Cage’s Europeras 1 & 2 and Ziman’s Stories
Artillery Magazine, November 10, 2018
By Anthony Ausgang
In many ways, opera is the high point of the Western classical music tradition. Originating as royal entertainment in Italy at the close of the 16th century, opera evolved to become fashionable throughout Europe. This remained the status quo until the early 20th century, when the development of motion pictures and changing public taste relegated opera to the domain of the art-conscious upper class. As such, it was prone to “cultural upgrading” and composers like Schoenberg introduced atonality and other variations. Such High Art innovations did more to confuse than clarify the position of opera in modern music, so by the latter part of the 20th century, it was clear opera needed to be modernized in a more popular way. Avant-Pop arbiters like Peter Sellars began staging operas in new ways, like his 1980 production of Don Giovanni, cast, costumed and presented as a blaxploitation film, complete with nude actors and heroin addicts. As it would turn out, once this thematic Pandora’s box was opened, every kind of bastardization of the artform became possible in the name of forward aesthetic progress.
Not to be outdone by such wild musical youngbloods, the venerable composer John Cage decided to apply his personal brand of deconstruction to opera, and his 1987 Fluxus work Europeras 1 & 2 was the result. Currently directed by Yuval Sharon and staged in Culver City at Soundstage 23 in the Sony Pictures Studio, the production is hyped as “an opera of independent elements… determined by chance procedures.” So, although the orchestra was under strict instructions to play “the actual instrumental parts in the literature”, Cage allowed the singers to belt out whatever aria they chose for as long as desired. Which basically means that the audience was subjected to a high-end clusterfuck of snippets of operatic arias, mixed and matched elaborate costumes, and non-existent stage direction, all of which was periodically interrupted by an overwhelmingly loud recording of Truckera, a tape of 101 layered fragments of European operas. None of the characters onstage related to one another, and even their accompanying props had nothing to do with their timeframe or identity; at one point, a nun with a surfboard stood at the edge of the stage, peering into the audience as though judging distant waves. Unfortunately, even in the Fluxus tradition such cheap laughs only fill ocular time and space until the next heresy, so this senselessness became disconcertingly boring after 90 minutes without pause. Perhaps in anticipation of this, the second segment of the opera promised two sections of supposedly refreshing silent, general inactivity. Even so, judging from the exodus during the intermission, an opportunity to hear a sample of Cage’s smash hit 4’33” wasn’t much of a motivator to stay.
Meanwhile, in Downtown L.A., a far less self-aggrandizing manifestation of operatic disconnection was taking place. Directed by Ralph Ziman and staged at the under-renovation Rendon Hotel, Stories presents actors in separate rooms engaged in activities as equally unrelated to each other as those in Europeras 1 & 2. The difference between the two productions is that while Sharon defies the audience to find any narrative in Cage’s visual and sonic cacophony, Ziman encourages such speculation; in fact, figuring out what’s going on is the whole the point of the experience. It’s a great idea, but the lack of any unifying element other than location make it impossible to connect the separate elements. It also doesn’t help that the majority of the acts are obviously by non-actors subscribing to the myth that calling something Performance Art excuses lack of professionalism. Fortunately, there are exceptions: in room 14, opera singer Rachel Guettler successfully presents herself as, well, an opera singer, later duetting marvelously with baritone Kenneth Enlow on an outside roof; and in room 20, Johnny Cubert White convincingly natters away in his room like a tweaker in the beginning stages of a meth binge. But the relative success of Stories lies in its lack of pretentiousness; when the going gets Lowbrow, the Lowbrow get going.
Stories allegiance to its low roots ultimately makes it more interesting than Europeras’ claim of High Art, but it’s equally frustrating to experience. There are reasons that stage direction, plot, and developed talent are essential to calling an event opera or theatre. Without them it’s just like Humpty Dumpty, and no amount of deconstruction will ever put it together again.
Harland Miller at Ikon Ltd.
October 9, 2018
By Anthony Ausgang
Like many Pre-Millennial truths that were once irrefutable, the adage, “Don’t judge a book by its cover” is waning into obsolescence. After all, what is the utility of a book cover in the era of e-books that claim neither form nor substance? In his exhibition “Overcoming Optimism”, the artist Harland Miller obfuscates the issue further with prints of his paintings of vintage Penguin paperback front covers modified by what the artist assumes to be hilarious puns and helpful maxims for the iGeneration. The images that Miller has decided to paint are hardly demanding; in fact, they’re so visually and conceptually facile that the Ikon Ltd. press release resorts to claiming that “Pop Art, abstraction and figurative painting” were all involved in the creation of these “cover versions”. Classic Penguin paperbacks often sported covers by noted figurative artists such as Norman Thelwell and Margaret Belsky, but don’t look for any coy appropriations of their illustrated covers here as Miller doesn’t seem up to the challenge.
Born in 1964, Miller is firmly a member of Generation X, but several pieces in this show replace his age group’s characteristic skepticism with Faux-Millennial egocentrism. In the piece, “I Am the One I’ve Been Waiting For,” Miller deftly uses the first-person singular to ungraciously introduce us to his psychic onanism. Meanwhile, the print, “Death, What’s in it for me?” evidences how the Grim Reaper’s ultimate threat has been neutralized by the Millennial belief that, while previous generations had to cheat Death to avoid it, all they have to do now is ignore it. It’s reassuring to know that, so long as men can breathe or take selfies, Death shall not brag thou wander’st in his shade. Still, it’s not clear if the appeal of this print is Miller’s arrogant questioning of Death’s function and how it affects his ego, or bravery the spectator hopes to osmose from such braggadocio.
Other prints in the show deliver book titles that neither inspire nor intrigue after their moment of kitsch appeal fades. “This is Where Its Fuckin’ At,” may give the GPS coordinates to a hipster Nirvana, but such a claim is meaningless in a consumer society where just about every product makes the same assertion. “Blonde But Not Forgotten” is essentially a one liner that steals its laughs from other jokes, as is the stoneresque “There’s No Business like No Business.” Still, with titles like these, its a shame that the gallery doesn’t have Miller’s “critically acclaimed” books available as it would be interesting to see how long he is able to maintain this wordplay.
Maybe it doesn’t matter that these compositions are graphically derivative and inspirationally flat. Or that it’s a middle-aged man playing a Millennial game in an attempt to come across as a smarmy sage. What matters is that if one can’t judge a book by its cover, all that’s left to judge is a cover without its book.
I Am the One I’ve Been Waiting For
49 1/8 x 39 3/8 inches
Edition of 50
Death, What’s in it for me?
37 13/16 x 26 inches
10 color silkscreen print
Edition of 50
This is Where Its Fuckin’ At
56 1/2 x 43 1/4 inches
15 color screenprint
Edition of 50
Blonde But Not Forgotten
53 1/4 x 43 5/16 inches
15 color silkscreen print
Edition of 50
54 3/8 x 43 3/8 inches
Edition of 50
Signed, numbered and dated at bottom
A Photographic Essay of Contemporary Voodoo Spirits
Artillery Magazine, September 19, 2018
By Anthony Ausgang
Major religions don’t do much image control; with his long hair and white skin, the hippyesque Jesus we see in the 21st century looks identical to the savior of the 11th century. The Buddha is also presented as the same old, same old; hair or no hair, it’s the smilin’ guy with the gut and funny hand. And fuhgeddaboud Muhammad, he’s been the same unshaven guy for centuries. With new converts daily to each of these faiths, its apparent that the priests, bhikkhuni and imams see no need to modernize their CEO upstairs; to paraphrase a famous Zen meditation, if you see the buddha on the road, don’t give him a gym membership.
According to Voodoo priestess and occult expert, Bloody Mary, “many scholars believe Voodoo to be the world’s oldest religion.” Unfortunately, being the “ur-religion” of this mortal coil hasn’t resulted in Voodoo having the legions of faithful enjoyed by more popular systems of belief. Enter Justice Howard, a notorious and remarkably talented photographer who recently decided it was time to bring the Voodoo spirits, mediums, priests, and priestess mothers into the 21st Century. So, even though those traditional robes are stunning, it’s a Post-Millennial world now a new look is in order.
Howard realized that, “a modern Voodoo photo series on this complicated, often misconceived religion had never been done like this before.” With the guidance of Bloody Mary, Howard embarked on a photographic crusade to style-up the images of particular Voodoo entities. The result is the book “Justice Howard’s Voodoo”, and it features a foreword by the famous cultural renegade John Gilmore.
What Howard achieves in this book is quite remarkable; with her skillful photographs she has created entirely new images for many established Voodoo deities. Consequently, when paired up with Bloody Mary’s “who and why” revelations regarding each individual sprite, the reader is presented with a “Thoroughly Modern Legba.” Styled by Howard herself, the models representing the different Voodoo players are young and attractive, featuring hair styles and tattoos that would make them seem equally comfortable both at Burning Man and a ritual in the backroom of Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo on Bourbon Street. Followers of traditional Voodoo style and dress may resent their religion being associated with contemporary Alternative Culture, but Howard is cognizant how traditional concepts must be made attractive to initiate a new generation of Voodoo devotees.
With this in mind, contemporary religions that refuse to update their sacred texts or modernize their main players for the New Millennia would seem to be guaranteeing their eventual obsolescence. Consequently, Howard’s work acts as photographic proselytism for a belief system beneath most people’s radar. None of the major organized religions seem to be averting global disaster, so why not take a tip from Howard and get involved in something attractively mysterious before the lights go out?
The Green Themed Art Show at Garage Gallery
Artillery Magazine, May 27, 2018
By Anthony Ausgang
The color green has had many connotations throughout history: Pope Innocent III declared it the official Church color for the “ordinary time” between holy days; Frau Minne, the 12th Century German personification of courtly love, wore a green dress, and the color was closely associated with the Romantic Movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. But green got a bad rap from many artists who theoretically shunned it on aesthetic terms, although it’s more likely the rejection was due to the high levels of poisonous arsenic found in the pigment. Fortunately, the color green now represents, among other things, ecology, marijuana, and the universal symbol of permission to go.
The Garage Gallery explores these modern associations with their “Green Themed Art Show,” a group exhibition featuring interpretations of the color by a wide variety of artists. It’s not surprising that in California the color green is most readily associated with marijuana; consequently, Stoner Art is represented in full force. The artist Zenfourtwenty mixes mota with mysticism in the sculpture “Pharma,”, which perhaps represents the vanguard of freestanding smokable art; after all, why put anything on your walls if you’re going to be bouncing off them? Taking on Disney, Zachary Benson home delivers Scrooge McDope, the old red-eyed miser apparently loosening up after a few tokes. Red, white, and blue patriotism is blended with green optimism in Michael Rosner’s piece “Xist,” bringing political overtones to a Hippy icon most frequently seen on denim jackets, not in galleries.
Moving from the stoned to the sublime, Craig Carthwright presents a bulletin from the future with the painting Retrieval, in which a Millennial god with an aquarium on her back repopulates a scourged planet Earth. Its optimistic sentiment succinctly expresses a Green idealism in which the perpetrators of ecological disaster finally acknowledge that the solution is, quite visually, in their hands. A similar prediction is presented in Nathan Cartwright’s untitled relief painting, but here multi-hued rainbows featuring the color green soften technology’s negative impact; in this scenario, nature itself saves the day.
Other artists in the show are content to use the color with no associations beyond its retinal appeal. The Obanoth brings us an impossibly green Koi eyeing an iridescent fly hovering above the water’s surface, the scene’s terminal serenity emphasized by the green color shared by both hunter and prey. Caro Caro’s tondo also uses the color green to get attention, in this case emphasized by the violet color of the background. It’s a remarkably psychedelic junket, and the fascinating liquidity bears up under prolonged viewing.
The French art historian Michel Pastoureau reveals in his book GREEN: The History of a Color that the prophet Mohammad was fond of green, and that the warring factions of Islam at the time were unified under the sacred color. The fact that Christianity and Islam both found uses for the color green indicates that the religions might not be as separate as one might think; so it may be time that the Priests and the Imams sat down together, smoked some of that green stuff, and had a stoned but peaceful conversation before giving each other the green light.
Rachael Feinstein at Gagosian
Artillery Magazine, January 25, 2018
By Anthony Ausgang
Times change. In 1963, Hannah Arendt famously wrote about Adolf Eichmann and the “banality of evil”; in 2018 we get artist Rachel Feinstein exploring the evil of banality. It’s not just that the pieces at Secrets, her latest show at Gagosian, are banal, they’re aggressively so. Unfortunately, that’s why the deepest aspect of the work is her unforgiveable intent to aesthetically defraud the audience. In the press release for the show, Feinstein is quoted as being “interested in portraying some kind of fantasy, then showing it’s completely constructed.” With only her current show of paintings and sculptures to prove this dictum, it appears that the artist needs a new fantasy, or some serious mental Botox to feel better about the one she’s putting on public display.
Her oil enamel paintings on mirrors bring the viewer to places unstuck in time, and the anachronisms contained therein present a world that exists solely for the display of conspicuous consumption. In the painting Sunset Blvd., a contemporary gull-wing sports car is parked in the driveway of a Classical mansion as two 17th Century courtiers and their dogs prepare for a day in the country. There’s not much going on conceptually in the work, as the juxtaposition of old and new high-class shenanigans is banal territory already over explored without Feinstein’s weak addition to the subject. Artistically, the work fares no better; the figures and architecture are painted in a bland representational style, and the clouds and vegetation worked so crudely as to be merely suggestive of what they are. But to give credit where credit is needed, the use of a mirror as a base for the painting does obliquely involve the viewer in the proceedings; even if it’s only to adjust makeup or check yourself out.
Moving for relief to the other room to view the second part of Feinstein’s show only deepens the feeling of ill-intentioned banality. Her eight figurative sculptures of women that “reflect on the Victoria’s Secret phenomenon” may “reveal perfection as a form of burlesque”, but they only prove how acts of aesthetic evil can become commonplace if repeated enough. Any technological failing can be justified if presented openly and defended as artistic expression, so Feinstein’s lack of concern with “verisimilitude or refinement” becomes a commentary on, not ugliness, but anti-beauty. To make the repulsion even more impressive, the figures are rendered at just above human scale; the hands of Bandleader appearing as grotesquely large gardening gloves, the face as clowned-out as to appear unhuman.
Feinstein claims her sculptures “cannibalize notions of beauty” and that the paintings update “historical European Luxury.” But claiming isn’t the same as explaining, and as Arendt points out, “storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” So, with no stories told in Feinstein’s exhibition, there remains nothing to define and no meaning to be found; it’s like a bedtime story that begins with “The End”.
Paul McCarthy at Hauser& Wirth, L.A.
Artillery Magazine, September 9, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
In much of his work, Paul McCarthy explores juvenilia to an uncomfortably advanced degree, finding profane inspiration in all things coprocentric and aesthetically insulting. But McCarthy’s current exhibition at the Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles gallery appears to eschew those fonts of creativity, concentrating instead on Disney’s vintage reimagining of the Grimm’s fairy tale character Snow White, who is as removed from procreative juices and shit as her name suggests. So, according to the Hauser & Wirth press release, instead of McCarthy’s usual scatological paeans to the “messier realities of human drives and desires,” massive freestanding black walnut sculptures of Snow White fill the gallery space. The largest piece WS, Bookends tops out at 36,000 pounds and resembles a pair of gigantic Japanese netsukes. But although the sculpture is impressive for its size, it projects a weird three-dimension digital sterility; machine carved from computer mapping, there’s little McCarthy in these McCarthy sculptures. Still, utilizing “his staged process of producing ‘abstracts through merging’ to restructure reality,” McCarthy has produced some fascinating psychedelic abstractions of Snow White, the Prince, and the Seven Dwarfs. Its great if that’s all you want, because then you don’t have to buy the idea that these sculptures are a direct attack on Disney morality or “disrupt traditional notions of art and culture” in any way. After all, it’s been fifty years since Wally Wood inked his famous Disneyland Memorial Orgy, so exposing the American Nightmare by lampooning Disney is hardly late breaking news.
But one needn’t look far for McCarthy’s usual grotesquerie; in fact, it’s right there on the gallery walls, in a series of monochromatic wall hangings called the Brown Rothkos. These foul works began as pieces of floor carpet “repurposed as a medium of expression”, then arranged to let residue aggregate on them from the creation of props for a much larger installation. That’s right, and apparently shit tinted glasses are also required to understand how McCarthy could elevate what is effectively studio garbage to the stature of a commercially viable finished piece. They are the fine art world’s diarrheic equivalent of a toilet left unflushed, its meaning only in its making. There’s no value to them other than being evidence of someone else’s excremental enterprise. It’s worse than the art world’s usual let-‘em-eat-cake mentality since all that’s left to consume is actual droppings.
Which is fairly horrible in itself; but the biggest insult is that McCarthy attemptstobamboozle his audience with his aesthetic discharge, and instead of being in on the joke, this time the joke is on us and not Disney, family systems, or “mass media and its effects on the development of children.” Meanwhile, the inability of the other viewers in the room to make eye contact with these pieces was obvious, and even I preferred to look at the Brown Rothkos through the lens of my cell phone.
At a certain point an artist has to decide where their loyalty lies; its either with the Fine Art Mafia, or the audience in the galleries who are just there to take it all in. So maybe its time that McCarthy remembers he can only kick that fabled turd so many times before it sticks to his shoe.
