Once in a Lifetime

Northeast Florida artists reflect on the 1980s

Ed Paschke_Malibu-MOCA-

Ed Paschke (1939-2204) “Malibu,” 1984, oil on linen. Acquisition Trust Fund. MOCA Jacksonville Permanent Collection.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville is currently hosting the exhibit “ReFocus: Art of the 1980s” through January 6. The collection features works by eighties arts luminaries including David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Nan Goldin, Cindy Sherman and Eric Fischl, along with works by influential predecessors such as Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, David Hockney and James Rosenquist. MOCA has been offering some decent programming to coincide with the exhibit. Some of their choices have been sublime: Barbara Colaciello’s October 11th lecture chronicling her time working at Andy Warhol’s de facto art manufacturing plant The Factory was a resounding success. While other events, such as the Nov. 8th screening of the 1983 David Bowie-driven, new wave vampire suckfest known as “The Hunger,” veered towards the sappy.

The museum’s final 80s-themed event has the possibility of being the most interesting, if not community specific, of them all. This Saturday, Dec. 15 from 1-5 p.m., MOCA presents “MyFocus: A Community Response to the Art of the ‘80s” a unique panel discussion that features 11 members of the Northeast Florida arts scene. This free event allows these artists a chance to talk about specific pieces from the exhibit while also reflecting on their own lives during the decade that witnessed everything from the arrival of AIDS and Reaganomics, to the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of crack cocaine.

Artists scheduled to participate in Saturday’s event include Jim Smith, Tony Rodrigues, Christina Foard, Pablo Rivera, Madeleine Peck, Chaz Bäck, Dustin Harewood, Mark George, Mark Creegan, David Ouellette and Nofa Dixon. What follows is a questionnaire-driven e-mail interview with eight of those artists.

Some longwinded notes on the inspiration, intent, format and assembling of this piece: My initial inspiration and intent for this story was twofold and in one way also honors a vow. In 1989, I was 17 years old and studying visual arts at FCCJ South Campus. When I wasn’t in my Drawing II or Art History I classes, I was outside avoiding eye contact and perfecting the art of smoking Marlboro Lights or lurking in the campus library, attempting to decipher the current issue of Artforum or Art in America. Thumbing through the slick, glossy pages of those magazines, I was in a state of naïve wonder at the apparent infinite possibilities of visual arts. Yet I was equally baffled by the tone of some of the articles therein, particularly in the presentation of interviews. There were times when I left the library feeling more puzzled and annoyed by the writer’s oblique approach than ever actually feeling invited into the realm of their chosen subjects. I felt that the artist was drowned out and even “de-personalized” by some kind of coy wordplay based more on exclusivity than identification.

During this same time, I was an avid reader of 1980s punk and underground zines such as Forced Exposure, Conflict, Maximum Rock and Roll, Your Flesh and Flipside. These publications featured longform interviews with bands, writers and even visual artists that could be as fascinating as they were mind-numbing. And while I might never actually check out the music of some Vegan Grindcore band from Olympia, Washington that Flipside would spotlight with 3,000+ words, that same exhaustive experience certainly left me with a stronger sense of not only who these people were, but also what they were trying to convey. Frustrated with the “Emperor’s New Clothes” mentality that many arts publications seemed to celebrate, I stopped reading those magazines altogether and promised myself that if ever given the chance, I would honor the energy, candor and no-bullshit approach transmitted by the then-burgeoning zine culture.

Secondly, with this piece I had considered simulating a panel or round table discussion by way of the oral biography. The ultimate role model and target of thievery was undoubtedly Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain’s collaborative work from 1997, “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk.” A longtime favorite of mine, that iconoclastic book chronicled the late 1960s/early 1970s rock scene through eyewitness accounts from the participants and candid, “warts and all” stories that were fascinating, hilarious, bittersweet and at times even embarrassing.

I became aware of this MOCA event on the evening of Monday, Dec. 3 and immediately decided to try and create this piece. The deadline was just under a week. I sent out a questionnaire to nine individuals scheduled to participate. I also asked them to send me two images – one from the eighties and one from present day. Of those nine – eight responded. I had originally intended to list each question and follow that with the eight answers from each respondent. However, I felt it would be taxing on the reader (or even boring) to try and absorb eight answers listed out in succession on the screen, especially when factoring in that some of my questions were longer than some of the actual responses!

Just as crucially, barring any overtly confusing punctuation or syntax, I have chosen to leave each artist’s answers as unaltered as possible. In this way, I hope the reader can get a sense of what each person was trying to say while also possibly achieving a better understanding of the personality of each by how they actually chose to respond via e-mail. While one artist chose to elaborate, another decided to practice brevity; some were candid, others humorous or even blunt. Rather than edit the answers or smooth out any wrinkles, I have chosen to simply collate and roll out what was given to me and then deliver that to any possible audience.

Whether or not this experiment is a success or failure really relies on the ultimate test subject: the reader.

However, when I factor in the solemn vow taken by a morbidly self-conscious, art-loving teenager nearly a quarter century ago – this piece is a resounding success.

