My Kind Of Heaven: An Interview Of Polly Borland On The Eve Of Her First Solo Show In Los Angeles

Polly Borland’s idea of heaven isn’t your average person’s idea of heaven. Her heaven is a dark heaven, where the angels are fully-matured adults in soiled diapers, sucking away at a binky through a stubble-lined, razor-burned mouth. The Australian-born Borland, who spent half her life in London and is now based in Los Angeles, has the uncanny ability to make the fetish of adult infantilism look strangely playful and romantic. She spent five years documenting the lives of adult babies – photographing their every nap and nappy change. Tomorrow, she will be showing The Baby series as part of her first solo show in Los Angeles at Mier Gallery – her long-time collaborator Nick Cave curated the first ever showing of The Baby series at The Meltdown Festival in London in 1999. Shortly after exhibiting the Baby series, she was commissioned by Buckingham Palace to shoot Queen Elizabeth II’s portrait to commemorate her Golden Jubilee.  Borland has commissioned UK prisoners to turn the images into intricate tapestries, which will also be on view. We got a chance to catch up with Borland at her Downtown Los Angeles studio to discuss her solo show and her life on the road with adult babies. 

OLIVER KUPPER: You are essentially new to Los Angeles, what prompted the move out here from London?

POLLY BORLAND: Well I came here kicking and screaming because my husband is a movie director. He’s not a gun-for-hire, he did The Proposition and Lawless. He kept saying, “We’ve got to move to LA,” after The Proposition and I kept saying, “We’re not moving to LA.” So, we showed up and then the culture shock…. I know every city is pretty tough. London is pretty tough. But everything here seems to be overshadowed by the movie industry and all of that is really smoke and mirrors, kind of secrets and lies. That’s what kind of hit me first. And it kind of freaked me out.

KUPPER: Have you guys come out of that culture shock?

BORLAND: Yes, and my main focus now is looking at human connection, and I didn’t know anyone here, so then I started creating figurative images out of stuffed stockings and things like that, which sort of connected to my previous work.

KUPPER: Is that the Smudge series?

BORLAND: And the Smudge series, but this was the Pupa series – and Wonk where I continued stuffing things. I think I’ve got a book, I’ll show it to you.

KUPPER: You are about to have your first solo show here, are you excited, nervous or is there an emotion that you didn’t expect having?

BORLAND: I’m nervous because Nino [Mier] suggested I show all ‘Baby’ work, which has never been shown in its entirety. It’s 80 photos, they’re very confronting and a lot of them are x-rated. They’re not easily digested and universally, people just think they’re creepy and disgusting. And even when I first took the photos to the publisher, Power House Books, and Susan Sontag, who did the essay, thought I was going to be a superstar, and when the book came out everyone was just freaked out by it.

KUPPER: People view things at face value.

BORLAND: Even Susan said, “I just didn’t expect it,” that’s how much she loved the work, so I’m very nervous. At the same time, I’ve realized that going through this trauma and coming out the other side and with Trump being voted in, I’ve kind of re-found my voice again. I was in kind of fear and terror for quite a long time. It culminated in Trump being elected, and me having a show, and then seeing other people and me having to find our voices. That’s really what art’s supposed to be anyways. So, I’m kind of excited for it.

KUPPER: What about the Queen series?

BORLAND: I feel like the Queen tapestries are equally subversive but not as in-your-face. I’ve had them stitched and show them on the wrong side because on the right side, they all look the same. The backside is just wild.  I was talking to this Italian dealer and he loved the tapestries and I said, “The problem is I don’t know how to do it.” If I were to learn, it would take me years to do one. I was researching, researching and I ended up contacting the craft association of England. Then I found this charity that’s been going since the 70s - it’s called Fine Cell Work. Prisoners get paid to make certain arts and crafts. They provide cushions to the Victoria and Albert Museum, they do cushions for the Catholic Church; it’s a really well-established charity. And apparently, they like doing my stuff because my work is so unusual. But, the prisons have started complaining about the content. The Queen’s okay with them, even though she’s the one that’s locking them up.

