Marvelous Pandemic: An interview with painter Scott Marvel Cassidy

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil on canvas.

Duluth Sink, 2020, Oil on canvas, 16″ x 20″

Scott Marvel Cassidy has been producing remarkable work in Los Angeles for a couple of decades now, ranging from rigorously conceptual sculptures to absurdly literal audio collages to professionalish comedy to the masterfully mimetic oil paintings in his current show: Marketa and Maria Paintings on view at SOLDES Gallery Feb. 19 – April 2, Fridays -Sundays, 12 NOON – 5:00 PM, 510 Bernard Street, 90012. Old school Chinatowners will remember 510 Bernard as the original home of Human Resources and David Kordansky Gallery, among other enterprises. It’s good to see this funky old space is still happening! LESS ART chewed the fat with Cassidy in the car-port tent of his Duluth estate…

LESS ART: Where do you get your ideas?

Scott Marvel Cassidy: My paintings are non-narrative subjects of my immediate environment.  Mostly dealing with anxiety, self-absorption and OCD. I specifically use sable brushes so as not to have gestural strokes or paint thickness.  I try to paint every detail i can possible see.  Overworking a painting is the approach and a way to honor my obsessive tendencies and emotional distance.  

LESS ART: So you mean to say that the subject of your paintings is actually the process involved — the amount and intensity of attention paid to your visual environment, and the precision of your craft in transcribing it? Sounds almost devotional.

Scott Marvel Cassidy: More meditation than devotional. I am still thrilled by painting and looking at painting. Painting for the sake of painting (to paraphrase what Lemmy or someone said “noise for the sake of noise.”)

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil on canvas

Maria and Marketa in Quarantine, 2020, Oil on canvas

LESS ART: So there’s actually a lot of pleasure in anxiety, self absorption and OCD? Or maybe in dealing with anxiety, self absorption and OCD? 

Scott Marvel Cassidy: Painting and drawing has always been a way of dealing with anxiety, bipolar depression and life in general. So when I say I’m still thrilled with painting and it is a meditation, it is a therapeutic venture. 

LESS ART: What’s in this show? Who is Marketa?

Scott Marvel Cassidy: The paintings in the show were painted during the height of the pandemic. I figured by the time I showed these paintings they would be nostalgic, in terms of the bad old days of COVID — but here we still are!

Marketa is Maria [Bamford, the artist’s wife]’s best friend and a great patient model.

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil on canvas.

Woman Sitting (Quarantine, Day 65), 2020, Oil on canvas, 35″ x 28″


LESS ART: How has the pandemic affected your work? I know some of the content you’ve posted on social media has been specifically referencing that. Has your practice been changed as well?


Scott Marvel Cassidy: The pandemic hit and I thought I was fine but Maria let me know I wasn’t so cool headed. So I went on Prozac and that helped me with focus and the emotional spiraling. Also I couldn’t hire models to paint anymore so I started buying movie prop dummies. They aren’t as expensive as a model and they don’t move! So I paint still “lives” almost exclusively.

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil on canvas.

Quarantine Still Life, 2020, Oil on canvas, 18″ x 14″

LESS ART: The work that I remember first noticing of yours was that series where you pastiched fragments of – was is Norman Rockwell paintings? – into depictions of your distinctly un-Norman Rockwell family history. That must have been more than a decade ago — can you give a rough outline of how the work got from there to here?

Scott Marvel Cassidy: The earlier work was being made during the time I worked for Jim Shaw and I also was working for mural and faux finish contractors. It was a very rote way of working on those jobs. Using photo reference, tracing and filling in with color. Efficient and polished. So my own art moved to the same process. After about 15 years, one gets burned out and cynical. I didn’t want to make art anymore. So I just started painting what I wanted to see in a gallery or museum. Still life and portraiture is what I gravitate to and no more photo reference. I still enjoy Jim’s work and most contemporary art but it’s not what comes out of my brush.

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil 0n canvas.

Marketa and Maria, 2020, Oil on canvas, 22 1/2″ x 27″

LESS ART: So it was more of a reboot than an evolution? Do you have to actively resist conceptualizing now, or is it a total relief? 

Scott Marvel Cassidy: The best conceptual artists are ones that write well and can tell you what is going on. I think my writing is so convoluted that it’s better I give less information. 

As for the evolution of my art, it just turned out that I didn’t like the rote process of tracing photographs or collages anymore. I didn’t see the point of it, for me at least. It was a job.

Scott Marvel Cassidy  Oil on canvas.

Landscape With Tree, 2020, Oil on canvas, 20″ x 28″

LESS ART: Your still life setups are self-explanatory, but just to clarify, are your painted portraits done in real time, with a model, or do you work from sketches? 

Scott Marvel Cassidy: All of my paintings for the last ten years have been strictly from life. The set up of the still life or model is the “sketch” I paint from.  I spend a lot of time making these paintings so it has to hold interest. 

May be an image of kitchen

Efficiency Kitchen 38 1/4” x 32” Oil on canvas 2021

LESS ART: Can you walk us through the technical nitty-gritty, including brands of paint and brushes, etc? Be as OCD as you want.

Scott Marvel Cassidy: I use sable brushes, old Holland paints, liquin and turpenoid. The brushes are usually the Princeton brand , Siberia 700 series. The sizes range from 10 to .001. My colors are initially bone black, titanium white, yellow ochre and raw sienna (the dead palette). As a painting progresses I’ll use ultramarine blue, alizarin crimson and lemon yellow. My maul stick is a turn of the century arrow with feathers and point taken off. The end is a leather sack of synthetic pig bladder stuffed with goose down. The bladder is fastened to the stick with a copper crimp.

I have arthritis and my hands cramp up after painting all day. Sometimes I duct tape my brushes to my hand. 

No photo description available.

Duluth Nap (Quarantine) 20” x 16”. Oil on canvas.

LESS ART: What artists – contemporary or historical – do you find yourself identifying with at this point?

Scott Marvel Cassidy: The artist who has the biggest influence over me is my wife. Her work ethic and skill as a performer and writer are very inspiring. She is a great loving support. Jim Shaw also for is work ethic and weird scenes inside the gold mind. 

Other artists like Lucien Freud, Antonio Lopez Garcia, Alice Neel, Cranach…I could be here all day…

https://www.scottmarvelcassidy.com/

Guest Column: Daniel Hawkins on Marnie Weber’s Collages

Friend, bandmate and awesome artist Marnie Weber is celebrating LA’s Art Fair Inferno at the Alamo, with the opening of a midcareer survey focusing exclusively on her collage work — curated by friend, bandmate, and awesome artist Daniel Hawkins. Daniel also wrote the catalog essay reprinted below, into which I put my two cents. If you’re down San Antone way, poke your head in, and say Howdy.

Marnie Weber, Unreal Paradise: Collage Works from 1992 to 2022
February 17 – March 26, 2022
Michael and Noémi Neidorff Art Gallery, Trinity University
San Antonio, TX

Curated by Daniel Hawkins

Opening Reception
Thursday, February 17, 7–9pm

Artist Lecture
Thursday, February 17, 6–7pm
Jane and Arthur Stieren Theater, Ruth Taylor Theater Building

https://www.facebook.com/events/3123995671262047

Unreal Paradise: Marnie Weber’s Collage Labyrinth

By Daniel Hawkins

The introduction of collage at the beginning of the 20th century created a fissure in Modernism’s march toward pictorial flatness. The medium’s inherent physicality and undeniable illusionary potential created an unexpected off-ramp towards a new creative superhighway—one onto which the Dadaists and the Surrealists happily ventured.

Abandoning the Modernist’s “call to action” against the pictorial plane, these avant-garde renegades—in particular the Surrealists—indulged collage’s fantastic potential for the “automatic” juxtaposition of imagery in service of dream-like illusions fueled by their subconscious. Unexpected worlds were unleashed which set the stage for generations of artists to come.

Artists deeply invested in illusionary space and its narrative potential, found a figurative “vessel” in the medium of collage in which they could navigate upstream—and away from the Art about Art (and the Art against Art) slugfests that were dominating the downstream discourse at the time. Art about dreams, stories, and vernacular culture were thrown a lifeline. At the close of the century, a young female punk musician was forming her first works—they were collages.

