Thursday, September 18, 2014

DEATH TO BUNNY - The lowbrow rut

"All that talent, and not one Goddamn idea!" ~ Hudson Marquez
That's what Hudson told me a couple of years ago, when I was complaining about the rut that lowbrow art was in. Not much has improved since then. There was, and remains, all this promise in the rise of lowbrow art, but it's just being squandered on big eyed girls and fucking bunnies. I keep expecting some magnificent arc of influence to take place. The kind of thread that runs from Bukowski to Trainspotting, or Zap Comix to Cerebus, The Ronettes to the Ramones. But all I see is bunnies and big eyes. I'm exhausted by it. At this point, I don't even want to debate people anymore about the merits of Margaret Keane. If you're convinced that those dull, muddy mass produced Woolworth prints of scruffy, sad kids, that hung over every green sofa in the sixties, was something bold and visionary...well, I don't have the breath anymore. Tim Burton bio pic? Ugh! I can't bash my head against that particular brick wall any longer. Fine, we got Mark Ryden out of the deal. But, there's the rub, right? That is a Pandora's Box if there ever was one.

Ryden is indeed a master painter, and he did take "the Keane thing" to new and interesting heights. But is the art detritus that has been puked up in his wake really worth it? It seems like every batch of art school graduates, having honed their skills to a dull nub, seems only interested in stroking Ryden's fur. Bunnies. Everywhere I go, bunnies.

Now, if an artist taps into an immediately recognizable style, and that "style" can be manipulated into financial security, can I really be mad at him/her? Sure, I can. But I'm not mad, I'm just bored. I've talked (briefly) to Max Neutra. Super nice guy. Strong work ethic. Bunnies are his bread and butter.

I don't know Luke Chueh personally. He's probably a fine human being, and I'm sure he's very happy to be making a living doing what he's doing, and I'm sure he works hard at it. Even if you don't know the name, you know his work, The suicidal bear...and the bunny.

I know, I know, rabbit art ain't nothing new. There's a long history of bunny paintings. My personal favorites were always the dead ones.

So, back around 1998, I sought an audience with Billy Shire, whose legendary La Luz de Jesus Gallery I was foaming at the mouth to show in. I brought Billy crap. It horrifies me to this day, that I actually showed him what I did. Of course, Billy passed on me. Hoping, with each passing year, that I was improving, I kept submitting to La Luz. Year after year, rejected. Matt Kennedy was eventually tapped as gallery director, and I noticed the big eyes and the bunnies were replicating. Spreading like a contagion. There was the occasional great show, but mostly the bunnies were taking over. To be fair to Matt Kennedy, it's my understanding that if he could do what he really wanted to, the focus would be on photography. But bunnies (and big eyes) are good business. Anyway, I stopped submitting to La Luz a few years ago. I didn't think the work I was doing at this point belonged there, if it ever did. Then, lo and behold, I was asked to be in the Coaster Show. My chance to show at La Luz at long last! So, what do I do? Yep...bunnies! I appropriated a dead hare from the Dutch painter Jan Weenix (see top photo) into a series of cliches running from Polka Dot Bunny to Blood Splatter Bunny. I'm kind of a smart ass that way.

Bunny Cliche #1-4

I expected those coasters to be my last word on the subject. I thought that would get it out of my system. Then Daniel Rolnik told me he was opening a gallery, and he wanted me to do something for the first show, a group show called Smile Isle. I have much love for Daniel, and I wanted to do something special for this show. The first time he visited my studio, he pointed to a Woody Guthrie portrait I had done (inspired by a Billy Bragg interview) and said, "That's my favorite!"

Revolution Rock
So, I decided to paint a guitar to echo that, and do one last bunny revolt. I started a collage on the face of the guitar that began to echo some of those Picasso/Braque collaborations. I'm seriously going to act as if that was intentional.

The back of the guitar ended up being a group show itself, with original art  by Nicole Bruckman, Mary Deliossinna, Om Bleicher, Gay Summer Rick, Daniel Rolnik, and printed material from Jennifer Korsen, Little Friends Of Printmaking and Jason Ostro.

