Monday, December 26, 2011

5 Questions With LOU BEACH

If you don't know the name Lou Beach, shame on you. You haven't been paying attention. You probably have Lou Beach art in your home right now. Go pull out your copy of Brian Eno's Headcandy...

or one of those Weather Report albums you inherited from your dad.

Maybe you have some old issues of Mother Jones, or Wired in that growing stack of magazines (that you've been meaning to take to the recycling bin). Lou could be in there. Maybe you're a book hoarder like myself. Lou could be lurking on your shelves. Maybe you've kept a NY Times from the day your daughter was born. Lou might be in there. Lou Beach, much like Elvis, is everywhere!

Lou Beach works. Somehow, somewhere, you have seen his work. His surreal collages, and graceful illustrative panache has touched your life whether you know it or not. His work is at turns droll, delicate, dizzying, psychic, and arcane, but never dull.

He's also recently turned his hand to writing, with 420 Characters just published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt this month. If you didn't find it under your tree yesterday, go out and get it. It's a pithy collection of stories that have been whittled down to bite-size nuggets to satiate your social network attention span.

I've been a fan (what a loathsome word) of Lou's since the late seventies, so I approached him for an interview with some trepidation (it's always so disheartening when these people turn out to be soul-less jackals). Breathe easy friends, he ain't one of those. The man could not have been nicer!

1) As surreal as your imagery is, everything seems to fit just right. I imagine you must use Photoshop to get the sizes correct. Can you share a little about your process, and materials? I'm especially curious about what you use as a binder. I've been playing with self-levelling gel (with mixed results).

 Lou: What a mixed media question. I only use Photoshop for my editorial illustration jobs. It allows me to resize and edit quickly which is essential with many of the last minute deadlines. For my personal collage work I use Itoya O'Glue...archival, dries clear. As an editorial illustrator I am asked to solve a visual create an image that will draw the viewer in to read the story, or buy the record, or open the book. To that end I often think about the assignment before going to bed and quite often a solution will suggest itself during the limbo time between dreaming and waking. For the personal work I just play...bring images together and shift them about on the table and through some internal and mysterious logic they "click" into place and the piece sort of creates itself. There is definitely an element of chance in the process that I quite enjoy.

2) Of the vast amount of art you've created for records, books, and magazines, which are you fondest of, and are there any you regret doing?
Lou: Really there are far too many in both categories to list.........I've been doing this for a very long time. I have boxes full of work that I wouldn't show because it is either  very dated or I had to conform to the wishes of the client and it didn't reflect on what I would have preferred to do. I'm proud of much of my work, though like any creative endeavor, you have's a sine curve.

3) It seems that a bit of the well-heeled pretension inherent in "High Art" is seeping into Lowbrow, while the crude, wild abandon of Lowbrow is being seen in first tier artists (like John Currin). Do you see the line between the two schools blurring a bit?

Lou:To be honest, I don't follow art too closely, it's more by chance that I'll come across work....I DO go to galleries and museums but I'm not up on trends. I don't read Art Forum or Juxtapoz. It does seem evident though that the lines have blurred and I think that's artists we are all image makers, art workers and where the products of our labors is shown is secondary to the making, in my opinion...the rest is politics.

4) A lot of "420 Characters" really reads like poetry. Almost like status updates from Bukowski. It's a lot of fun to read. Could you share one that didn't make it into the book?

 Lou: Oh there are hundreds...we couldn't put everything in, and besides, I've kept writing since the book was initially put together. But here's a recent one:

HE BROUGHT her over for our approval, the woman for whom he’d left his wife, children. We met her suspended between judgment and acceptance, offered her tea. She asked for vodka. Miriam hesitated; I waited for her to say that we had none. Instead she brought out a bottle from the freezer and we proceeded to drink Russian style. The next morning when they left, Miriam and I agreed that we did not care for her, or him.

5) You've been on road trips with Billy Shire. What's the most trouble you two got up to?

Lou: Without a lawyer and marriage counselor present, I'm afraid I can't answer that. Frankly, Billy and I are getting a bit old for the kind of trouble that might be of interest to your readers. We saw some lovely sunsets.

Thanks Lou!
(He insisted I call him Lou)
All photos courtesy (and copyright) of Lou Beach.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

5 Questions With PAUL CHATEM

That Phineas Taylor Barnum may never have actually uttered his oft quoted maxim about suckers is somewhat fitting. He saw the potential in "branding" far ahead of the pack. He figured out a way to profit on peoples fears and depravities. The clown college that still bears his name is, by all accounts, harder to get into then Harvard. He was shrewd and brilliant. He was also a shyster and con artist, but more than anything else, he was the quintessential businessman. He rose to prominence at a time when great advancements were being made in agriculture, manufacturing, and transportation. Advancements that gave rise to new business models, and new Barnums.