John Waters’ Dreamed Merchandise at Lethal Amounts Gallery
Artillery Magazine, July 26, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
Film director John Waters is best known for his trilogy of ’60s and ’70s transgressive cult cinema classics Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living. These films used a repeating troupe of actors, the most famous being the stars Divine, Mink Stole, and Edith “The Egg Lady” Massey. The actors and regular film production staff were known as the Dreamlanders, named after Waters’ production company. In the years since these films were released the movies have achieved legendary status, for the enduring punk campiness of Waters’ social commentary ensures that each new generation discovers that these films fit their vision of both contemporary and historical avant-garde cinema.
At the time that these classic Waters films were first-run, no commercial enterprise was associated with them other than ticket sales; the overwhelming assortment of mercantile goods that now accompany a film’s release simply didn’t exist then. Recognizing the popularity of the Waters films and the absence of any legitimate merchandise for them, curator Tyson Tabbert has produced a tribute exhibition called “Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders”, featuring “fake” retail goods for these films, items like Pink Flamingo bed sheets, Aunt Ida action figures and children’s costumes of characters from Desperate Living. Over the course of almost two years, Tabbert assembled a crew of highly talented designers to produce limited editions of such “virtual merchandise,” and although the devil is often in the details, it’s the details that make this show a must-see for any Waters fan.
The production and presentation of all the merchandise in the Dreamlanders exhibition is impeccable; purporting to be vintage collector’s items from the 1970s. The style of the packaging is period correct and the boxes and blister packs appropriately aged. Each group of items is accompanied by a museum display card offering up a synthetic history of the production and public reaction to the merchandise. For example, very few of the Divine dolls are said to have sold because, “American girls under 12 were not ready for this kind of Barbie,” and The Queen Carlotta costumes were so unpopular that the masks were repainted and sold in the 1980s under the title “Ugly Princess.” The persuasive nature of the information is what’s really fascinating about the fake backgrounds of these items; at the opening I saw veteran fans laughing their asses off while neophytes to the Waters oeuvre were busy searching eBay to see if they could get the items at better prices.
Although such retro-marketing is hardly innovative (action figures of Humphrey Bogart dressed as the detective Sam Spade have been available for some time now), it’s an effective methodology to expand a subject that has pretty much already been dissected and analyzed to the furthest degree possible; after all, it’s been 40 years since Desperate Living was released. What makes “Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders” a truly punk experience is the concept of making unsaleable merchandise for movies that were themselves were unsaleable. It’s wishful thinking taken to an almost Trumpian degree. So, next time someone talks to your hand about making America great again, tell them you’re only interested in great hair and makeup.
Philip Slagter at La Luz de Jesus
Artillerymag.com; May 11, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
Lowbrow began in the early 1980s as an art movement based on the attitudes and iconography of distinctly American subcultures, embracing demolition derbies and surfing instead of “highbrow” French Impressionist painting or Italian operas. Although there were like-minded artists such as Joe Coleman working on the East Coast, Lowbrow Art was essentially a California movement that reflected a nascent West Coast “anti-art” aesthetic, as evidenced in the paintings of Robert Williams. Lowbrow Art also contained smart references to ‘60s and ‘70s television shows, making it a necessary but unwelcome addition to the new definition of American art. The popular introduction of the internet in mid-90s facilitated the export of the Lowbrow Art values, and soon artists in Europe and Japan were also using elements of these American subcultures.
Philip Slagter’s exhibition of new Lowbrow paintings at La Luz de Jesus is an interesting reversal of this type of cultural imperialism. Although he employs tried and true American Lowbrow motifs such as Tex Avery’s famous bug-eyed horny wolf and Preston Blair’s classic cartoon hands, Slagter adds elements from Japanese Manga Anime, Thai fables, and other obviously non-Western sources. The resulting mix is heady and alluring, engaging the viewer with its apparent familiarity then busting the whole visual equation open with Slagter’s unique alien ingredients. In the painting Djinni for example, the monkey god Hanuman goes mano a mano with Dick Tracy in a Pop Cult smackdown, the characters surrounded by chaotic graphic elements that create a frenzied atmosphere of danger. It’s an aggressive metaphor for East meets West rivalry, a fine display of culture clashing with a humorous twist. But Slagter’s pièce de résistance is the massive painting Drowning, a succinct example of his considerable skills as a painter set in an impenetrable narrative that requires long term inspection.
Most of these paintings are dominated by Lowbrow cartoon imagery derived from Slagter’s American upbringing; but other pieces are distinctly Asian, the result of time the artist spent overseas. These pieces function as visual reminders that there’s more going on in the world than the West’s self-ascribed cultural dominance; in some of the paintings the Lowbrow elements seem merely ancillary and hardly necessary to the ultimate story being told. This approach is beautifully evidenced in the piece Supernatural Magic, where two lower echelon Asian deities busily saw apart a Caucasian Christ as he is fed either jelly beans or narcotic pills, you decide, by a cute li’l cartoon bunny.
Anyway, all the paintings serve as a nice retort to the “Make America Great Again” mantra; and although according to the La Luz press release Slagter “reiterates that he’s not a political artist”, he throws down a powerful message: it’s not through isolation that this country will regain its greatness; it’s only by accepting the value and validity of other nations’ cultures that such a change can come about.
Philip Slagter, Djinni, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 48 inches
Philip Slagter, Drowning, acrylic on canvas, 124 x 6
Philip Slagter, Supernatural Magic , acrylic on canvas
Deborah Salt at Ace
Artillery Magazine, March 23, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
If an artist’s style is a visual representation of their technical abilities, then the painter Deborah Salt should have no problem applying her Minimalist talents to house painting. I mean that sincerely and without sarcasm or irony, for after all, paint itself has no volition; how it is used becomes an unarguable manifestation of the artist’s skills. Consequently, Salt’s solo exhibition at the Ace Gallery not only reveals her prodigious aptitude at flawlessly laying down color in the grand tradition of both wall and Color Field painting, but also her unique place in such schools of the mundane. Her impressive individualism lies not in how she evidences her achievement, but where she chooses to do so: the edges of the canvas, not the frontal plane where the most important visual information of a painting is usually presented.
Still, the path of least painterly resistance on which Salt finds herself leads only to aesthetic nothingness. Even the Ace Gallery’s contradictory statement that her paintings are “minimal (yet) expand definitions of painting” fails to dispel the emptiness of the endeavor; after all, minimalism implies reduction, not expansion. And even though she “arrived at this engaging body of work through a distillation of artistic concerns over decades”, it’s hard to believe that getting to this point required years of thought. But then again, intuition’s a bitch, and maybe cultivating such an art methodology really does require decades of rigorous counterintuitive mental deconstruction. Yet, even with Salt’s fanatical approach to theory and use of materials, the paint still manages to assert itself with a narrow 1/8th inch band of color skirting the perimeter of each painting’s front. This is probably for technical reasons, practical matters trump theoretical concerns after all, but it sort of ruins Salt’s abnegation of the paintings façade; unfortunately, even though they are the most interesting graphic intersections of these paintings, any fraction of nothing is still nothing.
Fortunately for the thrill seekers in the audience, most of the vertical works are installed at acute angles, “the absence of a right-angle paradigm giving an off kilter effect further enhanced by long, narrow proportions”. So, there’s the explanation if you were wondering why your boredom had turned to nausea; nothing like rejecting the tyranny of the 90º angle to alter your equilibrium. Which also makes it difficult to determine if the other pieces on the wall are similarly tilted squares, or lozenge shapes in their own right; it’s a shame, but such inconsequential speculation is the mental highpoint of the show. Still, don’t get me wrong; the failure of this show lies not with Salt, who is certainly allowed and encouraged to make art as she sees fit, but with a gallery system that continues to exhibit artwork that carries no cultural resonance outside the white walls of its own confines.
Gabriel Kuri, Donation Box, Desert X, Palm Springs
Artillery Magazine, April 12, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
Palm Springs may be the furthest eastern reach of Los Angeles’ urban/suburban schizophrenia and whiny babblespeak, but the Palm Springs Tourism Board has done its best to overcome such a provincial status by adopting the slogan, “Like No Place Else”. That can be said with certainty, for although Palm Springs is located in the Sonoran Desert, it obliquely promotes itself as a beach town without an ocean and the main boulevards are lined with Tropical themed bars and Tiki motels. Such wishful thinking helps the city maintain its distance from plebian reality, but that’s apparently not enough: some spaced out city fathers decided to also throw Art into the mix for bad measure. And so came about Desert X, a city-wide series of art installations that ostensibly brings high art culture to this Post-Surf fantasia. One particular piece, Donation Box by Gabriel Kuri, stands out as a prime example of art that appeals to the locals’ fondness for reality avoidance. Unfortunately, this piece also embodies pretty much everything that gives the art world the bad reputation it holds for most secular, that is, non-art damaged viewers.
First off, due to the repulsive nature of its components, viewing Donation Box is a particularly unenjoyable experience. Consisting of “a vast expanse of sand peppered with extinguished cigarette butts”, it can only be seen through the filthy plate glass windows of a vacant store in a bleak commercial mall bordering Palm Springs’ city limits. Beyond the parking lot lies only sand and scrub, which is, according to the Regen Projects press release, the apparent inspiration for Donation Box. This “rather surreal scaled-down and boxed-in version of what otherwise lies right outside the shop” brings no enlightenment or joy; it’s like looking at a dead animal in its cage at the zoo. Plus, the inert uselessness of presenting what is already there makes this a needlessly vapid “now-you-see-it, now-you-see-it-again” experience.
But the most appalling aspect of this lame redundancy lies in the egregious concept that calling something “art” and putting it in a gallery somehow makes it more interesting and valuable than the same damn thing on “the outside”. What exactly is it that makes reality so unappealing that people will drive miles to examine something in an art environment that they studiously avoided looking at on the way there? To figure this one out, I asked a woman who joined me at the window. Waving her Desert X installation map at me, she opined that “each cigarette butt represents a thought”, apparently indicating to her that the homeless guy putting out his cigarette in the sand behind the mall was a strictly reactionary organism. Really? I told her I had to think about that for a while, which apparently suited her just fine as she was back in her car in less than a minute and driving past all those cigarette butts in the desert sands to go check out the next piece of art.
Hudson Marque at La Luz de Jesus
Artillery Magazine, 02/15/17
By Anthony Ausgang
Hudson Marquez, alumni of the art group Ant Farm and creator of The Cadillac Ranch, wants to make your sex life better—and it’s not by meds or therapy—it’s with his paintings of women’s stiletto high heel shoes. Marquez’ exhibition, “Welcome to Stiletto,” at La Luz de Jesus, consists of 17 paintings of high heels, and this visual Viagra is guaranteed to please. “High heels are about sex, and these stilettos are all about better sex; better, dirtier sex,” claims Marquez. This invitation to vice is done in the artist’s trademark tremulous style: Marquez’ attention fixed on female anatomy below the knee, the flesh and heels shaking with sexual anticipation and the promise of perversions realized. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the slick aesthetic usually associated with contemporary depictions of sexual fetishes, and Marquez’ controlled expressionism kicks Freudianism to the door, shouting loud and proud, “I love high heels and I love painting them”.
According to the Midori Toybag Guide to Foot and Shoe worship, there are as many kinds of shoe lovers as there are shoes, and Marquez delivers the goods with a selection that ranges from hardcore fetish heels sporting locks and chains to high-heeled sandals that wouldn’t be too far out of place at a garden party held in a bedroom. This variety of form and intent keeps the show interesting; no need to play favorites, they all are.
But this is hardly news to high-heel fetishists, nor Marquez, who has painted stilettos consistently over three decades. Marquez’ paintings have always been calling cards for sin. His solo show at La Luz in 2015 was titled “Rhythm and Shoes” and featured paintings of high heels alongside portraits of notorious R&B stars like Mighty Mouse Jackson and Little Richard. There’s a consistent ribald New Orleans flavor to Marquez’ work, inspired by the artist’s youth in the French Quarter where he grew up with the convenient knowledge gained from observation that “high heels equal pussy.” But there’s more to the current paintings than such dirty doggery; these are tributes to women and their most beloved fashion necessity. Stiletto, highest heel, pump, slingback, strappy. These 50 shades of candy apple red make every woman a pinup, and how can that be bad?
Hudson Marquez, “Welcome to Stiletto,” February 3 – 26, 2017, La Luz de Jesus, 4633 Hollywood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027, (323) 666-7667
Kaz Oshiro at Honor Fraser
Artillery Magazine, January 13, 2017
By Anthony Ausgang
Art galleries can be places where the mundane becomes divine, but as the front door of the Honor Fraser Gallery closed behind me, I knew that what I saw was what I was gonna get. In front of me was what appeared to be a selection of various types and lengths of rusty steel I-beams, scattered on the clean concrete floor and leaning against the immaculate white walls, creating the sort of Post-Modern scrapyard dreamt of by serious anal-retentives. But hey mon amis, relax those assholes, ‘cause these aren’t actual construction grade, heavy steel I-beams at all; they’re Kaz Oshiro’s “three dimensional replicas… crafted from wood and canvas” and as such, worthy of much more intense consideration.
Well, maybe, if you don’t take into consideration that motion picture studio scenic workshops all over Hollywood are filled with such things. But, I guess the way to differentiate between the two is to give one a title and just call the other a prop; so, you can imagine my confusion when I discovered that each of Oshiro’s 27 “paintings” is actually titled “Untitled”. Unfortunately, that’s how the simulacrum crumbles, and for me the main point of interest shifted from the relationship between the absent original and present facsimile, to the effusive 800-word Honor Fraser press release. Yes, imagine the scenic painter making that canvas I-beam telling their boss that they’re gonna make it so damn perfect that their “degree of effort… will suggest that the success of the Industrial Revolution can be attributed… to the ceaseless work of the exploited laborers adhering to a Protestant work ethic as described by Max Weber in 1905”. Sounds like Union malarkey to me, Chief; better call the Pinkertons before our employees start “meditating on progress”.
Still, there’s no denying Oshiro’s impressive skills; even under microscopic examination these “paintings” appear to be real I-beams. But after that, so what? I’m confused; if, as according to the press release, real I-beams are “emblematic of the rise of an American industrialist class”, then what do Oshiro’s copies represent? Are they emblematic of the rise of an American artist class? I guess so, one that values presentation over content and an artist’s resume over our common history. But then again, fuckit, the commoners have always been impressed by beautiful and accurate depictions of landscapes they’ll never get to see.
Although the sparse installation demands a serious deliberation of each piece, I can’t help but think that any arrangement, even something simple like a sans-serif Joel Shapiro sculpture, would generate more interest; it’s just another example of the disconnect between the sanctioned art world and secular “non-art”. Although no prices are listed, I’ll bet my first-born son (named “Untitled”) that Oshiro’s making way more bank than the dude at Paramount; and all the hype, explanations, and heavy historical references aren’t going to change that Trumpian bargain.
R. M. Quaytman at MOCA
Artillery Magazine, December 15, 2016
By Anthony Ausgang
There’s a new stench in town, and the best way to find the source is by following your nose down Grand Avenue to MOCA. Yeah, I thought it was coming from the room of stale Rothkos too, but it doesn’t take long to figure out that the rotten smell comes from the R.M. Quaytman exhibition down the hall; don’t stop at the toilets, you may want to relieve yourself in front of one of the “paintings”. Or one of the 22 panels that make up the 100-ft. long show stopper, “Morning, 4.545%, Chapter 30”.
To me, this piece has no reason to exist, and it’s possible that Quaytman felt the same way since he resorts to the usual trick that “idea-lite” artists employ to give their work the semblance of inspiration. Buried in this almost unending Post-Modernist 90º angle filigree is a copy of work by, you guessed it, another artist. Sneaky, right? Well, not entirely, since our man gives credit where credit is due, far across the room in a vitrine. There one finds a copy, or maybe it’s the real thing, who cares really, of a Mark Antonio Raimondi engraving called The Dream of Raphael, from 1507. Whoa, talk about a work in the public domain! How about we keep this useless conglomeration of nothingness as far as possible from the public domain and in some storage bin? Out of sight, out of his mind…
Gee, wouldn’t that be nice? But there’s still a few horrors up the old studio assistant’s sleeve. For reasons I couldn’t be bothered to determine, there is a scaled-up version of a small article in the 1939-1940 New York World’s Fair newspaper, the World’s Fair Daily. Yes, this tiny article has been reproduced in oil, silkscreen ink and gesso, and, per the list of artworks (fortuitously available the bathrooms should there be no paper) it took our man R.H. a minimum of two years to make it, from 2001 to 2003.
But wait! Super bitchen! There’s art in the next room that took only one year to make, the epic 2011 piece, “I Modi, Chapter 22”! Which is really cool because it makes you think what MOCA would look like if it was just one big ass, expensive thrift store. Yes, the main component is leaning against a piece of Ikea inspired furniture, has a smaller piece of art next to it and some glittery, beige-y panels haphazardly placed on top of the whole, waddaya call this, assemblage? Installation component? Sculpture? I watched people’s reactions to whatever it is and only one person stopped to look closer, which made me so excited that I went over to breathe in the air of an art experience only to see that they were texting a distant galaxy on their phone.