I even paid homage to Ray Johnson with some bunny guitar picks.

Making this piece was cathartic. Go ahead, paint your bunnies. Some of my favorite artists paint bunnies: Nicole Bruckman, Jessicka Addams, on and on. Speaking of Nicole, she is one of the artists in Smile Isle too! Here's her piece:

Just One of the Herd by Nicole Bruckman

Awwww! You win! I'll shut up about it now.

Smile Isle opens tonight!
Daniel Rolnik Gallery
1431 Ocean Ave, Santa Monica, CA 90401
reception from 6pm to 11pm

The Song Remains The Same

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Alex Schaefer Feels Even Weirder (Part Two)

My initial conversation with Alex Schaefer got cut short by a heinous act of art terrorism. While the saga of "the last burning bank painting" rages on, I thought I would try to ease Alex's mind, and just talk about other things. How do you think that went?

So, how are you holding up, Alex?
Whatever, you know?! I'm just having fun with it, and when you get to a certain point, where you don't give a fuck...
Alright, let's not rehash all that right now. You told me you used to work on video games. What kind of work did you do?
Well, it was pretty early on in the video game thing, so it was still Sega Genesis, and Super NES stuff that I was doing in the beginning, for five years, and about four years for Disney. I contributed, basically, to every project that Disney worked on from "Little Mermaid" to "Pocahontas" and "The Lion King", all those movies. I also worked on a team that created a completely original Donald Duck game. After that I worked for Insomniac Games, on the team that came out with "Spyro the Dragon". Then, from about 2002 to probably 2008, I was just doing a lot of random stuff. NOT engaging in the art world. But I think a big influence on me was meeting John Kilduff and starting to hang out with him, to be on his show. He had such a different perspective on the art world. You know, he's always made a living as a painter, and he's got a house, and a mortgage.The guy has just never had another job his entire life.He's constantly sold paintings. He's got an eBay account from a month after eBay opened, you know? He had a YouTube account, that was so old...he had all these grandfathered in powers that they took away from people. So, he's always taken advantage of technology. He's got a whole painting booth set-up, with walls and counter weights, and he goes to every single plein air painting thing, up and down the coast, from San Diego to Laguna to Malibu to San Francisco, and sells his work. He does art fairs, all the time. The plein air is a little easier to sell then if you're just doing crazy, fine-arty stuff. It's easier to sell, just generally, to people. They understand it. To a lot of people, painting means representation. But the other thing that's hard to sell, and John's a great plein air painter...I'm good at it too. I've got a good color sense. People complement my colors and light. You know, I kind of get that really well. But the sloppy stuff, the painterly stuff, is always a harder sell. People think it's easy. It's just a different kind of hard. It's not Robert Williams butt-clenching, wrist-straining doodling, which has it's own pain in the ass suck factor.
People don't realize how easily that can go wrong. I find it really difficult to paint super loose.
Yeah...and you put it on, because you like that. You know, I read Matisse saying that it's always been the illusion of spontaneity. You just sort of play it, but it's happening. That's like when John gets on the treadmill, or he's painting on his bike, or whatever. It's a way of putting on that out of control-ness. I can see why certain artists get fucked up and paint, like de Kooning. I mean, I understand that. To me, it's like jazz. Painting is like jazz, and I'm into it like that. It's not like installation art.
I was going to ask you about music. You seem like a classical music guy.
