RINY: Before we start what song are you listening to at the moment and what do you like about it?
JW: Don't Shout at Me Daddy by Ella Johnson. It's a great weird pop/soul song with a darkness and an innocence that I am currently really digging.
RINY: You’re primarily a painter. What attracts you to this medium and do you work in other mediums?
JW: I think painting is such a simple, primitive way of engaging with the world. It's slowness, history, and detachment from contemporary culture all make it perfect for my purposes of examining the conflict between personal experience and our larger cultural moment. I also play and sing in a rock and/or roll band called The New Feelings.
RINY: Is there a message or meaning behind your work? If so, what is it?
JW: Good art is usually about the same things: mortality, sex, culture. I think I have a lot of these themes in my work. I want my paintings to be sad, funny, conflicted and more than a little idiotically exuberant.
RINY: How do you think your work fits in the larger art scene?
JW: People seem really open minded about all different strategies of art making. I think artists have stopped fretting about what art is and are focusing more on what art does.The field is wide open and there has been a lot of exciting painting lately. Of course there has been a lot of boom market crap as well. I see my stuff in dialogue with a lot of contemporary painters. Steve Dibenedetto, Dana Schutz, Caroll Dunham, Katherine Bernhardt, Tom Sanford.
RINY: Is being a New York based artist a help or hindrance to your work?
JW: Well, both.....the rents are a drag, as is the bullshit and silly hierarchy. But there is so much great art to see that you can never see it all. And things happen here on a scale and with a quality that is always impressive. The best art on planet earth always makes it way here for a viewing at some point.
RINY: I’ve heard rumors that you’re a bit of prankster. I heard that you once sabotaged Columbia University’s MFA inauguration under the alias, The League of Militant Apathy, and that men dressed in masks took over the event by challenging the faculty and students to a dance contest. On another occasion, I heard that this same group was on route to throw a BBQ in front of Julian Schnabel’s house, but were thwarted by cops on the way over because you guys got drunk and played tug of war on the L train. Is this true?
JW: All I will say about this is that those Columbia kids can't dance worth a shit.
RINY: What is missing in the New York art world?
JW: I would like to see mixed nuts available at all NYC galleries. Any finger foods really.....
RINY: Are there NY Galleries you particularly like? What about them do you like?
JW: Lots to choose from. I usually like what they show at David Nolan, Mitchell Innes and Nash, Leo Koenig, Luhring Augustine, Canada, On Stellar Rays is a cool new LES gallery.
RINY: What painting do you wish you painted and why?
JW: The St. Paul paintings by Caravaggio in Rome because they made me cry.
RINY: What are three paintings everyone should be aware of?
JW: Yikes! That's hard. I'm gonna go with personal faves:
1. Painting, Smoking, and Eating by Phillip Guston
2. The Flagelation by Piero della Francesca
3. Agosta the Winged Man and Rasha the Black Dove by Christian Schad.
RINY: What three artists have influenced you and why?
1. R crumb for his frank personal honesty and ability to engage with his own shortcomings.
2. Goya for his ability to make the experience of his own time into something universal, complex, and critical.
3. Paul McCarthy because he seems so willing to plumb the depths.
RINY: What are three books everyone should read and why?
1. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass - nazis, eels, a midget that breaks glass with his voice!
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner-because it feels like a description of a hallucination but is so brilliantly structured and full of meaning.
3. Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain-because very few books have been so entertaining to me. I love almost all of the bands they talk about and the stories are so insane.The Iggy stories alone make it worth it.
RINY: What are three films everyone should see and why?
1. Pee Wee's Big Adventure-Greatest. Film. Ever. "Is there something you would like to share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry!?"
2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller-So many great Altman movies to choose from. This one is so funny and so sweet and sooo strange. Plus, Julie Christie......!
3. Laura - Amazing film noir with Gene Tiereney. They ask the villian if he would describe himself as a nice man and he says, "let's just say I would hate to see my neighbor's children devoured by wolves." People wrote better dialogue back then.
RINY: What are three records everyone should own and why?
JW: Why does it keep having to be 3? Usually when I am headed to a hypothetical desert island I get 5 or 10 picks....
1. The Best of Blind Willie Mctell. This is the most spooky beautiful haunting music I have ever heard.
2. Modern Lovers-Modern Lovers. No one tells it straight like Jonathan Richman.
3. Anything written and produced by Allen Toussaint. He is probably my favorite American songwriter.
RINY: If they had to recast the movie Twins, who are you Danny Devito or Arnold Scwartzenegger?
JW: I think I will always be a Devito trying to be a Schwarzenneger.
RINY: What are some images that inspire you?
JW: Comic books, porn, art history, Polish hip hop flyers, movie posters, but more specifically these:
RINY: Alex, before we start, I'd like to ask you to pick a song that's inspiring you at the moment. Can you tell us about the song you've picked?
AB: I am just listening to Frédéric Chopins “Funeral March”, played by Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. Chopin had the unique talent to combine the most melancholic melodies with some of the most beautiful sounds. His “marche funèbre” is a very good example for this.
RINY: You studied economics and taught yourself photography. What drew you to this medium?
AB: I guess I was 14 years old, when my parents gave me a small plastic camera. Since then I never stopped taking photographs and portraying my own world. I also used to paint in the past but it wasn’t a real success. To be honest: I don’t have the patience to work on a piece of canvas for days or weeks. I love fast results and photography is a very fast medium.
RINY: What was your learning process?
AB: As you’ve mentioned previously, I never attended an art school. So the whole photography thing was a learning-by-doing process for me. I tried to read some books about the technical aspects of photography, but they bored me. And so I decided to spend my time in museums and libraries, studying the works of artists I really love.
RINY: Do you currently support yourself financially through your work?
