Author Archives: Heidi Hutchinson
At the opening of the “Ode to the Rat Pack”, Jerico had the walls of 410 Boyd street packed with pieces from over 100 Downtown artists. Some of those artists also surprisingly displayed their talents on the microphone. Colette Miller, performing her original tunes backed by Stevie Casual had the crowd so excited the walls nearly came tumbling down. It should come as no surprise after hearing her play live, Colette’s done that before… Bigtime!
Heidi: You were a fine art student at VCU (Virginia Commonwealth, considered one of the best public art schools in the Nation) when a group of fine art students formed the now famous punk metal band “GWAR“?
Colette: Yes, on the east coast 2 hours south of Washington DC by the I-95, in the original strong hold for the Confederates in Richmond, Virginia. A very productive time for a lot of us art students. A bonding time. I still consider it one of my homes. The original line up (of GWAR) was at the time mostly living in an old dairy plant converted into lofts and artists studios. Huge sculpted milk bottles on the corners. Freezing in the winter. I think the showers only had cold water. But it was a huge castle brimming with creative energy.
The original costumes were made by an art/film student Hunter Jackson which were put on a band called Death Piggy and that essentially was the birth of GWAR.
Heidi: What was your role in GWAR?
Colette: I played a character known as Gwar girl or woman, at one point named ‘Amazina’ in the formative years of this band. Another female existed for a couple shows tagged the ‘Temptress’ and she played one of the first shows at a dive called PB kelly’s in Downtown Richmond. She left Richmond after a couple shows, which left me the only female in the band for almost 2 years.
Heidi: Why did you create your Gwarrior woman character?
Colette: Actually, it was really a combination of time and place, circumstance and the people I was hanging out with. I developed the character the brief time I played it as a strong female warrior type that didn’t rely just on sexual manipulation such as Madonna seemed to be doing at the time, with all the boytoy, pop stuff. More so telling people to ‘EAT STEEL‘ and females to be strong. If there was physical allure or magnetism, that was despite the fact, not because of it. I didnt want to rely on that alone. Its a trap.
Heidi: One of the characteristics that continues to make GWAR unique are the visuals, how were you involved in that?
Colette: Everyone living in the Dairy (Milk Bottle) that was in the band at the time helped with the props and eventually developing their own costumes. We would have meetings and assign certain projects. Come up with a basic plot for the show. At the time a lot of the costumes and weapons were mostly styrofoam with cloth and wood glue over that, then painted. Cartoon punk with lots of fake blood. I made a giant RAID can to exterminate the only surviving creature from the Chernobyl nuclear accident in the USSR, which happenned to be a giant cockroach. We put an actual fire extinguisher inside and when I sprayed it at the roach during a show, it very nearly choked him for a spell. I also did a commercial for GWAR cereal in the middle of the set. The band members would stop playing and come up and munch. I must honestly say I really enjoyed being GWAR woman for my brief time. Very freeing and enpowering. Of course the sophistaction it reached, not only with costume design but characters, obliterates this era.
Heidi: What inspired fine art students to form a music band?
Colette: A lot of people I knew at VCU were heavily into the music scene and wanting to have that immediate experience of expression. Much more immediate then painting or sculpture. And obviously the sheer energy of youth. Plus fantastic bands were coming through Richmond weekly, usually right before they blew up or became more nationally known. So one was privy to, for instance, the Red Hot Chili Peppers early days, or Butthole Surfers heyday. Most of the clubs in Richmond, save a few like the Floodzone were small too so it was a very intimate situation.
Heidi: What statement was GWAR, were you making on society, politics, the times?
Well, lets say Reagonomics inspired a lot of rebellion. Also to me the divine comedy of humanity. The game that is capitalism, the necessary insecurity that is consumerism, being Americanized- a kind of USA brainwash. Maybe it is necessary for our economy to survive, but it’s a lie in a sense.
Heidi: You’re still making music as well as painting?
Colette: Absolutely. Its been a constant in my life for the most part. dayglo aborigines.
Heidi: What’s the relationship of fine art, your painting to your music?
Colette: Ideally, the lryics and the way I express my emotions tend to be more painterly then say, poppy. I perform with a lot of feeling and hopefully soul. The topics I write about tend to be abstractions of visions and feelings. The earth, humanity, getting in touch with your soul.
Heidi: After you moved beyond GWAR and far beyond VCU what were your goals? Were, are they the same today?
Colette: I left the Richmond scene quite abrubtly as my path had ended there. Or so I believed at the time. I was no longer working with GWAR which I knew was going to make its international mark in the music world. And I had finished school. My original goals were to pursue my art and test the world and myself. Listen to my inner voice or guide. They still are, but I am much more functional in terms of my current adaption to society and being responsible.
Heidi: You have the rather uncommon experience as a woman of traveling solo to 3rd world countries and some places, some may consider not so friendly to independent women?
Colette: I often travel with someone even briefly, even if we part ways in the foreign land. You meet a lot of people if you are open and embrace. I try to blend in, adapt as much as possible so actually becoming not a tourist, but a local, working and doing my art, having shows. I headed towards South Africa one day and stayed 2 years in that area. Beautiful part of the planet. I painted a mural for an orphanage in Tanzania and bonded with all the kids. They seem so happy. They sing all the time.
Heidi: Did you encounter any danger or hostility in your travels?
Colette: Luckily not as much as some stories I have heard, but I have been in the position of vulnerabilty, quite a few times, thinking I would be raped, left for dead, and definately mugged. Thankfully, only the thieving took place, all others I managed to manifest a different outcome. Thanks also to some supernatural/paranormal events or help. Advice people: stay calm under duress.
Heidi: What were some of the positive benefits your art and your presence have had in your travels?
Colette: I have art in many countries now that I sold and created overseas I performed in Cape Town in my band line up there and wrote some of the orginal songs I play today, based on the colors of the chakras: lighting the stage correspondingly for each chakra. Someone in NYC called it “spiritual hardrock.” I filmed and edited a piece on Tibet for Econews, before China made getting a visa to Tibet very difficult. I have heard China has built a train that goes from Beijing to Tibet and I feel that that will definitely change the Country’s innocence and original culture.
Heidi: Why did you choose to land or make LA your homebase, finally?
Colette: A few reasons, one being one of the last big cities in the USA I felt I could pursue my art. I had left NYC where I had been living there for quite a while maybe 9 years total. We did film a movie there in which I play a supporting lead. It was called “FOR THE LONGEST TIME” and while NYC was changing, some for the better, I admit in regards to crime and drugs..but it was a Guilliani gentrification movement that crippled a lot of the creative class on rent alone. No more Basquiats roaming around or the freedom and space the factory in the Warhol days had. Though NYC still has that energy and hopefully always will, that makes it the great city of New York.
Heidi: You also studied film here in LA?
Colette: A bit at UCLA and I learned hands-on editing, camera, some producing with “EcoNews.”
Heidi: You work and travel with EcoNews? What are their goals with regards to raising awareness of ecological issues and how they effect humanity around the globe?
Colette: Originally EcoNews was a TV show started in the 1970’s by Nancy Pearlman that was about raising eco intelligence. It still does some of that. For instance our last Alaska show was based on the sustainable fishing industry for the Marine Conservation Alliance and an upcoming one will be based on the well-digging for water in the southern Sahara, in Burkina Faso,700 miles south of Timbuktu in Mali. Now though, it often promotes ecotourism so we do travel to some beautiful places and talk to a lot of environmentalists. Educational Communications is its parent organization.
Heidi: You’re involved with another production company, LAEdge? What do we do besides have a lot of fun?!
Colette: We make really short Youtube, watchable, sketch comedy and interviews of the downtown scenesters. Raymond Newton is the main guy here. Ask him! Oh yeah and Heidi Hutchinson and Holly Holmes!
Heidi: How do you choose your subject matter for your artwork?
Colette: I like to create a painting I would want to live with. Something that is more timeless, and less about some punk statement that will fade with the years or you will outgrow. You dont want it to be a tattoo you will regret.
I am inspired by reaching a certain balance and beauty, a harmony. Regardless of the image, it stands alone as a meditation. And often images and ideas come through me through my intuitions, dreams, travels, feelings, humour As for music, I seem to be writing about a moment and thought and devulging a part of me that could only be expressed in that context. Heidi: You also work as a scenic? Would you recommend that career path to fine artists?
Colette: Being on set can be quite a good time and sometimes it feels creative, which is always fulfilling. It is a team situation. It is a good thing, if you make it that. Hollywood is still the biggest film center in the world. Its about your attitude. Whether or not you are in the drivers seat.
Heidi: What are some of the frustrations in scenic work, as a film maker yourself?
Colette: Well, no offence to my fellow painters or Art directors, but basically in set land everyone has their position, like a military operation.You are often paid NOT to think, rather follow orders for the most part,to work as a unit.
Heidi: Who are some of your influences as a painter, a filmaker, a musician?
Colette: I grew up basically on the east coast with a lot of good museums there, Washington DC, New York. I have been a fan of Van Gogh since a child (who couldnt be and my mom is part Dutch). You feel his sincerity and purity. Music, I fall for honesty, rawness, sincerety also, I run the gamet rom Metallica to Mozart and all in between. I am not so big on electronic pop. To me that is starting to sound like white noise. Which does have its target and place too especially in club-land I suppose. Who always wants to be confronted by intensity? Sometimes, background fodder is all you need.
