Kurt Woerpel Name
What materials do you like to work with?
Kurt Eberheardt Woerpel IV
I kind of like to switch it up and use new materials frequently; I am also trying to get better at working digitally. However, in drawing for myself I tend to fall back on Paint Markers, Markers, Pens, and in generally anything that allows me to work very fast. I don’t have a lot of patience so pencil is extremely difficult for me to use in any meaningful way and I have a heavy hand so all my brushwork looks terrible. So that leaves me with dumb tools like markers. But I am trying to make it work. If that means treating myself to weird new markers so be it. :)
Age 24 What is your current location? Brooklyn, New York Where are you from? Charlottesville, Virginia What is your current occupation? Freelance Graphic Designer and Illustrator, currently helping out at Bloomberg Businessweek. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to Pratt Institute for a BA in Communications Design with a focus in Graphic Design. Attending Pratt gave me a huge foundation in design and illustration and shaped me in a major way, one of the main aspects of the program encouraging multi-disciplinary skills and thinking, encouraging mastery of all aspects of “commercial art production.” Though I’m interested in knowing how to do all these things, I don’t think I could not have gotten the same things from simply self-teaching. Or if I had they would have taken me forever. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I really admire Ian Mackaye, I loved Kafka On The Shore by Haruki Murakami, La Haine is a definite favorite film of mine (shoutout to my friend Kai) and watching the Simpsons in Middle school probably had more impact on who I am than anything else in my life (hyperbole).
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m about to do a new book of one color drawings called “TBH I Don’t Get What’s So Special” which will be nice to finally have out. Besides that I’m working on a comic of Elmo toy .jpgs being grilled in a back-room conversation by private detective .jpgs called “HAVE YOU SEEN THIS MAN” which is loosely based around the Elmo Times Square confrontations. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? I’m listening to an album by Will Long right now called “Long Trax.” It’s downtempo house, a genre I never imagined myself getting into.I used to pretty strictly listen to guitar music, punk and post punk and shoe gaze and etc, but slowly have been listening to less and less. I began listening to more ambient and downtempo house when I worked at MTV News as an animator, needing something I could dip in and out of while I animated and cut sound effects and music together. The discovery of this whole genre has been amazing for me as i’ve never been great with paying attention to lyrics and the driving beat keeps me going, albeit in a chill capacity. That said I jump around a lot — I’ll listen to something more post punk like The Fall or the Slits or something if i’m feeling energetic. Some other recent names and albums: Family Event - Demo Tape 2, Fela Kuti - No Agreement, Mor Thiam - Dini Safarrar, Pharaoh Sanders-Karma, Max McFerren - Monk’s Mood, Mall Grab - Sun Ra EP, Suzanne Kraft - Horizons. OK I’ll stop here…
Where do you like to work? My friends and I just got a shared studio space and so far that’s been a pretty ideal space to work in. We went all out and actually got ourselves nice deep desks and I never knew I needed that so badly! Though we had a smaller studio before it was not really conducive to working so this has been really nice. Despite that, I’m writing this from my kitchen table where a good deal of other work has traditionally gotten done. Either here or a few steps away on the sofa. A lot of my favorite drawings have been done watching TV. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? What is one of your earliest memories of making art? It’s not a memory but I’ve been told by my parents that I used to
Where To Find Them Websites: http://www.kurtwoerpel.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @lepreowtruk (Instagram)
go around finishing other children’s art projects in preschool after they’d left the crafts table. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? On a deep level I’m not super sure at this point. Since I work mostly as a graphic designer I don’t always get as much time to pursue their full extent (though caveat i am extremely lucky to be able to pursue this at all in my freelance work); so to that point I end up spending a lot of my personal work time, drawing specifically, to try to deconstruct it all a bit or push it to an area that’s a little bit harder to read (or at least more obtuse). So I kind of use it as therapy and a way to obscure the other things I make and reclaim it as my own, on a personal level. Beyond that i’m interested in trying to entertain myself and not think myself out of making.
Hate Paste “The word “Union” made me think about various types of relationships in nature and about how they sometimes correlate with how people interact with each other. Humans are more complex though ...or maybe not. I drew this partly at a Gelato place by my house, and on a friend’s dining room table. I had to take breaks so their family could eat dinner, which seems really appropriate given the theme.” -Hate Paste
work after that count. I guess I’m technically self-taught but I feel like I learn and pick up a lot on friends, artists I really look up to, the internet etc.
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
24 (or older depending on when you read this)
My friends who make cool stuff inspire me, as well as a lot of new and classic comix artists. I’m drawn to almost anything that’s nostalgic, sad, and/or funny. I like anything that seems genuine, whatever that even means or looks like.
What is your current location? San Diego, California Where are you from? San Diego, California What is your current occupation? I recently quit my entry-level social work job of almost two years and am now looking for something new. Does anyone wanna hire a film studies grad with a counseling & social change minor who dabbles in zines and illustration? I can suggest some reading about how discourses in popular culture and your family-oforigin might’ve affected your worldview and we can chat about movies while I draw on your progress notes. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I went to art camp for a summer when I was like 15? Besides that my most recent formal training just includes the same middle school art curriculum that almost everyone else went through-unless the years of doodling in notebooks at school and
What materials do you like to work with? I use mostly black markers and scan and edit in black & white, but wanna explore different mediums sooon. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I’m working on a shirt design for a friend’s band right now. Also I’m trying to have a new comic and/or zine out by LA Zine Fest even though I didn’t get in. I made something for a friend’s project that’s debuting there so I’m looking forward to that, but would still attend even if I didn’t because I like nice printed material. I’m lucky to be around actively creative people that I can stay busy with. I just bought an entry-level laser printer and longreach stapler and am pretty excited about the prospect of maybe depending on my local 24-hour FedEx-Kinkos less. I think they always sigh a little when I walk in there; it might just be in my head though.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
I’ll tend to get really obsessed with a couple of songs at a time and listen to them on repeat while doing everything.
When my brother and I were really little we would use markers and crayons to draw on the interior walls of our house. After we’d get in trouble our parents would paint over the doodles but sometimes the paint would be thin enough that they would still show through.
Where do you like to work? I have a desk that I bought specifically for working on stuff. There’s a gelato place that’s also a café where I like to work at because it’s cheap and never too crowded. I draw a lot in friends’ rooms and on their dining room tables while trying to pet their dogs and cats. I like to carry my sketchbook on me nearly everywhere within reason.
Where To Find Them Websites: hatepaste.bigcartel.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @hatepasted (Instagram)
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? At the end of the day I just wanna draw. I hope to make stuff I can like, with, or at least in speaking distance of people I enjoy being around, for people who can relate to it in some way. If you’re reading this: what’ve you been working on? Can I see your zine? Would you entertain a trade? If nah it’s cool
Jordan Thompson “The meaning for this series doesn’t go too deep. It’s about becoming one with someone. Like when you start picking up on someone’s mannerisms and you subconsciously begin saying the phrases they say, making the gestures they make, etc. It’s not as detailed and planned out as my other work, I wanted it to be simple with no cutting and pasting and just small adjustments in editing.” -Jordan Thompson Name
together. I wish I had his imagination!
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Age 18 What is your current location? Northern Virginia Where are you from?
Currently I’m working on a series of photos depicting common beliefs of what heaven looks like. I’ve always been so intrigued by the idea of heaven, and that theme comes up a lot in my work. I’m also planning a series based on Swan Lake, but creating all the props is going to take a while. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
I’ve lived in Northern Virginia for the past 15 years
I have a playlist on my Spotify entitled “pce n stuff” that’s just instrumentals, mostly Flatsound and Keaton Henson.
What is your current occupation?
Where do you like to work?
No occupation, I’m currently in school and doing some unexpected bouncing around between colleges.
There are a wide variety of places I like to shoot. When I’m not traveling, I’ll take any remotely decent looking place since it’s so hard to find good locations in Northern Virginia. As for editing, I lay in my bed with my computer on my stomach for the most part.
Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I started taking photo and art classes a few years after I started photography, thankfully so. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I love anything by Sofia Coppola and Stanley Kubrick, even though they are vastly different. Also, I love Tim Walker’s photo book, Story Teller. All the photos have a surreal, creepy feel and each one is so different from the next, but they somehow all tie
What is one of your earliest memories of making art? My earliest memory of making art is when I was 3 or 4, my dad was making this huge painting, I don’t know how to explain it. Each family member painted themselves, my dad painted a house in the background and we all added some trees and some animals roaming in the front yard. In the corner, there was a sun whose rays had our birthdays written on them, and a rainbow that had a different place we’ve lived written on each color.
It was messy and colorful and is still hanging above our TV in the living room.
Where To Find Them Websites: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jetthompson/ Contact: email@example.com
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I’m not sure where I want to go with what I’m doing! I’d love to shoot fashion campaigns but I also think it’d be super cool to get into the gallery world and have my own someday.
JACK OLIVER COLES
Jack Oliver Coles “Union made me think about people coming together and how people simultaneously try to separate themselves. To get this idea across I chose to show a wedding reception where everyone is skeptical about the fate of the marital union. Relying purely on body language and expression, I hope to make my images ambiguous, allowing people to fill in the narrative themselves.” -Jack Oliver Coles Name
What materials do you like to work with?
Jack Oliver Coles
I use coloured pencils for all of my sketches and final illustrations and I use Photoshop to compose my illustrations and plan colours.
Age 25 What is your current location? Newport, Wales Where are you from? Newport, Wales Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’m currently working as freelance illustrator and I also volunteer in a charity shop. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I suppose the most inspirational people are the creative people I met in university and having them to talk about work with is one of the things I’m most thankful for from my university experience. In terms of visuals David Hockney is probably my all-time favourite but his influence isn’t particularly evident in my work. I also have a pretty big collection of contemporary children’s books as thats an area I’d like to go into in the future.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Currently I’m working on some artwork for a friend’s band and I’m also trying to develop a graphic novel based on a project that never quite got off the ground in university. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Most of my work is done in front of the television so I very rarely listen to music while working. Where do you like to work? I set up a studio in the spare room at home but I actually do all of my work sat on the sofa half-watching stuff like Judge Judy. Being in a casual setting makes me feel much more comfortable and helps motivate me. It also means that I have everything I could possibly need at hand. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? In primary school we had to draw what we wanted to be when we grew up and I wanted to be an artist so I drew myself wearing a beret, with a long curled moustache, and holding a paintbrush and palette.
What do you hope to accomplish with your work? Ultimately I guess Iâ€™d like to create work that can better the lives
Where To Find Them Websites: jackolivercoles.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @jackolivercoles (Instagram)
of people in some way, whether thats drawing something cute that makes someone smile for a split second or contributing my abilities to something that can create larger positive change.
Lee Lai “This piece is an illustration based on a mural that never happened, that was going to be about the chinese workers union of the late nineteenth century, in melbourne downtown area (now chinatown).” -Lee Lai
work. They both have a fluidity and confidence in their lines that I love. My studiomates, Tommi PG (who also makes comics) and Wai-Yant Li (a Montreal artisan/potter) inspire me on the daily in feels and aesthetics. The community of queer people of colour in Montreal making brave and challenging work.
What materials do you like to work with?
What is your current location?
Gouache, any nice black ink, any decent mechanical pencil and a few brushes that can make a fine line. Lately I’ve realised I’ve been missing out on the wonders of kneadable erasers, but no longer.
Name Lee Lai
I’m currently living Montreal, Quebec. Where are you from? Melbourne, Australia. What is your current occupation? I guess freelancing artist? Comics and illustrations and posters here and there. I also do these art education workshops with kids, going into mostly highschools in Quebec and making big collaborative murals. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I did a bachelor of fine art in Melbourne, but I’m not sure how much it was what I needed to be doing as an illustrator. I didn’t really develop my drawing skills for three damn years, but I learned how to write about my work which I’m now starting to appreciate more as a skill set. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? I’m such an ongoing sucker for Jillian Tamaki and Brecht Evens
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Mainly I’m working on a small, chunky short story that I’m printing in time for TCAF with Colour Code in Toronto. This, and trying to get a hand poked tattoo business into play. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? A mixture of classical mashups by Susumu Yokota, and Harry Potter audiobooks with Tommi. Where do you like to work? In the studio, in my date’s living room, in cafes occasionally, wherever and whenever I can. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Laying in harsh sun on my belly as a bub, drawing tiny worlds on printer paper and wishing I could paint as well as whoever made the Goosebumps covers.
Where To Find Them Websites: http://lee-lai.tumblr.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @_leelai (Instagram)
Robert Gilliam “My initial concept for this piece was to take two disparate/opposing concepts and to bring them together in an interaction that was both non-threating and symbolic. I originally opted to use intangible concepts (i.e. happy thoughts vs. negative/intrusive ones), but I thought it would be cool if I instead did something more concrete (i.e. predators vs. prey). So, here are some animals playing video games together instead of eviscerating and devouring one another.” -Robert Gilliam Name Robert Gilliam Age 19 What is your current location? Santa Clarita, California Where are you from? Los Angeles, California What is your current occupation? Right now I’m a college sophomore in the Character Animation department over at CalArts. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? Before I started school I was mostly self taught, aside from a few summer programs that I attended and whatnot. I think I actually learned the most from meticulously copying anime screencaps. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
I love that “aha” moment I get when I see someone use a particular shape or line to represent a 3-dimensional form in a way that I’ve never thought of or seen before - it feels so new and refreshing to me and yet makes perfect sense in terms of their stylization. Some artists who have been inspiring the heck out of me lately would have to be Masaaki Yuasa, Nishant Saldanha, Patrick Doyon, Freddy Carrasco and Joe Sparrow. I’ve also been looking at work outside the realms of Aniamtion/ Illustration, because there’s so much amazing stuff out there and I hate limiting myself by only looking at work that’s similar to mine in terms of medium. Video games have always been a monumental source of inspiration for me - the universe of Yume Nikki is something that I aspire to in terms of world building and atmosphere. I’m also in love with Paul Klee’s paintings, and Osamu Sato’s entire body of work. Oh, and I’m also deeply inspired by my classmates! What materials do you like to work with? I love working with graphite. It’s such a flexible medium and you can get so many different looks and textures by combining it with different materials. For the most part I usually draw everything on paper and then scan it and color it in Photoshop, but I definitely want to experiment with more “mixed media” based appproaches to illustration (especially ones involving film and photography).
Oh man. I’m deeply inspired by people who use shape language and stylization in a way thats equal parts effective and unique.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? Right now I’m working on a 2 and a half minute short film for school, but I also have a few comic/short story ideas floating around my brain that I’d like to realize sometime soon Is there any music you like to listen to while working? Lately I’ve been listening to alot of fast-paced/agressive/harsh/ fun music while I work, it’s very energizing and I feel like it influences the artistic direction that my work goes in. Death Grips, Nasenbluten, Algernon Cadwallader, SOPHIE, DJ CLAP, and Machine Girl are some of the artists that I’ve been listening to nonstop recently.
Where To Find Them Websites: robbiegeez.tumblr.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @rob.png (Instagram)
Where do you like to work? I like working in well-ventilated rooms with lots of nice natural light (which is basically the complete opposite of the computer/ cintiq labs at my school). What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Using MS Paint to recolor Pokemon LeafGreen sprites. Making Original Characters is serious business. What do you hope to accomplish with your work? I guess above all I want to make people happy. I know that answer is super trite and burnt-out at this point, but nothing’s more artistically fulfilling than seeing someone have a connection with your work, wether through being able to identify with the subject matter or simply resonating with it on a personal level.
Lara Kaminoff “Shadow Eater came up after a conversation about Jung and the idea that we have to accept our own darkness in order to overcome its negative influence. That sounds more highfalutin than it feels. I was pretty fixated on food scenes in books and movies as a kid and, as a (sort-of-a) grown up, I’m a big fan of comics that play with our perceptions of light, gravity, and scale.” -Lara Kaminoff Name
and off the screen.
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Age 26 What is your current location? Seattle
Looking to get a new kids’ comic, How to Pick a Fight published and working on a new book tentatively titled, Bad Doods. See what’s cookin’ on my instagram. Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
Where are you from?
Current top three artists are: Vince Staples, Russian Circles, and Shilpa Ray
Where do you like to work?
What is your current occupation?