KUPPER: I want to jump back into talking about the Baby series, because I think it is some of your most important work, how did you get introduced to this world?

BORLAND: Yeah, that’s the bulk of the work. The Babies were introduced to me by a friend of mine who was at Saint Martin’s College of Art and one of her lecturers told her about this phenomenon, and this was in the early 90s. And I’m like, “No,” and we both kind of laughed and she double-checked if they exist because I was like, “where can I find these people?” She said why don’t you Google Kim West? It’s not rubber fetish, but fashion. She was wild and I rang her and I was like, “Do these people exist and where do I find them.” In those days, the Internet wasn’t a big thing, and she said that I had to go into a Newsagent, which is where you buy magazines and newspapers in England, and go to the top shelf and look at the English sex magazines for the classifieds. So I did that and looked in the back and saw this Hushaby Baby Club phone number. And I thought, “Oh my god, I lucked out!” I thought I’d have to write a letter.

KUPPER: So this is a fetish and they want people to be in their world.

BORLAND: Yeah, when I rang this woman called Hazel Jones, she said, “Sure, come and have a look.” And I was working for the Independent, which was a newspaper with color supplements and they were known for their photography. So I went to the senior editor and he laughed like they all did and went, “sure.” So me and a journalist went to go check it out, and she was one of their top journalists, and we spent an afternoon with Hazel and, you know, huge babies are crawling around because she was a mommy, but she also ran a bed and breakfast and she’d make huge cots and huge cribs. The whole thing was set up like a giant-sized baby land, but she also made big baby clothing for these people.

KUPPER: So, she was like a madam, but also their mummy. 

BORLAND: How it happened was she was making bondage-wear and she kept getting requests for baby-wear in mail order. She was doing that and then she realized there was a whole market for adult baby-wear that no one had tapped into, so that’s how her business developed. Then, she built the bed and breakfast baby land and then formed the Hushaby Baby Club. So, then we were invited back to do this weekend-long party, I mean it was really surreal. The journalist couldn’t deal with it because it was pretty full on. They were drinking alcohol, but then they’d regress. They’d be dressed up as babies, be adult for a few minutes, but the majority of the time they were babies. Some of them were purist so they wouldn’t drink alcohol, but some of them went to and fro between being a baby and an adult.

KUPPER: You became fascinated by these adult babies.

BORLAND:  I became totally fascinated because it had every element that I loved: the surreal, the pathos, the seedy-ness. Everything about it was my idea of heaven. I had to disguise their faces; they didn’t want to be seen in a national publication. I rang Hazel Jones and said I’m thinking about doing a book on this, which ones would I contact and do you think they’d reveal their identity?” because I couldn’t do a book without seeing their faces and she said, “Well, you can try.” So, I contacted them directly.

KUPPER: How long did you spend with them?

BORLAND: It became a five-year journey. We traveled to LA to go to Disneyland and we did a road trip down, whatever highway it is, to San Francisco to meet the adult babies in San Francisco, there was a club. Then I went to France and did the same thing. I showed up, had to meet the guy, I got picked up, him and a couple of other adult babies went to the Swiss border to stay in a chalet for the weekend. And this was full on, it was defecating - the smell in the car, I was full-on carsick. Full on. But you know again, in the interest of art…I don’t believe now that I would have the guts to do that…I don’t know if I would.

KUPPER: Did you ever feel in danger?

BORLAND: No, because that’s the thing, they were the sweetest, kindest, really passive sort of people…they’re babies.

KUPPER: Did you talk to them about their fetish?

BORLAND: This is the thing, I thought there was some big psychological secret to it, I was trying to figure it out and I had a lot of empathy because I lost my mother when I was young. So, I kind of understood what it was like to not really want a tight responsibility and not be 100% focused on, all of that. So, I kind of got it on that level and identified, and I think that’s why I got along so well with them. I think the intensity of the photographer’s gaze, it’s like the mother’s gaze. I’m really 100% focused when I’m looking through a camera. We all got along extremely well, but I did a lot of talking. The other interesting thing is that it was very individualized. Some of them were into terry towel nappies, and some of them were into disposable nappies, and some of them were into being girl babies, some of them were into being boy babies.

