Where does your pictorial work draw from? Where do you get the images that you paint, what do the portraits exhibited in Milan have in common, and in what period did you make them?
I’m a slow painter. Each of the figure group paintings takes months to finish. And that’s not even counting the long nights spent photographing in clubs, or the weeks and months puzzling together the compositions. The large pictures in American Baroque at Wunderkammern Milan are from the last 4 years. There’s two mosh pits (from hardcore concerts), two rave compositions, two scrums from of the Legacy Fatale shoot, and two more from the Scrum series—the hoody and the orgy piles, which stack space in a less conventional manner.
In your “hyper-realist” paintings on show in Milan, you often represent the night, and in general your work seems to address the unconscious of the observer. Is your work more surrealistic or more realistic?
If by surrealistic you mean derived from dreams or automatism, I’d have to say no. My interests are more towards naturalistic or realistic representation, investigating that liminal space hovering adjacent to reality. The old master gloom and glow I use has a long history of spiritual seduction, although I use it less for signaling religious piety than for exploring 21st century anxiety.
Ironically, except for observational drawing, realistic representation is mostly a study of painterly artifice. Even my compositions are manufactured to look natural: often the models interacting are from photographs taken years apart. And the lighting—those night moves—are created largely in process, on the canvas, the result of years spent in old master museums. All that said, I like to think of my approach as an updated form of traditional academic realism (a statement I’m pretty sure most academic realist painting professors would strenously disagree with.)
Your work appears to be an action of artistic “counterculture”, in the sense of dissymmetrical opposition to the commonly shared world vision and lifestyle. “Against” what kind of dominant thought does your work express itself?
The art I’m attracted to tends to challenge the status quo, not just aesthetically (the art world), but the larger cultural conversation. I came of age believing art should be an agent of change, and should help the viewer seek a wider vision of the world. At times this can be a heavy lift. Cultural norms are stubborn. But I believe that the fight is necessary and worth the trouble. Over my career I’ve seen many seemingly intractable social structures shift, usually in a forward direction.
The countercultures have often affirmed their desire for independence from the market. You as a street artist, how do you relate to the art system, with its galleries, fairs and sponsors?
I have two separate bodies of work: studio pieces for commercial exhibition and street art. My street art practice has always been a relief valve for the pressures of my career—a way of freeing myself from the market and its inevitable compromises. That said, when the system works for me and subsidizes my street projects, I gladly embrace it.
By combining hyper-realistic figurativism with “alternative” or “counter-cultural” subjects, your work creates an effect of dissonance. Is this dissonance a way to solicit the attention of the public, asleep by media bombardment and urban chaos? Or through this dissonance, do you express your point of view on the question of opposites and their relationship?
Art history and its progression show us that the unfamiliar is often uncomfortable. I don’t think I’d be doing my job if everyone—especially the gate keepers of the art world—readily embraced what I was doing. That said, I’m not a fan of willfully challenging art, which seeks to assert its bona fides by inscrutability or aggressive unlikability. My temperament prefers art that is challenging but offers an access point. After that the dialectics and cultural issues are your own business. The absolute worst thing for me as an artist is for you to just walk or scroll by my work. The artist’s fervent goal is to give pause. Only then, those sparks of dissonace (or whatever) can ignite.
In your paintings, particularly in mass portraits, the rhetorical figure of the anaphora is striking: there are repetitions (of colors, subjects, details), rhythm, series, full-and-empty dynamics. Is it a way to call attention to observation, a compositional choice, or an obsession?
Sorry, don’t get this one…
A curiosity: can you explain your self-portrait?
One of my ongoing projects is called, “Early Sunday Morning” (after the Edward Hopper painting). It’s a creative collaboration with some interesting people I meet who enjoy expressing themselves by experimenting with their identity or self image. We do a photo shoot and then I paint from the photographs. The premise we start with, is that you go out on Friday night and get into whatever, usually something extreme—debauchery, danger etc,—you journey to the end of the night, and early Sunday morning your body gets dumped back in Brooklyn. The models create and enact various scenarios according to their fantasies—costumes, situations, props etc.—the last set up being their bodies lying on the ground. After several shoots, and seeing the surprising lengths people were going to—exposing their deep vulnerabilites and inner selves—it occurred to me that it would be only right if I participated as well. The shaved, powdered and diapered character is an alter ego from one of my street art projects called “King Baby”.