AB: At the moment I have a regular job to finance my whole art stuff. From time to time I am able to sell a piece – and I am lucky enough that the group of people, who likes my works is slowly growing – but this just helps to fund new projects.
RINY: Your work includes themes of spirituality, occult and psychedelics. What attracts you to these themes?
AB: We are living in a world without mysteries. Sometimes it seems to me like there’s a scientific explanation for just everything. This makes life rather dull and so I drew my attention to all kinds of esoteric, occult and psychedelic themes.
RINY: Are you influenced by other photographers?
AB: I guess the works of Henry Peach Robinson, Man Ray, Hans Bellmer, Miroslav Tichý and Bill Jacobson have influenced me the most.
RINY: Are you influenced by books and films?
AB: I don’t read many books, but I love films. I spend a lot of time at the cinema and my local video-rental-store. It’s very difficult to say which films had the strongest influence on me, but I guess the works of Kenneth Anger were very important for me (mainly “Lucifer Rising”). And I really like the rough aesthetics of the 70ies/80ies horror genre with films like “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”. I love all kind of movies, which establish strong, iconic symbols.
RINY: Some of your work seems to have a Scandinavian black metal aesthetic? Are you involved with this scene and does music influence you?
AB: I used to listen to a lot of Black Metal when I was younger. I went to some concerts and collected a lot of records – but I didn’t perceive myself as an active part of the Black Metal scene. Today I am more into classical music or dark ambient by acts like Vinterriket. What still fascinates me about Black Metal is the strong visual language of the genre and the attempt of this scene to escape from modern realities. For me it always was some kind of romantic approach and I guess there are a lot of parallels between Black Metal and Romanticism. Black Metal focuses on very strong emotions, nature and ancient myths ¬– these are also key-characteristics of Romanticism.
RINY: What are you trying to convey through your work?
AB: My whole body of work is some kind of modern interpretation of the medieval “Memento Mori” idea. Like the works of early Netherlandish painters they shall remind us in a certain way of our own mortality – and further on – motivate us to think about our afterlife and the spiritual powers, which influence our life. Therefore I often combine beautiful images with symbols of fear or death.
RINY: I’ve read that you modify your equipment and build your own lenses? What type of modifications are you making and what’s the end result?
AB: To some point I am a child of modern times. Therefore I use standard digital single reflex cameras, but I build most of the lenses on my own. The easiest modification is a self-built pinhole lens or a slit cam made with two razor blades. The more advanced modifications are based on old Soviet glass or acrylic lenses.
But no matter which kind of lens, the end result of all these modifications is the same: a diffuse, blurred and psychedelic look. So some of my images look rather like a painting or an acid trip than a typical photo.
RINY: According to your bio, you use digital recording technology? What exactly is this used for?
AB: I used “digital recording technology” as an umbrella term for my digital equipment. To be more precise: It’s an Olympus digital single reflex camera for photo projects and an old Canon DV camcorder for film. By using self-made lenses for both of them, I am able to achieve a unique look.
RINY: How do you go about conceptualizing your photos?
AB: Most of the time I have only a vague idea at the beginning. For example I find an obscure painting, a film still or a text, which captures my interest. Then I start to read more about this subject and I collect all kind of images or background information. Finally there comes a point when I've seen and read enough. And this is the time to start taking photos … The inspiration for my latest photo series “Traum” was for example a text of Sigmund Freud which dealt with dreams, their meaning and their interpretation.
RINY: How do you direct your subjects?
AB: I don't direct my protagonists at all – it’s more about improvisation and spontaneity. I just let them wear my costumes and go with them out in the woods. There I observe them like a hunter and from time to time I'm taking some photos. That's it.
RINY: With and an unlimited budget, what type of scenario would you like to create?
AB: Hm, good question. I guess I would try to make a photo series inspired by Dante Alighieri's “Divine Comedy”. I love Gustave Doré's illustrations of the “Divine Comedy” and I think it would be a great challenge to translate the atmosphere of the text into photos.
RINY: Who, if anybody, would you love to photograph and what would those pictures look like?
AB: I'm not a typical portrait photographer. Thus I don’t have a list of people who I’d like to photograph. But I’d love to meet the Alien designer H. R. Giger – and a photo shooting could be the ideal occasion.
RINY: What are three books everybody should read and why?
1. Dante’s “Divine Comedy”
(Surely one of the most influential works of world literature)
2. H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu”
(Lovecraft created with his Cthulhu Mythos not only a great classic horror tale but also a whole universe of fear)
3. Clive Barker’s “Books of Blood” series
(As Stephen King once said “The Future of Horror”)
RINY: What are three albums everybody should listen to and why?
1. Rachmaninoff plays Chopin (best classical record)
2. Aphex Twin “Selected Ambient Works 85–92” (best electronic album)
3. Ulver “Shadows of the Sun” (best combination of classical and electronic music)
RINY: What are three movies everybody should see and why?
1. “Lucifer Rising” (Kenneth Anger’s short film is my personal benchmark for occult movies. The majestic pictures create in combination with Bobby Beausoleil’s soundtrack an unforgettable experience. Definitely a must-see for all people who are interested in video art.)
2. “L’Inferno” (A great adaption of Dante’s Divine Comedy. The film was created 100 years ago and it still looks amazing. Especially the famous scene where Satan is eating the human bodies.)
3. “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (The 1974 movie by Tobe Hooper is simply the greatest horror film of all time. Leatherface has become a true icon of the whole backwoods slasher genre.)
RINY: What other artist or photographer’s body of work do you most admire?
AB: I deeply admire the oeuvre of Norwegian illustrator and painter Theodor Kittelsen. He lived from 1857 to 1914 and you can easily feel his close connection to nature in all of his works. Most of you may know his fairy tale drawings and his illustrations of trolls. But he also had a very dark side. Especially his book “Svartedauen” (The Black Death) is full of sinister creatures and it’s not by accident that Black Metal bands use his works as album art. This year I am going to spend a few weeks in Norway just to visit some of the places where he had worked and lived.