Ideally, at my parents’ kitchen table while my mum reads aloud but that’s a rare treat.
Copywriter and cartoonist Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught?
What is one of your earliest memories of making art? Making Sculpey monsters with my brother
I studied illustration and creative writing at MICA
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Have an intimate moment with a stranger
Tove Jansson, Rilke, Joann Sfar, Maira Kalman, friends, old woodblock prints, folk tales and fungi What materials do you like to work with? Gouache is my poison but anything lush or crunchy in my hands
Where To Find Them Websites: www.larakaminoff.com Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @larakaminoff (Instagram)
Maddy Price “I’ve been thinking a lot about the reality TV I used to watch, like Laguna Beach and the Hills. It’s incredible how on shows like that every messed up thing person does becomes an actual plot point that we are forced to watch & validate. It’s no wonder all the people who were on those shows were also insanely egotistical. Even the nice ones! So this is a narcissist’s idea of a union with their surroundings. Assuming everyone around you wants to get wrapped up in your personal drama, and not really caring about the consequences.This was a drawing I did in my sketchbook, cleaned up & colored digitally.” -Maddy Price
Bosch, Richard Scarry, Jim Woodring, Peanuts, Eric Andre, Lynda Barry, Valentine Gallardo, Michael Deforge, Aisha Franz, and Bojack Horseman. I love Miranda July’s writing. I just got Amanda Baeza’s new book, and it’s really bizarre in the best way. I’ve also been staring at Amandine Meyer’s spreads in Kramer’s Ergot like every other day. This year I’m trying to work my way through all of bell hooks’ writing.
What is your current location?
What materials do you like to work with?
Brooklyn, New York
I have an old radiograph pen I love drawing with (if you like microns, invest in a radiograph pen, they’re great!). I also like working with gouache, markers, colored pencil, watercolor, and spray paint if I’m feeling spicy :^) Also working digitally is fun & often necessary.
Name Maddy Price Age
Where are you from? Portland, OR What is your current occupation? I’m a student, and I work at a toy store. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’m studying Illustration at Pratt Institute. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Ah so many things!..Whenever I’m feeling stuck I’ll watch Yellow Submarine, old Sesame Street, the Muppets, or anything Peewee. I also love James Ensor, The Simpsons, Marc Bell,
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I just recently did a t-shirt design for IAN SWEET, which was super fun. Right now I’m taking a semester off from school, but I’m doing an independent study with a teacher that I’ve been making some animation & editorial work for. I’m also working with a close friend to start an online store that will sell student work as a way to raise money for non-profit organizations, we’re calling it Progressive Print. Is there any music you like to listen to while working? It depends on what kind of work I’m doing. Sometimes if I’m
really into a project I’ll make a special moody playlist just for working on that. Whenever I’m doing sketches, I almost always listen to everything on Greta Kline’s bandcamp over and over. I like listening to podcasts & the news. If I’m feeling sad I listen to Harry Potter audiobooks. Recently I’ve been working to Snail Mail, Vagabon, Heart, & Liz Phair.
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Where do you like to work?
Art makes me happy and excited to be alive, haha. I realize how cliché that sounds, but it’s the truth! I hope that I could somehow share that with others through my work. I love a lot of children’s media for that reason, because it can be so warm, positive, and encouraging of curiosity in ways that adult genres can’t, at least without feeling disingenuous. If I could somehow bring some of that spirit to work for adults I would feel I’ve accomplished something.
At my desk or in my living room, mostly. But if it’s something low pressure or just for me, I like to work outside.
Where To Find Them Websites: www.maddyprice.com Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @coolfriendlyman (Instagram)
I remember pausing animated movies (Balto) and trying to trace the screen when I was a little kid. What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
Paula Puiupo “Union within oneself. To know you’re not alone when the house is empty.”
Name Paula Puiupo Age 20
cess as well. When working traditionally, I use nankin and acrylics. Lately I’ve been focusing on black and white rather than coloured work, maybe because most of my comics are deliberately made with no colours. What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on?
Where are you from?
I’m working on short comics for a couple anthologies and on a longer story I have. Aside from comics, I’m tattooing and painting. I want to start making custom T-shirts and clothes as well because I’m really into fashion and want to explore my horizons in that field as well.
A small beach town in the province of Lisbon named Cascais.
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
What is your current occupation?
Ohh it depends a lot!! When I’m working on comics I listen to calm, repetitive, lyric-less songs to keep me concentrated and calm. But when it doesn’t require so much concentration I listen to something noisy and pretty like uhm.. Yesterday I listened to ruth white. It was slightly unproductive… Still nice though.
What is your current location? São Paulo, Brazil
I’m an intern at a technology lab in my university. Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I’ve been majoring in animation for the last year and a half, before that I didn’t have any formal training. What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most? Thinking about outer space, going to zine fairs, the work of authors like Suehiro Maruo, Tayo Matsumoto and sleeping.
Where do you like to work? On big desks! In comfortable chairs!!!! I don’t have those yet, so I work on my little desk. What is one of your earliest memories of making art? When I used to wait for my mom at her work as a child.
What materials do you like to work with?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I mostly work digitally using photoshop, I enjoy messing around with it until something comes out. I really love pixelated lines and patterns, sometimes I use random photographs on the pro-
To keep doing it.
Where To Find Them Websites: http://puiupo.tumblr.com/ Contact: email@example.com Social Media: @puiupo (Instagram)
Nichole Shinn “This drawing was inspired by the thought of lineage and the ‘silent stream’ is an invisible bloodline that connects everyone together. That invisible bloodline can be used to define structures of power, like Kings. Old school displays of power, split apart by bloodlines, are somewhat still an occurrence today, and will probably be infinite. False ideologies, and relationships based on “purity” of these bloodlines is linked to white nationalist groups trying to feel some historic significance in a modern global world. Along with White Masculine power weakening, and a fear with losing that power. Swords and Crowns have been used symbolically as Masculine and Feminine roles of power. The sword, a masculine action, taking power through aggression. Crown, a feminine action, a circular lifecycle of maintaining purity and power through bloodlines.” -Nichole Shinn Name
What people, books, films, (etc…) inspire you the most?
Nichole Renee Shinn
I grew up on Anime, Fantasy RPGs and Horror movies. One of the most influential comics for me is Suehiro Maruo’s Vampyre series. I love Stephen King books, Stanley Kubrick’s movies, but die over LOTR. Along with Anime classics like Cowboy Bebop (really anything done by Shinichirō Watanabe), “Akira”, “Ghost in the Shell” and “Perfect Blue”. Danny Boyle’s film “A Life Less Ordinary” and “The Beach” are two of my most favorite movies of all time! (Also the film “Contact”). As for artists, Niki de Saint Phalle is my #1 inspiration!
Where are you from?
What materials do you like to work with?
Born and raised in Austin, TX.
I’m trained as a painter, and I still try to paint as much as I can. I mostly use Oils since the pigment and materiality is so unique and strong. I always use glitter in my paintings, it’s probably the coolest material since it is sparkly. I love ceramics, and miss it, but cannot afford to do it in NYC. I’ve only recently explored more digital processes of making art, within the last couple of years, and find it extremely freeing.
Age 24 What is your current location?
What is your current occupation? I’m currently a studio assistant for Takashi Murakami, and have been for 2 years now, but am also a co-founder of TXTbooks! Do you have any training or formal education in the field of art you work in, or are you self taught? I have a BFA in Painting, minor in Ceramics from Pratt Institute, which sounds pretty formal, though I’ve always been interested in art, painting and comics since I was little. With digital stuff, I’m more self-taught and am still learning!
What pieces, projects, or collaborations are you currently working on? I think the most exciting thing I’m currently working on, is a new project with TXTbooks, that is a collaboration with about 12 different poets in which I take their submitted poems and create a
soundscape track to correspond to that poem. They will be organized like a record, with a side A and side B, and have a “track” order. All together they are very different and some are read by the poets themselves. It will also have a book printed of the collection of poems, along with a visual hour length film version of the soundtrack. I was inspired by Radio Soulwax’s platform for a visual/sound based DJ set, that to me felt a lot like a monthly book release, or album release, similar to monthly subscriptions or something. I’d like this to become a continuous project, and with the next one to have more of a collaboration with the poets on all parts of the project. We’re trying to have a release date in May along with a screening!