Here's the truth about me and music, I grew up in a home where my parents just didn't listen to music. They had maybe five LPs. Half of them were Christmas carols, and maybe they had 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' and the best of Bread, a Neil Diamond album, and then they had a few eight tracks in the car. They might pop in Dionne Warwick, or Air Supply. My parents had cheesy taste in music, and they never listened to it. So, I didn't grow up with that habit. I kind of missed out. I'm glad that I have friends that are totally into music and music history. I have them come over and just type shit into Spotify. You should just type a list for me someday of rad bands. Because, you know, I had not a lot of exposure to music.
So, when you work in here, you just work in silence?
I do, often. Yeah. But I'm trying to learn to use the music, for the energy it creates, rather than just, I don't know, drink.
I assume you went to art school.
I did, yeah. I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena from '89 to '92. Art Center is an interesting place, because there's always a flow of teachers coming and going. There are only a handful of teachers, at least in the illustration department, that are just, around, you know? Then there's a lot of teachers that just come and go. I've taught there for about ten years, so I've been around for a while. But I've never been someone whose been engaged in the school life...I'm going off on a tangent. But I had some good teachers. There was some good timing that happened between me and some teachers that I came across. I was kind of late coming into the art game.I think I'm late just figuring out everything. I hope I live a long time. My grandma's 98, so...maybe I'll figure it out one day. But I came into the very notion that you could be an artist late. I had no idea what I was going to do when I was 17, and I graduated high school early...and I was clueless to life. I mean, I liked math and I thought I could go into science. But I was never really super into anything. I was good at a lot of things. I could sing well. I could harmonize. I could pick up music super easy. I could write well. But none of these things really caught fire for me. I had some kids I was in high school with, that were into movies, and then I kind of got into movie make-up, special effects, for a little bit. I volunteered to work as a P.A. on a couple student films, and that was just a nightmare. I was not cut out for that industry. I was just a mouse. I was a pipsqueak...and I didn't have any stories to tell. So, I started doing a comic strip. I saw in the newspaper that there were political cartoons and stuff, and they said to come on down to the journalism department, and we'll give you some pencils, and you can fucking draw a cartoon or something...and I GOT that somehow. I would get an article. I would read it. I would draw something. It was like, oh wow, illustration. That's what this is. Then I started taking classes and tried to put together a portfolio, and applied to Art Center and a bunch of other schools and got rejected completely. I just sucked. It was terrible. But I stuck with it for another year and a half., and I worked down in San Diego. Then I went to Mira Costa College and I took drawing classes. So, the second time I applied to Art Center, I got in. Then I was just into painting. I just loved it, and it came to me pretty naturally. The way that I understood music, color and light was easy to figure out...and that's what I teach now.
 So, you're still teaching there?
I do, yeah. Although I'm starting to put together some private classes. Like a six to eight student class at a place in the brewery that has the room. I want to start doing more of that. I feel guilty that Art Center costs as much as it costs. It's not just Art Center. I was talking to someone else last night at Blackstone about hoe their son is getting into debt, to the tune of  $48,000.00 a year, going to some college, getting a degree in something. I mean, my God, you're going to end up $150,000.00 in  debt, six percent interest rate?! That's a crime against the future! Fuck these vampires, man! The government should just come in and make it zero percent interest on these loans, and force the colleges to, across the board lower their tuition and force the loan amounts down and cram all that shit down to a reasonable level. Because it doesn't lend to a spirit of innovation and creativity that we need for a vibrant idea-based economy, if some kid graduates in all this student loan debt, and they just want any kind of job to start making money. It's...whatever. It's all part of the suck. 