RINY: A lot of your work has creepy undertones, but is there a funny story behind any of these images?
AB: I had some funny encounters with hikers during the production of “Maleficium”. Most of the photos were made in the Black Forest ¬– and some of them not too far away from famous hiking trails. I remember a situation when my masked protagonist stood right in the middle of a picturesque wood glade when suddenly a group of senior hikers appeared. The whole group was completely flabbergasted. And it was a tough piece of work for me to explain to them that a goat-headed psychopath has something to do with art & photography.
RINY: Aesthetically where is your work going in the future?
AB: I don’t have an aesthetic masterplan for the future, but at the moment the works of the symbolist art movement fascinate me – with painters like Arnold Böcklin, Edvard Munch or Odilon Redon. I am just starting to discover their philosophy, their aesthetics and their techniques. I guess this fascination for the symbolists and my growing passion for images from the early days of photography may have a strong visual influence on my future work.
RINY: What are some images that have inspired you?
If you're a regular to this site, you'll most likely recognize the image above. This photo appeared on our homepage for quite some timed as the seductive picture designed to lure visitors to our blog. The photograph is a self-portrait by photographer, Courtney Brooke Hall, an artist working from the area of Western Massachusetts so rich with interesting artists, that The Pixies (who began there) once referred to it as the "Valley full of pioneers." Courtney agreed to talk to us about her work, but before she does, I thought it would be nice to provide a little background music. The Youtube clip below is a song from Greg Weeks, a member of the Philadelphia based band The Espers, the founder of the Drag City imprint label, Language of Stone, and a personal friend of Courtney. Enjoy.
RINY: When I first saw your photographs, I thought I was looking at an interesting collection of found photographs from the seventies. Do you intentionally try to create a retro look?
CBH: Being able to look back in time objectively allows us to hunt down the positive aspects of time periods. The 70’s do appeal to me, but mostly as a reference point to now. I seem to be drawn to times when youth in culture took a stand against societies norms, such as the 20's or the 60's. I am very into the 70’s aesthetic, but now is a really interesting time to live, and to be able to take the positive things from the past and refine them into something even more amazing.
RINY: What draws you to that era?
CBH: They were times that pushed buttons, the Woman’s Suffrage movement and getting the vote in 1920, the liberation that brought, and then in the 60's, well everyone knows about that. The hippies, the rock and roll, THE DRUGS, it seemed so great. The 70's seemed to be so hip so down to earth, and yet so crazy, it was a time of sexual freedom, and I love that sort of thing. There was a back to the land mentality too, trying to become in tune with nature. It was all so beautiful, the ideas, the music, the clothes, and certainly I'm romanticizing these eras. What I try to take from them personally is the part of these times that seemed to have a great deal of realism to them, had people trying to unfetter themselves and get back the core of what it meant to be a human. All this unrest and open thought triggered so much great art, fashion, and philosophy.
RINY: Your aesthetic, to me anyways, seems very west coast, like these pictures seem like scenes from Northern California or maybe even New Mexico, yet you work in Western Mass. I lived up there for a while and know there’s definitely a lot of sub cultural icons up there - J Mascis, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lou Barlow, a bunch of Free Jazz guys like Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, and then the crop of guys like Sunburned Hand of the Man, who ‘s music seems complimentary to your work. Are you involved with any of this? If so, how? If not, what is going on up there in your world?
CBH: I have yet to make it to Northern California and I get told this pretty often. I need to make a point to go and actually see it for myself. Part of the reason I haven't been is because I am so connected with this place I live, all of New England really. I just love it here, the seasons, the magic and the history it has. All the forests here seem haunted. I have driven across the country a few times now and visited some great places, New Mexico included. I loved it there in fact, and yet still I can't picture any other place as home.
I have yet to really run into most of the people you mentioned. I think that it's due to the fact that right now, musically speaking that’s just not the sound I'm into. I actually did meet J Mascis to do art for Witch's second Album.
RINY: You shoot a lot of self-portraits. What are you trying explore with these photographs as opposed to say, shooting other subjects or landscapes?
CBH: I think at one point I wanted to be an actress, when I was younger I was in plays but nothing very serious. Being the subject of my photos lets me get out my need for that, I feel all these little characters just twirling inside me, and in my photographs I get to let those little creatures come to life. I think a lot of people have these sides of them, people you can't just be everyday, but through art they can explode and you can be as fanciful and crazy as you want. It’s an important outlet to be able to live inside a part of a personal fairytale. Honestly a big part of my self-portraits has to do with living out in the woods and not having people to shoot without advanced planning. Most of my self-portraits are done when I look outside and I get inspired by the light hitting the trees, and it's just impossible to organize a spur of the moment shoot with someone who lives far away.
RINY: You also shoot a lot of women. Who are these women and why shoot women as opposed to men?
CBH: I think for the similar reasons I like self portraits, it's as if women find it easier to be softer, sexy, dreamier, and they seem so ready to play one of those roles they have tucked away, they are ready to pull out one of their little characters and show it off. I also have a strong tendency to shoot in nature and there is something about a woman in nature that seems innate. Over the years I have been blessed with many wonderful lady friends, truly talented people. Most of the women I photograph, that’s who they are, my friends.
RINY: Your work seems to have an overwhelming theme of sexuality, women, hippies and Psychedelia. It also seems to have undertones of outlaw biker culture, Wiccan and occult themes. What about these themes are you drawn to?