I mention all this because, for me, the art of  Paul Chatem seems to reflect the era just after Barnums' death. The aftermath. The detritus, if you will. The dawn of the 20th Century. The decades when giants of industry were simultaneously propelling mankind toward incredible achievements, and gunking up the gears with unparalleled greed. Chatem's paintings depict hellish scenes rife with shady, mustachioed plutocrats, multi-faced Keystone cops, and damsels in distress.

However, these aren't merely "paintings". These are intricately designed vignettes with fully functioning gears and hand cranks. The viewer is no mere voyeur in these Carny nightmares, but becomes a willing accomplice. Chatem renders all this in beautifully aged tints and bold linework that loosely reference his most cited artistic influences (E.C. Segar,  Max Fleischer), and conceptually echo musical ones (Charlie Patton, Tom Waits).

 Although Chatem's work is immediately striking, and engaging, this ain't front-loaded stuff. This is the kind of art that sticks to you. These painting follow you home. Much like Todd Brownings "Freaks", you can't unsee these things. Paul Chatem is, hands down, one of the most compelling artists working today. Oh, and did I mention he's colorblind?!

 Naturally, I had some questions:

1) Your work is a combination of various skills (carpentry, engineering, and painting). How did this marriage of disciplines evolve?
Chatem:  "I've done whatever it took to pay the bills to get my painting career off the ground. For every job I worked, no matter how menial it was, I took that knowledge or skill I gained and and applied it to my artwork. Over the years I've worked as a carpenter, prop maker for films, scenic and mural painter, art director, ditch digger, truck driver, movie projectionist, and on and on. From all these jobs I've learned a little bit about a lot of stuff, and I try to bring it all to the table every time."

2) The paintings seem to seethe with oily businessmen who are unable to hide their innate hungers, all the while spinning their gears. Going out on a limb here, do you think the lessons of the Industrial Revolution (setting a new standard for greed and corruption, etc.) have been largely lost on us?
Chatem: "I definitely believe that most people don't think about how much the world has changed since the industrial revolution. From my perspective most of the problems we have these days has come from the greed of competition, where everyone is trying to top the next guy without thinking of the long term consequences. I love modern technology and what it has given us, but what scares me the most is how fast things have changed. Because of how technology has made our lives easier, the worlds population has gone from just over one billion people in 1900 to over six billion people just one hundred years later. We've come so far so quickly, like pulling a rubber band to its limit, eventually something is going to snap back or break."

3) I understand you're color blind, and see limited reds and greens, but the reds in your work are quite vibrant. How do you get around the color obstacle?
Chatem: "I had a lot of trouble when I first started painting, but it's gotten easier over the years. I still make mistakes, but I know color theory and I keep my paints labeled and organized. For the most part I just paint what looks good to me and don't worry about what other people see."

4) Your paintings have a wonderfully weathered, shopworn quality to them. Without giving away too many secrets, how do you achieve that aged look?
Chatem: "When I started out I had different techniques I used for various projects, eventually I started to integrate these techniques together and I came up with what I'm doing now. It's a mixture of washes, dry brushing, letting some paint dry half way then scraping it, some sanding and a little old fashioned splattering."

5) What's your favorite Tom Waits song?
Chatem: "I love it all, but my go-to song is 'Falling Down'  from the album BIG TIME. It was the first Tom Waits CD I bought and still my favorite."

Mr. Chatem is currently gearing up for his next big show at the SHOOTING GALLERY SF from April 14 to May 5, 2012.

All photos courtesy (and copyright) of Paul Chatem.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

5 Questions With JAW Cooper

Alright, first things first. That line! The art of JAW Cooper has this sleek, elegant, sinewy line. It's effortless and seductive as hell. It's the kind of line that few people can pull off. Mucha mastered it, James Jean comes pretty close, but Jessica Cooper inhabits that line completely.

Cooper studied at Otis (under such luminaries as Nathan Ota and Bob Dob), but the bulk of her skills are self taught. The daughter of two biologists, Jessica grew up travelling the world, all the while filling countless sketchbooks to amuse herself on the fly.

Her paintings have the same delicate grace as a Hiroshige woodblock, but seem to dwell in the forests of myth, like half-remembered dreams.

If you haven't frequented her Blog, you're missing out. It is the most generous, fan-friendly, little cyber-window into the working process that I've seen any artist offer. She's even been known to give work away when something fails to meet her standards!

Cooper is a very busy girl. Currently included in the MondoPOP group show "Taetrum et Dulce" in Rome (alongside Isabel Samaras and others), she is also feverishly preparing 8-12 new pieces for the mini-solo show "ERODE" at the WWA Gallery in February. So, I'm very grateful that she took time out to chat with me a bit.

