Bruising The Academic Structure Of Art - "title" Interview with Chris Capriotti

Photos and interview by Ian Loring Shiver

Two weeks ago I watched (and photographed) Chris Capriotti and 11 other men and women fight eachother in a bare knuckle boxing match in a gallery. Both a packed house and completely illegal, it was easily the best (and most fun) performance piece I'd ever witnessed. I asked Chris a few questions about the piece.

From the artist's website: The performance itself is a six round bareknuckle boxing match. There are twelve fighters: six women and six men, only paired with members of the same gender. The first round starts with just one pair, and each round another pair is added to the ring, but for the remainder of the match they only fight the person they entered with. Each round is 35 seconds, followed by a 30 second break. The performance concludes at the end of six rounds, and all winners (unless there is a knockout) are determined by the audience. The fight is structured using a version of the 1853 London Prize Ring rules for boxing, which were the first standardized rules for fighting in the western world, updated and edited to fit our needs. 

How did you originally come up with this idea?
 

Brian Fell and I met in an installation art class at Tyler when we were probably 19 or 20. We ended up being assigned to collaborate on a piece relating to art institutions that had to exist within one of Tyler’s gallery spaces, and sort of reflect on both the gallery and its place within the larger academic structure of art and art school. We were interested at first in the competitiveness fostered in those spaces, which was something we were seeing and dealing with already, but it quickly grew from there and became a little more complicated.

A big issue for us was basic human urges, like the urge to create, and how that had morphed over time into the art world. Humans generally want to create or leave a mark in any way they can, via painting, fucking, violence, singing, etc. You just want to put yourself out there naturally and leave some sort of mark.

I’m not sure which of us found them, but we discovered the London Prize Ring boxing rules, and ended up focusing on them because they were the first set of rules in the western world for taking what was essentially a street fight, and containing that into a box and giving it a structure, with violence being one of those basic, rudimentary human responses. That felt a lot like the gallery system/academic art to us, and we ended up combining the two. From there the piece ended up relating to a lot more for us, everything from audience/participant agency, to homoeroticism and sexual identity, to the way we make what we make and why.

Is this a continuation of any of your other work? How have you dealt with these themes in the past?
 

Ideas of control, fear, and desire (or the lack thereof) have always been a driving force behind my work. I think the first time we did this piece I was just fucking terrified. I still was this time, but I think I finally understood the piece the second time around. I was making a lot of unwieldy and physically unpredictable work at the time of the first piece, huge gravity-driven printing presses and objects that would explode, monoprints using trash, messy work like that. And it was all performative to a degree, and materially raw and minimal, and related a lot to my body and my limits and the level of control I could exert on something versus what it could exert on me. title ended up being a logical extension of that, in retrospect.

How does this piece fit into your overall aesthetic, or the future direction of your art?
 

Title aesthetically fits within the larger body of my work due to the play allowed between its structure and its unpredictability. Yes, there are rules, and a ‘set’ of sorts, but there’s also an infinite number of things involved that I can’t control. That’s a really big part of my work, the balance between what I do and what the art itself ‘does’, where I stop or where I allow for mistakes or for the piece to just exist. I work very gesturally, just jumping straight into the making part of the art and letting things kind of fall where they may. title is sort of the overarching idea of that in a performance, in that every person in the room has some semblance of agency but is also being forced to deal with what’s happening. That applies to both participants and audience members: they’re all reacting in real time to an overwhelming event, and also dealing with where they fit into that. All of the fighters are dealing directly with the person that they’re fighting, but also everyone else in the ring, and by extension everyone in the room. The rest of my work, the objects and paintings and what have you, are also dealing with agency in a similar way. They’re more reserved, but they still have that individual dialogue with the audience, where everything else kind of drops out and the viewer is dealing with and reacting to the work. Art doesn’t exist in the same way without viewership, and my work relating to the body and to personal control are very much about an intimate exchange with the viewer.

What role does audience agency really play in this? What makes watching your piece different than let's say... A contemporary dance piece?
 

Honestly, it kind of is a contemporary dance piece. It’s not choreographed, and it’s not structured in the same way, but it’s still about the human body and its limits and its identity at the core of it. The difference, if there really is one, is in the way the piece depends entirely on everyone in the room. When title was performed at PRACTICE, there was something like 130 people or more in the gallery, and the building itself was packed out to the street from the second floor down. Being in the room, and being a part of the performance, you become hyper aware of your body as an individual, and the crush of everyone around you, and the fear, and the adrenaline, and a thousand other things. But you are also aware of your power as an individual, and the way you physically and emotionally relate to those around you, and you have at least a little agency in how it all goes down. The short version: you can’t call the cops on a painting that makes you upset. But here we are, doing something overtly dangerous and scary and intense, and everyone is in some way implicit in that, and holding out for the outcome, whatever that may be.

If you're exploring lack of agency, talk about how the adding of people each round adds to that. It seemed like the building and swelling of both the violence and the tension in the room reached a near-breaking point by the final round. Is that intentional?
 

Yes, it’s that critical mass that makes you sort of desperately grip onto your agency and role in the room. I think it’s easiest to talk about in terms of painting: you’re working on a surface, and building on it and mixing into it and it eventually reaches a point where you step back and deal with it and edit it and come back to it. title ends at that moment. There’s a point in the last round, where there’s twelve people packed into a tiny space, in a way stuck there because of all the people surrounding them, and it’s all hard to follow. Movement is restricted, everyone is mixed up in each other, and everyone can tell it can’t keep going, it can’t possibly continue at this heightened level. And then it ends, and both the audience and the participants are forced to do all that editing of this work they were a part of by themselves. They can only really deal with their individual experience as a part of that larger work, and now they have to step out of it and parse it and decide what their experience was.

What specifically is it about violence, as opposed to something that involves the audience in a different way, that makes your point or is central to this piece?
 

I think it’s the primal nature of violence, and the sort of base desire to see it and feel it, that really pushes the engagement of the audience. It’s about building tension and then releasing it in a way that challenges the viewer, in a way that makes them hopefully rethink the space they’re in and their own ideas of art viewership, and their roles in the larger idea of art and its institutions.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
 

I’m endlessly thankful that PRACTICE approached me about doing this piece again (even though I was pretty sure at first that I didn’t want to), and for giving me the opportunity to do it despite the many, many reasons to not. I’ve also said it nonstop for a couple weeks now, but I’m incredibly grateful for everyone who participated as well. I owe a lot of people a lot of drinks.

