really see a disconnect - it’s just the same.

AUTRE: Do you think your work is feminist in nature? Or is it purely feminine? Do you think about the politicalaspect?

KRIM: I don’t think about it at all. I think it’s just feminine. There’s so many female artists right now that are so focused on just sexuality, and there’s so many other women’s rights that I wish had a little bit more attention. Like education and things like that. I feel like just because I’m a female artist I get classified as super feminist. And I am a feminist, but it has nothing to do with my work. I’m not trying to make a statement with it, I’m just showing you my life.

AUTRE: Do you think that these days people have a hard time understanding sex? Or that pornography especially has tainted our ideal of a positive sexual lifestyle?

KRIM: I find that only in America, I don’t find that in European cultures or other places. I feel like pornography has created almost a violence that goes along with sexuality, or just adisconnect that when you’re with a lover you have to act a certain way or say a certain thing. You’re kind of missing just being with the person. I’m not blaming that totally on pornography though, I know it’s an individual way to be intimate with someone.

AUTRE: Maybe it’s about sex education being so lacking that people grow up and have this weird idea of what it is? You must get a lot of unsavory messages with people who confuse your work.

KRIM: Oh my god I could show you, I have like 50 dick pics in my inbox.

AUTRE: La petite mort. It’s such a poetic way to describe an orgasm. Why do you think the female orgasm is such a mystery to people?

KRIM: I mean I can only speak for myself, but I think as women there’s that saying “disease to please” like you’re so focused on your lover that you don’t put yourself first or you may feel guilty about having pleasure. Or you’re afraid to express yourself sometimes. I just know from growing up that when you know what you want you’re able to communicate that. But often times if you’re casually sleeping with people maybe you don’t say that all the time. Or know how your body works.

AUTRE: It’s a great title for a show because it can mean so many things.

KRIM: It is the small death. For me, most of this work is a closure for me for a certain period of time. It’s a death on my train of thought on pleasing people.

AUTRE: What’s next after the show?

KRIM: I would like to explore making work on a larger scale. Maybe exploring different parts of my life and not sharing just the erotic side of it. It depends on if I fall in love soon because then it’ll be all about that.

AUTRE: Do you think people pigeon-hole you into this sort of erotic illustration?

KRIM: I mean my background is in lingerie. I’ve studied all types of eroticism, and fetish. I’ve been studying that since I was 15, so that is a very big part of me. I think at this point I would like to tap into other formats.

AUTRE: Who are some of your biggest influences in that world, especially in fetish?

KRIM: That’s a good question. I really am inspired by people not in the erotic world right now. I’m super inspired by Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. I think I’m more inspired by women and their strengths and not so much artists as erotic artists but more of a personality or related experiences I could share with somebody. 


Natalie Krim's first LA solo show "because I love you but you're not here" is on view now at Little Big Man Gallery, 1427 E. 4th Street Unit 2 Los Angeles CA. This interview was originally published in Autre's LOVE ISSUE, which is available in print here. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Eric Morales


Gardens of Pleasure: An Interview with Designer Yaz Bukey

On a quick trip to Los Angeles, we caught up with Paris-based designer Yaz Bukey. Her eponymous label is a trompe l’oeil pop art explosion of plexiglass that combines the aesthetics of advertising and everyday objects, like cigarette boxes and lipstick. Bukey is also an Ottoman princess and her ancestors were once the rulers of Egypt. In fact, one of those ancestors, Mehmet Ali Pasha, King of Egypt, gave the Concorde Obelisk to Napoleon. Despite her royal blood, Bukey is more modern than ever. Her collections are inspired by everything from ancient mythology to Boy George. In fact, Boy George is a customer of hers – so is Björk. Lately, Bukey has been eschewing the traditional runway presentation and showing her collections in the form of a performance that is half burlesque and half vaudeville shtick, with a splash of erotic revue. One regular performer is retired gay male pornstar François Sagat. We got a chance to catch up with Bukey in the Hollywood Hills to talk about her work, life and inspiration behind her current collection – as well as her wildly ambitious plans for the future of her label, which includes an all encompassing universe splashed with her vision. 

DOUGLAS NEILL: How do you like being in Los Angeles? Is the sunshine inspiring?

YAZ BUKEY: It’s true that we need sun. For me, I love the fact that you can be isolated and at the same time in a big city. This is the thing that I love here. That’s why I would like to move here. My dream would be to have my house with my garden. I love plants. And behind, I have my atelier, and I can work from there.

NEILL: You like having a space for peace?

BUKEY: Yes. I need that, more and more. Before, I was always thinking, “I have to stay in big cities, like Paris, London, or New York.” I think that we really need to be resourced by nature. Here, you have everything – the sea, the gardens, the desert. Everything is here.

NEILL: Your aesthetic is very unique and instantly recognizable. How would you describe it in a word or phrase?  

BUCKEY: It’s all about trompe l’oeil. Through this material – Plexiglas – I arrive to have pieces that you don’t know if it is a print, or if it is an object. Same for the home decor that I am starting to make more and more. You can have different pieces that you put on your wall. I like that a clutch can become a box that you have in your house. It’s accessory for yourself and accessory for your home.

NEILL: It transfers well from situation to situation.  

BUKEY: I like the fact that, when you wear something, people in the street say, “This reminds me of this movie or that pattern.” It’s storytelling. You don’t need to speak. Just having a piece can pop up images in your eye.

NEILL: What was it like meeting Björk and selling your first collection to her?

BUKEY: That was the first big move that happened when I launched my brand. I was sold in three stores. One was Kokon to Zai in London. They – namely, Marjan Pejoski – are very close to Björk. She did the swan dress and this big pink dress that she wore at the Cannes Film Festival. Before going to going to Cannes to show Dancing in the Dark, Björk went to the store and bought each of the pieces I had made. She started wearing it, and then she contacted me to have pieces for her show. It shifted the brand, actually. She’s so inspiring. I like when people are bold like this, you know? She’s not scared of wearing something weird, something that people can even laugh at. People could say, “Oh, that’s so ugly.” She doesn’t care. That’s a side of her that I like.

NEILL: You are a part of a really fascinating group of artist and designers in Paris. Do you inspire or influence each other?

BUKEY: We have a close group of friends. Each of us is in his own world, of course. The one that is closest to me is Vincent Darré in terms of aesthetics.

NEILL: He has a great personality. He always makes me smile.

BUKEY: He’s a very happy person. There is also Michel Gaubert, who does the music for my show. I love talking to him. Sometimes, he’s like, “Oh, I thought of you when I saw this image.” We have a lot of exchange, whether musical or otherwise. I was more into music before. I wanted to be a singer. But it was not possible due to my family. [Laughs.] They wanted me to go and do political science. I went to study it. But after three months I was like, “I don’t understand what they’re talking about. Please let me do something else.” They accepted that I do something else, but it had to be kind of like mathematics. I figured out that industrial design was not so bad. I went into graphics to be able to be close to the music industry. I wanted to do the album covers. Slowly, that shifted to perfume bottle designing. From there, I met this old lady who was the head of this very famous fashion school in Paris. Vincent went to the same school. Camille Bidault went to that school.

NEILL: Did you guys know each other before school?

BUKEY: No, we were all from different eras of the school. This lady has changed all of our lives.

NEILL: What’s her name?

BUKEY: Marie Rucki. When you arrive to that school, she says, “Everything you learned from your parents is shit. We’re going to empty it and refill it with what you like.”

NEILL: So she is responsible?

BUKEY: She is responsible for a lot of designers. The school has been there for forty years, and she’s still there. She’s over 80.

NEILL: I always attribute creativity to what people do on their own. I always forget that a teacher can be a huge influence.

BUKEY: A teacher can change your life. Or they can make you hate something.

NEILL: There’s a rumor that you are a descendant of royalty. Is this true?

BUKEY: My great great grandfather was the king of Egypt in the beginning of the 19th century. It was a family that ruled from the beginning of 1800 until 1953. The last king was King Farouk. The first was Mehmet Ali Pasha, who comes from Italy and Greece. He was the one who offered the Obelisk to Napoleon when they lost the war against him. For me, the most inspiring person from my father’s family is Princess Fawzia, who was the sister of King Farouk. She was the first wife of the Shah of Iran. She stayed there two years. She was a party girl, and she couldn’t stand it, so she left. She’s beautiful, like a Hollywood actress. I’m going to Egypt next week, actually.

NEILL: What are you doing there?

BUKEY: I have some of my father’s family there – aunts and cousins. In 1953, the family lost all of their houses and mansions – everything. Everything belongs to the state. You can still live in it, but you can’t sell anything. You can’t restore it. It’s unfortunately fading away. I haven’t been in 25 years. I’ll have to hide the tattoos. [Laughs.]

NEILL: For your collections, you stage, dramatic, beautiful, and elaborate scenes, instead of the typical runway show. Are runway shows boring to you?

BUKEY: Very boring. Sometimes, I go to support friends who do shows. All the journalists and stylists, they have so much to see right now. They travel so much. I believe you have to give them something else. I love performing. I used to perform myself, a few years ago. Unfortunately, now, I can’t during my shows, because I need to do the interviews. Being able to take care of the music, the image, the photography, the design, the furniture – for me, it’s a global art. That’s what I like.

NEILL: It’s like a painting.

BUKEY: Yeah. And I like working with the same crew. I like adding newcomers in. Now, we have more and more well-known people who want to be part of the show. They call me and say, “Hey, can I be part of the show next season?” If it fits, I’ll let them do it. I have a little list.

NEILL: Can you give an example?

BUKEY: I would love to work with Marie-Agnès Gillot. She’s one of the main dancers in the Opéra Paris. Right now, it’s not the right moment, because the next collections are not fitting her. At some point, I would love to work with her, having her dancing.

NEILL: I agree. The fashion show is…

BUKEY: It’s so quick. A show is only seven to ten minutes. Very sad.

NEILL: Now, they’re doing it where you can watch the show on the computer and buy it right away.

BUKEY: This is the thing that people started doing to avoid copying. I wish that we just did one collection per year, and that we showed it for Spring/Summer. In the end, it’s a lot of work, a lot of research. You put your heart in there, and it’s only living in the store for two months. The value is down right now. That’s why everyone tries to do things very quickly. You don’t have the time to go deeper into your research. What I liked, back in the day, was that you could be interested in an image or artist, look for it in a library, and then find other things that inspire you even more. It takes you from one spot to the other. That’s what we need right now.

NEILL: That’s exactly how I feel about collecting records.

BUKEY: Collecting records, you go to the store, you search and search. You don’t find what you’re looking for, maybe, but you will find something else.

NEILL: You don’t have enough time to research?

BUKEY: Right now, everything is quick. Three seasons ago, I worked a lot on Bob Fosse’s work. In the end, you speak to the journalists, and they don’t even know who he is. You’re like, “Come on. This is not possible.” [Laughs.] Let me do a few moves for you.


Purchase the Hibiscus Clutch here


NEILL: Do you have any hand in choreographing the performances?

BUKEY: I work with this boy who used to be my student. (I worked at Studio Berçot after I was student there.) He shifted from being a stylist to dance. He has a group called House of Drama. His name is Aymeric Bergada Du Cadet. We have this very close relationship. More or less, we do everything together. I am around Christopher Niquet a lot as well. He lives in New York. I really believe in his eye. When I finish my collection, I always say, “Hey, can you have a look at it?” He always has the right words.

NEILL: It’s like you have a little family.

BUKEY: Yes. The dancers are all young kids. I like to have those young girls around, to show them the way as well. “Maybe don’t go there… Do more of this.” I help them out with their daily looks, so they are elevated.

NEILL: What do you look for in a performer? I know you just worked with François Sagat.

BUKEY: He used to be a porn actor. Before that, he also did Studio Berçot. He was in my sister’s class. he worked in the fashion industry and then got fed up from it. I see his porn work as an artwork. He’s not afraid to have bubblegum looks. I like that. I understand very well why he went into that. Now, he has stopped after five years. He has a brand now of men’s underwear. It’s called Kick Sagat. When I asked him, “Would you perform?” He said yes. We performed together three times before, in clubs. It was quite a pain in the ass. We were dressed in cat suits, and people would pull our tails.

NEILL: A lot of unexpected issues.

BUKEY: I used to be very stressed with the performers. “Okay, you have to do it perfectly!” Now, I know that they will give it their best. Let them be. “Do how you feel the best.” There’s no competition between them. Everyone has her own character. We work with MAC for the makeup. I always tell him, “It’s not just one makeup for the show. I need one for each girl that shows best their character and personality.” It’s quite free. I like to leave each person who works with me a lot of freedom.

NEILL: Would you say anybody could come? Do you have auditions or casting?

BUKEY: Auditions, no. But, for instance, we have worked many seasons with Anna Cleveland as a model, and this season she said, “I want to dance.” She’s not a dancer, so we did more rehearsal with her. But in the end, she was amazing. The star of the show. Then again, the character has to go with the show. One season we will use someone, but the next season I have to say, “I’m sorry, but you won’t be in.” Then, they come back. It’s like a family, as you said. Also, I need to be sure they didn’t gain weight. [Laughs.]

NEILL: Where do you look for inspiration when it comes to your collections?

BUKEY: For the Hollywood collection, it was the dancing of Bob Fosse, the actresses of classic eras, Samuel Goldwyn. I make all this research, and then I pull out my own story. For the collection, My Heart Belongs to Paris, it was the Pink Panther, Henry Mancini’s music, and American in Paris. My American in Paris was an American girl tourist. She arrives to Paris. That morning, at the Café de Flore, there is a big scandal. The Mona Lisa has been stolen from the Louvre. There are many stories as to what happened – someone stabbed the Mona Lisa, someone what in love with her. I make my own story out of it.

NEILL: It sounds almost like a dream. You have all these things that you filter through.

BUKEY: Yeah. Also, there are images that were inspiring for me when I was a kid. My father was an ambassador who pretty much specialized in the Arab world. We lived in different Arab countries, like Saudi Arabia, where there were no movies or anything. My father helped me a lot with my cinematographic side. We would watch and rewatch and then act out a lot of musicals.

NEILL: So that was very inspiring to your collections now?

BUKEY: Yeah, yeah. One of the first things that inspired me so much was Boy George, Culture Club. The only way out was to go to these shopping malls in Saudi Arabia and walk around. I was obsessed by the album covers. When I saw Boy George and the Culture Club I was like, “Yes!” I would dress like a mini Boy George. I put my hair in braids. My parents would freak out, of course, because I ruined all my mom’s makeup.

NEILL: Can you talk a little bit about your current collection, Gardens of Pleasure?

BUKEY: There is a cartoon in France called Asterix. It’s about a little village that fights against the Romans back in the day. There is one that is called Twelve Worlds of Asterix, where they have to do Olympic things. I started listening to the music. It was a cartoon from the 70s. I found out the guy who did the music, and I found this album that he made, Tropical Fantasy. It was amazing. I took a bit of Tropical Fantasy, and then I wanted to do my own Gardens of Eden. What will I have inside that? La chicholina, for me, is the sexual side of beauty. The birth of Venus. Poison ivy. Cupid. Aphrodite and Zeus. It’s totally different, but I do my own story.

NEILL: Do you bring a character to the story?

BUKEY: The show starts with the priestess of the island, doing the welcome dance. Then, we have different personalities who come out for different tableaux. We finish with Adam and Eve, but Adam is eating the apple.

NEILL: Where do you see you and your brand going in the future?

BUKEY: I want to grow it into the thing I call Yazbukeyland. I want to make a lifestyle around the brand. You are able to have furniture, bedsheets, glasses, rugs, oil paintings, perfume, car (the Yazmobile) – everything. You can be in that fantasy world, you know? That’s what I want.

NEILL: Is there anything that you want everybody to know?

BUKEY: Not too long ago, I saw that Boy George bought a piece of mine. I was in his concert last year in Paris, which was amazing, and he kept saying, “My friend Jerry is here!” And I though, oh, Jerry is my friend too. I contacted him and said, “I really want to do something with Boy George.” Lately, I sent him two pieces, and he wrote me back on Twitter saying, “I really loved my gifts.” He was like, “Follow me!” Like, oh my God, from age 11 to age 42, the circle is there. I really hope one day we can do something. Maybe he can sing during my show. It’s possible. He is so open. 


To find retailer's or purchase Yazbukey's collections online, click here. Photographs and interview by Douglas Neill. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Craving Danger: An Interview With Strange Names' Liam Benzvi On His New Solo Project

Soft Ethnic is the brainchild of 25-year-old, Brooklyn-based Liam Benzvi. In what sounds like an amalgamation of queer no-wave and r&b of the late 70s/early 80’s, the melodic insistence of Benzvi’s songs feels original in delivery, and familiar in musicality. The name “Soft Ethnic” comes from a type-casting term that was given to him during his years of acting school in Minneapolis, cheekily attributing his skin tone to his ability to be cast as a variety of “ethnic” characters. Turning to music, Benzvi co-formed new wave-pop outfit Strange Names. Their debut LP, Use Your Time Wisely, came out last Spring on Frenchkiss Records, and a second LP is on the way. Benzvi says Soft Ethnic is an experiment, mostly in its performance: “a means to over-saturate the city with my feelings.” Soft Ethnic's debut EP will be out in the Spring of 2016. Today, Autre exclusively released Soft Ethnic's Memphis Milano inspired music video for the track Prints, co-directed by Jarod Taber and Alex Rapine, with set design by Marki Becker. We got a chance to catch up with Benzvi to discuss Soft Ethnic, type casting and his new music video.   

Autre: When and how did you start making music?

Liam Benzvi: I was more invested in lyrics for a while because I didn’t need any kind of musical vocabulary or skill to quantify what I was making. I’m a product-oriented songwriter, so even if something isn’t done, I’ll say it’s a finished demo as an exercise of my full authority over the song. When I got my first computer in college, composition was suddenly a very user-friendly experience for me. The bounds of the software ended up pushing me to seek out real musicians to collaborate with because I was dissatisfied with the computer sounds, and still didn’t think I had any capacity to learn anything myself. It was getting into a room with real musicians—my best friends—that ultimately allowed me to make the music I wanted to. When I was in my first band in college, I semi-stole my band mate’s DD6 pedal, and would make really expansive vocal loops that crafted the majority of my first fully formed songs.

Autre: I understand that your name, Soft Ethnic, comes from a type-casting term that you encountered quite a bit while acting in Minneapolis. How did you get into acting and what kinds of characters would you play?

