Bizarre Magazine, March 2010
Interview by Bob Self
Q: What are some of your favorite cartoons?
I’ve always enjoyed Warner Bros. cartoons since the animal characters have distinct human personalities and that is a major component of my own artwork. Fleischer Studios have mostly human characters but there is a very surreal edge to what’s going on and I’m all for that. Felix the Cat from Pat Sullivan’s Studios is my all time fave since the main character is a cat and there’s some pretty great cinematographic gags going on. Basically I like the way that the early cartoonists were exploring the absurdities of the medium before regular live action films. Buster Keaton did some pretty cartoony things but only Felix could really walk on air.
I like just about every show on Adult Swim on cartoon network; I’m glad that cartoons have reached the point where there’s no pretension that they’re for children. One can argue that The Simpsons and The Flintstones were made for adults, but only if they were watching the cartoons with their kids. Now of course, none of that matters.
Q: Violence (and, to a lesser extent, substance abuse) was an integral component of classic cartoons by Warner Bros. and a number of other studios. Do you think audiences today remember how outrageous those classic shorts really were?
Violence is universal and perpetual; everyone can relate to the pain of hitting one’s thumb with a hammer or the joy of hitting someone in the face who really deserves it. So depicting that kind of aggression is a way to get the viewers to feel that something “real” is going on. That sort of coercion was necessary when there were still audience members who had never seen motion pictures before. Now of course, the moving image is just another daily occurrence and nothing special.
Cartoon drug abuse gives those in the know a chance to smirk knowingly while the virgins get a chance to anticipate what it’s like. I wouldn’t say that the TV cartoon version of Alice in Wonderland made me smoke opium but it did sort of prepare me for what to expect!
Unless one looks at that sot of thing historically, it all seems quaint and vaguely embarrassing.
Q: A lot of your work brings a new layer of shock value to cartoon imagery. Since violence, potent drinks and smoking were already part of the classic cartoon landscape; the exploration of cartoon sexuality must have been an important frontier, right?
One doesn’t have to look very closely to see that 99% of the animal cartoon characters don’t have any sort of genitalia at all. So one has these characters with no sexual personae running around, occasionally getting in drag if the dramatic situation demands it, and even having girlfriends or boyfriends. But there’s no sex; where the babies and young come from is never explained.
I found that when I gave select character genitals (even if they were hidden to the viewer and were only seen by my mind’s eye) their sexuality became their main characteristic. The situation was very much like adolescence, as soon as the characters became aware of what that thing between their legs was really for, well using it became the motivation for just about everything.
So yes, giving these characters a sexual persona definitely busted through a major frontier. I can’t take any credit for that of course, R. Crumb had Fritz the Cat fucking and sucking years ago.
Q: Of all the classic cartoon characters, who do you, think is the most raunchy when the cameras stop rolling.
Porky Pig was given a pornstar name way before most people even knew what “porking” was. Now of course the double meaning of his name is part of his Pop Culture pedigree.
Q: What’s the most outrageous thing you’ve ever seen a cartoon character do?
Years ago I went to a screening of cartoons that featured Bugs Bunny getting in drag or just acting like a complete queen. That wasn’t particularly outrageous to me but a number of people got pissed off that Bugs had been outed by the curator.
There is a whole canon of pornographic cartoons that are really strange. I recall one that had a ship full of nude women fighting off an incoming horde of cat pirates; naturally they all ended up fucking. There are of course many pornographic anime cartoons with fully human characters but at that point one might as well watch live action porno. I think its weird that along with all the fetish, bukkake and S&M porno one can find anime porn where people dress up as cartoon characters, even to the point where they’re wearing masks with those big anime eyes. How anyone can maintain a hard-on while looking at that is a mystery to me…
Q: Can you discus the challenges of presenting animation-style imagery as fine art?
In 1961 Warhol paid homage to the cartoon character Nancy in his piece “Nancy” and in the 1970s Joe Brainard made a series of pieces based the same character. Later on, Ronnie Cutrone threw Woody Woodpecker up against an American flag, so presenting cartoon characters as fine art has been acceptable for a while. What I did differently was present characters of my own design instead of patented characters that were already known to the viewers. This left people with no base of previous information and they had to take my unknown world in its entirety. It was quite difficult back in the 80s to get any of the galleries to take my work seriously; it was Post Pop Punk and exactly what they did not want to see. As Low Brow Art progressed more artists began using cartoon characters and imagery in their work so I wasn’t the lone voice anymore. And once Graffiti Art hit the galleries, cartoon characters became completely acceptable.
Q: Your characters feel both original and familiar. How did you go about visualizing your own cartoon world while keeping it familiar?
The basic form of my characters is somewhat archaic since I prefer to make reference to past culture more than contemporary trends. Stylistically though I want the image to be as “now and wow” as possible, so I have to couch these vaguely familiar figures in my own modern aesthetic vernacular.
Oh yeah, I draw stoned and paint sober…
Q: Lowbrow art has evolved quite a bit since the 1990s, and I know you’ve talked in other interviews about how the art scene has changed, but how has your own art changed over the past decade?
One of the basic characteristics of Low Brow Art is that there’s an obvious narrative of some sort going on, even if it isn’t always a logical story. In my early work I tried very diligently to make sure there was a plot unfolding that the viewer could read. Now I don’t really care that much about depicting an understandable event; I’m much more into the form of the characters.
One of the reasons that I feel this way is that I’ve experienced some very strong and wonderful hallucinations after smoking DMT. In my newest work I’m trying to replicate the overwhelming entirety of those peculiarly challenging visions. So there’s a psychedelic edge to the world I depict and the characters in it that wasn’t there a decade ago.
I’ve also been influenced by my correspondence with members of the newest generation of artists, not stylistically, but more in terms of my ability to keep up with the contemporary zeitgeist. Artists like Jason Atomic in the UK have kept me from stagnating in my own aesthetic cave.
Q: A ghost named Curly from a long-gone gallery came to me in my sleep and told me to ask how you’re doing. So… how are you doing?
Hi Curly. I’m doing allright! We never did find where you hid that 600 dollars… I hope that you’re one of the few that got to take it with you.