For more than thirty years, multi-media artist Marnie Weber has produced works of collage as a fundamental part of her artistic practice. Well known for her ambitious genre-breaking films and immersive installations, Weber has nevertheless maintained a continuous engagement with collage as both a primary mode of creative exploration and a catalyst for her overarching practice. 

Marnie’s films, sculptures, and installations have received widespread acclaim and been the subject of numerous museum tributes and academic investigations, but a survey specifically examining Marnie’s collage practice has remained long overdue—until now. This exhibition—a collection comprised exclusively of Weber’s collages—focuses on her evolving exploration of the medium’s generative and improvisational potential.

During the planning of this exhibition, I originally set out to establish a straightforward and relatively rudimentary accounting of Marnie’s collage practice with a loose focus on her relationship to landscape—a task that sounded simple enough until I began to delve into the complexity, diversity, and sheer quantity of collages she has produced.

Marnie’s landscape aesthetic is not rooted in a straightforward pictorialism, rather it stems largely from her deliberate sentimentalization of what she calls the “fake natural world.” Weber finds or creates representations of nature that have been carefully staged, airbrushed, colorized, and otherwise manipulated, which she then populates with mysterious characters who are themselves embodiments of idealized nature gone awry.

These surreal and overdetermined landscapes are always slightly off-kilter with parts that don’t quite fit together. The ghostly protagonists and mythological creatures seem to be constantly on the verge of vanishing into some adjacent—though probably equally artificial—realm. Which in fact they do, when they are given dimensionality and a degree of agency in performances, installations, and films. But they bring the off-kilterness with them, rendering our everyday world into the alien and fetishized backdrops of her collages.

Early in the process of surveying her extensive archive to select works for this exhibition, I began to notice an unacknowledged relationship between her collage work and her sculptures, costumes, environments, and films—one of veiled premonitions foretelling her own creative leaps. Scenes, characters, and environments would often emerge in the collages well before they would find fruition in a film or installation.

Marnie views her collages as “perhaps a scene or moment in a theatrical production, one in which there are strange beings, hybrid animals, mythological creatures, witches, and frolicking girls wearing masks.” She adds, “The characters are involved in something strange and transformational.” The beings who gestated in cryptic two-dimensional narrative fragments are reincarnated as fabulous upgrades, expanding into previously unsuspected dimensions.

One can imagine Marnie’s collages as an alchemical crucible of invention, improvisation, and exploration that fuels and populates her larger practice. The immediate splash and gratification of the films and installations are natural crowd-pleasers, but the real transformational jumps happen in the relatively introverted collages well before they make it to the big screen or Kunsthall spaces. 

In his remarkable documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams,Werner Herzog posited that early cave drawings might have been a form of proto-cinema. These ambiguous but narrative-rich collages might function similarly as glimpses of a larger cosmology. Or more simply put, the seeds of the big stories are in the little pictures.

While this cyclic oscillation between inward and outward orientation has an undeniable quality of mythological timelessness, both bodies of work have undergone a linked, observable evolution over the course of Marnie’s career. A conventional chronology turns out to be the perfect framework to examine the collages and their homuncular relationship to the grander public works.

The CHRONOLOGY

1990s: Early Landscapes of the Unreal

In the 1980s, LA was a city of artists enabled by a sprawling glut of affordable warehouses. At the time, Marnie Weber was one of many inhabiting the readily available studio space and performing with the post-punk band Party Boys—major players in the lesser-known downtown artsy branch of LA punk, alongside cult favorites like Monitor, 17 Pygmies, Savage Republic, and the various incarnations of the LAFMS (Los Angeles Free Music Society).

When Marnie wasn’t performing gigs at warehouses, lofts, galleries, and dive bars (including the inaugural performance at the legendary Al’s Bar in downtown LA), she was fast at work on a slew of collages—a fresh undertaking for her. The turn of the decade marked a transitional time, as Party Boys (after releasing 3 full-length LPs and playing live for the better part of a decade) broke up. Marnie began to focus on solo performance and the Art World context—cultivating a post-modern contemporary practice that encompassed music, collage, costuming, sculpture, performance art, installation, and film.

Marnie’s first solo LP, Songs Hurt Me, was released in 1988 as a limited-edition featuring cover art made by hand from spray painted gradients with added collage elements. One of the record’s unique back covers features a nude female figure emerging from behind an ancient Buddha statue flanked by praying angels—all composed on top of an abstract, cosmic-looking gold-on-black spatter painting.

Another edition features Marnie appearing in costume surrounded by oversized zebra fish on top of a dramatic black and white spatter painting. Elements from the cover art made their way onto the stage in the form of increasingly elaborate costumes and set design during live solo musical performances, which soon began to be staged at art venues rather than alternative music venues.

This process—one of private improvisation through collage that extends out into the performative world of costume, installation (and later film)—would define her approach to art-making for her entire career to date. With the release of Songs Hurt Me, Marnie began the transitional journey that would take her from musician to visual artist. Three years later, Marnie released her second solo LP, Woman With Bass, which also featured handmade and elaborately collaged cover art.

The subjects of many of these early works relate directly to her time and experiences in the punk and post-punk music scenes. Covers from records the artist was listening to—often exemplifying the post-punk re-examination of disparaged aesthetics of easy-listening music—and imagery of familiar musical instruments were juxtaposed with out-of-place elements such as a silhouette of deer horns or a tangled ball of wig hair. Collage, it should be noted, was the default medium of punk graphics, as exemplified by Jamie Reid’s ransom-note designs for the Sex Pistols, Gee Vaucher’s visual contributions to the CRASS collective, and even the revival of Bruce Conner’s street cred through his association with the San Francisco punk scene.

Around 1991, Marnie’s engagement with collage began to evolve beyond punk-flavored, custom album covers into a full-fledged artistic practice driven by its own aesthetic logic and interests, untethering itself from its generative but limited role within her music dominated practice. While music as a subject was still holding court, Marnie was incorporating new elements marking an impending shift in her subject matter.

In one such collage, Music For Daydreaming, 1991, a woman intimately resting on an embroidered sofa gazes longingly towards an idyllic outdoor scene in which two women embrace at the edge of a forest in front of a brown cow. The gazing woman is wearing large white antlers. The words “Music for Daydreaming” hang above her while sheets of music, a partially visible guitar, and pastel-colored patterns complete the composition. The central female figure is clearly turning away from a guitar and towards the outdoor scene in a moment of longing.

Thematic patterns were emerging in these early works—a dominant female protagonist, animal-human hybridization, and the incorporation of idyllic landscapes on top of which “the action happens.” These formative works reveal the start of Marnie’s deeply personal but universally resonant mythology.

By 1995, mysterious female bodies, animals, and creatures consumed her compositions. The abstract backgrounds were replaced by imagery of idyllic landscapes and intimate interiors. Marnie’s narrative impulse was taking over. In Fate, 1995, three colorful sea creatures are riding an inflatable raft out into a vast sea. Fate is aptly titled, as this work—one of a series of collages featuring inflatable characters set in barren and/seascapes—marks the first evidence of the direct generative power of her collages on her films. 

Destiny and Blow Up Friends, 1995, (Super-8 mm) features similar characters in similar settings—in this case the Salton Sea. The collages appear as premonitions of the film but equally serve as fantastical extensions of its narrative. The generative power of these collages were not limited by film stock, camera operators, or a permitted shooting location. A true unbounded adventure could be had.

Marnie would continue the decade fleshing out a multitude of worlds filled with an abundance of mysterious beings: nude animal-headed women situated within desertscapes (Bunnies Working at The Pond, 1997); a veiled ghostlike afterimage of female forms merging with green pools of water in an idyllic wilderness (Green Pond, 1996); and a mass of contorted nude female bodies superimposed on a giant fallen redwood tree (The Resting Tree, 1999). Each work is ripe with a potential story that would remain hidden, for the time being. 

2000s: the Circus of the Afterlife

With the turn of the millennium, Marnie unveiled a new cast of characters which included grotesque monsters, masked girls, spirits, ghosts, and magical animals as she shifted her interests toward occult subjects. The birth of her daughter in 1999 might have justified a dip in her productivity, but quite the opposite happened. Her narratives became bolder and more elaborate. The collage output scaled up too, in both size and quantity.

