You are a man of many projects, first off, tell us about the General Store and what kinds of things are happening in Milwaukee?
General Store was a storefront gallery run by myself, my brother Scott and sister-in-law Elysia. We opened it in '05 and we've been doing shows under that name since, although the actual space is no longer. The front was customized to look like a funky paper-mache cave, with rock furniture and stalactites, and the back was a white cube gallery space. The idea was to lure shoppers in off the street, (consisting of mostly Milwaukee crustypunks with modest crust wardrobe budgets) with the more inviting dimly-lit cave, where you could buy cheap non-essentials like hand-made thongs, ceramic snacks or designer doorstops. Eventually you would check out the art in back, although we realized quickly when given the option, people prefer darkness to light. This idea grew later into Dark Fair, the art fair with no lights. It had it's moments! We showed Laura Owens, Pentti Monkonenn, Cory Arcangel, Nick Lowe and had a monthly teen dance party called " Get Wacky " hosted by Milwaukee rapper Juiceboxxx. Then it became an pet store. Now it's a head shop called Dank's Glass.
I've heard lots about these strange performances and versions of art fairs that you and your brother are involved in. I love this idea, art fairs always seem so stuffy and redundant. could you talk about some of them? Why do you guys put these on? Are there any coming up?
Anyone who has spent some time in the art world is aware of it's conservatism and looking for ways to re-imagine the unexamined rituals we find ourselves mindlessly repeating. Art fairs seemed interesting to us because they are relatively young and unformed. And everyone was doing them for a minute in the mid-00's, motivated by some Burning Man-like hunger for interconnectedness, except instead of ravers with mushrooms it was bald germans with Blackberries.
Milwaukee is not on the contemporary art world map, so in '06 we thought it would be kind of absurd/interesting to try to do an art fair here. We teamed up with local curators John Riepenhoff and Nicholas Frank under the name Milwaukee International, and hosted it at an old Polish beer hall with a bowling alley in the basement called the Polish Falcon. It was insane. 30 galleries from all over the world made the trip, including Gavin Brown's Enterprise and White Columns of NYC, Galeria Comercial for Puerto Rico, Willy Wonka Inc. from Norway and Hiromi Yoshii gallery from Tokyo. Chicago's Roots and Culture were selling giant pretzels. Verne and the Originals, a local polka band, provided the ambiance. Matthew Higgs ended up writing about it at length in Artforum, saying it reminded him more of a music festival in 80's Manchester than an art fair.
Since then we have done three more fairs, one in Milwaukee and two versions of our Dark Fair, at the Swiss Institute in NYC in '08 and as part of Art Cologne in '09. Dark Fair is basically an art fair with the lights turned off and the walls painted black. Participating galleries had to use candles or battery-powered devices to light their "booths", which were designed like restaurant booths with tables and benches. It attracted some great gallerists, including Marianne Boesky, Maureen Paley, and Zach Feuer. In NYC, DJ/artist/club owner Spencer Sweeney sold penis-shaped candles while painting a self-portrait in the dark. There was a pinball arcade from Ara Peterson, a "wordless chorus" conducted with light sticks by Brian Belott and Larissa Valez, and sculptures by Christian Holstad, Mungo Thompson and Justin Sampson. Only one person's hair caught on fire.
This year at Frieze Art Fair in London we tried out our newest art fair intervention, Club Nutz,"the world's smallest comedy club". We were asked to recreate the 10x10' nightclub we run sporadically here in Milwaukee, which features a tiny stage, fake brick wall, DJ booth, bar, bouncer and velvet rope. In London, Spencer Sweeney hosted from the DJ booth, greeting confused art fair crawlers with "welcome to Club Nutz! Tell a joke and get a free beer!" Aspiring Benny Hill-type comedians came out of nowhere to test out their zingers on an art crowd. There was lots of fog, sweat and questionable dance moves.
There's a real joy in throwing yourself into something you don't know how to do. Whether it's "let's do an international art fair!" or "let's open a comedy club!", I'm always happy to step out of the introspection and calculation that goes with painting alone in the studio. It's also nice to see that spirit infect other people. Stand-up comedy is maybe the most direct way to throw oneself into the unknown. People who have never done it before may get huge laughs, although it might be for something other than their jokes. It might be the silence in between jokes or any number of technical failures.
Aside from exhibitions, you do music and video and whatnot as well, right?
Scott and I have hundreds of hours of unreleased and some would argue unlistenable tracks. You might have seen us perform under the names Night School, Sir Willy or Piano Boys. We plan on releasing a boxed set covering 1990 - 2010 around Christmas time. We also have performed several short avant-garde pieces at Daniel Reich Gallery including "Egg Fugue", a rite of spring featuring a hooded 'eggxecutioner' and "Sonata in 2-D" involving a black abstract painting with dancing geometric shapes. Currently we are working on a podcast for Vicious Pop records that will give the world a taste of the new Milwaukee genre people are calling "Comedy Trance". Imagine hours of improvised spoken word with canned laughter over minimal trance beats. Sound good?
Now on to your solo endeavors. Your paintings were really weird to me when I first saw them. They have an outsider, or dare I say high school student feel to them? But at the same time, they felt really fresh to me. What are your thoughts on your execution? How did you arrive where you are now as far that is concerned?
I started out showing in Daniel Reich's tiny efficiency apartment in Chelsea in 2002. It was a moment when a lot of young artists were turning away from slick, monumental-scaled artwork that seemed made for the airplane hanger sized galleries that seemed to be popping up everywhere, towards a self-consciously human scale, hand-made aesthetic. I became interested in a kind of experimental, alchemic approach to materials that were themselves very cheap and familiar. Ballpoint pens, fabric dye, nail polish all had real-life applications and I liked how that fed into or sometimes clashed with the content of whatever I was depicting. There is a freedom to working with mixed-media, as opposed to oil paint on canvas, that maybe parallels some of my curatorial projects. It's about temporarily suspending the burden of art history, with it's myriad ways of contextualizing every type of painting move, to let accident and invention come into the process. My patterns and marks eventually became useful in quickly defining some sort of emotionally heightened, frenzied depiction of Milwaukee, maybe like how the Impressionists dab replaced naturalism as a more immediate way to get at some sort of truth about Arles or wherever.
It's evident that you don't just use a brush, what other kinds of tools are you drawn to? What is your studio/studio practice like?
I love brushes, but I am also drawn to anything that makes an unusual mysterious mark and gets me out of the preciousness that comes with handling a horse-haired stick for too long. I use my hands a lot, my YMCA card, bleach pens, manicure rhinestones, plastic knives and forks, stencils, flannel and corduroy. I did an entire drawing with my nose once.
How do you generate your ideas for content? They appear simple and very straightforward, is it that easy? Or is there much more than meets the eye? The last time I experienced "art envy" is when i saw your series of creepy crusty sweater paintings.
I make hundreds of abstract compositions on index cards that help me arrive at weird effects quickly. Sometimes the cards have words on the back like " raccoon " or instructions like " add blue and white dots " that I have to integrate into the abstractions whether I like it or not. This helps me get away from pointless hesitation and bad ideas that I think are genius.
It's the future, and you are a prestigious art critic. How would define the "movement" or era that is happening right now?
Invent something now, what is it?
A 12" black licorice record that you can eat.
Anything exciting coming up for you in the near future?
This Summer, Club Nutz at the MCA. Come tell a joke! Running right now.
Do you have any advice for young aspiring artists??
Blog less. Paint outside. Try food sculpture.
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