Note: There will be a part three of this interview. However, I make no promises as to when that will happen. In the meantime, you can usually find Alex at either Blackstone Gallery or The Hive.

Monday, July 21, 2014

ArtExpo SD: An Arty Alternative to Comic-Con

Badges for Comic-Con 2014 have sold out. You can, of course, purchase badges from a broker. "For a price, Ugarte, for a price." However, there is a great art-packed alternative, walking distance from the big show, and it's FREE. Art Expo SD at the Wonder Bread Factory, will feature 150 artists exhibiting across two giant warehouse floors. The event was created by the students of the New School of Architecture + Design. My old friends at Cartwheel Art are curating a section of the show that will include my other friends, Intellectual Property Prints. Ryan McIntosh is one of my favorite living (and thinking) artists, and he will be holding down the fort for I.P.P. Musician/artist Rafael Reyes will be there signing copies of his book "Living Dangerously". Oh yeah, and I'll be there too. Below is a sneak peek at some of the incredible prints that Intellectual Property will have on hand. it's going to be a great event! Did I mention that it's FREE!

Art Expo SD runs July 24 through July 26
121 14th Street
San Diego, California 92101

Ryan McIntosh

Darcy Yates

Eric Joyner

Gregory Siff

Jason Shawn Alexander

JAW Cooper

Ryan McIntosh

Ryan McIntosh

Ryan McIntosh

Ryan McIntosh

Daniel Rolnik

Gary Baseman

Student designed flyer

Monday, July 14, 2014

Alex Schaefer Feels Weird (part one)

A few months ago, Matjames Metson and I were talking about Alex Schaefer. I had been thinking about doing an interview with Alex, and I was postulating that a hundred years from now (if the air is still breathable), and people study the Ponzi schemes, the toxic mortgages, and the Global Financial Crisis which took place at the dawn of the 21st Century, that Alex will stand as the artistic documentarian of our avarice. Matjames listened to what I was saying, sighed, and said, "Well, I hope so." The doubt in his voice was understandable. These are cynical times and the public's consumption for art tends to be high in calories and seriously lacking in any nutritional value. Everybody knows the game is rigged, and they'd rather not think about it.

Shortly after that conversation, I ran into Alex at a show. He told me that he felt weird. He said he was done with the burning bank series. He said he felt weird about the gallery system, weird about painting, weird about the art world, weird about the world in general. Just weird. I told him that was a conversation I wanted to have, that THAT was the interview I wanted to do. So we juggled calendars and set a date. I parked in the lot next to the "Gronk building" on Spring Street where Alex has his studio (and where the attendant fleeced me for fifteen bucks). Almost as soon as I walked into the studio Alex started talking in rapid fire bursts of frantic energy. This wasn't going to be like any interview I've ever done. It wasn't going to be like an interview at all. I was just going to listen to Alex unabashedly dissect the seedy underbelly of the art world. I rushed to turn on my recorder, to catch him mid-screed. see that in the gallery scene, or an artist trying to establish themselves, with a logo, and a thing. I just repel against that. That's why I quit video games. I did video games and made a killing for ten years. I was like, bulging my eyes out with the amount of money I was making, as an artist for fucks sake. But I just couldn't stay in it...and the irony is, everybody that stayed in it, these are people I even went to art school with, they're CEOs now. They're big money, but they look at me and they're jealous. And I look at them, and I'm jealous. They look at me like, 'Dude, you're free man!' You're overhead is digestible, you're hustling, you're making art, you're in the art world...blah, blah, blah. Then to me, I just look at my life as just a shambles most of the time. I'm just jerking around from here to there, and have no clue. I look at them, and they've got a house, kids, normal. That's how I grew up. I grew up really normal. I think that's why it's hard for me to not be - to be abnormal. I was into metal. I thought punk sucked, or it was scary and I didn't get it. For whatever reason, I don't know how I wound up an artist. I mean, I feel like I'm still learning to rebel. But I've had a lot of misconceptions about the art world, just being cast aside, through just sheer reality. The dream, and it's the same impulse, of...we want to have it made. Everybody wants to have it made. You want to be a millionaire. You want to win the lottery. You want to have it made in the