And I’m excited to have a few more projects coming up, none of which involve hitting anyone. Thanks.


You can see more of Christopher Capriotti's work @ his website here.

 

The Voice of Doom and New Adventures

I've been friends with Mike Bukowski and Jeanne D'Angelo for most of my time in Philadelphia, and I've always been blown away by their vicious work ethic and talents as artists. Mike has been working on a personal project of illustrating every creature mentioned in Lovecraft's work for a few years now and began publishing those in a zine called Illustro Obscurum. That eventually made its way into the creation of Seventh Church Ministries, a publishing haunted house that puts out work by artists working with particularly horrific subject matter. Their next release is Jeanne's Unclean Spirits, out tomorrow (September 25th, 2015). I had a few questions for the oracle, so I'm grateful for the guidance and clarification they were willing to give me. 

Jeanne D'Angelo, from  Unclean Spirits

Jeanne D'Angelo, from Unclean Spirits

So apart from Illustro Obscurum and general weird illustrations, what's your main focus with the 7th Church Of The Illuminator?

Mike: Mostly weird or horror, doesn't have to be fiction, but we do want to focus on the literary. We did Gunsho's Goetia, which was based on the Key of Solomon. It's not real, it's about demons, but there is a literary basis for it. There's a source text you can go back to. 

So do you envision your releases more as stand alone pieces, or supplementary to the base text?

M: Everyone does their own pieces, mostly inspired by source texts. I really like having an image next to the piece that inspired it.

That's something I've always liked about your zines, especially since it's never just one source text. You recognize how interconnected these things are.

M: A lot of that is because I'm trying to make it as gross as possible. I like to cherry pick all the best parts.

Why make it gross? Why focus on the grotesque as opposed to, say, a pretty Cthulhu?

M: Man, I HATE a buff Cthulhu. I remember there was a reddit forum where people made of my Cthulhu and said he was too fat and lazy, but if you think about it, he's been sleeping for thousands of years. I tend to the grotesque in my own work because when H.P. Lovecraft references these monsters and gods, he's referencing them in a way that's supposed to be horrible. He's not name dropping, like “Hanging with Beelzebub!” It's meant to inspire fear.

I think that's something that gets glossed over a lot. For example, the Greek Gods, everyone expects them to have those perfectly proportioned bodies.

Michael Bukowski,  Zeus

Michael Bukowski, Zeus

Jeanne: Yeah, but you couldn't look directly at Zeus. It would blind you. He had to appear to you as a swan or a golden shower.

M: I think a lot of it is when I was researching disparate descriptions of, say, Abbadon, what he would look based on different texts, my rationale is always, “If this was a real thing, they're probably writing about different aspects, so how do I combine them?” I'll end up with a locust head, a scorpion tail, lion's mouth, so the reason all the Greek Gods come out differently is that I'm taking different aspects of their descriptions. Like Zeus, I think I drew him with a swan neck, a cow head, a dude's body--

J: --and urine! Urine arm.

Zeus Pissarm. Yeah, that's the guy. Mike, I know that most of your basis is in Lovecraft, but what else are people working on? I know we already mentioned Gunsho's Goetia.

M: We did Alan Brown's I See A Shadow Coming where he illustrated every M.R. James story...well, every ghost story. There are a lot that are like “THE HISTORY OF THE ISLE OF BRITAIN”. That was the first non-Illustro piece that we put out, and it was really cool. He went all out. I leave it up to the artist with what they want to do, in how intense their releases are gonna be. Gunsho, for example, just gave me the art and I did a print for it..

.but then Alan's, he made hand-made contracts with the devil. Every one was hand written in dutch or something and flutes-

J: If you know Alan, it's just like “I whipped these up. I had an idea and did it in like an hour. I hope they're good enough.”

M: For Gunsho's it was a little less involved. It was the book and the prints and that's it. For Jeanne's it's gonna be a little more fancy.

J: Yeah, but less fancy than Alan's.

So Jeanne, what's your source text? What're you going to be working off of?

J: I did 15 illustrations for Nikolai Gogol's short horror stories, which are mostly from his early career. They're not his most well-known or even well-liked stuff, but at the time they were what made him a name and made him really popular. They're all based on his Ukrainian upbringing, and all stories he asked his mother to relate back to him in letters. She sent him a lot of info about local customs in her lifetime, and relaying folklore and superstitions, telling him ghost stories and then he used them as the basis for his stories. None of them is a direct retelling, they're all inventions. He's using this oral traditions of folklore to make a group of stories that has a narrator who's telling the story casually in the beginning and slowly inserting himself.

The stories themselves have a very Gothic sensibility. The events that happen are reminiscent of things you might find in certain folktales, but they're small elements in where he's directing the story. Some of them are legitimately dark and scary, and a lot of them are kind of lighthearted, poking fun at the devil or the villagers and then all of the sudden there's a very violent scene.

M: There's St. John's Eve, where they're joking about boyars and then a few pages later a witch forces a guy to cut off a child's head and then she drinks blood from the fountain of his neck. It's within pages and obviously not meant to be funny. But his horror work, even if it's not his most critically acclaimed, is probably his most lasting.

J: You're much more likely to read The Nose or The Overcoat in your literature class, but The Viy was made into a move. It's not very popular here per se, but it's a pretty well-acclaimed movie made in the 60s.

M: It was the only Russian horror movie to be made under the Soviet Union.

J: It's based on a national folktale. There's a lot of debate, actually, because Russia claims him, but so does Ukraine. He was living in Russia when he was writing, but a lot of folks say he added a Ukrainian element to Russian literature. As someone from neither culture and so far removed, it's hard to separate.

M: It's kind of an interesting thing to consider, ya know, looking at who claims Gogol now and looking at the state of Eastern Europe. It's a weird, wild bubble. He live in what is now the Ukraine, but at the time was part of Russia. It's all blurry.