KUPPER: Susan Sontag’s introduction is quite amazing—how did she come to write that?

BORLAND: I was photographing her for The Guardian and she said, “What else do you do? I can tell you do something else.” I said, “What do you mean? Well, I’ve got this series of photos.” I didn’t say anything to her - she prompted the conversation. Later, I told her about the babies and she said, “Oh, I’m coming to England next week, I want to see the photos.” When she came to England, and I had a portrait show over the road from where she was staying, we had breakfast together with my husband.  She went through the photos and kept saying, “Who’s writing the essay?” She kept hinting at it, and I finally said, “Do you want to do it?” She said, “Of course I want to do it!” Incredible.

KUPPER: Nick Cave curated your first showing of this work, what was that process like and how did you meet Nick because you have collaborated quite a lot together.

BORLAND: We’ve known each other since we were 19 years old. The first time I met Nick was at a party but it wasn’t until later that we became friends, when he collaborated with my husband on writing Ghosts…of the Civil Dead. Incredible prison drama, Australian drama and Nick co-wrote it and did the music. He was amazing in it, he had a little cameo, and we became friends then. Then he moved to Germany and England then we moved to England. I sort of documented him for 40 years or something and we’ve been really, kind of like, best friends. Nick saw the baby pictures and loved them, still loves them. He didn’t show all of my work but he was the first one to publicly show it.

KUPPER: Where was that show?

BORLAND: He was curating at Meltdown Festival at the Southbank Centre in London. Nina Simone played – it was incredible.

KUPPER: Back to the history of photography, it seems like Australia has a less notable photographic history – there have not been that many fine art photographers to come out of Australia. Helmut Newton’s wife, June, she became a photographer under the Alice Springs name and I’m wondering why that is. 

BORLAND: There are a few amazing photographers.

KUPPER: But we don’t know much about them…

BORLAND: I’ve got a lot of Australian art and I think another part of the reason is Australia, in the old days before the Internet, was so isolated, but you’ve got to look up Rennie Ellis, he’s fucking amazing. We always used to make fun of him when we were students. We’d say, “Who’s that old guy,” you know sort of creepy, why is he here, he was at every music event, always there, in any night club. Then this huge book was produced of his work and he photographed ACDC, like documentary style and they’re incredible photos. There is this photo he took at a Saints concert, some people think that Saints were the first punk band in the world, and Nick Cave is a teenage boy in the audience looking focused, like analyzing this guy performing. There is another woman called Carol Jerrems that died young and she was really incredible. So Carol Jerrems, Rennie Ellis, well… Helmut Newton lived in Australia, that’s where he met his wife.

KUPPER: Helmut Newton was imprisoned for a while, right?

BORLAND: He fled Germany, and then him and his parents ended up in Singapore, and then he went to Melbourne where he became a portrait/wedding photographer. He took my parents’ wedding photos. I’ve got all of the wedding photos that he took and his name is embossed, because you know wedding photographers used to emboss their name?

KUPPER: Oh yeah, of course! I want to talk about your Queen portraits – what was your reaction when you got that call and how did that commission come about?

BORLAND: That came about because of the show at the National Portrait Gallery. Basically, it was coming up to be the Golden Jubilee so it was the end of the 90s and a mediator said to me, “The Golden Jubilee is about to happen and we’ve decided to give a lot of different people a go at photographing the queen. Would you be interested?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah.” And they said, “The only catch is you’ve got five minutes.” Eventually it all worked out and I was contacted by the palace. We were allowed as much time as we needed to set up, but before the shoot, they direct you around the palace and you pick the room that you wanted to photograph her in. I took two rolls and I had two different setups, one backdrop in front of another, one camera in front of the other. At one point I was about to manhandle her ankles because I was trying to get her to stand to the side and move to the left, but apparently, I don’t even remember, but Prince Philip was in there standing, saying inappropriate things as usual. I got two good shots.

KUPPER: There’s kind of a novelty about shooting the queen especially now that you get to sort of play with the images.

