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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Follow Erica via Twitter and Instagram - @ericadgarza

What We Do Is Secret: An Interview With Controversial and Provocative Chinese Photographer Ren Hang

Left: muse Huang Jiaq Right: Ren Hang, photograph by Oliver Maxwell Kupper

Ren Hang’s photographs rake a dagger across the main artery of sociosexual norms and leave a glittering crime scene of bodies splayed across the frame in ecstatic and erotic forms. As a Chinese artist, this makes his work even more incendiary and provocative – even in the face of his home country’s strict censorship laws. We got a chance to interview Hang (pronounced ‘hong’) back in 2011, when his work was just gaining international recognition. Over the years, he has had solo exhibitions in almost every major city. With his current show on view now at MAMA gallery, he can put Los Angeles on that list. In a back office at the gallery, before the opening of his show, we were able to conduct a second interview and ask the controversial Beijing-based artist about his work, his explosive career and his place in the current photographic and artistic zeitgeist. Hang is notoriously media shy, because he wants the work to speak for itself. Work that is unplanned, unchoreographed and not scripted in any way. A good example is his famous “fish tank” photograph – he brought an entire glass tank full of fish into a hotel room and placed it on the bed and let his closest friends jump in; water splashing everywhere; fish scrambling for safe haven. In his images, genitals are often painted red with lipstick, peacocks meddle with sumptuous human forms and a sea of behinds form a rippling, illuminatingly sensual wave – a wave that floods your unconscious with revelrous desires. Despite his timidness in interviews, Hang has a lot of future plans. Next December will see the release of a major career monograph from Taschen – a book that he didn’t want to release knowledge of yet publicly, but is currently available for preorder on Amazon. The monograph is a collection of work that derived from numerous self-published books that Hang has released over the last eight or so years – but many of the images are from the artist’s personal archive. Hang also has plans to release a feature length film, which will be his first foray into filmmaking. In the following conversation, with his muse and lover sitting next to us, Huang Jiaq, we chat about the spontaneity of his work, his previous life studying advertising, and his rebellious attitude towards the authorities. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Is this your first time in LA? And your first solo show?

HANG: Mhmm. My first solo show. I’ve done group shows.

KUPPER: How do you like LA?

HANG: Hmm, I don’t know. Because I didn’t go out at all. I just arrived two days ago. 

KUPPER: You’ve been taking photographs for a while now. How long?

HANG: Since 2007.

KUPPER: Is that outside of school? When did you first start to pick up the camera and take pictures of friends?

HANG: It was really boring in college. That’s when I first started playing with the camera. I was around 17 or 18.

KUPPER: So you were young. What was boring about college? Was it that there was nothing creative?

HANG: In college, I was studying advertising. I found that boring.

KUPPER: You wanted to be in more fine art photography instead of corporate [photography]?

HANG: At the time, I didn’t know what I would do later. Then I built a camaraderie with my friends.

KUPPER: Over the years, what’s sort of the biggest development you’ve seen in your work?

HANG: I’m the photographer. I’m taking photos literally everyday. I can’t examine things. To me, it’s the same. But I think it has definitely [developed]. I can’t be the outsider looking at my own work.

KUPPER: Have you discovered anything about yourself as an artist through the process?

HANG: Of course. Anyone would in this position.

KUPPER: You’ve traveled a lot too because of the attention your work has gotten. You must have discovered things about the rest of the world and the way people appreciate your work. Anything you’ve learned there that you can discuss?

HANG: I didn’t think about it like this. I just kept going. Now, I feel nothing. In the beginning, I felt half-happy and half-sad. Some people say really wonderful things about it, and other people say really bad things.

KUPPER: You use a lot of friends and lovers in your work. Also, your mom has been in a lot of your photographs. Does she support your work? Do you talk about your work with her? Did she support your work in the beginning?

HANG: Sometimes, I show my work to her. We didn’t talk about my work though.

KUPPER: What do your parents do?

HANG: My mom worked in a cream factory. My father worked at the train station.

KUPPER: Growing up, who were some artists you were attracted to?

HANG: My favorite artist is Shūji Terayama. He was a sculptor, filmmaker, poet, dramatist. He did multiple things. That was inspiring.

KUPPER: Was it just photography? Was it painting, or was it art in general that inspired you?

HANG: Everything.

KUPPER: People talk a lot about censorship in your work, especially in China. But it’s really a global issue. We have it here, too. Do you see that other places? Do you see your work being censored? Do you hear people talking about your work in a way that suppresses your creative ideas outside of China, or justin China?

HANG: Yes, but I don’t care. If the police don’t catch me. Whatever you say, you say. It’s your mouth.

