Joe Strike interview, March 2014
The introduction to your mocoloco interview says, “Ausgang remembers what it was like to watch Saturday morning cartoons…” what was it like?
My family moved from Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean to the Houston, Texas in 1960; my parents had seen a television show in England once but had never owned a set. Upon moving to the USA they purchased one so that my brother and I could watch a regional Gulf Coast kid’s show called Cadet Don.
At first, my Mom took a “cinematic” approach to watching a show; if I wanted to see something I had to be cleaned up, well dressed and in my seat long before the program began. Fortunately my Dad discovered Saturday morning animated cartoons and soon we were watching them together before my Mom woke up, both tripping out because neither of us had seen anything like it before. Sure, some of the cartoons had originally been for theatrical release but there were also these weird shows like The Banana Splits that combined cartoon animals and live action. That particular show was psychedelic in the extreme, so watching it and the Bugs Bunny show on the same Saturday morning made for a pretty mind boggling start to the day.
So anyway, there was this stretch of morning TV time dedicated to weirdo juvenile programming that mostly excluded adults, making the whole experience a psychedelic clusterfuck of animated cartoon animals on one channel and live action actors running around in freaked out animal costumes on the other.
We were ‘marinated’ in the classic animation (WB, Fleischer etc.) that filled kids’ TV at the time, and some of it was quite surreal; what inspired you to use cartoon characters in your work? Did your use of psychedelics play any part in it?
I had no theory or manifesto and just began making paintings of animals in the cartoon style, which seemed to fit somehow with the anti-humanist attitude of Punk Rock at the time. I’m sure my choice of imagery was influenced by what I watched on TV as a kid but at no point did I actually sit down and make a memorable decision to use cartoon style characters. What I did decide to do was make my own characters and not use Bugs or Felix; I wasn’t interested in being ironic and riffing on them like Ronnie Cutrone.
Were any particular cartoons or cartoon characters most influential, or “spoke” to you, either/both as a kid and an artist?
The first cartoon I remember was called Tom Terrific on the Captain Kangaroo show. By today’s standards it was utterly crude, but I still found it amazing. I was also impressed by Clutch Cargo but a little freaked out by the human mouths superimposed over the cartoon character’s faces.
Back in the 70s movie theatres would have outrageous midnight movie double features of rock concert films and offbeat features. One night I went to see Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature Fritz the Cat, which was “based” on R. Crumb’s character of the same name. I had never seen an X rated feature length cartoon before and I was struck by the fact that a cartoon could express such subversive and perverted sentiments.
Does your main (and "supporting") character(s) have a name/personality/“back-story,” or is he just an image/symbol? And if he is, what does he represent?
Each of my paintings is a ‘stand-alone” piece that doesn’t relate to any other work. I do repeat certain ways of drawing the main characters in my paintings but there is not a narrative beyond that which appears in the individual painting.
"In the early 80s I was one of the few artists …that eschewed the human figure in favor of cartoon characters and I really felt I was doing something that would measurably improve the world if it were broadcast to a larger audience." – fecalface.comSounds tongue-in-cheek; was it?
No, I was serious when I said that. Unspecified cartoon characters (that is, not trademarked) were being used by some artists, but most cartoon characters in the fine art world were familiar but used in some ironic way, like Mickey Mouse smoking a joint or something. I just decided to draw my own animals and use them to depict the human condition in non-human terms.
Was there a turning point when your art became ‘acceptable’ into mainstream art world? (Or is there no such thing as a mainstream art world?) Was it the rise of the “lowbrow” movement, of which you were a “pioneer” (boinboing) and “one of the original godfathers” (fecalface); do you feel you helped create “lowbrow”?
Lowbrow Art began as a loose collection of disenfranchised artists who shared a visual vocabulary based on cartoon styles and tropes. The first wave of such artists included Robert Williams and Ed Roth, and it revolved around the connection between cartoons and hot rods. I was part of the second wave of Lowbrow artists who also used hot rods to build a narrative. The first museum exhibition of Lowbrow Art was the Kustom Kulture show in Laguna Beach Art Museum in 1993 and as a result of being in that show my paintings became acceptable to the mainstream art world.
Of course, before this show I was selling my paintings to collectors but none of them were connected to the mainstream art world. Not only were the artists obscure, but so were the collectors. It wasn’t until rock stars began buying Lowbrow Art that “better” collectors began to take notice.
Yeah, I helped create Lowbrow Art by busting my ass. The difficulty in those days was that, when I took my portfolio to galleries, I had to not only educate them about my work, but I also had to explain Lowbrow in general… and gallery directors don‘t like lectures from an artist!
Again, boingboing:”His tripped-out, surrealistic narratives feature cartoon characters in exaggeratedly provocative situations.”
The 1990’s were also the early days of “furry fandom," and a good deal of furry art features anthropomorphic animals (cartoony & otherwise) in more than ‘provocative’ situations (i.e., “furry porn”). Fursuiting is also popular in the fandom, and the characters in “Night of the Hunter” are humans in leopard suits; did you know about the furry scene before I contacted you? If so, did it have any influence on your work?
My painting The Night of the Hunter is about “species bending” and the characters are obviously having a tough time dealing with the switch! I was aware of “furry porn” before I did this painting and decided to reference it in a painting of a non-sexual but potentially fatal situation.
Do you have any particular feelings or opinions about “furry fandom” or anthropomorphism in general, cartoony or otherwise?
I believe that many of society’s ills are caused by sexual repression and I welcome any type of indulgence in that respect as long as it is consensual. If people were allowed to get off unimpeded by society’s restrictions, there would be a lot less aggravation on the street. I’m was also fascinated by “furry porn” because its something I never would have thought of myself!
Your family moved from Trinidad & Tobago to Houston; you said they never owned a TV in England; is that where they were originally from? Any particular reason they made such long-distance moves?
My mother was born in Sumatra, Indonesia to Dutch Colonial parents but spent the war years, 1939 to 1945, in Switzerland. My father was born in Swansea, Wales but grew up in England. My parents met in London, England in the early 1950s and decided to leave since opportunities there were low. They ended up in Trinidad and Tobago but eventually moved to Houston, Texas where my father worked for Texaco on very early computer science. He used to bring home hundreds of used punch cards which I got to draw all over!
You said you were aware of furry porn before you painted Night of the Hunter and decided to reference it in the painting; how did you learn about or first come across furry porn?
Artists are cultural renegades, always looking for some subculture to pillage or mock. I first came across furry porn at an art show in the late 80s when a crew of kids dressed in animal costumes showed up and began pantomiming sex with each other; right then and there I figured that they were doing it at home too! I knew that I certainly would! In those days one had to go to the bookstore for off beat (pardon the pun) porn and, once it was on my radar, I began seeing furry porn in magazines. But I still figured it as some gay "thing" and it wasn't until later that I understood it was a "non-denominational" fetish...
What I like about furry porn is that it gives animal cartoon characters a definite sexuality. Most of them seem to exist with rudimentary (if any) genitalia in a weirdly sexless world.