As for films, I remember the ones that feel inspired, like it was someone’s calling to make. I hope one day I get to make the one I am writing ‘The Garden of Weeds’.
Heidi: How does your new band “Dayglo Aborigines” differ from “Gwar?”
Colette: First off, GWAR was a long time ago. I was still developing emotionally and spiritually…still am…and and I wasn’t in control of the music, or the basic original idea. Whereas with “Dayglo Aborigines” I write the lyrics and collaborate with the musicians, such as the guitarist,Brucifer in NYC. We go the spiritul route with an edge, which seems to be a common theme or something I strive for in all my art.
Heidi: Where does your art come from within yourself?
Colette: I want to give life to something through an expression of my spirit. To manifest a worthy presence through the art. I notice a certain preciousness some great art seems to emit and one cannot put their finger on it exactly, but it usualy requires a lot of love and truth poured into it by the creator. It is a lot like beauty, you can’t really describe it but when you see it, you know it or feel it. You experience the recognition.
Heidi: What are some of your favorite pieces from your own body of work?
Colette: I have a piece called Hitlers Underpants, which are huge styles of underpants hanging on barbed wire and one of his socks with big old fashioned, wooden clothes pins. I am working on his onesie he wore as a baby. This may implicate his mother though, or even his grandma. I think Hitler’s underpants feel historical though because I made them with such committment and against a certain ingrained taboo.
Heidi: What advise would you give on life and art to art students today?
Colette: When it comes to your own art: Listen to your own opinion and self. Its all you really have in this world. Who cares if anyone appreciates it, at least you stayed true. You really have to be strong enough to be extremely honest not only with the world but yourself. Honesty will always have a substance to it, even if you don’t necessarily have the talent or education some have. I think honesty in Art trumps a good technical hand anyway, kind of explains Basquiat to a sign painter’s perfection. Meditate on what YOU think and feel. But you have to stay open too, humble, dont close off, accept a certain defeat occasionally— have guts, a certain fearlessness that owns yourself and dont be afraid to really see what you have the God given right to experience as your own human entitlement. And have the abilty to laugh…at yourself.
For more of Colette please visit: www.colettemiller.com
Curtis Eugene Lovell the II announces that he truly believes in magic the moment we begin our interview….STILL believes in magic! Despite studying, KNOWING all the fake-out “magician” tricks, starting from the day his Dad mysteriously made a coin appear from behind his ear at the age of seven.
Today, Lovell is not only a master magician, illusionist, but, I’m fully convinced, the HOUDINI, the premiere escape artist, of our time. Lovell has performed so many scary, daredevil escapades, including being buried alive…eek!…one might wonder if he truly belongs in a straightjacket, permanently.
Indeed, Lovell’s Insurance carrier promptly cancelled his $5 million dollar policy after some company suits attended a show where Lovell, wrapped in weighted locks and chains, made a narrow escape from a sealed vat of water.
MetLife Insurance Company’s farewell letter reads: “Dear Mr. Lovell, We regret that we were unable to extend your policy…This decision was due to occupational duties.”
Curtis Lovell: “They say I’m a risk-taker…imagine that.”
Heidi Hutchinson: “Aren’t they discriminating against someone with a mental disability?”
Lovell knows I’m only teasing to break the ice. His quick wit and easy-going charm was immediately apparent even talking to him online where I first contacted him.
Curtis: “My Manager is negotiating a policy with Lloyds of London that covers other circumstances, not necessarily job-related, of accident or death.”
Heidi: “Are you as much of a risk-taker in life as on the job?”
Curtis: “Depends on what you consider to be a risk.”
Heidi: “Do you jaywalk?”
Curtis: “I moved to LA from New York City, where there’s a whole different attitude about jay walking. Police hardly ever ticket for it in New York. When I first came to LA a cop popped out of an unmarked car and chased me down the street, through traffic (!), trying to nab me for jaywalking. I surrendered and talked my way out of the citation. I told him, “Wouldn’t you run if someone were chasing you for what, in my mind, was no good reason?” …I haven’t jaywalked in LA since.”
Heidi: “Have you ever been arrested?”
Curtis: “Yes! I was pulled over for speeding and turned out there was a warrant for my arrest over some unpaid traffic tickets that I HAD paid. My cell phone was in my back pocket and I texted a friend from behind my back with the cuffs on to post bail right away. One of cops recognized me, then, and challenged me to get out of the cuffs. I said, “Why, so you can add more charges?! I get paid to do that, not vice-versa.”
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Lovell’s first death-defying stint occurred accidentally at the age of about 10. He was playing in a dangerous sewage ditch, was swept down in an undercurrent got caught on a drain grid and passed out drowning. “I had an assistant for that escape,” Lovell explains. “My friend managed to pull me out in time.”
Lovell lived on to pursue his early fascination with “magic,” delighting guests at family gatherings and first performing professionally as an adolescent. He did not visit the possibility of career escapism until the age of 19 when he was gifted a treasure trove of magic props from a retiring mentor that included a pair of handcuffs.
“I started toying with the handcuffs and with constant practice, was ultimately able to escape them in seconds,” Lovell says.
In fact, Lovell has become so expert at conquering restraints of all sorts that the U.S. Marines may hire him to test out some of theirs.
“My managers and I met with them to negotiate the terms of my contract and one clause I wanted in was that only a limited number of people with high security clearance could know how I escaped. One of the Marine officials made a wisecrack that that clause wouldn’t be necessary because there’s NO WAY I’m going to escape THEIR restraints. Now, I REALLY want to take on the challenge and do it!”
Heidi: “Don’t the revelations about Water Boarding and other hardcore military tactics make you nervous they might let it go too far?”
Curtis: “Water Boarding is something I’d love to try on that level!”
Heidi: “So, you’re telling me your escape methods are REAL, not tricks?”
Curtis: “Real as it gets.”
I expected Lovell to be evasive about revealing any trade secrets, of course. But I’m extra intrigued over this riddle about his belief in magic. For me “real magic” is an oxymoron.
Heidi: “Isn’t MAGIC really just undiscovered or little known science? …Human perception, hand quicker than the eye? How can YOU POSSIBLY believe in magic?”
Curtis: “Magic has made my life magical. Everything I’ve dreamed of, everything I’ve put my mind to has come true through magic. I watched Tony Curtis in ‘Houdini’ over and over as a child. I knew I’d meet him, work with him someday and voila’! There I was on stage with him at the Jules Verne show performing a couple of weeks ago. I always wanted to touch Paris Hilton. Who doesn’t? And, through my magic, I did.”
Heidi: “I heard you were responsible for Paris Hilton’s latest split-up!”
Curtis: “Yes, I cut her in half on her show.”
Heidi: “That’s illusion, not real magic.”
Curtis: “Ah, yes it is. I put my mind to it, realized my desire. Anything you put your mind to is possible. Even escaping death.”
Lovell shows me some of his ‘real’ stuff. He contorts his slender frame, twisting his whole body around his hand, taking on mind-boggling shapes and unnatural positions. He bends back his fingers, ALL the way back, like rubber.
He won’t tell me, however, if he was born double-jointed, acquired limbering skills through practice, or had any bones removed!
“Can you keep a secret?” Lovell leans in to me whispering.
“Yes, yes!” I answer eagerly.
Lovell studies my eyes as if he’s really considering giving up a juicy one. I hang in suspense.
“Guess what? I can keep a secret, too!” Lovell says finally, eyes twinkling.
Aw, shucks! He’s tricked me again. And I love it! I feel like a little kid, fascinated by magic. Still, I’m getting to the bottom of this!
Heidi: “Houdini performed naked hiding his escape tools where the sun doesn’t shine! Perhaps, he had the advantage of the unthinkable, definitely unspeakable, social mores of his day. So where do you put your escape tools, now that someone might check THERE?”
Curtis: “In my head.”
Curtis: “Everything has a vibration. I tune into that, into the weak link, the escape point. The key to escape is not, is avoiding, the obvious. The key to escape is staying calm and overcoming the fear, what appears to be the obvious escape route, the place you go in a state of panic. Look at this door, you’re locked in, where do you escape?”
I look at the door. My breath shortens and pulse quickens at the mere thought of being locked in! Lovell tells me he loves freedom above all. So do I! Hell, yes, I imagine I would pull at the handle, try to break the lock off, scream, shout, as I go, try to force Lovell, somebody to let me out even if it means driving us both nuts! Or maybe that’s just ME, in a panic.
“Yes,” says Lovell, in his mesmerizing way. As if he’s read my mind, my vibration. “You’re dead. You went for it, what you THOUGHT was the key. If you were in a vat of water, you’d be dead by now!”
Why? How much time has gone by? Longer than I can I hold my breath under water?
Heidi: “How long can you hold your breath under water?”
Must be a secret as there’s no reply.
Curtis: “Did you not notice the window above? “
I hadn’t before.
Curtis:“Did you notice that you could peel back the molding? …The rusty piece in the door hinge, the warp in the sliding track, the tiny space I can work my finger through and ease open. That’s where I go first and fast.”
Heidi: “OK, but someday, somehow, you might slip up. We’re all going to die but why tempt fate so young?”
Curtis: “Ah, but maybe we’re not all going to die. I’ve left instructions to have myself frozen. No autopsy, no mutilation of my body. I’m going to be deep frozen instantly, quickly as possible. I believe that’s one of the ways we CAN live forever, really cheat death.”
Heidi: “Is that why you’re not so afraid of death? Does your belief in Cryogenics help you stay calm in the face of death?”