JIM SMITH

Jim Smith

Jim Smith 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Jim Smith: I have chosen the print by Andy Warhol of the $ and the group of instamatic photos he did of celebrities. I chose the work by Andy because his art was the stuff that hit me between the eyes. For me it was visual rock and roll. I also, like the fact that even in the 80’s he was very relevant in the work he made.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

J.S.: Yes but not with the same fondness of the 60’s. I don’t think you will see Prom themes set in the 80’s. The 80’s was an era of “self” and fame. I think it is due to this that most people recall the 80’s art.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

J.S.: At this time I was trying to live in FL and show in NYC. This proved to be a failure. Distance matters greatly. I was working on assemblages and installations. At this time I was concentrating on teaching.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

J.S.: I was discouraged at this point with the Art world.  It seemed to me it was more about who and not what.  The conceptual movement was gaining momentum and seemed to me to be what I had no interest in doing.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

J.S.: Only as far as what I did not want to do as an artist.  There were aspects of the techniques that I enjoyed of the eighties.  It was the beginning of the video and technology being incorporated into artwork.

Jim Smith as an art teacher in the early eighties.

Jim Smith as an art teacher in the early eighties.

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

J.S.: Personally I do not believe this to be a new dynamic. The well- heeled conservative power has always been influencing the arts.  During the Medici rein, you better do what they thought was acceptable or you did not work.  It is not a coincidence that all of the paintings of Christ at this time make him look Italian, though there is no physical description in the bible of what Christ looks like the.  Another up roar came from a similar experience when an artist displayed a work of a crucifix in a vial of urine. On a personal level, I was in Cincinnati during the controversy with the Mapplethorpe artwork.  One of those photos will be on display at the MOCA. The art community was galvanized because of this attempt by the right wing to close the show down.  On the night of the talk, I plan to wear a button that I purchased then saying “Mapplethorpe the perfect time to support the arts”

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

J.S.: I was not very aware of the disease other than that it was killing a lot of folks who seemed to be the same folks that I had great admiration for like Keith Haring.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

J.S.: Social awareness on different levels helped bring the works by some of these artists into the limelight like the “Guerrilla girl”.  At this time artwork and artist were often thought of as investments to be bought and sold for a profit.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

J.S.: Like most art movements, it becomes an art movement only after it was over with and art historians try to make sense of and find a common link to it all. The overall message concerning the art of the 80’s was a return to the image that had an impact and an overall cynicism that the artists were becoming more known than the artwork.

TONY RODRIGUES

Tony Rodrigues

Tony Rodrigues 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Tony Rodrigues: I’ll be talking about the Richard Prince piece (I think the title is something like “Joke, Woman, Cowboy”). I’ll also be referring to the John Baldessari piece adjacent to it and the section regarding appropriation in general. I feel a special affinity for his work and sensibilities. His perspective on media, popular culture and marketing imagery is wry, somewhat detached, and much deeper than it appears at first glance. As an artist he’s chosen to navigate a turbulent and polluted sea of artless culture and find something artful in it.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

T.R.: The 80s, to me, is defined by the Cold War, Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations, Punk Rock, the explosion of the crack cocaine epidemic, a visible increase in homelessness, and a surge in materialism and predatory capitalism as sport.  Looking back, it seemed like the plentiful, good-times of the 50s and the turbulence of the 60s were happening simultaneously and creating friction.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

T.R.: I was in high school, smack in the middle of the 80s, graduating in 1986.  I transferred to the Atlanta College of Art in 1988.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

T.R.: In my early teens I dove into the Punk scene and had an instant connection with the graphics of true independent record labels, and fanzines and flyers.  The anti-aesthetic of borrowed/stolen imagery executed with copy machines, typewriters, glue and scotch tape was exciting and immediate to me.  The ransom note, look seemed dangerous and almost illegal.  My lifelong interest in drawing and photography dovetailed with that.  I was also reading Interview Magazine, which was new to me in the 80s, got a glimpse of Modern Art History in high school and everything just started making sense. I discovered Dadaism and realized they had created the cut-up “punk” aesthetic 60 years before this stuff that I thought was so revolutionary.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

T.R.: Artists like Andy Warhol, and Robert Rauschenberg that were well established by the 80s were very inspiring to me.  I also became enamored with Barbara Kruger’s work.  The emergence of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Francesco Clemente and Julian Schnabel as artist/celebrities was something new to me.  The whole thing seemed glamorous and crucial.

Tony Rodrigues in 1989

Tony Rodrigues in 1989

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

T.R.: Short answer: Art is bigger than politics.  I won’t waste my time arguing about political agendas that are pandering to a simple-minded base.
Related anecdote: I got to meet Andres Serrano around 1990-91, in Atlanta.  A professor arranged a private viewing of a show featuring some of his most shocking work and a Q & A session with him.  Jesse Helms, coincidentally, was in town to speak about the evils of the NEA and degenerate art at a church.  Someone asked him if he would be protesting alongside the throngs of outraged, free-thinking supporters of unbridled creativity.  Serrano answered that he had already purchased a ticket to see and hear Senator Helms for himself.  He reasoned that he did not know the man and sought to further understand him and his opinions.  If given the chance, Serrano said he would explain his art and ideas to Helms.  I got the impression that he wasn’t necessarily angry at Senator Helms or any of the others moral crusaders that were beating the drum so loudly and screaming his name to a public that was largely unaware his art, existed before they made such an issue of it.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