1) We must talk about music! I discovered we have something in common. We both make specific play lists to listen to for different projects. Your work virtually oozes musical influence, but I can never get a direct line on the source material. Sometimes I think your work echoes dreampop, or opera, or Kate Bush. Can you share a bit of a recent play list and how it related to a certain piece?

Cooper:  "Oh yes! Music has a great influence over my work. I personally love old school hip hop and alternative music (a strange mix, I know) but my work is most influenced by the latter. I am drawn to songs that are haunting, creepy, beautiful, unearthly, perhaps a bit sad, and that tell a story. Someone recently described my work as being illustrations of a mythology from a time and place that has never existed. This really resonated with me and I think the music I listen to while making art helps me tune in to those feelings of nostalgia and magic. My play list for my last series "Tarnished" included:

Moonlight Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven
Pan's Labyrinth Lullaby by Javier Navarrete
Jardin d'hiver by Benjamin Biolay
End Of May by Keren Ann
Raphaƫl by Carla Bruni
Lovely Bloodflow by Baths
Won't Want For Love (Margaret in The Taiga) by The Decemberists
The White Whale by Beirut
Sovay by Andrew Bird
Snow Owl by The Mountain Goats
Little Yellow Spider by Devendra Banhart
...juuust to name a few."

2) Your pencil sketches are devastatingly beautiful. What are your preferred pencils (and paper)?
Cooper:  "Oh, well thank you. My preferred pencils are prisma col-erase in carmine red, true blue, and Tuscan red, as well as regular graphite pencils in HB-4B. My favorite paper is heavyweight Stonehenge, bought in large individual sheets not the kind bound in a pad. I have tried a variety of papers and have found this smooth, heavyweight, printmaking paper to be by far the best for my particular process. It is creamy and smooth but with enough tooth to make both detail work and tone-building a breeze. Additionally it is just transparent enough to allow me to transfer my drawings via light box, while sturdy enough not to warp or bubble when I then mount it to museum board using matte medium, so I can paint on it without compromising it's structural integrity. Stonehenge comes in a variety of colors, but I usually find that it is best to buy white and then tone it myself, after transferring the drawing and mounting it to board, for greater control over the color and tone."

3) In addition to the obvious natural elements in your work, there's always a strong feminine presence. Even when you render women in peril, they come across as strong, defiant, and conquering. How much of yourself is in these women, and have you struggled with any gender bias in the art world?

Cooper:  "Art made by girls who draw girls is often perceived as superficial and the gender of the creator can soften the impact of the sexual aspects of the work. This can be a blessing to female artists who find beauty in the feminine form but do not want their work to be perceived as hyper-sexual or "pervy." In my case it is a curse as I prefer my "perv" quotient to be as high as possible. Not to say that the girls that I draw are purely sexual beings, they can be strong, defiant, and conquering, as well as vulnerable. I just do not think that these things have to be mutually exclusive and I certainly do not want their strong sexuality to be downplayed. For this very reason, I chose to make art under the name J.A.W. Cooper (an abbreviation of my full name) to disguise my gender."

4) You've lived all over the world. Where do you feel most at home (and why)?

Cooper: "Of all the places that I have lived, the fondest memories that I have are of Sweden. However, I really can feel at home anywhere as long as I have a little bit of privacy and can set up my space to my liking. Growing up on the move was an amazing experience and certainly instrumental in shaping my attitudes toward other cultures and ways of living, not to mention my insatiable curiosity, enthusiasm for learning, and sense of adventure." 

5) Lastly, what is the most valuable thing you've learned as a working artist, that can't be taught in art school?

Cooper: " It took me years to learn what my time is worth and to have the courage and confidence to expect to be compensated adequately for my work. Another tool that comes with experience is the ability to say "no." As creative individuals it is easy to be caught up in the enthusiasm of a potential client's vision, and our desire to please often pushes us to settle for less than we are worth, work for people who are unreliable (or worse, friends and family), or take on jobs that will ultimately be more of a time-suck than an opportunity for growth and promotion. I still struggle with this on a daily basis, and I have to say that I think that the best preventative measure that you can take to avoid these traps is to have a reliable job (in the art/creative field, not at Starbucks) so that you never say "yes" out of desperation to pay bills or because of boredom. Stay busy and productive and you will naturally have to be more discerning in the projects and commitments that you make."

Thanks Jessica!

Calendar of events for JAW Cooper:

Taetrum et Dulce at MondoPOP (Rome) 12/10/2011 - 1/21/2012
Blue Canvas Magazine Issue 11 Launch Event (L.A.) 1/12/2012
G1998 x Adult Swim at Gallery 1998 (L.A.) 1/13/2012
Erode at WWA Gallery (L.A.) 2/17/2012

All photos courtesy (and copyright) of JAW Cooper.