BORLAND: Exactly. And look, a lot of my favorite subjects were politicians because I knew that they never did what they said they were going to do. They never really followed through on what they believed. It just felt to me like the embodiment of hypocrisy. Everything’s about money, it’s not about helping people or social responsibility.

KUPPER: As A photographer, what is the greatest thing you’ve learned about the human condition?

BORLAND: I think it would be that most people are craving attention or recognition of some kind, but I really see parallels between… to me I could really see the link between the famous and various subcultures. I don’t know if that’s so true anymore because I think the disparity between rich and poor is so bright that I think you know that this is a real disconnect. So, there’s this kind of a weird thing going on that I’ve found… I think I’m going to have to think about that one. I mean “the human condition” what does that mean to you?

KUPPER: It’s different to a lot of different people, but the human condition in the sense of not the meaning of life, but sort of what our wildest pursuits are in a sense, our pursuits as humans.

BORLAND: You know, and I heard this, actually Kendrick [Lamar] said it recently – really it’s all about love. We just want to be loved and to be a part of something, and being part of a community is really important. I mean for me, I can’t understand differences because I don’t think there are any, all our blood is fucking red.

The Babies and Tapestries will be on view from July 22 to August 19, 2017 at Mier Gallery, 1107 Greenacre Ave Los Angeles, CA. Text and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow AUTRE on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE

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

After Malevich: A Q&A With Robert Levine Before His Solo Show @ MAMA Gallery

What do you get when you combine the work of Russian geometric abstract artist Kazimir Malevich, Superman, the minimalism of Joseph Albers, and Groucho Marx? – Besides a Pleiades-like connect the dots of near-schizophrenic referencing, you also get a conundrum of contradictions and a strange telling of art history that contemporary artist Robert Levine explores in his uniquely powerful, incongruous and disarming paintings and collages, which will be on view starting tonight at MAMA gallery. Autre got a chance to chat with Levine about his early introductions to art, his technique, his views on art history and art criticism and his solo exhibition opening tonight at MAMA gallery. 

Autre: What were some of your earliest introductions to art?

Robert Levine: When I grew up, we had some art…nothing really valuable or anything…but we just always had art at home. That was my earliest introduction.

Autre: Was there a specific artist, or a specific work of art, that really inspired you?

Levine: The first time that I really thought there were possibilities or that things can be different was in Boston, at the ICA, and they were in a very small building at the time, but there was a show of minimal work….there was Robert Smithson, Robert Morrison, Donald Judd and [Dan] Flavin. I’ve tried to look up the show, but there is scant information about museums from back then. This would have been in 79’ or something. I had never seen a group of work like that, up close, and that really changed my mind about what art can be.

Autre: When you first start making art, you were creating sculptures, but then you recently started painting…what motivated you to pick up a paintbrush?

Levine: Actually, when I first started making art, I did a little bit of both. I worked concurrently until I was in CalArts, but after my first semester I stopped making painting and focused only on sculptural work. I mean I was doing these painting that stood in for painting, but it was sculpture. And I recently got back into painting, because I was making these sculptures with broken pencils and I just started doing drawings of them to have something else to go along with them.

Autre: And then drawing and painting stuck?

Levine: And then I just really started liking the drawings. Soon enough, I was doing paintings of the drawings. And while I was doing some other sculptural work, I was making small little gouache paintings…kind of like product labels and book covers. That’s where I developed a technique of tracing the image in pencil…either tracing it from something or just hand drawing with a pencil and just filling in with paint. That is kind of what I still do. I don’t really have a sophisticated painting technique.

Autre: A lot of your new works have these distinct pop art references and it’s an interesting dichotomy…can you talk a little bit about that?

Levine: That started with the image of the Malevich white painting with Superman holding up the white square. I was doing collage and I needed to do an artwork for a benefit and I was working on a college and somehow in my mind I made the connection between the cover of the very first Superman comic where he is throwing the car. I think it was 1928 or 1930. And he was throwing a car…and the car was at a very similar angle as the white square in the Malevich painting. And I just made a connection and up to that point I had never really used any pop art images in my work. In fact, I just did it as a collage.

"Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images."

Autre: Were you thinking of them as painting?

Levine: You know, I wasn’t thinking of them as paintings. I made a bunch of collages. Only later did I think to try to paint them. It grew out of the collage work.

Autre: A lot of artists throughout art history, especially 20th century art history, have declared some form as art dead. Up until the minimalists, arts were declaring that painting was dead. What can we glean from this?

Levine: You know, I am not totally against this idea. You know, maybe it is. It seems like when that happens, it opens the doors for other ways of thinking. Declaring it dead almost allows you to cast aside what was done before. Even if the art looks the same…there is an incredibly difference in the attitudes of how paintings are done now compared to how they were done in 1970 or 1960 or 1950. I think because I have done work other than painting, I don’t really think of myself as a painter in a way that some other people do…in a way that it as a distinct genre of art. I just think of it as a different form of art making.

Autre: What can we expect from your upcoming show at MAMA gallery?

Levine: I think we decided today that the show will be the collage work that generated the ideas for the Malevich, or After-Malevich paintings. After doing the initial one, I ended up printing out photocopies of as many of the supremetive paintings that I could and collaged on to them. I tried to not really limit myself to too many rules as to what I can do in this collages. But when I started painting them, I was limited to only what I felt I could paint for my skill level. But I’ve gotten much better at it and now I’m not really as limited to what I can do.

Autre: So, you will be showing collages and some of the paintings?

Levine: I will be showing collages and I have a number of paintings that I will also be showing. Through these paintings I deal with the language of talking about art. Sometimes I make it literal or I make a pun or I use humor to make a connection with the images. Or I try to use humor with the way that critics have talked about art, like Clement Greenburg. People who may have been discredited, but there is still talk of what they have done. So, a lot of what’s in my paintings is the way that I deal with the language of art and art history. But I try to make them visually interesting. You know, a lot of my most successful pieces have a little bit of a contradiction in them that causes a tension that makes them more and more interesting over time.  

Robert Levine's After-Malevich opens tonight at MAMA Gallery with a reception from 6pm to 9pm and the exhibition will run until May 30th, 2015. Text, interview, photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. follow Autre on Instagram to stay up to date: @autremagazine

Installing After Malevich at MAMA Gallery.  

Southern Gothic: An Interview With Bradley Bailey

Visit artist and musician Bradley Bailey’s bandcamp page for his one-man band, oxymoronically called Platonic Sex, and you’ll find a single song tiled Sweet Nothing available for download for $1000. Watch a youtube video made last summer in Brooklyn and you’ll find Bailey playing a fifteen minute long, psychedelic and cacophonous set with a human femur. The Atlanta, Georgia based musician doesn’t have much of an online presence, but what he does have so far is a curious teaser for what might be to come, or not to come. Bailey seems content just figuring out who he is an artist and making music. Autre contributor Abbey Meaker got a chance to catch up with Bailey where he is currently in Atlanta thinking things over. 

ABBEY MEAKER: How are you doing right now and where are you? Describe the environment in which you are sitting.

BRADLEY BAILEY: Things are this way and that, I am doing fine, I am sitting in a facet of the broken home of Atlanta, Ga. for a visit, figuring out where to go and what to do with myself next

MEAKER: How old were you when you were compelled to write your first song and what were the circumstances?

BAILEY: I wanted to be a songwriter for as long as I can remember, when I was a little child I loved pretty much all music, practically absent of discernment as children can often be... I would often come up with songs in my head and always write and improvise a little bit on my grandparents piano while visiting, until getting SHUSHED! It was when I was ten I began writing songs and really learning the guitar, bass and keys.

MEAKER: How would you describe the music that you're making now? Has it changed over the years?

BAILEY: The music I'm making now is and has always been eclectic, though it has undergone many twists and turns, many things have remained the same since always, some sounds and emotions continue to show through many very contrasting styles... The difference is that now I feel I have reached and transcended many of the the goals I've had in the past... Where some things were desired they are now manifested and enjoyed... For example the inspiration to really express the vast music that exists within a single sound used to be a fleeting and very personal accomplishment at best, mostly a dream, however now I have developed methods of expressing that in ways I only hoped and dreamed I could... Namely what I've been doing with strings and objects...