Red Riding Hood & The Snowman, 2000 brought her engagement with fairytale front and center. In the collage, a masked Red Riding Hood stands in a snowy forest flanked by a possibly possessed snowman. Marnie’s reclaiming of the classic fairytale sets the stage for an alternative story to take place. The collage’s resulting filmic counterpart The Red Nurse and the Snowman, 2000, builds upon the collage’s narrative potential. The Red Nurse—now bold and unafraid—journeys through a mountainous snowscape following a trail of blood which eventually leads her to an injured bunny and a snowman. 

Throughout her practice, Marnie sources archetypes, often female characters, and stages them in her alternative reality. In the case of the Red Nurse, she transforms the naïve Red Riding Hood into a bold superhero-like mystic and notably casts herself in the character. For Marnie, these stories are personal. Her existence as a woman situated in America and identity as a female artist drives a strong impulse to revise the world, both real and fictional, into one in which women increasingly hold power and are main characters.

In another example of Marnie’s collage-as-generative-catalyst process, The Ghost Trees, 2001—a collage featuring dancing white trees with faces, congregating around a large marble gravestone—is followed by her 2003 film of the same title. The film presents a markedly different narrative of a captive “snow maiden” who escapes and wanders through a winter wonderland, discovering a donkey, an old woman, and a group of haunted ghost trees. Still, it’s not necessary that one specific collage ends up becoming a film but rather that collage, as a medium, offers the generative potential to unleash profound offshoots, reimaginings, and extended narratives.

Through the course of developing any project, there is (hopefully) an “Aha!” moment. During the earliest days working on this show, my “Aha!” moment happened when I was viewing At The Creek, 2004. It’s a slightly unusual work of Marnie’s in that the landscape is so visually dominant while the characters in it almost become lost. What startled me upon closer inspection were a scattering of masked female characters among a larger group of familiar monsters. These masked women looked jarringly similar to Marnie’s Spirit Girls, even though this collage pre-dates, by a year, their debut in the film Songs That Never Die, 2005. I quickly realized there are hidden pre-visions of subsequent works in many of her collages.

Multiple films, a handful of exhibitions, a mass of collages, and numerous sculptures later, Marnie’s Spirit Girls had taken the Art World by storm. They were the subject of international acclaim when Marnie created Beneath the Flowers, 2009. In the collage, a pack of clowns surround a canopy bed on which lay a lone Spirit Girl. Visually the collage has all the trappings of a wake—the clowns mourning the recent (or impending) death of the last Spirit Girl. The scene pictured in Beneath the Flowers was translated into the sculptural installation Giggle of Clowns, 2009. A year later, Marnie announced the end of the Spirit Girls with her exhibition and performance Eternity Forever. The intimacy and personal nature of Marnie’s collage practice suggests, whether a subconscious premonition or an intentional diaristic message, Beneath the Flowers revealed the Spirit Girl’s fate long before the final chapter of their story was written.

2010s: the Land of Monsters and Witches

Having enjoyed the heights of the art world for a significant portion of the last decade, Marnie began putting her most prominent project, the Spirit Girls, to rest. With the support of friend and respected curator Emi Fontana (and her non-profit West of Rome Public Art), Marnie produced a site specific exhibit with an accompanying film and performance collectively titled, Eternity Forever, at the Mountain View Mausoleum and Cemetery in Altadena, CA in 2010.

The exhibit focused heavily on a new body of collages. These works on paper used imagery from infamous cemeteries as their backdrops upon which Spirit Girls and monsters alike hover in ghostly forms, merge with the tombstones, and run amok one last time. This symbolic ending was further memorialized in an epic live performance by Marnie’s Spirit Girls band who were joined by a group of monsters roaming the cemetery property while demented “caretakers” led visitors on a pseudo-historical tour of the gravesites. In this ceremonial send off, the Spirit Girls, having “haunted” the art world (and Marnie) for almost a decade, were successfully returned to their ethereal cosmic plane.

Marnie memorialized this creative transition in the collage The Goodnight Garden, 2012. In it, new monster’s faces emerge from overgrown foliage surrounding a gravestone statue bearing a striking resemblance to one featured in the Eternity Forever’s Guardian of the Spirits, 2010.The title, The Goodnight Garden, suggests a dusk-to-dawn cycle was underway, and the new day would introduce a fresh ensemble of misfits and ghouls.

What would come next was teased in her collage Once Upon the Dark Wind, 2012. It prominently features an old witch in a dark olive cloak, gesturing manically, while flying backwards on top of a devil goat before the moon. This bold work previews Marnie’s new protagonist, Baba Muthra. In Welcome Home Farm, 2012, the characters Blue Bird, Speed Freak, Dirty Bunny, and Goat Man are joined by their new matriarch Baba Muthra on a decaying farm. A new ensemble emerged as prophesied!

While producing these collages, Marnie began development on a film based on a mysterious land where monsters roam and a coven of witch’s brood. With witches and monsters ruling her artistic landscape, Marnie found a new opportunity to invite her daughter into her artistic practice. Marnie cast herself as Baba Muthra, the demented old witch ruling over the mysterious land called Forevermore Acres, and her real life daughter (Colette Weber Shaw) as Luna Crimson, Baba’s daughter who is supposed to take over the ranch and carry on her mother’s coven.

At the time, her daughter was approaching the age when Marnie herself began her own journey as an artist. Their visual resemblance is shocking. A casual observer might mistake the timeline and think Marnie had leaped out of her earlier films into the present. By incorporating her daughter, Marnie was creating a bizarre and interesting cyclical effect wherein a facsimile of her younger self is confronting her present older self who is modeled after Marnie’s mother. Confusing, right?

This mind-bending conflation of Marnie with her daughter and her mother is one of the most interesting surrealist interpersonal cinematic spectacles that I’ve ever seen! The resulting films, The Night of Forevermore, 2012 and later it’s expanded epic feature length reimagining, The Day of Forevermore, 2016, deserves further analysis to dissect the profoundly interesting layers of mother-daughter dynamics in this symbolically rich and surreal fairytale-turned-film. For now, we have more transformative collages to address!

Following the release of The Day of Forevermore, Marnie focused her efforts on a smaller and more intimate collage format. Moth Dreams, 2016 and The Wreathe, 2019 stand out. In both, praying moths are featured prominently over soothing backgrounds. During this time, Marnie’s subjects became more categorically fluid and less dominated by a singular archetype. It is in that open spirit she began developing two films, one that would neatly put to rest the “Land of Monsters and Witches,” and the other that would signal a new stage in Marnie’s life both personally and creatively.

2020s: the Return Home

Around the turn of each decade, Marnie conveniently seems to make prominent shifts in her work. The arrival of 2020 was no exception. In a year when a global pandemic changed everything, one might overlook Marnie’s shift away from her coven of witches. Some of the notable subjects to emerge include: Moths (Magic of the Night, 2019), masked pajama girls (Our Farm, 2018), tree fairies (Spirits of the Birch, 2019), and the increasing use of farm themes as background settings (The Barn Dance, 2019).

One of the beautiful things about Marnie’s relationship to her work is that she always honors her characters and subjects before shifting the storyline. Her deep respect for the cultures she mines and contributes to (witches, monsters, animals, the occult, Americana, etc.) is exceedingly rare in an art world where politics and status reign as motivational drivers. Sincerity, or at least Marnie’s personal brand of it, is a preciously scarce characteristic and the heart driving the narrative of her work.

Determined to honor her time with Baba Muthra and the coven of witches before moving on, Marnie turned to her character the Sea Witch. Seen first, and most prominently, in her collage that declared the start of the witch-driven Forevermore Saga: The Arrival of the Sea Witch in the Land of Forevermore, 2012. In the collage, a lonesome witch sails through stormy seas towards a garish Cliffside populated with an eclectic display of monsters. 

Nearly a decade after that collage, Marnie was filming the last remaining scenes of her film Song of the Sea Witch, 2020 during the pandemic’s earliest and most fearful phase. The film follows the story of a mysterious Sea Witch living in isolation in a cabin on the edge of the ocean. Her isolation is broken when a group of raucous birds appear on the Sea Witch’s beach threatening her peaceful existence. At the end of the film, the Sea Witch wanders into the sea, and the opening timeline of the film starts playing in reverse. The Sea Witch marks both the start and end of a witch-centric decade.

