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 problem...to 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 peaks....it'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?
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.
(He insisted I call him Lou)
All photos courtesy (and copyright) of Lou Beach.