BELIO EXPERIMENTAL ART AND DESIGN MAGAZINE, # 023, MAY 2007
ANIMAL PARAPHILIC SOCIETY. FIRST SEASON
INTERVIEW BY ESMERALDA MARTIN
Can you speak to us about your beginnings and your artistic life?
I was born in 1959 on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago to a Dutch mother and Welsh father. My family moved to Houston, Texas where I lived until I went to art school in Los Angeles, California in 1981. I dropped out of school because I didn't want to owe thousands of dollars when I graduated. For about five years I had a studio in a dangerous, really fucked up neighborhood but worked in Beverly Hills moving and hanging rich people's paintings and sculptures. After a while it made me sick to be around that scene so I quit and began working in my studio all night; then I would spend all day going to galleries and trying to get in shows. It eventually paid off and I had my first one person show in 1990 at a gallery called the Zero One. The show was a big success and I began to sell paintings regularly; at the same time I was doing graffiti for movies like Terminator 2 and designing record covers for Sympathy For The Record Industry. I've been living and showing my paintings in Los Angeles ever since.
My Dad was really into the weirder aspects of America; he liked Frank Zappa, drag races, Zap Comix, just about anything that wasn't mainstream culture. He turned me on to a lot of stuff I would probably have missed. As I got older I began to take drugs and just hang out in my bedroom drawing since I couldn't find anyone else around who liked making or looking at art. It wasn't until I got to art school in LA that I realized that there were other people like me out there, so I got in a band called called J. Edgar And The Hoovers and we would actually get on stage and play vacuum cleaners. It was really a great thing for me to move to LA and meet other artists and musicians.Which are your references / influences in order to create your artwork?
I want it to be immediately obvious to anyone who looks at my paintings that
they were done around the year 2000; my references have to be ultra modern
to reflect that. And it's not just having say, a 2007 Fiat in a painting and
not a 1980 Alfa; it's also about the way images get fragmented and messages
become meaningless in a society where we're bombarded with images all the time.
I try to take apart my images and reassemble them in a way that's slightly
wrong. Or right, depending on what drugs you're on! There are certain optical
illusions you get while tripping on LSD, I don't see any reason why not to
try and get those visual effects across in a painting that has nothing to do
with that drug. I feel that part of an artists job is to see thing differently
and make sure that other people get a chance to see it that way too.
We'd all be fucked if scientists kept their discoveries secret and I feel that way about artists too. We have to get our idea across, for some people it's an immediate thing like graffiti, for other artists it may take a year to finish a canvas. My references are the other artists working in my time.
I have many influences, most television cartoons and comic books but also high art and literature. My Dad and I would watch cartoons on TV, since he was an immigrant and I was a kid neither of us had seen them before. It was really great to share my astonishment with him. Hot Rod car culture was a big thing back in the 1960s and I was really into the custom car designer Ed Roth and his little character the Rat Fink. So my original influences were this sort of white trashy low American culture of the 1960s. Meanwhile my Mom was taking me to look at Van Gogh paintings and that kind of stuff so I was getting both high brow and low brow culture. The first art book I ever bought was by Roger Dean who did all the album covers for the band Yes and later I got into Andy Warhol and the artist Adami. Anyway, once I got to LA I began to hang around with Robert Williams and his crew. One night in 1985 I met Andy Warhol with Jean Michel Basquiat and for years after that I tried to be like both of them, sort of junky punk but also distantly cool! But what has been the biggest influence on my work is being aware that there are other artists out there who think like I do and want to get a similar idea across. one gets a great strength when one realizes that one isn't alone.Speak to us about your works process production, digital and manual technology mix
I make a drawing on a piece of paper then scan it in to the computer. After that I put it through different filters and just warp it any way I can. Once I have that done I'll go through the same process with another drawing. So eventually I have a bunch of drawing that have different distortions and I'll try to put them all together to make the painting say something or do something. Sometimes the distortion of the filters is enough, the psychedelia is all I need; other times I'll have a weird image and i have to figure out how to build a narrative around it. Computers have freed up visual images more than written text. You can take a line drawing and put it through so many filters that it becomes something else; if you do that with words you'll just get nonsense. Anyway, after I design the painting on the computer I project the drawing onto canvas and begin painting. i don't try out different color schemes on the computer, I figure the colors out while I'm working. They say that the sounds of electric guitar effects pedals were originally meant to copy what Jimi Hendrix was doing. Likewise I think that the original filters that you got with Adobe Photoshop were meant to duplicate the optical illusions of LSD. How else could the engineers and programmers figure out what to go for? There has to be some actual event in nature that the computer or instrument is trying to duplicate. I think future generations will say that Adobe Photoshop was as important an innovation in the arts as the invention of oil paint was back in the 15th century.The cartoons, for what these aesthetics? In what you are interested of these drawings as to turn them into your principal form of expression?