With a literal sea change underway, the increasingly frequent use of moths as a subject matter in Marnie’s collages (from Moth Dreams, 2016 to Haystacks and Moth Memories, 2019, and many in between) set the stage for Marnie’s most recent film, The Cabin of Mothra Crone, 2021, In the film, a lonely crone befriends a traveling monkey. They live together in her cabin happily until a haunting moth spirit changes everything. Filmed at Marnie’s cabin in Lake Arrowhead, CA, the film (and related collages: Rocking Chair Spirits, 2021, and The Night Cabin, 2021) explore age, isolation, friendship, and loss. The themes driving this work are situated in Marnie’s personal existential reflections about the world we must face over time. 

For this new chapter, Marnie has returned to her childhood state of Connecticut to embark on a series of new collages, some of which are included in this exhibition. In The Arrival of the Daisies, 2022, a young moth girl stands on the rocky shore of a vast ocean while a tattered boat filled only with daisies approaches. Much of Marnie’s work incorporates degrees of self-portraiture, and I would argue this collage is no exception. I imagine that the moth girl is an allusion to Marnie reconnecting with her childhood, and that the ship filled with daisies signifies the revitalized artistic potential of this personal return.

It makes sense that Marnie is returning to her creative roots and to a more intimate solo collage practice in the location where her journey began. In a congruent gesture, Marnie recently unveiled a large record cover art project for the film soundtrack of The Day of Forevermore, 2016, featuring music produced by the artist. The hand-collaged and painted edition of 250 LP cover’s straddle the line between being unique autonomous artworks and visual supplements to her already sprawling epic narrative. It’s a figurative return home—to the place where Marnie’s collage journey began.

The Big Picture

Marnie’s collages, when viewed en masse, can be seen as an expansive uber-cinematic-montage. As Sergei Eisenstein observed, “In themselves, the pictures, the phases, the elements of the whole are innocent and indecipherable. The blow is struck only when the elements are juxtaposed into a sequential image.” The collages, considered as an autonomous body of work, take on a distinctively cinematic narrative arc of their own—quite independent of any of the actual film projects to which they
inspire.

Considered as a slow frame rate cinematic montage or storyboard for a hypothetical monomythic overview of Marnie’s complete oeuvre, the assembled collages approach the structural cut-and-paste of literal film collage—characters and landscapes appear and disappear abruptly, amplifying their dream-like discontinuity and emphasizing the continuous elements of psychological and aesthetic tone.

Each decade of Marnie’s practice can be looked at through a few leading themes. In the 1990s, human-landscape hybrids and the merging of humans with animals in idyllic landscapes form the “Early Landscapes of the Unreal.” The 2000s are dominated by circus characters and the arrival of the Spirit Girls in “The Circus of the Afterlife.” The 2010s welcome occult and cryptozoological entities in the “Land of Monsters and Witches”—a decade that would culminate into her largest single artistic undertaking, The Day of Forevermore, 2016, a feature length film. And the 2020s bring “The Return Home”—both figuratively, with a renewed emphasis on solitary collage work—and literally—as Marnie returned to her roots after relocating to her childhood stomping ground in Connecticut.

This linear thematic approach to her decades-long engagement with collage offers a user-friendly map to navigate Marnie’s surreal narrative labyrinth, and sketches an elegant story arc for a hypothetical meta-movie. The overlapping oscillation of reciprocal influence between the studio-crafted collages and the collaborative film and performance productions are relationships to enrich rather than overshadow the individual power of the unique objects.

For Marnie, each collage is a new scene in her mysterious Über-narrative, but is also a world unto itself, and a portal to an infinite array of potential characters, and stories. We are invited to become collaborative players, monsters in a strange land. We may not know where the story of Marnie’s Unreal Paradise ends, but in her collages, we can glimpse a map of why, how, when—and possibly where she might be leading us in this surreal and potentially never-ending story.

The Big Drip: Squaring the Circle with Tim Hawkinson

If you’re in Los Angeles and you haven’t caught it yet, or you’re coming to attend the art fair week, be sure to visit PRJCTLA to experience a roomful of Tim Hawkinson’s awesome Drip Drawings, which will remain in situ until Frieze Hell’s over. Below is an excerpt from the essay I wrote for the accompanying catalog, which is a handsome and reasonably priced hardcover that sold out at the booksigning event last weekend. A new edition is on its way, though, and you can pre-order by contacting the gallery at prjctla@gmail.com.

“… In traditional painting, The Drip suggests a loss of control, a disruption of the pictorial virtual reality, for sure — but on a deeper level the Drip connotes an onanistic desecration both narcissistic and ultimately fruitless, a self-indulgent accidental libation, a spilling of the wine.


Paradoxically The Drip was simultaneously dismissed as a surrender of agency; disgustingly feminine, verging on the decorative. In spite of this ambiguity, Pollock was contemporarily identified as a new pop icon of masculinity alongside James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Jack Kerouac — come from the West to clear out the lavender cobwebs of Victorian picture-making — and retroactively as an avatar of sexism, homophobia, and colonialism. The price of fame!

It is worth noting here that in their previous mass installation at San Francisco’s Hosfelt Gallery in the Summer of 2020, Hawkinson’s Drip Drawings were identified as “Tantric.” Not to trivialize the wider implications of this Buddhist and Hindu spiritual term (which, in deep consonance with Hawkinsonian symbology translates as loom, warp, or weave), nor to disregard the progressively complex symbolic geometric abstractions that typify the Tantric Art tradition, it is certainly true that the most widely-known aspect of Tantric discipline is the development of control over the release of precious bodily fluids.

As droll and sensational as this may seem on the surface, and as pertinent as it is to Pollock’s he-man cred, it has deeper implications as explored in Hawkinson’s extended series of drawings. The practice of delayed or deferred orgasm in Tantra (as well as other traditions) is explicitly designed to harness the most primal of creative energies to fuel a transcendent experience.

The nature of such a transformation is, of course, secret and/or ineffable, but allow me to point a finger at the moon: I would suggest that in the Flatland-esque virtual reality of Tim Hawkinson’s Drip Drawing oeuvre, the Tantric energies of the tamed Drip are being harnessed in an increasingly convoluted strategic assault on the barrier between the 2nd and 3rd dimensions.

The first drawing of the series was generated by the artist’s desire to realize a simple geometric visualization where the lines dividing a circle into precise equal sections are extended in a rectilinear fashion perpendicular to the horizontal axis of said circle to the edge of a containing rectangular domain – a sheet of paper, in our world.

To this end, Hawkinson designed and built the elsewhere described and documented catch-and-release ink-deployment mechanism and turntable paper mount that allowed him to produce this image with the degree of precision, efficiency, and scale it demanded of him. He looked upon the finished drawing and saw that it was good.

Or at least a good start. As we know from our reading of Lao Tzu, the Tao gives birth to the one, the one gives birth to the two, and yada yada — ten thousand things! As soon as the parameters of Hawkinson’s image-generating mechanism were established, and the initial illusionistic paroxysm noted, their intersecting potentials opened onto a vast new territory just waiting to be charted.

Armed with the interlocking binaries of line/no line and vertical/horizontal, Hawkinson began to extrapolate more and more convoluted geometric illusions, progressing rapidly from Leger-like tubulars through a labyrinth of deco architectural details into an orgiastic proliferation of rigorously symmetrical biomorphic undulations that would make Bridget Riley pee her pin-stripe bellbottoms. Or Sol LeWitt for that matter.

While the Op, Serialist, Conceptualist, and Minimal resonances of the Drip Drawings are worth noting, binary is the operative concept in the Drip Drawings’ most intriguing artistic antecedent — the mostly forgotten genre of early Computer Art from the 60s and 70s, when researchers like Roger Vilder and Manfred Mohr (both of whom began as abstract expressionist painters) harnessed the primitive algorithmic potential of the IBM SteamLoom 6000 to unleash the softer, poetic (though still strictly mathematical) side of the the AI that would come to be known as Skynet.

One of the reasons early Computer Art is mostly forgotten is that its practitioners were also the pioneers of CGI animation (not to mention video game design and VR), and they all got snapped up into Industrial Light and Magic, and couldn’t care less about their Art World legacy. The argument can be made (and I think George Lucas would agree with me here) that state-of the-art CGI is the true avant-garde of artmaking, and that — aside from a few hiccups — art has followed an evolutionary arc from cave paintings through the revelations of renaissance perspective to Spiderman: No Way Home in pursuit of the seamless mimesis of Parrhasuis’ curtain.