J: Yeah, but he also considered himself Ukrainian. He had a sense of pride in his national heritage. Maybe he was even trying to specifically interject that into the Russian literature.

Images from Alan Brown's  I See A Shadow Coming

Images from Alan Brown's I See A Shadow Coming

So why do you think his horror work is so lasting then? What makes it so interesting?

J: I don't know how lasting it is to other people, but sometimes I get really fixated on things. I read his stuff when I was 21 or 22. I think he's a very...he's a bit flowery at times, and he's very visual. What he's describing is vivid. It was easy for me to read it and see a picture in my mind that I wanted to see realized. So at the time I was so fixated on a few passages and images from those passages and then probably when I was 28 or so, I had an art show. I did a few pieces based on these ideas that have been in my head the whole time, but even then I didn't feel like I was quite good enough to pull off some of those images that seemed more elaborate. So I got to the point where I thought, “Okay, I want to tackle some of these and make paintings of them.” They're just stories that had a few elements that got really stuck in my head, so I just wanted to see what they would look like.

M: Also, a witch surfs on a coffin.

J: Those are the scenes I'm talking about! There's one in A Terrible Vengeance where they're going by a graveyard and bigger and more skeletal corpses are popping out and screaming “I'M SUFFOCATING”, and there's the scene in The Viy where the witch is riding around on a coffin trying to get this priest who has drawn a magic circle to defend himself. I did a huge centerfold of this scene that's more metaphorical, it's a huge passage about going down the river at night and seeing the mountain, seeing it reflected in the water and seeing it going on forever, both above and below, and he describes it like a wood demon washing his beard in the river.

M: That's also considered one of the most celebrated passages in Russian.

How does that horror aspect come through for you? Is it something that resonates in a sense of terror, or is it more about an idea of, “Oh, that would be a cool painting”?

J: For me it was more my interest in folklore. It's more interesting to see someone in a kind of modern context reinterpreting this folklore, injecting themselves back in the story and telling it their own way.

M: I really like seeing these stories that have been told over and over again interpreted by different artists. For Alan's zine, one of the M.R. James stories was The Treasure of Abbott Thomas, and there's this weird demon guarding this treasure in a monastery. I did a mini Illustro Obscurum that was my interpretation of the monster, and Jeanne did a print of the same monster, so in the same release we had three versions of the same monster and they were all different.

I mean, that's one of the beauties of folklore, everyone tells it a slightly different way.

J: Especially in Gogol's case. He was getting these stories from his mother, and reinterprets them himself. There's this idea with academics and folklore, that it becomes “real” when you've recorded it, but it's actually a really fluid thing. In the story of The Viy, there's this monster he calls The Viy and he claims it comes from folklore, so it sent all folklorists searching for decades to find his source and they can't find anything. Their best guess at this point is that it's something from his imagination and he's trying authenticate it a little or make it more believable, but it's also possible it's something his mother made up, some little personal flourish that never got recorded anywhere. The idea that you can ever record a folk tale is kind of absurd. Maybe he made it up and that's his connection with Illustro Obscurum.

UNCSPI

I mean, there's something to be said for an invented history. Like the 7th Church of the Illuminator.

J: Nope, that's all true.

M: All documented, all true.

J: At Necronomicon, people would come up to us and ask me, “Is this a real church?” and I would always say, “Our position is we have a brochure so we're a real church.” I guess it depends on how seriously people take it.

M: Hecate has 3 faces, she can look out on everyone.

J: I'm trying to get more involved in a propaganda arm of the church. I was really into Chick tracts, those pamphlets you could get sent to you if you wrote to the Christian Broadcast Ministry about heavy metal. I want to start making that.

Those things scared the hell out of me as a kid.

M: I remember religion terrifying me as a child in a different way. I remember it was supposed to be a happy thing in Catholic church when they talk about it being in Heaven forever, and my brain always got stuck on FOREVER. Like, I was 7 years old trying to contemplate infinity. It just keeps going? It doesn't stop? I think most people would be comforted by that. They don't want their life to blink out, they want to live forever. I was just like, “What the fuck IS forever?”

As for our own church, I kind of got the idea from the same reddit forum making fun of my fat Cthulhu. A few people were saying, “Lovecraft's stuff is supposed to be indescribable. I don't want to see it.” My whole deal is “Making you see it” in daylight. I think that's weirder to me. When it's not hidden, when it's out in all its glory. What kind of weird cult would make you look at monsters? So I ran with that idea of a cult forming around the idea that darkness is comforting because you can't see what's hidden, so this cult is trying to bring around the end of the world by abolishing darkness.

Anything else you wanted to touch on?
 

M: Everything is printed by Fireball Printing and Awesome Dudes and assembled by hand. Jeanne's zine will be out on the 25th of September, along with two bonus prints from other artists and I'm going to be doing a mini Illustro Obscurum of all Russian monsters. We've got a lot of stuff coming out very quickly at the end of the year that everyone should check out. Well, maybe not everyone.  

Unclean Spirits will be available tomorrow morning at 11 AM EST. 

Death By Endless Summer // Film By Olivia Kubicki

"I was so electrified driving around on a huge open track that lead to the ocean, driving up the tallest dune and looking out into the water. I watched Agi lean far back on the ATV, using his feet to steer while going down one of the steepest slopes. Of course he fell off, but it was hilarious and thats all that mattered. We're still just rambunctious kids, we still thrive off of risk and danger."

Find Olivia's work on her instagram.

Create To Destroy To Create: Visual/Film Artist Ana Humanleather

By Jamie C Burch

I've been hearing amazing things about Ana Humanleather through mutual friends for a couple of years now.  Her artwork is constantly popping up in my social media feeds, making me want to get to know better this woman who creates such intricate, creepy and beautiful illustrations.  When I found out she's beginning to work within the realm of film as well, I had to know more.  The results of my morbid curiosity are contained in this interview. 

Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you based out of, what mediums do you focus on?

My name is Ana Armengod, but I go by Ana Humanleather. I am 24, I currently live in Braddock, PA. I’m originally from Mazatlan, Sinaloa, Mexico where I was born and raised; after that I’ve lived all over the place in Mexico and the USA.