MEAKER: Is there a particular recent performance that stands out as being more interesting than others? If so, why?

BAILEY: Lately what stands out as being more interesting than others would be the bone song... I've been bowing strings with a human femur. I started with some kind of animal bone but the size, shape and weight were not ideal. The human femur is the perfect bone for it functionally and also provides for a profound example of the fact that music is vibration and with its creation carries with it destruction, its a very natural phenomena, it courses through us at all times and extends beyond our very perception and sensory experience of it.... In performance I have generally been using an acoustic guitar because I like to keep the method organic, keep the effect of it unaffected by even amplification and at the same time non verbally express that no effects are being used, no tricks, which people still think there are unseen amplifiers and effects... Though many wild sounds can be made with this technique I keep it simple and repetitive live, very zen, as I often do alone, expressing how the dynamics of the method can change so vastly in doing so, that one thing can sound so many different ways, actually unearthing the many sounds within a sound that this method can provide... I gently rub the bone on the strings in one place a certain way that makes it vibrate, then I focus on maintaining and expanding that vibration... In doing so, just one string can move through a great spectrum of notes tones and sounds and harmonize with itself... with the 6 strings of a guitar I can even get limitless orchestrics, choirs of shifting harmony that really sound like voices to the naked ear... and because the technique is so delicate, the very subtlest change in motion changes it, thus it becomes like a narrative of my very experience, my very physical emotion, its like improvising from the soul but having a whole ensemble of selves following every nuance of conduction... its very execution is very personally expansive and rewarding. I've been experimenting with friction in music since my teenage days and i now feel it has more than paid off creatively and existentially... I simply discovered it while doing what I do at a friends house that had some animal bones... I have discovered many special ways of making music using objects on strings, the bone just works so well. Also shells work very well in their way, they have an amazing percussive element with their textures and resonate like bone because I suppose the material is practically the same, but the size, shape and weight are not as dynamic... Clay and such materials wail, theyre really hot and easily screech, but they wail... I imagine there are some stones and crystals that will work as well as bone, probably selenite... that will be my next venture with it.

MEAKER: Do you have any philosophies - spiritual or otherwise - that influence your music or any other medium you might use to express yourself?

BAILEY: There are so many inspirations that influence all of my mediums of expression, philosophical, existential, even spiritual... Most simply and basically the notion that whatever medium it is bears wonderment beyond what one could ever perceive, as do our very selves and I like to treat them as such, purely as such, solely undergoing the wonderment of what they are, enjoying them, not taking them for granted, always a gift, of expression, joy, healing, catharsis, insight, interest, mystery, twerk, etc... and total wonderment.... And the notion that we can really have a very great time together as people, ya know... It boils down to expressing inspirations of how manifesting a very great time in this crazy world and actually undergoing the experience of its wonderment even beyond only a contenting extent is entirely plausible... Within that, much philosophy, spiritual and otherwise is to be expressed...

MEAKER: When we spoke, you said that "Sweet Nothings" is a sketch - do you know what you plan to do with the song?

BAILEY: "Sweet Nothings" was a sketch when I recorded it, I hadn't even played it all the way through before I recorded it but I like the sound of it so I kept it. Fresh, raw, new material, when undergone willingly and passionately always has substance that can't be found further in its evolution and I, as many others do, like to capture that and often prefer it, though there is much to be had with polished work as well that can only be achieved through its evolution.... "sweet Nothings" was released on the album "Advances" by "Platonic Sex", an ongoing and thus far very loose and open ended project of mine... "Advances" was a very loose and open ended, somehwhat experimental project of an album that I felt was good for such a raw performance as "Sweet Nothings". It was released on Atlanta's "Big Blonde Records" alongside a diverse mix of awesome Atlanta musicians. I'm touching the album up a little bit and putting it up online soon and printing CDs... As far as what's to come with the song, it will undergo various arrangements that I have conceived in my mind and also have yet to imagine... The first verse, which is in the format of simple love poetry, changes often where the last verse always stays the same "We're always whispering sweet nothings... and little phrases we repeat ... how could they be sweet if they are nothing? How could be nothing if they're sweet?"