With his DIY binary media and radically minimal parameters, Hawkinson is, in a sense, reinventing CGI from scratch; free from the infantile narrative cravings of human psychology and the scrambling pursuit of exponentially accelerating technological currency — initiating and overseeing the development of a pure and autonomous bubble universe that makes no reference to the world of its creator. Or does it?

At least not initially. Apart from the whole 3D thing, which seems benign and inert in its embryonic iteration. But as the series develops, and the drawings begin to look like stills from a time-lapse of cellular division, their convolutions growing ever more biomorphic — their sublimated energy seems to grow increasingly frantic, a stew of homunculi coming to a boil in a pressure cooker.

These wretched beings, trapped, like Howard the Duck and Chrissie Hynde*, in a world they never made, implanted with an imperative to ape a cosmological structure they can never glimpse, eventually develop a culture in which they strive to incorporate in the full bodily dimensionality of their creator, only to fail, and fail, and fail again…”

[to continue reading, you will have to buy the book HAHAHAHAHAHA!]

* Upon reauditing the above track, it is clear that Ms. Hynde is asserting that — unlike Howard the Duck and “Mister Stress” — she does not feel trapped in a world she never made. She may find herself situated in such a world, but retains the option to “fuck off” from it. Wikipedia identifies “Mr. Stress” as Cleveland blues musician Bill Miller, which, in conjunction with Howard the Duck’s similar geographical coordinates, would suggest that the world to which Ms. Hynde refers is indeed the “Metropolis of the Western Reserve!” Later editions of this essay will reflect this clarification.

Tim Hawkinson: Drip Drawings

through Feb 19, 2022 (I reckon)

PRJCTLA

1452 E 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90021

Gallery Hours: Wed – Sat from NOON to 6pm

http://www.prjctla.com/

WTF Thursdays: Thomas Pynchon’s acceptance speech for the National Book Award for “Gravity’s Rainbow” as delivered by Professor Irwin Corey


Thursday, April 18, 1974,  Alice Tully Hall,  Lincoln Center, New York

Professor Irwin Corey:
    

However… accept this financial stipulation – ah – stipend in behalf of, uh, Richard Python for the great contribution and to quote from some of the missiles which he has contributed…Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure. Howewer you say – WHAT THE – what does this mean… in relation to the tabulation whereby we must once again realize that the great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration… indicating that only an American writer can receive…the award for fction, unlike Solzinitski whose fiction doesn’t hold water.

Comrades – friends, we are gathered here not only to accept in behalf of one recluse – one who has found that the world in itself which seems to be a time not of the toad – to quote even Studs TurKAL. And many people ask “Who are Studs TurKAL?” It’s not “Who are Studs TurKAL?” it’s “Who amStuds TurKAL?” This in itself as an edifice of the great glory that has gone beyond, and the intuitive feeling of the American people, based on the assumption that the intelligence not only as Mencken once said, “He who underestimates the American pubic – public, will not go broke.”

This is merely a small indication of this vast throng gathered here to once again behold and to perceive that which has gone behind and to that which might go forward into the future…we’ve got to hurdle these obstacles. This is the main deterrent upon which we have gathered our strength and all the others who say, “What the hell did that get?” – We don’t know. We’ve got to peforce withold the loving boy… And as Miller once said in one of his great novels- what did he … that language is only necessary when communication is endangered.

And you sit there bewildered, and Pinter who went further said “It is not the lack of communication but fear of communication.” That’s what the Goddamn thing is it’s we fear – communication. Oh – fortunately the prize has only been given to authors – unlike the Academy Award which is given to a female and a male, indicating the derision of the human specie – God damn it! But we have no paranoia, and Mr. Pynchon has attained, and has created for himself serenity, and it is only the insanity that has kept him alive in his paranoia.

We speak of the organ…of the orgasm…Who the hell wrote this? And the jury has determined to divide the prize between two writers – to Thomas Pynchon for his GRAVITY’S RAINBOW. Now GRAVITY’S RAINBOW is a token of this man’s genius…he told me so himself…that he could…in other words, have been more specific, but rather than to allude the mundane, he has come to the conclusion that brevity is the importance of our shallow existence. God damn. Ladies and Gentlemen.

To the distinguished panel on the, on the dais and to the other winners, for poetry and religion and science. The time will come when religion will outlive its usefulness. MarxGroucho Marx, once said that religion is the opiate of the people. I say that when religion outlives its usefulness, then opium…will be the opiate…Ahh that’s not a bad idea… All right…However, I want to thank Mr. GuinzburgTom Guinzburg of the Viking Press, who has made it possible for you people to be here this evening to enjoy the Friction Citation – the Fiction Citation. 

GRAVITY’S RAINBOW – a small contribution to a certain degree, since there are over three and a half billion people in the world today. 218 of them … million live in the United States which is a very, very small amount compared to those that are dying elsewhere…Well, I say that you will be on the road to new horizons, for we who live in a society where sex is a commodity and a politician can become a TV personality, it’s not easy to conform if you have any morality…I, I, I said that myself many years ago…

But I do want to thank the bureau…I mean the committee, the organization for the $10,000 they’ve given out…tonight they made over $400,000 and I think that I have another appointment. I would like to stay here, but for the sake of brevity I, I must leave. I do want to thank you, I want to thank Mr. TurKAL. I want to thank Mr. Knopf who just ran through the auditorium* and I want to thank BreshnevKissinger – acting President of the Unites States – and also want to thank Truman Capote and thank you. _________________________________________________________________________
* refering to the streaker who ran nude across the stage.
( transcribed by  Richard Corey) (Found on the archived official Irwin Corey website)

Guest Column: TOM MOTT’S END-OF-YEAR CULTURE CORNER

[Cultural journalism in the digital age has increasingly taken the form of aggregation, filtration, and curation, and LESS ART is committed to promoting a thoughtfully subjective and engagingly personal brand of this paradigm. For one of the persons most accountable for the irreverent deconstructionisms of the Legion of Rock Stars, Tom Mott evinces a deep and sincere appreciation for the history of popular music, as seen in the following year-end best-of social media post, which we at LESS ART have fleshed out with embedded videos and a few images. There’s plenty of new material here to our ears, but also the vicarious pleasure of someone newly discovering John Cale’s post-Velvets oeuvre, and the sense of confirmation with ending on one of Mr. Hardin’s H’art Songs, which have been in heavy rotation at the LESS ART offices these past 2 years. But Mott’s purview extends to TV, movies, books, poetry, memes, facebook groups, and more… dig in, and dig.]

In many ways, 2021 was a train wreck. And in many ways, it’s been a great year PERSONALLY. Here’s the list!

Some takeaways of things experienced-if-not-created in 2021. What you all got for me?

BEST “YOU COMPLAIN NOW, BUT YOU WILL CHERISH THE MEMORY” EXPERIENCES

No photo description available.
[LESS ART-generated artists conception of “home haircut”]

The kids remote-schooling Jan-June while I worked from home.
Home haircuts.
Playing Mott Family Jeopardy online each week

BEST RECIPE

We’ve been making this pasta alla vodka pretty much once a week all year and still aren’t tired of it. We leave out of the vodka, and once we tried it with quadrefiore (Coppola) we never went back. https://www.delish.com/…/a2655…/penne-alla-vodka-recipe/

BEST MEAL SUCCESS

I finally mastered the art of smoking tri-tips with oak this year.

BEST MEAL, RUNNER UP
Tacos El Gordo in Chula Vista

BEST TAKE-OUT
Chargha House, Indian-Pakistani take-out in Culver City. Never fails us.

BEST BOOK I READ


England’s Dreaming” (1991/2001) by Jon Savage. It’s that 600-page book about the Sex Pistols you didn’t know you wanted that goes deep into Situationist International politics and the economic landscape of post-war Britain.