Well, Joseph Goebbels famously said, “If you tell a lie big enough… people will eventually come to believe it.” So, when you consider whether the massive “Morning, 4.545%, Chapter 30” is art or not, just think about who’s being lied to, bigly…
Marilyn Monroe Auction
Artillery Magazine, 11/17/2016
By Anthony Ausgang
Marilyn Monroe died over 54 years ago, but the culture vultures are still circling her crypt, eyeing the last unturned scraps of her life and career for commercial pickings. But, as the bits of relevant material lessen to nothingness, what is left really, to take from the corpse of an over-examined life? Well, Julien’s Auctions is more than happy to answer that question, because it turns out that Monroe was more than just an actor; she was, brace yourself, also an artist! And to prove that point, Julien’s is putting eleven unsigned Conté crayon drawings and watercolor paintings by Monroe up for auction. Although not much is left from previous auctions of the collection of personal effects that the actor bequeathed to her acting coach, Lee Strasberg, a recently discovered series of letters from the late 1950s reveal that Monroe was enrolled in a correspondence art course through the Famous Artists Schools in Westport, Connecticut. Apparently, this scholastic endeavor, coupled with the drawings currently up for auction, resolves any doubts about her seriousness as an artist. And, according to Monroe collector and historian Scott Fortner, “She did refer to herself as an artist – acting was her art – but she also expanded out to other areas of the arts.”
Well, OK; but what else can be said about drawings that look more like something from a Life Drawing 101 class than manifestations of artistic genius? Plenty apparently, for Laura Woolley, who catalogued the items in the Julien’s auction, states, “It’s really a common thing for people in one creative field to have an outlet in the visual arts as well.” But art made by celebrities who are famous for doing something else is always problematic; it’s easy to consider bad artistic technique to be a manifestation of brilliance in their other field. The problem to me is that it’s completely unnecessary to drag in all this artspeak; the value of these drawings is in what they meant to the actor, not their final auction price. By putting these minor, yet intensely personal, pieces up for sale, the mercenary approach of Julien’s Auctions does Monroe’s artistic self-expression a great disservice. The reason that none of these drawings and paintings were signed is that they were never meant to be seen, let alone owned, by anyone else.
The dress that Monroe wore when she sang a sultry “Happy Birthday Mr. President” to John F. Kennedy, is expected to sell for three million dollars when it comes up for auction later this month. So, I guess the last of these hearse-chasers will only hit the jackpot on the penny slots when her drawings and paintings go to the gavel as well; opening bid on the smallest drawing is a mere 750 dollars. With that kind of money in the balance, it makes no sense to hype her artwork as some indicator of previously unknown talent. But the capitalists at Julien’s Auctions don’t care why these pieces were made, so long as they deliver any amount of profit. The question it comes down to is age-old: what’s more important, the art itself or the name of the person who made it? That has no answer; but does it matter really, if one has figured out how to cash in on it?
Mark Grotjahn at Blum & Poe
Artillery Magazine, 11/03/2016
By Anthony Ausgang
In the four-page press release for his show at Blum & Poe, the artist Mark Grotjahn lets us in on the little secret he “knew” as a young man: “Art could be whatever (he) wanted it to be.” That tenet would prove to save his ass when he decided to abandon the human figure that was the main subject of his work; he just looked out his studio window and was inspired, amazingly enough, by the signs on a bar right across the street! Such a fortunate discovery meant he didn’t have to deal with the lengthy considerations most artists go through when switching themes and concepts, he could just paint copies of something nearby that already existed. Unfortunately, by his admission, these new sign paintings were “bitchin’” but not as good as the originals down at the bar; so, rather than make better paintings, the artist decided to switch his pieces with theirs.
Of course, there was the difficulty that a painting in the art world is frequently not the same as a painting in the art-secular world; Street Art is a genre, not at all the same as street art, which is a job. Some convincing would be required before the exchange, so Grotjahn just used the old line, and I quote: “I’m an artist, this is what I do.” To the store-owning “uncognoscenti” it was a great deal: a new sign for free… and the crazy white guy would even haul away the old one. Finding that his artist’s hoodoo worked better than glass beads on the clueless natives, Grotjahn decided to export his brand of concept/object thievery to other stores. A Lord Elgin for our times, the artist would collect and preserve the quaint artistic expressions of the underclass. Plus, day-tripping America’s third world neighborhoods is inexpensive and the souvenirs practically free.
Well, actually there is a problem; Grotjahn never explained that he would be carting the work of an unknown itinerant sign painter off to a gallery to sell under his name for a four figure sum, minimum. And why should he? As another white, college educated aesthetic imperialist ripping off the ideas and labor of others, he could be confident no one in the “non-artified” underclass would ever encounter, let alone understand, “his” paintings. Even within the “legitimate” art world no one would call him on it, because what’s going on here is a fundamental disconnect between the art-referential worldview of rich collectors or gallerists, and what’s actually going down in the streets. Unfortunately people who can’t shop at Trader Joe’s or Bristol Farms all the time are gonna see fucked up handmade banners and signs at The Busy Bee or Jon’s; they don’t have to go to a gallery to experience such visual squalor.
It’s basically the 1% versus the 99¢.
Jeffrey Vallance and Tara Indiana
Artillery Magazine, 10/24/2016
By Anthony Ausgang
The event invitation to the art performance piqued my interest; after all, who wouldn’t want to see an artist and a porn star dominatrix in a hotel room “presidential debate” smackdown? Plus, there was the added attraction of an older, established “grande daminatrix” presiding over the proceedings. It seemed like the perfect use of a low budget hotel room so I quickly spent forty dollars to assure myself, and my date, of bedside seats.
The week before the event passed quickly; so quickly in fact, that I never fully explained to my date what was going to happen until we crossed the hotel parking lot. “It’s not your usual hotel room,” I said, “the bed sheets are made of rubber and there may be blood on the walls, but not much. Anyway, only a limited number of people are allowed in so you can get out fast if you feel threatened.”
We arrived at the hotel room where a man in a suit stood blocking the door. He looked at us with quizzical laziness so I told him we were there for the debate and he slowly opened the door and ushered us in. Two double beds took up most of the small room, and the remaining space was occupied by the eight other people sitting and lying on the crumpled sheets and pillows. The event maître d’ went back outside after confirming our right to be there, saying nothing and showing no interest; the door shut. We fared no better with the occupants of the room, who were all staring at a flat screen monitor on a table. It already didn’t seem right at all to me, so I tried to focus on what was on the screen.
The monitor was divided into four live video feeds, each offering a different view of the same room, somewhere else in the hotel. The first camera showed a bed covered with black rubber sheets, vibrators, and dildos as the porn star dominatrix lounged on top of everything, looking bored and distant; which is, to be fair, what a dominatrix is occasionally asked to do. The second view was of the artist reading from some text as a scrambling audio feed cut in and out; near him sat the grand dame mistress. The third feed was a view from behind of two semi-nude people kneeling and facing the wall by the bed; and finally, the fourth camera was pointed toward these two slaves’ faces, which were covered by animal masks.
The garbled audio feed was becoming intensely annoying to me but no one else in our room seemed to notice. In addition to this, every now and again the door would open and another person would be let in; soon the beds were crowded with people and the whole scene was getting more and more irritating to me. I finally got up and went outside of the room where our host stood watching two iGirls squealing about their clothing and beseeching him to take their photo for Instagram or some shit. My presence didn’t seem to register in their reality at all, so I tapped him on the shoulder and asked him outright, “So, this is it? Are we going to see any live people? Or are we just supposed to watch this on TV?”
The man turned to me and said with droll annoyance, “No, that’s pretty much it.”, then turned back to the iGirls. At that moment the door opened and my date stepped out, looking at me questioningly. “C’mon, let’s go,” I told her, “this is bullshit.” The doorman shrugged, as if to say he agreed, or maybe he just didn’t give a fuck since we weren’t asking for any money back. “Not much bang for the buck, is it?” I said as we left.
All I could think of as I drove home was how such events give Art a bad name, resulting only in turning people off something they really need to access. I guess I should have known that for forty bucks all I would get to do is watch the performance on a small screen with shitty audio; after all, the other people in the room seemed satisfied they were getting their money’s worth. It’s a fucking insult and yet the art world is full of, to quote Jim Thompson, “people who go around sniffing crap with their mouth open, and acting surprised … when someone kicks a turd in it.” So, shut your mouth and feel free to judge harshly; you may improve things for all of us.
In Memoriam: The Pizz
Pistol Magazine, September 25, 2015
By Anthony Ausgang
In the early 80s, the Zero One and La Luz de Jesus were the only commercial galleries showing art that would later be called Low Brow, but there were cafès and restaurants that were also willing to give “alternative” artists a chance.
I first met Pizz in 1985 when I was hanging a show of my paintings at a sympathetic 50’s revival diner; the paintings from the previous show were stacked by the door and I was stoked to see work that I could relate to. These paintings were exactly what I was looking for: Monsters, hot rods, and chicks in varying stages of undress in lurid colors. So, in walks this dude with black road grease on his skinned knuckles from working on his car, talking at me before I’d even said hello; it was Pizz come to pick up his paintings. We became allies after that, and I would see him at art openings looking like a reg’lar surf beatnik but out-talking everyone like the Italian opera star he was.
In 1994, Pizz and I took the train from Los Angeles to Seattle for the opening of the Kustom Kulture exhibition at COCA. As we headed north, the people getting on the train were progressively more provincial, consequently some of them found Pizz’s appearance vaguely unsettling and potentially threatening. His black sunglasses, black clothing and black beard really threw one group of yahoos for a loop, and every time we passed them on our way to the bar car they would say stuff like, “Are you guys beatniks or fagniks?” or “Look, its Johnny Crash.” Well, since we were stuck on the train for another twelve hours, I asked how we should deal with them and Pizz just smiled and snickered. So, the next time we passed the group, they said, “You beatoffniks going to Canada to marry some Eskimos?”, and Pizz stopped by the guys sitting on the aisle and said very slowly “Y-e-a-h”. Then the most god awful, nauseating fart stench gradually permeated the air and the dudes began choking and holding their noses, waving their hands in front of their faces, gagging on the foul air. As we left the car Pizz said to me, “That should shut ‘em up”, and it sure did.
So we finally get to Seattle; I began looking for the buddy I was staying with and Pizz made a phone call. Eventually my friend appeared, and it turned out he was carless, that we were taking the city bus. Well, I got on that dirty fucking bus and looked out the window just in time to see Pizz taking off in some super-bitchen car with an amazingly hot chick at the wheel; that’s just how he rolled…
The Art of Steampunk
Artillery Magazine, September 2013
By Anthony Ausgang
Steampunk is a recent Populist art movement that glorifies unique, handmade objects and fashion from the Brass Age, an era lasting from the first large scale manufacture of nautical brass around 1830 until the mid 1920s, when automobiles no longer used brass fittings. During this time, steam was the dominant source of power and machines built to take advantage of this new development tended to combine the gratuitous ornamentation of Victorian design with mechanical necessity. The machines in Jules Verne’s tales of exploration were based on these inventions and in 1954 the Disney version of Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea became the first blockbuster movie to introduce what would later be called Steampunk by presenting the gentleman explorer as a Victorian hero. Still, the people who emulated that look didn’t form into a serious artistic subculture until the Digital Age’s straight edge forced them to become public activists for 19th century industrial design. As critics of society they were punks, and in 1987 science fiction author K. W. Jeter invented the phrase “steam-punks” to describe them.
Some Steampunk artists eschew anything modern, subscribing to an alternate present where Victorian industrial design is still prevalent. Others honor that style, but not its mechanical and electrical inefficiencies, advocating instead the partnering up of forward scientific thinking with Brass Age tech. This is an important distinction, but the philosophical camps exist together comfortably, and both ultimately recognize Steampunk as a way of life as much as an art form. As a relatively new movement, it has attached itself to other trends in order to get noticed; Steampunk men and women crowd the comic conventions and even show up with brassy steam driven “autobats” at car shows.
In 2009, the Oxford University of the History of Science mounted “the world’s first museum exhibition of Steampunk”. Art Donovan, a designer and Steampunk artist, curated the show of artists that share a common passion for Victorian design and its interface with contemporary electronics and mechanics. The resulting exhibition catalogue, The Art of Steampunk, is an essential guidebook to the genre and this new edition introduces other industrial designers, jewelers and artists who best exemplify Steampunk.
In most works of art, what an object appears to accomplish is more important than what it actually achieves. Filip Sawczuk’s assemblage sculptures seem to have once served as rough tools to fix an industrial machine that no longer exists and hearken back to the early primitive stages of coal fueled steam power. Jos de Vink’s tabletop engines, made of machined brass and powered by the heat of tea warmer candles, accomplish nothing, yet their movements amuse and seem to be critical components of reality. Haruo Suekichi’s wrist watches function successfully as timepieces but their bulk makes any practical use impossible. The irony here is that the numerous scuffs and dents make it appear as though they had been used repeatedly; most Steampunk objects are presented in pristine, unused form, as if we are encountering them fresh out of the laboratory.
Steampunk is at its best when it presents modern tech in obsolete packaging, bringing form and function together in a successfully insistent way. Richard Nagy makes computer terminals and keyboards from old mechanical typewriters, combining the approachability of organic design with the digital age’s severity. Joey Marsocci’s Victrola Eye-Pod camouflages a USB charger in a gaudy four-footed tarnished copper stand that perfectly matches the modded iPod Nano it serves.
Then there is the wonderfully modern look of Evelyn Kriete’s Victorian fashion designs. Taking on both factory girl utility and the elegance in discipline of high couture from that period, her clothes seem to amplify Victorian self-restraint. The charms and trinkets of Amanda Scrivener (AKA Professor Isadora Maelstrom) joining materials like broken watch parts with traditional jeweler’s materials, resulting in remarkable body ornaments. Her piece Old Camera Lens Monocle combines leather straps with black and silver camera parts, as though built in the dungeon of a mad scientist.
As years pass and Post Modernism ages, it has become more difficult to pillage unexploited eras of yesteryear for cultural influences. The simplest and most direct styles of the past have already been mined, so all that is left are the eras of complex aesthetics and antiquated morals. But perhaps in this day and age, the idea of crafting a romantic new standard for modern goods while sexing up Victorian abstinence isn’t so far fetched; all one has to do is disregard the child labor, Imperial wars and incurable diseases of the past, the same things we ignore today.
The Art of Steampunk, Revised Second Edition
By Art Donovan
Fox Chapel Publishing, 2013
Artillery Magazine, January, 2012
By Anthony Ausgang
The kid at the front of the line had been waiting thirty hours for the preview of the Mr. Brainwash show to open and the queue now stretched down La Brea to the 99¢ store, a fitting endpoint for the 99 per centers that made up most of the crowd. Some kids were still paranoid from their stint at Occupy LA and wore bandanas to hide their faces as they crowded around the broken windows trying to get a look at MBW, or Mr. Brainwash, AKA Thierry Guetta, as he put the final touches on his show.
Like the Art in the Streets exhibition at MOCA, the Artshow 2011 by MBW didn’t seem to have a beginning; you were just suddenly in the midst of it. But one big difference was that the MBW show was constantly in process: taggers were writing their names on the walls, floors, and even Mr. Brainwash pieces every time I visited the show. The security reprimanded none of the taggers for anything more than their style, and the few off limits pieces were behind chain link fences.
MBW had “donated” a large portion of the space for anyone to come and put up their street style art, effectively turning over a quarter of his solo show to other artists. There was no indication where his work left off and the street clusterfuck began, leaving most uninformed viewers thinking that it was just more Mr. Brainwash. And, by the false noblesse oblige of allowing the tagging contagion to spread freely throughout the show, he got even more unpaid assistants to finish up his work and fill up the space.
In this mix it was difficult to distinguish who had actually done what. Some pieces were obviously by MBW because they appeared to be lifted straight from his 2008 show, like the huge Campbell’s spray paint cans and fucked up LAPD cruisers. Others, like some sick wall pieces and the dope animal sculptures made of old tires were left unattributed. Still, plenty of individual artworks were obviously by Mr. Brainwash because of his Warholian fascination with celebrity; a portrait of Michael Jackson with his hair made up of 78-RPM records was a particularly outstanding example of MBW at his slim finest. However, most of Mr. Brainwash’s work was only marginally good enough to be considered generic street art, showing none of the painting skills or strength that make a legend of true Graf artists like Saber.
A whiff of shit can ruin any banquet, and inane slogans like “May the Art Be With You” spray painted on a wall of old tires and the hundreds of gallons of paint randomly splattered everywhere only served to diminish the most impressive installations. A life size elephant sculpture stomping on an oversized can of spray paint while surrounded by living room furniture had its sly reference to Banksy somewhat wasted in the self indulgent mess. But the ultimate irony was that the art on the street outside the building was pretty much as good as the Street Art inside, making it unclear who was getting handjobbed here; Mr. Brainwash or the people waiting in the merch line.
Apparently, I wasn’t the only one put off by the painterly hedonism; as I walked through yet another cloud of aerosol paint, holding my breath and trying not to get tagged, I was joined by a kid, spray paint cans rattling in his jacket. “Hey dude”, he said to me, “Where’s the gift shop? I gotta get the fuck outta here.”
Artillery Magazine, July-August, 2011
By Anthony Ausgang
There is something fascinating about encountering urban blight in the desert; piles of trash and graffiti become an event, breaking up the endless vistas of light and sand. The city of Coachella, located in the desert east of Los Angeles, is an interesting hybrid of the urban and rural; gang tags scar the trunks of palm trees while not far away outlet malls sell high priced junk to bargain shoppers.
Coachella also happens to be the home of The Date Farmers, an art duo consisting of Armando Lerma and Carlos Ramirez. Gathering materials from street trash, yard sales and even Target, The Date Farmers make art that reflects their urban tinged desert environment. Their show at the Ace Gallery includes work from 2007 up to 2011 and consists of paintings, installations and videos, some of which were made in the gallery this year. The work illustrates their fascination with the interface between sophisticated urban street culture and rural naivete, a rich vein that has led to a show displaying the best and worst of American and Latino culture.
