I’d been intrigued by Craig Calderwood’s work, but when I got a moment to really hang out with the stuff – when, by kismet Craig was visiting her hometown of Fresno, California the same night Sister Spit was passing through and she graciously hopped on stage with us – well, I became obsessed with it. 559, the name of the series she showed that night, is named after Fresno’s area code and explores a closeted queerness specific to that place. The images are intense and impacting, mesmerizing candy-colored labyrinths creating figures sinister, or wounded, or both. Hungry eyes peer out of chests and into cell phones, like deranged, digital sacred hearts. An ethereal, bubble-headed kid makes out with a fox-headed kid – or gets devoured.
So, I was fizzing with excitement to meet up with Craig at Craftsmen + Wolves, my favorite new gentrification hang-out, to pick up the piece she is super-generously donating to the RADAR Spectacle. It’s a study for a piece for her new series – each of Craig’s giant pieces begin as these smaller but no less intricate works, and the one laid before me on the table of beeswax paper inked with a pair of snuggle-necked swans, with a smaller illustration of flower-impaled penises and bees sewn to it. It’s super fascinating and beautiful, whimsical and, um, painful. I WANT IT. I talked to Craig on the internet about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Can you tell me how you work with beeswax? Is it messy or delicate or both? Do you feel a kinship with bees?
CRAIG CALDERWOOD: I am using the Beeswax with the Mulberry paper to create a translucency so you can easily see the images within the layers of paper. I find that the wax creates a more visceral piece of paper, giving it a more organic feel then if I used paraffin wax. The process is a bit messy, beeswax is very sticky in comparison to other wax options. I basically heat a cookie sheet up in the oven then take it out, lay the image down and rub the block of wax on top of the paper. The image then becomes more tactile and olfactory, the beeswax is very pungent and creates an interesting texture. I can’t say I have a strong affinity with bees but they do get referenced in the series due to the saying “the birds and the bees”. They go hand in hand with some of the Floral references in the series as well.
MT: What have you learned about swans in researching them for your new series.
CC: I have been reading a lot about Homosexuality in the natural world and a large part of the reading I am doing surrounds birds. I think I like using the swan imagery because the animal is so romanticized and heavily a symbol of monogamy and marriage. In fact the swan is so romanticized that I have been finding it hard to even find anatomy images, especially when researching the Mute Swan. As for its representation of Monogamy, the Swan in Fact does not always perform lifelong pair bonds and has varying mating and pair bonding experience. But I am merely paralleling animals and humans in these drawings, rather paralleling the way in which Psychologist and Scientists have approached queerness in both.
MT: What is the name of this new series?
CC: The Series is Called “Hard Parallels, Soft Parallels”, which has a sort of obviousness to it. The Hard in Soft is Suggesting states of arousal not just in the sense of genital arousal but in regards to the varying degrees of mental arousal. It also references the level of paralleling in the actually pieces, some of the comparisons may be really obvious while others will be very secret. I am still in the research and prototyping phase of the series so I am still developing it as a whole thought.
MT: Why are there flowers in the penises??? It is so compelling and sweet and painful to look at!
CC: In 2012 I was a part of a group show called Best Revenge: A Beautiful Fuck You, where I got to show with the sculptor Nicki Green who was showing these amazing porcelain penis vases with dried tulips sticking out of the urethra. I think when I was working on this pattern I was subconsciously channeling them. The drawing that is to come out of the swan drawing and the penis sounding flowers drawing is about being perceived as deceptive by a masculine accuser (the Chimera – more to come about that in the future). I wanted to represent having a penis as a trans feminine person while also playing with traditional symbols of femininity and what it means to have and want both. I also like the visual of something that is symbolically supposed to penetrate and represent masculinity in some contexts being penetrated by something traditionally feminine. I’m merely trying to create a beautiful representation of having a penis while being trans.
MT: Why are the two pieces stitched together?
CC: The two Pieces are Studies for a larger drawing I am currently working on; I wanted to bring them together to loosely see how the pieces can start melding. They relate in the sense that they are subject to accusations and assumptions from the Masculine Accuser which I am calling the Chimera, a monster made of many different parts in this case the scientists and psychologists that enact different types of violence on the Queer animals and people. They are pieces to a larger puzzle I am currently working on.
Well, as I learned at the Fresno Sister Spit show, I can listen to Craigh Calderwood talk about her work for-ev-ah. Come to the RADAR Spectacle Friday, May 17th at the Verdi Club, and take a shot at walking out the door with this beautiful + intelligent work!
Check this lady out! She’s totally naked, but she’s a superhero, so she’s not really worried about being vulnerable like that. She’s got her superhero hood on, and her namaste posing makes me feel like she’s totally on the side of goodness, as does that sort of smirk she has on her face. I feel like this heroine is all like, Yeah, I know it’s all samsara drama, but I gotta do my part. I’m here to help. A Bodhisattva to the rescue for reals, with a nice pair of wings clawing up her back. I lugged this big, wooden piece by artist Peter Max Lawrence around the Western Addition yesterday, then gave up and jumped in a cab, for I am not a superhero. It’s got a secret second piece on the back, a similarly nude super-dude whose main power seems to be making his bed in the morning. A super every-man we all can relate to! I am so digging Peter Max Lawrence’s super-powered visions after seeing his current installation at Mission Comics, where he papered the back room in scrawling and splattered butcher-paper portraits of old (Batman) and new – a powerful, sinister depiction of a superhero getting Abu Ghraib-style treatment doesn’t let you get to comfy with comic book nostalgia. The walls are also layered with smaller paintings that cascade downward into a pile on the floor, like a tide of superhero heads creeping your way. It’s an awesome illustration, and Peter Max Lawrence is clearly a factory of art! I am so psyched he gave us this piece to auction at tomorrow night’s Spectacle, and I chatted with him on the interweb about it.
MICHELLE TEA: Were you into superheros when you were a kid? How has your interest in them changed?