KUPPER: But there is no fear. You still keep taking pictures. You still keep working.

HANG: I’m not afraid. Why be afraid?

KUPPER: When you’re shooting, how much is planned, and how much is spontaneous?

HANG: I never plan at all. I only know what I’m going to photograph after everyone gets together. It’s not a huge process.

KUPPER: Where are some of your favorite places to shoot?

HANG: Anywhere. Anywhere is beautiful.

KUPPER: The sexuality in your work, has that come naturally?

HANG: It comes naturally. I never really think too much about it.

KUPPER: You’ve also published a number of books over the past couple of years. Is there an experience people can get looking at your photography in books rather than looking at your photography on the wall?

HANG: I don’t really care if they have a different experience seeing it in the book or on the wall.

KUPPER: Do you plan on shooting in Los Angeles?

HANG: I would love to. We’re trying to find models.

KUPPER: Do you have any place where you want to shoot, or just anywhere?

HANG: Nature, in a park. I’ve only been here for two days, so I don’t know LA very well.

KUPPER: In the past, you’ve had problems with galleries selling your work without your permission. Has that been resolved?

HANG: It was just one gallery. It has not been resolved. We’re still in a lawsuit.

KUPPER: How did you find out about that?

HANG: One of the buyers from that gallery found my email online and contacted me. He asked me a question about the photograph. That’s how I found out.


Ren Hang Inspiration: Shūji Terayama's Film "Butterfly Dress Pledge" (1964)


KUPPER: Can you talk about this show, and the pictures that were chosen for the show? This is a new body of work?

HANG: MAMA Gallery chose the pictures. It’s a mixture of new and old.

KUPPER: Do you try to shoot everyday?

HANG: The majority of the time, it’s everyday. The camera is always in my pocket. But it also depends on my mood, if I’m happy.

KUPPER: You probably feel really jet lagged now.

HANG: Mhmm.

KUPPER: Where do you see yourself as an artist in ten years?

HANG: I don’t know.

KUPPER: You don’t want to have those restraints thinking about where you’re going to be.

HANG: Well, even if you think where you want to be, it doesn’t really matter. Even if you think where you’re going to be, it doesn’t mean you’re going to get there or be there.

KUPPER: What do you want people to know about your work?

HANG: I don’t have a message. Everyone is going to have their own thought about something. Even if I say, “Oh, this is the message of this particular photo,” it really doesn’t matter. People are going to think what they want to think.

KUPPER: You collaborate with your Huang a lot too. You’ve worked together on a lot of stuff.

HANG: I shoot him a lot.

KUPPER: He’s sort of your muse. How do you feel about that [Huang]?

HUANG JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: That’s exciting. You guys get to make art all the time.

JIAQ: No. We don’t think we are making art. It’s just shooting.

KUPPER: Yeah, it’s just part of life. Magazines want to turn artists into artists. They won’t let them do their own thing. But you two travel a lot together. How did you meet?

JIAQ: On the Internet.

KUPPER: Were you a fan of his work beforehand?

JIAQ: No, he was not famous at that time.

KUPPER: Is it interesting to see his work develop over time?

JIAQ: Yes.

KUPPER: What are some things you’ve noticed about his work that have changed?

JIAQ: I don’t know.

KUPPER: It’s a little weird to talk about, right?

JIAQ: Yeah.

KUPPER: Because it’s also really intimate work. A lot of friends are naked, having fun. It’s difficult to talk about, because it is just your life.

HANG: That’s my idea. But a lot of people don’t agree with me. It’s expensive. [For example] why you want a big fishtank? They are hard to clean, the water. But if you want me to shoot with you, you must have this. Do you have another idea?

KUPPER: So the hotel actually used it for advertisement?

HANG: Yeah, but they almost said no to me.

KUPPER: It’s messy but exciting. That’s one of my favorite photos. Do you have a favorite photograph?

HANG: I love all of them. But after I shoot, I start anew.

KUPPER: Do you ever think about making movies?

HANG: Yeah, I would make a movie. Next year, a real movie.

KUPPER: Like a long one, a feature length?

HANG: Yeah. Maybe show it here.

KUPPER: That’d be great. It would be fun to see your images come to life in that way.

HANG: It will be very different than my photos. It’s a story of love and la la la. It’s real life. It’s not like this.

KUPPER: Even if this is sort of real life?

HANG: Kind of.

KUPPER: You wrote the screenplay? It’s a big movie, and you want to premiere it here in the US?

HANG: I think because the producers are in France it will premiere in France first.

KUPPER: That’s exciting.

HANG: You will see the movie in the cinemas all over the world, but not China.