shade, so you can just live like an American Express commercial for the rest of your life. So, some of these fantasies are like, if I get an article written about me in this magazine or that, then that's what it's going to take...or if I get into this gallery or this scene, that's what it's going to take. I've seen these things happen, and it's not it. They're with you for a while, or --- the thing I always have to add as a caveat too, is you are the common denominator in every bad experience and relationship that you have in your life too. So, if you're like, 'God, my relationships all suck.' Well, you sucked along with it. So, what are you bringing to it that's sucking. What am I bringing to it that's sucking. When I got out of video games, I spent about seven years just completely disengaged from the art world. I had enough money, and I was starting to teach, which supplemented my income, and I would get an occasional sale or something would happen. But I just spent a shit ton of time doing crazy weird work, but not engaging with the art scene. See, that's where I lacked. I had no presence in the art scene at all. Then I had this huge publicity thing happen with the bank paintings. It was just a weird thing. It was a flash, but there wasn't any kindling around, that I had cultivated through a network, and that's my own fault. I don't believe that it's "over" now. You know, 'Oh it's OVER!' I remember a teacher telling me this happens a lot of places in her life. Where every now and then, you're going to do a drawing or a painting that's like really great...she's talking to an art student. So like, it's really good, it's gonna blow your mind, and all your friends are going to go, 'Holy crap!', and you won't be able to do it again for months, or years. But that incredible painting, that you were able to just somehow pull off, that was beyond your ability, will become your new normal eventually...and you'll continue to have those experiences if you continue to push yourself. So, having this crazy sale on Ebay, or whatever - to me, I look at that as, well, that's the future regular price for what I'm doing, and even today, it's totally conceivable. I mean I know people that sell well, doing schmaltzy ass landscapes and nudes  for 25, 50, 200 thousand...big massive history paintings, cowboys and Indians, Chinese guys making railroads, shit like the Autry Museum, those are hammering for a lot of dough. That's a whole other level, the auction world. I'm just starting to fiddle with that. That's something where you've got to have a lot of fucking skin in the game before you get into that. You've got to have cohorts, and co-conspirators that are part of your thing. In the beginning, it's not a bad thing to tell collectors, to give them a really good deal, tell them 'You're now in Art Club, and the first rule of Art Club is you don't talk about prices...and if anybody brings up the subject matter, you make them feel as rude as if they asked a lady how old she was.' You just defer the topic completely. Then you have a conspirator. It's too soon to talk about how cheap you got a Keith, or an Alex. 'Fuck you! Fuck you!' Another problem is these collectors don't know shit. They have the same attitude as the artists, that the gallery is going to make me. I'm going to get made, like the mob or something. The collectors think the same thing. That they're going to buy this work really expensive at this she-she gallery and they're going to do everything to make it go up in value, but where's the Gertrude Steins', and the Sarah Steins' stepping up? And the Barnes', who'd have lectures at their homes and talk about art and shit like that? Collectors can fuck with you, in a good or a bad way, but most of them just are clueless. You get in a good collection, you're on their wall, they talk about you. A bad collection, and I've been collected by someone like this, where everything just went straight to storage. they loved every piece that I did, and it's just been locked away like the Ark of the Covenant. I remember really wanting to get one of those in a show, and it hadn't seen the light of day in eight years, since I painted it. I finally convinced him to show it, and getting to the painting was like the beginning of Get Smart. It was this wine and storage space in Santa Monica, security gate at the parking, security gate to get in the lobby, I.D. check and a key to get in the room, then your own thing has a key, and it's all fans and perfect temperature. Every painting was hermetically sealed, in a little box, with a little document on the outside, a Polaroid of the piece, and all the information, what was paid for it, when it was bought, blah, blah, blah. what the fuck are you doing dude?

