1. What are your inspirations and passions?
Kustom Kulture (hot rod cars and motorcycles) has always inspired me since it is an interesting interface between Fine Art and “secular” Non-Fine Art. I have always been passionate about Street Culture; both the “aerosol art” murals painted by Graf artists and the hand brushed signs for small stores and businesses. Skateboarding and surf culture are also important influences. I love a good Rembrandt hanging in a museum as much as a custom car parked on the street.
2. What was the training that led you to use your current language?
I went to art school but left before graduation to try to sell my paintings. That didn’t work out as well as I thought so I got a job as a Production Painter for a company making hand painted fabric for furniture upholstery. I was taught a lot of interesting practical painting techniques that I would have never learned in school and I have used many of those tricks ever since. In the 80s I also was hired to paint graffiti for movie sets and I could duplicate just about any gang style in Los Angeles. Since I made paintings of hot rod cars I also learned how to pinstripe on cars. Rd Roth actually taught me how to pinstripe.
3. What is your approach to figurative?
Art has revolved around the human figure ever since cave paintings and it wasn’t until the “invention” of abstract art that painting was released from this bond. I don’t believe these two schools of art are mutually exclusive so I explore the area where the two blend. This hybrid is the basis of Psychedelic Art, for it dances on that edge of recognition. When we look at another person, we see them only at that moment; I want to depict as many movements and as much of the passage of time as possible.
4. What difficulties have you found to put yourself into the art world still strongly anchored to a certain kind of conceptual art?
Once I left art school I stopped worrying about theory and became more concerned with practice. See, when I was a Punk in the 70s and 80s, my attitude was “Fuck you if you don’t want me” and I still feel that way, I don’t give a shit. What bothers me is that in my lifetime Conceptual and Actual artists have gone from sharing the definition of Art and the world to believing that only one approach is correct. I don’t mind Conceptual Art, some of it is interesting but usually its meaningless “art-speak” passed off as gospel. Actual Art does away with the ridiculous; one doesn’t need a book of instructions to understand it. There is a disease called “art damage” and people usually get it from Conceptual Art and not painting.
5. What are the techniques that you like? And why?
My dream is to be a painter in the classical sense; that is, an artist and a canvas in an atelier. But my projects often go beyond that and I paint cars, surfboards, guitars and even some graffiti. Each of those pursuits use different techniques and materials and I enjoy the that variety. I often use the computer to arrange my drawings but the final product is always a painting. Most importantly I believe that, just as learning figure drawing is a requirement for painting, the skill of actually painting and drawing on paper or canvas is a prerequisite for digital media. If an artist is going to make a digital image that looks like a painting, I feel strongly that they should have had the actual experience of making a painting.
6. For collectors, it may be beneficial or limiting the medium that you use?
When I first began painting I had no money so I used the cheapest materials, figuring the world was going to end in 1984 anyway. But I still wanted the work to be as close to perfect as possible; I never let anything leave my studio that I wasn’t 100% sure was the best I could do. Now I use much better materials because I actually want them to be around after my death. I paint on canvas stretched over a wood panel to make it sturdy, paintings on canvas are some of the most vulnerable works of art, I’ve seen paintings worth millions of dollars ripped or badly dented. The artist has a certain amount of responsibility to make sure that their art endures, That’s what I don’t get about Street Art; if you’re going to go to all that trouble, why not make it last as long as possible?
7. In documentary “The Treasure of Long Gone John” you talk about Robert Wiliams’ art as the most great manifestation of hot rod cars. What do you think about lowbrow’s term copyrighted by Williams? Do you feel represented by this word? or do you prefer the most recent definition “pop surrealism”? or you don’t feel not represented at all by both terms? What is your position about this “subcultural” artistic movement?
I don’t mind being classified as a Lowbrow artist but I think that the term shouldn’t be used to show opposition to Highbrow art. Lowbrow Art stands apart from the art mainstream because of it’s influences, but that doesn’t mean its any better than other art. Still, it is interesting that a Lowbrow art form like drag racing cannot get funding from the government but ballet or opera can.
Naturally I am pleased to be considered a member of the Pop Surrealism movement but I do wish that a different term had been used. Pop and Surrealism are both established art movement whose names do not refer to anything else. I would have liked a “stand alone” term.
An art movement is usually most interesting in its beginning stages, when all the participants of that movement are involved in establishing it’s definition. Once the parameters of what constitutes that movement have been defined, anyone who joins afterwards is avoiding the hard work of getting collectors and critics to take notice. I’m proud to have been an ‘originator”.
8. How important were Ed Roth and Von Dutch to your career?
I first encountered Ed Roth’s rods at car shows back in the ‘60s. Back then the deal was that Roth would make a custom car like the Beatnik Bandit, the car would go on a show tour and then kids like me would buy the model kit and Hot Wheels of it. I was the perfect age for that process, consequently Roth was a major influence on my life. Decades later I met Roth at a Ratfink Reunion party here in L.A. and he was kind enough to show me how to pinstripe; later he was very complimentary of a 36 Plymouth on which I had painted flames and my trademark psychedelic cats.
When the art movement of Kustom Kulture began, Roth was around and many of his studio assistants were part of the scene. It was almost cozy how everyone got along. We all had the common enemy of the Fine Art world so there was a lot of camaraderie. Now all that has vanished and the Lowbrow/Pop Surrealism artists are in competition with each other. I mourn the loss of the collective…