Benzvi: I went to performing arts high school in Manhattan, followed by a conservatory acting program in Minneapolis. I got into it because I loved the backstage culture of theater. My friends, talking in class, talking about what we liked/disliked—these were my people. I really wanted to get into my body and be as self-realized as I could be by the time I had to move out of my parent’s house, and being on stage was the best way to do that. I was always cast as villains—I had the most fun when I had to be old or monstrous and grotesque in some way. I was told I was “soft ethnic” by a bunch of casting directors that would teach us workshops about being the “CEOs of ourselves” and understanding how we would be perceived at first glance, walking into an audition room. It felt shallow, funny, and very real all at once. And I always knew I’d take the term and turn it on its head—not necessarily to be political, but to make it more personal to me if that was indeed how I was “perceived”.

Autre: Do you plan to continue acting or are you focused exclusively these days on music?

Benzvi: I’m committed to music right now, but I always intend to make it as performative as I can. I think I’ll act again, and I’ll be much better than I was, because of what I’m doing now.

Autre: Each character you play in this music video is distinct from the next and represents a clear embodiment of the melodic components that comprise the song. Are they all separate sides of yourself, or is there one that feels more connected to your true identity?

Benzvi: My friends that have seen the video like the drunk character the most, and they say that he is my true essence. It’s probably true because I’m more unhinged. I also like the archetype of the dude in the band that’s just really excited all the time about everything. That’s the character in the flamingo pajamas.

Autre: How did you discover Ettore Sottsass and why did you choose his Memphis Group aesthetic for this particular video?

Benzvi: : Marki and Jarod had just birthed their film/design group Wash & Fold, and they brought me a bunch of paint swatches. At that point I had no real idea of what Marki was going to design and build. I just knew that I wanted it to look like a baby’s bedroom—she took it from there. When she came back with a design, she had gravitated to the Memphis Group for the playfulness of the shapes they used in the 80s. The personality of the Memphis objects allowed them to be read as set pieces but also added a layer of continuity to the video and gave me fun shapes to interact with for each character.

Autre: There are some very clear parallels between this new sound and that of your other group, Strange Names. Although, with Soft Ethnic you take a clear shift toward a much more mellow drum line, which makes for a slower, more contemplative groove. Was this a conscious choice, and are there any other ways that you intended to branch out from the sound you’ve been crafting with Strange Names?

Benzvi: I approach all my writing with a uniform simplicity. When I write for the band, I always keep in mind that whatever I make alone is only a third to half way to the finish line—it’s really liberating. With Strange Names, I fundamentally trust Francis and Fletcher with their unique creative authorities and I can allow myself to let go of ideas when they’re not necessarily a complete demo on my end. In the last year or so I had been listening to a lot of no-wave electronic stuff. It didn’t feel very flashy, and it was kind of bizarre, but all the hooks were there. It felt like pop and jazz and funk at once; totally achieved with not much more than a drum machine, some synth chords, and a very up-front, grandiose, indiosyncratic vocal. To name a few—Indoor Life, Lizzy Mercier Descloux, Patrick Cowley, Tuxedomoon—verging on punk, but still a little too weird/queer for it. This kind of not-belonging theatrical energy was something I wanted to experiment with on my own. I knew that I would do it in my own way, and if it sounds like Strange Names a bit at the onset, it's only because it’s my voice singing and it's my melodic instinct in the writing. As far as execution, the simpler construction is definitely intentional. I like that it sounds like a demo. There’s some spoken word involved—kind of in a Jarvis Cocker kind of way—and for the live show, I’ve begun collaborating with dancers and devising choreography and that’s been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined.

Autre: I’ve read that Strange Names has constantly been restraining its avant-garde tendencies in order to make the sound more accessible. Is that something you feel you need to do with Soft Ethnic as well?

Benzvi: You could say that. With Soft Ethnic, I want to be unapologetically myself in every way, from start to finish—I suppose that could form a window to potential avant-garde tendencies. Making something accessible is in reference to the hustle of being in a band, trying to get picked up. We were in Minneapolis and we were listening to all sorts of music, reading all the blogs, trying to methodically figure out how we could be successful. It was and will always be exhausting, but when we moved to New York that all changed because we really sat down and made the record we wanted to make. We realized that our collective admiration for anthems came from the inclusive feeling it evoked—not talking meaningless and vacant American Idol-penned anthems, but Human League hooks and B-52s summer-of-love type music. I think we’ve stopped giving a shit about people turning their noses up.

Autre: Strange Names came out of the Minneapolis music scene and has since made its way to New York City. Can you talk a bit about how those music scenes differ and whether or not this has affected your sound?

Benzvi: I think that in New York it’s really easy to be alone, and because I have a lot of alone time here I’m more inclined to make things alone. Since Strange Names has been a New York band, when the band gets together, we’ll all have made something alone and bring it into the room and have to make collective sense of it. Is this something we can all attach ourselves to? And great results always come from that kind of dissecting. With Soft Ethnic, I have no idea how something is being received because I keep it completely to myself and then perform it and see what happens. I crave that sort of danger so that I can keep working hard at all times. I want to be the most resourceful performer I can be, and I always want to be learning about how I can be as compelling as I can on stage.

Autre: When you’re not making music how do you spend your free time?

Benzvi: I’m trying to collaborate with as many people as I can lately. Making friends. Drinking. Writing. I’m not really sleeping that much.

Autre: How would you like your sound to evolve over the next 5 years?

Benzvi: If whatever I’ve made is aggressively of my doing, I’ll have probably evolved in some way.


Click here to watch the music video for Soft Ethnic's track Prints. Photograph by Charlotte FergusonInterview by Summer Bowie. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Not So Innocent Anymore: An Interview With Actress and Musician Rainey Qualley

Rainey Qualley is gunning for the big time.  It wouldn’t be a big surprise to see her selling out stadiums in only a few years. For now, though, you may know Qualley (who is the eldest daughter of actress Andie MacDowell), for her seductive scene on Mad Men wearing a long chinchilla coat with not much on underneath, coquettishly auditioning for Don Draper’s character during the show’s finale. Lately, Qualley is going in a different direction, for the moment, than her mom and focusing on music. For the past two years, Qualley made a splash in the country music world while living in Nashville – with repeat plays on the radio, opening for Willie Nelson and a set on the iconic Grand Ole Opry. However, pop music is Rainey’s passion and she has moved to Los Angeles with a set of demos and is ready to release a “debut” album of sorts. The pop music she is making is a distant departure from her country hits. Her voice has a tinge of late-90s Top 40 R&B, and when she crashes into her refrains you can hear shades of Sade’s angst and assured sexiness. There is also a Lynchian darkness to her music that blends kitsch and popular music sensibilities, a la Julee Cruise or Chris Isaak. Whatever the case is, her music has plenty of room in the contemporary zeitgeist. We got a chance to catch up with Qualley during her recent transition from recording in New York and moving to Los Angeles, to ask about her quiet upbringing in the country, her passion for pop music, opening for Willie Nelson and what it was like to act half-naked in a fur coat on Mad Men.

Autre: You grew up kind of under the radar, in Montana and then in North Carolina. What was it like growing up there?

Rainey Qualley: Spending my early years in Montana was very idyllic.  I remember playing outside catching salamanders in the streams and riding horses and building forts in the forest.  We moved when I was 9, and I am thankful for my southern roots having grown up primarily in North Carolina.  I think growing up in those areas kept me a little bit sheltered and innocent.  But I was always very eager to move away.

Autre: How did you know you wanted to get out of there, go to Nashville and LA to perform? What was that like?

Qualley: I started dancing when I was 2.  And I grew up in a creative household.  So I've always been drawn to the arts.  I kind of realized I could sing when I was a kid and always loved doing it behind closed doors - I used to be very shy.  My dad taught me to play guitar when I was a teenager.  I went to regular college for two years and hated it.  And then when I was 19 I moved to New York and crashed on a friend’s couch while I figured out what to do.  I didn't really have a plan I just knew I had to start trying.

Autre: You’re based in New York now, do you feel like that’s your new home or do you sometimes dream of going back to country living?

Qualley: I spent the last month in New York writing music.  But I’ve actually been based in Nashville for the past 2 years.  As I write this, however, I am on a plane moving back to LA.  And no, I don't see myself going back to the country.  My dream is to have a little place in LA with my sister where we can have some bunnies and chickens and whatever animals we want in the back yard but still have all the perks of living in the city,     


Listen to an exclusive clip of a track off Rainey's Qualley's upcoming album


Autre: Your sister is a dancer and your mother is an actress, did you ever want to rebel against that and do something completely different?

Qualley: No, I've always wanted to make music and act.  For me, it's really nice having family members who are in similar fields.  We all help each other out and inspire one and other.  Plus we are sympathetic to the difficulties that this kind of profession breeds.  

Autre: You debuted an album, “Turn Down the Lights,” back in June and you have a new album coming out. In the future, do you see acting or music as your primary focus?

Qualley: I think music and acting compliment each other.  I am the type of person who always has to be working on something or else I feel like I'm wasting time.  So having multiple creative outlets keeps me from going crazy.

Autre: “Turn Down the Lights,” is predominantly a country album. What attracts you to that genre and are you going in a different direction on your new album?

Qualley: I actually kind of fell into country music. I took a writing trip to Nashville two years ago and the very first song I wrote started playing on XM radio.  So I was like, "Ok, this seems like it's working out. I should try country music.”  I have had so many wonderful opportunities the past two years - I got to open for Willie Nelson at the Ryman, I played the Grand Ole Opry multiple times - things I only ever dreamed of.  But ultimately, pop music is what I'm passionate about.  The new project I'm working on is entirely different from anything I've released in the past.  And I am aching to share the new songs.  

Autre: What was it like opening for Willie Nelson? 

Qualley: I got to open for Willie two nights In a row at the Ryman auditorium, it was very surreal and humbling. It was also my first big show after signing with CAA so I felt a lot of pressure to impress the agents. And to give a performance worthy of the venue and the headliner. The whole experience was a thrill. The shows were really fun and the audience was incredibly warm. I only got to met him briefly after his show on the second night and he was so cool. Plus I fan-girled and got photos with "trigger" his guitar back stage.

Autre: You had this iconic role in the seventh season premiere of Mad Men. Everyone was talking about this “Mystery Girl.” What was your reaction to entering the spotlight like that?

Qualley: Being on Mad Men was dope.  I hadn't really watched the show before I got cast.  But once I started, I couldn't stop.  So it was cool to have been a part of, even though it was such a small role.  I was only in one scene, so I really didn't expect people to react they way they did.  But it's flattering that people liked the scene.  And no it wasn't my first role.

Autre: You’ve been involved with a few films now, including one with your mom. Can you tell us a little about those projects?

Qualley: I've worked on a few independent films, and they were great experiences.  I've been taking kind of a hiatus from acting to focus on music.  But I'm really excited to get back to LA and start up again.

Autre: What next for you?

Qualley: The big thing on my mind right now is my pop project.  I have about 13 demos recorded already that I am so so so psyched about.  The tough part now is deciding what I like the best.  But I'll be releasing new music soon. 

Autre: Favorite era for music, film culture?

Qualley: I don't really idealize any one era the most.  I love Motown/Soul music so the 60's were pretty great for that.  The 60's also saw some beautiful folk/singer-songwriter stuff come to life.  Sick pop music came out of the 80's and 90's, 2000's.  There's magic in every decade I think.  But, if I could travel back in time I'd like to spend a week or so in medieval civilization.  I'm pretty happy existing right now though.


Rainey Qualley's debut album will drop sometime this summer. In the meantime, follow her on Instagram. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Photographs by Kevin Hayeland. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Life's A Gasssss: An Interview with Oliver Clegg

A short walk from the main gallery where Oliver Clegg’s first solo exhibition opened over the weekend, at Erin Cluley Gallery in Dallas, is a former ice factory where the artist’s pièce de résistance is on view. “Until the Cows Come Home” is a kinetic sculpture in the form of a round table – split at the center with armless diner-like chairs and surface hues reminiscent of a Corbusier color palette. The sculpture spins manually every twenty minutes. This week, during the first leg of the exhibition, entitled Life is A Gasssss, the sculpture will be host to a series of interactive dinners. The sculpture, along with much of Clegg’s work, is a statement on our culture’s addiction to information and subsequent information overdose. The dinners will force participants to face each other, sans digital devices, in a one on one interaction. The dizzying centrifugal motion is symbolic of our incessant need for change and new visual stimuli.  It is a theme that the U.K. born, New York-based artist is carrying on with his distorted trompe l’oeil portraits of cartoon icons in the form of deflated balloons painted on canvas, which will also be on view – perhaps artifacts of a culture laid to waste and a collective spiritual ennui. We got a chance to catch up with Clegg in his studio to discuss his work, his process and his upcoming book, which will encapsulate ten years of the artist’s work. 

SCOUT MACECHRON: How is being a father and doing your work?

OLIVER CLEGG: The point is, when you have the more responsibilities that you have in your life, you have to schedule your day more effectively. You’ll go in, and the hours that you have to work, you’ll work hard. Sometimes you’ll be more productive. Sometimes you’ll be less productive. You have to work with more routine and less spontaneity. You end up maximizing the time you have.

MACECHRON: Tell me about your history. Were you a kid who loved to draw or paint?

CLEGG: It’s really a case of whether you are good or not good at something. My work has always revolved around painting and drawing. There are other expressions that have happened since I’ve started making contemporary art, but the starting point has always been painting and drawing. That’s what I’ve always had talent and interest in. That starts young, drawing dinosaurs and rabbits or whatever. You also have to make decision in your late teens, whether you’re going to university in art, or whether you’ll do something art related, but not in the practical sense. Within the time of my late teens and early twenties, I spent two years in Italy. I studied portrait painting. It was less about painting portraits, and more about the technique of painting in a naturalistic style. After I finished my degree, I had this quandary. Do I pursue a career in art as an artist or not as an artist? I did some internships at galleries and a magazine in London. Then, I decided that it wasn’t for me. At that point, I pursued my master’s. The rest is history. I was very lucky; there was always a consistency of interest.

MACECHRON: Did your time working for galleries and magazines inform the way you work?

CLEGG: It’s a case of broadening your understanding of art, in terms of theory and tradition. I wouldn’t say that it encouraged the drive you need to get into this world. But I was able to look at the art that was being made, and I wondered what I could contribute to the dialogue. It was useful, but not complete. It helped me augment information.

MACECHRON: Did you work oil painting?

CLEGG: I was always working oil painting in the beginning. I knew that was what I wanted to do. When I was doing my degree, I taught myself how to paint in oil. I was interested in technique, pigmentation, and the archival nature of the medium. The works that I sold initially were all oil variations of traditional paintings.

MACECHRON: At what point did you start incorporating other mediums?

CLEGG: I started printmaking, and I realized that I didn’t just have to do painting. I could have a break from painting, and I could do something else. I would come back to painting with a fresh perspective. It was like taking a vacation from one practice in order to explore something else. I would come back refreshed. I became more confident and had more opportunities.

And it all depended on the context. At the Freud Museum at 2008, I got an opportunity to present work. It was Freud’s house, like a domestic setting. Suddenly, the paintings fit in, for obvious reasons of relationships to childhood, etc. I was able to work in different mediums that were more suitable to the context. I made a chess piece for Freud’s desk. I made a floating light bulb above his table. I made different sculptures and embroideries that went in Anna Freud’s room. It was really a reaction to the environment.

But when I was started to think of a new idea, I would always go back to painting. Painting was the initial impetus. You have a show, and there’s a foundation around painting, but then there are other things that are necessary to express the message more coherently. That’s what happened with this show. It’s happened organically. I do a lot of sculpture now, but I still imagine my studio as a painting studio. The sculptures are made outside of the studio.

MACECHRON: What do you mean by outside of the studio?

CLEGG: The sculptures belong to a more conceptual side of my practice. I get a lot of the pieces fabricated because they would be too big to be built in my studio. I have a carpenter, a mold-maker, a metal guy. We all work together. The ultimate scenario is that you would have a studio to house all the skills together. But these pieces come out in a more random fashion. I just use them when I need to. And they know me well enough that I trust them to make something that fits both my aesthetic preferences and their practical needs.

MACECHRON: How has the work developed into this show?

CLEGG: I feel there’s not much radical change in my work in the past 10 years. There’s always been a sense of being born in 1980, without a lot of technology. If we had computers, they were only used for games. When I went to Southeast Asia when I was 19, we only used email to let our family know we were okay. Same with when I lived in Italy. I didn’t get my first laptop until I was 26, and it was a shitty thing. A lot of my work looks at the implications of this change. That’s why there’s a sense of the neglected object. There’s a strong feeling of nostalgia, being evoked by shadows. Shadows connote both existence and time. There’s a balance of contrasts in the work – past/present, melancholy/ecstatic, accidental marks/deliberate marks. There are always two points of view. I straddle the digital and analogue generation. When I became an artist, that’s how my life was changing. In this show, I take iconography from my childhood – Donald Duck, Garfield – and reimagine it as deflated helium balloons. Some of the people from this generation might not recognize those figures. What are the implications of this fast technological change? What are we losing? What is the difference between a culture with simple, definite cultural icons to a culture that has an oversaturation of imagery and information? We start beginning to not care about anything.

MACECHRON: What’s it like to see your daughter interact with technology?

CLEGG: She’s too young to watch television, but she has started to put the phone up to her ear. She can use her finger miraculously to turn it on. But she doesn’t know what she’s doing. She has accidentally sent emails because she just wants to press the buttons. We want to spend more time in places where she is outside all the time. There’s a world outside of the computer. If we do something now, maybe she wont’ be so dependent. But whether you like it or not, you have to use the tools of your peers, or you’ll become isolated.

MACECHRON: Which of these figures have personal significance to you? Or did you just choose them because they were recognizable?

CLEGG: The choice was based on what I could get my hands on, and there's a focus on pop icons from my generation. I don’t want it to be confused with street art. I don’t want them to feel like one-liners. I had to create unity through the body.

MACECHRON: You don’t want to be confused with street art?

CLEGG: No. Pop iconography is appropriated by street painting. I want the paintings to be more connected with traditional paintings. There’s also repetition by the scale. There are twelve paintings. They are not individual messages. They are one body. They have relationship to the sculptures in the show. They’re not one-liner half-funny, half-serious paintings.