PETER MAX LAWRENCE: As a child born in the year of the “Star Wars”, “Superman” and “Wonder Woman” I believe that superheroes were the first set of mythologies that I truly believed in. These stories and characters seemed to mix into my very DNA. During my tumultuous teenage years I turned back to comics, but this time those with a bit more independent flair. I became interested not only in the characters but the creators behind them and the reasons for the metaphor and allegories they were steeped in. During this time I was also heavily into Greek mythology and my own repressed homosexuality and in short the the combination of all these things led me to not only start creating my own heroes, villains and universes but to also search out more obscure authors and creations. This led me into underground comics and zines which i went on to author myself throughout the mid to late 90’s. My general interest in them has actually come full circle in the last few years as the big screen adaptations of several of my childhood favorites have been a bit lackluster and now find myself going back to the source materials aka the old comics with some amazing story lines for example Iron Man and his struggle with alcoholism, Batman and the inevitability that he was getting older and needed to find a series of successors, so on and so.
MT: What can you tell me about the heroine you donated? How do you imagine her – does she have a back story, a life off the canvas, or wood?
PML: The heroine depicted on the poplar wood is a lesbian femme fatale version of an old Marvel character “Angel” who later went on to become “Archangel.” I continue to enjoy queering established characters and concepts by either incorporating trans or gender-swapping elements. This painting was a spontaneous study for the character that after several years of sketching and drawing evolved to a more magickal demi-goddess whose origin story boils down to she is the indirect offspring or lovechild of Pan and Terminus, a human who works at SFO.
MT: Who is your favorite superhero?
PML: It is very difficult for me to pick a single favorite super hero but if forced I would say Promethea ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Promethea )
MT: OH MY GOD I AM OBSESSED WITH PROMETHEA!
PML: Me tooooooooooo. I want more….more more moore Alan Moore. While I was in Iceland, (artist) Michelle Morby took a photo of me wearing a similar crown. And then just the other day a fan of my art all the way from Spain sent me this… and I swear to god I cried.
MT: If you were a superhero, what would your deal be?
PML: I have been asked this question many times and as per the always I’m just not sure. I feel like growing up as a closeted homosexual in Kansas and Missouri that in many ways I was living a double life for many years that made me clearly see the pros and cons of living such a lifestyle, and so if I was to be a hero of my choice I wouldn’t have to hide my identity and would probably fall more in line with a Jedi knight or someone who has to learn to embrace the powers the universe offers us all and to through trials and tribulations help the greater community and world. I prefer creating characters and their unique scenarios rather than fantasizing about my own possibilities.
Come to the Radar SPECTACLE Friday May 17th and bid on Peter Max Lawrence’s Angel, as well as work by Phoebe Gloeckner, Craig Calderwood, Kari Ovik, Joan Baez + more!
A few years ago Sister Spit did a show in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through a series if unfortunate events, word did not get out that we were coming to town, and the only people who showed up to see us were three earnest lasses, and Phoebe Gloeckner, our Special Guest that night. A professor at UM/Ann Arbor, I had been freaking out that she would join us. I am a HUGE Phoebe Gloeckner fan, and have been since the 90s, when I first started seeing her creepy-cool comics show in in various places, and then, with the publication of one of my most favorite books ever, Diary of a Teenage Girl, an epic diary-comic that goes in and out between graphic novel and illustrated memoir. The dedication, For the Girls, When they are grown, haunts me sweetly. I feel like one of the girls Diary of a Teenage Girl was meant for.
Rather than being a dud, that sparsely attended midwest show was the BEST, because Phoebe stood on stage showing us slides form her new work-in-progress, detailing her mind-blowing process, the intensity of the story that had overtaken her life, and some witty and wise musings on the life of a working artist, in general. After visiting the Mexican city of Juarez to write about the murders of women that have been occurring on a horrible, massive scale, Phoebe was left in some sort of state of shock. as an outsider gringa who couldn’t comprehend the poverty the Juarez community exists within, and as a women and a mom who recognized the devastating loss these families were trying to live as her own worst fears. She became close with the family of a murdered fifteen-year-old girl named Elena Chavez Caldera, and began visiting them often. From this relationship has grown Phoebe’s current project, in which she intricately re-creates much of the family’s buy fashioning dolls and their environments and then photographing them, often manipulating the photographs to add details that shock and disturb, like the artist’s own face.
Phoebe has donated two of these pieces to the RADAR Spectacle, to help fund the Radar LAB creative retreat, which she will also be a guest at this year. I can’t believe we are able to offer these pieces, from a project that is so important and creative, requiring mad artistic genius and a dedication to empathy. They are amazing, and as the project comes to completion and is shown and published as a book, whoever walks away with these prints is going to be PSYCHED.
Almost as psyched as I’m going to be once I score Phoebe’s third contribution to the Spectacle’s Art Auction – an illustration from Diary of a Teenage Girl!!!!!! I am LOSING IT! If anyone wants to enter a bidding war with me for the sake of RADAR, let’s do it! That’s what it’s all for – to fund this excellent and unfunded writers’ retreat! But I am going to WIN.
Oakland academic Essence Harden interviews RADAR SPECTACLE performer BRONTEZ PURNELL.
Tell us about you’re recent work “New Diaspora” and “Other Dancers” at the L@te series at the Berkeley Art Museum (BAM). How does blackness, queerness, and collaboration inform your work?
New Diaspora was a means to celebrate the different Black talent going on in the Bay right now. It was inherently a very queer night also. I grew up in Alabama and have always been challenged/ curious about the lives of Black people in terms of place/environment/time period. Other Dancers was a means to celebrate the different experimental choreographers I know. there were some people involved in Other Dancers whose work i had never even seen before. i just got drunk at a bar with them and it was like “oh! you do performance? KOOL! would you be a part of this?” Blackness, Queerness, and Collaboration inform my work INFINITELY.
Speaking of “New Diaspora” I really loved how you ended the night with a decompression of energy by leading a group-follow dance onto pillows. How is community reconciliation significant to your art?
I went to speak to my friends class at Berkeley about community healing thorough art and i think its as simple as getting a group of people (no matter the number) in a space together moving towards a common goal or feeling however fleeting it may be. Its essentially about togetherness and intention.
