You’ve been really involved in the local music scene over the past three years, shooting music videos and even hosting events for bands. Do you think that your interaction with musicians influences your art, and if so how?
I started getting involved with local musicians after I made a couple of videos with the Band In Heaven in 2012/2013. Shortly after directing these videos I opened UNIT 1, which I thought of primarily as a project space without really considering a musical performance component. The first show I hosted, The Esoteric Showcase, featured the art/music collective The Sunny DeVilles and so it was only natural that they performed. They parked their tour bus in the garage and then tagged the gallery up with red spray paint. I was very impressed with them and their opening act, some scruffy kids calling themselves Smith Sundy, and so right away I realized the potential the space had for featuring music as well as art.
I always tried to light the shows very dramatically and we bought a PA system to ensure a great sound. We never charged a cover and luckily most of the bands agreed to play for gas money or free beer. It was a great example of a self-creating community. One of the best things for me was watching the art crowd stick around for the music, or the music crowd come early for the art. I think that we were unique in accomplishing this sort of sociological collision and it might be my favorite thing about UNIT 1.
The UNIT1 sessions videos came about by accident as well- I was thinking about doing a video for Smith Sundy and hanging out with Billy and Rachel from Raggy Monster at the now defunct Coastars Coffee watching Ella Herrera play. It made sense all the sudden to invite all three of these bands over and make some live video recordings all at once almost like a “factory” rather than do individual projects for each one. The first batch of recordings led to another and along the way I continued directing videos for other bands.
I’m not sure the interaction with musicians influenced my art. Rather I saw UNIT 1 and all the associated projects as a type of “conceptual” art piece, if I may use such a belabored term. For me it was re-directing the onanistic energy that is required to create highly meticulous works in solitary confinement out into the world. The “art” was sustained by the collaborative energy and enthusiasm we all had for creating events and videos. I think most of the musicians knew that I was also a painter and filmmaker, but this was not the sensibility that I was bringing to the collaboration. They were the ones being featured and my role was to help them communicate their vision. This was a new way of working for me, and although I greatly enjoyed it, it was not sustainable because I felt that my creative vision was not finding opportunities for realization. There’s only so much metabolic energy that one can generate in a given day, and something has got to be sacrificed for another thing to have life.
I like that sentiment. From reading another interview of yours I know that modern artist Glenn Brown, and older artists Pontormo, Balthus, Richard Dadd, Hans Baldun Grien, and Gustave Moreau are all figures that you feel are worthy of greater attention and influence your work. At a more general level, what periods or movements of art do you find yourself drawn towards?
You’ve done your research, yes those are all my favorites! I’m actually not a huge fan of contemporary art in general. Much of the “Art world” favors attitude above all else, and I think the “correct” attitude is a real shitty one. Let me give you an example. There’s a scene I love in The Big Lebowski where The Dude watches in utter confusion as Maude Lebowski and her video artist friend with the pencil mustache laugh hysterically at an inside joke while talking to an Italian curator over the phone. In a way this scene I think illustrates the prevalent Art world aesthetic. Despite it’s being dismissive of past forms, it reminds me of Mannerist painting, a period of art that came directly after the High Renaissance that was characterized by willful over-complexity, inscrutability, and a general disdain for creating understandable or relatable pieces. It was made by and for a very privileged aristocratic audience, and the complexity was a purposeful barrier of comprehension to ensure that it was only “understood” by the right audience, those that are wealthy and learned. I love Mannerist painting, but it’s reason for existing is complete bullshit.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, movements like Romanticism, Symbolism, or Surrealism are approached with the expectation that the only thing that is required of the viewer is the ability to feel or dream. You can enjoy these works without reading a 10 page explanation of them because their meaning lies primarily in their ability to affect. Similarly I’m drawn, in a rather old fashioned way, to art in which the artists skill or technique is apparent. It’s exciting to me to see the work of a virtuoso-I just don’t get turned on by factory style artists like Jeff Koons who do little aside from sketch out an idea for a fabricator who then employs a crew to build the actual piece. For one day I had a job sanding down the shiny red surface of a Jeff Koons aluminum balloon puppy. It was a 10 hour day of sanding and I only made $120 dollars. I didn’t come back the second day.