Curtis: “Maybe, but I don’t like to be cold either! So that’s a motivator for me to get out: To keep from being freezing cold for the next 50 years or so until I’m unfrozen.”
Heidi: “What do you think about to fend off any panic?”
Curtis: “Jamba Juice. I love fruits and veggies. That’s another motivator to escape. I can’t wait to have my next Jamba Juice.”
Heidi: “Has anyone ever proposed something to you that you’ve turned down?”
Lovell (Grinning): “No comment,”
Heidi: (LMAO) “What stunts have you refused to do, I mean.”
Curtis: “No one’s come up with one yet but I’d never work with alligators. I’m deathly afraid of alligators. I wouldn’t work with any animal that could eat me alive. Gators are just nasty.”
Heidi: “On October 30th, 2009 at the Grand Terrace, you’re performing the most daring escape I’ve heard of yet.”
Curtis: “Yes. I shall be strapped upside down 100 ft in the air, dangling from a rope that will be set on fire. Whence I escape that, I’ll be dropped into a locked box of water. I’ll be working with all the elements, Fire, Wind and Water…and, if I should not succeed, Earth!”
Heidi: “That’s morbid. Why do you draw such huge crowds, what makes this entertaining?”
Curtis: “It’s an escape from reality. No one wants you to die. But they want to be there if you do!”
Heidi: “What other escapes would you like to try?”
Curtis: “I want to be chained to a sewer at a busy traffic intersection when the light’s red and escape before the light turns green.”
Heidi: “Would anyone let you do that, with liability and all?”
Curtis: “I’ve found it’s much easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So sorry, won’t do it again.”
Heidi: “Well, let’s hope you CAN do it again.”
Heidi: “You’re called an escape ARTIST. What makes you an artist?”
Curtis: “Art is about the way we as artists express our perceptions to others.”
Heidi: “What perception are you expressing with your art?”
Curtis: “That we create our own destiny. That fear is escapable, can be overcome. That anything is possible. Dreams come true. Magic really does exist!”
For more on the arts of Curtis Eugene Lovell II, upcoming shows, “how-to magic” videos and other tricks up his sleeve, please visit: www.curtislovell.com
“Jack’d in da Hood” has a jumbo beef with Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc.
“They’re exploitive media whores jacking references from real society and historic cultures for their own selfish interests,” Jack’d says.
Jack’d is the latest moniker mask worn by “The Phantom Street Artist” aka “Joey Krebs” aka “Caine 2,” etc. whose own claims to fame include cover art for the punk-rock-rap-blend group, Rage Against the Machine’s first platinum album, “The Battle of Los Angeles.”
The multi-masked Phantom creatively directed Rage Against the Machine in several music videos, including the MTV award-winning “Bulls on Parade”, and “Renegades of Funk,” which is currently receiving heavy airplay.
The MTV videos feature Phantom’s signature artwork, the silhouette or Shadow, which serves as the archetype for the Public Everyman.
Phantom is also a daring performance artist who’s drawn huge crowds at events like the Academy Awards, where he appeared as Mr. Big Money wedded to Miss Cul-cha-cha a transvestite. The piece was a parody on the marriage of culture to greed,” Phantom explains.
Phantom’s “Insulting Price of Right,” a staged event where contestants who named the right price were awarded the op to win big money by throwing shoes at the Pres, was laced with the same motif.
At the moment, The Phantom is lost in the development of a creative project that rages against what both he and his subject matter, Shepard Fairey say Fairey’s Obey Giant ‘artwork’ represents: “the power of propaganda” or in actual application, brand imaging through repetition. In defending his work as art that makes social commentary, Fairey has repeatedly said, “the medium is the message.”
The Phantom translates that to mean, “the Emperor is not wearing any clothes. “Fairey is just looking for loopholes to justify thievery.”
“Shepard Fairey has become the poster boy for Big Brother,” says Phantom. “Fairey’s own comments on his work are, “that it amounts to commerce, is ambiguous, has no message”; that’s not art, that’s brand promotion and Fairey has no right to steal from other artists and claim ownership of cultural icons to do it.”
To bring attention to his point, the Phantom is challenging Fairey to a cage fight wherein, if Fairey shows or not, Phantom says he’ll “rip the veneer off the Giant’s façade.” Clearly, The Phantom wants a piece of Shepard Fairey. At first glance, I wonder if Phantom desires to ‘take on’ Fairey for the cause or to shine in Fairey’s limelight or both.
But the Phantom isn’t pulling any punches. He eschews all discussion on himself and his own artistic achievements. We’ve logged over 500 cell phone minutes and every question I pose that is not on the topic of his present purpose is muted by a character voice amplified through a reverb mic. He’s either deep in the throws of his creative process or undiagnosed.
Heidi Hutchinson: Eddie Glowaski was your street artist mentor as a kid in New York, how did it effect you when he was shot to death?
An echoing voice booms over the phone.
The Phantom: The Time Has Come to Take Down the Giant! The Phantom challenges the Giant to a cage fight, Mano a mano!
Heidi Hutchinson: I loved your Momento Mori’ photo Vivandi recreation on the Death of an 18th Century Soldier piece for the anti-war show at…
Announcer voice cuts in with an “eek” amp squeak.
The Phantom: Join the Phantom as he battles the Giant to gain rightful title as street artist of the Universe!
Heidi Hutchinson: O.K., um, since your youth you’ve studied with some famous wrestling, mixed martial art’s mentors. How does that physical release help transcend…
The Phantom: Fair Use versus Fairey Use™! The challenge is ON! Let’s take this to the cage!
Bap! Bap! Punching noises.
Heidi Hutchinson: Is this a bad time?
The Phantom: Grrr. C’mon Fairey let’s see your strokes. Whatcha got? Take THAT Giant!
Bap! Umph! Umph!
Unknown High-pitched voice: Ouch. No, no! Cease and desist, Cease and desist! Yosi Sergeant’s my publicist!
Umph! Sounds like a knock out punch. Crowd cheering.
Heidi Hutchinson: Joey? Are you alone? …Did you book, is this Sabastian? Joey, you are fully creeping me out here.
Call drops, phone goes dead.
“What Shepard Fairey is doing is the epitome of rape,” Phantom says once I’ve finally pinned him down and we’re face to face. “Fairey’s ravaging historical cultures, revolutionary ideas, concepts and visions for profit alone.”
On the contrary, Fairey claims his right to use cultural iconography and appropriate copyright work without reference is protected under “fair use.”
In the postmodern age of Socratic wise cracks, “fair use” was originally adopted to allow for comment, critique or satire on work already so well known that reference is unnecessary and permission ridiculously beside the point.
“There’s fair use and then there’s ‘Fairey Use™,'” says Phantom who has trademarked the term in Fairey mockery. “Fairey is so full of hubris he’s taken OWNERSHIP of icons in the public domain and threatened to sue artists, like Baxter Orr, who dared to appropriately use the same icons Fairey has misappropriated.”
Phantom, not his real surname, who is the off-spring of first generation immigrants from Equador, also finds it offensive that Fairey labels significant art belonging to Latino cultural history such as the work of Rene’ Mederos, “propaganda.”
Fairey, however, arguably alters public domain and copy right works—which he HAS referred to in interviews as “MY icons” and “propaganda”—to a degree, over 10% subjectively, a factor that may make them fair game for fair use or already immune to copyright infringement accusations.
But Phantom views such alterations as all the more demeaning to the integrity of the borrowed works and the voice of the disenfranchised cultures from which many emerged.
“He’s making a novelty out of, degrading our cultural imagery. Satire, irony and political commentary are the tools of the oppressed,” explains Phantom. “We cannot allow vacuity, meaninglessness, novelty, mere branding into the realm of true social commentary without suffocating the voice, wiping out the vision of the people. We are seeing the structures of society collapse around us because of the lack of reference and understanding of our foundations that Fairey and his publicity machine propagate. What he’s doing is part of what’s tearing at, breaking down the structures of humanity! Understand?”
No, but somewhere between the Phantom, the plunging stock market and my raised rent notice, I’m having recurring nightmares about cranes clawing at the beams of my loft building and skyscrapers crumbling.
Since I can’t sleep I go online to discover that The Phantom, Joey Krebs, has written a book titled “Someone Else’s America.” It’s received excellent reviews from Black Book Magazine, and other subversive media including a wonderfully written critique from our own Craig Stevens who contributes to Citizen LA. There’s a stunning book cover graphic, a halk-naked child with the caption: “Father, forgive those who have sinned against us…” After an hour of trying to order the book I begin to suspect that it does not exist. I aim my recorder at the phone and call Joey.
Heidi Hutchinson: So, Mr. Phantom, what’s your best-selling book about?”
The Phantom: The disappearing structures of society sub-planted by media hype.”
Heidi Hutchinson: O.K. that’s all, good night.
The Phantom was born in Queens, New York in 1973. He has two sisters both of whom are now wards of the state, the Nation. Mentally, emotionally disabled. “Beautiful, beautiful souls,” the Phantom finally tells me. Tina only responds to music. But Mary is higher functioning. They were abused in foster care as children, their single working Mom unable to consistently support her children alone. They were always being displaced by evicting landlords, moving from the City out to Long Island, back to the City, and back together again when Mom could afford them. The Phantom was a bright child bursting with angry, tangled energy, creativity and a yearning to learn. But the schools were a harsh environment. How could a child put his nose in a book when he had to watch his back?