What is one of your earliest memories of making art?
Is there any music you like to listen to while working?
What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I listen to a wide variety of music while I’m working, mostly techno/trance, but sometimes I’ll just listen to Chopin for a few hours straight. I’ll listen to three Blink-182 albums in a row to get me pumped to be working, or I’ll blast the LOTR soundtrack to feel more on a journey..
I think this is a hard question, and maybe I’m still unsure, or will never know. I guess mostly I feel driven to work and create art, and if I don’t I feel really depressed. I think what I draw from usually is my own experiences being a woman and the experiences and subconscious surreal reality we live in with gender and power and abuse. I don’t think anything I make is so aggressive or too literal in any one direction, and if anything it has humor in it. So maybe my main hope is that people can see it and feel some kind of tingly sensation about the idea of the feminine in this world, and how weirdly it is manipulated into symbols and imagery in our day to day lives.
Where do you like to work? I like to work outside the most, but that is usually impractical. I have a pretty nice studio set up in Bushwick with friends and fellow TXTbooks members, that is now my favorite place to work. My painting studio is in my basement and it’s fair to say that it’s like a cave (which is good and bad).
Where To Find Them Websites: http://nicholeshinn.com/ Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Social Media: @spacelionz (Instagram)
I’m sure I was always playing around and doodling, but I think one of my earliest memories of consciously doing something was when I was about 7 or 8. I have an older brother, and he had just gotten Final Fantasy 10, and he is a nice brother so he always let me play video games with him or watch him play. I was super into all of the monsters, and he was trying to rack up his bestiary, so I offered to draw every monster he came by and count for him how many of each monster he killed. I think I drew probably like, 60 different monsters with little tally marks next to them. I’m not sure if that’s art lol.
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Hunter Schafer is keen member of a generation of young people characterized by their un-
bridled acceptance and opportunity. Like many artists starting out, Hunter has used art as a means to combat and process the internal and external conflicts that have shaped who she is. But what separates her from so many of her peers starting out is her fearlessness to make her work personal and anecdotal, giving her audience a chance to confront the experiences she’s had in life, despite how raw or potent they still may be. Where many artist, young and old, falter at the idea of exposing their current life and emotions, Hunter uses her work as a means to articulate her experience and encourage others to reflect on their own.
Hunter is one of the few people that’s ever made me feel old and unaccomplished. Before
graduating high school, Hunter has worked with a wide range of publications, high fashion labels, and activist organizations, while still taking pride in developing her own personal work. She’s so far along in understanding the components and intentions behind making work, that it’s really difficult to see exactly how far she will catapult into the art world after leaving school. Regardless of where she decides to take her work, she has a bright future ahead of, encompassing everything she’s already learned and tackled.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Trenton, New Jersey. I currently go to a public boarding high school in Winston Salem, North Carolina, so I’m sort of half living between there and with my family in Raleigh, NC. Was there any sort of art or subcultural scene where you grew up? My childhood is kind of split up among several locations, so I can’t really attribute one place to where I grew up. There might have been certain subcultures or art scenes in my surrounding areas, but I don’t think I was ever immersed in them. I’ve had friends who were super into punk and metal music and were part of that smaller scene—particularly in Raleigh—but I never fully resonated with those communities. It was kind of isolating, but at the same time forced me to create my own personal culture that I could happily exist in. I definitely found most of my artistic community later and through the internet. What were some of the art communities you found on the internet? It started with DeviantArt, which many of my friends used in middle school. It was more of a form of rebellion than anything else, haha. My parents kept finding my accounts after I hid them from them, because I wasn’t allowed to have any online presence at the time. They deleted them, but I continued to use the site. My friends and I posted our artwork and writing on there. It moved to Tumblr from there, then Instagram, and then Rookie, which has been heavily influential towards who I am today.
When did you initially notice yourself caring about what you wore and what fashion meant to other people? I remember this distinct moment in middle school when my friend and I were talking about personal style and she bluntly pointed out my lack of a sense of style. I argued that since I designed clothes, I automatically had a sense of style, or something stupid like that, haha. She motioned toward my outfit, which consisted of khaki shorts and an ill-fitting college t-shirt, so finally it hit me. I gradually made an effort to channel my sense of design into my outfits, which definitely took some time. My style is still evolving and Iâ€™m pretty sure it will continue to do so as long as I care about it. My first pair of Doc Martens totally changed my outlook on personal style. I saved up and got them in eighth grade, and they went with every outfit I wore, so they became a staple of mine. I realized how many people I who admired wore them, which was a huge factor in getting them. I think gaining awareness of my style also affected my trans experience. My discovery of personal style came around the same time that I started to experience gender dysphoria. I found myself wanting to wear skirts and heels and felt incredibly limited by the boys section in clothing stores. It suddenly became super important to me that my peers perceived me as feminine. What was the era of your life leading up to your transition like? What else changed in your life around that time? Awkward! But also liberating? I was letting myself evolve into who I wanted to be and it came
in stages. My transition was this super gradual decay of the toxic masculine walls I had built up. I started coming out as bisexual because I was hesitant to expose myself as gay at the time. Then I came out as gay. Then I went through experimentation with self-expression through my appearance, which eventually led me back to wanting to wear dresses and present in a more stereotypically feminine manner. When did you start making your own clothes? I made tissue paper outfits for my sisters when I was in elementary school, but those were definitely not functional. My middle school offered sewing classes, so I took those during the school year and then put my skills to use at fashion camps that I took with my best friend in Chicago during the summer. These spaces were so amazing because we were given so much creative freedom and I could experiment. I made this steam-punk inspired mini collection during my first summer camp and it was life changingâ€”despite how hideous the looks were, haha. Next summer it was 1920â€™s punk, then it was sea anemone suits, then it was 3-D boob shirts. I kept taking sewing classes and summer courses through early high school and began tying sculpture and fashion together as my technical skills and artistic voice got stronger. How did the conflict of your gender dysphoria encourage the clothes and art you started making around then? Making art was completely symptomatic of the social experiences I had to endure as someone who stuck out like a sore thumb in school. Drawing felt like the best way to process what I had internalized. I often drew my sort of idealized self, a person I was striving to be. Clothing also al-
lowed me to alter the way people perceived me. I realized I could achieve a silhouette through specific clothes that dulled my dysphoria and made me feel as though I was stepping outside the “male” box. What has your experience been like going to high school for art? What’s the environment at your school like? I’m finishing up my second and last year at my arts high school, and looking back on it, I’m so glad I went. It basically put me through two years of college level fine arts foundation that I otherwise would have had to wait all four years of high school to take. I think it’s prepared me for more adult environments, I know how to live by myself, have the self-discipline to get shit done (most of the time), and the technical skills to produce professional work. There were sort of unforeseen consequences for going to art school so early. It caught me right as I was reaching this new creative prime for myself in which I was making a bunch of personal work that was really exciting, particularly for Rookie. Within a few months of going to art school, I felt completely drained of all my creative energy that I was pouring into my school assignments instead of my sketchbook or Rookie. The work has sort of temporarily crippled me—creatively at least—in that I’ve had to put aside my own artistic aspirations in order to advance technically. While I’ve come out as a stronger artist, I have to wonder what my work would be like had I continued to create for myself rather than for school assignments.