T.R.: I recall the art world being at the forefront of the recognition of AIDS as a very real threat.  Certainly, it was ahead of the government, especially the Reagan administration.  I remember being stunned when Keith Haring succumbed to the disease.  AIDS was an issue that was prevalent in my time in art school.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

T.R.: If the 80s were a decade of excess, the art world is a testament to that notion.  The 50s produced abstract expressionism and its lions such as Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline.  The 60s brought the pop movement and made Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein titans.  Those movements and their markets weren’t exhausted when Fluxus and Minimalism emerged.  They all existed simultaneously as post-modernism took shape and some aesthetics and artists crossed over or defied labels.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

T.R.: Art in the 80s was a feast of revitalized or continuing movements as well as exciting new forms of street art, conceptual art, photography, video and performance.  The floodgates were open and it became apparent that no one direction or movement would dominate the conversation of critics, scholars or casual observers.  At the time, the message seemed to be “Look at me!”  I guess it still is.

CHRISTINA FOARD

Christina Foard

Christina Foard 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Christina Foard: I will primarily be discussing Chuck Close as influential in my 20s and in my 40s and for contrasting reasons, since I’m a different person after 20 years of living. (During my 30s I was not creating art). Close is remarkable for his perseverance through physical and cognitive limitations. I was able to meet him in 2009 and he has made an impact on my own journey.

I am also going to tell a quick story about the key events surrounding the infamous revolt against the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition in Cincinnati in 1990. Just after this exhibition was cancelled at the Corcoran, it toured to conservative Cincinnati, famed for its laws against pornography. My story includes freedom of speech, a conservative city trying to define the line between pornography and art, the arrest of the Contemporary Art Center director, and a change in the NEA’s accountability and funding of the arts. I was in my senior year at the University of Cincinnati as a painting major, present at all the news functions, involved in the first amendment public marches, and became an intern at CAC a few months after these heated days.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

C.F.: (No Answer.)

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

C.F.: I was in high school in the early eighties and college in the late eighties. My early artistic endeavors were, therefore, dominated by the eighties culture. I was malleable as a teen. In high school, I was a cheerleader, a committed athlete in soccer and track, an art freak, taking advanced academic classes and hanging out with the brainiacs, and smoking cigarettes before school in the high school “smoking lounge”. Somehow, I managed to be accepted in every clique, and yet not really a member of any of them.  I was either invited to every party or none at all. I attribute this ability to identify with people from all walks of life to an early childhood defined by rapidly successive moves and surviving each changing classroom as the “new kid”.  I was independent and a non-conformist at a young age.

I took art coursework throughout high school and college. It was a secluded route into imagined worlds and I felt confident in this area of my life.  I was selected for a citywide honors drawing program in high school.  I didn’t value art much in college because it came much too easily for me, and at the time, I had a propensity to take everything for granted. As I increased in my focus and dedication through a maturing process, I was later honored with two major awards at the University of Cincinnati: The Wolfstein Travel Fellowship where I spent a summer in Africa and held a solo show of my resulting work at the University Gallery; and finally, selected by peers and faculty for the Outstanding Senior of the College of Fine Art award upon graduation.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

C.F.: During the Eighties, I learned about the pluralism in the 70s and became excited about many modern artists for the first time, many of whom were historical.

I studied at length Eva Hesse’s short lifetime and work.  Hesse’s work helped me redefine drawing and sculptural boundaries. On several occasions, I presented wire and tar relief sculptures in my drawing classes. This became a point of contention and dialogue in the class about what constitutes a drawing.

I studied and responded to the works of Bonnard, Villard, Schiele, Francis Bacon, Alice Neel, Judy Chicago and feminist art, Diebenkorn, Basquiat, Christo, Motherwell, Susan Rothenberg, Larry Rivers, Martin Puryear, Jenny Holzer.

I was altered after seeing a biographical film on Philip Guston and his quirky, Pepto-Bismol pink paintings. Because of great wisdom and intellectualized seductive smoking, I resumed smoking after quitting. For a month, I really felt smart and profound – like Guston appeared. Then I started coughing. Then I quit forever.  Writing this sequence of activities makes me laugh out loud. I think of Guston for his gutsy work, his sick pink, and his influence on my painting and my smoking. We never know what kind of legacy we leaver for others. I still love Guston’s work.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

C.F.: Well if the artists includes Madonna and materialism and the massive additions everyone was putting on their houses, and the incessant need for more and bigger and better, and how everyone had to have Gucci watches and bags suddenly in my high school, yes.

I rejected these concepts fiercely at the time, as status and power through material gain made me feel uncertain about the world. Things were changing. I retreated into art. By the time I graduated in the early 1990’s, the job market was dismal. Eerily similar to recent patterns.

1986: Christian Foard (left) and friend at University of Florida "Slam Dance" Delta Tau Delta Fraternity Party.

1986: Christina Foard and friend at University of Florida “Slam Dance” Delta Tau Delta Fraternity Party.

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

C.F.: HA! Um, see my answer to question 1. I hadn’t even read this yet, so I’m excited to see your question here.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

C.F.: I recall a lot of AIDS, contracted by friends, a few sad funerals, AIDS “contamination” fears. I went to Africa during 1990 and everyone near me voiced concerns that countries I was visiting had a 30% AIDS contraction rate and my family was worried about my safety in the event I would need surgery or hospitalization. It was on everyone’s mind, it seemed.