Tell us about the making of “Free Jazz” your inaugural dance film from the Brontez Purnell Dance Company? Particularly the “cut n’ mix” of aesthetic choices involving punk, cosmology, the African Diaspora, and temporality. How has studying theatre and dance informed your current project?
I was obsessed with doing a dance movie cause like who does that? Particularity in Black and White Super 8 cause im a slave to aesthetic. I was doing work and making pieces at Cal State East Bay and was really excited about it so i wanted to put the work i did in a form that could live forever and encapsulate a certain period in my career. All my work is informed by whats closest to me. I think about things like sex, religion, community 24/7 and the film is a subdued response to my raging obsessions. Maybe it gives them more of a context for myself.
I loveeee novella’s, tell us about your upcoming work?
It’s called “Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger” its not a novella as much as it is an exorcism of the ghosts of my reckless first 30 years on the planet. I found a publisher but editing is kicking my ass. I decided not to change to tittle ever cause i fell like trying to pander commercial appeal for a book thats about a black punk rockers romp through life is somewhat delusional. Plus i see it living on in that N.W.A meets feminism category of literature.
I think what’s really incredible about your art and you as a person is the inescapable visibility you give to the complexity of being Black, queer, male, and a politically radical punk. Can you talk about being a radical Black queer punk and how these and other positionalities continue to inform your art?
Its hard cause at 30 im finally starting to feel semi-comfortable in my skin and what i will allow and not allow. Even though im rightfully a cross section of all these varied identities i dont trust MOST Black people, MOST punks, MOST queers and don’t get me started on men. Its been an interesting journey finding out who my people are. One example was i took a dance class at Berkeley and this other queer black male student found out i was from Alabama and had all these romantic notions of Blackness and the Deep South (he had grown up in California) and he said something about wanting to move to Atlanta- now growing up down South i have my own prejudices. In inadvertently blurted out “dude, first of all if you HAVE to party down South go to New Orleans NOT Atlanta. I CANT with Atlanta. I know all the shows on TV make it look fun but its the WORST mix of East Coast attitude and Southern boredom. If i wanted a bunch of stuck-up Black people telling me to go to church all the time i’d watch BET…..BARF”- and i look up and im like “holy shit- i just scared this kid”- this is one example of how my radical, black, punk rockness gets me in trouble and i wouldn’t trade it for the WORLD…….
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
- Irina and Ami / Las Tres Adelitas, 2009. Color pencil and collage on paper, 30 x 49 inches.
Whenever I see Los Angeles-based visual artist Shizu Saldamando out at a party in Highland Park or a fun karaoke night at a Little Tokyo bar, I wonder if any of the night’s revelers will make it into her artwork. Shizu always has a camera and snaps away capturing moments that seem like booze-fueled throwaway scenes that you’d hate to be tagged in the morning after on the social media against your will. Except when she renders the subject—or rather her friends or people she knows using a mix of materials within the process such as wood, bed sheets, color pencil, washi paper and ball point pen, to give nod to the varying contexts and situations she depicts—she strips the party context and casts a wash of ontological purity that brings the deeper, darker serenity floating inside each person to the surface.
The bulk of Shizu’s work has focused on making U.S. Latino and Asian youth cultures visible in such a way that articulates a basic quotidian nature of being; a visual murmur that reveals a lot without revealing the secrets of their complicated public identities and the scary abyss within their very private selves. But her work is so accessible. Shizu’s work operates like pirate radio—you never know where it’ll turn up. Chances are you’ve seen her work if you’re a fan of Girl In A Coma or if you’ve been to the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in the past two years.
Before you read any further, I just want to say that Shizu is probably the most well adjusted Morrissey fan I have ever known and is getting ready for her first career survey in October of this year at the Vincent Price Art Museum located in East Los Angeles. Shizu also has an online fundraiser that is coming to a close soon. She is trying to raise money to publish the exhibition catalog for which I am writing an essay. I caught up with Shizu last week at the East LA tattoo shop where she currently works.
- Rigo with Papel Picado, 2009. Oil on collage on wood panel, 48 x 36 inches
Are you stoked about your upcoming survey at the Vincent Price Art Museum in East Los Angeles later this year?
Yes. I’m stoked because I’ve worked so long in the area, at Self-Help Graphics and a local tattoo shop and have a lot of friends in the area. The area has been inspiring me for a long time. Also like the area is just full of people who are already Latino and Asian and it’s not like when I exhibit in other parts of LA where the consistent question always focuses on how my Mexican or Japanese background informs my work, or that I am trying to figure out who I am, whereas people in East LA are more apt to move beyond or through, rather, the limitations of identity because everyone is Mexican. I can anticipate people being familiar with the subcultural elements in my work, like the backyard party, the outdoor punk show, or primping for a punk show so hopefully the reads won’t be so “oreintalist” or “other-ising”. It’s going to be like coming home in a way.
You’ve exhibit in a range of galleries and museums over the last ten years. What has been the consistent thing you’ve heard about your work?
I’ve heard more about my background and bio than anything. People usually write a novel on my ethnic or geographical background and then mention the “meticulous rendering” or something to that nature about the paintings or drawings. I appreciated some one telling me after they saw the work up at the Smithsonian, that they thought I was a good person because you could see how the people I depicted trusted me and allowed me to capture that moment. I might have been really drunk at the time because I think I started crying when they told me that. I think a lot of the work is born out of pain and perseverance and strategies for survival, hence the depiction of a lot of “self-medicating” with alcohol.
- “Waiting for the Band In Between Sets.”
Why is there so much post-punk rock in your work?
I grew up in the 90s so it’s my high school listening and a lot of my references are from that time. Shoegazer-y stuff has a lot of psychedelic 60′s/euro/garage/dirge-y/ spector “wall of sound” type shit. Basically, they’re a lot of static noisy melodies that I really appreciate. There are a lot of layers and influences to it and for some reason its been my thing since as far back as I can remember finding Live 105 radio in SF when I was attending Everett Middle School. Maybe it was because my dad was so into Santana, Queen, and the Beatles that it was a natural progression for me to go towards punk. A lot of my friends around East and South LA have the same sort of musical preference as well and so there for the portraits I do naturally reference this music. It has become a kind of specific generational thing.