MEAKER: Any upcoming projects or plans for an album?

BAILEY: I have so much material and so many albums and projects planned out in my mind, circumstances have been so very difficult, I've hardly done any of it, that's a whole collection of long stories.... I hope you can expect a broad spectrum of things....

MEAKER: Where can we hear more of your music or see you perform?

BAILEY: I hardly have anything up online right now, mostly its just random things people have captured and posted on youtube, check out "Bradley Bailey-Bone Song" on you tube or "Platonic Sex" on bandcamp for now and hopefully in the next year I will have more material available... In the meantime I play live in many facets regularly and randomly around the US.

Intro text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper and interview by Abbey Meaker. First three photographs by Bradley Bailey. Photo below by Ryan Callahan

ANALOG NOT DEAD: THE Photographic Diary of Marija Mandić

Marija Mandić, a twenty year old photographer from Novi Sad, Serbia, is finding a unique photographic voice with visually arresting images of her own inner life.  Her photography is so personal at times it is hard not to feel like you've opened some kind of diary, but this is exactly what makes Marija Mandić's work so interesting, because she has invited us to look. And through the blur, the dust, the sometimes overexposed and sometimes underexposed – with forgivable, purposeful intention, but much more owing to the the unpredictability of analog – we are offered a rare glimpse into the life of a young artist embarking on an even more unpredictable odyssey.

Can you tell me a little about your inspirations and influences? I find inspiration in people that surround me in my everyday life. Lately I made some changes in my style, I think it’s not obvious yet, but it will be. I like my photo diary and I don’t want to stop doing that, but I have some new ideas about my photography.

Who are some of your favorite photographers? One of my favorite photographers is definitely Lukasz Wierzbowski, and beside him I really like Synchrodogs, Sam Hesamian, Margaret Durow, Lina Scheynius and of course Martin Parr, Diane Arbus and Sally Mann.

What was it like growing up in Serbia? When I think about it, it wasn’t that bad. I had a safe childhood in the countryside and an interesting life in the city when I was younger. These were the good days, and I would love to remember only that, so I can say it was okay.

Who are some the reoccurring subjects in your photographs? My friends, my boyfriend, my mother and my grandmother Anka. They make my everyday life, and I love to catch moments that I spend with them. There are more people, like my younger brother, but he doesn’t like to be photographed. I have that luck, that all of them are really beautiful and photogenic.

Can you tell me a little bit about CircleE? CircleE is one and first in a series of the projects on which I am working on with my friend, also photographer Marija Kovač. We are working on CircleE with Aela Labbe, who is great photographer from France. CircleE is a project which goal is communication among young people through photography. Content of each photo is associated with the previous.

Whats next? I am working on one big project with Marija Kovač and Lidia Teleki, my friend who is involved in production. I rather not say anything about this, but you will sure be informed when the project is over.


text by Oliver Maxwell Kupper for Pas Un Autre


The Ubiquity of Tattoos: An Interview with Cris Cleen

The ubiquitous proliferation of tattoos in today’s mainstream culture has peeled away all but every layer from the archaic notion that tattoos are taboo. Tattoos, let’s face it, have become commercialized. But if you dig your hands through the pile, you’ll find a new tattoo niche that harks back to the good ol’ days. A time of pre-world war industrial bliss…where hands were busy and sweat glistened proudly. It was a time when things weren’t necessarily easy, but you got the work done and didn’t quite worry about the unending mystery of the ever expanding universe. It was an era where tattoos were an earned folk art tradition. For sailors, long odysseys into uncharted hemispheres granted coveted sparrows, like badges, and crudely drawn women with seductive eyes are scrawled three layers deep into flesh to memorialize debauched, forgotten nights in remote tropical isles. Today, there is a new band of misfit tattooists keeping this tradition beautifully alive. Last Monday I got a chance to sit down to talk with tattooist Cris Cleen.