I recall the AIDS quilt in 1987, which was so powerful visually and emotionally. The music industry of course collaborated in a visual of dynamic diversity in an effort to help with AIDs in Africa through the “We are the World” project, which played on the radio incessantly for years. MTV started to make its impact too. Ironically, I feel like the music and video elements of the eighties holds more powerfully in my memory than visual art at the time. I was a teen after all, and while I still feel like a teen on the inside, I continue to believe music has limitless power to transform.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

C.F.:  (No Answer.)

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

C.F.: (I will have to think about 8 and 9 and get back to you…)

MADELEINE PECK

Madeleine Peck 2012

Madeleine Peck 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Madeleine Peck: I will be speaking about Alice Aycock’s “How to Catch and Manufacture Ghosts,” (1979). I chose it, because on each occasion that I’d been to see the ’80s exhibit, I’d returned to look at the photograph and drawing. I was drawn to the enigmatically playful aspect of the title, as well as the beauty and intricacy of the drawing and the final work. Plus, I really liked the fact that Alice Aycock (though very well known), isn’t really one of the pantheon of so-called/recognized ’80s-era artists…I did not find her to be too off-putting with either a dramatic personal history, or grandiose work I don’t really buy into.

There’s also a contraptionarium sensibility in Aycock’s works that strikes a heart-cord with me. Since my parents didn’t have a lot of resources, but were both very creative (my father is an incredibly talented carpenter and boat-restorer, and my mother a talented printmaker), there were often, ahem, unique solutions to household problems. Also, for most of my childhood my father was involved in building a 21-foot sailing dory in our backyard…so there were even more solutions devised for elements needed for the boat. I remember watching him cast lead for weights, coat things in epoxy-resin fiberglass cloth armor, and shape gunnels on our dining room table with twine, clamps, and a little luck. So seeing a full-scale rendition of a crazy idea just makes a particular kind of perfect sense for me.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

M.P.: I am not sure I agree with your position “the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized.” I think it is easy to sort of scapegoat the ’80s as the realization of our worst selves; from painful fashion, to worse social policies, and, the ultimate realization of a (Richard) Nixonian brand of criminal politicians who were increasingly repulsive personally, while attempting to legislate morals and actions. However, I don’t think the ’80s are alluring and seductive in the same manner as recollections of the ’60s, or even the ’20s.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

M.P.: In the ’80s, I was showing regularly at a little gallery on the east side of Cleveland — our family ’fridge. My mother went to school for art, and so she taught my brother and I to draw — it was a great way to keep us quiet for hours. We’d develop intricate and on-going storylines that moved from paper to “actuality” (blocks, Lincoln logs, etc…) and back again. Briefly put: our mother was an evil queen (The Queen), and we were, ahem, the resistance.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

M.P.: Art has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My family was always a member of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and my brother and I both took children’s art classes there, and later were interns, docents, and teachers’ assistants. Some of my best memories are housed in that institution’s walls, and even now, when I return to Cleveland, no visit is complete without a walk through the museum’s Egyptian galleries.

In fact it was while a visiting artist at my high school, was teaching us about what drawing could really be–as in art objects of their own substance and form — that I learned an early lesson — that of the mark made by the artists’ hand. He basically taught us that there are no mistakes in art (though I don’t agree 100%), and that most aspects of a drawing, erasure marks, stray marks, and even mistakes can work to an image’s advantage, giving it more life.

I think it was the experience of having the museum so much a part of my life that made art seem more tangible and so, more important. Art has always been a part of my life because of this early involvement. There have even been times where I tried to turn my back on it, and pursue more “practical” endeavors, and it’s never lasted more than six or eight months before I return — whether that means making things or writing about them.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

M.P.: In thinking about specific artists of the ’80s who influenced me, I’d say that many of the painters acted as signposts both in terms of what is possible aesthetically and ideologically. Additionally, the return of figuration in myriad forms really helped to pave the wave for the pluralistic scene of today. Though I tend to think of the ’80s as being a really painting-driven decade, there were so many things happening that we are seeing the results of now; here I am thinking in terms of installation, performance, and those options considered viable for artists (like collaborations with fashion houses–Takashi Murakami and Vuitton; making things like limited edition t-shirts–John Baldessari and Volcom; and artists who transition into pop culture—Julian Schnabel and the movies).

In my memories, the ’80s look like a time of increased plasticization and interest in “surface,’ a kind of hodgepodge of neon colors, Evel Knievel ten speeds, side ponytails that my mother thought were too grown up for me, and in Cleveland, Ohio, remaining anger around bussed integration for the public schools. But my actual memories are very involved with imagination: forest adventures, swimming, bike riding, the search for secret passages, and the very real-seeming possibility of magic.

More recently, I have discovered that there were those artists who were concerned with those same things, operating during the ’80s, and making work that really personally, currently resonates with me. So to answer the original question, yes, the ideas and methods presented in the ’80s have influenced me. Recently, specifically, the artists Kiki Smith, Joseph Beuys, and now, Alice Aycock seem to be perched in my head, winking at me.