The Date Farmers present Disney cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse and Pato Donald in drawing styles that range from the oblique sophistication of prison tattoos to the crudity of porno on bathroom walls. The sinister treatment that these American icons get invites the viewer to replace their clean appeal with a dirty fascination. Mickey has been subjected to twisted interpretations since the sixties, but what freshens the Date Farmers roast is the horror they promote. These are cartoon characters in search of a disaster, reminding us that even in the Magic Kingdom the sweet smell of shit occasionally overwhelms Mommy’s perfume. The other icons of Western culture in evidence need no punking up: Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wicked Witch of the West are rendered in The Date Farmers seductive yet vaguely sickening drawing style, somewhat reminiscent of Twist’s sad faced beautiful losers.
Other paintings in the show reference Latino culture, exposing the dark side of Aztlan, the mythic homeland of the civilizations conquered by the Spanish. In the piece “Triangle Hand”, Pre-Colombian figurines are disfigured by cruddy contemporary tags, transmogrifying Chac-Mool to Cholo in one easy step. Even the magnificent jade calaveras unearthed in archaeological digs fare no better as The Date Farmers decorate plastic human skulls like lucha libre wrestling masks, mocking Aztec death culture. Other paintings appear to be street advertisements for marijuana, party DJs or stolen goods and have the creepy sheen of coked up folk art. Some of these are distressed even further by the addition of tags and idiosyncratic scrawls, just the sort of wear and tear that would accumulate in the streets.
By far the best piece in the show is Date Farmers Theatre, a large video installation that resembles a beachside kiosko, constructed of corrugated tin and weather-beaten scrap wood. Inside the dark interior, a four-minute animated video titled A Volta shows repeatedly on a scarred flat screen television, like some bootleg porno cinema set up for Spring Break revelers partying down south. The Date Farmers made the video for music composed by NASA, a collaboration between producer Sam Spiegel and DJ Zegon. A Volta follows the saga of a drug deal gone bad and is shot, animated and edited as if everyone involved in its creation was tweaking on speed. The camera jitters from one angle to the next as the action reels from one frantic environment to another; it’s “Enter the Void” on Oxi instead of DMT. The edits are so fast that A Volta seems to be a different video each time it repeats and it’s impossible to tell if a scene is CGI or stop motion animation as it whips by. Each character appears to be lifted from some Date Farmers piece and their transition from the flat paintings to 3D models is beyond successful; it’s fucking terrifying. The cartel boss is a freakish Mickey Raton, his rough-hewn head of splintered wood foully animate as he urges his coked up thugs to commit unspeakable acts of cruelty. It’s as lurid and fascinating as witnessing certain death, which in a way we are.
The Date Farmers have managed to create a show that confirms any thinking person’s suspicions that the world is in a moral and aesthetic decline. Fortunately, they do so with a sense of dark humor that lessens the desperation. So, rest easy, when Los Angeles burns to the ground you can always move to Coachella.
Art School Burlesque
Artillery Magazine, 2010, Volme 4, Number 2
By Anthony Ausgang
Drawing live models has traditionally been the most pitiless and yet necessary challenge of an artist’s skill. This test of artistic mettle often results in a competitive academic atmosphere that neutralizes the mind-boggling and bizarre nature of the event. Instead of marveling at the spectacle of a naked woman or man, many artists are paralyzed by their fear of failure. There really is nothing worse than a botched figure drawing, and under that kind of pressure, life drawing becomes aesthetic torture.
The Gallery Girls is a group of attractive artists’ models in Los Angeles that do their sexiest best to destroy that fear and loathing. In this third presentation of a life drawing session at the Robert Berman Gallery, the Gallery Girls posed in high heels, lingerie, and in one case, stockings that had been airbrushed on the model’s legs. Presented in multi figure tableaus, the girls stood together on the stage but neither their stance nor their costumes jelled to create a scene; they were in effect posing solo together. Once on the stand these girls looked far more sultry than arty, accentuating the poses with their peignoirs and pouts.
Alpha model and organizer Jennifer Fabos Patton bases her presentation methods on “renaissance thinking” where attractive bodies are the traditional source of rendering, but ironically, complete nudity is taboo. One of the models named Natalia claimed a professional ancestry to Kiki of Montparnasse, apparently preferring such quaint sexuality to the modern amped up come-on of Bettie Page. There seemed to be no sisterhood between these models in the gallery and strippers in a club, even though both experience admiration from an audience set at an unbreachable distance. Perhaps that is due to the bad experiences of a model that received a charcoal pencil and not a dollar bill in her g-string.
The Robert Berman Gallery was an appropriate venue for the exposure of intimate body parts as the artworks on the wall were the erotic paintings of Alejandro Gehry. DJ Jason Savvy spun his “nude music” tunes like “This is Hardcore” by Pulp and occasionally mixed in moans and breathy squealings from porn movie soundtracks. An open bar and buffet kept the artists sustained in their endeavors and created a party atmosphere between drawing sessions. Freed from the immobility of a twenty-minute pose, the models paraded around, examining their likenesses on the paper and computers on which the artists labored. Convivial and chatty, the girls’ friendly attitude helped dispel the embarrassment that any of the artists may have felt at a sub-par rendering. But once the models got back up on the platform, the atmosphere became somber and churchlike as the artists got busy trying to get it right. One artist worked on a large sheet of butcher paper spread out on the ground; smearing the ink and charcoal with his hands, he genuflected by gesture at the high heels of the erotic trinity.
Patton has reinvigorated one of art’s most staid tests of observation and as a result removed some of the pain from painting. It’s definitely not your father’s life drawing class, but he’d still love to be there.
The Nancy Book
Artillery Magazine, 2009, Volume 3, Number 1
By Anthony Ausgang
The Nancy Book is a new release from Siglio Press that illustrates artwork by the late Joe Brainard, an accomplished gay writer and artist who lived and worked in New York City. The artwork and prose collaborations presented in this book span from 1963 to 1974 and all involve the cartoon character Nancy.
Nancy was a comic that was first published as a daily strip in 1938 by Ernie Bushmiller; it was a reality-based cartoon and as such, reflected the optimism of Post-Depression America. The plots revolved around the characters Nancy, Sluggo and Aunt Fritzi, who operated in a limited world, interacting mostly with each other and the occasional outsider. The central character was a little white girl named Nancy, a sort of Literalist naïf with hair like a cogwheel and a can-do attitude.
By the late 1950s Nancy had become a major element of American popular culture and in 1961 Andy Warhol recognized her iconic status by producing his Pop homage “Nancy.” Joe Brainard also acknowledged Nancy’s cultural value but was more interested in her kitsch quotient, producing his first Nancy piece in 1963. For the most part Brainard utilized Nancy’s image as an element of a larger narrative, thrusting her into environments and arenas alien to her ‘toon nature. This sarcasm was most evident in Brainard’s inclusion of Nancy in reproductions of famous art works. The mixed media collage “Untitled (Nancy as Goya)” from 1968 affixes Nancy’s head on the body of a child in a portrait by Goya. The resulting piece comments on Nancy’s utter lack of femininity yet the smile on her transplanted head reflects the wistful “what if” of eternal optimism. Brainard’s enthusiasm for Nancy as a graphic device led him to also draw black and white comic strips that modernized her; “If Nancy Was An Underground Cartoon Character”, from 1972, depicts Nancy as an amped up sex addict. The strength in this piece is Brainard’s acknowledgement of his Low Brow contemporaries, a rare gesture in the insular New York art scene at the time.
The main challenge with art that comments on popular culture is that the “now” eventually becomes the “then”; Pop characters come into being and in most cases, fade to obscurity. The popularity and relevance of Nancy peaked in the 1970s and, although it is still being published today, the strip no longer has the cultural resonance that it once did. Consequently, Brainard’s original intent in some of the Nancy pieces is now open to reinterpretation. In her essay at the beginning of this book, Ann Lauterbach wonders if Brainard used Nancy as an intimate portrait of himself, a sort of queer Joe/Nancy construct. Ron Padgett writes that the answer is more complicated and goes beyond the convenient similarity of the identifying epithet “Nancy-boy.” Still, both writers miss the post-modern irony of Brainard and Nancy’s mutual dependence. Brainard’s work enlightens those who know nothing about Nancy and she serves as an introduction to the work of Brainard; the publication of The Nancy Book is a great document of their fair exchange.
In Memoriam: John Leech
Artillery Magazine, 2009, Volume 3, Number 5
By Anthony Ausgang
In the early 1980s Los Angeles was a place famed for sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, while art was regarded as the domain of faggots, idiots and the unemployed. Hair Metal ruled the Sunset Strip and the West Hollywood galleries would have nothing to do with the nascent Low Brow Art movement.
It was in this atmosphere that an Englishman named John Leech opened the Onyx café in 1982, initially functioning as a way for Leech to cure his expatriate isolation. Located next to the Vista Theater at the intersection of Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, the cafe quickly became the premier hangout for the bohemian artists and musicians of LA’s eastside. Leech welcomed this and began to exhibit work by emerging talents like the Latino artist Gronk and the artist/musician Jonathon Rosen. Meanwhile, the lure of exotic coffee drinks, excellent desserts and cute art chicks brought in mainstream types who spread the word about the unique new coffee culture. Leech made no effort to boot broke patrons who spent an entire morning finishing a cup of coffee; they at least made the place look busy, even if they themselves weren’t. Eventually the café outgrew its location and in 1989 it reopened on Vermont, just north of Hollywood Boulevard.
The Onyx thrived in its new larger location and Leech presided over the scene with his usual mix of distain for art wannabees and encouragement for those he deemed worthy. The monthly art receptions were notable for Leech’s refusal to allow some people access to the champagne while allowing others liberal overindulgence in the libations. It may have been the artist’s scene, but it was Leech’s café and during the LA riots of 1992, Leech kept the Onyx open day and night so that there was some place for people to go. The democratic nature of the place was evidenced by stars such as Nicholas Cage hanging out alongside local street crazy Red Zulu as poets S.A. Griffin and Raphael Alvarado read their Neo Beat poetry. Leech allowed visual artists he trusted to produce shows and in 1995 Manuel Ocampo put together an all Philipino art show, and in 1998 Kari French curated “The Barbie Show”. Leech never charged admission to get in to any Onyx event nor did he make anyone pay a fee to perform there; to be truly free, never pay a cover charge.
Leech may have experienced something like the Onyx when he was stationed in San Francisco in the late 1950’s but he never explained his inspiration for opening a beat café; Leech preferred to be known for what he was at the moment, not what he was once. The Onyx closed in 1998 and Leech took his own life in March 2009 but the fertile cultural mulch that he spread around is still helping Los Angeles artists and musicians bloom.
An Undead Partnership
Artillery Magazine, 2008, Volume 2, Number 5
By Anthony Ausgang
In the 300 dollar exhibition catalogue for this retail outlet debut of the Warhol Factory X Levi’s® X Damien Hirst clothing collection, Christopher Makos writes, “There’s no time to miss Andy! He’s more alive than ever.” Actually, Andy Warhol is dead, but a whole new corporation called Warhol Factory has been created to correct that. This mercenary enterprise has joined up with Levi’s® and artist Damien Hirst to produce a clothing collection that “draws on the similarities of theme in both Warhol and Hirst’s work.” The resulting corporate construct, Warhol Factory X Levi’s® X Damien Hirst, launched its new pop-up retail space at Fred Segal Man Santa Monica with the teaser that, along with the hybrid clothing line, two “unseen” Damien Hirst original works of art would premier. At the launch party, the two “unseen” pairs of spin painted Levi’s® jeans in plastic box frames were largely ignored in favor of Warhol Factory bondage pants flaunting Hirst’s “famed dot paintings” as liners. Zippered T-shirts sported both Warhol’s silkscreen print of a human skull and an image of Hirst’s diamond encrusted skull piece “For The Love Of God”. Money is definitely someone’s God as the flimsy shirts carry a hefty 120 dollar price tag that’s modeled to look like a Polaroid photograph of Drella. Also for sale was a limited edition book that had been started in anticipation of the moment that “Andy Warhol’s heir would meet his forefather through the medium of clothing.” The Warhol Factory X Levi’s® X Damien Hirst book is a high-end event program that comes across like a hardcover Harper’s Bazaar, complete with fashion photographs featuring Vincent Gallo. Still, it serves as a primer on Warhol for people too young to have shared a room with him, and as a handbook to Hirst for those interested in why he would make a pact with some pre-millennial dead artist. The Warhol Factory X Levi’s® X Damien Hirst book documents “the significance of Damien Hirst’s involvement” in this dead/undead partnership; it’s Hirst’s ego driven joyride with Andy’s corpse thrown in the back seat.
Levi’s® “agreed that the most potent synergy between Warhol and Hirst was the theme of Death” and as a result, a moribund energy ruins this unwilling collaboration. The pop up shop’s wallpaper has Hirst’s “famed dots” superimposed over Warhol’s electric chair silkscreen print, and a faux brick wall is wrapped in dull aluminum foil. Some of the of the Polaroid price tags on the clothes feature Andy looking absolutely bored with a human skull on top of his white hair. When he was alive, Warhol deadpanned that, “When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums.” At Fred Segal, Warhol Factory X Levi’s® X Damien Hirst has created a retail museum exhibition on how to not impress your kids by namedropping dead celebrities. Andy who? Wasn’t he in The Dandy Warhols?
Link Wray at Glendale Cruise Night
Unpublished, July 16, 2005
By Anthony Ausgang
Death may wait in the wings but on Saturday night The Grim Reaper didn’t even have a backstage pass. The “Godfather of Punk Guitar”, Link Wray, was onstage front and center demonstrating the life saving qualities of the power chord, the whammy bar and gnarly “no effects” distortion. Rightfully staking claim as the O.G. of these musical potions of eternal youth, Link Wray ripped and raved on like a 16 year old as he slipped into “Rawhide”. Even through his almost opaque sunglasses his defiant glare drove the pit crowd into a frenzy of adulation and the ease with which he played his slinky, sexy power chords and lines stupefied even the uninitiated. But the power wasn’t just in the chords, it was also in the specter of this Rock and Roll survivor who makes Iggy Pop look like a mewling newborn. At 76 years old and as beaten up as a ’37 Ford left out in the field, Link Wray makes the understated slow-mo violence of “Rumble” as threatening now as when it was banned in 1958. Effortlessly keeping the fear alive, Wray tore through “Jack The Ripper”, daring the audience to make something of it as only an old man can do who’s veneration protects him from vulnerability. Closing with a reprise of “Rumble”, Wray finally threw his guitar down and began kicking it until he was led offstage. The guitar just lay there screaming, no one would go near it.
By Anthony Ausgang
Pity the painter Paul Detlefsen, best known for his realist paintings of late 19th century American bucolic pleasantry. The idyllic landscapes he painted contain plenty of horse drawn buggies and children holding gingham dolls yet are remarkably void of horseshit and child molesters. But then, why should his paintings contain such nausea? Detlefsen was presenting an America that was a comforting, safe place to be; the gritty reality of racism and robber barons wasn’t his thing. Problem is, he was painting this propagandistic nostalgia in the 1950s, long after the last horse on the farm had been traded in for a tail-finned Chevy. Pity Paul Detlefsen for his allegiance to a bogus reality and ‘cause he ignored bennies, beatniks and broads. But most of all pity him because the cultural meatgrinder has turned his work into kitsch.
The process that turns art expression into kitsch is just a Post-Modernist con. Sure, those paintings of barn bridges and millponds were cloyingly sweet back in the day but that’s what the times wanted. Now the lie is obvious, but people still buy them because the paintings are considered parody and hep Sarcastics can smugly laugh at those deluded 1950s fools.
I don’t think that in 50 years anyone’s going to be laughing at the art presented by Cannibal Flower; it’s too real. Even Post Modernism can’t turn a cultural force this sincere into some lame laugh-a-thon. From Graf to Pop Surrealism, Toy Nation to Weirdo Deluxe, all the artists that Cannibal Flower shows are engaged in the transmission of vital cultural information. The light may be dimming in America but that won’t stop these artists from shouting to each other in the dark. Times are serious and Cannibal Flower is promoting the necessary survival skills. Why else would people line up to pay part of their wages to look at art? If it isn’t about the gravity of the question and the seriousness of the answer, why should they?
The strength of Cannibal Flower is in its allegiance to the underground, to the alternative, to the “anti”. Recognizing the limitations that the mainstream media puts on cultural manifestations, the organizers have opted to stay art guerillas, fast and deadly. Prior underground art movements may have been absorbed by the status quo against which they rebelled, but Cannibal Flower will absolutely resist that co-optation. Rest assured, if Cannibal Flower ever presents a show at MOCA in Los Angeles, it will be in order to subvert from within.
Pity Paul Detlefsen, ‘cause he missed out.
L.A. Weekly, January 23-29, 2004
By Anthony Ausgang
The naked girl leaned back in her chair and scoped out the crowd. Some of the people surrounding her returned her look and then turned away, others stopped to chat, but it was obvious that she wasn’t the main attraction: We were all looking at paintings of naked women – wild paintings leaning against any stationary object on the patio, some of the images abstracted into bizarre zaftig contortions, others beautifully rendered and enticing with their lusty femininity. These were some of the works of Jirayr Zorthian, a man who loved the female form, both in the flesh and on the canvas.