Subcultures I’m influenced by are music-based. Music is a great unifier and whole genres and subcultures and friendships are borne from music. It’s easy to come together in a collective consciousness around music and like it’s a way to differentiate. It is cathartic, relatable, also escapist and transcendent. You don’t have to read a whole backlog of art theory to get to it, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s easy to discern influences in music, similar to fashion, but you can get whole histories with music that you might not so readily with other things.
You’ve exhibited internationally, what are some things you hear from people from other cultures that encounter your work?
People read that the work is about youth culture. The “ethnic” read isn’t dominant as people see that these are kids hanging out and partying, into punk or whatever t-shirt they happen to be wearing in the piece. I think then the work becomes more about psychology, group dynamics or personal narrative.
Your work seems to always get talked about how you remove the context of your subjects and isolate them. What’s up with that?
I think people surpass their contexts. Individuals are more complex than language and place. We evolve faster than our languages and contexts and environment and I’d rather focus on subjects then environment because you can connote so much from just the person. Whether it is through the way they dress, the attitude, or different facial expressions you can see that and don’t need the extra information. It isn’t necessary. Often the environments are limiting and can flatten the read as well. A blank background is a way to ask the viewer to project his or her own questions or assumptions onto the work. I see the absence of a background more as the presence of infinite space and possibilities.
Can you talk about the flat or binary way people get depicted?
The tattoo shop I apprentice at right now just did a reality show and it just showed me how media just flattens people. The stories that get crafted are one-dimensional and so linear and people are just way more complicated than that. You’re shown a person and she’s either a gold-digger or the good mother and people’s histories and mentalities are way more complex than what we’re fed by media.
Raquel Gutiérrez is a performer, writer, actor, curator, playwright, and cultural organizer. She has written on queerness, music, film, performance and community building in addition to creating original solo and ensemble performance compositions. Raquel is also an expert in creating artist-community partnerships for a range of institutional and community-based organizations. Raquel has studied and graduated from both community and university settings but really got her art education at Jabberjaw in Mid-City/L.A. as well as when she interned and house managed at Highways Performance Space in the year 2000.
Raquel is a co-founding member of the performance ensemble, Butchlalis de Panochtitlan (BdP), a community-based and activist-minded group aimed at creating a visual vernacular around queer Latinidad in Los Angeles. Raquel also co-founded other queer women of color projects and Los Angeles-specific projects: Tongues, A Project of VIVA and Epicentro Poetry project. Raquel has published work, most recently in Ambientes: New Queer Latino Writing (edited by Lázaro Lima and Felice Picano). Currently, Raquel is working on a few essays about her favorite performance and visual artists and the state of art and community-building as well as a novel. Learn more about Raquel HERE!
This week I’m SO SO SO excited to present one of my favorite artists, Stephanie Sarley! This visionary Oaklander runs the gamut of image making, creating works ranging from stone lithography to GIFs. Her obvious technical prowess paired with her uniquely clever outlook produces distinct work that is at once beautiful and grotesque. She will surely be famous faster than I can blink, so I’m happy I caught up with her before she’s too big to talk to me! I know you will enjoy her as much as I do.
Can you talk a little about your background and how it informs your art? What fundamental things define your outlook?
Being an artist has always been a part of my identity due to being a third generation visual artist in my family. I have been trained from the time I was about six years old. Going often to local bay area fine arts museums, my grandfather and I would draw together side by side studying the masters in our sketchbooks. My grandfather was a true artist who rarely sought personal recognition for his work but rather worked for the love of the process. My mother also an illustrator has a strict eye for detail and has always constructively criticized my work, and my father, a feature film storyboard artist, has also trained my artistic development. Representational art has thus been a primary focus for my art, especially erotica and surrealism most recently.
I saw a post you made which said “My Father is a storyboard artist and has worked on a lot of great 90′s movies and tv shows such as… Waynes World, Robbin Hood Men in Tights, a Muppet Movie, Xena!!!! etc..”. Is this true??? If so, how does that connection impact your work.
It was always fun to hear about movies he was working on, and I have always emulated his style to a certain extent. Also, he hooked me up with a Cintiq enabling me to make clean finished illustrations digitally, I also make GIF animations! It’s a great tool.
We have the shared experience of benefitting from the Laney College printmaking department (a hidden gem that I feel conflicted about uncovering). Can you talk about your experience there?
It is truly a gem of Oakland, I am very grateful for the skills I have learned studying etching and lithography at Laney College. I started studying there in 2010. At the time it brought a finished element to my style. I grew immensely from the experience. The printmaking teacher has been there for more than forty years! Even my grandfather took classes from him in the 70’s! I think I have done some of my favorite pieces there.
What type of printmaking do you practice? Do you favor one technique?
I have mainly produced etchings so far and have completed two lithographs in the past year. I believe Lithography is a more advanced form of printmaking because of the extensive complexity of the process, from etching the stone to the printing. Although etchings are somewhat more precious due to the fact that a plate can only deliver about thirty or so prints before fading, and lithographs can run hundreds. I can’t say I could favor a process at this time.
I’m IN LOVE with your lithograph The Rapist. Can you talk about why you wanted to pay homage to Magritte’s The Rape and the meaning behind your imagery?
“The Rapist” is a direct response to Rene Magritte’s “The Rape” created in 1934.
“The Rape” exemplifies objectification as an act of observation whereas the identity of the woman’s differentiating facial characteristics are stripped and replaced with her anonymous sex organs in a landscape of a lonely abyss.
“The Rapist” as a flip side is utterly humiliated, as his face is made of his own genitals, facing his victim in the abyss a reflection of her suffering exposing his lewd grotesque nature to her. He is almost penetrating his own anus attempting to stroke his alter ego.
Do you draw a lot of inspiration from Surrealism?
Yes, I am inspired by Surrealism as it is a powerful way to convey a statement or to bring humor to a concept. Philosophically, I’m an Absurdist which I express in my works such as my “Dick Dogs” and “Orifice Giggly Poofs.” I look into my dreams for inspiration, reflect on my inner conflicts in a form of catharsis, or just doodle whatever pops into my head to reveal surprises within my subconscious.