Madeleine Peck in 1985

Madeleine Peck in 1985

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

M.P.: I remember hearing about this NEA controversy because my parents were up in arms about the entire situation. My father couldn’t begin to understand art that was (so-called) obscene or used bodily fluids, and saw it as evidence of how “easily” the government could be duped; while, my mother saw it as evidence of politicians investigating things they couldn’t understand, with methods that were totally outdated. Years later, I investigated the events more thoroughly for a research paper and though I am no fan of Serrano’s work (his most recent Shit images 2008, smack of tired publicity-seeking and the works themselves are beyond banal); I really came away believing that politicians should tread lightly when attempting to legislate art and funding for the arts.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

M.P.: More than the Mapplethorpe/Serrano flap, I have distinct memories of being in fifth-grade health class, and in addition to learning about how our bodies were about to start changing…we were learning about safe sex and AIDS. Because I went to a Cleveland public school, and Cleveland was at the time a very poor city with high levels of poverty and drug use, students were indoctrinated early about issues of sexuality and how to be “safer.” At the time, I had no awareness of the artist or gay community, but public health officials saw how the epidemic was affecting poor and minority communities, and the public schools were seen as a forum through which to reach an entire generation that could otherwise be unwittingly exposed. Later, issues of sex and sexuality became very important to me, so I addressed this issue somewhat obliquely, through the lens of Paglian theory and figurative works.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

M.P.: I think some of the elements in place that helped the ’80s art scene evolve in the manner it did were technology, money, and fashion. Largely we can trace the roots of the ’80s art scene to NYC in the late ’70s-through early ’80s, then, there was a group of people who could (by virtue of an affordable NYC) afford not to focus too hard on generating funds for living, but rather, who could focus on their art. Who could put into practice ideas and notions that in another milieu could be considered absurd. Cross that with the rock n roll ethos, and the newly minted MTV, which brought with it the glamour of music and fashion, and all the right ingredients seemed to be in place. And they were largely in place thanks to Andy Warhol who was sort of the father to that entire scene. I think too, that in that period in NYC there was a huge amount of posturing and positioning, which we see remnants of today at events like Art Basel and even in smaller ways at MOCA Jacksonville openings.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

M.P.: Art historically speaking, the ’80s are generally understood to be about the re-emergence of figurative painting, the influence of German artists like Richter, Beuys, and Baselitz; with American influence found in the persons of Schnabel, Sherman, Golden, and Basquiat. They are also about appropriation, posturing, eccentricity, and Hip Hop culture as filtered through lowbrow avenues as well as highbrow ones. I think, the ’80s could hold nostalgia for certain people is the seeming ease of moving from one group to another, from traveling between uptown and downtown, and a general feeling of wildness — of permissiveness.

For myself, since I was a child, the ’80s were a time when my friends and I still ran wild in our neighborhood, and we played baseball in the street. My family also adopted more than one pet of off the street, and everyone knew one another, even if they didn’t always all get along. This was when my dad was building a boat in the backyard and the world expanded to fit my imagination, but was still small enough to navigate from the back of a lavender Huffy. And art, well, that was just something everyone I knew did.

CHAZ BÄCK

Chaz Bäck 2012

Chaz Bäck 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Chaz Bäck: Schnabel. As a multi-discipline Creative, I am interested in that point where different art forms intersect. Schnabel not only has forged a career in multiple artistic disciplines, but in terms of social and political impact, his omni-directional approach to “Capital A” Art is representative of the 80s artistic movement.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

C.B.: Don’t kid yourself. The 80s was about commodification. As the baby boomer’s dreams of peace and harmony died, Reaganomics was embraced by the now disillusioned generation.  The culture of excess that replaced the summer of love brought with it an ethic rooted in status as defined by the amount an individual could spend rather than the amount an individual could contribute. By this time, Warhol’s pop art aesthetic had layed solid roots in the public consciousness. Andy’s subversive dynamic — imbuing Art with a context that often superseded the importance of the Art itself — rushed in, filling the void with the contrivance of passion, to replace the real thing. The flashpoint created at the intersection of these two concepts ignited an art-driven economy previously unheard of. Art that had not yet been created was being sold for prices upwards of seven figures, mirroring the reckless stock speculation happening on Wall Street. Artistic protest soon became a protest in artifice. In other words, the squeeze became worth more than the juice.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

C.B.: Well, development — development never stops. Most likely influenced by the value placed on pop art at the time, I started with illustration and graphic design in the late 70s. I sold my first logo when I was 12. Got paid as a writer when I was 15. I began painting in high school, and shortly thereafter began fronting some musical projects and made my first steps into theatre in 1984. From there, I worked in journalism and photography for some time after that, and ran up a decent acting resume. In the early 90s, I published a monthly youth market magazine. Then I got married, started a family.  So the 80s, yeah, that was fun.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