The occasion was the “Celebration of Life” thrown by Zorthian’s family a week after his passing at the age of 92. The place was Zorthian’s Altadena ranch, a mix of art junkyard, early-California Spanish architecture and collapsing hippie monuments. On the fringes of the property sit dead vehicles from all decades surrounded by active beehives; at the center is a large corral holding several horses, and next to that, the main house and art studio. Some of the buildings are constructed of telephone poles, and the beams inside sport glass insulators hanging upside down.
On the winding road up to the ranch, a finely dressed group on horseback passed a shuttle van delivering a number of men wearing red shirts emblazoned with E Clampus Vitis, members of a vaguely secret society dedicated to cards, liquor and occasional philanthropy. They blended into the eclectic mix of artists, fans and relatives heading to the patio for a presentation of personal tributes, music and loose performance art. Nearby, musicians played Armenian folk tunes in honor of the man born in Turkey in 1911.
The first person to speak was a distinguished gentleman who told a story about how a disgruntled artist once dissed Zorthian by pointing out that he could hardly be called a “contemporary artist.” Zorthian had replied, “I don’t want to be contemporary, I want to be timeless.” The crowd cheered; a caged goose honked.
“My husband had many admirers,” Dabney Zorthian told me later. “But there were a lot of people that resented him.” It’s easy to understand why, since Zorthian threw more than one Bacchanalian binge where he was fed grapes by naked girls. But such moments of licentiousness were earned: His artistic output was tremendous. In one of his studios, I came across a panel that had been removed from one of his WPA murals from the ’30s; hanging next to it was an energetic nude from the ’90s. The difference in years and style just amplified his considerable artistic gift, and that may be what those lesser talents resented most of all.
Ring of Fans
L.A. Weekly, September 19-25, 2003
By Anthony Ausgang
“I just got to Hollywood. Does something like this happen every time someone famous dies?”
The kid wouldn’t say where he was from – he was too streetwise for that – but he would say that he’d been walking on Hollywood Boulevard all day. That’s when he’d run across the huge flower arrangement, burning candles and crowd of shaggy devotees surrounding Johnny Cash’s star on the Walk of Fame. The news vans with their towering broadcast poles had attracted him, but the bottle of whiskey being passed around made him stay. It was Friday afternoon and news of the musician’s death had brought out a scrappy group of mourners.
“I dunno who paid for the flowers,” said one kid, “but I brought the photograph.” It was that famous picture of Cash holding his guitar and giving the finger straight at the camera. Someone had scrawled “Goodbye Johnny, we’ll miss you” across it like an autographed picture at a Hollywood restaurant. Surrounding the photo were half-empty bottles of Jack Daniel’s and Ten High, an unopened can of Pabst, and lots of fresh cigarettes. A wild, ragged youth asked me for a smoke, and when I gave it to him, he strode off, bouncing in time to “Cocaine Blues,” which was blasting out of a black pickup truck parked next to Cash’s star. Back at his circle of friends, he joined in as they sang, “Come on you’ve gotta listen to me, lay off that whiskey and let that cocaine be!” Then they all laughed and high-fived. A Japanese tourist hung back taking a picture from a safe distance, but he didn’t escape unnoticed.
“C’mon over here and get a good picture,” the owner of the truck yelled. “Get a picture of all these flowers and shit!” The foreigner dutifully advanced, snapped the picture, then hurried away. A German couple wavered, unsure whether or not to walk through the roiling crew. “What is this?” the man asked me, but the answer was yelled by the ragged kid. “It’s Johnny Cash. The greatest motherfucking musician EVER!” The man and woman nodded and turned around rather than look closer. I asked the ragged kid if he had a favorite Cash song.
“I like it when he sings about jail and all that real shit – fuck all these pussy musicians. You know that guy lived the life. Hell, he even killed some guy once.” I told him that “I Walk the Line” was my fave, and he said, “Hell, yeah,” and took a slug from his whiskey bottle. Some people walking by scarcely noticed the scene; others stopped to take a moment for their private dialogue with The Man in Black. The kid I’d first talked to came back over.
“This shit is great. All these guys loved Johnny, and they’re damn well gonna let him know. Ain’t that something?”
I agreed with him on the righteousness of it all. “Y’know,” I said, “John Ritter just died too but I bet there’s not a party at his star.”
“Hell, no,” the kid said. ”Anyway, who’s he?” Then he went back to the truck, nodding his head to “Ring of Fire.”
L.A. Weekly, December 5-11, 2003
By Anthony Ausgang
Paul Wehunt likes to shoot people, mostly on weekends. And he’s not the only one. This particular Saturday, Wehunt stands on one side of a dirt road in the badlands of West Lancaster, surrounded by blown-up sofas and shot-gunned washing machines. Across the road are 30 young men, most of them dressed in unmatched combinations of camouflage and skate T-shirts. Motley as this crew appears, they all have one thing in common: Each of them is carrying a high-tech paintball gun. Some are fully automatic, and some are single-shot. All are loaded and ready to fire.
The guns fire pinball-size bullets of paint wrapped in plastic designed to break on impact. Propelled by compressed C02, the balls exit the muzzle of the gun at 300 feet per second, and when they hit, they hurt. Some of the warriors prefer the cold early mornings, when the paint is harder – that way the balls will leave welts and bruises even through several layers of clothing. Knuckle hits hurt the most, although a group of preteen kids off to the side are whispering about hits to the nuts. One kid laughs and grabs his groin, his face a pantomime of adult agony.
A lot of these weekend warriors are students of Wehunt’s at Lancaster High School, where he teaches math and computer graphics. They are part of a new generation drawn to the sport, which is now more than 20 years old. “Some of them form squads that are connected via headsets, and they get into the teamwork,” he says, “but mostly they like the adrenaline rush that comes in a situation where you can really get hurt.”
Even Wehunt’s two “mini-Rambo” sons, Danny, 11, and Chris, 9, have a fatalistic macho ethic.”There was one guy who came out but quit right after he got killed,” says Chris. “You can’t be afraid of getting shot or you won’t have any fun.” Danny leans forward and adds, “Heck, you might as well have fun while you’re still alive.”
This morning, two teams will battle for the abandoned farmhouse behind Wehunt. One will defend the house, he explains to the group, while the other tries to take it and slaughter every last defender. Only direct hits count, and when that happens, you’re out of the game and have to go back to the dirt road.
Two captains are “volunteered” and begin choosing their respective soldiers. I’m with two girls, and we’re the last to get picked; even with all the testosterone in the air, gender isn’t the problem – we just aren’t wearing enough camo.
I end up in the house, and we get busy pushing burned sofas up against the windows, blocking the doors with stoves and finding good places from which to shoot. Outside, the attackers stack tires and mattresses for cover. The house has already hosted a few battles, and not all of them with paintballs. Someone has tried to systematically eradicate the interior walls by repeated blasts from a 12-gauge shotgun, and the floor is littered with debris and shells from all kinds of firearms. As we work, I’m reminded of the house in which the hero hides in the original Night of the Living Dead. With five minutes to go, Wehunt calls our team together in the ruined living room.
“This is the final stand, right here.” He gestures expansively in the small space. “When there are only four of us left, come down to this room and get in each corner. That way every entrance into the room is covered. You’ll get a lot of ’em before you die.” With these encouraging words in our minds, we take up our positions. Wehunt shouts, “Go!” and I watch the invaders fan out in the yard, running for the nearest cover.
Within a few minutes I get my first kill, but I’ve given away my location, and paintballs begin to splatter around the window from which I’m sniping. I move to the kitchen and begin shooting from the doorway, pretty proud of myself as I get another kill. Suddenly there’s an intense pain on my leg, then several more as paintballs splatter on my pants. A paintball slams into the side of the helmet I’m wearing and sprays through the vents into my ear. I stagger out into the yard with my gun held in the air.
Back at the road the scene is oddly jubilant as people compare wounds and ask each other how they died. When killer meets kill, a strange alliance is formed and details of the incident are discussed. Paintball wounds are displayed, good-size welts and bruises, a few running blood; the gnarlier ones get shouts of praise and oohs of sympathy. Wehunt walks up, killed in a failed ambush. “There are still a few in the house,” he says. Then we watch an attacker unload his gun into the front doorway, and another rolls through an open window.
L.A. Weekly, July 20-26, 2001
By Anthony Ausgang
A recent Friday night I got aboard the last Metrolink train to Lancaster to visit a friend who works in a bar there on weekends. I had some misgivings. Friday nights are an all-black crowd, Saturdays all-brown, and I’m a tall white boy with long, light-colored hair. Also, I’m fond of biker jewelry. I was prepared to face the worst thing that could happen, although I had no idea what that would be.
My friend was glad to see me when I settled in at the bar with my first zombie. I checked out the crowd, and I realized that I was being sized up by both the men and the women. No one seemed surprised or irritated, so I let down my guard. As a deep-bass, funkish reggae played, the crowd at the bar thinned, and I found myself with another zombie, sitting next to a fly black girl who leaned against me as she looked the other way sipping her gin on the rocks. I used my oddest opening line: “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?” The girl laughed and spoke to me without turning around, “Guess it was the hangover on my 21st birthday.” Fair enough. “What about you?” I asked her drinking buddy, a squat sister with cornrow hair. The girl looked away with a terrible sneer, “Missing The Simpsons on TV,” she hissed. After a few more tries at conversation and one more zombie, I headed to the dance floor.
The mood had changed, and I was aware that I was getting some hostile looks. A few times I was patted on my lower back. They were either looking for a piece or testing my strength. The dance floor was packed with madly dancing bodies surrounded by the usual ring of males getting up the courage to dance with the single women on the floor. I checked it out for a few moments. Fuckit, back in my punk rock days I learned to dance by myself, and I wasn’t going to just stand there with that awesome, massive beat ripping the house down. I scooted out into the middle of the crowd. I started stomping, dancing in a freakish Silver Lake stylie and having a great time; I didn’t give a shit. I saw anger and disbelief on the faces of a few of the brothers, but I was getting too drunk to care. They must have thought I was some kind of white-boy madman. I had to be dangerous, or dangerously insane.
As I careened around the dance floor I became aware of a flashing red light that appeared and disappeared. I finally pinpointed it to a couple who were dancing in the middle of the floor. Every time the brother would speak or laugh, a red light flashed out of his mouth. What the hell was it? I gyrated closer to find out what was happening, and after a few moments saw that he had a light-up false tooth, an LED tooth that flashed. He saw me looking at him and smiled broadly, showing it off. I gave him the thumbs up and clapped. He made some motion with his hand, and suddenly a huge woman appeared in front of me, crooking her finger at me and moving her bulk around in a sensual come-on. She was enormous, smashing into me to the beat and cooing “baby” when I’d throw a hip motion she dug. The guy with the light-up tooth looked on in a weird manner, and I caught a few glances from the sidelines that told me I’d better get off the dance floor – that bad things were going to happen if I stayed.
At the bar again with another zombie, I began talking to a beautiful sister drinking cognac on the rocks. “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?” I asked. “I guess the time my daddy died,” she said. “My father died a few years ago,” I told her. “It’ll get better.” She looked at me like I was made of shit. “I ain’t talking about my father. I’m talking about my boyfriend.” At that moment I sensed someone rushing up behind me. It was the brother with the light-up tooth; he pushed between us and ordered a shot of gin. I gulped my zombie and started talking to him, figuring that my acknowledgment of his outrageousness gave us some kind of camaraderie. “What’s the worst thing that ever happened to you?” I asked stupidly. He gave me a look of pure evil and hatred, his tooth flashing in my face. “The first time I ever met a white man, that’s the worst thing that ever happened to me. And the best thing that’ll ever happen to me is when all y’all white motherfuckers are gone.” He turned and walked into the crowd.
“I’m sorry about that,” the girl said. “But you gotta understand. It is the worst thing that ever happened to him. Could be it’s the worst thing that ever happened to me.” She held her drink and stood up. “And maybe you shouldn’t ask us that question, or you’ll be telling people that the worst thing that ever happened to you happened here.
The 2000 Democratic Convention
By Anthony Ausgang
Monday night I got on the LA subway at the Vermont and Santa Monica station. The platform was crowded with a type of people I don’t usually see riding the tube. One couple was typical, a bandanna on the head of a long haired scruffy white dude, his water bottle hanging languidly from his hand. The girl was slouching up to him and they clasped so perfectly that I had to admire them. I figured that they were going to the same place that I was: down to the Staples Center where a protest area had been set up in the vicinity of the Nation Democratic Convention. Tonight, Rage Against The Machine was playing a free show and as the subway neared downtown, it began to fill, crowded with grunge type kids and better dressed people on their way past the show to get home.
I got off at the Pico station and I could hear the band off in the distance. I found the official demonstration area where I saw my first large group of Police. They stood surrounding the entrance to the area and I looked at each one, checking out what kind of weapons they were carrying and I noticed that each had lots of plastic handcuffs strapped to their belts. Once I got into the place I ran into the Cacophony society who had arrived dressed as Zombies for Gore and they were splattered with cherry jello and fake guts. The mood was festive and I made my way closer to RATM. One song that they did was basically a refrain of “fuck you” and fingers were held in all directions, some toward the stage, some toward the Staples Center. I looked up at the balcony of the Staples and I could see well dressed delegates watching us. I saw about 20 minutes of RATM and while the next band set up I started looking for the more radical fringes of the crowd.
The crowd was diverse: ninja type anarchists, all in black commando style clothes, some of them sporting medic patches and carrying bottles of maalox and water, an antidote to tear gas. People dressed in costumes, carrying banners and shouting slogans wended their way through the crowd . A huge puppet of Ralph Nader waved its arms around and people stood against it and had their pictures taken. So many signs I couldn’t even read them: End The Genocide in Iraq, No Genetic Engineering, Free Mumia, Animal Rights, Solar Power, Pro Choice, No Choice, States Rights, Nader For President, Jews For Jesus, Legalize Marijuana, Buy American. Groups of three or four people sitting on the ground, earnest white college kids, black clad bandits, tired old farts. Every combination of camouflage possible. Paramilitary style radicals, dirty cross country travelers, white rastas, black rastas. Old hippies, new hippies, old punks, young punks. Vegans, rock and rollers, people in barefeet, people with lace up boots to their knees. Flag bearers and flag wearers. It was easy to meet anyone you wanted to, everyone had an agenda and was eager to talk about it. Regularly dressed people wandered around looking lost, all they wanted was a concert and a concession stand. Vendors snaked their way through the confusion, popping up to hawk T shirts and warm bottled water. And it went on and on, thousands of people walking, running, yelling. It was medieval in its carnivalesque whirl.
As I stood talking to Christine from Holly Matters, I saw a group of people starting to yell at the cops and throw water bottles over the 12 high fence that surrounded the whole demonstration area. I went over and stood off to the side watching as these mutants began throwing heavier stuff at the cops, spitting and screaming. The frontman for this mass was a tall American Indian, dirty and extreme. His anger was true and his hatred for the cops drove him to slam up against the wire and pull at it and his strength made the section of 12 foot fence bend in and out. The police gathered in front of him on the other side of the fence and stood with their tear gas guns pointed at the Indian dude and his group. Suddenly there was intense energy, bodies whirling, quick fast movement, a coughing pepper rasp in the air and the Indian was dragged backwards, his hands to his face. The anarchist medics were all over him so fast, pouring the white liquid on his face while he washed his mouth with a Crystal Geyser bottle. Back at the fence everyone was wearing bandannas over their mouth and noses , some with slogans on them. I knew I needed one too and I found one in the dirt and when I turned it over it read “Free Mumia” I put it on and circled the stage of action.
By this time the crowd was throwing metal signs over the fence and the police were scuttling together, some of them genuinely afraid, others tasting the delicious flavor of a potential fight. Other police filmed us as we raged on our side of the wire. Countless helicopters flew above us, some hovering in one spot while others circled with their spotlights illuminating sections of the crowd. Groups of the demonstrators were brightly lit up for a few moments then the light would shift away. The sound of the helicopter engines added to the noise and confusion. The Indian was back and his crowd had gotten much bigger. At least a hundred people were caught up in the frenzy, one man with a megaphone was yelling through it right into people’s faces. They would try to back away from him but the closeness of the group wouldn’t let them move. Some men stripped to the waist and went skanking through us like a slam pit. Groups of black op anarchists worked their way through the crowd, pointing at areas that needed more activity. Pressed up against the fence was a combination of spitting protesters and onlookers. The police grouped closer together, most of them with their tear gas guns up to their shoulders and pointed at us. People with cameras up to their faces banged into each other as they all tried for the best shot. Tear gas was coming through the fence and after I saw its gas plume cut through the crowd, I went over to smell it as it dispersed and sense the void in the crowd that it made. Debris was flying through the air, off in the distance and right overhead. Some of the shit hadn’t been thrown hard enough and rained down on us at the front. Men and women worked their way through the crowd, some telling us to take it to the next step and charge the fence, others yelling be cool. By this time a lone madman had climbed to the top of the fence and straddled it, swaying on the boundary between the Democratic National Convention and Us. His face was drenched in tear gas, I’ll never know how he hung on and he was eventually joined by another, hunched over and fetal they clutched on for long enough to become silhouettes as the sun set behind them. As it began to get dark piles of trash, protest signs, water bottles began to be set on fire and I saw people picking up the trash too, Eco-terrorists who were trying to clean up. At this point a voice came over the PA and I realized that the second band, Ozomatli, had stopped playing. It was the police chief who basically gave 3500 people 15 minutes to get out of the demonstration area by way of two narrow exits. Or risk arrest LA 409. As people began to leave I made the decision to stay as long as I could avoid injury. The crowd thinned out a little, people scuffling through the trash toward the exit, diehards refusing to leave circling around each other. A mood of daring expectation and dread: something had ended and an unknown was about to begin.