How did you initially start working with Rookie Mag? So, I totally worshiped Rookie before I actually worked with them! Tavi was (and still is) an idol of mine. I made a birthday post for her and tagged her in the photo. The next morning, I woke up and checked my phone to find that she had found my account and DM’ed me, asking for my email. I was hysterically screaming, my mom thought someone was dying. She invited me to contribute and eventually introduced me to the team. It absolutely changed my artistic journey, being a contributor gave me a sense of purpose, as well as a sense of community with other young artistic voices on the internet. It was also a fantastic platform to talk about being trans/queer teenage girl through a medium that I loved. You’ve done a whole range things for them! What are some of the more memorable pieces you’ve done for the site? Yeah! Rookie sort of initiated my work in sequential art, because of how so many of their visual pieces are formatted. I really enjoyed making comics for them. There’s one about finding sanctuary behind my bedroom door and experimenting with clothing that’s super special to me. I also did my first editorial style shoot with them! I was able to borrow some really amazing vintage clothes that I styled for a spring theme. I casted my friends from my school as models, scouted a location, and managed the aesthetics. The whole experience was so creatively empowering! Did it feel validating to have something you cared a lot about ask you to start contributing? Did you start thinking about your art differently once you started contributing to Rookie? Definitely! Rookie was something that was near and dear to me, but also felt distant before I worked with them. It was a great way to be introduced to making art in a more professional manner. The platform also came with a lot more responsibility and contributing has been a huge learning experience for me. I had to come to understand the impact of my work and everything that went into it with such a huge audience that included so many different demographics. Engaging with Rookie’s community has also helped develop my ability to be a more inclusive thinker, activist and artist. As a younger contributor, Interacting with a group of older and more-well rounded presences on the internet was majorly eye opening. Do you ever feel a pressure from other people to make work about your identity or experience? I don’t feel that pressure from other people as much as do from myself. With the new political climate we’re experiencing, I’ve delved into protest/activist art because that intersection is where I feel like I need to reside right now. As a trans rights activist, I want to be vocal, but I feel most fluent speaking through my artwork rather than something like public speaking or writing. Not to say that I want to exclude myself from those forms of expression, I just feel that I can convey a stronger message through my artwork. I’ve also found it to be beneficial to make work about my past emotional or painful experiences so that they can be worked through and potentially conquered. Each time I make work that requires reflection on my trans experience, I unearth new memories that I have subconsciously suppressed over time. While it’s not necessarily pleasant, it has helped me to confront my ex-
periences that have lead me to where I am now. That’s really interesting! Do you look at your work as being a way for you to process your life and experiences? What have you learned about yourself through your work? Absolutely! I think because making shit has been such a second nature activity to take part in, it’s as helpful as perhaps talking to a friend or writing. I see it as an input-output system, where I’m receiving all this information and making artwork has been a way to internalize the information and respond. It’s definitely more fluid than how I just described it but I find that to be a decent analogy.
What do you think keeps people from putting out work when they’re younger? I think younger people, particularly in grade school, are so concerned with fitting in that it’s easier to take a silent stance on things rather than sticking out and making a statement. Eventually, I think we begin to become so conditioned to conforming to the norm, that our identities become the norm and the whole system just perpetuates itself. So then silence and apathy becomes the norm, which is really depressing, but also the reality that like defines the middle/ high school experience. How has the internet affected your ability to do what you do? Overall, the internet has acted as an enormous source of inspiration and a platform for me. I first found so many of the people that I look up to through the internet and it feels like this wonderfully intimate way to be connected to them. The reminder of their presence and the power that social media provides has continually motivated me to create. Also being able to disperse my work and thoughts into such a large audience has been a huge privilege, and has connected me with a myriad of brilliant people who do the same.. What do you hope to communicate with your work that’s harder to communicate in other aspects of your life? I think in everyday circumstances, I’m not typically an emotional person. I just don’t share my feelings as much as I feel like some of the people who surround me do, and that might be
because I channel it into my work. I want my art to be as authentic as possible and accurately portray what’s happening in my head. It’s therapeutic in that sense and a very selfish thing to put time into, but that’s also why I’ve pursued activist art. Activism through my artwork not only satisfies my own craving to reflect but also acts as a form of protest because those reflections are sometimes controversial. What are you working on right now? A senior thesis! I’m also trying not to fail my academic classes! Pretty much just concentrating on finishing high school in one piece. What do you hope to do after you finish high school this year? As of right now, it’s looking like I’m headed to New York! I’m kind of going to be all over the place as far as work goes, including freelancing work in fashion/art publications, modeling, and interning with one of my favorite designers, Vaquera NYC. I’m deferring from my top school, Central Saint Martins, for a year, so I’ll be headed to London in 2018. Are there any projects you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? Absolutely! SO much!! I really really want to work on making a comic or graphic novel at some point. Developing my own characters and spaces is something that sounds so exciting to implement into a narrative. I also want to dance more and would love to assemble some sort of trans dance ensemble. Someday I hope to launch my own brand or label, and within that I want to make well designed underwear for a transgender market. Again, I’m a bit all over the place, but have plenty of time.
FORGE. ISSUE 6: SERENDIPITY
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
The person we know as Molly Soda has become synonymous with internet culture, not because of her presence online
for the past 14 years, but because of her tireless effort to process and re-interpret what it has meant to grow up with it. From the outdated URLs of Xanga and the now broken image links of LiveJournal, she has been diligently tracking her life and experiences since becoming a teenager. After leaving the suburbs of Bloomington, and becoming interested and disinterested with photography at New York University, she started taking the journaling she had kept up online more and more seriously. With the dawn of Tumblr and internet communities that stressed connectivity and intimacy, she started developing the work of “Molly Soda”—a screen name that has since become, for better or for worse, her identity.
Over the years Molly has willingly sacrificed her privacy and shame in an effort to display life on the internet. Her pendu-
lum swings from sincere to performative, but never goes outside the realm of honesty. As she continues to navigate the world wide web, tracking the movements, trends, and perspectives that have left the selective-collective-consciousness, she brings to light the human patterns the internet brings out in everyone who uses it. It’s difficult to take away what Molly is doing from a singular piece of her work. But as a whole, Molly’s output creates an elaborately constructed autopsy of the internet she loves so dearly.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I never know how to answer that question, so I’ll just tell you my timeline. I think that’s a better way to answer it. I was born in Puerto Rico. I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana. I then lived in New York for school. Then I moved to Chicago, and then Detroit. Now I live in New York again. What was your experience like growing up in Indiana? It was good. I’m actually really happy I grew up in Bloomington. I think maybe it’s a little bit different of an experience if you’re growing up in other parts of Indiana. It’s a college town, so I was exposed to more things and there were more things present that I didn’t have to seek out as much as maybe living in the middle of the country. It was really nice. I enjoyed it. I kind of still have a soft spot for Indiana and suburban feeling places. Was there any sort of sub cultural scene there as well? No, there were definitely a lot of things going on there. I moved out of Bloomington in 2007, and I lived there since I was four or five. There were a lot of things going on. I feel like, because of Indiana University there was a big fraternity and sorority culture. There’s definitely like a lot of bro-y, beer pong vibe. But there was definitely like an indie scene and a lot of cool bands would tour through Bloomington. I was in high school so there were a lot of all ages venues and shows and I had a lot of access to stuff. It was also a very “folk-punk” influenced town. That was definitely a thing—and probably still is honestly. Also Secretly Canadian and Jag Jaguar are based in Bloom-
ington, and that also had to do with more music stuff filtering through there, as appose to Indianapolis. At what point did you start using the internet and sort of documenting yourself? I had diaries here and there growing up. I think my first diary was in the fifth grade. But I didn’t really start archiving or documenting until probably when I was 14. Freshman year in high school was when I really started writing things down. I kept a pretty thorough diary during my freshman year of high school. Then I moved to the internet after that. 2004 was when I got into Xanga, and then LiveJournal came soon after that. Both of those websites I maintained, even into college. Then also, the minute I got my hands on a digital camera, was when I started taking pictures—of myself especially. My dad had a one or two megapixel brick of a digital camera, haha. I would borrow it and take selfies in my room. They weren’t called selfies then. Maybe self-portraits? You think of a self portrait as something that you pose for and is a really thought out sort of thing. But then a selfie is sort of what we conceive of now with the front facing camera. There wasn’t really a name for it I guess. I don’t know. What initially drew you to archiving everything and putting yourself out on the internet? I think I’ve always been sort of like an exhibitionist in some ways. I’m not so concerned with privacy in the way that others maybe would be. I think for me, there was something I was attracted to it. It wasn’t the situation where I was like “I don’t have friends.” or “I need this outlet for this.” But I think over time, I can see how it was really im-