When I got to Idle Hands Tattoo, in the Lower Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, he was hunched over an angled draftsman table sketching intently. Like an author of a novel would give a name that alludes to a character'sphysicality or persona, Cris Cleen was....well...very clean and well dressed – dapper even. His style of dress is a throwback to a distant, nostalgic era. It’s the era you see in black and white photographs of 1930s street hoodlums, bootleggers, and dust bowl wanderers. I should mention though, that Cleen is far from a Luddite, even though I could smell small whiffs of Ned Ludd. I learned that Cleen has “three computers and an iphone.” Cleen also recognizes the disadvantages of that era: “lights caused fires and people threw their trash out the window.” But there is still a soupcon of romantization of an earlier era, which seems not only nostalgic, but also appreciative of the bygone ethos of the American Dream. Even the brief story he told about himself, his brother and their mother moving out west from Iowa to California seemed very Steinbeck. But all this simply added to the splendorous aesthetic and personality of his tattoos: folksy, like patchwork quilts.

Cleen has never been to art school and never wanted to be an artist. Even now he doesn’t consider himself an artist: “I like to come up with ideas and put things together… I’d rather have a good idea than a good drawing.” At one point Cleen wanted to become a cop – a revelation that illustrates the merit of his character – something about cops having “the guts to defend something.” And Cris Cleen certainly is protecting something: his integrity. Cleen is not a people pleaser and has never had a problem speaking his mind: “I don't want to be suicidal when I'm 30 because I've been a people pleaser all my life.” Whilst most kids “were fucking off and spending their parents money” Cleen, in his early 20s, had a career – he started tattooing right after he turned 19. Cleen doesn’t really know what drew him to the world of tattoos, he had “no frame of reference,” but admits that after seeing flash art for the first time he became fixated. Cleen mentioned that something about the random smattering of images, the “dichotomy of a skull and a rose next to each other,” sold him right away. You could say that tattoos were Cris Cleen’s calling.

Cris Cleen appreciates the “folk sensibility” of tattoo art and theorizes that the commercialization of tattoos has made them too polished, and that “over stylization is dead.” Cleen likes to stick to stuff “that’s always going to be beautiful…like roses and girls.” In that sense, Cleen is a constant pursuer of timelessness. He sees tattoos like permanent jewelry…adornment, not defamation of the flesh. Cleen stays up late into the night working on his drawings for his clients. He doesn’t try to appeal to the “tattoo collector,” but to the “every man” who simply wants a beautiful tattoo. And Cleen doesn't like that the tattoo world overplays the working class persona. Cris Cleen is not a working class hero. Cleen considers himself more a part of an elite trade of craftsmen more than anything. Which brings us back to the new niche aesthetic of the misfit tattooist: here in the second decade of the 21st century there is a full on revolt against some of the most common iniquities in the annals of tattoo history, like tribal tattoos and Geiger inspired machinery. Cleen mentioned some of his influences, which date back to the turn and early 20th century, from whence he culls a lot of his inspiration, like Saturday Evening Post and pre-Norman Rockwell illustrator J.C. Landecker and Norman Lindsey, the Australian artist who was ostracized for the overtly sexual nature of his art, and for living with more than one woman. For Cleen, in art, there is a certain power and lust. What is male desire? The countenances of the woman depicted in Cleen’s tattoos all have an underworld quality…. as if they live in a dark velvet room in a constant state of indecency…disrobed…. sprawled out and ravaged.

Last Monday was my sister’s 25th birthday. Cris Cleen and I, after a weeklong email thread that stretched into twenty or so messages, decided upon simple design: a simple rose. When I got to the shop I asked him to put my sister’s name below the rose and he obliged. The tattoo came out beautifully. Cris Cleen’s tattoos are like precious permanent keepsakes…

Cris Cleen will be tattooing New York at Saved Tattoo during the month of March and back at Idle Hands Tattoo in San Francisco after that.  Text & Images by Oliver Maxwell Kupper.