CBH: I am a big fan of nature and the natural world, of people realizing their true self, and their oneness with the universe, a sense of a greater cosmic community. Many of those themes you listed tend to show up in my work because they are all, to one degree or another, anti-establishment themes. It's rarely a determined decision to try and make one of my photo sets have a certain theme besides highlighting a part of a person's personality, or working with costumes and surroundings that inspire me. It's not as if I set out to replicate specific sub cultural themes, but if those themes have inspired me then they will certainly be present in my work.
RINY: How do you approach a concept and how do you choose and direct your subjects?
CBH: It's strange I feel like day to day I am collecting little mental notes and storing them away for the right moment, and often I don't put them all together until the last minute. Part of that has to do with my subject. Concepts for them are like a hand picked, tailored outfit. Rarely do I have a concept and try to get someone to fill it. More often I find myself looking for a pretty face, or wistful body and then I create a world around them. When I am working within that concept I will often go over a short story with my model/friend, or describe a character to them and 99% of the time they get it right it away, as if that person was inside them all the time. It's inspiring to watch that happen and my work benefits from that process.
RINY: What inspires you culturally?
CBH: EVERYTHING! Art, film, history, nature, science, folklore, friends. It's virtually impossible to cite specific things that inspire me; it's hard to explain how a fragrance can inspire a photograph. Although I work in a visual medium, it's not solely images that inspire me.
RINY: Does music inspires your work?
CBH: Oh, of course! I love to have a soundtrack to the stories I create and photograph. I'll put on a Bo Hansson record and drift away to other worlds and get glimpses of what I can bring back to this one. It's so exciting to find new music and get lost in it, and especially exciting when I can get lost in the music my friends make. It seems as though I'm constantly surrounded by musicians too, which is always wonderful. Honestly I have limited musical skills, but I'm in a band with my man, Chris, and Greg Weeks and his wife Jessica. We don't get to play together often because of distance, but the one show we played was in between a double feature of Jodorowsky's El Topo and The Holy Mountain. It was a phenomenal experience and it really needs to happen more often. Playing music with other people is so exciting to me because it's a visceral experience that is unique and new to me.
RINY: You’ve done some work for bands like the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Cinerama, Greg Weeks of The Espers, Witch, Feathers, Bat For Lashes, etc how did that come about?
CBH: Some of those connections are more interesting than others. Sometimes it ends up being strictly business and only on the Internet, but in cases like Greg Weeks or the Feathers/Witch folks, it leads to fun friendships and meaningful collaborations.
RINY: What was that experience like?
CBH: It's so flattering, and humbling to get to meet, and many times become friends with, such beautiful and creative artists. Not to sound too cheesy, but I often feel blessed. I prefer working with other artists too; I love the sense of collaboration and comradery. There's a tremendous amount of artistic freedom and creative input when working with other artists who understand where I am coming from and what I am trying to accomplish.
RINY: Do you consider yourself a photographer or an artist?
CBH: There is a big difference for me between to the two. I never go out intending to document a subject, I want to create fantasy worlds and highlight the magic I see in people and nature. I want to make images that move people, that people might mistake for a painting, or from being from another time or even another universe; images that transcend the content with in them. So I consider myself an Artist.
RINY: Why photography as opposed to other mediums?
CBH: Photography allows me to play with reality, to create my own worlds. I feel photographs allow for an honesty that can be played with to enable my fantasy worlds to make sense, that people understand that this scene really happened, but they never see the everyday world the way I present it. I never want to make fantasies that are completely unattainable, so photography gives me the ability to insert real people and real world surroundings into my paracosm. My camera lens is a wormhole.
RINY: What type of equipment do you use?
CBH: I learned to shoot on a beat up Canon AE-1, and I still shoot Canon to this day, except these days it's digital. I still use all my old AE lens with an adapter; I just can't stand the way the new lenses feel. They are so loose, and I love the having my aperture on my lens. I'm not much for gear; it weighs me down, so I work with what I can. I'm sure if I had bigger budgets there are cameras I'd love to use, but starving artists work with what they have.
RINY: Have any books inspired your work?
CBH: With out a doubt. I am big fan of fairy tales, and old children's books. Some of my favorites are East of the Sun West of the Moon, an Old Norse tale, The Brown Owl by Ford Maddox Ford, and Donkey Skin a French fairy tale by Charles Perrault. Fairytales, folklore, and mythologies have the same feel to me as my photographs, a realistic unreality. I also live for anything by Joseph Campbell and Carl Sagan.
RINY: How about films?
CBH: I love Jean Rollin vampire films, old silent films like Salome, I just recently saw La Belle et la Bête by Jean Cocteau, it blew me away! There are so many honestly. I'm a big fan of directors like Fellini, Jodorowsky, and David Lynch I feel like I could list so many, at this point I am not entirely sure I could even give you a current theme between them all. Our Netflix queue at home never ends, so I'm a bit overwhelmed by great movies lately.
RINY: What other photographers and artists have influenced you or inspire you?
CBH: This is a hard question for me, I don’t find myself being drawn to one photographer over another. I love Mucha, Arthur Rahckam, Waterhouse, Frank Frazetta, I also love the photos in old Playboys, but there are so many photographers that took part in that I can’t pick them out really. I should point out though that there are some great current photographers out there that move me, such as Alison Scarpulla, Ellen Rogers, and Caryn Drexel to name a few. It’s really about appreciating certain things whether it be art or nature, and using a camera as a tool to demonstrate that appreciation.
RINY: Who would you love to photograph and why?
CBH: I was just talking about this to a friend not that long ago. I would love to get some of those ladies I listed above as well as an additional handful of other beautiful ladies together (stylists, models, fashion junkies, musicians, and the like). I feel like we have created this web of family via the Internet and friends, it would be great to get us all in one place and just have fun, and document each other. I want to have us embrace each other as artists and feed off of each other’s ideas and create a stronger sense of community. I hope to make it happen not too far from now.