The Phantom found mentors, a family of other displaced big brothers who roamed the streets at night. They claimed City corners, blocks as their home. There was no computer or even refrigerator to post up their pictures, or essays so they placed their angst on buildings, platforms, made their mark on exposed walls and it was called street art. It was the ’80’s, the height of the graffiti art movement, all the rage. So, that’s what they did. They could have done worse. They couldn’t do any better.
Then, one night on the streets, Phantom and his crew were running away from some thugs who heard Phantom’s chief mentor, Eddie Glowaski, Caine 1, was doing well with his art. The bully’s thought he had money and wanted a piece of it. Eddie ran to the door of an old man who’d been robbed and didn’t care to be victimized again. The old man shot Eddie rather than let them in. The police report says the murder was in self-defense during a robbery. But Phantom says Eddie wasn’t armed or meaning harm. “It was a case of mistaken intent.” Eddie was cuffed before his wound was treated. He was a hemophiliac. He died of blood loss.
The Phantom fled the City, ran off to the Island again and joined a now-famous wrestling studio to sharpen his mind, build his strength and physical awareness. He dreamed of being Everyman, the power of the people fighting back. The Phantom began doing well at school. Eventually he made his way to LA to take up Art studies at USC and UCLA. “Knowledge is power,” Phantom says. He never paid college tuition, but he showed up, sat in on the classes regularly. No one ever noticed but soon his artwork was.
“Jackdando Mi Kultura taking back Kulture Yo,” is a project of Phantom’ Art Saves Lives (ASL) collective dedicated to preserving ethnic cultural history and promoting social interaction across “diverse expressions,” says Phantom. “We are visionary believers who are returning media to its true messengers.”
“Jack’d in da Hood®” is ASL’s new mascot ‘originated’ by The Phantom in “homage, reverance” to Fairey’s Andre’ the Giant street bully branding methods.
Though “Jack’d” is reminiscent of a faintly familiar public figure, identified by vigilant experts as fast food magnet “Jack Box,” Phantom insists any resemblance is strictly incidental.
The Phantom is not the only Shepard Fairey detractor who’s popped out of the box.
Mat Gleason, founder of Coagula Magazine an Ovation Satallite TV, Mark Vallen of Art for A Change, Art Blogger Brian Sherwin, Dan Wasserman of The Boston Globe and other critics have all weighed in against Fairey Use™.
As have certain voices of the street. At Shepard Fairey’s New York show last year a 24-year-old man known by the Tag, “The Slasher,” set off a stink bomb. He now faces a 15-year prison term sentence.
At the Art Basal show in Miami “All City Crew” tagged Shepard Fairey’s work on display and posted their video doing so on You Tube.
Fairey also has fingers wagging on the web, ‘for shame.’ A two-year debate raged on Flickr, sparked by a former Fairey fan who was shocked upon her discovery that an Obey Giant trademarked poster she purchased “Black Noveau” was not an original Fairey illustration but a traced composite of a classic Koloman Moser reprint bordered by clip art. Fairey or his shop workers only added the Obey Giant logo, with a pithy anti-war epithet and a price TAG.
Now, more grist’s been tossed into the Zeitgeist since the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s “Fair Use Project” filed suit on behalf of Shepard Fairey and Obey Giant Art, Inc. vs. the Associated Press on February 9, 2009.
The Fair Use Project (FUP) complaint, which can be read at http://cyberlaw.stanford.edu/taxonomy/term/374, seeks legal vindication over Fairey’s appropriation of ‘the photograph’ snapped by AP freelancer Mannie Garcia. Fairey snatched Garcia’s photo off the web to make ‘his’ now famous “Hope” poster for the Obama campaign without permission or citation. In case you’ve just arrived from another galaxy and didn’t know.
“Have you read John Keane, ‘The Media and Democracy’?” Phantom pointedly asks. “The media is run by elitists to manipulate public opinion. They’ve also overtaken the independent media, including Satellite Radio.” Next, NOW, Phantom believes the elitists, Fairey among them, are buying out the last bastions of free speech, the Internet, and the very streets. “Shepard Fairey is a sell-out, a TOY, a dupe for Big Brother.”
Indeed, Fairey’s legal reps do have an agenda. One of their stated objectives found on FUB’s website is to “clarify and extend the boundaries of “fair use” in order to enhance creative freedom.” And FUB’s website does debatably endorse Silicon Valley giants such as “Google.”
In the Phantom vs. Giant battle, Fairey is likely to be favored by a vast majority across America as well as here in the land of rampant Fairey tales, Downtown LA from whence the craftsman hails.
Just yesterday I happed to eavesdrop on a conversation at our local Art’s District Ground Works coffee shop on the subject. Since I haven’t been able to reach Fairey as of this writing I reached out my recorder and asked for a quote from these obviously ‘legit’ opinionated artists who asked not to be named.
The young woman, a self-described “good friend of Shepard’s,” said, “If you have to reference your inspirations for your artwork you’d have to assume your audience is stupid.”
The man she was with also sided with Fairey. He referred to Fairey’s process as “visual sampling.” However, when I suggested to him that those with available legal funding might far better defend their copyrights and/or rights to copy than they who lack attorney retainer fees he offered this quote:
“If Fairey, used any of my work without permission I’d settle it by giving him a dental bill. Just go over and beat him up, done deal.”
I hadn’t breathed a word about The Phantom’s Cage fight challenge.
Downtown Art Walk at it’s peak and I’m pressing through the multitude searching for my Interview, on a dual mission loaded with bottles of finer wine; emergency delivery for a friend’s Gallery prematurely run dry. Swarmed by ‘art’ aficionados thirsting to know where the booty will wind up uncorked.
Gees, what a freaking Carnival this scene’s become! Can’t EVEN squeeze through to find its most popular sideshow attraction, Art Walk’s ORIGINAL, street Artisan, who’s alas not in his usual spot along formerly “Skid,” cum “Gallery” Row.
“EXCU-U-SE ME! Has anybody seen,” I hesitate to state the obvious. Too often a disability defines an entire personality. “…Seen the Painter who, uh, does those surreal, three dimensional abstracts imbedded with objects?”
“You mean that whacky dude IN THE WHEELCHAIR?” someone responds.
Douglas La Marche hasn’t missed a single Art Walk since its start 3 years ago. For months, he was the SOLE real-time Painter on the Main thoroughfare. Back when a much scarcer number of patrons scurried between the few gaping Galleries, escaping covetous itinerants begging remnants of champagne flutes and rissoto-stuffed Dixie cups. But gradually the streets filled with live acts mimicking La Marche; poets, painters, musicians, comedians to the point where now there’s more action outdoors than in. La Marche thereby secured his part in history among Downtown Art Walk’s prophetic Kingpins.
Turns out, La Marche is holding court at a local gallery. Passionately reciting his poetry to his paintings, his audience hanging on every word. At his last stroke, final pause, they break out in loud applause, cheers, some tears. La Marche’s art is flying off the walls even now Gallery ensconced beyond the pitiful misperception of inner-city homelessness, even in a flat economy, La Marche sales are, as always, on fire!
Yet I must ask him. “What would you say to any of THEY who may suggest your high sales ratio is owed to pity?”
“Whatever works!” La Marche laughs. “I used to think I was a con-artist,” he says, “Because I’m so resourceful.” He leans in conspiratorially, “We’re all participating in a big hoax. Commercial art is all contrived.”
“There’s really no such thing as Art. If there is it is life itself.”
We’re way, way the hell out in the boonies, a stark, sunny place called Panorama City, photographer Rick Mendoza and I, at La Marche’s Studio. Frankly, I’m shocked at La Marche’s sheer DRIVE to deliver his art, his message in PERSON all over LA from HERE. So much for excuses, for being wheelchair, anything “bound.” Only now does it dawn on me I’ve met La Marche before Art Walk, before Bedlam, before idiotically assuming he conveniently lived Downtown, perhaps at the Mission.
La Marche was THAT painter at Universal City Walk, IN THE WHEELCHAIR, ten years hence. Lots of ‘WALKS.’ Hmmm. Not too forbidding for La Marche’s chair. “Wait, didn’t I hear about you on the Paramount Pictures lot, too?”
“Yeah, I snuck in. Did a little show and tell for a crowd of suits. They went wild, bought out my entire stock.” La Marche sighs with a grin.
As prolific as La Marche is, he’s tracked 1350 paintings the past 4 years since keeping his “Cattle Log” album, he reinvests all his earnings back into his traveling show. The supplies, the gobs and GOBS of paint, the fixtures, easels, lights, he’s a one-man Gallery in a ramp van TO GO!
“My largest collections are at gas stations,” La Marche concedes. “When I can’t afford gas I swap paintings for it.” La Marche also rolls to swap meets, garage sales, flea markets, antique shops…wherever he might discover a rare, exotic treasure to recycle as the centerpiece of a La Marche Masterpiece.
The tour de force of La Marche’s own space is a treat. First, a surprise healing experience: La Marche demonstrates an inventive, interactive piece he created to guide others through stages of grief or trauma. His purpose is, “To magnify, focus and intensify the therapeutic aspects of the design on the viewer.” The piece uses a kaleidoscope view of La Marche designs to “break-up pre-verbal memories or those that can’t be accessed by any other means on a chemical level.” La Marche believes and has been told this art, poetry and music treasure trove has saved lives, not to mention his own.
Then, there’s the “Holaportal” a prototype La Marche created with his scientist/inventor friend, David Petite.