C.B.: How about art, politics and sociology? Reagan. AIDS. Cocaine. Iran/Contra. Mark David Chapman; news of John’s assassination is what woke me up that day. Calvin Klein, Izod, and Add-A-Bead. There’s a lot. Clearly, I’m a Factory boy at heart. I think that period of time in NYC changed the world. You could feel it all the way to Jacksonville. But I wonder sometimes how helpful that noise was. Money, excitement, glamour — was it really helpful for the long term growth and development of artists coming together and communicating in a meaningful way? You know, the other day an old friend of mine who is not an artist, asked me if “just anything” could be considered art depending upon how it was done. My initial instinct was wondering if somehow we did Art a disservice during the 80s by equating light and heat. I mean, is Gene Simmons dating Cher to be considered art? As an artist, especially one who came up during that time, I get it. But I wonder sometimes if, in the long run, the 80s didn’t do more to confuse the conversation than to clarify it. Art is, in my humble estimation, for people. The People. And if they are confused, if it just turns out to be an “in joke” among artists for other artists, we’ve missed the larger point.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

C.B.: [laughs] just look at my previous answer. The intersection of art and commerce has clearly been a focal point in my work for a long time. It’s been quite a wrestling match. It’s only recently that I’ve been able to reconcile the influence of the money driven 80s art dynamic and try to set my mind in more of a fine art direction. You know, the idea of making a living as a fine artist – rather than as a commercial artist –especially while you’re still living is a relatively new concept. And it’s one I believe in very strongly. I’m passionate about emerging fine artists being able to support themselves with their work. Discovering new ways to empower them to do so is a current focus of mine. So yeah, the 80s left its mark on me.

Chaz Bäck in 1985. Photo by Christina Hope.

Chaz Bäck in 1985. Photo by Christina Hope.

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

C.B.: The “piss Christ” syndrome, right? Laurie Anderson once said, “Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.” The great thing about art is that it is perfect democracy in action; everyone has the opportunity to form their own opinion. Fortunately, the same theory applies to pundits and politicians, especially those attempting to legislate social comment, creativity and morality. However, every so often, some idiot recycles that ludicrous agenda, and threatens Big Bird’s existence by playing the 30-year old Mapplethorpe card. Next.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

C.B.: AIDS, and the suffering it brings to us all, is a human, global challenge. Appropriating the epidemic for any agenda, including its influence on the arts during its emergence in the United States, misses the point entirely.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

C.B.: The most prominent sub-movement of the 80s, the neoexpressionist movement championed by Basquiat, Schnabel, Salle, and many others, was a direct reaction to restoring the sense of emotion and figurative understanding to an art climate that had become distant and, at times, jingoistic, during the modernist and conceptual art that dominated the 70s. The feeling that art had lost its passion and had become inaccessible and difficult to engage the viewer in a less than esoteric manner created a nostalgia for the romanticism of early to mid-century painters. Art, many felt, needed to seem like art, and communicate the expression of emotion in a more straightforward manner. Figurative work, up to and including the painting of words and phrases, and universally recognizable symbols were incorporated in order to achieve a more universal appeal. On the other end of the spectrum, the influence of pop art allowed previously unaccepted forms of art, such as screen printing and street art to become elevated through their implementation to a level that they could be considered fine art. In many ways, these democratic principles spread the strata of what could be considered fine art more thinly. The rising tide lifted all boats.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

C.B.: “It’s either the best or it’s the worst, but since I don’t have to choose, I guess I won’t.” Lou Reed, “Street Hassle”

DUSTIN HAREWOOD

Dustin Harewood 2012

Dustin Harewood 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Dustin Harewood: I will be presenting with Mark George, and we will be talking about the Basquiat prints. I grew up in N.Y, was a junior member at the Brooklyn Museum, a child of West Indian immigrants, and had a father who was an accountant. So for all of these reasons, I always felt like I had a small connection to Basquiat’s life experience.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

D.H.: I totally agree! First thing you hear about concerning the art scene is the decadence of the 80’s. The hype, the parties, the celebrity. The drug culture shifting from the more peaceful 70’s to the hyped up aggressive 80’s. To me the 80’s art scene seemed to be a lot about money and ambition. Many say that Jean-Michel was a perfect example of that era. And with the ridiculous amount of graffiti exploding all over the city, it was to become the first time ever that ‘street art’ crossed over into the fine arts.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

D.H.: I was a child reading a large amount of Marvel comic books. My parents were advised by my 2nd grade teacher to enroll me in weekend art classes at the Museum.

But back then for me it was all about Spider-Man and Michael Jackson.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

D.H.: (No Answer.)

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

D.H.: I believe that the roots of my art aesthetics lie firmly in the 80’s. But it’s not just because of people like Jean-Michel or George Condo. It’s because of the fact that I am a child of that decade. The pop culture as a whole affected me deeply. I grew up with “Back to the Future” and “Gremlins” on heavy rotation in my VCR. My first love of sculpture revolved around my He-Man and Thunder Cats action figures.

Dustin Harewood in 1984

Dustin Harewood in 1984

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

D.H.: I was too young to have a clue.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

D.H.: The two phrases that were pounded into my head as an 80’s kid were, “Crack is Wack” (Keith Haring), and “Just Say No” (Nancy Reagan). All that I knew of AIDS was that it was a disease that came for bad people. It was something as frightening as the boogey man, coming to get you.

I’m sorry for my answer. I wished that it could have been more impressive.