Not knowing about the North exit where most people had gone, I opted to go out the way I came in and joined the crowd heading out the East side. I stopped in a sheltered spot trying to see what the cops were going to do then decided to join the huge crowd at the North end. As I hiked through the sporadic groups of protesters still in the off limits demonstration area I could hear guns firing and screams, deep thuds echoed off the surrounding buildings, sounding like drums or fireworks. As I crossed the parking lot I saw a group of police on horses, two abreast coming directly at me. I checked my back and when I turned around they were much closer, galloping across the parking lot. Some split off to attack groups of lingering protesters but most of them stayed in one large group heading towards me. I knew that they were probably not going to enter the narrow passage I had just left so I ran back and stood off to the side as they went past. Thunderous and sweating, they stormed by and I saw one hippie guy with his hands up in the air get smashed against the concrete wall as the horse broadsided him. I hadn’t seen the troops on foot behind the horses and abruptly the entrance to my area was filled with police in riot gear shooting rubber bullets and tear gas at us. No warning, no use anyway. The crowd began to run, a frantic terrible scramble right towards rows of police standing two deep. They were in rows off to the side of the passage so we could actually still get out. The cops were concentrating on the people still in the passage so I circled back and stood behind the cops who had now joined ranks and closed off both ends of the passageway although they were still letting people through. I heard yelling and curses, shotguns firing; people holding their arms and saying amazed, I got hit.
The main police force seemed to be over at Figueroa and Olympic, so I was free to wander the open streets, sirens wailing in every direction and as I wandered, I came across pockets of police who were standing by, squadrons of motorcycle cops all relaxed and having no idea I think of what was going down. It was bizarre to have left all that mayhem by just turning a few street corners. I tried to find where the crowd had gone but all I came across were small bunches of demonstrators and ordinary people. Groups of skaters rattled by men and women in business suits. Bums asked demonstrators for spare change, never considering why anyone would have a bandana across their face. As I walked up 7th St. I was encountered a large group of cops in riot gear; they filled one end of an intersection and stood at least ten deep. They stood tense and in formation, waiting for some signal that would send them all into action. I walked up close then crossed the street, leaning against a lamppost to study them. Without warning they all charged down the street I had just come up, shouting in unison, giving themselves courage and scaring the shit out of anyone they were running toward. They began attacking the people who had been behind me, I could hear the familiar gunshots and screams. Several other cops walked toward me, slapping their batons in their hands, it was obvious that I had to go.
After aimlessly walking around for a little while longer I went to Hank’s Bar at the Hotel Stilwell to meet up with some friends who I knew weren’t there. There was no bartender in sight but two old men sat at the bar watching TV as it showed the melee I had just come from. I looked for myself on the TV, saw me in the slampit by the wire, then began to look for the bartender. She showed up and poured me a big Jack Daniel’s with a water back. It was strange to see the angry Indian pulling at the fence again and as the newscaster came on, one of the old men began to pound his fist on the bar. “America is a great county” he shouted and slapped his hand down. Some people I knew came in but they were completely reluctant to talk about what they had seen and done. I tried to speak with them but what I really wanted was more action. I watched the TV to try and find out what was going down and saw that most of the demonstrators were now on Olympic and Figueroa, not very far away from the bar. I put on my pack back and left, smoking as I walked.
When I got there a large crowd was there yelling at the delegates as they left the Convention. Protesters were giving the finger yelling “Shame” and showing them the rubber bullets the police had shot. Radicals with black bandanas over their faces shouted and leapt in the air like trout. The mass boiled around in the street and sidewalk, shouts and curses were coming from every angle and water bottles began to fly through the air towards the cops. Finally the police captain announced that once again LA 409 and we would be arrested if we didn’t disperse. As the crowd began to reluctantly thin out the media swooped in and interviewers and film crews roamed the crowd. I was interviewed by a teenage kid covering the convention and as I told him what I had seen and done he wrote notes on his pad so quickly that when I tried to read his lines they just looked like long scribbles. He looked at my face but his eyes were focused on some point behind me. During this whole ordeal the camera had been everywhere, as soon as anything started the cameras went over, the Indian at the wire, dumb fistfights between drunks, the lines of police, pictures of people taking pictures of people taking pictures. Tourist style travelogues and anarchistic documentation. Everywhere people had their digicams and home videos. TV news reporters speaking into mikes with lights on their faces backed through the crowd as their film crew followed them.
As I walked to the subway, I could sense the struggle going down on Olympic, but I knew I had no way to get over there. Overhead helicopters whirred through the air, the sound of their rotors thudding the air as they hovered directly over us. The atmosphere changed from danger to quiet as I joined the crowd of delegates as they made their way to the hotels. Some were carrying signs that read “Thank You Bill Clinton”, loot from the convention, and packages of giveaway bullshit. Well fed and walking with the satisfaction of the self righteous, they looked at me strangely; I realized I still had the Free Mumia bandanna across my face. I folded it and put it in my pocket to save for the next time I would need it. And I knew I was going to need it.
Tuesday morning, I went to the Rampart Police station for a demonstration against police brutality and corruption. I stood in the blazing hot sun watching protesters blocking the entrance to the station get dragged away. There was some sympathetic clapping as the first few were hauled into the station but that soon wilted in the intense heat. I read the graffiti style banners and wandered aimlessly through the crowd, feeling sheepish and wrong because I didn’t agree with their protest, I live in Rampart Division turf and I know how fucked the police have it on the streets. I went back home and painted until about 6 o’clock when I decided that I’d done enough and it was time to go back to the Staples Center. This time I brought my skateboard, to use not only as transportation but also in case I needed a shield or weapon.
After getting out at the Pico subway station I felt a little self-conscious but soon adapted to my new role as skate anarchist. I skated around looking for a crowd but the streets were remarkably empty so I went over to the designated protest area across from the Staples center. As I approached I saw that the area was pretty much empty except for a small gathering of people holding aloft signs and listening to homeless rights activist Ted Hayes speak from the stage. They disbanded shortly after I joined them and I followed an aimless march around the parking lot. People were grinning and laughing and the mood was entirely different than the day before.
I was looking for more action than that so I skated around the nearby downtown streets until I gave up and headed back to the subway station on 7th and Figueroa. Once again I was in crowds of delegates returning to their hotels from the Convention and I sat on the curb watching them as they walked and carried their goods. I began to feel disgusted and boarded the subway. There had been no action and I felt let down. Being on the almost deserted streets that had been the site of so much aggro the day before was a strange sensation and I wondered if anything was going to happen again. I slept fitfully.
Wednesday, I left my house with John Tottenham at about 4 in the afternoon. After leaving the train at Pico we began to make our way to the demonstration area but were turned back by the police who would give no explanation and only cursory instructions about how to circumvent the blocked streets and reach our destination. As we approached the parking lot we saw a huge crowd filling the intersection of Olympic and Figueroa. We had come across the remnants of a large march through downtown that had gone from Parker center back to Staples. The police had cut the crowd in two and were surrounded in the intersection by the split crowd. I was amazed that they would allow themselves to be surrounded, the police stood back to back, swinging their clubs and looking nervously at the hundreds of demonstrators that faced them. I pushed my way to the front line of my group, losing Johnny in the crowd, and I saw hundreds of police in formation filling Olympic in both directions from the scene. As the two halves of the crowd grew closer, hemming in the police in the middle, the police captain got on his megaphone and said that we would all be arrested, LA 409 again, unless a representative of the demonstrators came forward to negotiate a way for the two crowds to meet.
It took ages for anyone to come forth and in the hot sun tempers began to flare. Some people began to scream at the cops while others would try to speak conversationally with them. If anyone got too close the cops pushed them away. It seemed that the cops were under orders not to speak with us. In my crowd there were several agitators with megaphones who began to encourage the crowd to take action. What action wasn’t clear, to rush the cops and hook up with our brethren across the street, to vote, to legalize, to boycott? What did they want from us other than to agree with the constant “Fuck the Police”? Just as the tension reached a high point, the police suddenly pulled back and the two mobs met, shaking hands, bumming cigarettes, backslapping; there had been no point in the agitation other than for the two sides to hook up, beyond that there was no plan.
Then through the crowd came Ted Hayes, dressed in his red white and blue outfit, followed by his bodyguards. “Back to Parker Center” he was yelling and soon a large contingent began to follow him. And here is the madness of crowds: as we began to walk, all of us together, a destination took shape. We were on or way to Pershing Square. Unplanned, no permits, just go. And so the crowd of several thousand began to move up Figueroa, chanting unintelligible slogans, hoisting aloft signs that made no sense; the skate anarchists, the Eco-terrorists, the homeboys and the Aztecs. The ice cream carts followed with their bells ringing while in the crowd Latino vendors were selling warm water and red white and blue trumpets and balloons. White men and women handing out flyers, people in ski masks skating in and out. Bicycle terrorists rode slowly alongside, jumping curbs and saying nothing. As the march gathered momentum the police had no choice but to clear the streets for us. They were a block ahead of us most of the time, stopping traffic and then lining the streets watching us as we coursed down the streets toward Pershing square.
Suddenly I heard the sound of pounding against sheet glass windows and looked over at a Latino guy banging his fist against the shop windows. An older hippie looking guy forced him to stop, the kid grinned and shrugged. In the midst of the crowd I saw a taut young man who held his fist aloft, yelling and shouting as he linked arms with the people near him. This was Mear One, a graffiti artists friend of mine so I made my way over to him and marched alongside.
Then off to the side we saw a hand raised, a hand that made the thumbs down sign, a businessman on the sidewalk showing his disapproval of what we were all doing. A lone vigil, his distaste so evident. Marchers began to spit on him, some threw punches but he was protected by another one of the older hippie moderators. He actually shielded the businessman’s body from the blows and spit, thrown water bottles and kicked trash. My friend Buck came over with his police scanner and cel phone “The cops have surrounded us, they’re on full tactical alert” he murmured but the police took up positions on the edge of the park and hung back. What to do, what to do? A stage was hastily set up on the top of a flight of stairs and speakers began to rant. Mostly they said “Fuck the police” and the mike would get passed to someone else. If nothing else, everyone could have a chance to address the huge crowd. Inarticulate hip hoppers grabbed the mike like they would at an open freestyle rap show. Chuck Hauter and I sat by the main group on the steps, shaking our heads in disbelief.
Mear One strutted on the fringes, I could tell he wanted to get up there, he would nod or shake his head vigorously at what was said, Finally he dashed up and grabbed the mike but confronted by such a large audience he spoke quickly and nervously. He preached education and unity but abruptly gave up the mike to a woman who began to shout about sisterhood and women’s rights. I was bummed out by the speech I heard these people using. It was raw, full of “fucking” and “shit” and “you know what I’m sayin” and the inarticulate delivery made me sad. I left that main throng and walked around the park. Groups of people were crashed out on the grass like at a picnic, listening to the speakers and various individuals that roamed the park espousing their particular cause. I saw a small crowd gathered around the thumbs down business man who had followed us into the park.
He was flanked by two policemen as he stood there, not saying a word with his thumb down raised high in the air. He was enduring spit and humiliation, rage and insult as he stood immobile, his briefcase at his feet. People beseeched him, speak, speak, but he said nothing. The crowd grew larger, treating him as a hostile curiosity, the lone dissenter. He must be made to pay for his independent thought, what was wrong with him? “He just wants media attention” a black lady announced matter of factly, “Ignore him, c’mon lets all leave”. A few people agreed and left with her, looking over their shoulder at the businessman as they walked away. I sat at his feet for a long time, the only one that near who didn’t have a camera. I watched him closely, he had no fear and no doubts about the righteousness of his stance. I spoke to him gently but he would say nothing. A demonstrator knelt on the ground next to me and held a megaphone to the businessman, offering it up to the guy. He held it patiently, quietly, asking the businessman to use it, please use it. The guy just shook his head.
I finally left and went over to get some food at a sandwich shop. Inside were cops and demonstrators waiting in line together, some joking with each other, some mutually distrustful. I ate quickly and left after watching a diabetic shoot up insulin right in front of a cop, just daring him to ask or say something. I went back to check on my thumbs down guy, by this time I felt a certain respect for his courage and I wanted to see what was going down, I passed a Latino guy sitting nervously next to two huge banners that said “Fuck the LAPD”. A lady cop was photographing the sign, shaking her head in disbelief. Across the park I could see the businessman still standing with his thumb down, a good sized crowd gathered around him. Just then I saw two friends of mine, Buck and Yuki and I made my way over to them and we decided to go to the Independent Media Center and check out the news coverage of what was going on. We had a friend working down there, Jennifer Joos, and she could give us a full tour of the place.
At the Media Center I got a press pass which allowed me to wander through the hastily set up offices and interview areas. I was very impressed with the energy and intensity of this alternative scene, they were collecting video of the various demonstrations throughout the day and assembling all the news reports together to broadcast on-line. People worked feverishly at their terminals and the mood was festive, food and drink were provided and the whole show was going on around the clock. People were crashed out, asleep on couches next to tables full of reporters arguing and shouting. It was total bedlam, but organized. I went downstairs for a drink, another Jack Daniel’s and began to check out the various booths. Hemp popcorn, human rights abuse hotlines, homeless shelters, free Mumia. I began to feel faint after my long day and I went out on the fire escape on the 6th floor for a smoke. I saw the part of the downtown skyline closest to the Staples Center bathed in red white and blue light with spotlights swiveling across the sky. It was beautiful.
Earlier in the day I had seen an American flag burned at Pershing Square. It wouldn’t catch fire and finally some hip hop guy wadded it up and held his lighter up to the fabric. Cameramen two deep surrounded the sputtering flames, clicking away and crabwalking around trying to get a better angle. I wanted to scream “This is your flag too, don’t burn it. Take your flag back, don’t burn it”. But I didn’t dare, one guy who felt the same way I did had made a desperate lunge through the crowd to rescue the flag, he was punched and kicked and cursed. He was despised and pushed away. I saw him later wiping the tears from his eyes as he sat away from the crowd, alone and no longer hated, just forgotten. I gathered my stuff together, threw my cigarette butt off the fire escape and headed back to the subway. I could still make it home.
Thursday Bob Rue and I met at my house and headed over to the subway station. I had heard on the radio that there was going to be an open drum circle in the demonstration area while Gore made his acceptance speech inside the Staples. We boarded the train along with a few grungy kids carrying guitars and drums that were obviously going down to Staples like us. As we rode, I constantly checked my backpack making sure I had water and something to cover my face with; Bob was pretty nonchalant but had brought along an “Anti Nowhere League” shirt for some reason he wouldn’t explain.
As we hiked from the 7th street station we passed numerous people leaving the area. Discarded crucifixes made out of styrofoam were all over the place, sticking out of trashcans, thrown on the sidewalk and street. Interspersed with the people handing out radical agenda flyers were shills from the various restaurants nearby. One person would hand you instructions on how to start your own political party, the next would shove a menu in your hand. The following block had small white cardboard coffins scattered all over the sidewalk and stuffed into garbage cans. As we crossed the street in front of the Pantry I saw an empty 5 gallon plastic water bottle someone had tossed so I picked it up and began pounding on it with my fist. I just beat on it as we entered the protest area and made our way across the parking lot looking for the drum circle.
The idiots and assholes were out in full force, one guy dressed up as Uncle Fester from “The Addams Family” with lit up lightbulbs in his mouth was holding up a sign that said “Uncle Fester For President”. I told Bob “They’ll show that asshole on TV but not these guys” as I gestured towards a crowd of people protesting the economic boycott of Iraq. Onstage some Sistah was putting it down, power to the people, right on. Certain areas of the crowd seemed to hold the promise of some action, groups of anarchist ninjas ran amongst us, dashing from one place to another. I heard drums and headed over to the general area where the riot had begun on Monday, up by the fence closest to the Staples Center. The crowd was pretty much made up of the same people I had seen all week, Black Block kids, white rastas, tie dyed mumbling hippies, skaters, people on cel phones.
When I got to the drum circle there were about ten people pounding on different sizes and types of drums. I stood off on the fringes and began beating my 5 gallon water bottle, getting into it. People saw me with my street style anti-drum and began clapping their hands and singing. There were neo-hippie girls dancing along with gypsy looking lunatics who were obviously tripping. Badass homeboys stood with their arms crossed over their chests. Arrogant assholes with cameras shoved their way into the circle of drummers to get a better shot. The crowd began to get dense as more people came over to sway or chant or watch. Someone picked up the carpet at the center of the circle and dragged it over to the fence . When we made it up there I realized that we were playing for an unexpected audience: the cops on the other side of the wire. As I pounded my water bottle I could see some cops were edgy while others were enjoying it, at least they didn’t have their teargas guns up. The ground was littered with discarded protest signs, Stop NAFTA, Start the NHP. The drumming was reaching a peak, the groove was happening, people began to yell and chant. Everyone’s excitement grew and our sound got louder and louder.
I looked up at the Staples Center and I could see Delegates and cops watching from the balcony. The crowd began to bellow at them, chanting some spell, some wordless roar. It peaked in a boisterous rant, hands waving and pointing at the Delegates, like a climactic musical orgasm. Then just like that, it was over and for a moment everyone there stood panting and eyeing each other. At that moment a bearded guy rushed up to speak with the leader of the drum group. A march to the jail, Twin Towers, was being organized and would we please, please get the drums out into the crowd.