BEST PODCAST

By far. Ever. “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” by Andrew Hickey. When he mentioned John Cage and Yoko Ono in his piece on James Brown, and then name-checked Art Laboe, Johnny Guitar Watson, Curt Boettcher, and James Guercio in an episode about Frank Zappa that was riveting even thought I don’t particularly care for Zappa, I knew I was in the right place. On Spotify, Apple Music, and 500songs.com

Guest Column: Georganne Deen on Panter’s “CRASHPAD”

First thought on reading Gary Panter’s latest & most wondrous book, CRASHPAD:  how delightful that I don’t have to write this now. Not that I could, but did everyone else feel the imperative to recreate psychedelic trips? I’ve never really gotten over that. Inside the pad, a 14” x 11” extravaganza, is a small comic sized version of CRASHPAD in it’s very own cosmic envelope! Is it a travel size? A savoy truffle? I have no idea, but feel sure that the whole project is a 2D time capsule of a hallucinogenic trip. It unfurls the lotus, takes you to the wonderland of clown codes and buzzes you in, and of course the terror and glory of God’s face is everywhere. Yet it’s his humor (the absence of which always cripples hippy and psychedelic art) that gives it that rainbow feel in my purview. 

If crashpad couches could talk or draw from their hallucinatory imprints this’d be it. The book opens with eight pages of free floating data from the mind of creation. There are formulas, there are tips. Whether you find them more meaningful coming from the mouth of an intoxicated paper bag or a neurotic hare is up to you. My favorite aspect of Gary’s work has always been his intent to explain the universe to the sort who read comics. This is a truly humanitarian gesture. He came from church go-getters so perhaps he understood the urgency of telling another version of creation, knowing that he stood no chance of reaching that audience with his message(s) unless they were delivered by evangelical sad sacks and faux he men types (to name but a few of the hundreds of his characters). 

I met Gary in 1972. He was the first artist I’d encountered who had ideas that weren’t being marketed by the art world or culture in general. It was clear to me that his ambitions went far beyond getting on the cover of a magazine, and that was just fine with me. Our weed break conversations often lead to the subject of existence which he’d put considerably more thought into it than I had. Sufism was on his mind that summer. Thank God I met him at that nascent moment in my not v savory youth.

CRASHPAD abruptly dislocates from the machinations of godhead into another dimension I’m more familiar with: waiting for an unreliable dealer, paranoia, self recrimination, getting too high too fast and seeing a seething bull dog in a cowboy hat staring at you from the next booth. More shenanigans ensue, more paranoia followed by relief, joyful acid babble, and revelations!!

The trip unwinds with the ultimate fanatic’s Index to the flower-child movement: 36 + covers of books and posters from his collection (rendered in ever-loosening minimalist scratches) chronicling the ideas, objectives and efforts to transform a toxic backward country into a diy utopia. For this section thou must reload the bong (IMO). Or save it for extended reading when time is your friend bc this is a loving work of research that shoots down all arguments that the epoch was a wasteland of gyrating disoriented bobos whose pipe dreams turned to angel dust.

Just try to get a copy of if you can. If you’re unfamiliar with him, get on it.

Blatant LaFargery

As those of you who have closely followed my multifaceted career (Hi Mom!) are no doubt aware, I have long been interested in art that straddles the line of truthiness — having participated in such antics with The Yes Men, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, Joey Skaggs, Jim Shaw, Jeffrey Vallance and others, as well as writing about and/or curating work by these and sundry intermittently unverifiable entities.

So it was a great pleasure to hear about, then delve into Sting in the Tale: Art, Hoax, and Provocation, Antoinette LaFarge’s substantial new compendium of anecdotal evidence and theoretical musings concerning this kind of creative action, which she refers to as Fictive Art. Between a recent art residency in Fresno(!) and the launch of a series of live conversations with some of the contemporary artists profiled in Sting (more information on that here), we sat down in the plush foyer of the Museum of Forgery to chew the fat.

The book’s front cover features small cast-plaster objects created ca. 1907 ‘by’ Sophie La Rosière, a French painter invented by artist Iris Häussler.

LESS ART: First off, can you say a little about your background, your art practice, and how your interest in Fictive Art develop? Was there a single work that switched on the bulb?

Antoinette LaFarge: As an artist, I’ve worked in many media, generally choosing them to suit the project I have in mind. But one throughline in all my work has been that I am happiest at the places where words and images come together, whether that is performance art or artist’s books or fictive art. I am also more than a bit of a contrarian, so at some point in my 20s I started thinking seriously about why forgery seemed to be the last taboo in art— more frowned upon at every level of the art world than even the most controversial kinds of art. That led me to start noticing art projects that had an element of deception in them, and I sort of ‘collected’ them over the years in folders of clippings (remember when we all traded actual newspaper and magazine clippings?). So there was no one thing, but rather a slow accumulation of noticings. Then, around 1993, I decided to found my own Museum of Forgery as an artist’s project and fake institution, and the actual experience of working with deception took me yet another step down the road in thinking about how and why this kind of work exists— and in my opinion needs to exist. 

Eva & Franco Mattes, Press clippings on Darko Maver, 1998. The Matteses invented Maver as a controversial Serbian artist, killed him off in a flurry of press coverage, and then revealed that he had never actually lived. The project took advantage of the internet as a forum to promulgate fiction as reality.

LESS ART: What is Fictive Art, and what distinguishes it from pranks, forgeries, and interventions?

Antoinette LaFarge: I define fictive art as fictions that their makers attempt to secure as real and true by producing all kinds of visual evidence in support of the project’s factuality. That evidence could be ‘historical’ photographs or memorabilia or actual artworks ‘created’ by an invented artist. Fictive art has obvious affinities with pranks, hoaxes, forgeries, and art interventions, but I find some significant differences. Pranks and hoaxes are usually humorous, short-lived actions designed so that the moment of revelation will embarrass the pranked party— whereas fictive art projects tend to live longer in the shadows and are much more rarely targeted to embarrass someone. There is likewise a much stronger commitment to developing a rich and expansive central fiction and letting it evolve over time. That said, quite a few of the projects in my book have been tagged as pranks or hoaxes in the media— and one of my issues with these two words is that they are a way of dismissing the work without thinking about it carefully. 

Fictive art overlaps with forgery in that in both genres, someone’s work is passed off as someone else’s— the actual maker is concealed. But forgery is primarily carried out to make money by deceiving the art market, and that is clearly not the central motive of most fictive art projects I’ve examined. On the contrary, because of the concealment of the artist’s identity (sometimes for quite long periods) and the resulting censure when the ‘hoax’ is revealed, I doubt whether most fictive artists make much money at all on their projects. One major counter-example here might be Damien Hirst’s 2017 fictive art project Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable— I don’t actually know if he made money off this exhibition, but given his track record, it seems likely. But there was also almost no deception in this case– the fiction was tissue thin because the artist’s name was so prominent in the PR.

Fictive art is also related to art interventions in that it does not accept general cultural assumptions about what art should be and how it should operate. But many art interventions either don’t have rich central fictions, or they take place within art world institutions and so are already marked as art or performance. One of the things that makes fictive art interesting to me is that it challenges the viewer to figure out what it is at the most basic categorical level— history, science, archaeology, art history, art— true or false or neither? 

Detail of the first of the so-called Cottingley fairy photographs taken by Elsie Wright in 1917, showing her cousin Frances Griffiths with supposedly real fairies. 

LESS ART: At what art historical point do you see the category of Fictive Art beginning? When did artists start deliberately working in this medium or mode?

Antoinette LaFarge: In the book, I write about predecessor forms going back several centuries, especially in literature— I’m thinking here of Thomas Chatterton’s invention in the 1760s of a 15th century poet monk named Thomas Rowley, in whose name he produced a large trove of poems, letters, drawings, and other manuscripts. But I think that for all practical purposes, the form starts to emerge with the advent of photography and its power of seeming to be an incontestable witness to the past. So by the early 20th century, we find two teenage English girls faking photographs of fairies and deceiving even thoughtful observers like Arthur Conan Doyle. But as a form in which artists deliberately choose to work, we’re looking at the 1960s— that’s when early practitioners like Norman Daly with his fictive archaeology and Marcel Broodthaers with his fictive museum start to turn up. I attribute this emergence to various factors, including the rise of pseudo-events and artists working with and interrogating mass media— all these are important to fictive art because it is crucial that the (fictional) story at the center of the artwork gets circulated as factual. And then it really accelerates in the 1990s as artists gain access to image-processing software to help with creating fake evidence, and as they get on the internet, with its baked-in ability to support all kinds of facades.

Norman Daly, Home Votive Shrine in Two Parts (wood and metal, 1970) an object from his invented ancient near Eastern civilization of Llhuros. Courtesy of David Daly.