As far as my mediums for illustration, I use ink on paper or canvas paper. In the past 3 years, I have been trying out other materials: burnt paper, fabric, eco-printed paper, wood, and currently I have a new project called “The Gifted Egg Project” where I draw on recycled egg shells. All of my drawings are pointillism. I’ve also been experimenting with some sculpture, making giant paper maché piñatas that I cover in insulation foam and then destroy.

I’ve been really obsessed with making things that are meant to be destroyed, like the eggshells. The whole point is that it takes me so long to make something look beautiful; I put so much of my time and of myself into choosing my subject to draw, cleaning the egg, taking care of it and drawing on it with ink pens. Dot after dot, then I make another drawing or write something and insert it in the egg and give it to someone, and they have to break it. I’ve been recording the process of the egg being broken and the reaction of my loved ones not wanting to do so. It’s an uncomfortable process. They sit there with me staring at them, they are holding something they find valuable because it took me so long to make, and when it breaks, it hurts me, it feels awful.

How has your cultural background influenced you?  Does this somehow tie in with the elements of the mystic and macabre seen in your work?

I owe so much of who I am to my parents. I grew up in a house where art covered all of the walls, from paintings and water colors to Mexican mask-folk art, which are masks used for dances and ceremonies by different indigenous groups in Mexico.

My mom is a psychologist who loved painting as a hobby, sadly she doesn’t do it any more, but as a kid she and I would sit and draw together. Recently, I found some watercolors of women selling flowers in Oaxaca that I did with my Mom when I was 8.

My culture plays a huge role in terms of who I am and it’s impacted my work deeply, both my Mexican side and my Spanish side. There is a lot of symbolism in my work, everything I make drags from my childhood, my obsessions, and things I’ve witnessed/lived through. Culture in Mexico revolves a lot around art, craftsmanship and rituals. Even if people don’t consider what they are doing art, I think that it should definitely be held to the exact same standard, as our indigenous cultures are very visually pleasing; patterns, colors, history.

As a result of the colonization of Mexico by Spain, a lot of costumes and religious beliefs were forced upon the indigenous people. [This made] Mexico a Catholic country, so I was born into Catholicism, but it's a kind of Catholicism that has also adopted a lot of indigenous traditions; there is a huge mixture of cultures. As far as the macabre side of my work, all of the things I mentioned are what drew me to that. When I was a kid, I was both scared and intrigued by religious imagery: blades, devils, blood, sins, death, hell. The figures of suffering saints in old churches with candles by their feet, they are very sinister, and I grew up amongst them. Though Mexican culture has a bigger influence in me, the Cult of the Dead is also very important to me. People use bones and remains to make art out of them, decorating them and placing important objects around them. Mexico also has a long tradition of murals, which often depict important parts of our history; a lot of them are very real, very gruesome. All of these aspects are very influential in my work.

Give us a brief play by play of what an average day of art making looks like for you.  If you’re not in the mood to work on a project, but know you have to, how do you get pumped to do it?

I suffer from insomnia, and it’s when up at nights that I come up with my ideas, then I do a lot of image research, from old books, image libraries, the internet or museums.

I have to really prepare myself mentally to be able to work. I have a lot of rituals.  After I make myself a huge pot of coffee and choose a table to work on, pick the paper I want to use, I pick the pens that I want to use, and here is a thing that I do: I destroy my pens on purpose. I have about 100 micron pens of different tip sizes which I let drop face down, I rub them against the wall, I step on them. I make the pen tougher so it doesn’t bleed as much, so I can get a finer point in my pointillism. After I’ve chosen my pens, paper and subject, and I have a buffet of drinks to keep me constantly caffeinated- which is a huge help for me (haha)- I pick a song or album that I’m currently obsessed with. I’ll play the same song or same album over and over and over and over and over again. This why I like to wear headphones when I work or be alone, I feel embarrassed about subjecting people to my repetitive craziness.

Its extremely hard for me to work on something when I’m not in the mood to do it. I have a lot of issues with discipline, I lack it tremendously. But I’ve been better about it as I get older, I just push myself harder every time. Setting deadlines for myself and sticking to them helps a lot, as well as making lists.

What is your personal take on how gender plays a role in the art world of your immediate surroundings?  I know your husband is also an illustrator as well as tattoo artist; do you ever see the art community effecting the two of you differently?

Being a woman and having people take what you make seriously is hard, especially when your subject matter is not what you would call “pretty”. In my life, I’ve always had a huge issue with people comparing me to those who are close to me. One of my older brothers, Santiago Armengod (also known as Mazatl) makes amazing art; he’s part of Justseeds, [as well as] a muralist and printer. His work is incredibly inspiring to me, but to everyone else I was just Santiago’s sister. My work would not be taken seriously because it would be compared to his. Our work is very different, but the reality is that we are siblings, and we share so many of the same experiences which were lived and viewed in our [own] ways. I think that's the beauty of it, that we can make graphics or illustrations depicting those aspects of our lives and have our [own] personal views on it.

Matt and I met because of our illustrations. I think he is incredibly talented and the things he makes are another constant inspiration for me. But again, people’s perceptions of our art is tiring; people tend to compare our work instead of letting our work exist as its own. Matt and I do a lot of projects together, for the past 2 years we’ve been working on a shared sketchbook which we give back and forth to each other. He does one page, and I’ll do the other. I think our work completes each other and it works really well. But I think often people don’t realize that I have a part in the illustrations that we make together; sometimes people think its only Matt’s work, which is frustrating for both of us.

You recently began to focus more on film in addition to illustration.  What are some of the more difficult aspects of that transition? What are you working on right now?

Making films is something I’ve always wanted to do. Illustration came naturally to me, it was something I just sat down and did one day and so fast I was chest deep in it. With film it has been a long process of thought, many years of me saying that that's what I wanted to do but not settling down somewhere to be able to do it.

I think the hardest transition for me has been suddenly incorporating other people into my art world, learning to communicate to my crew or the actors what I want them to do. Illustration can be very isolating; when I draw I don’t have to talk to anyone, deal with anyone or try to put to words what I’m seeing in my head, I can just draw it and let people see it when I’m done. With film, it's the exact opposite. I have to communicate to everyone around me what I’m trying to do, how I’m seeing it, how they should see it.