While they began to discuss this I wandered off and sat down to watch the crowd. I could tell that something was happening to everyone, there was some sort of collective aim sluggishly beginning to motivate people. I walked around beating my drum and keeping my eye on the North exit of the demonstration area as people began to congregate there. Ted Hayes was in full effect, highstepping through the mob, shouting and stabbing his finger in the air towards the jailhouse. One of the main protest organizers, a tough looking blonde lady, shouted through her megaphone, “We’re marching to the jail, its a long way so you gotta be committed to doing it”. There were answering shouts and the crowd of people around me began to move North, not yet a march, just groups of people sharing a common destination.
I saw Bob waiting for me up at the Pantry and we took off with the tide of people that was beginning to move up Figueroa. As we progressed he and I laughed at the massive lunacy of it, thousands of people all stomping towards someplace we did our best to avoid most of the time: Jail. I heard a wild rapping sound behind me, a big deejay action, the sound of pumped up Bob Marley and drums. I turned around to see what the hell was approaching and I was surprised to see a flatbed truck inching along off to the side of the march. An old hippie guy with a long grey beard strode in front of the vehicle, warning people out if the way. A crew of musicians and speakers covered the back of the truck while a big sound system blasted out reggae music and shrill blabbering by a some soul sistah. She was exhorting the marchers to keep it up: Who’s streets? Our streets! Who’s streets? Our streets! I began to pound my drum in time to the chant, shouting and yelling the mantra. Although the marchers managed to keep together fairly well, there were thin spots where the faster marchers were pulling away from the rest of the crowd. At one point there were two fronts: the line leading the whole march and another line of people with joined arms a block back. People ran through the crowd, some yelling speed up, others saying slow down.
Off in the distance I could see police lights flashing, a long line of sparkling red and white light that stretched across Figueroa. Some of the marchers began to panic and began to run back through the crowd. Then the police that were blocking our progress started up the street, a phalanx of motorcycles headed north and the cops on foot moved off to the sidewalks. With a roar the march moved forward again. The police had given up the idea of trying to direct the march’s direction and they were up a block or two ahead of us, stopping traffic and sealing off the street. The truck began to pull forward again and the drummers on the flatbed began to beat an enthusiastic rhythm, helping us maintain our pace. I continued to beat on my water bottle, sometimes along with the beat coming from the stage, other times blending in with whatever beat I could pick up from the various drum groups in the crowd. Bob and I maintained our position at the front of the march as we went underneath a bridge, The acoustics were tremendous and the marchers chanted and howled as they passed under the overpass. Long after we exited the area we could hear the noise as the rest of the marchers behind us passed through it.
By this time we were approaching Sunset and the noise as we progressed was awesome. Thousands of voices, some chanting slogans together, some individual rants and shouts. We passed Union Station and the people on the truck began giving instructions on how we were to arrange ourselves and get ready for whatever was going to happen now that we were at the jail. Off to the side people handed out water bottles and I could see steaming pots of stew with piles of cups and utensils behind them. The truck pulled around until it faced the huge crowd while vast numbers of police stood massed in front of the jail, across the street from us and behind the last stragglers as they arrived. We were effectively surrounded.
People wandered around with no real sense of purpose, we said we were going to the jail, now here we were and what was going to happen now? Small groups sat down and formed little circles, people just talking and sharing cigarettes. A big black dude took the mike onstage of the truck and launched into a story about his motherfuckin’ brother who had died at this motherfuckin’ jail coz of the motherfuckin’ cops and motherfuckin’ system. On and on he rambled, the crowd growing restless and distracted. Once again the phrase “Fuck the Police” rang out and I looked over at the hundreds of black uniforms surrounding us and I wondered how stupid anyone had to be to chant that slogan right now. I went to get some of that food, vegetarian and delicious, while one of the drummers took the mike and tried to lead us all in a recital of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”. It was so useless and going nowhere that Bob and I decided to split as soon as the cops would allow us out of their perimeter. They finally drew back and we left, walking past fire engines and ambulance. One truck had its window open and a fireman hung his arm out, high fiving marchers as they headed back. We decided to take the subway but when we got to the door of the station, a guy pushed out yelling that the trains had all been stopped and we had to get where we were going any way we could. By an incredible stroke of good luck Bob and I and another dude grabbed the first cab to appear and we were on the freeway heading back to Hollywood within minutes.
As we drove away I looked back as hundreds of people arrived at Union Station. I was surprised that the police would take away one of the only ways for people to leave the area, stranding thousands. I looked forward again and began to talk to the cabdriver. I asked him if he knew what was going on and he said no, he’d just started work and the boss had told him he’d get a lot of rides if he went by the demonstration. He was gonna vote for Gore even though he didn’t think that it was gonna make any difference. He just hated the way Bush had such a shit eating grin on his face most of the time. The cabdriver was pissed off that Bush seemed to think he deserved the presidency.
As I got out of the cab back where I had parked my car, the cabdriver grabbed my arm and said “I know my vote don’t mean shit and I’d like to have gone with you guys on that rally but I have a wife and kids. I guess all I can do is vote and I’m damn well gonna do that”. Right on brother. Still pumped up with energy from the experience Bob and I drove around looking for a bar that would have a TV on with the news and we ended up at Club Tee Yee. Sure enough, the TV was on, broadcasting news from the DNC but there was nothing about our march. Disgusted at the media blackout we sat stirring our drinks then Bob shouted “Look!”. On the screen was the Uncle Fester asshole we had seen earlier. “I told you that’s all they’d show” I said. “Fuck that shit” Bob grumbled. Fuck that shit indeed.
Low Brow Comes Out of the Post-Modernist Closet
Undelivered Lecture, 1999
By Anthony Ausgang
The primary icon of Low Brow Art is also unfortunately one of the most corrupting and dangerous icons of mainstream culture. It should by all rights and agreement be stuck on the business end of a spear and left out to rot in the streets for the amusement of the proles. It’s a jumped-up turd with a coat of glossy varnish, a fiberglass ’32 Ford with a cruddy Jap engine. It’s the odor of a garbage collector’s fart coming from a Chanel perfume bottle and it’s all wrong like black and white porn. It’s the first thing you think about when you go to bed and the last thing you think of when you wake up. It’s the grinning head of Mickey Mouse.
There are those that rebel at the idea of dragging M.M. into the Low Brow fold, the field is far too shit pure and exclusive to accept some image that’s been branded on things like baby bibs and flavored lozenges. We are told that Lowbrow icons favor rusty, trashy environments, the kind of neighborhoods Mickey avoids these days as he limos from Burbank to Hollywood. They say that there is no missing link between Lowbrow and Disney because there is no link, period.
Low Brow has been forced by cultural analysts to expand and accept genres such as No Brow, Post Brow and, in the case of some aesthetic futurists, Brow Moderne. The sweating armpits and road grease blackened knuckles that used to be seen and smelt at opening receptions have left by the garage door and in their place we have Knightsbridge Road neoclones and their celphone toting galpals. No one fucks anymore and the pile of empty beer cans that used to greet visitors on their way out is now a mound of half empty cans of Krylon surrounded by taggers wearing backward baseball hats. Post Graf was not preceded by Graf any more than No Brow was defined relative to Low Brow. It just happened, get me? So even though the flaming skull of M.M. screaming in agony as it’s tortured for all eternity just kinda slipped in under the door, it’s still M.M. and his shit stinks in the gas station crapper as much as in the executive washroom upstairs. He’s Low Brow because he’s a ‘toon which gives him street cred and High Brow because he’s Disney; and Disney makes you check your gun at the door. M.M. is a true Post Modern tragic figure, co-opted, corrupted and shot by both sides.
At his genesis, M.M. was a funny little drawing of a common mammal; his image was based on observations of the real, natural world. Ub Iwerks’ and Walt Disney’s use of this filtered distance between object and image can be considered a Modernist maneuver. Lacking only the total acceptance of the public to complete the Modernist cycle, Disney utilized the new medium of film to convince them that his character was as real as the one scurrying across the kitchen floor. It worked to the point that in due course people began to don beanies crowned with bogus cartoon mouse ears in an attempt to falsify reality by pulling a species bend and become the mouse.
The universal acceptance of this icon becomes the catalyst for the next stage. In this “Pre-Post Modernism”, the hipster elite initiates a backlash of scorn and derision against the revered image and parody becomes a form of worship. Mickey’s legitimate children are forced to deal with his bastard relatives, Annette Funicello versus Mickey Rat in a Pop smackdown. At this time Post Modernism initiates a cultural free fall and all references, alliances and manifestos are rendered void. This aesthetic scorched earth policy levels the playing field and claiming allegiance to any particular school of thought is useless.
So Mickey Mouse himself becomes the principle reference point for further graphic exploration of what the Buddhists would call “mouseness”. It is no longer necessary to observe the actual mouse; it is enough to have an available design that is based on one. This abstraction of an abstraction creates artistic white noise and cultural feedback; smells like Post Modernism’s fuck you finger is way up the ass of High Brow Classicist Style for now. And what could be more Low Brow than that?
International Tattoo Art, 1998
By Anthony Ausgang
I met a man who had served in the Vietnam War, working at an airfield where he was given some awful work like cleaning blown up guts out of choppers or driving a truck full of gasoline around in the open. One day he painted hot rod flames on his superior officer’s coffee mug just to see what would happen. He was taken off the bad jobs and put to work painting flames and insignia on whatever planes the pilots told him to; he survived the war.
It’s not unusual that men in the military are trained to kill. What’s remarkable is that the pilots wanted to decorate their death machines with flames and insane cartoon character desperadoes. The custom art set each plane apart, yet at the same time put the crews together into an exclusive club. These cats knew they were bad and they wanted the world to know it too. They were so righteously bad that censorship and moral standards had to be enforced by the desk workers who couldn’t accept the violent power that these symbols represented. Even though there was already a tradition of art on aircraft dating back to WW1, the stuff my man was painting sounded pretty sick.
Symbols and motifs are sort of like parasites that jump to new hosts as the old carriers die off. From WW2 aircraft, painted flames went to the hotrods of the fifties. Then to the “Death From Above” choppers of the sixties, finally finding their role as a peacetime threat in the paintings of Robert Williams. Here they were elaborated on and given an art context. Their threat wasn’t to the enemy running on the ground but the assholes running the galleries. Some of us used the same ammunition and wanted in on the attack. In are history books they call such revolution an “art movement”.
What makes two artists with the same level of skill and same symbols different from each other is the ability to put images together and efficiently tell a story. Without any narrative, the marvelous eye candy of a gorgeous tattoo will reveal itself as a flashy style job, and the worst sin an artist can commit is boring their audience. It’s not that the worth of an artwork lies solely in its entertainment value, but if one is going to exchange ideas with the viewer, there has to be some way to seduce them into hanging around long enough to get the message.
Some people see a particular figure in a painting as being representative of a group rather than just an individual happening to be that way. The caricature of human behavior that cartoon characters provide lets me avoid that misinterpretation. I’m interested in letting people know that we aren’t alone in our particular hell or heaven. So, if I can seduce them into viewing my paintings by using seemingly harmless cartoon animals then they may stick around for the sermon.
And the veteran I know? Oh yeah; nowadays he paints flames on cars. Big, fat, PVC hotrods ordered from catalogues by big fat, movie studio executives. He’s burned out enough that to him, there’s no difference between the parking lot and airstrip at all. For him it’s just about painting flames and that’s it, no meaning, no nothin’; and to me that ain’t survival.
Detroit Institute of the Arts
Undelivered lecture, 1998
By Anthony Ausgang
How many of you have heard of a theory called “Schrodinger’s Cat”? It goes something like this: you take a box, a plain old cardboard box and make the statement that there’s either a cat in the box, or no cat in the box. At this point the question “is there a cat in the box or not” has become the identifying element of our current reality. It will continue to be this way until the box is opened and we find out whether or not there’s a cat in the box. At this point reality divides and we’re now in a reality defined by the status of the cat in the box: we’re either in the reality where there’s a cat in the box or in the reality where there’s no cat in the box. Now, you can argue that such inconsequential differences hardly constitute differing realities but remember, we’re talking about an infinite universe here with plenty of room for separate realities to exist. Granted, major events like the assassination of John F. Kennedy, make this concept easier to understand but I like cats more than JFK so we’ll stick with Schrodinger’s cat. The process of making art involves a vast number of decisions and choices and the artists job is to sort through these options and arrive at the reality in which the artwork is perfect, ideal. That means that throughout the whole process of creating the artwork, the artist has to pay attention to the smallest details and make the proper decisions. Its fucked, but that’s how it is. If you can’t create with a sense of urgency fueling your machinery you’re going to get a piece of shit instead of a painting. If you don’t come away from a session in your workplace exhausted and exhilarated, you’re not going in the right direction. After all, according to the Schrodingers cat theory, everyone and everyTHING is depending on you to deliver them to the proper reality, that’s your work ethic.
Okay, so now you’ve saved the world from a shitty reality by creating a masterwork. Fair enough, but what about you? Well that’s all about something called “the pleasure principal”. You need to enjoy what it is you do so you’ll go back to it again. If sex was a drag you’d do it to have a kid and then forget about it. In the midst of handling the universe you’d better be having some fun or you’re just gonna be another martyr, like Jesus or that Buddhist monk who set fire to himself in Vietnam back in 1968 to protest the war. Where’s the fun in that? I’ve never subscribed to the myth of the “tortured artist”. Don’t forget, when Van Gogh cut off his ear it had nothing to do with art, it was over some babe. That whole “tortured artist” trip is just another Catholic guilt bringdown. You’ll find its only proponents are artists who never made it. Art is probably the most goal oriented vocation there is, one experiences a constant series of technical and inspirational challenges. Once you’ve taken care of that tough spot you can cruise for a while until the next one. Its the period between them that I find the most interesting and is probably the reason I paint. Its a brief stage where technique takes care of itself and there’s no connection between the hand and the brain. Psychiatrists call it “Flow” I believe. I can think about topics entirely unrelated to what I’m doing while the painting gets done in front of me. The weird thing is that, for a short period after that, and in some cases from that point on, whenever I look at a certain spot in the finished painting, I remember what I was thinking when I did it. Its a weird stimulus response but I can recall weirder ones!
I first started painting 20 years ago in art school. I hadn’t planned on being an artist, I wanted to be a journalist. When I got to Freshman orientation at the University of Texas I headed over to the correct building where there was an auditorium full of uninspiring types, the first indication I was in the wrong place. A man got up on stage and actually began this stupid cheerleading routine. “We’re gonna be writers! Yeah! We’re gonna be journalists! Allright!”. I turned to the girl next to me and asked her if this was for real and she said yes, she was loving it. At that point I left and began to wander the campus. I saw a building at with all these weirdoes and good looking girls so I walked over to have a look. When I found out it was the Art Department I signed up for classes right then and there. After three semesters of art classes and regular curriculum courses designed for the subgenius football team, I sensed that there had to be some way to avoid the non art classes altogether so I quit school to attend the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles. One day in Hollywood I was in a bar and there was a guy getting more drunk than I was. He said that he had graduated from art school owing 60 thousand dollars and he had taken a data entry job to pay off the debt. This scared the shit out of me and I dropped out of Otis after three semesters vowing to get an art education while getting paid. My first job was handpainting hundreds of yards of furniture fabric, eventually becoming a color mixer. After matching all the color swatches they’d give me I’d spend the rest of the day mixing my own unholy color concoctions. I kept working in my studio after work until I had enough good work to approach a gallery. I was treated like shit, one dealer told me to unload his car before he’d look at my slides. I did. Another dealer told me I could get a show if I slept with him. I didn’t. Eventually I ended up at the Zero One Gallery, a beat up space with a rock star clientele. My first sale was to a drug dealer and a solo show a few months later sold out. Naturally I wanted to show at the County Museum of Art but rock stars and drug dealers were good enough for me.
Unfortunately you can’t have a successful art movement without rich art collectors to bankroll it. The sad fact is that no matter how good the work is, no matter how well written the manifesto is, unless there’s money flowing nobody’s gonna pay any attention. Robert Williams was beating his head against the gallery walls until a group of rich collectors who shared his aesthetic began to buy up his paintings and hang them up at home for all their rich pals to see. The role of critics is similar, collectors tend to get nervous if the names of their favorite artists aren’t in print. This is where Williams triumphed, if you can’t get the magazines to give you a review, print your own goddamn magazine. Thus Juxtapoz magazine was born and paintings by the soldiers of Roberts’ army began to get exposure. Independent press like Last Gasp out of San Francisco were happy to put out exhibition catalogues of this kind of work and the jalopy was off and running with a new engine. The wild ride is about to get wilder.
So now we come to greatest of all necessary evils the artist must face: galleries. Galleries aren’t charitable institutions, you can’t expect them to show work that doesn’t sell. The trick then is to find a gallery that’ll sell your kind of work; you cannot tailor your work to suit the gallery. Sure after a few years of rejection and bullshit it gets a little disheartening but the idea is to learn how to present yourself and your work. The nasty part of the deal is that the artist’s image is as important as the work they make. I know an artist in LA who is so fucking crazy, institutionalized crazy, that she can get just about any price with any gallery she wants. And its all because she’s a notable character and when a collector comes back from her studio with a painting, you know he’s gonna have something to say other than he gave her a check. Its called “the cult of personality” and Andy Warhol did it best. So you have to respect your dealer and overcome any aversion you may have to being around rich people. Don’t laugh, its true, I’ve met quite a few artists who despised the rich, consequently they went nowhere.