MACECHRON: Let’s talk a bit about your sculptures. You have a multimedia room?

CLEGG: I don’t like the word “multimedia.” It makes it sound like it’s in a science museum. There is an external space that’s a garage. There will be a disco ball spinning around, with a poster refracting squares of light. The light will say, “Me,” in my handwriting, a thousand times. There will probably be a sound element. That was one sculpture. The other sculptures is an eighteen foot bar coming across. Hanging off the bar is a single wire. At the bottom of the wire, there’s a golden carrot. There will be a plinth underneath it. There are two of these. A wooden stick hangs off the other one. So you have incentive and disincentive. There’s a sculpture that will say in neon, in my handwriting, “Life is a gas.” We’re also putting in a spinning table, where we’ll host a series of dinners. People will come see the show, and then we’ll have this social experiment. A lot of the work of the show has this sense of a party – disco ball, balloons, childlike references. The spinning table is a personification of the relationship to the “good times.”

MACECHRON: You have a book coming out as well?

CLEGG: Yes. We’re publishing a book at the same time as the show. It will have text by Darren Bader, a New York based artist; James Webster, a psychoanalyst; and Antony Hynes, a comedy writer. They’ll all be contributing to this catalogue. Because the book is coming out, I wanted to make a show that related to the diversity of my practice.

MACECHRON: The spinning table was from your first solo show. Why did you want to bring it back?

CLEGG: I wanted to give it context. I wanted it to relate more to the practice and the art as a whole.

MACECHRON: The disco ball sculpture that says, “Me, me, me,” does that relate to your feelings about the digital age?

CLEGG: In a few ways, it relates to the show. I see these paintings as avatars. The avatar is the way we present ourselves to the world around us on a digital platform that encourages narcissism. Any time someone meets a famous person or goes to an event, they have to take a picture. It’s a horrendous, horrific presentation of the self. The irony is, the people who want to counter that are just as prolific. Their righteousness is more narcissistic. It’s the medium where these ugly sides of our personalities become more exploited. “Me, me, me,” relates to that. It also relates to this existential question: “Who am I? What am I doing here? Where am I going?” Ultimately, however hard we try, we all come down to just really caring about ourselves. The infinite struggle of humanity is to be more compassionate. But I see it becoming harder and harder in a social and cultural climate that forces you to consistently question your relationship to other people.


Oliver Clegg "Until the Cows Come Home," 2014


MACECHRON: And the carrot and the stick?

CLEGG: What anchors the exhibition, for me, is this sense of irony. Irony is built on contrast. The title, “Life's a gassssss,” doesn’t mean just “Life is great.” Around your thirties, you start to question your mortality. You have the idea of being lured by a carrot, to move forward. But you’re going to get hit by the stick anyway, if you don’t move. It’s a cool image, but it has more profound implications. You’re going whether you like it or not, basically. When you question, “What is the point of my existence?” it becomes a difficult thing to answer. For me, I think you’re on this journey, and you just kind of have to do it. That’s the message of that piece. But it retains the playful, cartoonish imagery. It’s comical, the way the show is, though it has more serious commentary.

MACEACHRON: You’ve got a monograph and a book coming out.  How did the monograph come about?

CLEGG: It’s something I’ve been working on for a couple of years—it started as a book of painting.  But I made so much other work that it became something a little more diverse.  There was an imbalance in the amount of painting and the sculpture. As I continued to make sculpture work that was more socially engaged, like the games side and the foosball table, it ended up becoming a book that was hard to know when to finish. When I was given the opportunity to do the show in Dallas, I was able to have a different focus.  And I can make a book that brings things up to date.  It’ll give a coherent representation of Oliver Clegg in 2016.  I like the idea of self-publishing. I like the idea of me commissioning the text. I like the idea of making those choices myself, so it can become a model for what I do in future shows.  Part of my whole thing is wanting to do things my way, developing an organic network. Rather than the museum saying, “We’ll do the book for you,” and you don’t get to meet anyone along the process.  I don’t want to end up having done lots of interesting stuff without having met people along the way.  For me, a lot of my experience is about making friendships - with my fabricators, with my designers, photographers.  I think it’s the best way for our culture to survive.  I’ll ask a friend and a friend will write something, and that way it’s genuinely born out of integrity.

MACEACHRON: Did working on the book make you reflect on your work in ways you hadn’t before?

CLEGG: Yeah.  What happens with these lists is you end up writing the same thing again and again. Then you end up making it.It might be something you first wrote when you were twenty-eight years old, and you make when you’re thirty-five years old.  Sometimes you need that kind of push.  The book gave me a vehicle for motivating myself to do things that I said I was going to do but hadn’t gotten around to.  These parts of the process are very useful. In terms of the work, you’re able to see it all together, which is either satisfying or horrifying, whichever way you look at it.

MACEACHRON: Was it a bit of both for you?

CLEGG: I think the point is you’re never happy with anything.  And if you are, then there would be no point to really continue to do anything, creatively.  At a certain point, you commit to something and you just do it, and you look back at it and question it after.  So I suppose it can be horrifying sometimes, yeah.

MACEACHRON: How did you end up at the Dallas Art Fair?

CLEGG: I was asked to be in this auction called Redefine, which is hosted by the Goss-Michael Foundation.  It’s focused mainly on young British artists, YBA’s.  I gave a piece for that, and made some contacts while in Dallas. I was approached by a curator of exhibitions at Dallas Contemporary who had an amazing space and offered me a solo show over the fair.  In the course of doing that, I’ve been there a couple of times and met the community.  We’d never been to Dallas before—you always pick LA, New York, or even New Orleans.  But Dallas has a great art scene, which is refreshingly optimistic, great people. We love Dallas. We have friends there now. The whole thing worked out.

MACEACHRON: What’s it been like, prepping for your first solo show?

CLEGG: Well, it’s my first solo show in the states.

MACEACHRON: Right.

CLEGG: You know the year before I came to New York I was in fifteen shows.  The difference with this is it’s a different context.  Everything is an up and down, love and hate kind of thing.  Suddenly, it could be the last minute that you make that intervention or piece that changes the whole perspective of the show.  Everything feels complete at every point. That is, until you do something that adds to the exhibition and you think, “I can’t believe it ever existed without that.”  Microcosmically, I think that happens with individual paintings.  It’s the same process with anything creative.  That’s why I feel it’s necessary to make a book.  It’s in response to things in the show, not a self-aggrandizing thing for myself.  It’s like a dinner party. You give people five minutes to talk about the same subject, and you get to know more about them and their response to the subject.  I want that to inspire people.  I feel like books have a longer shelf life in transmitting messages that can inspire people.

MACEACHRON: Do you feel like the shelf life of work can fade after a show is over?

CLEGG: With a book, you put it into a context in which the work is joined.  You’re basically saying, “This is the show.”

MACEACHRON: When do you work, how do you work?  Do you have a process or ritual?

CLEGG: It depends on what you’re making.  Some days I’ll start at midday and work until ten.  I feel like I can only really do painting for six hours in a day before I get distracted.  I want my paintings to have a sense of immediacy, colloquialism, or a vernacular in the use of brushstroke.  A lot of it has to do with preparation, and the execution is actually pretty quick.  The more you understand process, the more confident you can be with execution.  Living upstairs and working downstairs, I can get up late and work late, get up early and work early.  We have a lot of dinner parties, and I can work until seven o’clock and have a shower before dinner’s ready.  I’ve set up a studio practice where I can accommodate what I want to do, and I don’t have a routine.  If I have a deadline I just make sure the work gets done.  I don’t have a nine to five job.  When you’ve got something to do then you do it.

MACEACHRON: What sorts of dinner parties do you have?

CLEGG: We put up a table for about twelve people.  I’m interested in bringing people together who don’t know each other.  I like people meeting people, they can burgeon a new friendship or contact or whatever.  You have to plan things long in advance, which is not a very New York thing, it’s a British thing.  For people with kids, spontaneity is less a part of your life.  It’s in juxtaposition with a city, or a culture, where people don’t plan ahead more than an hour or two.

MACEACHRON: Do you think there are different reactions among Americans and Europeans to your work?

CLEGG: Yeah. If it were shown in London, it would have a different feeling than it being shown in America.  It has to be more powerful in London, because it has particular figurative imagery.  When I was painting in London, I had a very restrained palette. Here there’s more color.  When you make figurative work, you’re catering to a specific audience.  Sometimes you don’t know who that is until they come in and have an emotional response to it.


Oliver Clegg "Life Is A Gasssss" will be on view until May 7, 2016 at Erin Cluley Gallery. The gallery will also be showing work by Clegg at the Dallas Art Fair from April 15 to April 16. Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview by Scout Maceachron. Photographs by Adam Lehrer. 


Exalting The Maîtresse: An Interview With Allen Jones

Portrait by Eamonn McCabe

text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Allen Jones is a living legend. To this day, his iconic furniture sculptures literally stand, kneel and hunch over, as life-like remnants of not only the pop art movement, but also the sexual revolution of the 1960s. When Jones’ trademark fornophillic work, Hatstand, Table and Chair was unveiled in 1970, it was met with both praise and militant protest. Indeed, the work is combustible and tears down some of the tallest walls we have built around our understanding of figurative art. But if you ask Jones if he is a rebel, as we did in the following interview, he will tell you that he is only carrying the torch that many artists have carried before him and not using the torch to burn down the institution. If you’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of the novel A Clockwork Orange, you’ve seen interpretations of Jones’ oeuvre in the famous Korova Milk Bar. Kubrick asked Jones if he would recreate some of his furniture sculptures for the film, but the artist politely declined.

A few years later, the film industry came knocking again. This time commissioning him to design the poster for Barbet Schroeder’s film Maîtresse, about an obsessive romance between a small time crook and a professional dominatrix. The film stars Gérard Depardieu and Bulle Ogier. A young Karl Lagerfeld designed the costumes. When the American distributor for the film commissioned Jones for the poster, the artist was given a private viewing in a theater in Paris. The film has been banned almost everywhere else. Hesitant about the film’s extreme and controversial subject matter, but also taken by the film’s heroine, Jones accepted the job. The poster, featuring a leather-clad woman with a come-hither glance behind an orange curtain holding a bullwhip would become a recurring theme in Jones’ paintings and drawings.

Indeed, the Maîtresse Cycle as it would come to be known, would take many shapes and forms over the course of the artist’s career. In February of 2016, Jones will see the opening of Maîtresse, a solo exhibition at the Michael Werner gallery in Mayfair London featuring the original paintings for the film, which have never been exhibited before. The artist kept the originals for himself, luckily, or else they might have been destroyed. The paintings offer a unique insight into Jones’ obsession with the figure, and thrilling erotic subject matter. Later in 2016, Jones will have what may be one of his biggest retrospectives to date, where his beautiful and electric obsessions will be on full display.   

In the following interview, we got a rare chance to speak with Jones over the phone from his studio in Oxfordshire, England.

OLIVER KUPPER: You once said in an interview that you wanted to kick over the idea that figurative art wasn’t tough. What do you think made you such a rebel?

ALLEN JONES: Well I don’t think I was a rebel at all of course. I mean one was carrying what’s a grand tradition in art with a very long history to it. I wouldn’t use the word rebel and I doubt anyone I’m close with would either. In terms of the climate of the avant-garde art scene, I suppose when I was a young man, abstraction was really the way forward. That led into colorful painting and minimalism and so on. At that time, you actually were going against the grain to try and find ways of still dealing with the figure.

KUPPER: Sure.

JONES: The problem was that around the same time we’re talking about, with the advent of abstract expressionism, the traditional configuration had run out of steam - hit the buffers. There was no formal invention in the work. So I suppose I was part of a generation that sort of had to find a new language, a new way of presenting the figure. Pop art in a way certainly did that.

KUPPER: I mean there’s something rebellious about pop art, but it was more a turning of the tides in a way.

JONES: You were still coming out of the post war period, certainly as far as living in Europe and London was concerned. So after the austerity of the immediate post war decade, the time you got into the 60s, suddenly people were more upbeat and things were opening out. The future did look promising.

KUPPER: Yeah, I mean it was the beginning of the sexual revolution, there was a sort of explosion of creativity.

JONES: Correct, that’s right. It’s a very different world today. The media of course has changed - communication and how you can do things. For young artists today the technology available is so wide spread that it doesn’t surprise me that not so many people seem to be drawing and painting, because in comparison it’s rather hard work!

KUPPER: What was your reaction to the pop art scene in New York versus the scene in London?

JONES: Well I was a very young man, I was about 24 or 25. If it had been the in the 1910s - if it had been the turn of the century, 50 years before, one would have headed to Paris. But New York was certainly seen as, and was, the center of the contemporary art world. One wanted to go there to have that experience first hand rather than feeling you were in some sort of outpost, just getting the news as it filtered through. In those days it was just the beginning of things like newspapers having cover supplements. So you would see avant-garde work, or work by a modern American artist at that time - esoteric things like the cover of Evergreen Review.

KUPPER: Oh yeah!

JONES: So you really did have to go somewhere if you wanted to see what was happening and get more than just the odd snapshot. New York in 1964 when I was first there was an incredible amount of energy. I suppose it helped to be someone out of town because usually people are much more generous with their time if it’s a visitor rather than if it’s someone on the block. The artists that I met there very quickly were really outgoing and responsive. It was a really great millennium to be thrust into. I had a recommendation from the director of the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London at the time, which was the conduit for modern art. He was the first person to really show all the grand abstract expressionism. He gave a couple of young artists, which I was one, an introduction to Robert Motherwell and Helen Frankenthaler who were good friends of his. Within weeks of being in New York I had suddenly had drinks with pretty much all, except for Jackson Pollock, the abstract expressionists group that was there.

KUPPER: That’s amazing.

JONES: It was incredibly exhilarating for a young artist. At the same time, of course, I gravitated towards what was the beginning of pop art. Leo Castelli’s gallery was showing Lichtenstein and Warhol and Rosenquist. I became friends with those guys although they were 10, maybe 15 years older than me. But it was a terrific time.

KUPPER: So you were kind of at the right place at the right time?

JONES: Yes I think that was true! Richard Feigen had just moved from Chicago, and had seen my first exhibition in London, my very first exhibition I had - he must have been passing through London and saw it - and offered me a contract. So I got on the plane. (Laughs.) That was good enough.

KUPPER: Going back a little bit, to your roots, and where your interest in art came from, your father was a factory worker right?

JONES: Correct yes, he was an engineer. He was excused military service during the war when I was a young lad because he was working in a heavy metal industry and they were making armaments and shells and things like that. So my father wasn’t absent from my former years and on Sunday afternoons, as a form of relaxation he used to watercolor. He got these books on watercolor and I would stand at his elbow and watch him practice sediment washes and things like that. I don’t know, I suppose it was in the genes in a way.

KUPPER: It might be in the genes. It’s interesting how that works out. I mean some people are born, and there’s no artists in their families, and then they find out that their great great grandmother or grandfather was an artist. It makes a lot of sense.

JONES: I think there’s someone a few generations back who may have been a professional artist. But the thing was, my folks were just salt of the earth people and they were not involved with the art world at all. My father, being a Welshman and being in exile in London, to keep up with his kind, belonged to a male voice choir. Of course the Welsh are quite famous for singing. Another part of my upbringing was my parents always playing opera records. I would go as a very young boy and sit at the back of the chapel hall where the male voice choir was practicing. So there was a suggestion that there was something else in life going on.

KUPPER: Sure, there was something creative going on.

JONES: The other thing was that we lived in the suburbs at basically the end of the underground line. So on the holidays we’d get on the underground and within half an hour we’d be at Marble Arch. For me, the bright lights and the city from a very early age represented somehow a certain glamour. So the city has been in a way a part of my notion of subject matter or inspiration since I can remember.

KUPPER: Speaking of your work, a lot of it is erotic in nature. Every young boy has sort of erotic fantasies about women and sexuality. This is sort of an extreme question - but were your erotic fantasies ever as extreme as some of the works you later explored?

JONES: I don’t think the work is very extreme, I think it’s rather sedated. I don’t think my enthusiasms as a teenager and a young man were any different than a large segment of the male population. I didn’t hone in on the female figure as a subject of painting, certainly for nearly five or six years of my professional career. I was in New York in the mid-60s and when I returned to London I started to see a kind of direct language from illustration, cartoons and advertising. In those days I still had to teach a bit for a living. What I wanted students to do was have an engagement with the subject matter, something that meant something to them. I wanted them to show me the drawings that they did at home and were too embarrassed to show anybody. Because they might be seen as childish or something like that.

KUPPER: Sure.

JONES: Also the business of Playboy Magazine, all of that was very new on the streets in the UK really. That idea of glamour and seeing the figure as more than the middle aged ladies they had in the art room. There you’d draw a figure who would be more like your aunt or something. They didn’t wish anyone to be excited by drawing the figure, kind of a Victorian idea.

So the first pictures that specifically came from erotica I suppose were my leg paintings with a shelf on them - which I did when I returned to London. There was a writer called Max Kozloff who was a very influential art critic in those days, friend of Jasper Johns and the rest of them. He noticed when all these artists came to the melting pot of New York, that they all came from these different kinds of cultures and backgrounds with their own excitements. But after they’d been in town, they all conformed to a certain kind of view of what modern art should be. He listed things like “the work always had to be hard edge” or “it had to be right colored, it had to be flat surfaced, or maybe eggshell” but you couldn’t have shiny paint. The other big deal was the idea of the integrity of the surface of the picture - that you should not violate the picture plane. So when I returned to London I thought I would try to paint a picture, which violated as many of his presets as possible.

KUPPER: Yeah! (Laughs.)

JONES: So I took a subject. It was exciting, I tried to paint it so that it was almost a barber shop sign - that it was something unequivocal and clear. It wasn’t suggesting it was dressed up in fine art language. I realized actually that if you saw the contour of the form clearly enough and experienced it visibly enough, that picture plane wouldn’t possibly collapse. The other insight was that by fixing a shelf on the picture, I thought would give some kind of physical connection. Because the legs are on the floor and you’re on the floor. Of course what happens is if you screw a three-dimensional or real object on the front of a canvas, it doesn’t matter if the painting is St. Paul’s Cathedral in the distance – it’s still going to be as flat as a pancake.

Allen Jones, Chair, 1969, painted fibreglass, resin, Plexiglas, mixed media and tailor made accessories, 78 x 96 x 57 cm, private collection, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London

KUPPER: Sure, that’s really interesting.