There is some form of deconstructed/surreal sexuality running through most of your illustrations. Where does this recurring imagery come from?
Quite honestly, I am an oversexed C.U.N.T (charisma, uniqueness, nerve, talent) and I truly enjoy drawing surreal erotica. It also comes from a fascination with primitive behavior, raw sexuality, and vulgarity overlooked and understated in our modern rape culture. Rampant objectification of women in the 21st century drives a lot of my subject matter.
What medium are these color images?:
Some of my new works are digitally colored on my Cintiq. I also like to work with gouache and inks.
I’ve seen this image floating around a bit:
What’s it all about? Are you guys collaborating on something?
I made that collage for fun! Representing my fellow natives of the east bay and my love of Oakland! I was thrilled with the online response it got.
What projects are you working on now?
New coloring book featuring Dick Dogs! Coming out soon! Come check them out at an upcoming Rock Paper Scissors event 2278 telegraph ave. zines, live music, art show and interactive tutorials. On May 10th from 7-10 pm.
Find me at:
Check out some of these awesome emerging artists in the Bay Area!!!
My first stop at Oakland Art Murmur was Johansson Projects where I fell in love with Michelle Blade‘s woven mylar paintings.
Then I looked at this grouping of graphite drawings by Casey Watson which from afar looked to be amoebas.
Then I went to Krowswork and saw the Liz Walsh exhibition.
What I particularly like about Krowswork is their viewing room with these old church pews:
And then I went to this vintage store in a truck (who wouldn’t!!):
On Sunday I went to CCA Open Studios to see my friend Sarah Patten‘s installation.
Her work is INCREDIBLE and I’m so mad I only have TERRIBLE cell photos to share with you.
That’s a collaged wall with hand-beaded/hand-tie-dyed cloth. Here’s a detailed image:
Sarah’s studio was full of great still life:
and excellent snacks:
And around the installation hung her new collages. I WANT TO BUY ALL OF THEM!
I walked around open studios for the rest of the afternoon- there was SO MUCH to look at. What follows is some of my FAVORITES:
Amber Fawn Keig
Wes Fanelli (who won me over with the Bear/spaghetti dinner fetish drawings <3 )
Benjamin Blanco and Nicole Hall- I’m including the artist statement with this for obvious reasons.
If you can’t tell, It’s Raining Men is playing in the background.
Beatrice Hunt (I WANT THIS FOR MY MANTEL!!)
and last but certainly not least, Stephanie Wickizer.
CHECK OUT THESE ARTISTS WEBSITES. I WAS SO INTO ALL OF THEM!!!
until next monday-
Can you tell us about Texta and your amazing superhero aesthetic?
‘Texta’ means felt-tip marker in Australia and it’s been my pseudonym for nearly 15 years. I sometimes dress in a superhero costume, the first version, in 1997, got created when I was doing kids’ drawing and workshops and then I carried it over into my art world persona. Markers are an accessible medium, and the superhero adds to my accessibility in the often cold, alienating, elitist gallery. And personally being a texta superhero is a way for me to feel a bit empowered in spaces that I’m marginalised, as brown, queer and seen as female. I mostly wear my marker themed superhero outfit only for kids’ activities these days, though I have other spandex outfits too.
Tell us about your most recent solo project “Unknown Artist” and the shift from earlier works, particularly the nude form and critical engagement with white bodies to the self portraiture.
‘Unknown Artist’ is a series of self-portraits, where I drew myself as different characters exploring aspects of my identities, especially race, sexuality and gender. Many of them are about me trying to connect with cultural heritage and cultural identity. They include one where I’m Gandhi the literally imperfect leader as a zombie, one reclaiming Indian mythology around the hyena, a self-love self-portrait of a superhero me rescuing a nude me, and one about internalizied patriarchy and white supremacy of me with blonde hair, blue contacts, holding a Ken doll being puppetted by Animal from the Muppets. It is a pretty big concept shift from my previous work; nudes of mostly white queers posed in scenarios of their choosing. I guess I’ve changed a lot as a person in the last few years, engaged more in what it means to be a racialised person in mostly white environments, acknowledging the ways I’ve adapted to and prioritised white people, and trying to change that conditioning. The last few years i’ve been trying to focus on finding and creating queer people of colour ‘community’’, so my creative and friendship circles have shifted a lot, and my art has too. Before the Unknown Artist series I did a series called We Dont Need Another Hero, where Indigenous Australians and non-Indigenous people of colour living in Australia posed as protagonists of post-apocalyptic movies, with colonialism obviously being our apocalypse. My earlier work celebrated queerness, and what some might see as radical queerness, but I now acknowledge that it was very white-centric ideas of queerness, bodies, and beauty I was honouring. Shifting to a queer POC focus in my art and drawing the self-portraits has been indescribably healing and empowering, especially when I’ve had relatively few images of brownness, especially queer brownness, around me for my entire life.
Can you talk some about your writing project “Harshbrowns” and my favorite piece “The Kreayshawn complex: cultural appropriation as counter-cultural expression”?
I started writing my harshbrowns blog kind of anonymously, when I had just begun to race rage, catalysed by a few specific events mostly around cultural appropriation and racial fetishism in the white-centric queer ‘radical’ Melbourne scene. The race rage had been bubbling under the surface for a long time but the reaction of most of my white close friends to my explanations of how these events had impacted on me, quite suddenly alienated me from most of the people who had been really close in my life as I realised their racisms. Writing the blog, I processed these experiences, and even though the posts or poems are often addressed to white people, they were as much a way for me to connect with others with similar experiences, to try to build new connections in the face of an intense disillusionment in the idea of community I had known.
The responses to the blog have been really overwhelming, not just the high visitor stats, but the touching personal messages from people positively connecting with it as well as the intense reactions to people who have been confronted by the content. I think that the Kreayshawn complex post, on how cultural appropriation often seems an expression of people’s counter-cultural identity, using hip-hop as it’s main reference, spoke to a lot of people beyond the specific Melbourne-based events the post referenced. My words as a non-black person writing about appropriation, using mostly the example of appropriated black culture in the predominately non-black context of Australia could never articulate the complexity of the issues, but hopefully through my own lens as a racialised person I wrote something relatable, putting into a broader white-appropriation-of-other-cultures’ context.