Cartoons didn't exist until shortly after the invention of movie and since then, the history of cartoons has been linked to the history of film. Almost any technical innovation used in film has been used in cartoons. In a sense, Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) is just a glorified cartoon. So for me the aesthetics of cartoons are ultra modern. And the fictional premise of cartoons is a very liberating idea. Only in cartoons can you have cats that talk, dogs that drive cars and things that fall up instead of down. A free imagination means free thinking and what could be freer than a universe that subscribes to none of the laws of reality?And, since the human figure has been used in art since the cave paintings of Lascaux, France, I see no reason to continue to do so. When I get home after a long day of dealing with crowds and dumb asses, the last thing I want to see when I get home is more people. Replacing the human figure in art with cartoon animals is an extremely radical move; almost more radical even than the invention of Abstract Art. After all, those artists took the easy way out; it's way harder to draw a cat driving a hot rod and puking up beer than it is to paint a blue triangle or make some 30 meter long brushstroke.
I was always into old cars, not so much because of their style but because of the way they look when they've been neglected for a few years. I would rather spend an hour looking at an old rusty car in a field than at some perfectly restored one. Most people think that when a car doesn't run any more it's trash; at that point it stops being a car to me and becomes a sculpture. I have a friend who owns a junk yard for 1968 and older cars only and he lets me pick out old cars I want to paint on. I like to try and make the cars look a little like old WW2 airplanes with nose cone art and make them a little frightening looking. I not only paint the actual cars but I like to put them in my paintings too. Cars are important parts of everyones' lives so it makes sense to include them in any painting that is referencing reality. Hotrods are about as anti-high culture as you can get using them helps redefine what a painting actually is. I prefer to think of the toys that I have designed as small sculptures rather than playthings. But most people aren't ready for art in their lives so the things have to be called toys because they're not going to buy sculptures. The problem is that most people don't give a shit about art so they're not going to go out of their way to find it. If you make it as art but call it something else then you can trap them! The improved art that I do is just a way to fix up some of the shitty paintings that I find in junk stores. It's actually a sort of Post Modern trick because I'm improving something that's already there and not making something new. I find these really great landscape paintings with no action or characters and I figure I might as well make something happen in them. The round paintings are more challenging to do. The graphic equations that ones uses in constructing a square or rectangular painting don't work with a round canvas. The picture plane is completely different and the eye of the viewer travels around it in an unusual way. People aren't used to round paintings so they tend to look at them longer than another square one.The figures in your paintings: there appear cats, wolves, rabbits, ducks ... does each one represent a different character?
No, they all represent humans, and not specific types of people either. The way I see it is that all types of people like to drink, fuck, do drugs and read so why not make all the different animals able to do all those things too? Sure, the fox is sly and the wolf is cunning but literature and painting have used those characters to symbolize those characteristics for centuries. Why do it any more? In my world a cat is as likely to steal a TV as a dog or duck.The magazine topic is "U.S.A". Are they the representative cartoons of the culture of The United States?
Yes, the cartoons do represent the culture of the USA; it's the culture that I live in so I end up making reference to it. But I try to show off the meaner, sadder aspects of American culture: stolen cars, fighting couples, drug use, the cruelty of the meat industry or general stupidity and laziness. I'm an American so I make American art. But American popular culture is world culture so what goes down here eventually goes down in other places. Even though the USA is ending its time as a political power its not anywhere near losing its cultural power. Other countries will always try to copy American culture but probably not American politics. In a few years the only thing that America will have left to export is its culture. This issue of Belio is proof of that.What values, images, scenes ... do you believe that you transmit with your works?
I am trying to make people realize that there's a lot more going on out there than they suspect. I believe in conspiracies and plots as well as the lone assassin.
I have always felt that a successful painting is like a window through which you can stick your head and have a look all around that world. My paintings are that window, and I want the viewer to see my patch of the cartoon universe and then try to figure out what else could be going on there. The value of my work is that it shows the limits of my imagination while expanding the imagination of the viewer.What do you think of the "American way of life"? Your thoughts about it are reflected in your artwork?
I have travelled all over the world and I have seen a lot of different "ways of life"; some are successful and some are failures. I think that the "American way of life" is a bullshit fantasy that needs to be rubbed out. This country is a vast Capitalist porno jack off and is a frightening blend of ignorance and brute force. We live under the dictatorship of an idiot and our Democracy is a farce. What is most frightening about the USA is the sense of entitlement that people have; they really believe that they have a God given right to a fantasy world of endless credit and a hassle free existence. Reality is a nuisance to most Americans. My work reflects none of this. The problems of America are too great to be solved through anything other than a bloody revolution. Art is a useless weapon and can do nothing to stop the greedhead death's heads in power. All I'm trying to do with my work is make people re-ignite their own imaginations and remind them to think for themselves.