“Artists often precede scientific breakthroughs with images that represent those breakthroughs because mankind is a visually thinking creature. We cannot conceive of anything we cannot visualize,” La Marche states. La Marche uses the visual precedent of Jackson Pollack’s art and ‘Chaos Theory’ as an example of what he and Petite hope to achieve with the “Holaportal” copyright.
I slip on a pair of 3D glasses and I’m flabbergasted. “OK, Rick, did you drop acid in my coffee earlier?” A simple La Marche mural transforms into a 3, maybe 4, dimensional holographic spectacle. It magically appears infinite in shape and size, shifting at every viewing angle. The “Holaportal” prototype subject is a slithering serpentine, La Marche representation of the first and last Biblical prophecy. “Wow!”
La Marche also shares his headspace letting me graze on knowledge hard earned through his vast studies in many fields; art history, science, science fiction, philosophy, psychology.
Foremost, I come away with something I suppose every aspiring artist ought know.
“That’s ME!” La Marche exclaims, describing one of his more traditional works most dear to him. And, that other one on the next wall, “That’s ME!” he says. And now, pointing out a different one, “THAT’S me!”
There’s no contradiction in this, however unique from the other each piece is undoubtedly ‘A La Marche.’ I’ve never seen anything remotely resembling this work by anyone else. Good Rick’s taking lots of pics, I’m thinking. This is far beyond my art reference vocabulary.
“My work is my own attempt to reinvent Art in my own way,” La Marche affirms.
Like himself, La Marche’s works are volcanically exuberant. They erupt into space, bursting, bubbling, gushing, spewing forth swathed treasures, tokens, gifts from La Marche’s joyous spirit, heavy heart, and enriched, original mind. PURE genius.
One sentence: “OFF THE WALL.”
When La Marche was a kid named “Doug” he was nicknamed “Pidougio” because of his affinity for Picasso. “The biggest artistic influence on my life,” he says. “Picasso gave everyone permission to do things their own way,” he adds emphatically. “For four hundred years the French schools made the greatest Artists in the world do everything meticulously a certain way. Any deviation of it and you failed. And do we remember any of them? No, we only remember the ones like Matisse and Picasso who were kicked out.”
In his early teens La Marche was already on track toward becoming a professional Artist, apprenticing with a stain glass window Master. Then, at the age of 16, an unexpected traumatic turn. Hiking in Eden Canyon in Pasadena with a group of friends. “We were way, way where we shouldn’t have been,” La Marche says. There was a quarrel among the hiking group. La Marche was struggling internally already with a troubled family life, anxious his parents were soon to divorce. “When I read ‘The Cain Mutiny,'” says La Marche, “I saw my dad as ‘Captain Bly.'”
La Marche fled the contentious hikers to find his own way back home where he cleaned the house every night spic and span, trying to fend off anything that might set off “Bly” and another horrific argument between his parents. Ultimately, La Marche would forgive his dad after learning unknown truths about his father’s childhood. But that fateful day, La Marche was in a conflicted state charging down the canyon.
“I took a short cut,” he explains. The narrow trail suddenly vanished beneath him. La Marche had slipped from the cliff, fallen 100 feet. He recalls such excruciating pain, “I wanted to hit myself over the head with a rock. Go ahead and knock myself out to stop the torment. I was going unconscious as it was. But I knew if I closed my eyes it would be for the last time. I’d never open them.”
It would be 3 hours before La Marche was found. He shouted out continuously for help. He couldn’t use his legs then, not ever again. His legs were shattered in 100 places, his spinal cord forever severed.
Six weeks later in intensive care, a priest was praying over La Marche, giving him his last rites. This was the same priest who’d had an affair with his mother, a stunningly beautiful woman who’d been head cheerleader and valedictorian at Brown College.
La Marche despised the priest so intensely he held the wafer in his mouth plotting for the precise moment to spit it out at the reverend. At last, La Marche says hoarsely, head bowed, “I was too afraid of him.”
Instead, La Marche gulped back the only morsel of solid ‘food’ he’d been able to ingest since the accident.
“What really brought me to my senses then,” La Marche recounts, “Was the hospital Janitor. He comes in mopping up my vomit and says, ‘Man, I don’t blame ya. If I couldn’t have sex, I’d be wishin’ I’s dead, too!'”
“Everyone else was tiptoeing around, the Janitor was being real from his perspective,” La Marche explains. La Marche chose not to let himself waste away, to die and made a ‘miraculous’ recovery.
Before coming into a full acceptance of his physical condition, La Marche endured dark years of mourning and self-blame. He reinvented himself through his Art. La Marche made colorless, though skillful, black and white etchings those years before finally awakening to himself and his unique style.
“Today I wouldn’t change who I am, what I’ve learned, what I know and have become for anyone.”
La Marche credits Art as his ultimate salvation. And God. “God’s love is expressed throughout all of creation,” he says.
“The extent to which I am able to express and show appreciation for the expression of God’s love is the extent to which I am an Artist.”
“We Won the War. Graffiti is World Wide…it’s in Galleries. Now, it’s ART.”
In the new docu, Getting Up, icons of 70’s – 90’s ‘culture jam’ movement describe how the battle over NYC’s subway turf was lost.
The City wiped out the “words of the prophets…written on the Subway walls” as Simon and Garfunkle noted, by deploying stainless steel trains and militant cleaning crews. But because graff has since become ‘legit,’ infiltrating uptown galleries and proliferating globally, COPE2 declares a Win for street or graff art all the world over.
Not so fast. Here in California lawmakers under Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger are geared to launch a new strategic anti-graffiti weapons system.
Effective December 1, 2008 the former misdemeanor-only vandalism crime can be prosecuted as a FELONY, carrying a maximum thirty year prison term. Under the new Penal Codes parents may be charged restitution on damages perpetrated by minors. Plus, graffiti “art” supplies on hand can be found a criminal act: Possession of Vandalism Tools.
Before one flushes the wheat paste FIRST, at the perhaps more dire risk of rendering the loo thereafter useless in a police raid, one ought be mindful that mitigating circumstances DO include the dollar amount of (any) property damages and “creative expression.”
The new statutes may raise issues of economic bias by affording greater property protection in pricier real estate markets and, even cultural prejudice, given the subjectivity of one group’s treasure vs. another’s trash. Setting aside such questions to be taxed through the justice system, if fame and fortune constitute any proof of what amounts to “creative expression” value COPE2 IS spot on.
Street artists ARE showing at esteemed galleries, some achieving rock star fame usually enjoyed only posthumously in the art world.
Downtown homey “Obey,” aka Shepherd Fairy, graffic hero of the Obama HOPE campaign, and “Banksy,” whose show here last year bleeped across International radar depositing a cool mil in an off shore Banksy account, are common household names from the projects of Watts to Buckingham Palace. What starry-eyed, starving kid or inner child among us wouldn’t hope for our wall scrawls to make such high MARKS?
Indeed, the most prestigiously ‘schooled’ artists are turning to a duel life of crime in droves, earning street cred by night that well-supports their day shows.
Opening December 12, 2008 – January 2, 2009 two acclaimed NYC-based street artists, Elbow-Toe and ARMSROCK, will show at ThinkSpace Gallery in Silverlake. I caught up with Elbow-Toe preparing to cross the continent from his NYC toe hold to LA along a top-secret route. Armed with Google Maps, GPS navigation and graff contraband Elbow-toe aims to ‘bomb’ an unsuspecting Nation with his latest series, an artful statement on the credit crisis.
Heidi: When, at what age did you know you were an artist?
Elbow-Toe: I first knew I wanted to be an artist as a profession when I was 16, but I had a passion for making art from at least age 3 when I would spend massive amounts of time at an easel my parents bought me.
Heidi: Where and who did you study under?
Elbow-Toe: In college I studied primarily under the renowned illustrator James McMullen and the painter Gregory Crane.
Heidi: I read that your parents divorced when you were young, how did that impact your life/art, if at all?
Elbow Toe: My parents divorce forced me to move to a town called Plano, TX. I sort of became a hermit there, and art making became my solace.
Heidi: How long did you show in galleries before becoming a street artist?
Elbow Toe: I had been in a number of smaller group shows on and off for probably 5 years.
Heidi: I’m really taken with the timeliness of your current work. Please tell us a little more about that.
Elbow Toe: Thanks so much. I began the series earlier this year. I am an avid fan of public radio and it was pounding into my head the seriousness of the oncoming crisis.
Heidi: What connection does holding onto the past or to belongings have to the economic crisis?
Elbow Toe: I think that the idea of needing all these belongings is what got us to where we are at in the first place. In terms of holding onto the past, I see it more as a symptom of the crisis.
Heidi: How do you define depression? Economically, emotionally?
Elbow Toe: In both cases I would say utter stillness. In the case of the man with the piano, that is why he is struggling on in spite of it. In the series, he is the only individual moving forward.
Heidi: Do you think art will flourish or wane in this economy?
Elbow Toe: I think it will still flourish. It may not sell as well, but people need an outlet.
Heidi: How does a street artist get paid?
Elbow Toe: In cold hard cash. Ha ha.
Heidi: What inspired you to take to the streets?
Elbow Toe: I had been wait-listed at Columbia University’s Grad Program, and was feeling really stuck…I saw a book of NECKFACE’s work…I thought if he can put himself out there on the streets, why can’t I? And so I tried and was hooked.
Heidi: What City streets have you hit outside of the Big Apple?
Elbow Toe: London, Sydney and Melbourne primarily.