What is your writing process like and how does it lie in conjecture with your illustrative art? Are there any writing projects in the works?
I hadn’t officially been a writer before starting the blog, other than song lyrics, casual travel blogging, journalling and brief writing about the people in my drawings. I’ve come to realise that I really enjoy the writing process and am a pretty articulate yet accessible writer. I have long periods where I only write for myself, if at all, keeping a very personal and ranty journal, but this processing usually bubbles into a form that I share. Writing often helps me conceptualise my visual art, and my visual art is usually emotional tangent to my writing. However, my writing has been more outwardly critical while my art is more focused on construction of identity. I was race raging hard at the world when I was drawing the We Don’t Need Another Hero post-apocalypse movie poster series at the same time as I was writing uncomfortable-for-white-people-poetry, whereas I did a lot of self-reflective, private writing while making my Unknown Artist self-portrait series. The Unknown Artist series reflects a lot on what ‘cultural heritage’ means and on completing that series I wrote a new piece about cultural identity and the personal effects of cultural appropriation on my connection to cultural heritage. This will soon be published in Peril magazine online, on the harshbrowns blog and sometimes read on tour with Sister Spit while showing the self-portraits as projections.
I’m really interested in your oppositional gaze onto structures and populaces of power within your work particularly, your critiques of whiteness, normativity, patriarchy, and coloniality. How is this politics of critical dissent informed within your art and writing?
I hope that especially my visual art is about constructing queer, POC, feminist, decolonized identity and that the representation and centering of these identities is the focus. My art values empowerment (though also vulnerability) over directly de-constructing the structures of power that affect these identities, which I feel is an effective way of resisting those structures. My writing has more directly critiqued, especially whiteness, though I’ve been trying lately to focus my energies in constructing identity, so that the ‘you’ pictured in my writing are those I identity with rather than addressing those who don’t share my experiences.
You work a lot with youth- we met at Girls Rock Camp, Oakland in Summer of 2012- and do a great number of workshops in Australia. Can you tell us about the import of young people for your work and your involvement with volunteer spaces?
I teach youth (and adult) drawing workshops, superhero identity workshops, contour line drawing and other stuff, but most of my ‘work’ with youth at the moment is hanging out with my friends’ kids. I do like working with young people and my artwork is generally accessible to many of them, not just in the felt-tip marker medium, but the playfulness is a friendly vehicle to deliver the complex content.
I’ve worked creatively, made and put my artwork in DIY, punk, and volunteer spaces as much as I have in white-walled commercial art spaces. I wouldn’t be making a living from my art without the commercial contexts I show in, I’m really pleased that my last show sold out in Melbourne, but I don’t often feel comfortable in those spaces. I am happy that my work is in major public institutions because many people will see it that aren’t going to access it at commercial galleries or punk environments. There’s definitely much to negotiate in less commercial environments, but I have more hope to make connections with and be inspired by folks, and contribute something real to people through my art and inter-personally, when I’m with people and in spaces that share aspects of my own identity. I’ve put a bit of energy into figuring out what QPOC community means in Melbourne, helping organise some social and performance events, but lately I’ve mostly been reclusively working on my visual art.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a series of ‘Poem Portraits’, seeking out queer, trans and two-spirit people of colour writers and poets to pose in a scenario with their words. I’ve made a few in this theme, and it’s been a great challenge to bring together these two creative practices that I enjoy. I’m hoping to show the series in Australia in February at a great Indigenous run gallery called Blak Dot in Melbourne, and I’d love to show them somewhere in the US or Canada too, if anyone has any leads. Other than that, I hope to write more that I share, keep making art I’m proud of, look after myself and look out for my friends.
Essence Harden is a current graduate student in the department of African American Studies at UC Berkeley. When she is not researching articulations of Black masculinity through 1980/90′s hair and styling practices you can find her reading sci-fi and eating bagels in her back lot/garden.
Rhiannon Argo will be a guest performer at the Free Sister Spit Kick Off Show at the SFPL on March 31st. She is a Lambda Award winning writer, a schooled librarian, and a seasoned Sister Spitter. She is the author of two works of fiction, The Creamsickle, and Girls I’ve Run Away With, (coming September, 2013), a novel about two teenage girls in love and on the run. She is fundraising to publish her second novel and launch a new queer micro-press HERE.
I’m DIY-Publishing my New Novel, and Starting a Micro Press, and It’s so Much Fun!
By Rhiannon Argo
I want to tell you all about my recent journey into DIY publishing and starting my own micro press called Moonshine Press. Originally I never thought I would go this route to publish my work, but now that I am, I’m loving every moment of it!
Here are some reasons why:
1. Growing my queer writer community:
When I first began to research the possibilities of DIY publishing, I got a generous amount of encouragement and advice from other writers who had first-hand knowledge about the process. Many of these writers I’d only known vaguely before through social networking and I was super excited to find everyone so supportive and eagerness to share their tips and tricks! Even when the idea of starting Moonshine Press, was just a spark of an idea in my mind, I already felt buzzed with excitement at a new sense of writer community growing around me. I knew that should I decide to go forward with Moonshine Press that the powerful connections and sense of artistic community I was feeling would also grow exponentially.
2. Being pro-actively engaged in the entire process of making a book is magical
I went the traditional publishing route when I published my first novel, that is to say I queried the hell out of every queer-friendly small press in existence, dumped a lot of money into photo copying and postage, and wrote silly pitch letters that often resulted in me toning down the hella queer, radical, gender-bending, sex work-y, trash-mouth-y, aspects of the book. It took me nine months to snag a publisher and then it was over six months until my novel even saw an editor. Guess what!? When you DIY publish you don’t have to be on someone else’s time schedule! You get to make things happen as quick as you are humanly capable. YOLO, people!