JONES: The thing really developed. By the end of this big thing I was painting volumetric figures, which I suppose I was developing a language with. It was very stylized and did come from erotic illustration. There were a lot of adult comic strips in America, certainly on 6th avenue in those days. I thought all that stuff was very interesting, because they were dealing with the figure and it was direct and exciting so I plundered some of those ideas. By the end of the 60s I thought “you know I’m trying to make these figures so real that maybe what I should try to do is make it real” - that’s when I first moved into the sculptures, which became in a way my trademark I suppose. The furniture sculptures. But they weren’t intended to be furniture – of the group the very first figure that I made was a standing figure. Which is now called “a hat stand,” but it has nothing to do with being a hat stand. 

KUPPER: Of course.

JONES: What do you do when you want to make a figure? I wasn’t interested in it sitting down or running or standing on her head. So the figure was just meant to be standing there. The arms were raised in basically an ancient form of greeting or saying “here I am.” I intended to put the figure in street clothing so that they would look a little bit like the window displays you saw on Oxford street in those days. But when I tried it I just realized it looked like some surrealist found object and that really wasn’t what I wanted to do.

So what I did was clothe the figure, but used clothing that people would know but not be familiar with - it wasn’t everyday clothing. For me it was circus or nightclub clothing. When I finished the figure I still thought it kind of looked like it was a surrealist throwback. Again from the comic strips I hit on the idea that if the figure was made to look like a piece of furniture someone looking at it would have to deal with it as though it was an everyday object. Then it would really put the viewer in a place where they had to make decisions about what they were looking at.

KUPPER: Did you expect that these pieces of art would get such a strong reaction? Or that they would even become your trademark?

JONES: At the time of course I wanted a strong reaction but I was expecting a strong reaction about whether it’s art. One was trying to kick over the traces and challenge the notions of what art could be. It never occurred to me that it would be seen as an offering of a degrading view of women. I only had daughters and a wife, I’m surrounded by women. I lived on the King’s road in the late 60s with Mary Quant and Ossie Clark. The business of the emancipation of the female body, like the invention of materials like Lycra for the sports industry, allowed the body to be displayed and yet concealed. But these people were dressing for themselves. I was looking around and getting excited and recording, in a funny way, my environment. This wasn’t something I was dreaming of in the bedroom.

KUPPER: Yeah exactly. They weren’t your fantasies they were an interpretation of your surroundings.

JONES: I mean obviously I was primed for it. A lot of people think it’s my limitation and it might be. The female figure over the years has really become the pivot for my pictorial exploration.

KUPPER: In the 60s there was a rise in the feminist movement, and I think that they were maybe responding to the idea that these figures in the sculptures were kind of submissive. They were allowing you to put your feet on them.

JONES: No no I can see it! Yeah sure. If I’d been writing for one of their magazines and I’d seen this image, I’d be the same. It’s a perfect example of a figure, it happens to be a female figure, being used as an object. There’s nothing I can do about that, it’s just coincidental. It was certainly not a conscious part of the artwork. The other thing is that the militancy of that time, the same as any radical movement is that it always starts out with having to state the extreme. The idea of no bras, no makeup, no heels - but it seems that with the passage of time women use what they want to use, at least in the urban environments of Western cities that I know. When I made those shelf paintings with high heels, the reason I used the high heels was because they were totally out of fashion. I didn’t want to paint the shoes so that someone looking at the painting would think “oh that’s last year’s model.” But of course what happens over the passage of time is people end up thinking I have a stake in shoe manufacturing. (Laughs.)

KUPPER: Interesting.

­­­

JONES: It’s quite funny. In recent years, when I have an exhibition, or once in a blue moon some kind of art talk, a lot of the people who come up and say they admire my work are women. I see that as a historic period. Even if they’re a teenager or in their 20s, they don’t have the same wars to fight. Or quite the same, maybe they do deep down, but it’s a different scene. Nevertheless, they look and they think, “Oh, that’s what that’s about.” That’s the only down side for me. It’s become a part of the work to think that there is that connotation.

KUPPER: Sure, and then you have artists like Bjarne Melgaard who sort of re-interpreted your works but with black figures. Which was interesting and takes it in a whole new arena.

JONES: I didn’t take that work very seriously actually. When I look at artwork I like to see something that really draws me out and gives me pause or makes me have to re-think ideas I had about what I’m looking at. Of course I’ve been around a long enough time that I remember the photo-realist period with Duane Hanson. I’ve only ever seen the Melgaard versions of my sculptures. I hope they mean a lot to him, but they didn’t really give me a fright at all.

Allen Jones, Table, 1969, painted fibreglass, resin, Plexiglas, mixed media and tailor made accessories, 61 x 130 x 76 cm, private collection, courtesy the artist and Marlborough Fine Art, London

KUPPER: Interesting, I think that the controversy came from that Russian collector sitting on one of them. Which was maybe intentional.

JONES: Right, she didn’t know what she was getting into. You can imagine someone buying a piece of novelty furniture, to put it at its worst, and the photographer is there to take a photograph. You can picture them saying “well it looks like a seat, why don’t you sit down?” Of course as soon as they sit down it turns out to be national women’s day or something.

KUPPER: I want to go back a little bit, [Stanley] Kubrick asked you to make sculptures for Clockwork Orange and you turned him down. But the sculptures he used in the film were very similar. What was your reaction to that?

JONES: It was great. He called me and wanted to use the furniture sculptures for his film, and I said you know, they’re not film props, but if you like it I could design something for you. So that was the plan. He sent me the script with the book, and I could see why he wanted to use my stuff. Then it fell apart because he thought I’d do it for a credit and I said it’s going to be about three months’ work - I can’t afford to work for free. Then I told him, you know you like the idea, you use it. In fact, it was most likely better than I could have done. People who design for film props and the theatre know what the camera’s looking at.

KUPPER: Sure that makes sense.

JONES: They know they just have to design the front and they don’t have to worry about the back or something like that. Where I would have used the same level of intensity on making the thing that I would an artwork. It would have been a waste of time. Anyway the amusing thing is that everyone thinks I had something to do with it but I didn’t.

KUPPER: Yeah I’ve read a few conflicting reports on what exactly happened there. There were reports that you would never talk to Kubrick again, or there were reports that you tried to sue him for stealing your work. But it’s a lot more diplomatic than that I guess.

JONES: As I just said I’ve never met the guy. We spoke on the phone, there was no real reason to meet. That was fine with me. I didn’t feel threatened by that. Of course at the time, with the work I was doing, I didn’t think it would be something that would represent me or that I’d have to be talking about it in 50 years. The reality of that moment was that I could not afford to work for three months for a credit in a movie. He said “I’m a famous director, you’ll get a lot of coverage” and I said “listen, I’m not a set designer. If you can get me an exhibition at the Louvre, I’ll do it for free.”

(Laughs.)

KUPPER: That’s the exposure you want as an artist. Moving along, what’s the one question you wish critics or journalists would ask you?

JONES: My god I hadn’t thought about that; I don’t particularly know what I want anyone to ask me about. I like the idea that you can tell when somebody connects with the work, usually because of the questions they ask. Often it’s a question, which makes you think about your work, not in a new way, but it's not something you’re talking about. Or at the time you hadn’t thought about it before. It shows that there’s actually some dimension to the work which is coming across at a slightly slower speed. All works give off the first hit - even if it’s a Donald Judd box, it seems as though everything is said in the first instant. But then if you live with the art, other things kind of come into play.

KUPPER: It seems like with a lot of artists, no matter who they are, art critics always misconstrue one thing. Or they have an idea about the artist that seeps into every single interview. So I’m always curious about what artists wish people would ask or want to learn about that no other critic has asked.

JONES: I really don’t think about that. The thing that I’m thinking about when I have a show or when someone sees the work, let alone when I’m doing it, is that you’re involved with perceptual and conceptual kind of problems which aren’t actually the subject. The decision is made that it’s going to be a figure, but how the figure actually looks depends on formal considerations. That might seem funny to say but in fact the work is not an illustration of somebody I wished I’d seen in a nightclub. I suppose over the years people might think wrongly but when I’m doing the thing, the way it actually turns out has to do with what the paint can do and what the situation is within the composition if it as a painting. Or within the formal elements if it’s a sculpture.

The big thing for me at the moment is whether to put the figure back into a box, a display box, because the 21st century was spent with artists trying to take the figure out of the display cabinet and make it share the same space as the viewer. Quite recently I’ve seen some of my works, which were displayed within acrylic clear boxes - mainly because they were in some ancient castle environment on the border of Wales in some exhibition. Because they were outdoors, the figures had to be protected, because they were plainly indoor figures. It did add another dimension to them. They looked as though they’d come from Mars or something.

KUPPER: Interesting.

JONES: It’s those type of things that are preoccupying me at the moment. I have a show coming up in London at the end of this month with Michael Werner Gallery. It’s going to do with a film poster I painted for the French movie Maîtresse in the 70s. Which was a film that didn’t get general lease in England because of its heavy-duty subject matter. But the American distributor asked if I’d do a poster for the American distribution, which I did. Anyway I never sold the painting because it started off as a poster commission so I never thought of it as a painting. But I kept it over the years and about three or four years ago I suddenly thought it might be quite fun to revisit it and say “here’s this figure standing on a shallow stage with a bullwhip who’s knocked over some of the letters that say Maîtresse.” I thought well what if she sits down? Or what if she picks the letters up or goes behind the curtain and so on and so forth. It spawned a series of paintings and little photo graphics which I’m going to show here and in Hamburg. At the moment the business is whether or not to put the sculpture in the show as well. Whether to put it inside a box.

KUPPER: My last question is where do you think we are with censorship today? Do you think we’re more conservative than we have been or do you think we’re becoming more open to ideas? 

JONES: “We” depends on where you’re living on the globe.

KUPPER: True.

JONES: That of course is a huge topic at the moment isn’t it? I suppose somehow sex is at the basis of it all, but what is okay in one place is totally unacceptable in another. I’m just very thrilled I’m not a politician to tell you the truth. I’m also quite pleased to be living in what we call the West.

KUPPER: Exactly.

JONES: You’re in one of my favorite cities after London. I spent about three years at different times living and working in Los Angeles. I have a lot of very good friends there - more than here really. But I don’t get over there that often. I have a great warm feeling for Los Angeles. Where are you?

KUPPER: We are located in the heart of downtown LA so we are right in the middle of the city. 10 years ago a lot of people didn’t live out here. You had to be sort of crazy to live in the middle of Los Angeles, everyone sort of lives in the sprawl.

JONES: So you’re near the Frank Gehry Disney Theatre are you?

KUPPER: Yes. We’re right near there, and we’re right near the new museum. There’s a lot of galleries popping up too.

JONES: I used to make prints, and there was a railway track that went down the street near the printers I worked with. This had to be in the late 60s or something, but you’re right it wasn’t a residential place. I along with the rest of humanity was down at the beach.

KUPPER: It’s probably the better place to be, but maybe not these days with the oceans and such. But there’s definitely a very strong creative environment going on in LA. and as a magazine editor that’s really exciting because there’s a lot to cover, there’s a lot of artists to meet.

JONES: That sounds really good.

KUPPER: Yeah. I grew up here and I left for a while, I was living in San Francisco and I didn’t really feel that in LA before. It feels like it’s coming back a little bit. Galleries are fostering a new environment for artists.

JONES: It’s high time I came back and paid another visit. As you said, you see the changes if you’re away for a few years. Of course I came from a different environment, a European background, and I thought that New York was exciting. Then I went to Los Angeles and I felt that was really foreign and so unrelated to the European idea of cities, let alone anything else. My feeling when I went to San Francisco, is that just as New York does, it had that kind of feeling of connection with European culture in some way, where as Southern California didn’t. There was a lot of art there, which is why I liked it. The art was totally new. I thought it was really great.

KUPPER: Yeah San Francisco is definitely one of the more European cities; it seems more sophisticated than other American cities.

JONES: One of the great privileges is to be able to travel.

KUPPER: Thank you so much for your time Mr. Jones.

JONES: You’re quite welcome.


Allen Jones "A Retrospective" is on view now at Michael Werner gallery in New York until June 4 and Maîtresse at Michael Werner gallery in London until May 6. The interview is taken from Autre's LOVE ISSUE, which is available here. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Samurai of the Sea: An Interview With Photographer Nolan Hall On Surf Culture and The Mysticism Therein

Surf culture has a certain spiritual mysticism that extends beyond the sport and enters the realm of the samurai. There are codes, there are secrets and there are veils split by the curling lip of the tide. Surfers are like samurai warriors of the sea. Growing up in Capistrano Beach, the waves beckoned a young Nolan Hall and so did the clandestine beaches, and secret surf locales and the legends of the sport. And since, surf culture has become a way of life for Hall; not only as a surfer, but also a documentarian. His photographs have taken him on wild adventures – a selection of those images will be shown at his solo exhibition, entitled Peregrines, opening this weekend at Paul Loya Gallery. In the following interview, Autre chatted with Hall about his internship with legendary surf brand RVCA during its halcyon days before it was purchased by Billabong in 2010, his entrance into the Deadbeat Photographers Club that counts the renowned skater and photographer Ed Templeton as a fellow member, and his current stint as the tour manager of the Vans surf club team. What you will learn about Nolan is that he is the ultimate samurai of the sea. 

OLIVER KUPPER: What came first, surfing or photography?

NOLAN HALL: Surfing.

KUPPER: How did that come about?

HALL: My dad surfed. He would take me down the beach at a young age. When I was really little, I was super not into it. But my dad was in this surf club, and I met a bunch of kids my age who surfed. We would skate around together. I think once I made solid friends that did the same thing, I got super hyped on it. It just grew from there.

KUPPER: Where did you grow up?

HALL: I grew up in Capistrano Beach.

KUPPER: What was it about surfing that you knew was going to be a part of your life?

HALL: I don’t know. My dad did it, so it was always easy to hop in the car and go surf with him. It felt like summer.

KUPPER: Surfing does have a spiritual aspect to it. It’s like entering into a strange, new religion. It’s not like other sports.

HALL: For sure. It’s dumb in a sense, but it’s one of those things you can’t describe. I’m sure everyone feels it when they’re doing it. I know when I surf before work, or in the morning, I feel better for the rest of the day.

KUPPER: I’ve had friends who are surfers. They say that there’s something about going into the water and coming out – it’s like a life changing experience.

HALL: It’s definitely one of those things where people get hooked. Someone’s friend turns them onto it, and it’s like being let into a whole new world.

KUPPER: Besides your dad, who are some surfers that you look up to?

HALL: When I was younger, my friends and I rode traditional longboards. At the time, that was super uncool. It was the late 90s, the age of the shortboard. Now, you can surf whatever. There are no weird vibes. I grew up longboarding, so we used to watch all these older guys from the 60s – Lance Carson, Skip Frye.

KUPPER: So you’re kind of a renegade to be in with the longboarders?

HALL: I wouldn’t say “renegade.” We were off on our own deal.

KUPPER: How did photography come about?

HALL: My dad had these small Nikon cameras. What got me fired up was the movie The Seedling, filmed by Thomas Campbell. Campbell, Barry McGee, Andy Davis – all these guys were making this really impactful art. That was around when I was fourteen, when I was just hanging out with my friends. We were surfing, skating, getting into these adventures. I wanted to document it.

KUPPER: What did your parents do?

HALL: My mom works in oils, like landscape oils. I never know what to call her. She’s a pleine aire artist. My dad has bartended, hung wallpaper. He hung wallpaper for the majority of when I was younger.

KUPPER: He was also into photography and surfing?

HALL: I think he was into photography the way your average person was. He had the Nikon film camera, but that was the only way to take photos at the time. I wouldn’t say he was a super enthusiast.

KUPPER: Do you shoot mainly with film?

HALL: Yeah.

KUPPER: Are you a film purist?

HALL: I’ve had a digital camera for gigs and promotional work. But people are psyched on film. Primarily, I have a Rangefinder camera that I take black and white in.

KUPPER: Back to surfing, because it’s a big part of your career, what is your theory on why surfing and skating are so intertwined with art? You don’t see basketball or football being explored in the same way.

HALL: Creative people invented those things. Someone, at some point, to break the lull, said, “I’m going to go ride that wave. I’m going to make a board and try to ride that.” That’s some pioneering shit. Skateboarding has the most creative people. Iconic skateboards are insane. They are both art forms in themselves. When you’re skateboarding, you can choose to look a certain way, there are certain lines. When you’re surfing, you have a certain style.



KUPPER: Let’s talk about RVCA. You teamed up with them before they were bought out?

HALL: Yeah. When I was in high school, so before 2003, the Bowers Museum in Orange County was doing a surfing retrospective. RVCA was doing an opening party. We did a catalogue to go with it. KC, my old boss, sent me on a school day to the museum with a terrible digital camera. I get there, and I see Aaron Rose, and I was so nervous and speechless. He was super cool and posed for a photo. Then I just floated around as people were setting up the show, and I loved it.

KUPPER: How did you get started with them?

HALL: I had done things like that, where they would give me assignments. I also worked at the warehouse, doing sample sales. This was before I was officially hired. While I was still going to community college, they offered me a position as KC’s assistant. I was still living with my parents. The first day I showed up in the office, I introduced myself to KC. He was very kind to me, but then he just went back to work. I was sitting there with nothing to do. Eventually, he was like, “Do you need something?” He had no idea.

KUPPER: So he had to invent things for you to do?

HALL: The first thing he had me started on was building the catalogue. The company was so small. I think it was a 20 or 30 page catalogue that I laid out on cork. I had no idea how to use cork. I was trying to figure it out, kind of getting it. We got it printed at Kinko’s, like with a spiral. It was super early. Since I was also into photography, if we needed more images, they would say, “Hey, meet this person in town.” That led to semi-annual trips with people. It blossomed. With RVCA, you meet so many artists.

KUPPER: They were a quintessential brand.

HALL: It’s so different now, but at the time, it was so new. It was such a cool vibe.

KUPPER: I don’t think there are brands like that anymore.

HALL: It’s hard when you become so big. You either stick to your niche and make specific stuff, or you try to make everything and it becomes kind of vanilla.

KUPPER: When did you start ANP Magazine?

HALL: That might have been 2005.

KUPPER: Were you there around the founding of that?

HALL: Yeah.