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

D.H.: I think that Pop and Dada fathered them all. Those particular movements seemed to be a powerful influence on the above artists approaches to art making.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

D.H.: GET PAID! No, I’m joking (kind of). When I go to Art Basel Miami and see all of the jet setters and long legged models, along with the aloof dealers, I can’t help but think of the influence of the 80’s. Mary Boone and Larry Gogo are still running things, and showing the newbies how things are done!

MARK GEORGE

Mark George 2012

Mark George 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Mark George: your boy Jean-Michel Basquiat because he slept in a box AND made rad stuff. sometimes I think if it weren’t for girls all us guys would live in trees and boxes. So we can have money for things we Really need. And it seems that was the situation with your boy Jean-Michel as well. He met him a sweet honey and just lived with her. Fuck those bills n shit, I’m just gonna be over here painting. Awesome.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

M.G.: sure. Pop culture contains icons from both decades. some in both. wow. What we really need are wrestling events between pop icons and mythological figures of the past like Andy Warhol vs. Zeus. Just because they were both hot shit. Trivial Pursuit, the action packed board game of the 80’s most likely contains questions about that stuff too. And Demonized, yes! By the 80’s Satan worshiping had really become so popular that it was a household name. AND there was all that fun PTL, and 700 club stuff, those guys are so going to hell.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

M.G.: well, if you must know I was 10 in 1980. so we had a good time with that. My Mom and Dad left me in this Church day care thing, where we were just down there almost every day. Tons O Fun. So, of course NO rock music cuz that shit was Totally Satanic. Country music and gospel was ok. Fucking Bullshit. Dad finally scraped enough money together one day to get cable and it was all over with. MTV and Devo teamed up and totally showed me the way. Thank God. No really, he would want us to be happy. That resulted in me leaving Private Christian Schools to be plunged into the reality of Public Schools. Thank God, no really. He would want you to be able to have a conversation, and work side by side a normal person after graduation. I was able to sing along to popular tunes sung by Orange Juice Jones in metal shop over at South side Junior High. Learned how to skateboard and got he shit beat out me. I took and interest in what was known as Commercial Art where people actually used their hands to draw and make stuff. Weird huh? No Photoshop? WTF is that? Yes, my formal training at the west side skills center led the way to the strange compulsion to use paint brushes and pens. Like a fucking cave man, right? But I got pretty bored with that, and by the time 1991 rolled around I was scouring the streets for found objects and making lovely assemblages which led to my first real group art show at galley 88 in ponte vedra in 92. So, no real art exhibits during the 80’s. I was just getting ready for now n stuff.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

M.G.: Jessie Helms and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. Cutting art funding because we were to fucking punk for a bunch of money grubbin bitches, whose job it was to oversee who got money to make cool stuff. I soon realized then, when I was 17 that you shouldn’t have to depend on any art grants or whatever to make what you really wanted to make. So fuck art school and everything. Let’s make music out of vibrating sheet metal and burn down the fucking art school. I already knew what I wanted to do anyway. Fuck a bunch of people telling me how I needed to take the proper channels to produce “art”

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

M.G.: yes. Obviously. More so than any other decade to follow. Nothing has really been as exciting since then. We’ve been having to hand make all our fun since then.

Mark George 1985

Mark George 1985

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

M.G.: I think we already covered that in question 4

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

M.G.: Keith Fucking Haring motherfuckers. This guy was so fucking cool to be open about the disease he already had and continue to doodle and have fun. And let everybody know what the fuck was really going on without being scared of what people thought of him. Educating young people and others that were open to understand the reality of aids. Where the general public where so fucking freaked the fuck out, it was common conception in some circles that aids could jump off a urinal and onto your dick. Fuck that, this guy was gay and didn’t give a shit who the fuck knew it. Stronger than all the red necks in a honky tonk club, this lil’ dude knew he was gonna die and just kept producing work looking death in the fucking eye. I was the unfortunate kid stuck in the shelter of said Honky Tonk mentality where you could shake a gay man’s hand and get aids. And the people telling me this where Christians. Think that whole sodom and gomorrah story really got the best of them, and at that point where really just concerned with how nice their clothes were. I didn’t really realize what was really going on until I went to a library and found a Keith Haring book. And then yes, I discovered what was really going on. Pre-Inter-webs stuff. Books.. Weird, huh?

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

M.G.: Everything just fell into place like fate would have it. All the liberating freedom and personal discovery in the 60’s 70’s led up to the rebellion of punk rock and the liberating path that was laid out for them. A lot of the hard work was already done, we just had to keep on pushing and fighting.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

M.G.: Fuck everybody. We are going to continue to do and produce music and art like we fucking want with out being told what the fuck to do by some asshole holding a bunch of money over my head determining what I can, and can’t fucking make because it’s not pure enough for the eyes of some left over leave it to beaver type that still fucking trying to keep up with the joneses.

MARK CREEGAN

Mark Creegan 2012

Mark Creegan 2012

Starehouse: Do you know which particular piece or artist you are going to talk about at the event at MOCA? If so, why have you chosen this particular piece or artist?

Mark Creegan: Yes, it will be a postcard collage by the artist duo Gilbert and George. I have never seen these particular works; I am mostly familiar with their lighted boxes and collaged paintings. They call themselves “living sculptures” which I find interesting. I rather like how they carry themselves- very prim and proper yet their art is full of scatological imagery and self-nudity. I hear they are politically conservative (Thatcherites) but their art is very transgressive in its imagery and approach. I like that dichotomy, but also confused by it.