Monday, December 5, 2011

5 Questions With ISABEL SAMARAS

Full disclosure here, I connect with the paintings of Isabel Samaras on a profound and personal level. You see, when I was about seven or eight years old, I had to stay home from school one day because I was ill. I was plied with Nyquil or Robitussin and cherry Sucrets, curled up on the couch, under a blanket, in front of the television. Channel 9 used to play a full day of classic, campy sit-coms (I Dream Of Jeanie, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, etc.). That one sick day, under a medicinal haze and fever, I saw all those shows in a very different way. The undercurrents of lust, the sexual innuendo, the oddity of some of the relationships. That day was a reckoning, and those characters have remained a bit distorted for me ever since.

Isabel Samaras has a lot of fun with these characters. She plops them into deadly serious scenes that echo Caravaggio and Boticelli (just to name two), and renders them all with a classical technique. Her work is wry, often hysterical, but infused with a certain amount of dark menace. The thing I love the most about her as an artist is that she doesn't stand still. While a lot of the other big names in the lowbrow movement seem content to keep churning out the same painting over and over again, Isabel Samaras keeps exploring new ideas, new obsessions.

I first contacted her with some esoteric technical questions about her varnishing process, and she was prompt and thoroughly helpful in reply. I'm thrilled that she's agreed to be the first artist in the 5 Questions series!

1)  I have to ask, what's your favorite T.V. show of all time?

Isabel:  "It's funny, if I sit and think about it I'm sure I'd come up with something really smart to say but the very first thing that popped into my head was "The Addams Family" -- and I don't necessarily think it's truly #1 FTSoAT (Favorite TV Show of All Time), but it was so *different* from everything else that was on when I was a kid.  It really clicked with me, but not just because of the gothy "alternative lifestyle" the Addams were living (because the Munsters were on at the very same time), the appeal was more about the very adult, spicy relationship between Gomez and Morticia.  When other TV couples were sleeping in separate beds and leading almost platonic lives, these two were percolating with a mutual love and attraction for each other that brought color to a b/w show.  And in a conformist world they were utterly unapologetic about who and what they were. It really helped me realize that being different wasn't just okay, it was fantastic.

All that said, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is probably my actual favorite TV show, and, along with "Firefly", the only ones I own on DVD.  

At this point I could start rattling off a list (the original "Star Trek", "Battlestar Galactica", and of course "Batman"...) but you asked for one, and that's the best I can do at narrowing it down!"

2) You employ an old masters glazing technique in your work that is very painstaking in application. What is the most difficult aspect of your process?

Isabel:  "Ferreting out the ideas and making the time.  At any given moment there's a manic swirl of stuff going on and my brain is usually set on "FrappĆ©", so it can be hard to shove everything else aside to focus on letting the ideas properly steep so they can be decanted onto a surface.  I tend to work from a very tight sketch, so the first phase of painting is usually pretty breezy, right up until I hit that point of "Oh hell, this isn't working!"  Most every painting ends up being a battle of wills between the inner critic on my left shoulder and the encouraging booster on my right.  And I'd probably never finish *anything* if I didn't have deadlines and need to slap a coat of varnish on 'em -- because there's always "one more thing" I could/should do."

3) What is the most used brush in your arsenal?
Isabel:  "I'm a big fan of filberts -- used flat they're like a soft cat's paw, turned to their side they have a nice sharp edge. I have all different brands and types of hair, but the size I like the best is about the same size as my index finger tip (usually an 8 or 10 depending on the maker).  I also have a lot of customized brushes that I've cut with razors to get the shape I want or whittle down the hairs so I can paint eyelashes, etc."

4) If you could have apprenticed under any artist ever, who would you choose?
Isabel:  "That's an easy one:  Ingres.  Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres totally knocks my socks off."

5) Lastly,  I see on Facebook that people send you really cool things in the mail. Christmas is coming. What do you want Santa to bring you?

Isabel:  "More filbert brushes, Julie Newmar's new book, some good dark chocolate, and a couple plane tickets to Barcelona.  A time machine wouldn't be bad either -- if I could go back and paint at night while the other me was sleeping I could really get on top of my To Do list."

Isabel Samaras is currently planning Art-world domination from her secret lair in San Francisco, and I want to thank her immensely for chatting with me!

You can look forward to seeing her newest works at these upcoming events:

"Dark Pop IV" at Last Rites in NYC, March
"Juxtapoz 18th Anniversary Show", at Copro Nason gallery in LA, also March
"Taetrum et Dulce" at MondoPop, Italy, opens Dec. 10th
"Garamania" at FOE Gallery, Northhampton, MA in... Feb?
...and maybe best of all, her big as-yet-untitled show at Varnish Fine Art in SF in November 2012!!!

All photos courtesy (and copyright) of Isabel Samaras!