RINY: With the given resources what sort of scene would you create to photograph?
CBH: I have always wanted to build a castle with out walls in the forest, beautiful beds and great candelabra stands, long elegant formal tables complete with a fire place by its side all engulfed by pines and maples, I would then fill it with lovely ladies in white with long flowing hair, and Persian cats. I will make it happen.
RINY: What are some images that have inspired you along the way?
To find out more about Courtney visit her website: Light Witch
To see more of her visual influences you can check her blog: Dreamboat Courtney
Years ago I was walking through Williamsburg when I noticed a mob of people hudled around a doorway waiting in the cold rain to gain access into a storefront. As I walked closer I noticed this storefront was an art gallery and the people waiting outside included some of the best graffiti writers in the city.
As I entered the space, I saw that the walls were covered with small drawings of monsters, kung fu characters and mountains with faces. Scattered around the gallery were small television screens broadcasting video loops of houses being pounded by rain. Somewhere near the back of the gallery, there was a large Marshall stack, and perched on top was a masked Matt Reilly, from the punk group Japanther, who was strumming lullabies on his guitar. This somewhat Lynchian experience was an art opening for the work of Peter Staley.
It's been three years since that opening and though I haven't seen much of Peter's work since, I know he's been busy running the family business, Sweet William. An impeccably curated children's shop that he opened in Williamsburg with his wife, Bronagh.
As a native New York-based artist who possess a phenomenal collection of obscure records and books, I thought Peter would make an excellent addition to the interviews we've been publishing lately.
RINY: Before we start what song are you listening to at the moment and what do you like about it?
Peter: Buffy Sainte-Marie's Qu'appelle Valley Saskatchewan. I'm very inspired by nature and by mountainous landscapes in particular. I also have a very romantic view of native American culture. When I listen to this song I feel as if I'm transported to a vast landscape where man and nature are at one with the great spirit.
RINY: You work in illustration and video art, which seem opposite ends of spectrum. What attracts you to these mediums and what does one offer you as an artist that the other doesn’t?
Peter: The means of expression that comes the most naturally to me, is drawing. I'm very comfortable drawing, especially with a number 2 pencil. Sometimes when I draw I feel as if I am able to step aside and just let images come out of my hand without thinking at all. This is when I'm my most creative. For me, drawing is like a spring, and all my other creative endeavors flow from it. As an art viewer I'm the most transported by art when I feel as if I were immersed in it. What does this for the me the most is probably the combination of moving images with sound. In most cases making moving images is much more involved than drawing. Although the end result may be more powerful, the process can be laborious and less spontaneous. Most videos I've made in the past stemmed from footage I took with a video camera and then manipulated in the computer. Now I'm working on bridging the gap between my drawings and videos by drawing and painting my source material and animating my illustrations.
RINY: Are there other mediums that you use or would like to explore? If so, what are they?
Peter: I use quite a few different mediums but right now I'm most excited about exploring animation. I'm trying to make narrative stories, as opposed to the non narrative spacey videos I have been making. Right now I am working on developing an animated science fiction story.
RINY: Is there a message or particular idea behind your work? If so, what is it?
Peter: Ideally art comes from someplace outside your conscious mind. The essence of art should be an expression of things outside the realm of explanation. I like to think of my art as devotional art for agnostics. I try to make art that is spiritual and mystical, but I don't really hold any religious beliefs to draw my subject matter from. My work is a celebration of the spirit and energy of creation. I try to keep my mind open, let what comes out come out and hope other people are able to take meaning from it.
RINY: You and your wife own a children’s store in Williamsburg, some of your work seems really inspired by children’s books. I see some Tomi Ungerer in your characters and some really fantasy driven landscapes. Are you influenced by art made for children?
Peter: Not only am I influenced by art for children, but I am very interested in making art for children as well. For the past year I have been working on an illustrated children's book that I hope to get published. I don't always see a separation between art for children and art for adults. As a parent the reality is that a large percent of the art I experience is made for children. I really appreciate it when what I'm watching or reading with my son, is entertaining to me as well. I think it is possible to make art that can hold as much meaning for a child as for an adult. Fantastic landscapes have been one of the main themes in my art since I first started to draw as child. I think it is a very natural human experience to visualize yourself in an idealized landscape.
RINY: How do you think your work fits in to the larger art scene?
Peter: I don't really feel like I'm a part of a scene. I show very sporadically and for the most part I make my work alone in the middle of the night. Very few people see it at all.
RINY: What do you think the New York art scene is missing?
Peter: There are so many different things happening in this city that you could refer to as an art scene. It is such a big and diverse city that any one person could only ever know a fraction of what is going on. So if you feel there is something missing, you may just not know how to find it.
RINY: What do you think is particularly interesting about art today?
Peter: What is interesting to me as a maker of art, is the rapid progression of technology, making it easier and easier to express yourself using a computer. As we become more comfortable with computers, and the programs advance and become more intuitive, it feels more and more natural to make art with computers. This is really opening up a lot of possibilities for artists. This is particularly exciting for me because some things I have always wanted to do all of a sudden seem possible.
RINY: What galleries do you feel are showing interesting work and what about the work is interesting?
Peter: I am afraid I am a little out of touch with the gallery scene these days. One thing that makes New York so interesting is that there are so many places and different kinds of venues for art, that you never really know where you will come across something that strikes you as profound. Often it is not in a gallery at all.
RINY: What are any three works of art that you wish you created? Why do you wish you created them?
Style Wars, top to bottom whole car by Noc 167. Growing up on the Upper West Side in the 70s and 80s, the explosion of the graffiti movement made a huge impact on me. It really bothers me that I was slightly too young to be a part of the golden era of subway graffiti. I think Noc 167 is one of the best there ever was and this car is an icon of the era. The piece is vibrating with energy. To me it looks like the train was forged out of star dust and it is about to disperse and return to outer space..