Right now I am done filming and in the process of editing 2 short films, shot in B&W Super-8 Tri-X. The first one is called “Milk Tooth”, and it's a psychological bondage horror, based very much on the work of Fritz Lang’s “M”, Roman Polanski’s “The Tenant” and Luis Buñel’s “The Exterminating Angel”. The second one is called “The Devil In Me”, which is little more gruesome.  Both of the short films are horror, but they both have a reason of being. “Milk Tooth” is about a man who tortures his wife, which to me so terrifying; the idea that the person you love the most is the one that hurts you. “The Devil In Me” is about a Catholic girl who gives herself a coat hanger abortion because she thinks she has the devil inside of her.

Who are some other artists you’ve been paying attention to lately?

Often most of my inspiration comes from artists who are deceased, like Julio Ruelas, Jose Guadalupe Posada, Manuel Manilla, Alberto Durero, Ernst Haeckel and many more.

But for current artists (who I don’t know): Charles Burns, Pushead, Florian Bertmer, Dennis Mcnett, Daniel Clowes.

And these are the current artists whose stuff inspires me, and I respect (in different art forms): Matthew Wallenstein, Santiago Armengod, Joy Mallari, Michelle Garza, Chris Berntsen, Max Kuhn, Dina Sherman, Nat and Lilly Raymond.


Ana currently resides in the destitute steel town Braddock, PA with her husband Matt. You can find more of her recent film work here: http://www.vimeo.com/anahumanleather

An Interview With Abstract Expressionist Painter Eric Yevak

Eric is a friend from when I lived in New York City. I didnt know it when I met him, but for many years he has been furiously making art, searching for answers through layers of resin, ink, and paint. I approached him a few months back about a larger project, and the start of it is this interview right here. I ask these questions for no other purpose than so that I can try to understand. - Ian

Photo by  Gabriel Zhang

Photo by Gabriel Zhang

Introduce yourself, for those who don’t know you. Who are you, and what do you do?

My name is Eric Yevak. I'm an artist from the southern United States. I work in different forms of painting, from paper and wood to video and projections.

You’ve been painting for right at 20 years. I know that Richmond houses some pretty strong and committed communities. Tell me about those communities. How did growing up in them shape you? What did they ask of you?

I was very lucky to be there when I was. Richmond was an incredible place in the 90s. Tons of art and music. When I lived there I felt this incredible freedom. I was constantly being exposed to different forms of music and art. There was also a lot of violence in the city in the 90s. Richmond had the 2nd highest murder rate in the country. I think that kind of intensity seeps into daily life and, by extension, into art. Richmond had this very vibrant creative side. I was exposed to a wide range of performance art, traditional gallery work, lots of graffiti and non-traditional art work. Richmond in the mid 90s had an amazing hip-hop, punk, and hardcore scene. A walk home at night could take you past several house shows and a couple police barricades. It felt simultaneously scary and alive.

The city had a creative pulse. There were these punk houses -- these huge old houses, with basement shows and art shows and like fifteen people living there. One thing punk houses demonstrate is total immersion in a lifestyle. That really stayed with me. If you were a tourist in the scene or someone who did this part time, you weren't really respected. You had to be all in. People took a lot of it very seriously, which is where I think a lot of the aggression and violence came from. This scene, this music, this art was all a lot of people had. It felt tribal.

I was very lucky to be brought in and adopted by a group of very intense and supportive people. I was a weird one. I walked between different scenes and art groups. I don't know if I learned loyalty there or if I brought it with me. But when I think of my years in Richmond, it’s these friendships that mean the most to me. Coming of age there, in a way, taught me that I could survive most things.

In my second year of undergrad, my father, who had substance abuse issues, disappeared with all my rent money. I ended up living in this sort of squat band rehearsal warehouse. I lived there for about two years. No showers, mostly no running water, no heat. I would shower at the school gym. Or I would go to some random college kid parties and have my friends watch the bathroom door while I took a quick shower. That was fun. I could not have survived if it wasn't for the community there.

It’s gotta be really great to see that community giving back to you when you need it. Were the communities you’re from always so supportive of your artistic endeavors? I know you raised quite a bit of money on indiegogo, more than you even asked for, to help pay the last bit of tuition fees and pay for your move to Minneapolis.

In Richmond, when I first started showing, I would have these art shows or noise performances and people would show up. Most of them just thought I was strange, but they would come. It made for some interesting social situations. At one of my first real gallery shows there was a huge group of tattooed people and then old white, southern ladies in pearls. These tough scary tattooed kids I think felt more awkward.

I think all of us want to think that we stand or fall on our own, and in some ways this is very true. Its also very prideful, to think that you can make it in this world alone. That being said, I have been very lucky that I have always had people to watch my back and look out for me. I think (I hope) this is partly because I’ve always been willing to do the same. For better or worse, we are all in this together. I don't think a lot of artists really understand that. What’s the point of achieving anything if you are alone when you get there? I’ve always been standing on the shoulders of giants, I know that. To have people step up for me like that is incredible. It was a very humbling experience. I’m very grateful.

"Everything that was not a necessity weighed me down. Cleanliness, simplicity, purity - these are all relics from my spiritual youth."

Let’s talk about New York. At other times, you said it gave you the chance “...to say fuck you world!! You have tried my whole life to bring me down, and you probably will in the end, but right now I'm going to hurt you. To feel like your force of will can reshape reality.”  It seems like you’re saying that New York can help develop the aggressive attitude that it takes to make a real mark on the world. Is that how you see it? Or is it something more than that?

I think I developed that attitude early in life. One of the most intense things about New York  is that there are no excuses there. You want to fight for you art? Well, you can, if you get up everyday and fight. Growing up in smaller towns there are always people who don't want to see you achieve. They’re scared of growth, they want to keep you down. These people are in New York as well, but there is also this huge community of people that are doing, making. To make a mark in the city you have to get up and you have to make and make and make. Because nobody cares, nobody has time for you, they have their own fight. Nobody owes you anything there. If you are weak it toughens you up or it eats you. It you can survive, that in itself is something to be proud of. In New York all things exist. It’s there if you really want it bad enough.