KUPPER: It’s not around anymore?

HALL: I think it is, but they don’t do quarterly. I think they might only do it once a year now. I don’t know how it seemed from the outside, but we were just scrambling to get it to the printer. Distributing it was insane. We physically drove to places. The East Coast probably got a few boxes sent out, but then we had to physically drop them off everywhere else.

KUPPER: It got serious reach. People experienced it and liked it. That's from my outside perspective, living in LA at that time. There was this motorcycle garage/café called Choked. That’s where I first saw it. I remember loving it. It was super rock n’ roll.

HALL: It was cool because it was all interesting. They weren’t pushing anything. They weren’t trying to sell you anything.

KUPPER: You have worked with Aaron Rose and some other big artists. You must have learned a lot and grown up as an artist through that process.

HALL: Those guys were there working on the mag. I didn’t work extensively for them. I was just the help, for the most part. But it was cool to see it happen. Writing articles, editing down things.

KUPPER: When did Vans come along?

HALL: After RVCA, I was playing in a band. We got a record deal with Vice Records, so we wanted to take it seriously. We did that for two years, touring. Music was different then. There was no social media. We weren’t getting out there, and we weren’t making any money. We just kind of called it. I moved back in with my parents. While I was there, my boss at Vans now hit me up and said, “Hey, I need someone to go to Hawaii during Triple Crown.” So I was like, "Yeah!" I went to do reportage. That was a two month trip, and at the end of it, he offered me an assistantship. Shortly after that, I got hired as the surf team manager.

KUPPER: What does that job involve? You travel a lot.

HALL: It’s similar to a tour manager in a band. Booking, accommodations, flights, setting up trips, coordinating with filmmakers and photographers.

KUPPER: What’s the most recent place you’ve been?

HALL: I was just in Florida for a surfing event that we sponsored. I took a few of the guys up to New York for the 50th anniversary. They did a bunch of parties and events all over.

KUPPER: Throughout all that, you get to be really creative. You get to have the camera out and everything.

HALL: It’s cool. Every now and then, our art director will ask for photos for this or that. It’s not a whole lot of pressure to create images. I’m just out on these trips taking photos.

KUPPER: What is the Deadbeat Photographer’s Club?

HALL: It’s a publishing company by Clint Woodside. He approached a few people when he was first starting it, and that became the core group. Ed Templeton, Devin Briggs, Grant Hatfield, and myself. Those are the core people, and there a bunch of others. It’s just a total nerd club. It’s funny: when we’re all together, we all have our cameras. If something interesting happens, five people rush over to try to take a picture of it. Ed’s been a mentor to me in growing a photo and art career.

KUPPER: And you’re starting to push more towards that career? You have a show coming up. Do you want to start transitioning into a career as an artist?

HALL: It would be awesome. I also think it would be really difficult. If you can be doing what you love, I’m totally for that.

KUPPER: What can we expect from your show coming up?

HALL: It’s all photos from either work trips or just around town. It’s moments in surf culture. The photos are small moments of being in that environment, without being just surf photography. I’ve never been interested in the action shot. There are some action photos in there, but it’s not normally what you see in surf photos. It’s like a backstage photo of a band – something you don’t get to see.

KUPPER: And you’re deep inside of it. You’ve become sort of a documentarian of that lifestyle.

HALL: It has been documentary.

KUPPER: Looking at your work, you can tell that it’s not “surf photography.” It’s documenting surf culture, in a way that’s embedded in the fabric of that lifestyle.

HALL: It’s a study of the culture.

KUPPER: Who are some other photographers that photograph that world? It seems like there aren’t many.

HALL: There are a bunch. Todd Glaser, who is a working staff photographer for SURFER Magazine. He documents everything. He has everything inside and outside of the water, environmental portraiture stuff.

KUPPER: The surfer world right now still seems kind of cult. It seems like a secret, in a way.

HALL: It’s tough. There’s a lot out there, but you have to travel to far places where there is nothing around, at times when there are storms and weird weather patterns. There are also a lot of people that like to keep beaches and waves secret.

KUPPER: What’s the craziest place you’ve ever surfed? Or the most beautiful?

HALL: Byron Bay in Western Australia has some beautiful beaches. The Barton River area is all wine country, so there’s no development on the coast. I surfed in Alaska two or three years ago. It was springtime, so it wasn’t freezing. But it was an awesome experience. It felt like you were breathing good oxygen. You’re out in an area where there’s no one around.


Nolan Hall "Peregrines" opens April 2 at at Paul Loya Gallery in Culver City and runs until May 21, 2016. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Eat Me: An Interview With Remy Bennett and Anna Del Gaizo On Murder, Cannibals, and Female Empowerment

At SPRING/BREAK Art Show earlier this month, I stumbled upon 1985 Artists’ booth, Glory Hole. Within that space, was a young woman’s bedroom. It seemed a stereotypically normal woman’s bedroom at first: clothes, underwear, makeup, and fashion magazines. Upon further examination, there were some alarming items contained within said room. There was a wall covered in erect male penises. This woman owned an extensive collection of gore horror films. There were knives and other weapons. Perhaps most nerve-wracking of the items was a shrine to the Los Angeles-based Satanist serial killer, Richard Ramirez. But even then, one doesn’t want to judge. In this art world of ours, we probably all know someone like this, obsessed with horror and listening to Norwegian black metal. Doesn’t mean they are crazy right? RIGHT? In this case, not so much, a TV reveals the whole story. The items belong to a predatory web cam girl, who lures men in through her web cam service only to fuck, murder, and cannibalize these men upon their arrival.

The installation was created by filmmaker Remy (yes, granddaughter of Tony) Bennett and Broadly writer Anna del Gaizo based on their short film shown at the installation, entitled ‘Eat Me.’ The film and subsequent installation are not without themes: desensitization, violence, anonymity, and social isolation among them. But Bennett, who gained indie film notoriety for her Lynchian romance ‘Buttercup Bill’ has been a horror obsessive her entire life, and really just wanted to make a gruesome and gory film. She found her story when she learned of her high school friend del Gaizo’s real life exploits in being a web cam girl. Del Gaizo gets to fictionalize her own experience in her performance in the film, and Bennett gets to create the horror scenario that she has dreamed of since childhood. The pair is still looking for funding to increase the length of the film, but I had to take the time to talk with them about this fascinating project. It was a fun conversation.

ADAM LEHRER: Remy, When did you get interested in horror movies?

REMY BENNET: Since the day I was born (laughs). I was looking at our high school yearbook, and my yearbook page is just a picture of Motel Hell. I started making horror films in the seventh grade. I was obsessed with the slasher drama. I would be running up and down the stairs with a camera in one hand and a knife in the other trying to get a POV, and my dad would have to stop me.

ADAM LEHRER: Was “Eat Me” conceived as a film first or an installation?

BENNETT: A film, which is actually something that I’m still working on to make it longer.

LEHRER: So what made you want to live in this world longer with the SPRING/BREAK installation?

BENNETT: Design is a big part of the film. I’m interested in the stories that objects tell, and how much of the story comes from characters surrounding those objects. We thought there was detailed story to tell with her belongings.

LEHRER: It reminded me a bit of what Elmgreen & Dragset do. They set up these sets, and there are all these clues around, so you find out about who the character is.

BENNETT: I’ve always been a fan of that kind of art, like Sophie Calle. You’re being put in the role of this forensic investigator, and you’re collecting these clues.

LEHRER: Was it interesting to see people interacting with your things?

BENNET: It is our personal belongings. It’s weird. You’re talking about yourself while simultaneously talking about a character. It’s fun!

DEL GAIZO: The character’s style is essentially a curated version of my own. Aside from the cannibalistic serial killer aspect, there’s a lot of me.

LEHRER: That was what was so cool about it. When I saw it, first I’m thinking, “I’ve seen girls like this before. She’s a young girl, she’s into sex, she’s into drugs. She’s snorting coke. Maybe she has a problem.” I didn’t find that there was anything out of the ordinary for a woman of a certain age. But then you find out that she’s a murderer. Was that something you were interested in?

BENNETT: I really set out to make a film about sadism and cannibalism. That was the main goal.

LEHRER: Speaking of, I was also curious what you might think of this movement of these artier high-concept horror films: ‘The Witch,’ ‘It Follows,’ ‘The Babadook,’ and all those. Like I thought ‘The Witch’ had some good ideas, with the joining the witches at the end being the good ending.

BENNETT: Well, I like traditional gore movies like ‘Blood Feast’ and ‘Wizard of Gore’ by Herschell Gordon Lewis. That’s what I wanted to do. Do you listen to Bret Easton Ellis’ podcast?

LEHRER: Yeah, he hates those movies.

BENNET: (laughs) Yeah, I liked his podcast with Eli Roth, and I liked what he said when he was like, “if someone has talent, and ideas, that should be nurtured.”

DEL GAIZO: Then again, Bret Easton Ellis did write ‘The Canyons,’ (laughs).

LEHRER: So part of the film is biographical, because Anna did some webcamming?

DEL GAIZO:. I thought I would probably turn it into some long-form essay or some sort of investigative journalism. I’ve always been interested in subtleties of human sexuality. If I’m going to research something, I’d rather just do it. In college, I got stuck in this class that I needed to graduate. It was a class about maids in popular culture, which is the most specific class ever. One week, we studied the eroticization of maids, so I went to work as a fantasy maid.

LEHRER: So you just like to immerse yourself?

DEL GAIZO: Yeah, it was a personal experiment. It’s kind of harrowing and soul-crushing. You have to be kind of a sociopath to be fine with it. I would just take these screenshots once in a while of the dialogue, like the shit these guys would say. It was hilarious and weird. One guy just paid me before I was even naked to give him the finger. Some guys just want to smoke pot with you.

LEHRER: Lonely dudes?

DEL GAIZO: Well, what also surprised me was that there were young, totally normal, cute guys.

LEHRER: I guess I imagine loneliness because if I really wanted to see a naked girl, there is so much pornography I could watch. So the live aspect seems like something else.

DEL GAIZO: Intimacy. That’s part of what’s really intriguing about it. It is virtual and hollow. Ultimately, I would just hang out in my room with a computer. It doesn’t actually feel real. But there is this intimacy. One guy just wanted someone to hang out and talk to. I was like his virtual girlfriend for a while. It wasn’t even overtly sexual. I talked to this kid for three hours because he didn’t know if he was gay or not and wanted to talk to a therapist

BENNETT: There were a lot of sweet people too.

DEL GAIZO: A lot of mega creeps too. A lot of daddy requests and little girl stuff. Things you would expect.

BENNET: I was a little bit tentative at first. I’m a fictional filmmaker. I was like, would you feel comfortable if I adapted your experience into fiction. She was like, of course!

DEL GAIZO: I was excited. It gave me a reason for doing it. I wasn’t just being a deviant anymore.

BENNETT: I always wanted to make a Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer-esque kind of film. It’s a cold portrayal of this guy’s life, when he happens to be a serial killer.



LEHRER: Henry is a stone-cold killer, but the film give him an empathetic portrayal. We’re not exactly seeing an empathetic portrayal in this film, so what was appealing about Richard Ramirez?

BENNETT: She looks up to Ramirez like he’s a rock star. She’s also a Satanist. But I would definitely not compare her to a Dahmer, or even a Bundy. She’s much more like a stone cold psychopath.

LEHRER: Ramirez targeted women, he was sadistic. He would take anyone down.

BENNETT: He had a weird, but horrible, sense of humor. And the Satanist thing is such a statement. It’s such a teenage silliness. It’s like walking around wearing all black and listening to AC/DC like, “If you want blood, come and get it.” He was shameless.

DEL GAIZO: From my perspective, the fact that Richard Ramirez is physically attractive resonates. I saw the character as someone shallow and narcissistic; really into aesthetics and fashion – all that crap. This is terrible to say, but there is a reason why he had fans girls in the courtroom. He has the looks. 

LEHRER: The piece also plays with perception so much. I know certain girls who might be into Black Metal bands like Darkthrone and serial killers who are not psychos. But that’s my age. Maybe a sixty-year-old woman, right when he sees the pot or the coke, is going to think something different about the character even before the sadism.

BENNETT: That was interesting to observe people’s thought processes. People were speaking out loud, which was so interesting. People would see the bloody sneakers and go, “Oh, shit. She’s coming for me!”

LEHRER: My girlfriend thought it was badass. She works in the corporate world. In order to define herself as a woman in that space, she has to go through all these back channels. Whereas this girl is establishing her aggression and herself in this totally overt way.

DEL GAIZO: These webcam customers are inviting this girl over to their homes. And that would happen. When I did this stuff, I was lying. I said I was living in LA. Guys were giving me their addresses in LA and saying, “Why don’t you just come over?” It’s very presumptuous to assume that I’m not a psychopath. That’s what we wanted to toy with. And she is this complete psychopath – this isn’t a rape revenge story.

BENNETT: The guy that we cast is a beautiful person who would express this deep loneliness in such a poignant way. Neither him nor Anna is a professional actor, but they’re really intuitive. He’s expressing so much love for this person because he’s so lonely. It was actually a beautiful thing, and she ends up killing him and eating him.

LEHRER: The killing was crazy enough, but when you see the eating, I was like, what?

DEL GAIZO: She makes protein shakes with the dudes!

BENNETT: Yeah, it has some humor to it. It’s not completely earnest, of course.

LEHRER: How much longer is the movie going to be than what we saw?

BENNETT: I’m going to aim for fifteen minutes. I just need to raise some money to finish it. It’s a total fucking B movie that we just threw together at first. But we’ve cared about it so much and researched it for so long that I just need to finish it. The rest of the film is going to be real emails that Anna has compiled, and we’ll have voiceovers that will be integrated into the film. You see the scenario play out with the voiceover.

LEHRER: I read in an interview before your first film came out with Bedford and Bowery, you said, “I’m not interested in making anything that doesn’t have to do with sex.”

BENNETT: That was taken out of context. It was extracted in a way that was weird. I think sex is such a basic component of art.

LEHRER: Is there anything in culture anymore that doesn’t have to do with sex?

DEL GAIZO: It’s so intertwined with every aspect of human nature. But when we were filming, we weren’t trying to make it sexy.

BENNETT: That wasn’t our goal. It’s about a sexual thing, but there was a conscious effort to resist eroticizing it.

DEL GAIZO: It’s for money, like most sex-related jobs.

LEHRER: It’s almost like it’s in direct opposition to the themes in your first movie, which was more about intimacy and jealousy.

BENNETT: I would say that film was a lot more earnest, in certain ways, about relationships and growing pains and childhood. I am a filmmaker who is much more interested in genre film – specifically horror – and how you can tell a story through those tropes. I like extremes. I think that sex can be like horror – it can be taken to the extreme, dosing it with humor and style.

LEHRER: Technology has entwined sex and violence more than it ever has, simply by the images you’re subjected to, that seems to be a theme explored in the film.

BENNETT: Sex has always been debauched, it’s just on the surface now.

LEHRER: Pornography is great in small doses, but a 13-year-old kid who starts watching hardcore porn is going to be fucked up by the time he’s 18 and has sex with someone.

DEL GAIZO: Definitely. He’s going to be confused that his girlfriend isn’t acting like a porn star. If I was fourteen and watching porn, I’d be like, “I want to deep throat a cock like that. That’s what works? I’ll do that.”

BENNET: Do I have to live up to it, or will I rebel against it?

DEL GAIZO: I feel like most people will try to live up to it rather than rebel.

LEHRER: Did you feel empowered at all doing the webcam stuff?

DEL GAIZO: Totally. You get a lot of compliments. [Laughs.] It’s a dichotomy. Even though no one had physically touched me, I would need to take a shower afterwards.

BENNETT: You’re technically in control, but you still have to navigate the levels of their control over you.

DEL GAIZO: It’s such a trick. I’ve always felt that you could use being objectified into something empowering. That’s always interested me as a concept.

BENNETT: We got so many unsolicited dick pics sent to us. Dudes, what are you thinking?

LEHRER: If you do that, you might end up in an art installation (laughs).

DEL GAIZO: It’s alarming how desensitized I became to seeing them.

BENNETT: Anna is a highly intelligent human being, a writer, a fully formed member of society. The minute this girl is on the webcam, the way that they communicate is so infantilizing.

DEL GAIZO: A lot of the guys would be like, “You’re actually really smart. Why are you doing this?”

LEHRER: Misogyny, much?

DEL GAIZO: People think that someone who willingly objectifies herself doesn’t deserve to get treated with respect. I understand the psychology.

BENNETT: Cops don’t investigate the murders of prostitutes the same way. They’re dehumanized. The character does the opposite. She is in control.

LEHRER: Is murder, in the metaphorical sense, empowering?

BENNETT: Totally.

DEL GAIZO: Do you know how many times I’ve fantasized about murdering guys?

BENNETT: The amount of times you’ve been disrespected, condescended to, dehumanized – you just want to flip out. Making this movie was therapeutic.


Click here to watch Remy Bennett and Anna del Gaizo's EAT ME. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on INSTAGRAM: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Calamity Serenity: An Interview with Preston Douglas and Harry Patterson

Walking around New York Fashion Week: Men’s, you are likely to befriend other dudes that are as obsessed with fashion as you are. It makes you feel like a bit less of a weirdo. One such friend I made at this last round was Preston Douglas Boyer, a guy who looked a bit like a cross between a Hesher longhair and a teenage Supreme worshipper that was actually a Houston-based fashion designer who just released his first collection of motocross inspired and geometric printed line of garments back in February.

Boyer is something of a Hypebeast. You can watch videos of him on YouTube as a 14-year old giving his informed opinion on the latest drops of Jordan’s and luxury brand sneakers. That taste for luxury sneakers later translated towards clothes, and Boyer initially worked as a stylist for Houston and international musicians that would come from the city. Last year he took the plunge and started designing clothes that he wanted to wear, all while studying marketing at the University of Houston.

Also interesting is that his partner and brand equal is Harry Patterson, who is in charge of production for the brand. The guys are equally invested into the garments as they are into the production of the brand, indicative of kids who grew up in an era where image was everything and everywhere. Designers like Boyer are going to start appearing more in the industry. As opposed to the designers before them that found themselves influenced by Rei Kawakubo, Le Corbusier and Joy Division, we are about to see a lot of kids that have been mainlining Supreme and Nike for as long as they can remember. Read on for my conversation with the guys.