Click here to see images from Ren Hang's exhibition, What We Do Is Secret. The exhibition will be on view at MAMA Gallery until July 23, 2016. Click here to read our previous interview with Ren Hang. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE


What Will Become of Us: An Interview With The Bonnie Parker of Photography Julia Fox

text by Mike Krim

 

I first met Julia Fox two years ago in Manhattan. As I scanned the floor trying to figure out how much longer I felt like subjecting myself to $20 drinks and if “operation get rich girlfriend” was going to become an actual reality, I noticed from the corner of my eye a gorgeous brunette with an hour glass figure draped in sparkly diamonds, controlling her little corner of the room. As I thought to myself, “who the hell is this chic,” I immediately noticed her Man Ray tribute tattoo, inspired by his photograph of Kiki de Montparnasse with a violin grill superimposed on her back. I walked over, introduced myself, and immediately she informed me she was in the company of an African Prince. She filled my glass with expensive champagne and for whatever reason we discussed abortions, which offered an amazing and entertaining five minutes. Operation "get rich girlfriend" was a Benghazi-like failure, but at least walked out with a new number searing a hole in my pocket. Moving forward, Julia has been nothing short of controversy and success over the last couple years. She has been featured on various fashion sites featuring her clothing line Franziska Fox with co owner Briana Andalore, she has made Page 6 multiple times, and self published her acclaimed photo book Symptomatic of a Relationship Gone Sour: Heartburn/Nausea, which chronicles three relationships that have had a significant impact on Fox’s life; both of which have became instant cult classics amongst the zine world and collectors. With all this going on, Julia packed up her bags and left New York City to go to Louisiana for the last six months where she has been playing outlaw in the blue bayous with Salem's John Holland and Jack Donoghue, only to return with a new solo photography show curated by Richie Shazam and a new book titled PTSD, which will open and release May 1st at Magic Gallery in Manhattan. Below, I got a chance to ask Fox about the dangerousness of her work, drug use, gun play and PTSD. 

Autre: Let’s first start out with what made you leave NYC?

Julia Fox: I wanted to be scared. I forgot what that felt like. I hadn’t been lost in so long. I hadn’t tried anything new.  

Autre: It seems like you’ve lived many lives and you’ve explored a lot of these lives through your photography, why do you think the camera has been such an important tool for documentation?  

Fox: It definitely has. A camera tells the truth. It's such an honest tool and so very humbling. 

Autre: You explore sex, prostitution and drug use, why do you think these things are so fetishized in culture?  

Fox: Because people are attracted to things that are forbidden. 

Autre: Sexual images these days are being repressed and exploited on social media daily and porn is becoming more violent each year and considered the norm. Your work tends to showcase both worlds. What effect do you think this is having on young adults learning and exploring sexuality?

Fox: A woman is taught to be silent and to sweep things under the rug when things get messy. When she does speak up she is labeled a "drama queen" or a "crazy bitch.”  I think there comes an immense sense of power in expressing the truth about violence in love and during sex….exposing ones vulnerabilities and creating a dialogue surrounding different sexual and emotional experiences….women have urges. Women have fetishes. Women don't always have to be the sweet innocent ones who only have sex when they're in love. Women can exploit men as well as the other way around.  In my new book I explore my sexuality with a few prostitutes, male and female, gay and straight. 

Autre: What is it about you that allows people to feel comfortable having their most intimate and dark moments documented in your photography?

Fox: I'm an active player in the game so when I'm taking pictures, the camera is being passed around and I just want people to have fun.  I also know when not to take pictures. Some things shouldn't be documented, they're too special or sensitive. It’s gonna sound corny but it's more about the memories than it is about the pictures. The book [PTSD] is more for me, Jack, John and Harmony. So we can look back at it 20 years from now. It's just a scrapbook, really. 

Autre: Most photographers stay behind the lens, which gives them a safety net, especially when it comes to being judged, they can conclude that they are “simply documenting”. You on the other hand, are participating within your photos; may it be sex, drug use, or anything else for that matter. What are you trying to convey or is it simply “this is take it or leave it”?

Fox: My main concern isn't how I'm being perceived. My main concern is being transparent. I'm a huge part of my own creative process. Most of it couldn’t have happened if I wasn't actively participating and I wouldn’t be telling the whole truth if I was “simply documenting”.  I would feel like a fraud and coward if I hid from the viewer and I never ever lie. 



Autre: You have stated recently that you do not want to be grouped into the “feminist” art sub-culture that is trending these days, or for any group for that matter. Can you explain the importance of creating your own lane? 