In your artist statement you mention “loss of self inside a purifying action.” This struck a chord in me. Does this idea relate to your experiences in counter culture or straightedge? If not, what does it come from?

I don't think it relates to any one counter culture necessarily. I was very involved with the Richmond hardcore scene but I think I brought this kinda desire there with me. I think the idea of losing oneself inside of a purifying action comes more from how I was raised. I was taught from an early age that dying for a just cause erased your debts and your sins in this life. That there was nothing greater then to kill and die for your God or your country. I don’t believe this now. But the idea of doing something so great that you transcend yourself and become something greater, erasing your past, your guilt, still has a strong hold on me.

Where did you develop the ideas of purity and struggle?

From working as a young teenager. Stealing as a young teenager. If I wanted something - clothes or happiness or spiritual understanding - I had to get it myself. Nothing comes easy. It’s the same now. Everything that was not a necessity weighed me down. Cleanliness, simplicity, purity - these are all relics from my spiritual youth. These concepts inform everything I make - every painting, every piece of art. I think there is something to struggling, it builds up this heat, physically of course, but also mentally. I always thought this mental, or even spiritual heat, could melt away the impurities inside myself, the same way that hard work slims you down, burns away the fat. I believe struggling and pushing burns out impurities.

My high school guidance counselor told me that I wasn't good enough to go to art school, that I should go into the army. I heard that idea a lot. Poor kids don't go to art school. Art doesn’t pay the bills, it doesn’t have any value. Kids from my neighborhood went to trade schools (or prison) if they went anywhere. Most just stayed around just barely getting by. I felt stifled and convinced myself that I couldn’t be weighed down. All I had was me - nothing backing me, no money, no family name. If I was all I had, I had to be it. I had to get rid of everything that I didn't need, physically or mentally. To burn clean. To maybe burn so clean that I became a pure force. It’s hard for me to put into words, but its this idea that by working and doing over and over, by applying your force of will, reshaping reality to your desire that you become something more, that you become epic, that you are a myth. That your intensity echoes and ripples out. It’s a new religion.

How do you define that struggle? How does that struggle define you? How does artistic work engage that struggle of everyday existence?

Struggle is getting up and getting back up, over and over. I’ve learned not to look for transcendence in someone else's ideology. But I still have a hunger for that spiritual embrace. My sense of self, my sense of self-hatred, wants to give into the void. I have a strong desire to disappear, to just float out and sink. I don’t do it. Not yet. My work is my dealing with that. The sublime. The concept of coming face to face, being surround by something greater than myself. It’s horrifying. Those ideas deal with the concepts, but in a real world, everyday situation it’s about doing it day after day - putting my head down and working.

What about your training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu? How does the discipline/environment of violence inform the artistic environment?

I find I lose myself the most in the midst of physical action. Sex and violence. Time disappears. My ego has to be lost. There is only me doing this. I can’t lie when I'm training - well, not for long. There is a rhythm and tone that comes into my work. Flesh, maybe spirit. Its one of the few times that I get close to a feeling of purity. It’s inside of struggle that I become more than I am. Being tested and surpassing the test. Breaking the gauges. I watched Joey C, who was the singer of this Boston hardcore band Righteous Jams, fight in his first Muay Thai fight. It was incredible. Joey C is as close to a perfect person as I have ever seen. I felt so bad for the other man. It’s not just that Joey was better, or stronger, or even had better technique. Joey is just a world of focused intensity. The other man was a man. Seeing Joey that night as he walked to the ring in a shady gym in Queens, it was like he had felt everything possible, had all thoughts pass through him, had a knowledge of time and space that I could only fantasize about, and he was humble, at peace. And then he unleashed on this poor man. This man had no idea all feelings of hunger and heartache and loss were about to directed towards him. It still puts an ache into my chest thinking about it. That is art. That’s the moment my work is about - the moment right before the wave crashes.

"My pieces are not my friends - they might be family. They exist to take from me, but they don't care for me. They are waiting to be free of me as much as I am of them. I feel like I'm just a conduit sometimes. Which is about as cliche as you can get."

I want to know more about the wave crashing. Tell me about the most fucked up fight you’ve been in, and tell me about the most fucked up art you’ve made. Can you find a correlation between them? Do these particular instances matter to you?

I’ve been in a lot of situations in my life where violence came into play, some right and some wrong. Most I wouldn't want to talk about. But, a few years ago I had part of my face bit off by a large, drunk Irishman. I thought I lost my eye. I see that scar everyday. Even when others don't notice it at first, I know its there. It was a random action. I was attacked walking out of a New Years Eve party. It wasn't personal at all. But it affects me every day.

As far as fucked up paintings go, I don't even know what that means. I don't think I think or feel in those terms. A large part of my practice is embracing failure. A fucked up painting for me would be one I didn't believe in, one that wasn't honest to my experience, so I guess I have made fucked up paintings. I lie to myself daily, I have to try and always be aware of that. I have never drawn a correlation between a fight gone wrong and one of my pieces being fucked up. If I did it would go back to getting back up, going forward, swinging the whole time. My pieces are not my friends - they might be family. They exist to take from me, but they don't care for me. They are waiting to be free of me as much as I am of them. I feel like I'm just a conduit sometimes. Which is about as cliche as you can get.

But as far as fights and struggles go, death beats us all in the end. It’s the definition of finality. Yet we try to fight on against an uncaring void. Do you ever feel like you’re ever winning in the race against your own shadow? Have you reached “the pinnacle moment when, however briefly, all forces are equal”?

No. I haven’t reached that point yet. I have not had the nirvana moment of weightlessness, and if I have its only for a few fleeting moments. I've had close friends where I see it in their eyes when I look at them, but only for a moment.

From what I know about you, work ethic seems like everything. Just looking at you, one can see the unrelenting drive. Where does this come from, what does work ethic mean to you?

Ha, these questions are a struggle. I’m starting think I'm pretty one dimensional - “struggle and violence, struggle and violence.” I think its as simple as a case of self hatred. I hate myself, on some level, and that pisses me off. I don't want that. Being poor in this country, you only get what you take. If I don't want this weight, I have to get rid of it myself. Everything I see or experience is maya, it’s an illusion. I'm the only thing that is real so I have to do the work. I can’t lay it on somebody else. I wish I could. At a base level, I'm a coward. I hate that. So, I run as fast as I can towards the things that scare me. Because if I don't, I’ll just lay down and die. Not only am I coward, I am also arrogant. The worst combination for a person. The arrogance makes me demand of myself, "others have gone there, why can't you, why are you afraid, why are you weak?" I work, I embrace the grind, even if it’s against my nature. The Richmond hardcore band Down To Nothing had a slogan, "Hanging out is what we do best." It’s also what I do best. But I work against that urge.

What’s coming up next for you? What new things are you working on?

I’m working larger and hopefully making better work. Just producing as much as I can. I am so incredibly lucky to be able to live and create like I do. I feel like I cheated somebody somewhere, and one of these days they are going to catch up to me in a bad way. So I have to get it all out of me while I can.

Thanks for taking the time to do this Eric. You obviously work really fucking hard. Shout out some artists that work even harder than you, that also deserve some recognition.

There are so many. Erik Benson has been a huge influence as well as Judith Supine and Heath West. Jesse Yuhasz is an amazing artist and has been a huge inspiration to me for years. I was able to share a studio with Erin M. Riley for a while in New york. She is the hardest working, most obsessed artist I have ever been around. She puts me to shame. In the studio from 11am to 3am or longer, 7 days a week. It’s incredible to watch and be around. It’s also kind of horrifying. Not only does she put in the physical work, she puts in the mental work as well. Everything she does is so considered, driven by theory and vision. At any point in the process she can stop and give you a lesson on art and feminist history and how it plays into her work, and into yours. Anybody can make a pretty picture, but not everybody can dedicate themselves to the process. Not everyone has this awareness of everything that came before and the ability to make something new. And fail and fail and fail. And get back up.

Eric currently lives in Minneapolis and is pursuing an MFA at MCAD.

Poetry Spotlight: Brittany Cominos

"My poetry, like most of my habits, is the product of fixating on things until they don't bother me anymore."

Poetry tends to come from a place of inspiration, and that is the worst place for it to stay. It's the attention to detail that elevates it to a craft. Most people aren't willing to put in the work to bring around the final product. 

Brittany has always gone above and beyond the call of craft for as long as I've known her. Her dedication and attention to detail show in the strength of her lines and sonics, building powerful rooms of memory that one steps into cleanly. Like any other writer born below the Mason-Dixon, her work is full of the hot pressure of the South and the concerns of home. We're proud to be presenting three of her new poems here at Little Death. 

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Begins, and begins, and begins

In the peach dawn glow
find me half destroyed 
by the way you placed
your hand on the wheel; 
smooth and familiar,
how I hoped to be.

On the front porch,
you laid out like a map.
I imagined you
were full of promise,
knowing that my favorite
places would always
remember you better.

Haunted by your soft 
spot for spines and storms. 
All those languid landscapes, 
all those dried flowers
on your mantle, rose-
colored memories 
spoil in your palm.

Elegy for Inaction

  1. Lost on our way
    to the Blue Ridge tunnel
    on the coldest day of the year,
    climbing mountains heavy
    with purpose. I got tangled
    up in bittersweet when I strayed
    from the trail and used it
    as a florid metaphor
    in my goodbye letter.

     

  2. I remember your library
    like stagnant water breeding
    mosquitoes and I refuse to envy
    your surplus of self-control. So
    I send Rilke quotes from Seattle,
    The transformed speaks
    only to relinquishers.  
    All holders-on are stranglers.
    Words stretching out
    like olive branches;
    I continue to identify
    as the dark circles
    under your eyes.

     

  3. I am the Rotunda and I am Monticello
    with kudzu wrapped around my throat
    and creeper clinging to my ankles.
    That kind of strength and growth take time,
    I know, but standing in front of you
    like the Corinthian columns that raised me,
    triumphant roots reach new depths.



     

    Gather
     

    Yet why not say what happened?
    Pray for the grace of accuracy
    Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
    stealing like the tide across a map
    to his girl solid with yearning.

    -Robert Lowell
     

    You can find me every Sunday morning 
    praying for the grace of accuracy, 
    as I gather words to drape over  
    the monument we built to seventeen. 
    Letting honeysuckle and lemonade  
    go straight to our heads, performances
    of romance, hands Crusoeing in the tall grass. 

    Your thighs are gentle like gardenias  
    and looking at you must be what it’s like 
    to discover an entire patch 
    of four leaf clovers. Unlike me, you stick 
    around, clinging like Virginia creeper 
    to the waists of a late afternoon shadow 
    or the chimney of your childhood home.

    Honey, you are like peaches in July—  
    maybe softer and sweeter but bruising   
    just as easy.  Sweating in the soft  
    morning, we murmur like bumblebees. 
    Exhale violets and daffodils and make out  
    overgrown tomato plants through sunshine  
    and mason jars on your windowsill.  

Announcing LDP002: SPREAD by Mattie Hinkley

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From The Artist:

"I am a highly sexual person, but have always felt a sense of shame about it. The sexual representations I saw in the world around me, specifically in pornography, were obviously geared toward straight men, and at best, fetishized the sexuality of alternate genders and orientations. I felt alienated by the depictions of sex I saw, and I was then made to feel wrong about my libido as a whole. I was made to feel like it wasn’t natural for a woman to be lascivious. It took me a very long time to learn (and I am still learning) the power and importance of owning my sexuality. My intention behind these drawings was to show the raging lust that, as a woman, I was taught my whole life to suppress. And if they turn you on, that’s great too."

When we decided we wanted to put out a book of Mattie’s illustrations, there was a bit of hesitation on how it would be received. Little Death is, at this time, still in its infancy. Any backlash could smother our entire project in its cradle. If history has taught us anything, few things draw ire quicker than unflinching looks at sex.

We live in a society that has been constructed around very specific viewpoints. Sex is no longer a natural part of the human experience. It is a minefield of human consciousness and internalized socializations. This feeling is right, that feeling is wrong. Have lots of sex, but only so long as it’s with X person at Y time.

