By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
There's certainly some relationship there. As an artist, you're the embodiment of the do-it-yourself ethic.
Yeah. But back in the punk days I pointedly avoided contemporary references. My depictions of the nuclear bombs or hippies or whatever were references from the '60s and '50s. The first time I ever did a drawing about punk was after the fact, in the late '80s. But that's really beside the point, because I'm not a topical artist, and I usually maintain a historical distance from my subjects. It's just a kind of a guilt-by-association thing, but it's not about guilt. It's like the same thing with comic books, or illustration, cartoons, rock album covers. It's a knee-jerk response to the company I happen to keep. That's what 99 percent of people are reacting to. That's not a battle I want to get into. I couldn't care less, it's just such a waste of time. Whenever I'm asked to talk, everyone wants to talk about rock & roll. I'll do that if I don't have to bring my art into it. It just shows the obsession that society has with rock music and rock culture, nowhere more so than in art.
Obviously, emotion is a determinant in your work. Or I imagine that, because I often have a strong emotional response to your work. Are there emotions that you find more inspirational or easier to translate than others?
Actually, I really want to disagree with the idea that there is much of an emotional spring to my work. I'm sure there are more distant artists than myself, but I think, for better or worse, that I'm on the outside in a way. My art just doesn't come out of emotion. It doesn't really draw up that much heat, personally. Partly that's a reflection of my personality, I guess.
But when you use language, it seems quite clear to me that you're often addressing or redressing an emotion, whether it's your emotion or not. I'd go so far as to say that the majority of the phrases and sentences in the work I've seen of yours delineate emotional states -- sadness, hope, fear, the ecstatic. You're saying that is a purely formal decision?
Yeah, I've always considered it more a formal thing. I think this goes back to one of your earlier questions. If my work was coming out of an emotional source, then you should be able to read it as autobiography, and it's not. It's an extension of my art that it lets people read into the feelings it talks about. The fact that I'm not and never was a raving punk rocker is a case in point. In some ways, I've consciously been thinking of engaging more politically in my art, and going beyond just the formal exercise in that way, but that's a different thing.
Politically, in what sense?
Well, I don't mean that my goal is to influence people. I don't mean propaganda in that sense, because I don't think that kind of influence is possible. I don't really know. It's just something I'm thinking about.
So if I have a largely emotional response to your work, is that an incorrect response?
No, of course not. I'm just saying that the intentions of the artist are irrelevant. I mean no one, to this day, knows who Shakespeare was. But that doesn't really matter.
This might be a difficult question to answer, but when you appropriate lines and phrases from literature, what is it about a particular writer's work that causes you to want to borrow and transform his or her words? If it's easier to speak about a specific example, how about Henry James, whom you've quoted quite a lot?
I don't know how successfully I could answer that. To take a writer like James, he writes these really meandering sentences that are part of the novels' narratives, but when you do a kind of dissection of his writing, and take it out of context, there's something going on in the sentences on their own. Sometimes these fragments appear that are not just parts of his sentences to me, and seem to tell me something else, something specific.
So when you read, say, a James novel, I assume you don't read it in a way a person on a plane reads it. I assume you're always thinking about the language and how it works.
Yeah, I don't get lost in a novel in the sense of getting lost in the narrative flow. That's something that you lose. Like when a filmmaker watches a film, he's always thinking about how it was put together, edited and framed, and the same with musicians. I've known a lot of musician friends who've lost their ability simply to listen to music. They become hypercritical about the quality of the recording, and the parts are dissected as they listen. So, yes, I've lost that ability. I guess that's a reason why narrative per se doesn't really interest me anymore. I can't just read an adventure story or whatever. Like reading the newspaper, I used to read the whole paper, and it would take me a few hours. Now I read it looking for things for my art -- not that I read it in the same way I would read literature that affects my art. Journalism is something I just shut off from my creative mind. But I guess my mind and my eye were trained over the years, so even now it becomes a kind of mechanical thing, where the eye just goes at this slow pace. But I think maybe it's not some particular stylistic or formal thing that decides why a certain writer becomes a part of my art. It's probably just that there are some writers I like to read, and who engage me to be a part of their life. That's probably what it comes down to more than anything. You know, I put together that anthology of writers I like [Raymond Pettibon: A Reader], but it wasn't a definitive collection.
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