Heidi: Will we be seeing your work on the streets of LA? …Don’t worry I’m not a Nark, I swear.
Elbow Toe: Sure you aren’t :).
Heidi: Are you concerned your art is subject to the elements, including vandals on the street?
Elbow Toe: That is probably what has kept me going with street art. I love to see how the work changes.
Heidi: Any concerns about the permanency of your street art?
Elbow Toe: Nope, it’s part of the game. On the other hand, I am very concerned with the permanence of my gallery work.
Heidi: How do you decide on placement of your street work?
Elbow Toe: Recently, I have started to use the street view in Google maps to explore neighborhoods. I look for spots that the juxtaposition of my imagery would enhance, and vice versa.
Heidi: How do you avoid getting busted?
Elbow Toe: Paranoia.
Heidi: How do taggers react to your fine art work?
Elbow Toe: I used to have a bad habit, when I started out of showing them little respect by putting my art over their work. I think it is symptomatic getting started and not knowing the rules of the street. But the areas that I saw graff in seemed safe so I would put the posters up there. So I can understand why I would get very angry responses in the past.
Heidi: Did you adopt the Elbow-toe name to conceal your true identity?
Elbow Toe: I did. Though I wish I had chosen something cooler sounding these days.
Heidi: Ever show under your prior name at galleries now?
Elbow Toe: I unfortunately can’t say. But I hope to one day.
Heidi: How nervous are you about getting caught? Or is it a thrill?
Elbow Toe: It never was a thrill, and I am always very nervous. Keeps the waistline trim.
Heidi: How do passersby react to your work?
Elbow Toe: When I have had a passerby, they tend to react favorably.
Heidi: I love the spatial dimension you achieve in your street work. Can you share some of your secrets there?
Elbow Toe: Years and years of drawing and painting.
Heidi: Does placement or technique play a part in that?
Elbow Toe: I would say both placement and technique. You can achieve even more depth based on the surroundings.
Heidi: How important is it to you to communicate with your work?
Elbow Toe: That is the whole reason to make art for me—to communicate. …Due to the anonymity of using an alias, I think it makes it easier for people to find a hook into the work.
Heidi: What are your cultural roots?
Elbow Toe: Part Scottish, part German, ex New-Waver.
Heidi: Have you ever been tagged?
Elbow Toe: Sure.
Heidi: Have you ever used spray paint?
Elbow Toe: Not really, except in shows.
Heidi: What’s with the name?
Elbow Toe: Oh lord. I think I am going to have to put a moratorium on questions about the name 🙂
Heidi: Have you ever lost one of your street works?
Elbow Toe: I lose works all the time to the elements. But I always make more. It is just the natural flow of things.
Heidi: What motivates your work overall?
Elbow Toe: A need to be better than the day before, or the hour before. Theatre, Storytelling, Poetry…Understanding…
Heidi: Tell us about your day job in computers?
Elbow Toe: For the better part of a decade I was an award winning interactive programmer.
Heidi: What would be your dream street art caper? Your nightmare?
Elbow Toe: I often have daydreams of getting up really high, but I have a wretched fear of heights, so it is both my dream and my fear. …The constant fear is getting caught.
For more info visit www.elbow-toe.com
There’s something disturbingly slap-happy at the core of Citizenla’s own horror comic strip, Meatdoll, that makes it’s gore all the more…horrific. D.W. Frydendall’s dead-on, gutsy drawing skill is so vivid, small wonder if “Meatdoll’s” maker isn’t a freak, monster genius for real.
Frydendall’s ability to evoke peals of laughter at peeling flesh—it’s just sick. And the freaky sado-masochistic plot overtones: a serial murder suspect, Meatdoll, slinking around in a zip lock, fetish get-up melting prostitute victims in acid—bloody hysterical!
Frydendall’s artful execution deftly renders the repulsive pallet-able, yummy enough to lure even squeamish voyeurs, like me, back for more Meatdoll strip after strip.
Then in Citizen LA’s August ’08 issue, Frydendall sticks in another twisted plot point. The comic cops who are hot on Meatdoll’s trail—a working Mom partnered with a wise-cracking, unabashed “asshole”—gun-down Meatdoll! They’ve CAUGHT, maybe killed, either way taken OUT the strip’s Star!
But this wild ride is not, thank goodness, OVER, it’s “…To Be Continued.” Stunned, I’m thinking unless Meatdoll is in a contract dispute with his agent or on some sort of cartoon actor’s strike—nullifying the lead that’s just sheer writer INSANITY!
Mind you, this was before I’d seen Frydendall’s full body of artwork and knew of his affinity for paranormal creature creations. Ah, ha! Maybe, Meatdoll’s, not some demented human disguised in fetish garb after all. Whatever this ‘thing’ is, I’m guessing Frydendall will indeed need to work some voodoo to recover Meatdoll.
When I first bring it up with Frydendall, who’s either not quite ready to reveal or my guesses are all wrong-o, his lips are sinisterly sealed. How about a clue? “You’d never see it coming but the clues have all been in the story from the start,” he says.
Fydendall first dreamed up Meatdoll back in the day when he and Citizen LA publisher, George Stiehl, worked as corporate slaves for the same famed production company. There, the pair first pitched the idea of a horror comic to their bosses who scoffed them out of the office. “They thought it was a joke,” says Frydendall. Commiserating on their soulless entertainment jobs and hell-bent on a free-lance future, the friends kept a zipper on Meatdoll until Frydendall finally fleshed out (or not) the character, bringing the ‘thing’ to life or, whatever, on the Citizen LA pages a year ago.
Frydendall does hint that Meatdoll sprang from his desire to come up with a “new kind of character no one has seen before.” Hmm. That rules out Zombies, at least, as Frydendall himself has done dozens of them.
Frydendall’s other thrilling accomplishments thus far in the genre, if there can be said to be one and Frydendall ‘s multi-faceted work isn’t inventing it, includes three illustrative books, dozens of hit album covers, feature storyboard development and prolific solo shows of new work at popular LA clubs and galleries, including Hyena Gallery, Frydendall’s favorite showplace.
Frydendall’s also created many merchandisable, lovably creepy characters and he’s, brace yourself, the artistic advisor for “Girls and Corpses” Magazine—self-described as” Maxim” meets” Dawn of the Dead.” The National magazine features tongue-in-cheek, rather cheekbone, staged photos of badly aging dead dudes getting fresh with scantily clad live girls. There’s enough cloth on the girls and scarcity of skin, let alone genitalia, on the corpses (I had to do a rib count on “dudes”) to fall short of being considered pornographic (ironically). The editorial, some of it written by Frydendall, is NOT (phew!) about necrophilia and offers some surprisingly interesting social commentary. Even the exploitive visuals began to work for me conceptually given that, true, there ARE lovers who are more like corpses in bed. And we’ve all had those heartbreak romances where it’s occurred to us we’d have been better off if only our partners really were corpses BEFORE we’d ever met.
Despite Frydendall’s freaky works, in our interview I discover a rather “normal,” he’ll forgive me for saying, polite, mellow, and fairly soft-spoken guy. (Then again, it’s always the quiet ones.)
Frydendall’s a terrific story teller vocally as well as in writing. Talk to Frydendall, BTW, if you ever need a few good stories on George. His eyewitness account of George’s near-death-by-chimney-flue experience in Mexico is outrageously funny, the way Frydendall tells it at least.
Meatdoll’s true identity keeps niggling at me. And I’m getting nowhere with Frydendall on that. Thirty minutes into the interview the recording’s going like this:
D.W.Frydendall: I’m sipping Absinth right now. Have you tried it?
Heidi: Could Meatdoll have been poisoned instead of shot?
D.W.Frydendall: This Absinthe’s blue not green. It tastes like mint though, not liquorish.
Heidi: Is Meatdoll female?
D.W.Frydendall: Could be. What color was Meatdoll seeing before being shot?
Heidi: Red but wasn’t that BLOOD? Wait, whaddya mean BEFORE…?
D.W.Frydendall: It’s called “Le Torment Verde.”
Heidi: Have another one for me.
While Frydendall’s hopefully getting drunk enough to tell all, I fall back on the obligatory interview discussion of ‘influences’ on an artist’s work. Something that always makes me cringe, usually amounting to a list of dead artists including at least one obscure name I’ll misspell and isn’t likely to be on “page 1” Google anyway. But Frydendall’s response is a delightful relief.
There’s an “evil” Catholic school nun who made a “huge impact.” Sister Mary also made school life “a living hell” for Frydendall from the age of 6, when he began mocking her lectures on obedience. Child Frydendall knew a “control mechanism” when he met one and drew images of robots. Other mindless things like Frydendall’s famous zombies emerged from his rebellion against Sister Mary’s discipline.
Frydendall defines evil as the “subjugation of liberty.” It’s “instilling your views and opinions on someone against their will.” Especially, Frydendall adds, “When it’s done to take advantage of people.”
We’re soon onto Dante, God, and Satan. “I can’t believe people buy into being terrified of this dude in a red jumpsuit stabbing at you with a pitchfork and laughing at you for eternity.”
RED Jumpsuit! OMG, I’m thinking, could Meatdoll be…?
Frydendall describes Christian mythology as “a mass hallucination.” But his belief in God is greater than in the Devil, at least. “God’s a good lay,” he says.
Frydendall’s tentative at best about believing in ANYONE’S definition of paranormal phenomenon. UFO’s, Aliens, Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves, they’re all illusionary, illustrations to Frydendall. “Images of fear,” is what Frydendall calls the forms he draws.