ADAM LEHRER: So yesterday you told me that you started the brand because you felt something was missing from fashion. What was that thing that you felt was missing?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I really felt like functionality within luxury menswear was missing. You buy a jacket for $1,500, you buy a pair of jeans for $1,500, and you can have that for the rest of your life and as far as functionality goes our jacket has three jackets in one. You can style it 20 different ways. You can’t style a Saint Laurent bomber jacket like that.

LEHRER: You can’t even put it on unless you weigh less than 140 pounds (laughs).

PRESTON DOUGLAS: I want to change up the patterns. I love geometric patterns.

LEHRER: Yeah.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Being a consumer for so long, starting with sneakers, I have an appreciation for color that I feel like a lot of menswear lacks. When I buy a piece and spend a thousand dollars on a jacket, I want that to be a piece that when I go out people are like, “What is that? Where did you get that? Who made that?” And then you tell them, "Preston Douglas."

LEHRER: So you feel that men’s fashion for a while now has been black, black, dark colors. So you want a larger pallet?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Black is my favorite color but I want a larger palette… but tasteful. I love prints but if you’re just doing all black and all whites and grays and then you just put together some print shirts, I don’t like that as much as incorporating said print into a variety of pieces.

LEHRER: You mentioned you wanted Harry to tell the stories. What were the stories with these first few designs you came up with?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Basically the collection’s called Calamity Serenity. The past two years of my life have been polar opposites. My life about two years ago was complete despair and chaos, I was lost. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I didn’t know how to function. So that’s the calamity, the black represents that chaos.

Then before I knew it I hit this point in my life where everything started to change. My life the year after is serenity. It’s a complete antithesis to calamity and you can see that in the colors. I feel like everyone has a point in their life where they’ve been through some really dark times - when you are ready to give up. I hope my story can help someone else.

LEHRER: Growing up, what designers made you think about apparel more than footwear for a brand?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Christophe Decarnin. I remember looking at his look books. Really I got into luxury menswear because of luxury sneakers. Kris Van Assche for example. Ann Demeulemeester. Rick Owens. All these people had amazing sneakers. It’s all out there now with social media and Hypebeast and Highsnobiety.

LEHRER: Then socially too it’s become more accepted for dudes to be into fashion.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! 8th, 9th grade when I started to get into sneakers and started my YouTube channel, I’d get called faggot or gay. Every single day all the time. I got major bullied for wearing colorful shoes, colorful Nikes. But I went to a private school so the only thing I could express myself with in terms of fashion were my shoes.

LEHRER: Exactly.



PRESTON DOUGLAS: I kind of created my own friend group and found my own path through creativity manifesting itself in a lot of different forms. First being sneakers; I had a sneaker resell business. I started a photography business. I started styling rappers and interviewing people when they came into Houston. Then with fashion, I felt like I’d been a consumer and seen enough to where I saw myself being able to fill a gap.

LEHRER: So you’ve always been entrepreneurial?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah I’m an entrepreneur first because nothing can happen without it.

LEHRER: As far as growth goes, what are your highest hopes for what the brand could be in a couple years?

PRESTON DOUGLAS: In a year I’d like to be showing in New York, possibly LA. I haven’t really been out there enough yet to see if my aesthetic and my brand fits with that culture and that lifestyle. There’s a lot of people in LA I look up to with regards to the fashion industry. So keeping it within the United States first and growing my local recognition and name and getting my manufacturing down.

LEHRER: So Harry, what’s your end of the brand?

HARRY PATTERSON: I was a production designer, I started out designing stages for concerts. Mainly live music, that’s what I thought I wanted to do for a while. I’ve done a lot of stuff making music or art. But while Preston is designing the clothing I want to be designing the set.

LEHRER: So it’s not just a one-man designing type thing? You guys are working in unison to bring two different ideas into one setting?

HARRY PATTERSON: Yeah I think that’s really important. This time he hit me up when the line was done and wanted me to DJ. I got him to take photos at one of my shows in Houston and he was like “I’ll give you a deal if you DJ my fashion show.” In December I called him to catch up and I ended up doing the production for it. I was skeptical at first, I had never worked in the fashion industry before but it worked out really well. 

LEHRER: Were you interested in fashion or have you just gotten more into it now working with him?

HARRY PATTERSON: A little bit. Not as much as I am now. I never thought I’d be working in the fashion industry.

LEHRER: I feel like a lot of creative people just happen to end up in it in one way or another.

PRESTON DOUGLAS: Yeah! But the show in Houston was a really cool opportunity. I’m really glad Harry was involved because there was talk of moving Houston Fashion Week to the next level.

HARRY PATTERSON:  I actually thought that was what fashion week would be like when I went. I was like “ehh I’ve seen this in the galleria before,” this is going to be a bunch of clothes I’d wear to church. So it surprised me. In the past three days I’ve met more people in the fashion industry than I know in the music industry. It’s nice it’s smaller because it’s more of a collaborative feel.

LEHRER: Yeah I get that.

HARRY PATTERSON:  It’s harder to get that vibe with people in music. 


Shop the Preston Douglas Calamity/Serenity collection here. Text and interview by Adam Lehrer. Photographs by Clay Rodriguez. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Fashion Renegade Makes His Mark: An Interview With Designer Charles Elliot Harbison

Growing up near the Appalachian Mountains in his home state of North Carolina, New York-based fashion designer Charles Elliot Harbison was disconnected from the glitz, grunge, and all things in-between of New York fashion. Nevertheless, he still managed to find his way to aesthetics. Though it might seem surprising to the average New York cool kid, Harbison learned about style at the church. “There was propriety in it,” he says. “There was personal exhibition. There was worship. It was never thoughtless. I remember white shirts, blue blazer, bowtie, some suede bucks. That’s when I became acquainted with style.”


New York Fashion Week has solidified its position as the most commercial of all the Fashion Week’s. But as New York commerciality has reached its apex, a crop of young radical designers have emerged displaying awareness of contemporary art and pop culture and shining light back on American fashion: Eckhaus-Latta, Moses Gauntlett Cheng, Vejas, and Harbison.

But Harbison still stands out as something of a renegade even amongst this crop of wildly exciting fashion design talent. Though Harbison comes from a fine art background, having studied fine arts and painting at North Carolina State, he does not shy away from things traditionally “chic,” inspired by the luxurious approach to sportswear his mother employed when he was a child. He has leaned towards the subversive since he started his brand three years ago, employing a gender-neutral approach to his garments far before the industry jumped on the trend. But even with that, it’s not hard to imagine Park Avenue women loving to wear his modernist, color-blocked, and astoundingly beautiful clothes, allowing him a customer far wider in demographics that some of his contemporaries could ever conceive of reaching. “I don’t think [subversiveness] has to be relegated to just casual wear or crude construction,” says Harbison. “I want to do it through the filter of elegance, expense, and aspiration.”

Harbison also has some serious fashion education. Having learned about textiles and fabrics in Central Asia, studied fashion as a post-grad at Parsons, and worked for Michael Kors, Billy Reid, and Luca Luca, he has a leg up on his contemporaries with flat-out knowledge over the construction of garments. How would you describe those garments? This writer would say, “subtly striking.” They aren’t unwearable pieces of clothing architecture or tattered to shreds in the name of art. Harbison creates a form-flattering silhouette and then applies blocks of vibrant color to make the statement. They are the types of clothes that you find yourself staring at without realizing it. “Color, texture, embellishment, contrast, valence, proportion,” says Harbison. “I just wanted to be true to that when I started Harbison.”

He also has the ability to tell stories without grandiose displays of conceptual creation. Everything that Harbison presents in his shows, he sells. Much like Dries Van Noten, or even Yves Saint Laurent (minus the couture), he adheres to the tenets of ready-to-wear. And yet, he still conveys strong and discernible ideas. Patti Smith is the brand’s muse, and Harbison has also told stories centered around Erykah Badu, Aaliyah, and Nica Rothschild. The strong and cultured women that breathe in his garments has attracted the attention of Beyoncé, who wore custom Harbison to Kanye’s Yeezy Season 1 presentation (and Solangé wore the same in Paris some weeks later) and brought massive attention to the brand. “What the muse does is allow me to work them into my stories,” says Harbison.

When I meet Harbison in his small, clothes-filled office near Manhattan’s City Hall, he is in great spirits despite a busy morning. Though his brand sat out the last NYFW, he is still moving forward. His next collection will be the first “gender-neutral” collection where the clothes are cut in ways to fit a man and a woman’s body. He laughs a lot, and has an ease in explaining his ideas that is absent in a lot of creatives. We spoke at length about his history and the direction of the brand.

LEHRER: Are you still religious now?

HARBISON: I have a spiritual practice. I go to church in Harlem. It feeds me culturally as well as spiritually. It’s nice to have this whisper of my early life an hour away. [I live] in Bushwick. Every Sunday, I get to be around black people from the South.

LEHRER: Does it ever rub you the wrong way that something you’ve been doing for a while, gender-neutral collections, is now a trend and being done by like, Burberry?

HARBISON: It completely bothers me. When I launched [the brand] in 2013 it was inconceivable for the buyer to understand a man in a womenswear lookbook. They couldn’t understand seeing one coat on her and the same coat on him. From a market point of view, this is a women’s collection. But the cuts are neutral. This is how my friends and I live. When I was at Michael Kors, I would wear women’s samples as a dude. I never felt like my masculinity was compromised. Of course, I’m queer, but I saw straight guys and girls doing the same thing. By and large, America is slow to this idea. You have Selfridges with their gender-neutral merchandising.

LEHRER: They had a gender-neutral section in their store. Like, Hood by Air and J.W. Anderson.

HARBISON: Fully. You have Gucci putting dudes in pussy bow blouses. You have Jayden Smith as the face of Louis Vuitton womenswear. I feel like a lot of that gets filtered through novelty, comedy, and trend. But for me, it’s just a way of dressing that makes sense. I want to do it from a slick point of view. It makes me a better designer and marketer.

LEHRER: A lot of brands will throw dudes in a women’s lookbook or a show for a statement. You’re thinking about it in terms of the products.

HARBISON: The pant cut, we fit on a guy and a girl. The tunic cut, we do it in a way that works well on him, but it gives her tailoring options if she wants to do something more waisted. The transformability of the clothes allows them to become whatever you want them to become. It’s not just a visual statement. The shit feels good. There are a lot of clothes that are “exclusively for women,” but even that’s not true. Like, dude, it’s your life. If he wants to wear a dress, I don’t care. I just want to make cool ass shit that makes people happy.

LEHRER: Do you feel like buyers are starting to have a bigger say in what the collection is?

HARBISON: Store buyers, often, now see themselves as the end-all-be-all. It removes a lot of the excitement from the shopping and dressing process. What if someone had done that to McQueen? What if someone had done that to Galliano?

LEHRER: I shudder to think of the buyer telling Alexander McQueen what to do.

HARBISON: In the beginning, McQueen and Galliano were making crude but interesting stuff. There were problems with construction, but there was an idea there, and it was supported by the industry. It wasn’t until they got money that you saw their actual genius. Their processes were supported.

LEHRER: Color is a big part of your collections. Your brand came out three years ago, and at the time, the big predominant thing was street goth, ninja goth. Were you put off by the excessive use of black?

HARBISON: No, not put off. But I did want to offer something different. I design through the filter of art and modernism. The beginning of my arts education was in fine arts and painting. I love fine arts first.

LEHRER: When did you decide to transition from art to fashion?

HARBISON: In undergrad, I ended up weaving seventeen yards of this beautiful fabric. For me, it was like speaking to my Native American heritage. It didn’t feel right to wrap it on a canvas. So I thought to make some garments. That moment in undergrad, my junior year, was when I decided to figure this shit out.

LEHRER: You went to central Asia to study textiles. What did you learn over there?

HARBISON: I studied in Turkmenistan in undergrad – indigenous fabric construction. When I graduated, an opportunity came up to go back to the region for a year. I hadn’t found a job, so I thought, why not? I wanted to understand more about myself. There was so much mystery around that area. It’s an area that no one has really claimed. It’s former Soviet territory, but the population is South Asian, and they look East Asian in language and food. It’s influenced by the Middle East. It was also my first time out of the country, and it was the best decision I made. Fell in love with the fabrics. Spent time with students in their villages, and saw how they lived so casually amongst beautiful things.



LEHRER: And then you started working so you went to Parsons for some post-grad work, and then went to work?

HARBISON: I cut my teeth at Michael Kors Collection. 

LEHRER: Your designs are much more radical than Michael Kors. What did you learn from him?

HARBISON: I learned so much: quality, detail, fabric, merchandising, selling, and how to dress people. Michael knows his way around client connection in a really amazing way. There’s an approach to his fashion that is really respectful of the genre. Though I approach novelty and art, I wanted [my clothes] to be rooted in shapes that are classic. I don’t make a lot of conceptual pieces. I love sportswear, so being with Michael was the best place for me. 

LEHRER: You said you started your own brand by accident. What was that accident?

HARBISON: I burnt out. I was at Billy Reid and walked away. I started traveling. I had an Eat Pray Love experience. It was awesome. I read Patti Smith’s Just Kids, and that changed my life. She and Robert [Mapplethorpe] were the muses for my first capsule. I came back to New York from St. Croix. I had an interview at some collection, and when I walked in I thought, “I’ll be damned if I can do that.” Fashion week was coming up, and I didn’t want to skip a season. So I just made my own samples and shot some thing myself. Those images fell in the hands of Mark Holgate at Vogue and Virginie Smith. They said, “Do you want this to be a thing? We’ll feature you.” It’s been a hella crazy ride since.

LEHRER: I want to ask you about Patti Smith. You said she was the brand’s muse. What is it about her that you find so inspiring? Aside from, well, everything.

HARBISON: Beside everything she’s ever done? Patti walks this modern line of femininity, which I think is amazing. In her relationship with Robert, she was the stronger entity. He was the more fragile of the two. The relationship was beautiful and modern in that way. I find Patti’s lack of self-consciousness aspirational. She and Robert were vehemently sure of what they wanted in New York. That reminded me to take the risk. I was also able to touch this late ‘60s world that I love. In my mind, I feel I would have really done well in that time period touching on the modernist artists that I love. 

LEHRER: You’ve done collections based on Sade, Aaliyah, Erykah Badu. Do you always design with a specific woman in mind?

HARBISON: For example, last spring I imagined Erykah Badu singing in a Zen garden carrying a Bryce Marden painting. This story allowed me to imagine seemingly contradicting things and bring them together. That’s a challenge that I like. I want to offer things you’ve never seen before.

LEHRER: New York has gotten known of being the most commercial of the fashion weeks, but there is a whole crop of designers and brands coming on the scene who are making innovative things. Why do you think this is happening now? Has the commercialization hit a tipping point that is being rebelled against?

HARBISON: Completely. You see the evidence in the industry itself. The commerciality is no longer commercial.

LEHRER: The biggest brands are all struggling too.

HARBISON: Exactly. For younger designers, there’s no desire to make something you already see in the world. Design based on replication doesn’t feel responsible. Also, with a global market, we’re comparing ourselves to everything around the world, even things that aren’t “high fashion.” Everything becomes a reference point. Everything influences what we find fresh, new, artful, and relevant. 

LEHRER: You said you don’t want to be Ralph Lauren overnight. Would you ever want to be that big?

HARBISON: Yeah. [Laughs.] I love designing things. I feel like I have a dialogue for cars, homes, architecture. I love aesthetics. I would love to have the opportunity to configure aesthetics in different areas. As far as how big Ralph is, that is something that I think I’m still grappling with. For me, what is most valuable is having a lot of product for people to opt into. I want a lot of product in the world.

LEHRER: You sat out this fashion week. People talk about the speed of the industry – Raf leaving Dior, etc. Is that something you struggle with or not?

HARBISON: Yeah. The speed of the industry has brought me to my knees before. I think it can compromise design integrity. For me, skipping out this show season, I needed it from the business standpoint. I needed to figure out how to approach these marketing events in a way that’s more thoughtful of the business revenue. How do I give all these eyes access to the collection? You can opt out of [the traditional fashion schedule]. You don’t have to make four collections a year. You can make one. You can do this thing however you want to do it. That’s why I have so much respect for Raf and him walking away [from Dior]. It no longer worked for him, and that’s wonderful.

LEHRER: He’s supposed to be this radical, punk designer. Dior was weighing on him for a number of years. It was like he said, “Fuck that.”

HARBISON: Exactly. To be happy. How modern is that?

LEHRER: Did you have designers or artists that you looked up to when you first got into this? 

HARBISON: Yeah, Dries [Van Noten] and Azzedine [Alaia]. 

LEHRER: I was thinking about Dries when you were saying everything comes down to product. Dries has a way of telling a story only using pieces that he will sell on the racks. That’s definitely what I see with you. 

HARBISON: Thank you. That’s the goal. Dries has created a world that’s wholly his. His client base is totally devoted. My favorite pieces to wear are all Dries. I want to make that the case for Harbison. “I’m always going to go back to Harbison because it makes me happy.” I want my customers to say that


Visit Charles Harbison's website to see current collections. Text, interview and photographs by Adam Lehrer. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


A Cartographer's Pastel Dream: An Interview With Artist and Photographer Ward Roberts

The pastel color palette is so unforgiving, because it connotes a sense of false security. It is a palette that is rare in nature, but bathed in artificial nostalgia. It is a painterly color that harkens the horror of the Easter bunny and super market birthday cake. This is where New York-based artist and photographer Ward Roberts, who has two shows of separate series opening concurrently this evening in Los Angeles and Dallas, comes startlingly into the picture with a splash of postmodern angst. In his ‘Courts’ series, muted pastel portraits of lonely and seemingly deserted tennis and basketball courts are like archives of lost civilizations that give the sense of a mass extinction. Not a single soul in sight – just looming apartment blocks, labrynthian stairways, and a beautiful forever, and nowhere, extending miles from the periphery of the photograph’s frame. In his Cartography series, Roberts’ faded pastel chiaroscuro portraits of people seem like the last photographic proof of those lost inhabitants. Perhaps Ward Roberts is trying to tell us something. Ward, who grew up partly in Hong Kong, spent much of early childhood on the very same courts he would photograph later in later in life. And it was on those courts that Autre snapped a few portraits of the artist for this interview. Not only does Ward have two solo shows opening tonight, he is also busy finalizing the second book featuring his Courts series – it is scheduled to debut this June to coincide with the US open. In the following interview, we chat with Roberts about the meaning of life, growing up in Hong Kong and his fondness for synchronized swimming.