Machu Piccu. I would have liked to have built Machu Piccu.
Avatar. I am pretty envious of the resources someone like James Cameron has to create such a well realized fantasy land.
RINY: What three artists have influenced you and why?
The most influential piece of artwork for me recently, has been this image that I saw in a book . I was flipping through a book in a bookstore and I saw a picture of a painting. There were many paintings in the book but afterwards something about this image had stayed in my mind, even though I did not retain what it was or where it was from. I went back to the store to see it again but couldn't find the book. I only had a faint memory of it but something about it was still resonating with me, so I decided to make pictures mimicking its composition and theme, as best as I could recall it. I remembered seeing radiating bands of landscape conveying a progression through both space and time, leading to another dimension. A trip to infinity as seen from the stratosphere. I eventually came across it again and bought the book. The painting is called Journeying through Unknown Lands, Its origins are unknown but it is believed to be from central India in the mid 1700s. Inscribed on the back in Hindi, it says "Thus mounting the celestial chariot, they set off in the westerly direction". I continue to make pictures based on this format.
In my opinion one of the worlds greatest living artists is Jaone. More of an inspiration than an influence, the sheer amount of energy he has invested in his art over the past 25 years is unfathomable. This is apparent in that every mark he makes radiates with its own energy. No one can deny that the streets of this city are infused with a unique energy. Few people realize how much influence a person like JA can have on the nature of that energy.
I am also very inspired by the film maker Hayao Miyazak. The fantasy worlds he creates are so dazzling and original. I think the forest spirit/night walker in Princess Mononoke is one of the most unique and beautiful visualizations of a god I have seen. Miyazak is one of the few film makers whose movies I watch over and over.
RINY: What three films have influenced you and why?
I saw Akira at the film forum in its first US release in 1988. As a teenager this movie really blew me away and has had a lasting influence on me. It is so visually enticing and the use of sound creates these dimensional shifts that jar you in to it's alternative reality. I really enjoy science fiction stories with mystical themes.
The animated fairytale Azur et Asma by Michel Ocelot is a really great film. I don't know if it has influenced me or not, because I just saw it recently, but I wouldn't mind if it did. It is the most stylish use of computer animation I have seen.
The BBC's Planet Earth series has definitely been an influence. The genre of nature films is constantly out doing itself and I find it all extremely inspiring. This recent BBC series really has some of the most beautiful images of nature I have seen. I am always trying to recreate the helicopter and satellite perspectives that they use, in my own work.
RINY: What three books should everyone read and why?
Subway Art by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, The impact this book has had on the aesthetic trends of the last 30 years is immeasurable. It is the bible of style
I'm sure most of your readers have read it, but, I think Where The Wild Things Are by Mourice Sendak is one of the best illustrated children's book there is. Everything about it from the illustration style to the story still strikes me as profound. The sequence in which Max's room turns into a forest is one of the best visual depictions a transformative experience I know of. I recently saw the movie made of this book and was really surprised they left that out.
I am a little embarrassed by how juvenile my taste can be so I am going to leave it at two before I dig my hole any deeper.
RINY: What are three albums that everyone should own and why?
I wouldn't say for sure that any of my favorite records are records everyone should own. For the most part I find my taste seems to be a little off from most people's.
One of my favorite records is The Dub Factor by Black Uhuru featuring Sly and Robbie from 1983. This is another example of something that really blew my mind when I was younger and has stuck with me. It is a very heavy dub album but with an upbeat digi pop vibe. At the same time it is one of the most psychedelic records I have ever heard. When you listen to it, outer space is in the room with you. I find it to be very motivating music.
As far as an album everyone should own, I would maybe say a collection of songs by Antônio Carlos Jobim. Although I do listen to music that is dissonant and dark, I am more drawn to the positive and uplifting. There is something so positive and warm about it, that if there is a music everyone should own, I would recommend Jobim. I have listened to the song Águas de Marco (Waters of March) over and over in a row for days at a time.
Bob Dylan's Theme time radio hour is something I have been listening to a lot recently. This is not exactly an album but it is something really worth checking out. It is a series of hour long radio programs that Bob Dylan DJs. Each show is made up of songs based on a different theme, such as the weather or eyes or woman's names etc. He plays great music from a wide range of musical genres, with witty and educational commentary in between. The shows are very entertaining with a lot of music I wouldn't normally listen to. You kind of feel like I you are hanging out with Bob Dylan when you listen to it.
I believe all 100 episodes are available to download for free here.
RINY: What are some images that inspire you?
This is the image I have on my computer's desk top. I took this photograph of my wife in Nepal in the mid nineties. The mountain to the left shrouded in clouds is Mount Everest.
This is a picture I took a few weeks later, with the same mountains in the background, after walking the distance from the first picture.
Living in a mega metropolis like New York, it is easy to lose touch with the fact that places like this even exist at all. This picture is a daily reminder that it exists and I have been there and have seen it with my own eyes. Not just in HD.
A friend of mine recently took this picture of my sons eyeball. To me it looks like an infinite galactic vortex.
In 1968 Marc H. Miller moved to New York from California and spent the next two decades perched above the Bowery on the top floor of an artist occupied loft building. As a conceptual artist and columnist for the seminal underground newspaper, The East Village Eye, Marc immersed himself in the vie de boheme of the flourishing downtown art and music scene.
A little over a year ago, Marc set up the web project 98 Bowery, a work in progress that shares a unique perspective of a lifestyle, that for over 20 years, drove a spike straight through the heart of New York’s counterculture. The stories on the site are told through a curated selection of archival photographs, ephemera, audio recordings and original artwork that enthusiastically capture the rebellious and playful spirit of one of the most respected and influential creative periods in New York’s history.