portant for me to build these online friendships and have this be an outlet outside of my day to day. It was kind of a way I cultivated a lot of my interests and got into making art and things like that. But I think at the time, the initial attraction was like This seems cool. My friends are doing it. I’ll try it. and then it just sort of stuck for me. What made you decide to move to New York and go to NYU for Photography? I actually never thought I was going to pursue art in anyway. I sort of knew that I liked taking photos, but I was more so doing it to document my life and my friends and I wasn’t really thinking about it in any sort of art context. I always thought I knew what kind of school I wanted to go to, but I didn’t know what I was going to study, haha. I was like “Hmm I want to go to Oberlin and be more indie.” because that was what I was about at the time. It was 2006 so things were different. But anyways, I never thought I was going to do art, but I had a best friend growing up who was always taking classes and always wanted to pursue art. She was more about art and art school and sort of encouraged me to take a class at Indiana University. So I took a photo class the summer before my senior year. I took a black and white film, basic entry level photo class. I really liked it! I was like “Wow, I really found something I like doing, that I’m good at, that makes me feel good.” and I’d never felt that before about anything that I was working on. So then, that’s when I was like “Okay, I want to go to school for this.” I was kind of intimidated by the idea of doing other art, because I thought I wasn’t good at other types of art. I was like “I’m just good at taking photos. I can’t paint, I can’t draw, I can’t sculpt. I don’t want to go to a school with a foundations year—that’s too intimidating.” But I figured out I wanted to live in New York. I’d never been to New York before, so I applied to NYU because they had a photo program with no foundations year. I was like “Sick.” I think I applied to SVA too. NYU had like 30 people in the program per year and was much smaller, so that’s why I decided to go to NYU. Ultimately I’m glad I did… maybe? Yeah, I’m glad. I mean you never know how your life would have been. That’s why I always tell people that I’m happy I did that, because I’m happy with who I am today. What was your experience like going there? Growing up in Bloomington I had no concept that people grew up differently than I did. I couldn’t conceive of people not going to a public school. I couldn’t imaging kids not having gone to Target or Border’s Books for fun. So it was a lot to deal with when I got to New York because I was 18, I had just broken up with my high school sweetheart of four years so I was devastated, and I didn’t know anyone—I didn’t know a single person in New York. Luckily college forces you to meet people. I think it was a lot for me, but I’m ultimately glad that that all happened. It forced
me to grow up a lot faster, or it forced me to relate to different types of people. I think some people maybe don’t actually have to do that ever. If I had stayed in Bloomington I don’t think I’d ever need to deal with that. I wouldn’t have even known that that was a hurdle I needed to cross. I think the school itself was a lot to deal with. It’s funny how you sort of become who you were in high school, no matter what. Does that make sense? I feel like I always revert back to my dejected high school self within all of my adult situations, and college really wasn’t any different. So I wasn’t really friends with anyone in my program. I was definitely a fuck up my two years. I definitely didn’t go to class as much. I discovered what alcohol was. Smoking weed was a thing I’d never done. In high school I was really good at school, and all my friends were really good at school. Then I moved to New York not knowing anyone and I was like “Oh my god, I don’t have to do anything if I don’t want to.” So I just went for it. So that was definitely a big thing I had to work out of my system. I’m happy I was able to find ways around it and I was able to graduate, but initially it was a lot. What sort of things did you start doing while you were in school, that you continued with after you left? So I was still blogging, using LiveJournal, and I was documenting my life. I had a digital camera, but to feel like I was a photographer I thought Eew, these photographers use photoshop and rely on their digital cameras? It was really a divided time where we weren’t fully into digital yet. 2007 in photography we were still talking megapixles and things that are not really a issue anymore. I was very much like “Well I only shoot film photography.” which is soooo funny considering the work I do now. I still sort of stuck with this self portrait vibe. But it was interesting because I went into it sort of thinking of it that way, and somewhere along the way I became uninterested in photography as a whole. I felt like So I’m just suppose to take a series of photos and put them up on a wall, and that’s it? I’m just giving you a joke with the same punchline over and over again? That’s not what I want to do. I didn’t want to be like “Here’s a picture of every one of my friends.” or like “Here are pictures of the inside of people’s refrigerators.” or whatever the hell you think is a clever idea in college. I would totally sit there and think about ideas like that and I realized it was so stupid—even though those were the things that would get the most notes on tumblr, hahaha. In college, once I sort of started opening up and started taking classes that weren’t related to photography, that was when I started thinking about how my internet stuff actually made sense in the framework of my work. It wasn’t until I took a video art class in the fine arts department. I had never heard of any of these performance artists. I was like “Marina Abramovic? What?!?! Carolee Schneemann? Who are these people?!?!” because they don’t teach you about any of that in photography. So I took that class, and
“Molly Soda was never my name on anything ever until Tumblr. That name never appeared on the internet before that. It’s so funny how something as inconsequential as a screen name can actually be so important”
it blew my mind. I was like “Feminism?!?! Feminist art?!?!” I mean, I was already thinking about feminism before I was thinking about feminist art, even as a teenager. But I couldn’t point to people that I could reference—besides in music. Then I realized Oh there are artists who do this. This is really cool. At the same time I took a web design course that was maybe during my junior year of college. I think the only teacher that liked me or who’s been nice to me post graduating was my web design professor. It was a course for the photo students to take basically so that everyone could learn how to make a portfolio website. I took it and she taught us about net art, basically. She showed us Jon Rafman doing the Kool-Aid Man in Second Life, superbad.com, jodi.org, and all of these sort of non-linear websites. Then when I learned about that I was like “Oh my god… people did art on the internet.” I had never conceived of it before, even though I used the internet all the time for everything! I put my art on the internet, but it wasn’t like the art was based around the internet—they just happened to be smashing each other but were not actually together. So then, I never made a portfolio website, I just made crazy websites in that class. I would just learn how to code websites so that I could make insane, non-linear websites, essentially. That’s sort of what got me into what I do now.
When did you start making work online that was independent of any assignment? When you start making work under the name Molly Soda? I would post a lot of stuff that wasn’t assignments online on my LiveJournal. I still kept up with my LiveJournal a little bit. It’s funny though, you see my LiveJournal transition from mostly text accounts of everything that’s happened to just photo. By the time I’m in college, I’m not telling you anything about my life. So that stuff was the beginning of doing work outside of school work. Then I started experimenting a lot towards the end of college when I started taking these video art classes and these things that involved uploading content and seeing how people would read it. I think the first really big thing I did was the summer of 2010—so it was right before my senior year of college—I started taking a video everyday and posting it to Facebook. It could be anything. I think there was one of me smoking on my porch, or one of me eating a burrito, or me on the phone with someone. It was just mundane Photobooth videos that were like one minute to five minutes. Then I would post them on Facebook with no comment, and that would be it. That was sort of the beginning of me playing as Molly Soda I guess. I started thinking about the ideas that I sort of play with now when
I first started my Tumblr in 2009. Molly Soda was never my name on anything ever until Tumblr. That name never appeared on the internet before that. It’s so funny how something as inconsequential as a screen name can actually be so important, but we can’t ever tell how the internet is going to go because the internet is just sort of fumbling forward. I mean, life is sort of doing that too. So Molly Soda started the minute I started my Tumblr. I didn’t really have a plan for it, I was just messing around. Then those videos I was posting to Facebook were more of this weird thing I was experiencing with. A lot of those videos still live on Youtube now. It’s sort of a presumptuous question to ask, but when did you start making decisions within that work based on the fact that you knew people were watching and reacting? No, it’s an important question to ask! People were paying attention on LiveJournal, but it was at a smaller scale. It was also more of a “friends only” vibe with friends on the internet. I started noticing that people were paying attention to me on tumblr—I feel like the first time I really
saw it was when I went to a show in Philadelphia in 2010 and some people recognized me from tumblr. I remember thinking What… How are people paying attention to me on this thing. The first time I started realizing that other people were paying attention, it was more like people were choosing to keep up with me, even though it wasn’t a diary form like it was on LiveJournal. LiveJournal was on totally different terms, and on Tumblr there were just more people. Then by the time I was about to graduate from college, it had really spiraled. I remember when I first started my tumblr I was like “I’m going to have a party when I get my first 500 followers.” That seemed like a lot to me. Then by the end of college I had like 9,000. Why did you decide to move to Chicago after school? What was your experience like there? When I graduated from NYU I had already sort of made up my mind to move to Chicago. Probably around spring break of my senior, I had sort of decided to move. I had spent time on and off in Chicago growing up, since it’s not that far from Bloomington. I had already sort of made up my mind, but by the time it was actually time to go, I actually didn’t even want to go. But I thought Umm, I have to
“I hadn’t conceived that I could make money doing what I did on the internet at all. I think I just sort of moved to Chicago, a little bit just because I was scared of trying to make it here.”