LESS ART: How does Fictive Art intersect with the widespread belief (cf: A Few Minutes with Andy Rooney) that Modern Art is a con-job, put-on, etc?

Antoinette LaFarge: In one way it intersects very nicely with that point of view— because, unlike most modern art, it actually is a con job! And this accounts in part for the reaction of anger that some viewers experience when they learn that a project they had accepted as real history, say, is actually entirely fictional. But it’s interesting that anger doesn’t seem to be the most widespread reaction— many viewers seem to experience something closer to delight or excitement at the moment of revelation. And I think that has to do in part with how much work the best fictive artists put into their projects— it’s impossible not to respect the depth and richness of the fiction and all its created objects and thereby to understand that the artist is a serious person rather than a mere prankster. In part it is because most fictive art projects have a ‘self outing’ aspect— they offer clues to their fictionality that allow viewers to slowly figure out that they are in the presence of fakery rather than be slapped in the face with the fact that they have been deceived. And I think it also helps that there is a big story at the heart of many fictive art projects; people gravitate to stories, and it seems to me that one of the reasons for the belief in modern art as a con job is the often opaque specialist language that is used to explain it, language that makes many people feel shut out and looked down on.

Jake Angeli, the QAnon Shaman

LESS ART: Was Q-Anon the greatest work of Fictive Art ever?

Antoinette LaFarge: That is certainly an arguable position, though I would hesitate on two grounds. In the first place, Q-Anon as a conspiracy theory has evolved and been promulgated mainly through words—on forums, in blogs, by talking heads. This aligns it better with various literature-centric forms like fake memoirs that I did not include in my book, since the emphasis in fictive art is on the creation of visual and tactile evidence. The ‘evidence’ for Q-Anon has largely been specious arguments piled atop untruths, though there is at least one false video associated with Q-Anon. And it has certainly prompted various other actions, including domestic terrorism, that its proponents see as helping to secure the ‘truth’ of Q-Anon. In these ways, Q-Anon has functioned like a multinym— a cover identity that anyone can adopt.

My other hesitation has to do with intention— Q-Anon is one of the cruelest and most unethical movements in my lifetime; its sponsors seem entirely unconcerned with the damage to actual human lives caused by their blatant lies. Can something this brutal qualify as art? Or do we perhaps need a different word for acts of imagination that are designed primarily to harm others?

LESS ART: I’m skeptical of the “must reveal” criterion for Fictive Art. If the artist consciously creates a Fictive work but never cops to it, isn’t it a better fiction? And isn’t the first and most profound effect of the assumption of a false identity the alteration of the artist’s consciousness? And aren’t such artists still operating in the same medium of consent either way?

Antoinette LaFarge: I think that if a fictive project is deliberately made so well that it is never outed, then in a certain sense it never enters our consciousness— it is just another factual kind of thing we think we already know about, as history or science, for example. I feel strongly that unless the project raises doubt in some degree, or outs itself at some point, so that there can be a moment of reflection, it is not actually doing anything very interesting. It becomes a work of supreme craft, one might say, but not fictive art. So the artist is of double mind— they are inside the false identity, as you note, in a way that can be psychologically very profound, but they are also attuned to the audience for whom they are staging the piece. I think it would be the very rare fictive artist who wanted to never engage in some kind of conversation with their audience over this kind of work.

LESS ART: One of my favorite aspects of your book is the multitude of anecdotes as opposed to a handful of airtight case studies. Why did you take this tack and what’s your favorite story?

Antoinette LaFarge: I knew from the outset that I wanted to cast a fairly broad net so that the wide range of methods, genres, and intentions could become clear, and also so that the areas of overlap with activities like forgery, hoaxes, and imposture could be explored in depth. I felt that for a kind of work that is relatively new to many people, it would be a disservice to start with a narrow field of examples, and it was for the same reason that I tried to write towards a general rather than a specialist audience.

I have so many favorite stories in this book! But certainly one that I come back to over and over is the African-American artist Leslie J. Payne and his Airplane Machine Shop Company. His fictional flights in his homemade airplanes really resonate with me for the way he tried to imagine what was for him an impossible future as an aviator into existence and make it real in the here and now.

Leslie J. Payne shown in front of one of his homemade airplanes in which he logged a series of fictional flights. Photo by Bob Jones, Jr., courtesy of the California Museum of Photography.

LESS ART: Let me throw out a few names that I was surprised aren’t covered in your book. Joey Skaggs? Alan Sokal? Desmond Morris/Congo? Clayton Bailey? The Blair Witch Project?

Antoinette LaFarge: The process of deciding who to leave out so that my book wouldn’t become a doorstop was certainly painful at times. Alan Sokal I actually wrote up but ended up leaving out along with an entire draft chapter on primarily literary projects— those that didn’t attempt to produce visual evidence and other realia. The Blair Witch Project I left out along with all the many variants on semi-fictional film and television— mockumentary, docufiction, docudrama, pseudo-documentary, reality tv, and so on. These struck me as deserving a book of their own that could explore the myriad ways that film/tv relates to truth-telling. Joey Skaggs could certainly be in the book, but his work as a prankster has so many similarities to Alan Abel and the Yes Men that I decided to leave him out. And there are also some folks I didn’t find out about until too late, inevitably, which is a sign I think of both how robust the practice is and how difficult it can be to unearth projects that are stealthy by nature.

LESS ART: What is the future of Fictive Art? Has its viability diminished with the advent of the era of deep fake videos and constant digital surveillance? What does it have to offer in terms of political and cognitive change? What will Post-Fictive art look like?

Antoinette LaFarge: We live in an era when people’s credulousness and their inability to parse different kinds and sources of information has become a major cultural and political problem. Because fictive art sets out to make us think hard about what counts as reality, truth, and evidence, I don’t think its viability has diminished. Things like deepfakes are the next-gen tools that fictive artists will be using. Quite possibly, artists will in fact ramp up their work along the truth/fiction border rather than backing away from it. And I think it has real value in helping people to shift the assumptions that underlie their thinking— it’s always our assumptions that get us in the most trouble. Being fooled by a fictive art project stems directly from assumptions we make about what it is (as well as from our deductions based on the ‘evidence’ provided). But I always think that trying to predict the future is a bit of a sucker’s game, and the odds are that there are changes in art practice already percolating out there that no one yet has a name for.

Sting in the Tale is published by Doppelhouse Books, and available wherever such things are sold.

Here’s a further in-depth conversation between Antoinette and Heather Jessup of Dalhousie:

Strangers with Eyecandy: Jenn Berger at CMAY

Jenn Berger — whose pre-Trump animatronic portrait of Hillary Clinton as a child was the subject of the very first LESS ART interview — is unleashing a major new body of work with her Stranger Friends show at CMAY gallery in Los Angeles’ Miracle Mile district. Eschewing the signature technological mashups of L’il Hill and her other other drawing/video/robotic hybrids (see that olde interview for a brief survey, and check out her website ya dingus!), Berger has turned her mad reanimatory skills to the perennially moribund genre of figurative drawing.

Employing an aleatory dada/Situationist selection process for her subjects, and a labor-intensive (8 years in the making!) multi-tiered execution schedule, Berger’s Stranger Friends operates on a different level of hybridity: simultaneous conceptual rigor, meditative craft, and sensual exquisiteness (her minute renderings verge on the psychedelic) — while broaching the whole relational aesthetics/social sculpture can-o’-worms with a profoundly anti-authoritarian and humanistic agenda.

Jenn Berger’s Stranger Friends runs from October 2 through November 6 at CMay Gallery (5828 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, 213 528-4501) Opening Reception: Saturday, October 2, 3pm – 6pm. Mask and social distancing protocols are undoubtedly in place. The gallery is otherwise open Wednesday – Saturday 12pm – 5pm for which you seem to need to make an appointment.

LESS ART: I think your taxidermied people are neat. Where do you get your ideas?

Jenn Berger: Cool, thank you! I was drawing strangers that I encountered by chance and I had the urge to bring the drawings more to life. I wanted the subjects to be more present in the room than they felt to me on the paper, so I had the thought to make them three-dimensional. I think the goal of taxidermy is to make an animal feel as real and alive as possible and I had a similar desire – to bring these drawings I was making to life.

LESS ART: What was the first piece you made in this series, and what were the circumstances surrounding it?