In an ideal situation the artist is supposed to make the work and the dealer is supposed to sell it. But one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever been given was that the artist should never give up their control of how they’re presented. Yeah, it would be nice to just stay in the studio and paint but one has to attend to the business as well. I come from the era of the DIY ethic, the “do it yourself” way of getting things done. Lord knows I’ve tried to let other people do it for me but it just seems they can’t do it right. Ultimately an artist has to be a journeyman of many talents; and own a truck.
Three Days in the Desert
Your Flesh Magazine, 1996, #35
by Anthony Ausgang
“Chance; three days in the desert,” was a philosophy rave set at Whiskey Pete’s casino, just inside Nevada from the California border. Organizer Chris Kraus had promised a mind-bending experience replete with live music, performance art, a set of hotel rooms transformed into art spaces and walks in the desert with an Indian guide. What transpired was a mosh pit of chaospeak, art and two phenomenally inspiring performances, one by DJ Spooky the other by the Chance Band. Top guest of honor was French Philosopher Jean Baudrillard, “the ultimate agent provocateur,” famous for his noodling take on the American Dilemma and post-mechanical age philofodder for intellectuals.
The whole shebang was kicked off Friday by DJ Spooky who, over the course of an hour and a half, wove a illbient rope using sounds sampled from his twin turntables. Mutated by effects boxes and layered over bonus beats and self-generated rhythmic pulses, the samples roamed back and forth between lead and rhythm, creating an aural environment of dreadful ecstasy. The ambiance of chill was so overwhelming that when Marcella Greening grabbed the mike to explain her theoretical take on chaos the effect was one of fragmented parody. The eclectic nature of the event had begun to unfold.
Saturday’s reality check began with a selection of simultaneous hotel room art performances. I caught a reading of lists written on a bus, a brother talking about his cock covered with shit and a woman who talked for a while about working as a stripper in NYC. Chaos was then harnessed by Wall Street trader Douglas Hepworth whose jive talking brokerspeak on “evil securities” was mostly wasted on a crowd that carried portfolios of a different sort. On the floor of the casino chance reigned while in the showroom fractal chaos began its long-winded deflation by the revered Baudrillard, our Jaques Cousteau of the dry world. His oratory of hyperspeak morphed from sound byte to sound byte, gestalting from the mortification of the individual to paradoxical self-negation in the sexual arena. Referring again and again to his platonic involvement with the changing of the millennium and erotic relationship with the post-mechanical age, Baudrillard’s virtual speech became a rambling fractal dis of all things American. His intelligence and singular take on our construction of the contemporary was both stunning and stultifying, what more can one ask of a deconstructionist? His exeunt to thundering applause left the stage open to the Chance Band who began their set behind closed curtains. When PIL committed a similar act of audience neglect in NYC the curtains were ripped down by pissed-off fans. Here a tiny monitor was set up onstage to placate those who still subscribed to the myth of the spectacle. When the curtains did part and MC Baudrillard was hauled back onstage to bust a rhyme there wasn’t nuthin’ on the mike but spit. The audience was squirming when vocalist Amy Stoll cut the clueless rapper short and launched into a magnificent tirade, wailing selections from Nietzsche’s “Twilight of the Idols” over a scramble of samples from Wagner’s “Twilight of the Gods.” Rising from his drumkit, artist Mike Kelly threw roulette chips into the pit and closed the set though the triphoppers kept dancing as the house DJ threw down his megamix and tended the vibe.
Sunday morning found a bleary crowd gathered in the same room for a discussion group including transgender guru Roseane Stone. The proceedings wound to a close as the gamblers cashed in their chips and the practical chance enthusiasts began looking for a ride home. Organizer Chris Kraus had provided a wild time, succeeding in satisfying both the illiterati and the intellectuals. Anthony Ausgang
By Anthony Ausgang
Almost every aspect of the creative process involves brainwashing, information implants, or total allegiance to dogma. From the get-go, as creators we’re told what constitutes art and wrapped in a historical perspective, it gets shoved down our throats like a twelve-inch dildo. Even the most far-outsider or brute knows that a piece of art is being made and not something to fix a hole in the roof.
I decided to wipe my ass with certain aspects of the past and go beyond Post Modernism’s self-limiting coordinates. Gestalting from Spengler’s definition of Eurocentrism with some help from Gardner’s art bible, we can choke on the idea that Western art began at Lascaux, with cave paintings involving the human figure. Those works are thought to date from 14,000 BC and considering our current pole position for the great race starting in the year 2000, that’s a long time to be depicting our species. Once painting, drawing and sculpting were the only methods to leave a visual record of an era and, as much as I feel life drawing is an indispensable technical discipline, my goal is to reduce as much as possible the use of the human figure in the visual arts. It’s one of the few frontiers left for the painting avant-garde to blitzkrieg. Leave the recording of our times with the photojournalists and hordes of home video enthusiasts, let shows like “Cops” and “The Best of Surveillance Video” document your world.
My use of cartoon characters is an attempt to explain the human condition, the unheralded heroics of just staying alive, without resorting to the overt, hammer-on-the-head use of We, the people. In the ritual dances of Bali, many types of animal deities are represented by actors wearing masks; anthropomorphic gods, such as cats, were prime time players in ancient Egyptian polytheism. The adulation that certain cartoon characters get in contemporary Western culture is just the most modern version of this, and they get worshipped at megastores.
I consider the development of cartoon animals the same way that I regard human evolution; it was the cats that first crawled out of the primordial ink and morphed themselves erect on hind legs. As dogs stayed stubbornly down on all fours, cats such as Felix began to openly explore the possibilities of the cartoon universe. The ripped movie palace audiences of the ’30s really dug it, later the first Keane-eyed TV generation got hip.
Like young Butch in “Pulp Fiction”, all of us were set down in front of the TV to watch cartoons and ever since Pop Art kicked the Abstract Expressionists out of Peggy Guggenheim’s living room, that teevee has stayed on 24 hours a day. When LSD hit Hollywood and scriptwriters began dropping acid, TV Guide went psychedelic and true hallucinations hit the vidscreens of Middle America. Herman Munster drives a hot rod to PTA meetings and talking horses dispense advice to suburban husbands. Warhol had discovered early on that, in the panoply of TV, there’s not that much difference between Brando and Brillo, and the art collectors agreed. Museums began to stock up on Pop and what began as counterculture became Culture. The television had become as acceptable an art influence as any plein air landscape.
When my family moved to this country in the early ’60s they treated their television set like an in-house movie theater. We would gather in the living room to watch Lassie, my mother wearing white linen gloves, my father in a suit and tie; myself brushed and shining. Saturday mornings Pops and I sat freaking on Warner Brothers cartoons, the first time either of us had ever seen them. In later years I was to still hold the cartoon world sacrosanct and, unlike Ronnie Cutrone, I never felt the urge to pervert patented cartoon characters. There is a vast difference between putting Woody Woodpecker in an ill situation and thrusting an unidentified cartoon character of one’s own design into the same dilemma. I feel that it’s easier for the viewer of a painting to relate to the universal everyman I’m trying to depict if the player has no prior identity.
Robert Williams has pointed out that art begins with women’s asses, that the accurate rendering of same is often rewarded with accolade. On a more esoteric tip I maintain that the history of Western painting revolves around the depiction of crucial moments in collective or personal destiny. That is why we see a painting of George Washington crossing the Delaware and not eating his cornflakes that morning. If I can’t paint an entire cartoon, I can at least depict the most critical moment of a scenario.
Anyway, it’s been a long time since Alfred Jarry’s “Ubu Roi” managed to provoke a riot on opening night with only its first word “Shitr”. The so called “Fine Arts” are running the risk of becoming a toothless old dog in the front yard fed on milksop grant money; the best it can do is gum issues to distraction. Long before AIDS “victim mentality”, art was about getting laid. What art student hasn’t thought about fucking the nude model in life drawing class? As Bukowski noticed, it’s the small things that drive us to madness: a shoelace that breaks when you’re already late for work, a car that won’t start when you absolutely have to be somewhere. Art is meant to address the fundamental injustices of life, not the manufactured inequities.
The L.A. Riots
By Anthony Ausgang
Wednesday night, I bought a pack of Camels and sat down with Michael Whitmore and Mauricio and watched as helicopters circling fires sent their images of destruction. Newscasters at Parker Center looked scared as kiosks were tilted over and then set on fire. I say “scared” because the commentary was so inane that only a trite word could express their own lack of eloquence. The situation seemed to be getting worse as the calls came in, “Do you need a place to stay?” No, but we do need more beer. The live footage was interrupted by replays of Reginald Denny having his head stove in the bricks and a fire extinguisher. The cameraman weeping and gnashing at his inability to change what was happening. As the night got darker, the horizon, the jagged line of rooftops began to glow and as I stepped out to check the mood of the “hood , I smelled wood and fear. Impossibly, everything seemed to reflect a jumping glowing sick light and the figures on the street seemed to be hunched over in an imperceptibly greater degree the even a few minutes before. I went back in, shaking. They’re at Vermont and Imperial, miles away. But also in Downtown, trashing what they can, newscasters fretting as behind them B-Boys dance and flash hand signs, some push the cameraman or the reporter and they cut to the studio. Back on the street on another channel sparse crowds dash back and forth in the distance, in the foreground, people bent over setting fires and later a police car burns. The cameraman up with the bangers as they turn it over, even as the ammunition in the trunk explodes. This night it is all on television and we make smart comments, fall into silence and I smoke the pack up. The shot gun comes out and leans against the T.V. as though it can transmit to the motherfuckers not to come here. Or as a totem, we’ve seen a few on the street, in the broadcasts and it seems to be a sick way of associating realities together. Us on the couch, the bangers fucking shit up. The newscasters arrive after some action at the New Otani and the windows all sparkle on the street, a million small bits, a thousand points of light. The mayor comes on and the camera and some reason is zoomed in on his mouth, it glistens and looks tight, it is Dada and wet. The next image is of a fireman being shot at and hiding behind their truck as a store goes up in flames. I realize that even though the motherfuckers are way the hell down there, they’re still on Vermont, the street that forms one side of our block. We all break up and go in different directions, some off to bed, some to more T.V. at another house. The last image I see is of a split screen showing two different city blocks in flames. The police are driving past one and the camera of them and the camera in the chopper follows them and as it pulls back, revealing a series of fires on the same street, one per block. They rage without spectators or firemen. I fail to note that the sequence is heading north, and the speeding cars are pointed towards us. I slip into bed and lie awake for some time, it seems that the smell of charred wood is given substance and flows into my nose. There is a silence that disturbs me, and I toss around.
I wake up and stick a smoke in my mouth, turn on the tube and select my pants for the day. The helicopters are showing buildings that I know, and I struggle to interpret what this means. I realize I am looking at Third Street and Vermont. I live several long blocks above where the streets are named, a negative Third Street in effect. Marcy shows up, she has left work and gets busy pulling the hose on the roof and filling buckets. On the street, the minuteros and pinguinos make ice cones and women walk their children. Inside I take out my pistol and regard it for a moment before putting in a loaded clip and filling up the empty one. The bullets are hollow point and I have forty of them. We have thirteen shotgun shells, game load, and the shotgun goes to Marcy, a shell in the chamber and five in the pump. Around three o’ clock, I walk up to the corner, a nightmare trembling makes the air dark and the traffic has become menacing, large groups of nasty motherfuckers are roaming around, some hold pipes and Forty O’s. Cars are backed up on Madison and people begin to jump on them, pounding the windows and pulling at the doors. The crowd on the corner of Vermont and Santa Monica is immense and boils back and forth, the traffic lights are out, and the motherfuckers wander in the streets, threatening cars and screaming unintelligible slogans. I go back inside and the fires are starting now only two blocks away. For the first time I see flames on the T.V. that I can see down the street. The normal sound of the street have been replaced by a deep thudding big American engines rumble and from the insides of these cars come shrieks and scrapes. The soundtrack to destruction, bomb of the bass, a sampled handclap stretched into screaming fucked upness, trucks full of men waving pipes and hammers, drinking and smoking crack. Kick it boyee. Tearing the air apart a million testicles tight up against a gun stock, Nasty girl, the freaks are out and look proud beside their man, the man stops his truck and the bitch gets out and starts picking up rocks, he drives slowly as she tosses bricks into the bed. They turn down the corner and head for the strip mall.
The roar is a rumble bear war as I head up to the corner. The electronics store is surrounded by cars and motherfuckers. On the roof , the owners stand with rifles and at the entrance a few more stand with shotguns. The parking lot is vast and there is no cover for anyone. Then out of the stew, two cars race toward the door, the crowd surges forward, a screamlust deep bomb roar erodes the rhythm of a sound system duel land the plate glass windows go down across the street. The Koreans on the roof open fire and the bullets go into the crowd. I see people go down, and behind me I hear bricks whine as the bullets invade and violate their mass, buildings have become like trees in a logging camp, they must fall and they must burn and we will not be allowed to hide in them today. I run faster than I want to, although my mind looks upon my feet with embarrassment. It can’t be real, can it? I notice blood on the ground and I give in totally to an ecstatic need for more of this. The men hurl back into the cars and people are pumping it up. Four or five large black gang bangers, real mercenaries, I know now who commits torture and shits on the alter, exhort the crowd. They stand in front of the Mexicans and Salvos and rhythmically roar the name, the name. Rodney King. Rodney King. Rodney King. The crowd leans forward, they taste VCR and Big Screen T.V. and with a moan they rush forward, waving pipes and holding bricks. At the moment they rush forward the Blacks melt back so that the mass will absorb the bullets and they can rush as the Koreans reload. The automatics chatter and the crowd pulls back frustrated, a beat mad bear bee horde “Fuck this shit, lets head up to Circuit City” , “Sears, dude”, “Torch the motherfuckers”. Cars of beat mad homeboys, stuffed and oily, homeboy on the C.B., homeboy on the police band, checkin’ it. This is some organized shit strewing and stirring the dumb mothers onto a frenzy. The library is on fire for a while but it doesn’t catch. Back at the studio I stand on the roof with my pistol and Marcy watches the ground . By now the streets are full of looters. Cars pull up, people jump out and return in a few minutes loaded down with something, everything , just any object, plastic plants, radios. As stores are emptied, the crowd on the street takes on different looks, for a while they all have electronics, then they all have plants from the flower shops, then all the furniture comes and the cars come and go. People are laughing and there is joy on their faces as they load up. Today is free day and you can do anything you want.
Occasionally people look interested at our storefronts and my pistol comes out now and again, motherfuckers rattle our bars and drag pipes behind them as they smoke. Clothes and worthless loot scatter the sidewalk and two local crackheads push a shopping cart full of the Styrofoam cups. They argue as the push the cart and finally push it over and scatter the cups screaming one word over and over again in an endless series of differing inflections. The word is motherfucker. They stomp the cupsand head back up towards the stores again. By now, the horde is wavering on the corner of Madison and Santa Monica. Two pillars of smoke are fouling the air and it becomes twilight, dark like the day of the eclipse. A third column reaches into the air, vast mighty and black roiling scream. There are no police and no firemen and we have only seen two police cars all day and they only slowed down as they went past. The fires are mighty and impressive, bloody orange and we feel the heat from them. There is no time to watch T.V. ,so I don’t know what exactly is in flames, I can guess. The crowd is still undecided which direction to go. I look up the street and I see men, black and dressed in colors, Dark blue thick line sequoias squat, they have guns and they’re smoking crack. Shitscream as the air whines bullets, woodchips fly, the sound of bricks taking hits. These motherfuckers have automatics and they spray our street, my building. They are shooting at me. Not me, but me. They don’t see. They don’t care. They shoot lots of bullets. The next day we find empty boxes of 9mm bullets. Each box contains several hundred bullets and there are many empty boxes. By now it is getting dark, the fires rage still, now I see red-orange and sparks, the hordes have left and now Hollywood Boulevard is getting fucked up. It’s as though the last volley was a good-bye, we’ll be back motherfucker.
There is a curfew but still dark figures roam, cars stop and loot is exchanged for drugs that get smoked on the spot. On the roof, I see that the mall is engulfed in flames, silhouetted against them I see figures on the rooftop the hotel two buildings away. I see men with riffles, beer and cigarettes. During the day, they sniped at the Koreans on their roof, but I think that these are friendlies. As I sit on the roof I watch a white guy walk a cocky walk up the street. Fifteen minutes later he comes staggering back, drenched in blood, it seems that his face is oddly shaped. He leans against the studio, tries to peer in, pulling at the bars. I cough and he looks up. wanders around in a daze until a car pulls up and he gets in, is pulled in. Now the mall is burning at its peak, all ten stores are sucking in the air, there are fireballs and the flames roar up fifty feet in the air. Thousands of videotapes burn and the air pumps in like lungs are drawing breath. In front of it a semi-nude crackhead does a Tai-chi dance and the fire crew, finally here, struggles to keep everything else from going up. The police stand with shotguns around them and finally the walls collapse and a roar goes up from the flames, our angel has been raped and the blood flows from between her legs. Back in my driveway, I stand and watch two crackheads get high across the street in a corner. I take out my pistol and aim it, like a target at the range, I have his head in my sights as they light up. The pistol goes back down and I go for a Camel. When I come out, they are gone.