go… I said I was going to move to Chicago, and I already made all of these plans. I think initially when I made up my mind it was sort of like “I don’t really want to live in New York anymore. I don’t really want to be a post grad in New York trying to get work. I don’t really know what I want to do for work. I don’t know what’s happening.” I hadn’t conceived that I could make money doing what I did on the internet at all. I think I just sort of moved to Chicago, a little bit just because I was scared of trying to make it here. I also wasn’t ready to commit to living in New York and thought I wanted to live in a bunch of place—which has it’s own issues, haha. At the time it just seemed like the right thing to do, and ultimately I am glad that I did go there, even though I just lived there for two years. I was dating someone when I left for Chicago and they were sort of always like “You could make money off of what you do!” and they were really encouraging about it. They were like “Anyone would be so happy to work with you. You have lots of followers.” and I just had no idea what he was talking about. I never really had that mind for branding. I just thought I’m just doing it. I don’t understand why anyone would want to pay for all of this labor that I’m constantly doing all of the time. Then I moved to Chicago and was like Well I graduated from art school, so I guess I should get a job that is art related, and I’ll just do my art on the side. Or I’ll get a job that’s not art related, and I’ll just try to do my art on the side. When I moved to Chicago I just started working in retail. It was really discouraging and I didn’t know what the fuck to do. To be fair, I feel like while I was making art around then, I was still struggling with what that meant. I’m really glad I didn’t go to a regular art school because that would have probably jaded me even more. I still feel a little bit naive or starry eyed about the idea, because I didn’t expose myself to the art world in the same way that other people who want to be artists do. I sort of didn’t really even understand what I wanted to do, but there were a lot of things I had access to through all of the things I was doing online. I was like “Wow all these people are paying attention to me, and these comments are really good, and I like the way these things come together.” and started exploring these ideas that I didn’t realize could work with my art. I kept thinking If you’re going to use yourself in your art, you’ve got to be a character. I thought I just had to put on a wig, and be this type of person, and make these videos. Those were fine, and I’m happy I did those videos. Molly Soda was initially a character, but I think since then my art has just gotten more sincere. But at that time I was still trying to undo a lot of stuff, trying to figure out what it meant to be an artist, what it meant for me, what kind of art I wanted to be making—but not even understanding that there could be money at this point. I was just figuring out what kind of art I wanted to do. I realized I had all of these tools, but I don’t know how to assemble it into a cohesive idea.
Who were some of your friends or peers on the internet who inspired you to start making work? There were quite a few people I followed. One of the big ones was Grace Miceli. I think we’re around the same age. We followed each other when I was in college and she got me into the idea that I could make zines. I had never thought about zines before but she was always making zines, and always doing so much. Obviously her work has changed a lot. That was one of the main people that made me look at approaching art differently. She was collaborating with so many different people. She actually asked me to do something. She was like “I have this zine…” and I sent this picture that I took on my computer with my roommate, and I put a bunch of wicca gifs on top of it. She was definitely one of the big ones early on. Arvida Bystrom was sort of a big tumblr influence for me. She’s a Swedish photographer, who I now work with and is a friend of mine. Grace is someone that I’m still in contact with as well. It’s funny how we all sort of grew up together in this way, and we all started watching each other from our respective cities. Beth Siveyer, who did the Girls Get Busy zine, was another person early on that really inspired me as well. These feminist zine makers and early feminist artists on tumblr that were sort of gathering people to do things, were really big for me. Where did you begin to draw the line between Molly Soda and Amalia Soto? It’s always been really sloppy and messy because I don’t really draw lines—and that might be to the detriment of my personal life. I feel like in the beginning Molly Soda was a little bit more of a character that was a little bit more clueless and more like “Fuck you!” People would ask me questions and I’d be like “Yeah, I went to Harvard, fuck off.” and “Yeah, I’m going to get drunk on camera.” and “Here’s my pet rat.” and “I smoke cigarets inside.” haha. It was me… it was definitely me. I was definitely very crazy. But it’s funny because, when you do what I did, you realize your whole life is documented. My whole life is archived online since I was 14. Obviously things get lost and links are broken. But it’s really interesting how you can have all of your progress charted out there for you. All of the phases you went through and all of the hats you’ve tried on. I’m really into costuming myself. I like that I am who I am, but one day I’ll look at a picture of Kate Bush and I’ll be like “I want to wear purple eye shadow.” Then the next day I’ll look at a picture of PJ Harvey and I’ll be like “I want to wear blue eye shadow.” haha. I was definitely curating an image—I always am. We all are. I think I was thinking about personal branding a lot earlier than some of us do, but we’re all on the forefront of branding ourselves. I mean think about Tila Tequila and early MySpace celebrities. I think I was trying to mimic that a little bit in the beginning. There was the whole “scene queen” thing that was happening in the early 2000s. I love
scene queens and that sort of thing! They were like my secret pleasure. I don’t believe in the term “guilty pleasure,” but growing up when you go through all of these phases in high school, my first phase was “I’m emo. I’m pop punk. I’m scene.” but I could never really fully commit to a look. Then when the scene queen thing was sort of a thing—the bright colored hair extensions, the Hello Kitty, the tutus, lots of make up—it was that sort of look but also “We’re going to drive to McDonalds and be really trashy, because we’re bored and in the suburbs.” Then they all just so happened to date all of these members of From First to Last. None of my friends cared about that stuff. I was really indie and was like “I listen to Bright Eyes. I like Saddle Creek Records and wear vintage dresses.” but I would obsessively look at these scene queens on LiveJournal. I would be like “Oh my god, they’re so cool! I want to look like that, but I can’t.” Molly Soda was sort of me taking that from that thing that was happening in 2005, 2006, and reiterating it for myself on Tumblr. I remember thinking This is the space for me to be the scene queen I always wanted to be. So I was like “Here’s my septum piercing, here’s my whole shtick.” If you look at pictures of me back then, I look very different that I look now. I mean, I’m sure a lot of us look very different from how we did seven years ago. For some people who don’t know what I’ve been doing now, when they think of Molly Soda they think of a caricature. They’re thinking of blue hair and raver clothing basically—plat-
forms and a can of Four Loko. That’s totally legit. But it’s funny because I feel like there was an element of me sort of living out my teen fantasy in a lot of ways. There’s definitely a quality of icon to it. But at the same time I don’t take myself too seriously. I’m always playing. I think that’s the biggest thing. What were some of your first projects that you put out online? One of the first major mile stones in my life was Tween Dreams. It was my senior thesis in college, but it gathered a lot of interest when I first posted about it. I was talking about what I was doing when I was on Tumblr so I was like “I’m doing this thing.” and I’d post a lot stuff about Tween Dream. For those who don’t know, it’s about a group of friends growing up in the early 2000s in the suburbs. They’re in seventh grade and it’s in a sort of fake sitcom world where I play every character—which is actually really weird and embarrassing. I like to be publicly embarrassed a lot of the time, haha. I remember uploading it and people were actually down with it. They were like “Oh my god, you have to make more! This is so cool! I love this character!” which made me think “Wow, this is sick!” I ended up making a second one, but it was just a lot of work. I’d love to make something like that again, but it’s just not where my work went, because it’s not really the most interesting thing I’ve done. I’m happy that I did that, but that was probably the first contained thing.
“One of the first major mile stones in my life was Tween Dreams.”