Fox: I want my work speak for itself. I don’t want to label myself as anything; I feel like, in doing so, I would be limiting the impact that my work might have regarding other issues. I would rather leave it open to interpretation. Some may find what I do empowering, others have told me its demeaning. I’m not sure and I don’t have a right answer. 

Autre: Your previous book Symptomatic of a Relationship Gone Sour: Heartburn/Nausea was really successful, what was it about that book that really hit home with people? 

Fox: In today's culture, dysfunctional/abusive relationships are so frequent (with friends and lovers), that people minimize the significance of these major traumas. Truth is, it's agonizing and a lot of times the people going through it feel alone and helpless. Sometimes you begin to question if you will ever be the same again. Anyone that picks up that book isn't alone anymore. I ripped my guts out on that book so that they wouldn't be. 

Autre: It seems like you were always drawn to the darker side of culture, what about this dark side is so tempting and was it a panacea for your own psychic torment? 

Fox: I'm just drawn to what I know. I find comfort in chaos and I feel at ease around drug addicts. I'm not sure why this is. I tend to really adore people who are suffering. They are so beautifully broken and poetic. I think I just like to find beauty in unsuspecting places. That's how I survive, by taking something awful and turning it into something spectacular. 

Autre: You post a lot of pictures of you and your gun, do you use your gun for protection? 

Fox: I like to say that my gun is my dick. In that it's so phallic in both its appearance and its significance. When I had it on me, I felt the same security that a man must feel. As women when we are born we are given this diamond and then taught to defend and protect it for the rest of our lives. When I have the gun, all that goes out the window. I'll just kill anyone that comes for it. In Louisiana it's customary to have a gun. Most people have one on them or in their car at all times. I didn't really have a choice. I'm not bringing a knife to a gunfight [laughs].

Autre: Tell us about PTSD and what you want people to walk away with after viewing your show?

Fox: I would love if I could inspire at least one person... Maybe inspire them to speak up. I would love if I could inspire someone to take something awful that they always hide and expose it under a beautiful light Or maybe just inspire someone to pick up a camera. Or inspire someone to travel with no real destination. Inspire someone to become friends with someone they wouldn't normally. I just want to inspire someone to try something new, really. 

Autre: How did you meet Richie Shazam and what was the curation process like for your new show? 

Fox: I met Richie in high school. We met at a party. I was in a fight with this guy and he threw an ashtray at me and I lost it. Richie always recalls that moment as the moment he realized he wanted to be my friend.  Richie is so professional and the most thorough. He never disappoints and has never half ass'd anything. When he told me he wanted to do this with me, I didn't think twice. I think anyone would be dumb to pass up anything with him. 

Autre: What’s your favorite saying in Italian? 

Fox: It's not really a saying but this one phrase pops up in my head all the time: "Che ne sará di noi?" Which means "what will become of us?" I ask myself this referencing my generation and the young people. We are so fucked! 


Julia Fox's show PTSD opens May 1st 6pm to 9pm, at Magic Gallery, 175 Canal Street, 5th floor May 1st. Text, interview and photographs by Mike Krim. 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


A Fatal Personality: An Interview With Brian Kokoska On Knives and Poison IV

Brian Kokoska, who can often be found with a knife clutched between his teeth or with a devious, wide-grinned smile, is one of our favorite artists working today. His paintings almost look like they belong to the hand of a child in art class working out some kind of trauma caused by alien abduction, but when you look closer, there is unexplainable magic going on. Perhaps Kokoska’s paintings are mirrored reflections of our own demons, or the artist’s – who really knows or cares – but what you will find amongst his crude oil painted visages is a sense of primordial familiarity. Maybe these creatures are our friends, or maybe they are out to kill us. What’s most interesting is the way the artist presents the work – it is never in the typical brightly lit gallery with white walls. Quite the contrary. What he does is create a totally immersive environment that is bathed with a single monochromatic hue – the walls, the carpet, the paintings, the sculptural props and found assemblage (like stuffed animals or toy cobra snakes), and, of course, knives – all one color. In one exhibition, it was a Pepto-Bismol pink, in another it was bug zapper blue, and in another it was a shade of codeine cough syrup, or purple drank. For his new solo exhibition at Valentin gallery, entitled Poison IV, the New York based artist creates a bath of swampy pale green where his evocative countenances interplay with knives and mannequin torsos that clutch green stuffed animals. It’s a complete ‘fuck you’ to the senses. Autre got a chance to catch up with Kokoska before the opening of his exhibition to talk about knives, his inspirations, sex, violence and his current must see show in Paris. 

OLIVER KUPPER: Let’s start off with talking about the faces that appear in your paintings...how would you describe these faces, creatures…do you imagine them in your head or nightmares before you paint them? 