Autre: Your work very much deals with the finiteness, ephemerality, loneliness – does this reflect your personality or are making a statement about present existence in general? 

Ward Roberts: I’m simply interested in the state of loneliness - or how reacts to being alone - so I only shoot what feels pure. I’m interested in exploring how increasingly emotionally detached we are and how we experience emotion through technology.

Autre: You use words like excavation and catalyst to describe your cartography series; do you look at photography like a scientific or anthropological experiment rather than an artistic medium? 

Roberts: There are so many components to my process in shooting film. I don’t view myself as a photographer. While the medium itself offers me elements of spontaneity, nothing I create is accidental. I’d say I’m in interested in sociology, human interactions and reactions. 

Autre: What was it like growing up in Hong Kong and how did it inspire your work? 

Roberts: Hong Kong made me curious. Curiosity is at the core of everything I do. I was rushed out of Hong Kong quickly due to a family separation so returning to the courts I loved as a child was somewhat healing. Through reconnecting with that part of my childhood I suddenly found new appreciation for the stillness and aesthetic beauty of them. 

Autre: When you were younger, did you remember wanting to capture the courts you were playing on, or did the concept for the series come later? 

Roberts: I left Hong Kong when I was 8 years old so the desire to capture courts came later in life. I definitely remember the thrill of connecting to the first court I photographed – a court in Hong Kong. It just felt right.

Autre: Who were some of your photographic inspirations – were your parents’ artists and did you have access to art museums or galleries growing up? 

Roberts: Massimo Vitali and Joseph Schulz. My parents are very cultured, well-traveled people. We rarely spoke directly about art.  My father was a pilot and documented his travels with photography extensively and my mother was really open to me trying everything from hockey and tennis to  horse riding, gymnastics and I think she even suggested ballet at one stage. There was a huge emphasis on sport every Saturday.  



Autre: You have traveled all over the world capturing various courts, what country has the most beautiful and for what sport? 

Roberts: Basketball courts in Hong Kong, most definitely.

Autre: Do you play sports or would you consider yourself athletic – an art jock?

Roberts: I don’t play sport as much as I’d like to. In NYC sport is a bit of a luxury - you require a health club pass or to be on a team. I ride everywhere on my bike however so I guess that keeps me fit. 

Autre: Your courts display a sort of a feeling of modern isolation, but the pastel colors and hue are actually quite happy – obviously there are a lot of bland courts out there (typical asphalt and green), do you spend a lot of time seeking the most colorful?  

Roberts: I've been shooting courts since 2007 so at this point I've amassed a tightly curated selection and am currently reviewing a larger archive of unreleased courts with the thought of including some in an upcoming book project and limited-edition poster series launching in June in the U.S.  Some of the unreleased courts aren’t particularly vibrant or happy. I do aesthetically favor the more colorful courts, but I’ve invested a greater amount of time seeking out and capturing more courts that I suppose you could say are somewhat dull.

Autre: Are there any countries you haven’t visited yet, but have heard have beautiful courts – do people tip you off? 

Roberts: Nobody tips me off - yet - but I’ve seen some images of Singapore courts that look incredible.  

Autre: Is there any particular itinerary or preparedness before you venture off to shoot and do you shoot alone or with a team? 

Roberts: In the early days it was always very impromptu: I’d have my camera and literally play MTR (train system) lucky dip in Hong Kong. Over the years I’ve had to become more strategic with my time however so I usually venture out alone to explore or on occasion a friend will accompany me. 

Autre: A lot of artists find their color, but you have sort of found a family of colors under the pastel umbrella – did this journey take you a long time? 

Roberts: All of my work is connected through color and you could say that’s essentially what I’m seeking when I shoot but I wouldn’t say I’ve found anything concrete or a particular color way that is integral to having me photograph a location or space. Courts are public spaces, so there is always an element of no control in some respect. 

On the other hand, with Cartography, a separate body of work I’ve been developing over the past years, I really enjoy creating saturated neon colors for each of the portraits so you could say through that I’m definitely evolving my pastel palette. In a way the Courts palette has transcended to saturated and monochromatic in Cartography. 

Autre: What is your favorite sport?                                 

Synchronized swimming is always interesting to watch. To play however, I like Tennis.


Ward Roberts 'Cartography' series will be debut tonight at Ten Over Six, 8425 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. His 'Courts' series will be on view for eight weeks starting tonight at Ten Over Six at the Joule Hotel, 1530, Main Street, Dallas, Texas. Roberts will also be a part of the Saatchi Fresh Faces exhibition, which will be on view from March 24 to May 13 at 1655 26th Street, Los Angeles, California. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. photographs by Jason Capobianco


Dancing With The Devil: An Interview With Conceptual Artist Erika Blair

text and interview by Jill Di Donato

Last February marked conceptual artist Erika Blair’s debut solo show, entitled This Is Only A Test, which took on ideas of surveillance, the art of cruelty, trauma, subjugation, sex, and oppression. Blair, who holds BFA in printmaking from the Maryland Institute College of Art lives in Bushwick, and is the type of artist who’s always making art, even when not directly engaged in the process.

Is she an Instagram girl? I’m not sure I like what that term means, but yes; her Instagram is sexy as fuck. She’s got an artistic and seductive feed, and that’s important because it so seems social media like Instagram help artists and viewers connect on messages of aesthetics. The images in Blair’s feed are morbid, literary, witchy, erotic, nostalgic and give vibes of its curator: part pin-up girl, part tech-nerd, part La Femme Nikita. The type of woman to listen to 1960s California surf on a Hi-Fi and Bad Brains in a cassette player. She calls herself a feminist, but fiction is her favorite “F” word. “This Is Only A Test,” anti-authoritarian work by a female artist isn’t necessarily an outwardly feminist exhibition but rather a statement about more universal schemes of oppression.

Let’s just say Blair likes to dance with the devil.

Jill Di Donato: Since you’re a conceptual artist, what’s the concept behind “This Is Only A Test”?

Erika Blair: “This Is Only A Test” was a site-specific performance at Rope in Baltimore, Maryland. For this solo exhibition, I sat in the unfinished basement beneath the gallery’s floor and watched a live feed of gallery attendants in the space above. The gallery was left barren except for a wireless printer, three surveillance cameras and two large speakers that were blaring audio that I’d ripped from a 1990s Chicago Emergency Broadcast test. I looped this audio for three hours, the duration of the performance. The cameras sent a video feed to my laptop, which I took screenshots of, then printed upstairs every five minutes. The printed images would fall directly onto the gallery floor. In reference to use of LRAD technology against protesters, I asked the gallery for the volume of the audio to reach the highest potential decibel level that we could, “without the cops being called.”

I don’t particularly like authority.

Donato: Immediately, your concept makes me think of Michel Foucault’s idea of panopticism, derived from the late eighteenth century philosopher, Jeremy Benthem, who designed the Panopticon. This was a new type of prison, circular in design, with a “watchman” at the core. Because it was impossible for a guard to check in on all prisoners all of the time, the Panopticon by design, would leave the inmates thinking that at any moment, they could be under surveillance.  Foucault uses the Panopticon as a metaphor to explain social power relations. 

Blair:  And also I think of the architect Claude Nicolas Ledoux who, after the French Revolution built this structure, the Arc-et-Senans for the people as a utopian city, a place to exchange innovative ideas about progressive social economic living. It became known as the Salt Works, though was closed in 1926. Everything can be spun. Decades and decades later, the Nazis used it as a gypsy concentration camp. Ledoux’s structure was constructed with one ideology, and it was used for the complete opposite purpose. The devil is in deception.

Di Donato: Since we’re on the subject, this reminds me of Marx’s statement about capitalism, and that its greatest evil is the mask it wears. But seriously, all of this just seems so relevant given high-profile acts of oppression of late in our world.

Blair: I do have an interest in surveillance capitalism and its potential to strip agency from the complacent user. I wanted to bring the context of current political events—such as the documented police murders of unarmed African American citizens, the work of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, and the increase in corporate data mining—to a small scale durational performance. My goal was to distill these themes down to a set of temporary artist-made conditions. As a conceptual artist, I used discomfort as a tool in the sterile setting of a gallery. Viewers are aware that there is an end. At any point, the viewer can walk out of the space, flip the record, change the channel. In other settings, in our social world, the participant is not awarded the luxury of choice.

I’m also interested in the coaxing language used by government agencies in emergency situations. Words seeped in Pathos. Phrases that would not seem out of place in the dark between lovers. Control tactics. In order to prepare for this show, I read Maggie Nelson’s, The Art of Cruelty and reread an old favorite of mine, Don DeLillo’s, White Noise.

Di Donato: Nelson seems to dance with the devil, or toe the line between fascination and revulsion with cruelty. Such an interesting read. I see you doing much of the same in your work. There’s a “look/don’t look” tension that makes viewers squirm a bit.

Blair:  Yes. We are both uncomfortable, suspended in pain, and yet we continue in our roles. A symbiotic relationship forms between myself and the viewer. The show must go on.

Di Donato: So let’s talk about a modern-day panopticism. How has the internet and Instagram helped shape your work?

Blair: I’m known for my performative online work and social media presence, which employs varying degrees of the real, pop cultural references, and my physical body. This show also references 1970s performance art, such as Vito Acconci’s, “Seedbed” (1972). When I use my body, I typically use it in formats that are critical of the stereotypical male gaze and male ego in art.

Di Donato: What do you think of the term GIRL GAZE?

Blair: I was unfamiliar with the term until now. I assume it means the resulting work when women are the acting agents in their practice, rather than being tethered to the archetypical role of, “muse.” I like Leah Schrager’s term, “Man Hands.” Can my small, feminine hands have one hand on a knife and one hand seductively on my lower lip? Ask me about the scars covering my hands.

Di Donato: What’s up with the scars on your hands?

Blair: I have tiny scars all over my hands because my twin brother, who has special needs, had motor skill and sensory issues as a child and would scratch the tops of my hands because he couldn’t feel things as well and wanted a reaction.

Di Donato: So it’s fair to say you grew up keenly aware to the sensory awareness of others. I can see that as a through-line through “This Is Only a Test.” There’s also an urgency to the show’s title—even though “only a test” seems to imply we’re on the brink of something apocalyptic, like those horrible emergency broadcasts. This goes back to dancing with the devil. Care to elaborate on the implication of exigency in the show’s title?

Blair: I wanted the experience of the show to be both repulsive and seductive. I watched a lot of viewers stay right in front of the printer for long periods of time. It seemed as if they grew to enjoy being watched. They also seemed interested in who I would “focus on” via the images I chose to print. As if they could take part in the voyeurism, themselves. I got a sense of, “Well, at least the cameras aren’t pointed at me for this run of prints.” I also wanted to invoke a sense of panic, which I think was accomplished with the high volume of the looping emergency broadcast.

Di Donato: Who and what inspires you?

Blair: I’m inspired by fighters, whores, and punks. The type of women that were burned at a stake for their ideas. The very women that I share a bloodline with, and my peers. In the art world, those who don’t fake it. The ones who recognize and comment on repeated trends in our collective history. One long record, continually skipping. People that are unashamed to reveal their frailty. Also, book people, people who feel most comfortable around books. I recently had a one-night stand and grabbed the person’s copy of Salinger’s “Nine Stories” and slept with it next to me on the bedside table, as if it could protect me and make me feel some semblance of intimacy in this stranger’s bed. Short list: Richard Prince, Hannah Wilke, Tracey Emin, Renata Adler, Richard Brautigan, Bettie Page, Martin Kippenberger, Russ Meyer, Sophie Calle, and Elvis Presley. Lenny Bruce was the world’s greatest performance artist. I collect rare books, punk albums, vintage smut, and 1950s Red Scare propaganda.

Di Donato: Free association game: In your mind, what’s one incident that connects sex/death/trauma/art?

Blair: The plane that killed Ricky Nelson remains dangling from a ceiling at a tourist trap somewhere in Texas. He was allegedly overheard reciting lines from, “To Have and Have Not” as the plane went down.

Di Donato: What’s your process?

Blair: It varies by the series that I’m working on but I’m always watching and absorbing cultural information. I’m a receptionist by day, so I’m constantly reading and I watch at least two films every night. I tend to focus on one facet of either my personal history, or American history to delve into per body of work. It usually involves collecting original ephemera from that event, and pairing it with words and images that are already in my mind, or collection. Some results of my note taking are visible on my Instagram. I use that as a marker. When resources and funds are available, I have things fabricated. My running joke is that I’ll keep making unseen solo shows until they overrun my apartment and smother me to death.

Di Donato: What’s next for Blair?

Blair: I’m trying to write every day, and currently working on finding funding to publish an artist book titled, “Miss November Nineteen Sixty-Three.” I have also recently finished a new series titled, “Ursula.” Both projects pair American pop-cultural artifacts with personal mythology and tragedy. I think my next self-portrait should be an image of Jayne Mansfield’s car.


You can stay up to date with Erika Blair's work by visiting her website or following her on Instagram. Text and interview by Jill Di Donato. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The Rockabilly Art Fag Speaks: An Interview With Dan Sartain On His Dark Musical Departure

There is something sinister in the Southern air. Dan Sartain’s newest album, Century Plaza, which was released last month on the One Little Indian label, is a departure for the Alabama-based musician who has been steadily putting out albums since the early 2000s and garnering the attention of musical kindred spirits like Jack White. In fact, Jack White asked Sartain personally if he would open for the White Stripes on a 2007 tour. While his earlier music reflected his Southern roots – with tinges of country and rockabilly – Sartain’s new album is darker, more malevolent and has an electro beat that harkens early Suicide and British synth-pop wave, like Depeche Mode. What you hear in the music sounds like an artist on the verge of burning down his house and hitting the open road in a black Cadillac, cigarette burning in hand. His music video for the track Walk Among The Cobras illustrates the album perfectly: it opens with Sartain driving, black and bloodied eyes (which the press release states is very much real), and goes into an erotic carnival scene that seems like a scene from a lost Cronenberg film. In the following interview, we got a chance to ask Sartain about his music departure, dressing up as Alan Vega for Halloween, and what it’s like to be an untalented rockabilly art fag.

Autre: You’re from Alabama? What was it like growing up there?

Dan Sartain: Everybody I went to school with loved football and Bone Thugs N’ Harmony. It was bullshit. I hated it. I still live there and I still hate it. Birmingham is the city I’m from, and there seems to be a lot of pride about it now. We have some nice clubs and things now, but it’s mostly the same bands from the last ten or twenty years. I’ve been around for twenty years. Young people should be doing things I don’t understand and don’t like, and they are! Everything is right on schedule.

Autre: How did you get into music?

Sartain: I just heard it one day and it was pretty good. 

Autre: What kinds of artists were you listening to in Alabama that influenced your musical style?

Sartain: You had to make friends with whoever was around. So that meant any kind of musician was a friend. You’d have to play with Christian ska bands, white blues guys, cock rockers, math rockers, Pop punks, crust kids with their blast beats, fake Fugazi bands, fake Cure bands, literally ANYONE. We all had to be friends, or at least fake friends, to make anything happen. 

Autre: You have toured as an opening act for The White Stripes and the Hives. What was that like? 

Sartain: It was nice being a part of something bigger. I suppose that’s what will go on my headstone. It’s also a thing I have a chip on my shoulder about too. When you go around with a chip on your shoulder people want to knock it off. Then some time goes by and you just kind of realize you were a dumbass. It’s vicious. I love it. Its nice work if you can get it. I started at clubs and I’m back at clubs now. I feel that’s where I do my best work, but if the opportunity comes to play arenas again, I’ll be ready.


"There was a lot of talent going around but it was all misguided. So I basically thought I could save this genre by being an untalented rockabilly art fag. It totally worked, you’re welcome."


Autre: Your newest album, Century Plaza came out recently. What was the inspiration for this album? 

Sartain: I just wanted to make an album as much like Depeche Mode as I could. I just pretended Depeche Mode called me on the phone and asked me to write them an album. 

Autre: Your previous albums are a mixture of blues, rockabilly, and punk rock, while Century Plaza is pop/electronic music. Why was this album different than the ones you worked on before? 

Sartain: Seeing the names “blues, rockabilly, and punk rock” in print like that sounds really horrible. There’s lots of music that sounds like those three things together… and it all sounds bad. That is not to say there isn’t a lot of rockabilly and punk albums that I love, but it just has this cheesy stigma. I think what I was trying to do early on was to restore the image of the good things about those styles of music you mentioned. I’m not sure I was the right guy for the job, but I was trying to convey some of those things with taste. I basically came around in the late nineties- early two thousands. It was a horrible time. People were swing dancing and wearing flaming bowling shirts. That Dick Dale song was everywhere. It was really just corny and not moody or weird or artsy at all. The late nineties were to rockabilly guys as the late eighties were to metal guys. There was a lot of talent going around but it was all misguided. So I basically thought I could save this genre by being an untalented rockabilly art fag. It totally worked, you’re welcome. 

But to answer your question, I just work with what is at my disposal. Electronic music sounded the best to me right now. 

Autre: You originally recorded “Walk Among the Cobras” in 2005. Why remake the song? 

Sartain: Actually, I recorded that song in 2001. It’s one of my oldest and best songs. I feel like its kinda my anthem. It’s the first song I wrote where I felt like I could compete in the world of music. I wanted to keep playing it. Even if my musical brand faced a complete overhaul stylistically. 

Autre: The video for “Walk Among the Cobras” is really amazing. What was the inspiration for the video?

Sartain: We didn't really plan on making a video. We went to Panama City Beach, Florida, which is a very neon place. We went there to shoot photos for album art and such. We went into a laser mirror maze for children and tourists and it just looked amazing. I figured it looked like a million bucks and people would never guess where we filmed it. Families and children keep coming through, stumbling into their own reflections, past us filming guerrilla style while I’m dancing with my shirt off. That footage just looked awesome so we expanded from there. We went to a haunted campground in Georgia where they filmed a Friday the 13th movie. We fogged up the woods and brought lasers and lights and things. It was pretty creepy. We heard footsteps, which we later found out, is one of the things one of the resident ghosts is said to do. I don’t believe in ghosts and I’m not saying we saw one but it was totally a ghost and we saw one. 

Autre: How do you see film and music coming together?

Sartain: At the same time. 

Autre: Is film something you’re interested in? 

You mean as a viewer? Or as a participant? Yes to both


Click here to purchase and download Dan Sartain's newest record Century Plaza. Text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Interview by Keely Shinners. Photography by Haley Grimes. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


The FOMO Is Real: An Interview With Photographer and Filmmaker Yulia Zinshtein

Yulia Zinshtein is a photographer, filmmaker and poet living in New York City. In the FOMO (fear of missing out) generation, she paints a portrait of her friends through a sardonic lens that leaves the viewer wondering if she is poking fun or being completely serious. It's a deadpan type of humor that only the keen, or members of her generation, will understand. In her short film, entitled Girls Going Wild, inspired by early-naughts reality TV and late night infomercials, she brings to life what it means not to be the life of the party. She says, "Girls Going Wild is about searching for the best party. This video aims to show how awkward that search can be...and that the very process becomes the best party you could ever find." We got a chance to ask Zinshtein about her work and her new short film, which Autre has exclusively premiered

Autre: Where are you from and why were you in Miami?

Yulia Zinshtein: I was born in Philly and raised in Moscow. I shot the video while in Miami for Art Basel! It was my first time at that art fair and it really affected me, something about Basel brings out the worst in people! But Miami is the best, one of the most inspiring places for my work. 

Autre: Where did the inspiration for this short film come from?

Zinshtein: We had extreme FOMO the whole time we were at Art Basel...worse than general New York FOMO! Where was the “real” party at? Were we on the list? Could we sneak in? Are we having fun? Will there be free drinks? Am I cool enough? Do my parents love me?! The 13 year old inside me was inspired by the old school video camera...filming my friends doing nonsense and acting for the sake of it really brought up how it all started for me. 

Autre: This work has a reality tv feel to it, only it feels a lot more real. Was that your intention, and are you a fan of reality tv?

Zinshtein: Oh definitely! It's between Girls Gone Wild and The Real World. But the message is the exact opposite of what Girls Gone Wild represents: girls not getting wild enough! 
I actually find contemporary reality TV extremely boring, I can never get through an episode of the Kardashians (and I've tried many many times...like oysters, I never got a feel for it). I love watching old Real World episodes but mostly for aesthetic reasons.

Autre: In addition to your video work, you're also known for your photography and poetry. Which medium did you start with first, and where do you feel most comfortable?

Photography was my gateway drug into video work and poetry. I feel comfortable in all mediums, they trigger different satisfactions. However I am most confident in photography, because I am more educated in it and have been doing it longer.

What's next?

Next, I have a trip planned to a private ranch in south Texas, somewhere I've never been! I'm really excited to see the outcome. In the summer I'm planning to go to Moscow (my parents still live there) and make work about them and my old life. Mostly, I want an excuse to annoy my Mom by following her around with a camera! I can see her yelling at me already, it'll be great!


Click here to watch Yulia Zinshtein's new short film Girls Going Wild. Visit Zinshtein's website to see her photography. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Viva Africa: Five Questions For Legendary Photographer Malick Sidibé On The Occasion Of His Collaboration With Designer Zainab Sumu

photograph by Olivier Sultan

In a way, you could say that Malick Sidibé was the ultimate nightlife and street life photographer. His images of a postcolonial Africa – namely in Bamako (the capital of Mali) – captured a zeitgeist full of joie de vivre and desperate to reclaim its identity after French rule. Some of his most iconic images were taken at concerts and youth clubs, like the Christmas Eve, Happy Club. It was in this club where one his most famous images was taken: a couple dressed to the nines, dancing barefoot under the night sky. Indeed, his images ooze with a delicious sense of style and swagger. At eighty years of age, Sidibé has put his camera down, but has recently teamed up with Boston-based designer Zainab Sumu for a limited edition mens and womens t-shirt collection. It is the photographer’s first ever collaboration.  Sumu, who started her brand Primitive Modern just last fall, has chosen four photographs from Sidibé’s extensive archive from the 60s and 70s to place on t-shirts printed with designs using indigenous Malian printing techniques. The collection of tees, in an edition of 140, is a natural evolution from the designer’s capsule collection of silk scarves inspired by artisanal Northern and West African dyeing techniques. Autre was lucky enough to ask the legendary Malick Sidibé some questions, through his son Karim, about his collaboration with Zainab Sumu and what the photographer’s archive says about the future of Africa.

How did you team up with Zainab Sumu?

We have always been on the lookout for interesting partners who first and foremost appreciate the work of my father. In Zainab we found someone not only passionate about his work aesthetic (which of course is so important), but we especially appreciated this quest she’s on in regards to helping strengthen the economic situation for us in Mali. She’s all about a positive representation of Africa and that was a vital part of my Dad’s legacy.

What was the collaboration process like?

The collaboration was most definitely a collaborative effort between Mody (my older brother) and Zainab. When we initially discussed the project she had very clearly pinpointed select images from the archive that reflected my Dad’s sense of fun and beauty and style, you could say. I remember Zainab making a lot of notes when she visited the studio in Bamako in 2015.

You are a major representative for Africa, and you have become a major part of dissolving a lot of myths about Africa's place in the world, what is the current atmosphere like and what would you like people to know about Africa in the 21st century?

Dad’s photographs were taken in post-colonial Mali, when self-expression was vital and raw and fresh, a response to the political regime. So most certainly Dad was lucky to have captured images during such a pivotal time in our country’s history. When many people think of African portraiture they immediately think of Malick Sidibé. His work was always about embracing individuality and essentially, during that time young people had a reason to be rebellious. 

What do your father’s images say about the future of Mali and Africa? 

In a way those images from his archive all represent hope for a better day. Today the people of Africa continue to be hopeful yet there is an overwhelming sense of disillusionment among our communities. We’re trying to change that. 

Do you want to continue collaborating with younger artists?

We try to stay open-minded but it’s very much an instinctive connection for us and we try to guard our father’s legacy with great care. By producing these t-shirts with my father’s photographs, it is way for everyone have to access to art. Importantly, also, it’s about presenting these works as a kind of object d’art, therefore my father’s work can be seen not just on the walls of museum’s or galleries but also on the bodies of many from the next generation.


Visit Zainab Sumu's website to purchase t-shirts from the Malick Sidibé collection. Click here to get a rare glimpse inside Sidibé's studio and click here to check out Sume's photographic travel diary through Mali. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Pulverizing Rabbits: An Interview with Ariana Papademetropoulos Before Her Solo Exhibition In Los Angeles

After her solo show opening this weekend at MAMA gallery in Los Angeles, artist Ariana Papademetropoulos might make a film about killer mushrooms that murder young punk kids. This should give you an idea of her creativity – it's a boundless creativity that bursts with schizophrenic, hallucinatory imaginativeness. Her paintings literally split at the imaginary seams, tearing into new images – half hidden sadomasochistic scenes are obscured by foggy veils, and midcentury living rooms peel into wood paneled dens where shadows portend dark and dangerous things. There is a Freudian element - her paintings feel like repressed memories, places where we were abused and aroused, places where we learned about our sexuality; places where past lives lived, made love and died under unknown suns. In her work, the hippocampus unfurls like a beautiful prismatic flower and drips with vibrant eroticism. It's truly electrifying. You can see many new works this weekend at one her first major solo exhibitions in Los Angeles – a small house will be built that will make her paintings come to life. We got a chance to visit Papademetropoulos in her studio to discuss her work, her life growing up in Los Angeles, and her new show, Wonderland Avenue

OLIVER KUPPER: Did growing up in Los Angeles inspire your work?

ARIANA PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah, in a way, I guess without me really wanting it to. It kind of seeped in. I’m from here. I kind of grew up in Pasadena. My dad lived in Venice. I moved back and forth between those two worlds.

KUPPER: It’s hard not to be fascinated by Los Angeles

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: There are so many strange things that keep popping up. When I was younger, I was in Pasadena, but then I learned about Jack Parsons and Majorie Cameron and that whole realm. There are always these undertones. Even in upper class neighborhoods, there are always strange things happening.

KUPPER: There’s always something dark going on. Even in Beverly Hills.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Totally. Everywhere.

KUPPER: When did you know that you wanted to become an artist? I read somewhere that your parents encouraged you at an early age. Was there a defining moment?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Not really. I think it was just the only thing I ever did, since I was literally a kid, which sounds cheesy.

KUPPER: Was there a moment when you knew that you were going to do it for the rest of your life, or was it natural?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: That was just the only thing I did.

KUPPER: And your parents encouraged it?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah. My dad is an architect. Everyone on my mom’s side of the family is an architect. I just wasn’t really good at anything else.

KUPPER: So you were around a lot of creativity?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah. It was very natural.

KUPPER: Did you know it was going to be painting, or were you ever working with other mediums?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I think it was always painting. I would love to do other mediums as well. I would love to move into installation. I’d like the works to get bigger and bigger – to envelop you in a sense.

KUPPER: To take on a life of their own?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah.

KUPPER: And your parents never wanted you to do architecture?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: No. They actually told me not to do architecture. You actually don’t get to be that creative, unless you’re very very very successful. Working for an architecture firm would mean me painting pictures of people’s cats for the rest of my life. I wouldn’t get to do what I want. Unless you get up there. But I would love to do architecture.

KUPPER: You’re part of this really exciting art scene in LA that has started to grow, especially among female artists. Do you find strength in this collective energy?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: No. I feel like most of my friends aren’t artists. Most of my friends are musicians. I don’t feel like I really exist. I don’t have a core group of artist friends.

KUPPER: Do you feel like there’s a creative energy in LA going on that’s stronger than it’s been in the past?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Totally. Everyone is moving here. I just don’t exist in any realm. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on. It’s a good time to be in LA.

KUPPER: When did you start developing your style?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I’ve been painting in a similar way since I was like fourteen. I was really into the style of vintage clothes. There was this one dress that had airbrushed flowers and patterns on it. One of the backgrounds of my painting, I copied the fabric from the airbrushed dress that I wore. That started off the whole thing. A lot of people think my paintings are airbrushed.

KUPPER: But it is brush work?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah, it’s all brush work.

KUPPER: Amazing. Do you start with the image and work backwards towards obscuring distorting it?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I create the image first and then distort.

KUPPER: So the image is underneath it the whole time?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah. It’s almost as if it’s collage, in a sense. I’m just photographing them in the in-between state. I work with a lot of these vintage erotic, nude postcards.

KUPPER: I wonder why erotica is not like that anymore. Maybe it was the Internet. Maybe it was the times.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: There’s no mystery. There is, but not really. Everything is kind of disgusting.



KUPPER: What is the symbolism behind the distortion of the work?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: In a sense, I’m interested in creating images that trigger the viewer’s sense of psychology. All images do this. I think when images are in limbo, they can be perceived in more than one way. That, to me, is more interesting to me than giving it to you all at once. I try to make things to inspire the view to use their own imagination.

KUPPER: It seems like an alternate reality. You could peel the surface off to reveal something more.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I’m really into that. I think most of my paintings have a layer of separation. There’s a double layer. This makes the images seem more tangible to me. The thing on the other side might be real, because there’s a barrier that’s separating our reality from that one.

KUPPER: It brings to mind Magritte’s philosophy of the treachery of the image. Ceci n’est pas une pipe. The image is something else entirely. That deals a lot with psychology. It’s interesting related to the time period of the images you’re working with. In mid-century film, you would have these split images, and your whole perception of things is skewed.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah. When you’re watching a film, you are in the film. Similar things have been coming up a lot in my work.

KUPPER: Do you spend a lot of time sourcing your images? You probably dig deep to find them.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I do. I think half the time is making the images, and half the time is actually executing it. I do spend a lot of time figuring out what to make first.

KUPPER: How long does this process take?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: It depends on what kind of deadline I’m under. I’ve done this whole show since January, which is kind of nuts. I haven’t left my studio. I work like 16-hour days, just going nuts.

KUPPER: Is that ideal? Do you like that pressure?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I’d like to have a little bit of room. But this is how I always seem to work, always at the last moment. I’m used to it.

KUPPER: It’s an interesting juxtaposition – to be rushed, but also to have to be so meticulous.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah. That’s something I’ve learned – to never rush. If I rush, it will take me longer, in the end. But if I just zone in and do it right, it’s fine. I never try to rush. I just get lost in it.

KUPPER: Do you apply any practical theory to your work? Classical training?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: No, not really. I just use turpenoid. I don’t know how to use anything else. I’m really into rabbit skin glue. That’s what I put on the canvas. It’s literally pulverized rabbits. You have to get the powder and put it in the pot and boil it. They’ve been doing it since the Middle Ages. The rabbit’s skin glue is clear, but it’s sparkly. It’s magical.

KUPPER: Where do you get rabbit’s skin glue?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Just at the art store. I like the idea that pulverized rabbits make sparkly glue.

KUPPER: Your upcoming show, “Wonderland Avenue,” was the title based off those murders from the 80s?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah, but it embodied all my ideas about Los Angeles, in a sense. I wasn’t super keen about it being about the Laurel Canyon murders. But it made sense in my ideas about spaces, how they change over time. For example, that house where the murders occurred, the Wonderland Gang lived there. But before that, Paul Revere and the Raiders lived there, a psychedelic band. That street was 60s, with the Doors and this band and that band. It was this magical utopia. And the name itself – “Wonderland Avenue.” In Los Angeles, especially in Laurel Canyon, we have all of these street names that are like Disneyland. I’m interested in how Los Angeles becomes itself. The newspaper would say, “Oh, LA, where all the movie stars go!” even though there was nothing here. So people came with this idea, and then it was created. History intertwines itself. Fact and fiction interplay.  

KUPPER: It’s very manufactured. That name sums up a lot. It’s a great title for a show.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: My work is kind of magical, in a sense. I don’t want to say that, but the palette has a magical quality to it. It’s both light and dark.

KUPPER: And you’re creating a fantasy, just as LA is creating a fantasy.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Yeah.

KUPPER: There’s an erotic element to your work. Erotica is something that you seem interested in.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I think it’s a natural thing. Women are the most beautiful things. Of course I’m going to want to paint them. I strayed away from painting people for a long time, because I felt like I had to get away from portrait. But I like putting them in these different situations, like the woman with the plastic on top.

KUPPER: Oh, yeah. I guess it’s erotically charged in the sense that they’re naked.

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: When a woman has panties on, or stockings, how is that more sexy than being completely nude? These accessories that cover you up actually make you sexier. I think my painting do that, in a way. They’re only giving you a little bit. Whether they’re erotic or not, I’m not sure. Like, I have a piece that’s a picture from Poltergeist. When you only get a little bit of something, it draws you in more. I’m using that idea of eroticism with all my paintings.

KUPPER: What’s next after this?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I don’t know yet. There are a couple of art fairs that I’m supposed to do. I’m probably going to take a break. I’ve been talking about making this film for four years, and I’m finally doing it.

KUPPER: Can you talk about the film at all?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: It’s kind of hilarious. It might not be a film; it might be more like a picture book. The movie is about a killer mushroom who murders all these young punks. It’s all my friends, and everyone has a role that’s exactly for them. One of my friends delivers the boys to the mushroom in exchange for snacks. She doesn’t understand that the mushroom is killing these people. But the mushroom isn’t killing them; she’s just turning them into plants.

KUPPER: Is it going to be a feature or a short?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: Short.

KUPPER: Are you shooting it on film?

PAPADEMETROPOULOS: I’m still wanting to make a book out of it instead, a bunch of photographs telling a story. Kind of in the same way of a comic book. It’s like a graphic novel but with photographs. All my friends are like, “You have to make a movie.” I might try to do both. 


Wonderland Avenue opens March 12, 2016 and runs until April 23, at MAMA Gallery in Los Angeles. Click here to see a tour of Ariana Papademetropoulos' studio. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


Romantic Funk: An Interview of Harriet Brown by Astronauts, Etc.'s Anthony Ferraro

Ahead of their national tour, which kicks off tomorrow night at Club Bahia in Los Angeles, Autre has exclusively premiered Harriet Brown's cover of the Astronauts, Etc. track "I Know." Helmed by Oakland-based musician and songwriter Anthony Ferraro, Astronauts, Etc. was a bedroom project that blossomed and found him playing in places like Tokyo and Australia. Ferraro also found himself in the role as touring keyboardist for Toro y Moi and is close friends with singer Chazwick Bundick. The track covered by Harriet Brown, an up-and-coming Los Angeles based musical artist, can be found on Astronauts, Etc.'s latest album Mind Out Wandering on the Hit City U.S.A imprint. In the following short interview Anthony Ferraro talks to Harriet Brown about the unique rendition of his song, the responsibility of music, Sade and more. 


Anthony Ferraro: Can you give us a brief description of the parallel universe that you pulled this cover out of?
 

Harriet Brown: A glass of red wine. Late, quiet nights on the beach in southern Mexico, ocean waves accompanied by the muted thump of bass drifting in the air from the half-empty reggaeton clubs down the shore. 

Ferraro: What is one responsibility of your music?


Brown: Sending a transmission out to beings and places (geographical/emotional/spiritual) I might not otherwise be able to reach, and hopefully in the process communicating at least little bits of truth with which others can resonate. 

Ferraro: Would it be at all accurate to say that Harriet Brown represents your anima?


Brown: Sure, in some way, but Harriet Brown is also just me, subconscious or not. Although I guess my anima has never been very closeted to begin with.

Ferraro: Who is your biggest woman hero?
 

Brown: Sade.

Ferraro: We met in music class around four years ago and were both making very different music back then. On a scale from free will to determinism, how much agency would you say you’ve had over the direction your music has taken? I.e. how inevitable was it that Harriet Brown would become what Harriet Brown now is?


Brown: I think it was 100% inevitable, but still up to myself to undo the latch and allow Harriet Brown to emerge in full. The seed had been planted as a boy, but I had at one point become ashamed of the desire to express myself with such bold, deliberate, passionate, careful intention. That time has passed, and I’ve never felt more true and natural about making music, and really just about myself as a person, than I do now. 

Ferraro: What is the main reason you have to be optimistic about the future of music?


Brown: Humans love music — it’s everywhere you go, even in the most sterile of places. The industry is always changing, always with both pros and cons, but regardless, we humans continue to desire music, and I don’t think that desire will ever die. 


Click here to purchase tickets to see Harriet Brown and Astronauts, Etc. at Club Bahia. Click here to listen to the cover of I Know. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE