By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
No, but I could show up on his doorstep with a stun gun.
Has painting played a profound role in your life, post–Lyme disease?
For a little while, I thought I was dying. I was extremely ill, I couldn’t function, and I was stuck in my apartment. And I don’t know if it’s New York City or human nature, but everybody runs from you. So every night I’d be home alone, and I’d just started painting. It was like making windows for myself. It saved me.
Your paintings seem to project a dry humor onto life’s more mundane, and sometimes dark, facets. Even so, optimism prevails.
I feel optimistic about life in general, and I’m hopelessly naive. I always expect that humanity will do better than it does. People see me as cynical and dark, but I’m not at all.
There’s a puerile element, too, in the animals and bright colors, and an almost childlike vision of sexuality. Where does this odd innocence come from?
I just think that I have an odd innocence. I actually thought everybody was going to be freaked out about the cover painting, First You Blow Us, Then We’ll Let You Go, but everyone who sees it laughs. It’s basically a rape painting, and it’s really not acceptable, but because this woman is surrounded by bunnies, people think it’s great.
There’s a natural inclination to compare your painting to your music. Do you see a similarity?
The painting has a kind of childlike brokenness and a sophistication at the same time. There’s a certain amount of technique that’s then destroyed by a naive quality, and it was the same in the band — we played our instruments like we’d just found them on the street.
Now, you painted in those days too. I read that you had an influence on Basquiat?
When he was 18, Basquiat used to sleep on my floor — I was 26. We used to paint together all the time, and I was already doing this thing with all these words in it. Some people refer to my work as being influenced by him — and I think anybody who says our stuff looks alike is somewhat moronic — but I was already John Lurie of the Lounge Lizards, and he was this kid who followed me everywhere. You figure out who influenced who. That said, Basquiat was really a force, and he didn’t steal.
Why didn’t you pursue painting more, then?
Those were completely wild days: You’d hang out, come home, practice music for an hour, paint for a little bit, go out and party, sleep off the hangover, hang out ... it was a freeform existence. Then the band started to make it, and I’m still painting, but the [Jim] Jarmusch movies come out, and now I’m known for acting. Meanwhile, all these painters I’d known when they were poor — Richard Prince, Julian Schnabel, Francesco Colmente, Basquiat, Chris Wool — they’re making millions of dollars. For me to come out and say, “Oh, I’m a painter too!” just seemed really garish. I kept it to myself and figured if I ever sold my work, it’d be worth a fortune. Of course, I forgot about how the art world works. If it didn’t sell for $10,000 in 1984, it’s now not worth a million — it’s only worth $10,000. I should have been garish.
Did the energy of the time fuel you, personally, to do so much, or would you have been just as busy without it?
I probably would have been busier. There was so much fun to have. It was the ’80s, and I was labeled the coolest guy in New York. I took a lot of drugs and had sex with a lot of people. I saw something horrifying recently in New York magazine. They ran an article about the East Village in the ’80s, and everybody but me and two other people were dead. I was like, “Whoa. I’ll never complain about being sick again.”
You got off easy, I suppose?
Well, I don’t know which is easier. I haven’t tried the other way yet.
But you’re feeling better these days?
I am. I’ve done a ton of different things — endless antibiotics, Chinese herbs, homeopathic stuff — but ozone seems to be working. And I also know what the symptoms are now, even though there are hundreds of them. Essentially, it’s like the worst drug experience you’ve ever been on, all the time. But look, I just flew out to L.A., checked into a hotel, did a book signing and went to a party. Three years ago, I couldn’t have made it to the airport. I’m definitely better than I was. Hell, what if I come back all the way?