I really like your quote in your interview with Anthea Joy Simpson, I’m paraphrasing, “Art is therapeutic, but the patient is human civilization.” Presuming you don’t imagine your work as a panacea, what sort of symptoms do you seek to treat for viewers of your work?
I think the symptom is the terminality of human life. It’s horrifying that we are finite beings, the shadow of death looms ominously over our every waking moment. The Arts, above all else, help us to externalize and understand the nature of our finite existence. The creation of a narrative is perhaps the most important function of the humanities, and without it we would be worse than dead, we’d be lost and alone adrift in a sea of meaninglessness. This is why people kill themselves: because they cannot create, or cannot find in the world, a narrative in which they have a part.
Similarly, we get to define our collective narrative and to come to terms with the sublime and destructive historical events that lay waste to all of our human ambitions. For example, I don’t believe for a minute that man will ever conquer space and, in a similar vein, I find people like Elon Musk to be repugnant in their Neo-Randian Techno-Triumphalism. The reason he’s so beloved is not because he’s actually made any money or achieved any concrete successes (last time I checked all his ventures were financed by his involvement in PayPal and loans from the US government), but because he resonates with our overwhelming desire to believe that we are omnipotent beings that spit in the face of any external limitations to our resolve. The movie Interstellar traded similarly on this belief that we are transcendent beings, unbounded and unhindered by something so negligible as a dusty home planet or the 4 dimensions of space-time. We like to think of ourselves as infinite creatures of light, and in a sense we actually are, although I don’t think of it so literally or cartoonishly.
Recognizing that I’m putting you on the spot so you might not remember them all, what local artists are doing work that you respect?
I’ve exhibited so many great artists at UNIT1, and am a fan of all of them so it’s hard to really narrow it down. If you have to twist my arm I think my top five would be Woody Othello, Rob Regis, Adam Sheetz, Bjorn Davidson, and Paul Caprio.
I really liked the female nudes you produced in 2013-2014. Do you use live models or do you go from images?
I do use live models, although I work from the photographs I take of them. So I guess that’s a yes on both accounts. Recently I began a series of drawings of men that’s coming out great so far.
I saw your interview with John David Ebert. You cited him as a seminal thinker in the development of your artistic view of the world. What other writers or schools of thought have you found intellectual affinity towards and, in a few words, why?
John David Ebert is one of the most creative and talented writers that has yet to penetrate the mainstream. What I took most from him was the realization that mythic archetypes are constantly being re-enacted in popular culture and that most contemporary cultural critics are petrified of actually interpreting things in a way that constructs rather than deconstructs meaning. This enabled me to see the potential in my work for accessing these very potent myth forms and not feeling parochial about it. My “education” as an MFA student at CalArts left me feeling terrified of actually creating meaning in my own work because everything that I wanted to do somehow was representative of an evil Patriarchal Oppression. Something as simple as painting the female form without irony or pretense was a heinous crime, and I’m very glad I was able to unlearn all of this intellectual abuse.
In a similar vein, although I’m well acquainted with post-modern and post-structural thinkers, I don’t find them useful. My tastes are somewhat archaic, I enjoy Oswald Spengler and other Romantic thinkers like Goethe, Nietzsche, and JJ Bachofen. I also enjoy the weblogs of John Michael Greer, James Howard Kunstler, and Dmitry Orlov, who all write in what I would consider the “New Stoicism”. Their belief is that human accomplishment is indeed bounded by finite limitations, and although that’s a bitter pill for the American Individualist who spits at the sun in contempt, I find their message to be prescient and somewhat Eastern in its message of collective humility. It’s not wise to go around to parties talking about this stuff though because absolutely no one wants to hear it.
If money were not an option, which museum would you like to visit most?
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, which I’m actually going to in 2 weeks.
Do you feel the numerous Art Walks across South Florida is beneficial for the scene or do you feel that it would be better served if more condensed geographically?