BRIAN KOKOSKA: They are basically just from my imagination and I guess from my own life experiences. When I begin a painting there is no real clear vision for how it will turn out. So sometimes they go through multiple phases and different layers of faces and symbols are painted over and over until something new happens and then I leave the painting alone.

OK: There’s a clear evolution in your work from more detailed work to more symbolic, representational work…how would you describe this evolution? 

BK: I think it's just natural for ideas to shift and to find different ways of expressing that through the work. For example, I get sick of things really easily so I try to challenge myself by bringing in new elements, particularly sculpture and installation. The paintings are something I'm passionate about but I don't see them as the key element in my work. They are only 1 factor.

OK: Who were some artists that influenced you or inspired you to be an artist? 

BK: Early in school I was looking at a lot of German artists; Albert Oehlen, Jutta Koether, Isa Genzken, Kai Althoff...and then I started getting into American artists who I could relate to even a little better, like Mike Kelley, Paul McCarthy, Cindy Sherman. I've always been drawn to nasty, raw, harsh work that is still totally genuine. Because I think there's too much fake shit right now (or always?).

OK: I want to bring up your fascination with knives…you have a lot of selfies posing with some scary knives…where does this fascination come from? 

BK: Yeah, I just love knives. Aesthetically I think they are so beautiful. And I love how they can be so gentle and seductive yet also super violent and fatal. I collect rare knives but probably in the pics you are referencing I'm sourcing them for sculptures most of the time.

Even when I was a child I remember loving knives. Slasher films. And my uncles used to give me the coolest dagger-rings.. like Hells Angels shit.

Here in Paris we just went to this beautiful old knife shop called E.Dehillerin and the knife maker got concerned for my safety after he saw how into the knives I was. He kept explaining how like "this one's for meat, this one's for fish...". It was nice. 

OK: You have started to do really comprehensive installations with your exhibition, choosing a single monochrome color, your last exhibition was Pepto-Bismol pink and your upcoming exhibition is sort of swamp green…can you describe your process of choosing a specific color? 

BK: I get obsessed with particular colors and then it becomes this restriction in my head that I find nice to work with. Like, putting together a show in shades of one color (or perhaps a second color, black), it feels very rewarding in some weird way. It is similar to stage design or something.. where I would imagine you get a strange thrill of creating an environment that can psychologically affect an audience.


"...I have a fatal personality so I think sex and violence are probably heightened in my work because of that."


OK: Let’s talk about your current exhibition…the title is Poison IV…what is the concept behind this show? 

BK: I had been doing a series of shows like you just mentioned in shades of one color. I was using mostly baby-colors...pale muted versions of colors that I like. So it went from baby blue to baby purple to baby pink and now baby/swampy green. For this show it will be my first solo version; in the past I've always asked another artist (Debo Eilers, Zack Davis, Chloe Seibert) to join my installation.

Poison IV will be my last iteration of the baby-color thing. I'm excited about this show because I've had the chance to make more sculptural works to go alongside the paintings.

OK: Symbols are a big part of your practice…where does this sense of ritual or symbolism come from…your paintings seem like they belong to a strange cult or religion? 

BK: I tend to use whatever symbols are stuck in my head. Like, I'll keep seeing reoccurring numbers or symbols, so then when I get to work they'll just appear because it's what I'm thinking about. They usually build up in gestures to form the "face" paintings. A lot of the imagery is sentimental to me and comes from childhood experiences or memories. But I also borrow a ton of visual language from things I collect. 

OK: This is your first solo show in Paris…are you going to do anything fun besides your exhibition while you are out there…are you more of a tourist or do you like to blend in? 

BK: Mostly just been slaving on the show so far. I love Paris though, it's so romantic. I wander the streets and it's like I'm in a movie or something. Everybody just hanging out with baguettes. I like the pace here…nobody is really faking it...they're just enjoying life. I think that's really important, ya know?

OK: There is a distinct sense of sex and violence in your work…where do you think these themes come from? 

BK: Ha ha.. Probably from my own life I guess, and from past experiences. I'm a scorpio and I have a fatal personality so I think sex and violence are probably heightened in my work because of that.

OK: What’s next? 

BK: Party in France. Gonna check out Venice quickly then back to New York. I'm gonna be working on a solo for LOYAL in Stockholm which opens mid November. Before that I'm making a baby sculpture in collaboration with DIS Magazine for their new issue DIStaste.


Brian Kokoska: Poison IV will be on view until October 10, 2015 at Valentin gallery in Paris. Photographs by Sylvie Chan-Liat, courtesy of Valentin and the artist. Text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. Follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE