Interview by Adam Zucker, August 2009
You were exposed to both high and low art at an early age from attending both Kustom car shows and fine art museums. What particular artists did you first get drawn to?
The maternal side of my family was Dutch and I was really fascinated by the 16th century genre paintings of Pieter Bruegel the Elder; I just loved his depictions of villages and peasant life. I also really enjoyed the fantastic paintings of Hieronymus Bosch. Nothing I had ever been told or shown prepared me for the complete strangeness of their work.
When I became a teenager and was able to choose my own cultural influences, I became very fond of the work of Roger Dean, who did album cover artwork for Yes. Later, of course, I disowned him entirely; as a punk rocker I had no use for Prog Rock or spacey Sci-Fi art.
Were you interested in any of the West Coast art movements that were more mainstream? Like Baldessari and the West Coast conceptualism....What about the West Coast Pop Artists?
I rejected John “Bald and Sorry” Baldessari the first time I saw his altered photographs and limp wrested attempts to add conceptual meaning to artworks that didn’t need his ridiculous aesthetic intrusions; at least Bruce Naumann didn’t take himself so seriously. Ed Ruscha’s West Coast Pop was a successful counterpart to Warhol’s East Coast Pop and I found most of Ruscha’s ‘60s work to be a refreshing commentary on California’s sun bleached vapidity.
Ed Roth and Andy Warhol both had created a new aesthetic for mass-produced images and similarly had their own studios. What was the Roth Studios like? Was it a place for happenings like Warhol in the East Coast? Did Roth have complete artistic control over the work that was coming out of his studio? What did he let the young artists get away with?
Roth Studios was a gathering point for all sorts of malcontents and cultural criminals, just like Warhol’s Factory. The major distinction between the two was that Warhol’s crew could deliver on their pretensions to grandeur whereas Roth’s clan was “dick in the dirt” and proud to stay that way. The difference was due to the nature of the core element: Roth was about masculine mechanics and Warhol was concerned with effete aesthetics. Roth would come up with graphic concepts, do the rough sketches, and then leave his artists to put them in final visual form; a lot of graphics that were credited to Roth were actually drawn by Robert Williams and others in Roth’s stable. Roth encouraged his artists to go over the top with their drawings and designs; after all, he traded in outrageousness. Roth’s line of “surfer accessories” was based on Nazi uniforms and regalia; his “surfer helmet” was just a plastic WW2 German helmet and, in Time Magazine” Roth would claim that "that Hitler did a helluva public relations job for me."
What did they actually teach at Otis? Was is more of a technical drafting school or a traditional conceptual based art establishment?
Good question, I don’t have much knowledge of the curriculum back then since I only went for three semesters! I paid for two and continued going to classes anyway for the third until someone realized that my tuition hadn’t been paid and I was kicked out. Gary Panter was teaching there at the time and he let me continue to attend his class anyway. Back in 1981 the school was mostly about Fine Art with a few fashion classes but the emphasis was mostly on getting serious art ready for the galleries and museums.
Where there any students at the time who you hung out with at school?
I hung out with Sandow Birk, who later would become famous for his series of paintings about the fictional war between San Francisco and Los Angeles. A few other students went on to make it in the gallery scene but most of the people have vanished into the world of non-art. I tended to hang out with the teachers like Gary Panter, Jeffrey Vallance and Carole Caroompas since they were active in the gallery scene and that’s where I wanted to be.
Who else was in the shows with you and Robert Williams?
The early Low Brow Art shows were sordid affairs; most of the art was shit since there really weren’t that many good artists working in the style. Hot Rod Art and Kustom Kulture were the first Low Brow styles to break in to the galleries but that meant there were a bunch of pin stripers doing cruddy paintings of tikis and chicks with big tits. If there was a decent curator putting together a show however, the talent roster would include artists of better caliber.
What artists were being shown by 01? And how do you feel the gallery has progressed through time?
In the beginning the 01 Gallery had some very good Low Brow artists like Raymond Pettibone and Robert Williams but most of them left after getting ripped off by the dealer there. Eventually John Pochna managed to get a good roster of artists that would consistently show at the 01 but finally everyone abandoned ship. At that point Pochna began looking for a new crew of artists and collectors to steal from so he turned to Graffiti Art. At this point the 01 still emphasizes Graf but Pochna has very little to do with the gallery.
What was it like working with the Boredoms (one of the greatest bands ever)? Is there a particular type of music that influences your work? Do you paint to music?
I was originally approached by Naohiro Ukawa, a graphic artist from Japan who was creating the artwork for a series of Boredoms remixes. He is a big fan of my work so he decided to remix ten of my paintings to match the remixed Boredoms tracks. Warner Music Japan bought the one-use rights to the paintings and Naohiro mixed them together.
I listen to Rolling Stones bootleg recordings from the 70s that feature the guitarist Mick Taylor and online stations that play dub. There are stations that have ten hour play lists, and the songs are all mixed together, so it’s basically one long track. It’s the same thing that I like about the live Stones bootlegs: it’s a live concert and there’s no space between the songs, and in fact, the recording becomes one big song, that’s an hour and a half long. Some of the online stations that I listen to go for ten hours and there’s never any gap except the station I.D. I like that because it puts me in a weird space where, at least when I’m listening to the mixes, time is passing without any markers.
Do you feel that this lowbrow style has a responsibility for social awareness? Should it?
I don’t think that any art “has a responsibility for social awareness”; if it does, it becomes propaganda. One of the effects of Low Brow Art is that it has increased straight people’s knowledge of alternative cultures while lending a certain amount of legitimacy to those cultures through their association with Fine Art and high culture.
Is there a certain celebrity status that West Coast artists have achieved? Based around Hollywood are art openings ever like red carpet events?
Some artists have achieved celebrity status but none of them have gotten a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yet! Mark Ryden and Gary Baseman are probably the most recent famous art celebrities but they are still unknowns to most people. There are art openings here that are restricted and have red carpets and paparazzi but that’s usually for art by established celebrities’ art like Ron Wood’s paintings or Farrah Fawcett’s sculptures…
Are there a lot of celebrities who are collectors of this kind of art? Why do you think that is? And how does that affect the market?
There are movie and rock stars that use their collections of Low Brow Art to prove how badass and alternative they are. Anthony Kiedes of The Red Hot Chili Peppers was an early collector of Robert Williams’ paintings and as a result, one of Robert’s paintings was a must-have item for quite awhile.
What is the commercial market like for Lowbrow and contemporary West Coast artists?
Some Left Coast artists are making millions while others are eating shit; the art market here is like any other. What is remarkable is that the collector base for West Coast Low Brow Art is international; I have sold paintings to people all over the world.
What is your process for creating a painting? What made you choose acrylic over oil paint?
I start with a pencil line drawing of a cartoon character then flatbed it into my computer with a scanner. After I have the image digitized I start to morph it around in Photoshop, tweaking it a bit here, drastically abstracting it there. Once I have a final image of the character I begin to consider what sort of environment I want to throw it into. After all this is determined I try to come up with a narrative and figure out just what the fuck is going on! I chose to use acrylic paint because I worked as a fabric painter and I would kipe the unused paint rather than pour it down the drain.