It will be what it will be, so any activity is better than none. I feel like there is too much distance for anything to be really condensed. What’s clear is that Broward and Palm Beach do not have the support or participation that Miami does, which is a bummer. There are some great shows and artists, but it’s not at the frequency and quality that you get in say Wynwood.
Miami art scene: Describe in three words.
Young Sticky Boobs
Since the passage of the Common Core standards there’s been a lot of discourse on the need to emphasize STEM classed (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) largely at the expense of humanities classes. To me this belittling of the Arts denigrates the human condition for while the STEM fields may help us solve problems, without the arts and a notion of beauty and truth informed by cultural literacy and a familiarity with various productions the former is meaningless. As an professor of the arts, how do you feel about this?
I absolutely agree. Nietzsche actually described this when articulating the differences between Greek Kultur, and Roman Civilization. The former as a free flowing dynamic myth-making process full of self-creating energy, and the latter as a rigid and mechanical system of replication with ossified values and an inability to create new culture forms. Our civilization is clearly in decline, and nowhere is this more evident in the insistence by politicians and administrators that education somehow should become a utilitarian business complete with quantifiable metrics. You see this very clearly in the hysterical obsession with STEM disciplines, and it has taken over just about every corner of post-secondary education. I suppose there is a nagging suspicion, which might be partly true, that the University system is not really a value positive endeavor, and this is a rational attempt to hold it to some sort of Randian accountability. I do agree that in general that hyper-specialization is not helping anyone, and that the throughput of a degree is more often its meaning as an indicator of prestige rather than a set of applicable skills, but for our culture at large what it results in is a misplaced focus on the mechanics of a society rather than its ability to generate meaning. You can build the most bitchin’ electronic device possible, but if there’s no music, film or literature for it to display, then its worthless.
Similarly the narrative of the American Dream is winding down, and public policy makers are looking for dome sort of magic elixir to keep the game alive. Clearly the most magical thing today is the irrational reverence that we afford technology, which is seen as being a salvific force of renewal, but in and for its own sake is just a means for creating new and unanticipated problems. The reckless zeal in which we are encouraged to embrace every new thing that comes around the corner has generated more than a few failures. MOOCs, online courses for the masses, were supposed to be what replaced flesh and blood Professors in a techno-topian revolution. After a few years the numbers came back and something like 15% of people who signed up for these things were actually completing them.
So I think sadly the gig is up in many ways, and that the university system is indeed in a state of attrition. I just hope that the Community and State Colleges do not become trade schools and that we do not turn our backs completely on the Liberal Arts, which have the distinct ability to afford us a Citizenry that is reasonable and well informed if it is operating correctly. So many forces in media and elsewhere are working so hard to erode the capacity of the Demos for critical thought that I fear it wont be too long before America represents the dystopian vision of Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, and if this does happen it will be very easy to pinpoint policy efforts like Common Core and the obsession with STEM as the inception of this decline.
So do you consider yourself a Humanist?
Yes, I do.
What does humanism mean to you?
Humanism, in its ideal sense is something I believe in completely. It means equal rights and opportunities for all people, and it stands for an education and life philosophy on which self-determination, hard work, curiosity, and moral responsibility are encouraged. Unfortunately at the present moment as much as I believe in these ideals, I’m also informed by Cynicism, which is a philosophy in which human actions are often seen as being largely self-interested and influenced by our pre-civilized organic beings. As I’ve grown older my Humanism has been let down too many times, and so the Cynic in me has emerged more and more. Both philosophies are a means of understanding, but I wonder if this understanding is necessarily contingent on the greater circumstances that wish to be understood.
Unit 1 has been a great space for local arts and culture events. Every time that I’ve gone there I was impressed by the quality of work present as well as the fact that it was a space for the intermingling of art buyers with artsy people. Now that you’ve closed it, what projects are you going to work on in the near future?
I’ll be opening Jacques de Beaufort Studio/Gallery where I will create and exhibit my own works, and perhaps a small handful of others, in Fall 2015.