S: It seems that when pop culture remembers the 20th century, the 1980s is rivaled perhaps only by the 1960s as a decade that has been mythologized, trivialized and even demonized. Do you agree with that statement? If so, why? If not, why not?

M.C.: The 80s is my personal decade, it’s when I came of age, grew body hair, all that. It’s when I discovered the music I like and first expressed myself artistically. So, for me, there is no escaping a mythologized version of that decade. I assume most people just think of big hair and Cosby sweaters, which is okay also.

S.: Where were you regarding your own development as an artist during the 1980s? Were you a child? A student?  Juvenile Delinquent? Were you showing your work?

M.C.: Pre-teen to teen. I was 9 in 1980. I spent it mostly alone in my room drawing and writing stories, listening to music and playing Atari, and playing tennis also.

S.: What are some of your more personal memories and experiences of art from the 1980s? Were there specific things that encouraged or even discouraged your own pursuits?

M.C.: Writing to MAD magazine asking how I could become an artist for them. I never heard back. But I did draw juvenile comics for my school friends. Ask any of my high school friends if they remember “Stud Duck”.

S.: Do you feel like the actual artists and developments of visual arts in the 1980s directly influenced your own beliefs and approach?

M.C.: It seeped in me during my art school days. As an art student in the early 90s, the stars of the 80s were always present and on my mind- Basquiat, Schnabel, Barbara Kruger, etc. The 80s saw a big return to painting and figuration so that certainly influenced my approach in the early days. But so did the Ab-Ex generation. But the music of that period also influenced me by keeping things less serious than the Ab-Exers. Irony and humor eventually became much more important than big statements.

Pre Teen Mark Creegan

Pre Teen Mark Creegan

S.: This is a fairly lengthy question, but I want to address it while also giving a thumbnail sketch of the events I am hoping to address. In 1989, the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington D.C. cancelled an exhibition of work by Robert Mapplethorpe, seemingly due to certain politically conservative individuals pressuring the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) about funding for public arts. Suddenly religious and political figures such as Pat Robertson, Jesse Helms, Al D’Amato and (the ever-ironically named) Dick Armey became de facto art critics while also threatening to hold the purse strings of possible monies distributed to artistic endeavors. The Corcoran’s decision created a firestorm in the arts community, with many believing the museum essentially “caved” to those threats. Ultimately, conservative attempts to defund the NEA failed (as they did in the mid-nineties). I’m curious about your own recollection (if any) of those events as well as your views on the effect that controversy might have had on things like subsequent public arts programs or even the possible public perception towards governmental programs that direct money towards the arts and artists?

M.C.: I learned about these things in the 90s of course, but I am of two minds on this. On one hand, I certainly would like to see more direct support of artists, grants that go directly to artists, But I also appreciate the fact that one way art can change culture is through its transgression from the norm, which can’t happen unless conservative elements are offended. Would we know about Mapplethorpe, Andres Serrano, or Karen Finley without Jesse Helms? Perhaps — but that controversy created something for them beyond just their work while also making it harder or impossible for later artists to get funding. For me, “Piss Christ” is a beautiful and powerful image, but the fact that some people were so upset by the meaning of its process and materials that they tried to smash it with a hammer only adds to its import IMHO. If only I could create something with such power.

S.:  The AIDS epidemic affected the arts community directly with the horrifying amount of deaths of many artists within a matter of years. The disease galvanized the arts world, with artists addressing the reality of AIDS when no one else seemed willing to report, comment upon, or seemingly acknowledge that the whole world had been changed by the disease. I’m curious about your own then-consciousness of AIDS and if art played a part in that awareness.

M.C.: AIDS scared me to death! Again, I only learned of the terrible way it decimated the art world and took so much talent away from us later. I just remember reading about artists like Keith Haring and wondering what would have come from their work if they had lived longer. Also, who did we lose who would have matured artistically later in life?

S.: The “Re:Focus” exhibit celebrates such diverse artists as David Salle, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Eric Fischl, Nan Goldin and Cindy Sherman. All of these artists worked essentially worked in divergent ways but are also almost uniformly “eighties.” What elements do you think were in place during the 80s that seemed to produce those aforementioned artists, along with artists as disparate as the “transgressive” work of David Wojnarowicz as well as the feminist-slash-spiritually driven art of a Kiki Smith?

M.C.: During the 80s, two somewhat contrasting things were at work, an extension of the postmodernist/ French-school philosophy that began in the 70s, and a new, vibrant art market. So I think it’s when ideas and money first comingle and led to the YBAs and Charles Saatchi. Now I think it’s just money without much ideas.

S.: What do you believe is an overall message of the 80s art scene?

M.C.: STOP MAKING SENSE

Daniel A. Brown

starehouse@gmail.com

1989

1989

2012. Photo by Erica La Spada

2012. Photo by Erica La Spada

2 thoughts on “Once in a Lifetime

    1. Jim Draper

      Great set of interviews. I spent most of the 80’s poking around the islands in South Carolina so I missed most of the art stuff. I did think
      that Regan was rather creepy. Good to get insight into what friends were thinking and doing at the time.

      Reply

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