Recently, Marc added an online version of ABC No Rio Dinero: The Story of a Lower East Side Art Gallery, a 200-page book that “provides a contemporaneous, grass-roots account of artists, groups, and ideas at the onset of the art boom of the 1980s.”
The book, originally published in 1985, focuses on the first 5 years of the LES gallery and interactive community-based space, as well as the broader collective art scene that were pioneered by groups like COLAB and Fashion/Moda.
MM: I moved to New York in 1968 to get a graduate degree in art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts. The Institute was located in the Doris Duke mansion” at 78th St and Fifth Avenue and most of the students who went there lived uptown. It was a formal, old fashion place dominated by aged German professors and quaint rituals like Friday afternoon teas. I was a “hippie” from California; definitely more “downtown” by inclination and finances. My first apartment was in a run-down tenement building on Thompson Street in the Village that cost $64 a month. It was a tiny, cramped studio where visitors from California who were accustomed to much more spacious interiors, were always knocking things over. When my girl-friend from California, Carla Dee Ellis, moved to New York, we definitely had to find larger quarters. Fate was kind. An artist friend had just leased the top floor loft at 98 Bowery, but when delays in legalizing the space kept preventing him from moving in, he lost patience and returned to the west coast. The Bowery was New York’s skid row dominated by alcoholics and homeless men sleeping on the street. It was an intimidating place and because of that the rent was cheap: 2000 sq. ft for $175. Carla was a painter and the space was the attraction. But we soon discovered that the loft would also be our entry into a community of artists and bohemians who lived almost invisibly on the upper floors of the Bowery’s commercial buildings. Carla returned to California in a few years but I stayed at 98 Bowery for the next twenty. My life as an artist, curator and writer would be intertwined with people from the building and the neighborhood.
MM: When I first came to New York in 1968, the art scene as it had developed in the 1960s was peaking and ready to go through a major transition. The baby boomers and the counter-culture were knocking at the door, breaking down distinctions between high and low art, and demanding their time in the spotlight. Downtown was a big party with artists, musicians, writers, dancers, performers and scenesters all intermixed. 98 Bowery was mostly young visual artists who had just come to New York. Next door at 96 Bowery there were jazz musicians and a young actress who performed in “Hair’ and “Jesus Christ Superstar.” I knew art historians and critics through the Institute. When Carla began modeling, our circle expanded to include fashion photographers. There was little distinction between business networking and social networking. Galleries had just started relocating to Soho. Openings took place on Saturdays. You could always learn the location of downtown parties at the bar on the corner of Broome and West Broadway.
The looming giant of the scene was Andy Warhol. But there was also the Fluxus group that staged large outdoor avant-garde festivals each year and initiated a constant stream of extreme art, music and performance events. The art world was small and seemed accessible but in truth it was very tight and closed. Only a few galleries like OK Harris were truly open to young artists. What I witnessed over the years was the development of an alternative art scene: young artists banding together doing their own thing and establishing their own venues and outlets. Many of these artists were part of the artist group “Colab.” By the 1990s this new generation had taken over.
MM: Life moves on. In 1989 I got married, left the Bowery for Park Slope and had two kids. Then a couple of years ago, I was in the process of moving again and confronted all the boxes from the 20 years I lived on the Bowery. The website literally came to me all at once. I knew exactly what I wanted to put on it and how it should be structured. The next day I registered the domain name 98bowery.com. It got going a few months later when I met a young web designer, Haoyan of America.
MM: The impulse for the site is partly rooted in my competitive spirit and desire to tell the story of these years from my perspective. Mostly though, I’m motivated by a love for the things on the site. I really enjoy revisiting the images and stories. I had a pretty good run from 1969 to 1989. As an artist and curator I was close to the scene and knew some very talented people. There’s a lot on the site. It resurrects forgotten talents like Mike Malloy whose ant killing machine got me started as an artist. I get to share memories about well-known people like poet laureate Billy Collins, who often visited 98 Bowery in the early 1970s. It also allows me to put my own art back out there. I’ve found that conceptual art often works better online then as wall pieces. There’s a large audience on the web for the projective drawing pieces where people drew genitalia, pictures of Jesus, and “Unforgettable Moments” (a collaboration with Bettie Ringma).
MM: I still get a big kick from the “paparazzi self-portraits” that I did with Bettie Ringma and Curt Hoppe. What started as a game of getting snapshots with celebrities developed into elaborate multi-media productions with Curt making large photo-realist paintings after the photos and Paul Tschinkel videotaping the celebrities autographing the paintings. I laugh every time I see the tape “Bettie meets Congresswoman Bella Abzug.” Bella was an outspoken, no bullshit, New York politician. She was flattered by our attention but saw right away that there was humor there. The tape is very tight. Bettie got her women celebrity; and Curt got to act out a bit. Paul caught all the action, keeping the camera going and zooming in on details just like he did taping rock concerts.
MM: The first publication that I put online was the catalogue for the Punk Art Show at the Washington Project for the Arts in DC that Bettie and I organized for Alice Denney in 1978. That show and a related one-night, multi-media, performance event at the School of Visual Arts in New York that took place a few months later had real impact at the time. They were the first shows that brought together the many visual artists who were part of the scene at CBGB during the period when the club was at its creative height. The catalogue contains interviews and preserves a moment that affected much that happened in art over the following decade. Almost all these artists still have an art world presence: some in galleries and museums; some in commercial art fields. I think a thousand catalogues were originally printed. Now nearly that many people are viewing the online version every week.