But if we want to break down those walls, we need to start with ourselves. We need to look to people who are unafraid to push their own boundaries of comfort. We need to look at our bodies with our own eyes and unflinchingly accept our desires.

This is not a book for anyone who is uncomfortable with the gray spaces.

This is not a book for anyone who "knows" how others should conduct themselves.

This is not a book for anyone who wants to own a person and not an experience.

So many are still struggling with how to deal with their own sexuality, how to express it, how to reconcile desire with the weight of society on their neck.

This book is for them.


SPREAD will be up for sale on Wednesday February 18th.

Artist photo by: Chris Bavaria 

Silver Blues - A Review of the new The Goodbye Party LP

By Stephen X Welch

I love a ghost story, one in the classic "haunted house" motif. We've all felt that unsteady prickling of hair on the back of our neck. The cold spot in the living room that never quite warms up no matter how you position the space heater. The creaks and breathing of old wood that's just a little too close to a human sigh. It's not a far step to imagine you've passed into a world just a bit beyond our own.

The Goodbye Party's "Silver Blues" feels like a haunting in the best way possible. The cold loops and spaced out textures mix with warm guitar flushes, while an undercurrent of hissing and bowed guitar strings reach their fingers out to the living. Michael Cantor has managed to capture some of my favorite feelings, of being alive while maintaining a mature emotional outlook, a sensibility too often overlooked by those writing and recording dream pop.

I find when someone talks about dream pop, what they really mean is dreamy pop music, something pastel to stroke across the ears on a spring day's idyll. This album is closer to the confusing but powerful reconstructions of the subconscious in the confines of night. At times hurried and ecstatic, at times freezing and sonorous, this collection isn't so much listened to as experienced.

Lyrically, the songs move between just such reflections on what must remain in the past as we move forward (Heavenly Blues, 27 Times) and the anger we feel in the process of grief, the moments when our strength fails us against the persistence of nature (I'm Not Going To Your Heaven, Disrepair, Crossed Out). Michael has a way of making the most impotent moments of adulthood, the passing of youth, feel like powerful moments of clarity when we're given some secret to the other side. Growing up actually feels less like betrayal. Paired with the undeniable rhythms and hooks, these songs become anthems of maturity and acceptance that take full stock of the impermanence of our lives and manages to make them a cause worth celebrating (Personal Heavens, Louder Than Summer). We don't fear our ghosts. We miss them.

One can't help but feel like the ghosts trapped in these tracks are taking tape loops and twisting them like an auditory Ouija board. This is a record haunted by loss and acceptance, but haunted by spirits strong enough to reach through and resonate with your own buried past. These songs don't leave you. They slowly attach themselves to you. They exercise their influence as you hum them through your day and occasionally brush their lines across your mind. The active act of memory engaging your psyche, forcing you to acknowledge what you've had to leave behind: that's the haunting.

Buy the record HERE
Listen to rest of the record HERE
The Goodbye Party Tumblr is HERE
 

Design For Design's Sake: A BLVKWLF USA Interview

By Ian L Shiver

BLVKWLF is a one man graphic design house that Little Death has been working with since pretty much day one. Run by Brendan William of South Philadelphia, BLVKWLF's graphic design caught our eye immediately because of its intentional style, effective simplicity, and clear ties to traditional tattoo art. But Brendan is different than your average graphic designer, because he doesn't care about making money. He is first and foremost an artist, which he makes very clear through his well-thought out presentation of not only his prints, but every piece of the packaging they come in.  He views his logos as projects, as an exercise in personal growth, and while working as a barista over the past few years he has been honing his skills in design and print making. BLVKWLF is a new company as of 2014, and it has come out swingin'.

We asked Brendan a few questions about his inspirations and his goals and the role of an artist in a world where making money is a leveling reality.

Who are your favorite artists / who inspires you?

I have a strong interest in any craftsman making analogue art, but there's also this personal interest in the union between man and machine and this sort of industrial art-making. The most rewarding collaborations for me have been with other artists that recognize this, and that's true across several disciplines. I'm heavily drawn to print-making because of this. A friend of ours has a beautiful, vintage treadle powered press that he works with. I love the tactile experience that comes with letterpress. There are a few chainstitch artists who still work on mid-century singers. That's intense, detail-heavy work and it shows in the final product. These are the true artists that can bring artwork to life and give it real dimension and shape. They use some pretty sophisticated antique machinery so there's a level of expertise that can't be faked.

It seems like your graphic design is inspired by traditional tattoo culture. What draws you to that world?

The same reason I've been attracted to any of those art making processes I mentioned. There's the illustration aspect, and also an aspect of working with machinery. it's another example of hard work and craftsmanship coming together. What I find interesting about these traditional mediums is that the have been happening long enough to develop a culture surrounding them, but they're still relatively young art forms. I feel like traditional tattoo history is something that's still taking place. There are artists out there right now keeping the culture and history alive.

What do you think is the most important thing happening in the art world right now?

It's hard to say. Keeping certain art forms from dying is totally important. Those mediums we talked about. Supporting those artists who are experts within their own trade, that's important. 

You don't seem motivated by selling product, but simply by the art itself. Can you tell me more about your motivations?

The end goal for any real artist is never financial success. Art is simply more powerful than commerce. That said, I think it's certainly necessary to create a sustainable operation in order to continue providing product to people in a democratic way. Art and business become a double-edged sword. 

What projects are you working on right now, and what can we expect from you in the future?

I'm currently right in the middle of building this library of work that's been dubbed 'year one'. that covers everything created from summer 2014-Summer 2015. There will be four installments that cover this period of time. The next one is due out in March. Year two will look a little different. Hopefully we can translate some of this existing work across other mediums as well.

What made you want to become an artist originally?

I don't think anyone decides to create. I strongly believe that we all have the ability to be creative, the problem is most of us were never allowed to develop our personal creative strengths. Self expression is often rejected. Thankfully, I've had a lot of support from the jump, and I've been encouraged to do this since a young age. This recent direction is just another manifestation of that lifelong creative energy.

 

For commissions or prints check out: http://www.blvkwlf.com
BLVKWLF Instagram / BLVKWLF Tumblr