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