But Alex it's not art anymore, it's money! Savings accruing interest.
Well, I guess?! The guys got offices in Beverly Hills, and New York. He's got a condo on the east coast, where his ex-wife lives with the kids, and he's got a place in Santa Monica. It's an Art Deco, beautiful place. He's got wall space. Fucking A! It's weird. It's all part of the 'fun'. But see, eventually someone will crack that open and that's the cool thing about's there, and hopefully my material processes are good enough that they haven't cracked too much, you know. I know that if they're sealed up, they're not gonna get sun bleached.
There's a degree to which you just have to let the paintings go, and do what they will.
Dude! You know this show that I'm selling all these pieces at  Blackstone this month? Literaly, I was just going to take all those pieces, and rent a haul trailer, do a big loop around California and just leave the paintings. Just leave them. Leave them in alleys, parking lots, just leave a little note on it. I don't have room for this. I'm an artist. Hey, have a free painting. You want it? I was just over it. But then a friend of mine convinced me to try to sell them. It's not my normal thing to try to just sell, sell. sell.
Some of them you were giving away, right?
The drawings, yeah. That was the High Roller bonus, you get a beautiful drawing. But yeah, I can see why artists burn pieces. you get to a certain point where you're like, ugh! There's a famous quote by someone that said, 'Show me an artist who doesn't sell, and I'll show you a man with a storage problem.' Then I get hope too, because like, Manet's 'Olympia' hung on the wall of his studio for twelve, fourteen years, unsold...and Manet did everything every hustling artist tries to do. They rented their own gallery space to try to flog their own stuff. They timed it so their exhibition was at the exact same time as the Salon was having it's show. So, that was like Art Basel now, and there were little satellite fairs that were all around the big shoop-da-doo! It wasn't any different. So, Manet, renting a storage space and throwing all his paintings up on the wall, that's like everyone at Art Basel Miami renting a U-haul and putting lights in it, trying to sell their own work. There's nothing new under the sun, as long as art has been like a commodity. As opposed to, well, you was different for certain artists, where you were made.
If you had a Medici behind you.
Or, if you were Leonardo, it was like working for the Defense Department. You worked for the king, so you got an apartment, you got all your food taken care of, travel, art supplies. He didn't pay for anything. He just got to sit around and make art, draw and THINK. Although the majority of Leonardo Da Vinci's work was like military stuff, armaments, towers. But he was taken care of. It was different. 
I was worried that I was gonna get here and you wouldn't feel weird anymore.
Ha...You know, it's just the realization that getting into the gallery doesn't mean your 'made'. I had a lot of fucking sparks and selling that just happened to me...because I did something, then it got a story and everyone picked up on it, then it was a news thing, and those works were easy to sell. It's harder to sell nudes and landscapes, and I'm really glad that I'm doing it at Blackstone. Part of it for me, is to say to collectors that I know everyone wants a fucking wheat field. But would you NOT buy a Van Gogh because it was just a painting of people walking down an alley, or going to church or whatever. People don't understand. Oh, it's a wheat field! It's a flaming bank, ack! If you believe that the painting is going to go up, everything I do is gonna go up, along with that painting. So, the gallery sold the pieces as long as it was easy to sell. The last communication I had, I'm not naming names, but people can do research and probably figure it out, they said, 'Alex, do you have anymore burning bank paintings?' I said I had one more and that I wasn't going to do any fucking more. It's over. That could have been my pet rock, or whatever, but fuck that! I'm not into it. So I said, 'Yeah, I have one left and it's the last one.' They said they want to buy it for $3,000. I thought, just, fuck! I just sold a kick-ass landscape to some collector in Hong Kong, off the internet for a thousand. Now they want to sell the burning bank painting, it's the last one, it's got provenance, and I'm going to get fifteen hundred bucks out of a cut? And I have the piece. It's mine, it's in MY hands. No paperwork ever comes between artists and the galleries, you know? They keep it fast and loose as possible. So I said, "Here's what you do, tell the guy who wants it, it's $5,000 or I'm going to burn it. Fuck you! It's my painting." Then he came back and he said, "Okay, I'll give you $2,500 of the cut." So that means you'll still get half of what you want, which is $5,000. So that immediately kind of made me feel like I was getting dicked around with. That's a huge jump in a 50/50 split, you know? That's suddenly turning into ten grand. I said, "No. You should get more than that. Tell the guy, five thousand or I'm going to burn it."
At this point, I asked Alex if I could see the painting in question, the last burning bank. He got up and started pouring through stacks of paintings. He couldn't find it. He started to panic. For the next hour we searched the studio to no avail. Alex was really upset and he asked me to leave. I found out when I got home that the painting had been taken for ransom by a secret and mysterious gallery order.

I'll post part two of this interview in a couple weeks, if the situation resolves itself.

In the meantime, you can see other work by Alex Schaefer at:

Blackstone Gallery

Summer Flies at Flower Pepper Gallery
now through August 1st

Masters Of Illusion at bG Gallery (Bergamot)
July 19 - August 20

Ultimate Beach at bG Gallery (Ocean Ave.)
July 26 -August 9

He is also frequently found taking part in the crazy circus that is The Hive Gallery.

Fair warning to the prudes, some of the photos below may offend your delicate sensibilities.

"Alex Schaefer-style" painter paints coming soon to Urban Outfitters?

Alex confronting the storage problem.

Lucky Strikes

Alex and his one quart Pyrex coffee "mug".

The color values of money.