“There’s some weird shit out there, though,” Frydendall says. It’d be pretty arrogant to think we’re the only intelligence in the Universe. But I believe it’s on a level, an electromagnetic dimension where we can’t perceive or define it physically.”
As for the adventure side of his comic book fascination, Frydendall came from a family of “heroes.” His Dad’s a firefighter, brother and Uncle are cops. Uncle Robert May was the Detective who caught the “Redlight Bandit” killer in the 1950’s. Frydendall’s favorite comic book hero growing up was “Popeye,” with Batman and Spiderman getting an honorable mention. “I like that Popeye didn’t rely on any supernatural powers he just punched their lights out with his bare fist.”
Frydendall’s studied martial arts and recently took up boxing, which he says is more “satisfying.”
“The Sandman” is Frydendall’s all-time favorite myth being. “He’s the king of dreams,” explains Frydendall: “Dreams have a lot to do with reality.”
OK, OK, maybe the Meatdoll shooting was part of a dream sequence then? However the story turns out, one thing I know for certain is that Meatdoll is surely one of the fulfillments of Frydendall’s artistic dreams…And Meatdoll’s going to give me nightmares at least until I get to the bottom of it!
Days before the 1st night premiere of “Beneath,” the greatest show ever to appear at Downtown’s LA State Historic Park, a real-life circus scene plays out at the former ‘cornfield’ where Cirque Berzerk is setting up their Big Top tent.
A pink-haired, muscled lady drives a forklift, a rosy-cheeked little person guides a five-ton semi truck, the ringmaster,Kevin Bourque, a wizard-man with long dreads, threads steel loops, surrounded by graceful nymphs rolling giant steel poles.
‘Costumed’ in funny, pointed Chinese Tiki hats, the ensemble tends to break out in spontaneous song as they labor along in the mid-day heat.
A distant audience of uniformed State Park and Recreation Officials keep close watch with binoculars making certain no clown dares dishevel any State-owned dirt. Not without purchasing a $6000 archeological survey. When one of Berzerk’s Local 80 crew threatens to dislodge a small slab of concrete, a State Park power ranger rushes in to the rescue. The “object” must not be touched…no, they’re not kidding! Oh, and for another slight trip up, there’ll be no 6-inch trench digging for electrical wiring placement. What kind of Circus is going on here?!
I learn I’m smack in the midst of a last-ditch, tent-pitch Leucocratic rig-a-morale that could wind up being a showstopper. Since the ‘cornfield’ site became an Historic Park—the place where Chinatown and the Union Station Railway allegedly originated—no groundbreaking, let alone 36′ deep tent staking will be permitted. Not at the risk of impaling an antique teacup or, perhaps, buried power line.
Cirque Berzerk weighed in with a unique, tent-raising solution; using trench plates instead of stakes…except the day’s first attempt didn’t take. The plates weren’t heavy enough to prevent the big top from toppling over.
Cirque Berzerkers re-appealed to the State and, now that it seems someone forgot to do an archeological survey, it’s also a pricey City and/or County permit matter.
As the ‘Red Tape’ unravels it’s becoming clear there’s more at stake for Cirque Berzerk than the mere cost of covering the survey. If a teacup or other relic DOES turn up there’ll be carbon dating studies, Chinese History consultants: CURTAINS on the Big Top show…fo’ sho’!
Berzerk’s founders, Bourque and his wife, Suzanne Bernel, huddle with their crew chief “Roo,” Andrea Ruane, artistic director/choreographer Neal Everett, set designers Charlie Nguyen and Carl Hoagland, lighting designer, Dan Reed, stage manager, Christine Nash, principle performer, Eric Gradman, and other trusted “family members” on hand. Bourque’s final decision is to dig deeper into his personal savings and rent heavier trench plates—the heaviest made; still there’s no guarantee on those.
“This was the year we’d either buy our house or put on the show of our dreams,” says Bourque. Bernel, an amazing ‘silks’ aerial acrobat performer in the show is drenched in sweat and dust from the day’s toils and foibles. “This is a diva-free troupe,” she explains, “Everyone pitches in when and where needed.” The couple shares a secret, reassuring smile, the show must go on…maybe.
These folks are no strangers to weathering adversity. Having emerged from the alkali desert plains of Burning Man, they’re salty troupers who’ve performed in 80 mph winds and 110 temps. Berzerk is a sister spin-off from the popular, electronic dance band, “Mutaytor” that originated eight years ago on the Burning Man “Playa” to percussionist/composer Bourque’s drumbeat and the rhythmic swirls of a few fire dancers. More musicians, dancers and assorted Burning Man talent chimed in and “Mutaytor” gained fame as one of the hottest acts on and beyond the Playa. A couple years back at Burning Man, when an especially virulent dust storm laid into and wrecked their electronic equipment, the troupe tented itself next time, rigged it with trapeze rings, drew in some top-notch aerial acrobatic performers and voila’ Cirque Berzerk was born.
“Beneath,” composed by Bourque and choreographed principally by Everett, a multi-muscle talent who also designs fantastic costumes and flies through the air on fire…almost literally on fire at the media invite dress rehearsal, phew!…is Berzerk’s first full-length musical production. The speechless musical is loosely inspired by the untold tragic Greek myth of Eurydice, the bride of Orpheus. In the classic Myth, Eurydice is condemned to ever after in Hades’ Underworld. She vanishes from Orpheus’ site, and all of Greek Mythology, when Orpheus fails to spare her from death by breaking a vow to Hades. Bourque picks up where the ancient Greeks left off on the Eurydice story thread. “Beneath” follows a modern-day Eurydice through the Underworld—a most lively, bizarre place inhabited by freakish Circus clowns, naughty cabaret girls and girl scouts, contortionists, stilt-walkers, trapeze artists, a swinging band and lots of twirling fire.
The new trench plates arrive and are anchored around the flattened-out tent canvas. Some seventy-five cast members, crew and a few volunteer suckers, like me, who can’t resist the can-do spirit, tighten our Tiki’s for luck as much as hardhat value, if ANY. We post up two-on at each torque pole stationed around the canvas.
“This is why they first brought Elephants into the Circus,” says Bernel, “to raise the Big Top.” “Roo,” lifts her megaphone. On the count of three, we’re to step right up and heave like beasts… “THREE!” Within grunt-filled seconds our pointy-headed shadows disappear beneath us. The big top’s flown up and we’re standing under it. Everyone cheers! It’s so thrilling I’m ready to join the Circus right then and there!
The tent-raising fiasco is one of many hurdles I see Cirque Berzerk overcome every time I check in with them. For one, Nguyen and Hoagland’s magnificently surreal set must be re-designed to accommodate a fire-safety check. Fabrics are struck from the set unless they’re made flame-retardant to LAFD standards. An exquisite, huge, drape Purse set piece is blocked out—meaning new ‘blocking’ on certain show numbers or scenes. Of course, with limitless budget ‘purse strings’ the fabric could be treated and stay in the show but it’s all a juggling act on a shoe string.
The worry over set fabric seems hypocritical to me when there’s dry-as-hell straw strewn all over the Park, including underfoot inside the big top. But the straw was already there courtesy of the State Parks Bureau…it’s not an issue. The Berkzerker’s aren’t complaining, they merrily co-operate and even compliment the Fire Inspector to me on the fact that he’s explaining his reasons for the changes. “We’re learning a lot about fire exit strategies, City safety standards,” Bernel says appreciatively, “instead of being ordered to do something with no rhyme nor reason.”
During the media dress rehearsal, there’s a little flying fire scare at the finale. The Fire Marshall requests a post show re-run through and by opening night the scene’s been re-blocked including a way lowered trajectory level on the hand-held, flying flame torches.
At last, opening night arrives. It’s a box office sell-out at the door and the next three nights will soon be pre-sold out as well. The audience is thrilled with the imaginative, lavish sights and sounds Cirque Berzerk has brought to Downtown. Everything gels together seamlessly. I’m especially impressed with the professionalism, spot on skill and most of all the high-energy level in every performance and performer-slash-tent rigger-slash-stage hand-slash-bureaucratic out runner on the boards. Each and every one of these unpaid, volunteer Cirque Berzerk troupers have well earned an ovation here for years to come. Now, if we can keep them from running away to a, say, Vegas Circus where many of these performers could pass muster just as well.
A scruffy dude resembling Jack Nicholson in his mid-forties grinds up on a skateboard, backwards, curbside pop-flips it under one arm and opens the glass door with the other. A half dozen jaws drop in the Jiffy a Lube waiting room. Including mine and I KNOW this dude once held title as “the best vert bowl skateboarder in the world”… twenty-five or so years ago. Whatever I expected Steve Olson to be now it doesn’t compare to the real-life, shocking sight of this grown, graying man tricking an ali Ollie.
Steve Olson: “I’ve been hearing the same fucking thing since I was sixteen skating in competitions. ‘Aren’t you too old to be on that toy?'”
Heidi: “What do you say to that?”
Steve: “Bite me! I’m doing what I enjoy. ‘What’s your TOY?’ I say, continue to break the boundaries… Always.”
Olson’s art studio is hidden away in Graffiti-sprayed back alley off Melrose. He invited, got permission for the CBS Kids to display there.
Steve: “I love the way Graffiti artists present their work. For all eyes.”
Heidi: “Why are you hesitant to show at Galleries, yourself?”