MM: Alan Moore use to live at 98 Bowery and was one of the founders of Collaborative Projects Inc, an innovation group of artist known as “Colab.” Alan was one of the contributors to the Colab publication X Magazine which was part of the Punk Art show in Washington DC. He was also one of the leaders of the “Real Estate Show,” an aggressive, political exhibition that took place in an abandoned, city-owned building that artists broke into on New Year’s Eve 1980. ABC No Rio was the unplanned progeny of the Real Estate show. In order to quell the demonstrations that erupted after the police shut down the show, the city offered the artists temporary use of a nearby building and that building became ABC No Rio. The book tells the story of the early years of the gallery as well as the broader story of the socially-committed art scene that it was a part of in the 1980s. There are sections on Colab, the South Bronx gallery Fashion-Moda, Group Material and the Time Square Show. Kiki Smith, Tom Otterness, and Tim Rollins are some of the featured artists.
Nobody thought that No Rio would survive, but amazingly it is still going today 30 years later without ever compromising its radical agenda. The gallery is located at 156 Rivington Street and is about to begin the construction of a new facility having recently received $1.6 million in city funds and a totally unexplained anonymous donation of $1 million! It’s sort of an ironic fairy tale: the little art space that could.
RINY: What music do you listen to?
MM: I always have music on and I listen to everything. I get excited about new things and then bored. My taste is constantly changing. Recently a friend has been taking me to a lot of New Music concerts at places like Le Poisson Rouge. To be honest much of it is hard to take but every once in a while something is interesting. A few months back I saw Charles Spearin’s “Happiness Project.” He tape-recorded people talking about happiness and then composed music that imitated the cadence and pitch. It’s a bit like will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” after Obama’s speech, but more extreme.
MM: When I first arrived in New York in the late 1960s, I got to see Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore East, Sun Ra at Slugs, and the Stooges and MC5 at a theater in Staten Island. In the early 1970s I spent a lot of time in Washington DC and was into Al Green and Barry White. In the late 1970s I was at CBGB three or four times a week. I bought singles by the Ramones, Richard Hell and Talking Heads at Bleecker Bob’s Record Store; and was a big fan of the groups connected to the art scene like Suicide and the Contortions. In the 1980’s I taught at St. John’s University and had a desk next to a music professor who taught a course in movie soundtracks. Suddenly that was all I was listening to. I especially liked Italian soundtrack composers like Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota. In the 90s I was frequently down south and listened to Country radio. I love songs with good stories like LeAnn Womack’s “20 Years and Two Husbands Ago” and Toby Keith’s “Not as Good as I Once Was.” Four Cd’s that I’m currently thinking about since I recently lost them when I left them in a rental car during a trip to Arizona are “The Best of Fela Kuti,” “Reggeaton Hits 1985,” “Yo Yo Ma Brazil,” and the soundtrack “Run Lola Run.” I play a lot of African music like the soundtrack for “Tsotsi” and the compilation “Kwaito: South African Hip Hop.” Recently I started using Hypem.com which gives you access to all sorts of music for free. Anyone can check out exactly what I’ve been listening to here.
MM: I like art that not only reflects reality but can actually grab hold of it and mold it. I love the way Andy Warhol started out as a star-struck kid and ultimately was able to bring all the stars to the Factory through his art, films and his magazine Interview. Hugh Hefner did the same thing starting out as a cartoonist and then fulfilling his fantasies by creatively expressing them in Playboy. I’m not necessarily a big fan of Shepard Fairey but I do admire the way his Obama portrait got interjected into the campaign.
MM: More generally I admire illustrators who have a distinctive style and are able to channel their own life and passions through commercial assignments. One of the best is David Stone Martin, who is best known as a pioneer of record cover design in the 1940s. What really intrigues me about him is how his full career reads like a personal diary and a record of American culture from the 1930s to the 1970. His art covers the Depression, Roosevelt’s New Deal, World War II, leftist politics, bohemian New York, the McCarthy era, and suburban culture. I’ve always been fascinated by his affair with the jazz great Mary Lou Williams whom he met at the nightclub Cafe Society in the 1940s. She was the one who got him started designing record albums. Their affair was short-lived but they stayed close their entire lives. He did some amazing covers for her in the 1960s when she was zealously promoting jazz as a spiritual force.
(NOTE: You can get images at ephemerapress.com
MM: New York already has everything. You just have to know what you want. Having witnessed some things over the years I can relay some words of wisdom. I remember interviewing photographer Marcia Resnick for the Punk Art catalogue and she talked about two seemingly contradictory impulses that were then in play: the anarchistic and the fascistic. Creativity needs both these impulses. Anarchism breaks things down and shuffles up the way we think. Fascism prioritizes things and imposes order. You need rules in order to break them and create new things.
For more on Marc and his projects visit 98Bowery.com
Superstudio was an architecture firm, founded in 1966 in Florence, Italy by Adolfo Natalini and Cristiano Toraldo di Francia. It was part of the Radical architecture movement of the late 1960s.
In 1967, Natalini established three categories of future research: “architecture of the monument”; the “architecture of the image”; and “tecnomorphic architecture”. Soon, Superstudio would be known for its conceptual architecture works, most notably the 1969 Continuous Monument: An Architectural Model for Total Urbanization.
Many of their projects were originally published in the magazine Casabella, and ranged from fiction, to storyboard illustration, to photomontage.
Natalini wrote in 1971 “…if design is merely an inducement to consume, then we must reject design; if architecture is merely the codifying of bourgeois model of ownership and society, then we must reject architecture; if architecture and town planning is merely the formalization of present unjust social divisions, then we must reject town planning and its cities…until all design activities are aimed towards meeting primary needs. Until then, design must disappear. We can live without architecture…”
Superstudio was influential on architects such as Zaha Hadid, Rem Koolhaas, Bernard Tschumi.
Jean Claude Forest was French artist, illustrator and writer best known for creating the sci-fi comic strip Barbarella. In 1967, the strip was adapted in to a movie of the same name by Terry Southern and Rager Vadim.