With my first press there were also creative differences. They were generous in letting me design the cover, but everything else they did their way. I learned in college that the author never gets to give creative input on their books look, and that you should just keep your mouth shut and appreciate how lucky you are that you even have a publisher at all. But, guess what!? Now, I don’t have to silently disagree about the look of my finished book! I’m the boss woman and I get complete creative control. Totally BOSS!
You could look at DIY publishing VS. Traditional publishing like this: Sometimes people equate writing a book (or finishing an art project) to “having a baby”, like after publishing/birthing the book authors may even experience post-partum depression. Using this analogy, my experience with traditional publishing was like having a baby while hooked up to all those monitoring and drug inducing machines in a sterile hospital, like how some researchers have theorized that the hospitalization of baby birthing often makes the mother feel like she’s not even a participant in the birth. On the opposite side of that coin, I would say DIY publishing is like a home birth, and you’re in charge of the journey, it may be more painful because perhaps there’s more grunt-work involved, but the end result is more gratifying.
3. The publishing landscape is dull and desperately needs new queer presses focused on the next generation of edgy, radical, queer, and feminist voices.
I know a lot about the small press options for queer writers. I’ve got a list I would be happy to share with you. I’ve done research galore because after publishing my first novel on a press who was not exactly a good match for my work, I wanted to know everything about every small queer-friendly press out there, so I could find one that made me and my work feel like we had found a nice, cozy, understanding home, a press with an audience that was also my audience.
I took my short list of queer friendly small presses and I started crossing off the ones that my work just wouldn’t fit in with. During my research I noticed that of all the LGBT specific presses the majority were gay-male oriented, headed by gay male editors, with often times only a few lezzie authors in their catalogs. This is not a complaint, just pointing out the fact that while there may be a handful of LGBT friendly presses, there are less female focused ones, and even less QUEER-view- female focused ones. My narrowed down list provided me with two options that I felt good and excited about. Those are two options too few when you’re pitching a book and interested in a timely timeframe, with the knowledge that many small presses only publish a few titles a year, and are backed up far into the future.
I was bummed. Why can’t I have as many options as those straight, white, hetero-normative, writer MEN have!? Why don’t I get the luxury of querying hundreds of agents and presses that will “get” my work? I moped around with these thoughts for a little while and then the question, Hey why don’t you just start your own fantastic radical press and stop complaining, dummy?, popped into my head.
“Hey, why not?”
I made an appointment with my psychic via Skype (my Skypic), and she shuffled her cards, and meditated on my handful of name suggestions for a potential press, including naming it after Moonshine Road, where my mom gave birth to me in a tipi during her feral hippy days. The cards were complimentary and on that fateful day Moonshine Press was born!
4. Working with, and even paying, other queer artists:
To get Moonshine Press up and rolling, and afford the publication costs of publishing its first title, I needed a chunk of cash. I started a fundraiser that’s been going great so far. The campaign is basically just a way to pre-order the book. Extra pennies thrown in my wishing well go towards growing the press, such as, publishing future authors, and sending the Moon Babe Writers on future tours. Right now it’s the last week of the campaign my fingers are crossed that funds will go over the goal and Moonshine Press will be able to grow, grow, grow!
The awesome thing about the successful fundraiser is that I get to hire, and work with, other queer artists and writers to help me publish the novel. For example, my layout person is Allison Moon, a lesbian author who has had her own DIY publishing successes. I’ve hired a queer graphic designer, web designer, photographer, cover model, and copy editors, and my book cover designers run a small, queer press themselves in Vienna, Austria! Lastly, I get to print the book with a small, non-corporate printing company, with DIY and leftist leanings, that uses recycled paper and soy based inks.
With all this queer love going into the publishing process of this novel, ranging from other rad queer artists helping me design it, to each generous contributor to the fundraiser, I know that holding the finished product in my hand will feel super powerful! Like the books journey to print was truly a collective effort made possible by the support of an utterly special community.
If any of you reading this want to explore DIY publishing options just holler at me, I’ve got tips and pats on the back to share. But be forewarned that it’s a ton of work, but if you like this sort of work, than the process is wicked fun and rewarding.
Let’s destroy the gatekeepers! Their gates are so damn boring! Aren’t we all sick of men dominating the publishing world!!?? (And if you don’t believe me about men dominate the publishing world, because you live on another planet, than check THIS out.)
Hey, I’m blogging this from an airplane right now and they’re also dominating First Class, to the max! I’m thinking this is because they own all those media companies, websites, newspapers, film companies, book review sites, magazines, and blah, blah, blah. Lez wiggle into first class and do an impromptu reading. Make them squirm.
This week I interviewed artist/filmmaker/ claymator Hilary Goldberg! I got to know Hilary when we worked together on the upcoming film Valencia, where she was producer of the entire project and director of Chapter 5. I then marathon-watched every available episode of her claymation series The Deer Inbetween. Her animation, so meticulous and beautiful, would be an impressive feat for an entire team of people, let alone a single director/animator/writer! It’s the type of work that makes me marvel that I know this person IN REAL LIFE. If you wanna know what I’m talking about, you’ll have a chance to see a segment of her body of work at a Video Art Salon curated by Evie Leder on March 21.
Can you talk a little about your background and how it informs your art? What fundamental things define your outlook?
I grew up with a strong cultural influence from my immigrant artist grandmother, and the international contingent of miscreant eccentrics that my grandparents’ household attracted on a regular basis. There was an aesthetic, for my grandmother Edith Piaf, Charlie Chaplin, and Toulouse Lautrec, and my grandfather, a nostalgic cinephile with a failed hand at operating an arthouse drive-in theater always kept us connected to film and video equipment.
However, I was born in the same year and county that Anita Bryant descended to overturn an ordinance that prohibited sexual orientation discrimination. The pendulum was swinging back full tilt to kill off the world I would spend my life seeking out in a rapacious piecemeal style.
My outlook is sentimental and romantic, but satire is my métier. In my worst moments I redirect my anxiety to the many-worlds interpretation, and am comforted by the notion that there is some other version of me doing quite well.
How did your film career begin?