Steve: “I never wanted to be part of the system much. John Pochna, he’s an exception with Zero One. I respect that Pochna was one of the first to recognize Graffiti as an art form… which it is. I’m not one but I’ve tagged.”
Steve’s solo show at Pochna’s O1 Gallery Downtown opened on May 24 through July 1 to an eclectic crowd including celebrity musicians, skateboarders and art collectors, Tom and Trish Gilmore.
Lilli Muller curates with Pochna’s partners Brandon Coburn and Jim and Natasha Ulrich.
Heidi: “What’s the purest form of art?”
Steve: “Sex…You know it’s true.”
Heidi: “Would you say you’re a conceptual artist?”
Steve: “Definitely. All my shit’s conceptual. But what isn’t? It all has meaning.”
Heidi: “This evil thing is going so if there’s anything you don’t want recorded just feel free to reach over and smash it on the floor.”
Steve: “I have no secrets.”
Heidi: “No secrets? What’s your biggest secret?”
Steve: “What’s a secret? Something you don’t want to tell someone? Why would you be afraid to be honest?”
Heidi: “If you were a Jew in Nazi Germany?”
Steve: “OK, there is a reason sometimes.”
Heidi: “What’s your favorite drug?”
Steve: “Sleep…Coffee…Cigarettes. What’s yours?”
Heidi: (Inaudible.) “You smoke a lot.”
Steve: “It’s something that keeps you clear, like, a medium..they say I’m gonna die from smoking…yeah right. Like nothing else could kill me before then?”
Heidi: “How do you want to die?”
Steve: “I don’t KNOW! I was told that immortality is coming soon…by a mathematician.”
Heidi: “You want to stick around for it? I think it’d be kind of a drag to be around here forever.”
Steve: “It’d be whacked. How can you hang around in this bullshit scene? It’d be cool if everything was dope…hey, might be worth it. Maybe they’re gonna let all the secrets out.”
Heidi: “Interesting. You believe him?”
Steve: “This dude’s a genius, PhD in Math from UCLA. He’s a great singer too. He played in the Blasters…Phil Alvin. He’s cool.”
Heidi: “Who are some of your favorite music groups?”
Steve: “Anything from DEVO to the New York Dolls…love the glam stuff. My (artwork) fabrics are kind of glammy…if you look at it that way.”
Heidi: “Have you ever worn fishnets?”
Steve: “Puh-lease…I’m wearing them now.”
Heidi: “Cue the camera, Marianne.”
Steve: “This isn’t fair. I ate a Rice Krippie treat. I’ve been stoned for three days.”
Heidi: “I haven’t had a good Rice Krispie treat since I was a kid.”
Steve: “This one was laced. It was excellent. It’s still excellent.”
Heidi: “Which came first the art or the skateboarding?”
Steve: “I think they came at the same time. My brother’s an artist so since I was a kid I’ve been assisting him. He was a cool bro.”
Heidi: “I read about where they used to give you a bag of weed with your Skateboard in competitions, promo events…”
Steve: “Yeah, that was crazy. They’d send out a box when we were on on tour. There’d always be great weed in the middle of nowhere.”
Heidi: “I’ve seen video of you pro skateboarding and you’re so relaxed.”
Steve: “That’s ’cause I’m stoned.”
Heidi: “In one video, I think it was Kerry Getz is saying, ‘Steve Olson will skate anything, anything in front of him and he never gets hurt.’ Did you ever get hurt?”
Steve: “Yeah…I don’t know if Getz was talking about me.”
Heidi: “Maybe it was Duane Peters?”
Steve: “Coulda been Duane. We’ve been tight since we were 15 yrs old.”
Heidi: “You leapt over him skating once?”
Steve: “Yeah. We were in a competition. I got hung-up.”
Heidi: “What’s hung-up?”
Steve: “…It’s when you’re not going to make it but you do. Back of Board lags and you lose it for a second but the momentum carries you and you slam back down on whatever you’re skating.”
Heidi: “What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever skated?”
Steve: “I like full pipes. There’s a gazillion gallons of water running above you and a little, scary feeling. What if they were to just open it? It’d be gnarly if they just opened it up and you’re in there. And all the water started rushing down!”
Heidi: “You think about this while you’re in the pipe?”
Steve: “You just like trip for a second. And then you’re fucking OUT.”
Heidi: “You like to be frightened? Well, everybody must. Look at all the amusement parks and scary rides…”
Steve: “It’s the adrenaline rush… could get hectic. I smashed my head skating.”
Heidi: “Some of your earlier art is broken skateboards. Anything to do with that experience?”
Steve: “It has to do with the actual skateboard industry. It’s broke. And it’s kind of a metaphor for a lot of things going on in the world. It seems like it’s fucking broke. Getting more broke all the time. And no one wants to fix it.”
Heidi: “I love your bomb, btw. Everyone loves it. At the 01 anti-war show everyone was trying to ride it.”
Steve: “The first one I made right after 911, it didn’t have ‘Ride this Bitch’ and when I dropped it off to the curator chick she freaked. She said, “That’s in bad taste.” I mean how is it in bad taste? They just blew up the fucking Twin Towers!”
Heidi: “Talk about bad taste.”
Steve: “Told her to go fuck herself. What does she think is in my bomb? My bomb’s full of fucking happiness. You can drop this bomb and see what happens.”
Heidi: “How do you feel about Iraq and the war there?”
Steve: “You have a bunch of ego mongers power trippin’. It sucks. All over the world it’s not just us.”
Heidi: “Do you feel empathy for the people we’re bombing?”
Steve: “Every one.”
Heidi: “I see a lot of empathy in your work.”
Steve: “That’s what it’s about. I don’t use real leather, btw. I do wear leather shoes. I suppose that’s fucked.”
On the Environment:
Steve: “It’s just another marketing tool. I was at this (celebrity) eco-event and this tree branch was in the way, so they just chop the branch off…for the fucking camera shot! When they chopped it I said, ‘I’m out. Don’t use my name, my image.’ Yeah, it’s great they’re getting their ‘message across.’ Now, somebody fucking DO something.
On his skateboarding accident that left him nearly comatose:
Heidi: “Is that the closest you’ve come to death?”
Steve: “I can’t answer that. I wasn’t there. I was inside my head! But it was fucked up. It doesn’t feel good to eat shit.”
Heidi: “How long did it take you to get back on a board after that?”
Steve: “When my stitches came out…a couple of weeks later. But skateboarding died. Parks were all closing because of insurance, people suing. It was looked down upon. It wasn’t accepted socially. It wasn’t media driven like it is now. But we had a fucking blast when they closed shit down. No people there….It was all cops and robbers except we weren’t robbing anything.”
Heidi: “What turned it around? Commercialism?”
Steve: “I don’t know. Tony Hawk turned it around.”
Heidi: “What’s more dangerous, boarding or art?”
Steve: “Skateboarding is definitely more dangerous. Well, I suppose I could chop my hand off…I use a jigsaw, work with routers, all that bullshit.”
Heidi: “Do you plan out your art? Have a concept going in or does it emerge?”
Steve: “It’s definitely thought out. I have to think out how to produce it.”
Heidi: “Ever change directions with it along the way?”
Steve: “I will allow accidents to happen.”
Heidi: “I saw a performance art video of you smashing up boards.”
Steve: “Show I did in New York. I broke 21 boards. Most people didn’t get it which is typical. Some of my older friends got it.”
Heidi: “What was the concept there?”
Steve: “I was making fun of the skateboard industry, some lame dudes producing boards to be broken so kids will have to go out and spend another $55 every few weeks to buy a new board. In a Capitalistic world that’s perfect.”
Heidi: “‘Where everything’s made to be broken.'” …Song lyric.”
Steve: “I’m not saying it’s right or wrong. In the 70’s we were experimenting with new materials. Now that’s stopped…everyone’s going to China to produce boards now. Obviously, the margin is better. We could do it here. How ’bout melt something down and make a board out of recyclables?”
Heidi: “Have you expanded on that concept in your artwork?”
Steve: “Did you see my rusted spray paint cans?”
Along his studio walls Steve has dozens of rusted out spray paint cans carefully framed, some under glass.
Steve: “They’re supposed to be dead. Disposable. But I say they’ve just gone to the next step.”
Heidi: “Not disposable?”
Steve: “What’s disposable? Nothing’s really disposable…it’s all going somewhere. This whole idea of “disposable” is just bullshit. Disposable Income? Like, I have so much money I can afford to throw it away? That’s weak. Fuck, go help someone.”
Heidi: “Who are some of your art icons?”
Steve: “Barbara Kruger. Marcel Duchamp.”
Heidi: “Have you ever been in love?”
Steve: “I’m always in love. “
Heidi: “When you were a kid did you go through those bomb drills in school under the desk?”
Steve: “Oh yeah! That was great. I was under Hope Tillman’s desk. “Mr. Olson, what are you doing under Ms. Tillman’s desk?” Nothing. Just making sure she’s O.K.”
Heidi: “What would you most want to be remembered for?”
Steve: “Sex. It’s all about sex. It’s all expression. Creation…Making up your own tricks.”
Steve’s also been a commodities broker.
Steve: “Commodities. It’s a scam.”
Heidi: “What else is a scam?”
Steve: “Michael Moore is a scam. He’s a fucking pig. He invests in everything he’s talking shit about. Yeah, it’s cool to talk shit but give me a solution.”
Heidi: “What’s your solution?”
Steve: “The solution is simple. Everyone needs to realize that we’re here to have fun.”