Q MAGAZINE, FEBRUARY 2010
INTERVIEW BY DAN STUBBS
Your art is really distinctive… how do you describe it? I’ve seen the term ‘Lowbrow’ bandied about… sounds a little insulting, but do you consider yourself a part of that movement?
I’m one of the original lords of lowbrow so that term doesn’t bother me. My paintings are surreal on the psychedelic side, slightly abstract. I’m exploring the gray area between representational and abstract art and it’s a fertile minefield. I try to make my cartoon cat characters look like they are undergoing several processes at once. The age of a single image depicting a single act is over. I’m taking advantage of that with low down cats and trashy animals.
Is there anything digital about your art or is it all hand drawn?
I start with a pencil drawing then I scan it in to the computer and manipulate it with Adobe Photoshop. There are certain ways of altering an image that can only be done after careful psychic evaluations, like a sumi-e painting where there is a lot of consideration before an artistic act. With computers the ghost in the machine starts fucking with the image; the abstractions are unimaginable and can only come from the computer.
Are you influenced by any music-related imagery, whether album sleeves, posters etc? (The MGMT sleeve reminds me a bit of this Flamin’ Groovies sleeve)
I was definitely influenced by the posters Rick Griffin and Stanley Mouse made for different San Francisco bands and shows in the ‘60s. When I was a teenager I really liked the artwork that Roger Dean did for the Prog-Rock band Yes; it was good and spacey. I later discarded that aesthetic in favor of punk rock and the collage work of Jamie Reid and his work for the Sex Pistols. Then I sorta got mixed in the Low Brow stew with poster artists like Frank Kozik and Coop. I always admired both of them and their ability to constantly come up with psychotic images that somehow fit the bands they were promoting.
You’ve done a Spectrum album cover before. Is that how you hooked up with MGMT? Are you good friends with Sonic Boom?
Yeah, Sonic and I are good friends and he owns several of my paintings. He owns one of a cat giving another cat a blowjob and he used to have it in his dining room. One day an ancient relative of his came over for tea and she remarked on how much fun the cats were having, playing with each other. About halfway through the tea she realized what was really going on and she kept gasping out loud periodically until tea was over.
Have you done any other album covers beyond Spectrum and MGMT?
My artwork was used by the Warlocks, Froxel, Satan’s Cheerleaders, Buckshot LeFonque, David Lee Roth, and Apollo 440 amongst others. Ukawa Naohiro remixed some of my paintings for a series of Boredoms releases; it was interesting to see how another artist transformed my images.
Were you familiar with MGMT’s work before you met them? What did you think of it?
After I met them I bought Oracular Spectacular then drove out to Joshua Tree, ate a bunch of mushrooms and let it be the soundtrack to my life for a while.
I read that you spent time with them in the studio. What was that like? Can you describe the scene? Did they take an interest in your art at the time? Did you get on well with them?
Andrew, Ben and Sonic came over to my house in Hollywood before a Spectrum show at The Echo; everyone felt good and I was invited to visit them in Malibu. They were recording in a mansion there and all the gear was strewn throughout the place so it was definitely a scene of controlled chaos. While we were hanging out I drew on various piece of paper and just left them scattered around. Later on I gave them copies of my book Vacation from Reality.
What do you make of the album? Is there anything in particular about its sound that inspired the sleeve image?
I started on the cover without hearing any of the new songs so I had to guide myself by my impressions of the band as people.
What other (non-musical) influences fed into the image? Hot rod culture? Saturday morning cartoons?
Surf Culture and it’s gremmies, hodads and betties, Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, Escapist Culture, exploding marmalade, 24 hour cartoons, bukkake, dead man’s art and heavy, heavy dub.
What was the brief the band gave you? Did the surfing theme come from Andrew’s new obsession with the sport? Was it something he suggested? What changes, if any, did the band request?
The original idea was that the cover would be based on a lottery ticket since part of the cover is printed on “scratch off” material. I was using sections of paintings I had already done and since Andrew has a good graphic sense, he promoted various ideas that directed the elements and their composition. Although the first version looked good, it just wasn’t hitting it. After several versions I shitcanned everything and started with the catwave. I naturally had to take art direction from Andrew and Ben but that was no problem since we had a good dialogue. The cover became a good fusion of their vision and my ability to pin that down.
Would you like to do more album covers in the future? If so, which band or artist would you most like to work with?
For the last half of the 20th century Low Brow Art was ancillary to Rock and Roll and, since no galleries would touch illustrative work, Low Brow was dependent on album covers for its exposure. I am always willing to consider doing album covers because more people are going to see that then are gonna go to an art gallery.
I feel that the years Mick Taylor was the lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones (1969-1975) were their best years. I’d love to do a cover for anything he releases. I would also love to work with Genesis P-Orridge but she’s a “one man” show so I doubt that will happen. I can’t really say I’m dying to work with anyone in particular; its better when they’re dying to work with me!
Are you excited about your artwork finding its way into homes around the world? Are you surprised by the buzz around the sleeve?
Oh yeah, fully stoked on that! It’s a great feeling to know that I’ve managed to subvert my way into so many retinas. I am VERY surprised by the buzz on the sleeve; my life is made up of a series of these images so I take my “vision” for granted. Its really gratifying to be the subject of so much “controversy” since it means that people are looking at the art and not just flipping by it.