I stole a video camera and started with playdohmation at the age of twelve. Later, I heard that you could go to film school, so I did, and it was impractical. I missed the riot grrl and homocore thing, and feminism came by way of Ani DiFranco’s music, and the subsequent years I spent touring with her and co-directing/co-editing our film Render:Spanning Time with Ani DiFranco during the Baby Bush years. It was a time of individualist D.I.Y. empires, a commercialized left with feminist window dressing, and it was both epically confusing to me as well as cosmic preparation for years of upstream soul crushing attempts at a so-called film career in LA.
Penny Arcade brought her collaborative Lower Eastside Biography film project Queer Realities and Cultural Amnesia to screen in LA and her film and friendship was at minimum, a clarifying influence in my life. By then I had discovered a queer bar called the Parlour Club where Vaginal Davis hosted a 20s night called Bricktops, and Clint Catalyst and Shawna Keeney hosted the literary series Unhappy Hour, I picked up some collaborators, but there was still a vast disconnect. I was seeking and longing for a movement, a school of thought caravan that Penny Arcade simultaneously clued me in to and dispelled. And then there I was at the beginning.
Describe how/why you got into claymation? What was the appeal?
I moved to San Francisco after many years of visiting the city. The transition helped me make peace with my inner twelve year old. Filmmaker and Artist found a happier coexistence on the claymation path, a place I’ve always been drawn, and I finally had a studio arts practice to develop in my workaholic fashion.
Can you describe the plot of The Deer Inbetween and how you conceived of these feuding mushrooms and soul-keeper deer?
The series follows a pair of deer workers that measure hearts against a feather to determine the souls passage. As the number of heavy-hearted souls increases, humans have less influence on the future of Earth, and the Fungal Kingdom is ready to run the show.
A few years back, I wrote a novella during a Nanowrimo spree, and the one part of it that I liked was a dream sequence with a deer guide named Usher that directed the newly dead into the underworld. I had taken a dream and astrology class in LA, go figure, it was actually really cool, and there was this one Egyptian myth about a heart and feather on the scale and it stuck with me. I also fell in love with the story of an Italian Unicorn deer that the press called a freak. That was the origin story for Usher and Stew. There is a ton of back-story to their deer cave, and if I had the funds, my obsession with pneumatic tubes, the akashic records, and switchboard deer would take flight. I cannot for the life of me recall how the mushrooms entered the picture, but they did. Then they took over, and wrote the whole show.
During most of the series’ inception my grandmother was dying. I built a giant papier-mâché cave while watching hospital drama procedurals, and this project was a way to process grief and existential angst. She died before I made the first episode, and by the end of the series it had become a labor of love more than anything else.
Do you build all the clay models yourself? THEY LOOK AMAZING!
Thank you. Yes I build everything, and do pretty much everything as learned from the public library and the internet and lovely animator forums, and then I also have some amazingly talented collaborators on the series. Margaret Hasley creates the costumes, Ted M. Superstar creates the music, and Sophia Poirier creates the sound design. DavEnd was the music director for the season finale, and the song Long Night of the Fungus was a joint effort.
All of the artists that are part of the series have influenced the puppet fabrication, and the sound of their voices got me through the long hours alone in the dark. The finale was as close as I’ve ever gotten to feeling like a Muppet and that is my highest compliment to a collaborative effort.
The voice actors in The Deer Inbetween are SO GOOD- Who are you working with?
Argeed! Michelle Tea and Ed Wolf play the deer, Usher and Stew. The mushrooms are played by Chris Vargas, Irina Contreras, Tara Jepsen, Greg Youmans, Vanessa Veselka, Penny Arcade, DavEnd, Ben McCoy, and Kirk Read. And in episode 2 there are the mushroom hunters Beth Pickens and Susie Kim.
Is season 1 of The Deer Inbetween complete? Is there a season 2 in the works?
Yes, Long Night of the Fungus was the season 1 big finish. Usher and Stew are on hiatus, and enjoying a break after the musical. I have a season 2 in mind and heart. It is a labor of love, and there isn’t any funding yet. I need to take a break and focus on funding my life in general, but when it is possible to do, it will happen.
Lets talk VALENCIA- How did you come to be involved in the project?
Michelle was the protagonist in my film in the Spotlight, and when she decided she wanted to create a collaborative feature for her book Valencia she asked if I would direct a chapter. I had already been interested in adapting one of her books to film, and this was the perfect opportunity. My role in the project increased slowly over time to post supervisor and animator and then I stepped up to join Michelle as a producer.
Did you get to pick your chapter of Valencia? If so, why did you pick chapter 5?
I picked Chapter 5 because it spoke the most directly to my experiences at that age, meaning — taking hallucinogens then carrying around a tape recorder to record my thoughts (it was the 90s). I also wanted to try my hand at claymation and puppetry and it was a chapter that offered an excuse to do so.
How would you briefly describe the Valencia movie to someone who knows nothing about it?
It is an experimental many-filmmaker queer collaboration that adapts Michelle Tea’s memoir Valencia into a feature film that will premiere at Frameline this June. The cast and crews are different for each chapter, the “Michelle’s” change shape in many ways, and we look forward to sharing this project with the world. A bit of movie trivia, I created the opening animation and the movie poster using your incredibly beautiful illustrations and Michelle Tea’s handiwork.
Your chapter had some great actors- who are they?
Tanya Wischerath is Michelle, Machete Mendías is Iris, and Jaq Schmitz is Laurel. They are all extremely talented artists and were delightful to work with on this project.
Tell me about the video art salon on March 21. I’m excited!
The artist Evie Leder asked if I would show selections from my body of work paired with the artist Darrin Martin. I am calling my latter portion of the program “Goldberg’s Variations” (finally), my intent is to go from Super 8 to 16mm to HD animation, to cover some time and distance. I will share the hip-hop artist Katastrophe’s video I directed Big Deal, the neo-noir short film in the Spotlight, and some episodes of The Deer Inbetween.
What are you working on now?
Valencia will have its world premiere at Frameline in SF this June. I have a few more collaborations with Michelle Tea in the works. The hopes of a mycology based animated short film. Mostly, I am seeking out freelance commissions for animation and editing gigs. I’m interested in created film titles, and animated sections of films, but am generally open. Funding my life as it were. The Long Night of the Fungus is upon us!