Jenn Berger: The first piece occurred when I was walking down the street in Irvine, where I was going to school and living at the time. I think this was in 2013. A man was walking towards me and the style of his clothing reminded me of someone that could be in New Orleans, where I had lived before. I asked him if I could take his photograph to later draw from and he obliged. It wasn’t planned – I just felt compelled to ask. I was starting to draw at the time and I had the impulse to draw him. I got his business card because I had told him I would send him the drawing. It turns out he hosted a jazz, blues, and gospel show at the university’s radio station, which seemed to confirm something I had sensed about him.

LESS ART: That’s interesting, the sense of a subcutaneous narrative. I think that comes through in the work. I assume they all have these unspoken backstories, and that they overlap to some degree. Is this an important part of the work?

Jenn Berger: I’m not sure how important the backstories are at this point. I’m happy to share them but I also like to hear someone’s reaction without having the backstory – viewers often think they know one of the strangers. Recently, someone thought that one of the 3-D versions (of a woman named Rose) was a character in a popular horror movie. On the other hand, I’ve always had in mind a book element to the project where I would send the drawings to each stranger and draft an imagined response. I’d like to see how my imaginary response lines up with their actual reaction. I’m curious what they would think of the drawings – what would it be like to see yourself with all that detail included? I wonder if they would even remember our encounter (since it has been several years since I took most of the photos) and if that would make seeing the drawing even odder. Would all of the strangers still be alive or reachable?

LESS ART: The PR mentions  “post-apocalyptic scenarios in which characters of diverse backgrounds work together to form new societies” — can you expand on that a little? Any plans to pitch an animated series to Netflix?

Jenn Berger: I was thinking of post-apocalyptic stories like Octavia Butler’s The Parable of the Sower or Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. I could see those types of stories, where strangers must form bonds quickly in order to survive, as a way of framing this disparate group of characters in the show. I was also thinking of novels and movies where there is a seemingly random cast of characters and it’s eventually revealed what connects them. I like the idea that a viewer could make up their own story for why these specific people or characters are in the room together. No plans at the moment for an animated series, but I like the idea!

LESS ART: These drawings and sculptures (along with much of your previous work) have a powerful uncanny charge. Is this a quality you’re trying to evoke? Do you feel like Frankenstein, that you’re creating entities that have some sort of autonomous proto-sentience? Do you ever see them out of the corner of your eye and jump?

Jenn Berger: I think it’s just my natural sensibility with my work – making things that feel both strange and familiar at the same time. I’ve been living with the sculptures and drawings for a long time, so they don’t startle me so much by chance these days. With every portrait, the subject is looking pretty much directly at the camera. I didn’t ask anyone to, but it happened every time (and there are many more photos than I got a chance to draw). I wanted to create the sensation of all of these strangers looking at you. I’ve realized that you have to meet each stranger’s gaze too, though, in order for that feeling of being looked at to occur.

LESS ART: Can you explain the technical aspects of the work – what are you drawing with, on what surface, and how are you copying them onto the vinyl? Are there any quiltmaking type intricacies to the needlework?

Jenn Berger: I’m drawing with colored pencils on paper. Then I take a photograph of the drawing and have that printed on a vinyl/faux leather material. For the sculptures, I start with a printed “skin” and make the foam substructure subsequently. I begin by loosely pinning the drawing to the foam and then I move back and forth between the faux leather and foam as I get into more detailed areas. I shape the foam by looking at the drawings (and make the drawing from the photos) and I try to depict what I see in the drawings – sometimes a part of the face or body looks like it’s angled a certain direction and the next time I look up, I see it the opposite way. The same thing happens when I’m drawing – I see certain colors one moment and then other colors the next. I layer the different colors that I see. If something looks off in the drawing, then that may get emphasized in the sculpture. I try to adhere to the drawing, rather than trying to make the figures anatomically correct. I make cuts and folds in the material and use lots of pins – it’s all towards trying to make the “skin” fit as smoothly as possible over the lumps and folds of the foam. The pieces all have to fit together so as not to expose any of the foam underneath. I often fold over one of the adjoining pieces to keep the seams neat – this pieced-together quality may be like quiltmaking.

LESS ART: Do you plan to have an event where you distribute the promised drawings (or copies) to the subjects, or will it be done privately, one at a time? Have you set a timeline for that?

Jenn Berger: I’ve always envisioned it as a private, one at a time, email or letter exchange of drawing and correspondence. I collected every stranger’s contact info (either their address or email) and imagined sending the drawing or a copy and awaiting their response. I even got a PO Box and one point, which is funny, because each of the subjects trusted me with their contact information, so what that does that say about me? The timeline has gone way off the rails in that I started this project in 2013 and it’s eight years later and I haven’t gotten around to contacting one stranger yet, but I think about it often.

LESS ART: Will you continue to work on this series, or do you feel you’ve reached some sort of closure to the project with this show? Or a bit of both?

Jenn Berger: A bit of both. I definitely want to take a break from this project and explore other ideas and approaches. I do feel this is a good stopping point, for now. If I was starting this series now with what I know from having done it, I’d probably end up with a different group of strangers. So I can imagine different configurations of this project, and other offshoot projects, like the book or animations, that are related, but I do see it as one singular piece and I’m ready to set it aside for now.

WTF Bonus Friday: 1/2 Price CHICK Art!

Just a quick referral to CHICK Publications, who are having a 1/2 price sale on their selection of Fine Art Prints but only through Aug 31. I’m too frightened and confused to fill out the forms myself, but I would dearly love to see the high-resolution version of this “Cast Into the Lake of Fire” painting, because from what I can make out, it looks like the Klan, mariachi bands, clowns and ballerinas, sumo wrestlers, royal guardsmen, Inuit, and professional basketball players are damned to eternal hellfire!

You can check out the rest of the prints here – there’s only seven total, and the most expensive – using the discount code ARTSALE – is the 12.25″ x 27.75″ masterpiece above, a steal at $7.50 + shipping. Hang on a second – is that Dave Hickey?!

PS: If you don’t know Jack Chick, dig The Imp!

WTF Thursdays: Potter on Lovewater

While I was sorting through the image files that Carter Potter provided for the interview I did with him apropos of his show at PRJCTLA (closing this weekend, along with fellow traveller David McDonald), I happened upon this uncharacteristically figurative piece.

It may be my pareidolia kicking in, but I’m getting some serious The Scream/Home Alone vibrations off this, on top of the Pop. Here’s a close-up in case you’re not catching the Popistic frisson…

Now this is intriguing to me, because although I’m a fan of both Potter’s woven film leader abstractions and his deconstructed couches, I’m an absolute sucker for artists that fold vernacular cultural signifiers into their formalist gumbos — and this totally fits the bill, in a way that is otherwise unrepresented in Potter’s oeuvre (although technically, there are some of the film weaves that incorporate actual sequences of imagery, which I also thought to be awesome.)

When I asked about the piece, the artist said that it’s brand new, has never been exhibited, and is entitled American Family. “It’s in response,” he added, “to the story of the Lovewater guy from Santa Barbara who drove his 2 kids down to Mexico and spear-gunned them to death and threw them in a ditch cuz  Q told him that his wife had serpent DNA.” But of course!

I don’t know how the story escaped me, but it was still breaking as I scurried to look it up. Carter sent me links to the sordid details at told by the UK tabloid the SUN — Matthew Coleman is the 40-year-old founder and owner of the Lovewater surfing school in Santa Barbara, has a masters degree in Spanish(?!) from UCSB, and, yes, murdered his two young children with a speargun to prevent their demonic reptilian genetics from coming to fruition and ending the world, a painful duty necessitated by his QAnon enlightenment. At press time, the Lovewater website still paints a sunny picture of the Coleman family’s perfect California lifestyle.

Sometimes the news is just too fucked up and tragic to wrap your head around. This kind of rapid response journalistic/poetic art circumvents rationality to capture the absurd heart of our sad and broken world. Like Goya. Some things just don’t make sense, and are only comprehensible vicariously through the eyes of an artist. Good one, Carter Potter.

PRJCTLA – 1452 E 6th St Los Angeles, CA 90021-1321
Duo solo exhibition with David McDonald and Carter Potter
July 25 – August 28, 2021
Hours: Thursday & Friday 2 – 6 PM Saturday 12 NOON to 6 PM
Book a visitation slot here.