Outside of college, the first big thing was that video Inbox Full, which is a 10 hour video of me reading all of my tumblr inbox questions out loud to my photobooth camera in Chicago. I think it came out in 2012. It’s probably one of my most watched videos. But that was sort of the first time I had taken what I was doing online and sort of flipped it on itself and think about it more critically. It’s also something I think people can point to and recognize as a piece. A lot of the work that I do is sometimes blurry, and people are like “But are your Instagram photos a piece? Is every tweet a piece?” but then I’m like “You don’t have to really think about it like that. It’s a puzzle.” We’re all just big puzzles, right? Haha. What were the steps that you took to go from “Molly Soda is a character.” to “Molly Soda is an artist.” around that time? That was a hard line for me to cross because, I think a lot of people in the beginning saw Molly Soda as a fashion
blogger, or a fashion account. Everything that was hitting me up were brands that were trying to send me clothes— which was sick, I wanted free clothes and stuff. But I was like “I’m not an it-girl.” Like I was a party girl at the time, but I really had to think about it at a certain point. I had to be like “Okay, do you want to make art, or do you want to get drunk?” You can do both—lots of people have managed to do both—and I did for a while. But I think I really wanted to think about that after Inbox Full came out and I started to get hit up more for art related things. I really did want to be an artist, but I think I was really discouraged and didn’t know how to do that. I didn’t feel respected, I didn’t respect myself in a lot of ways. I was just like “Well, people just like me because they think I’m pretty or weird or funny. I don’t even know why people like me sometimes. But I felt like I couldn’t be taken seriously as an artist. I’ve gotten over that in a lot of ways. I don’t need institutional support to feel successful. I don’t need a magazine to write about me, or something to acknowledge me anymore, although I think I was more caught up with that
“But that was sort of the first time I had taken what I was doing online and sort of flipped it on itself and think about it more critically.”
when I was younger. I thought Well I can’t be an artists if this doesn’t say I’m an artist. Now I’m like “I don’t care. Anyone can tell me they’re an artist. It doesn’t matter.” But I think that transition really happened towards the end of me living in Chicago when I was sort of getting hit up a lot to do commissions or freelance work, but I was still working at my retail job, which I hated. I was like, man I wish I had more time to devote to art making, and getting paid to make art. That was sort of when I started thinking about it. 2013 was a really big year for me. I got fired from that job, I broke up with a long term partner in Chicago, I moved out of Chicago to Detroit on a whim. Then at the same time, I had just gotten asked to do an updated version of Inbox Full for an art auction in New York, and the Phillips Auction House, for the first ever digital art auction. I remember when I got asked to do it I was like “Yeah, sounds cool. Wait a minute… How are you going to sell that? How are you going to sell a digital piece of art? I don’t understand.” That is when everything changed and I was like “Oh, I can sell my work!” outside of making zines and what I was doing with that. I think that’s when things really started lighting up in my head. How did you see Tumblr affect the way people looked at art and art that was made specifically for the internet? I think art circles have responded to net art. Obviously it came before I did with John Rafman, Cory Archangel, and people of that generation. So it has existed, but that was that was all pre-social media. With social media we have to think about how it plays into art making an distributing—art that exists online that’s distributed through social media. I think before, the art was “art that was made online,” but it was still shared in institutional spaces. So now, it’s a little bit weirder because it all lives there, so maybe it’s harder to place value on it unless it’s recognized by the right markers. I think we have to think about that a lot. What makes something successful? What makes something art? How does the context distinguish how we read it? I think Tumblr specifically allowed for a lot of sharing of original art. There were a lot of people I followed early on that just made gif. Gifs really had a resurgence, and it really started with people on tumblr making gifs. Now gifs are everywhere. Buzzfeed has a New Girl gif popping off on it, or like Garden State or something—that’s not really relevant anymore, but it is to me haha. At first it was so cool to make a gif. We were all making gifs on Tumblr. I don’t think people thought that gifs were going to come back. I mean, people were using gifs on MySpace too. Glitter graphics—so important. But it wasn’t read as art. Gifs were never really read as art, until more recently. Even so, it’s a little bit harder. Websites are also very hard, even still I think, to sell as art. I think everyone was experimenting a lot and sort of sussing it out. Movements like vaporwave, influenced a lot of art making. I was never really in that scene. I know I get dragged
into seapunk, but I don’t think you can drag me into vaporwave. I think there was an aesthetic movement in art making for younger people, that I was definitely aware of. The bust, and the plants, and the pink and blue, and the checkered floor. There were so many of these discrete, very specific movements online. Solo jazz? Where did these things start, and why were we so collectively interested in it? What I was more tied to in the beginning was maybe a little bit more fashion based, because I do use my own body in my work. I remember when Jeremy Scott came out with his whatever collection, and it was very much yanked from my tumblr, and people were writing about it being like “She should sue!” It all sort of starts there, and then it filters. That was my first sort of realization about co-option. Remember when Rihanna made her seapunk thing on SNL? Rihanna had this whole seapunk moment for this one performance, and everyone on the internet was outraged. I remember being like “Why are ya’ll surprised? Stylists go on the internet. You think that that’s not going to happen? Your ideas are going to get stolen, and they’re going to get warped.” Hopefully those companies come to me first, but I also don’t think that I’m part of anything like that anymore, but it’s definitely a thing. Tumblr wasn’t always even original content necessarily. It was more like “Here’s a mood board of what I’m feeling. Here’s a mood board of what I want to project into the world. I don’t even need to show you a picture of myself, and you know what I’m like.” Now it’s not as much about aesthetics as it is about your personal fucking brand. What it boils down to is capitalism. Tumblr was something that had to be co-opted, but now people are just like “Oh I want to own my whole thing.” What were some of the earliest gallery shows that you did? When did you start presenting your work in physical spaces? I really had never done anything in a gallery at all, but it was something I really wanted to do. I remember sort of being like “Well I’m not a real artist if I don’t show my work.” So I just started doing my own things. I can’t really even remember what my first thing was. I mean it was crazy when that auction happened and my video was playing at an auction house. I had a few things here or there, and I was getting asked to be in group shows, but I’d never see what it ended up looking like. That was the major thing—people would ask me to be in shows they were curating, and then I’d just send off a file and never know what happened. I would be like “I have no concept of what this place in the Netherlands would be like. But it’s cool that you asked me to be in the show!” It was mostly stuff like that. Then I didn’t really get hands on with stuff until I moved to Detroit and curated a show there. My first proper proper solo show wasn’t until 2015, honestly. I had done a few thing here and there that were a little bit more on the DIY spectrum, but it was the first time I had done something where I was like “Okay, anything I
can sort of conceive of can happen. I don’t have as many limitations.” The first time I curated an art show that was all digital art, I was sourcing screens from where ever I could, and it was cool that I finally didn’t have to do that— even the fact that I didn’t have to install everything myself. I had never thought I wouldn’t have to be the one hanging my work or painting over the gallery. There are benefits to both I think, and I still like to do more things on the DIY end of things anyways, but yeah I would say that that’s the beginning of it. How do you approach involving other people in your work? I like to involve other people in my work, but I don’t really care if they aren’t an artist. I like to go into a YouTube hole and watch girls dancing in their room, or singing, or talking about how to be popular in high school in front of their webcams. I like stuff like that, and I really like working with people like that. I started working with NewHive towards the end of 2013 or the beginning of 2014, and that website sort of changed a lot of how I did my work, because it made it so much easier for me to make that sort of work quickly. By that time I had already amassed a following that wanted to participate in my work, so I started doing projects where I would put out open calls for things. I did one project called The Wuthering Heights Project where put out an open call for people to send videos of them
dancing to “Wuthering Heights” by Kate Bush. I amassed a bunch of videos and then archived them and made a piece out of them. Then that was housed on NewHive because it was easy to do that. There were a lot of things like that. I did one called Girls On Cam where I asked women to send me videos of them doing whatever on their webcam. I was just playing with that idea. I was like “I have this stupid idea. Let’s see what people send me!” and then I would just make it really fast. I really do love crowd sourcing, and I still try to use crowd sourcing in my work. Right now I’m doing these AIM bracelets with everyone’s high school screen names. I did a collab with Super Deluxe and made a fake MySpace. They let me do whatever I wanted basically, and I was like “I want to make a MySpace.” So I made a Myspace, but I realized I needed my top eight, and I needed people commenting on my page. I was like “I don’t want to just google people’s random pictures.” cause I don’t like doing that. I don’t like just doing an “emo girl” google image search. We can talk about appropriation, but I’m not going to do it with a picture. So I posted on twitter “Please send me your MySpace pictures. Understand, you’re consenting to me using it.” All of a sudden I was getting these amazing photos! I’m so happy they live in a piece now. So I like sort of like nodding at people and involving my followers, instead of taking from a bunch of places online. I like to have them quietly living in my work now.
“I did once called Girls On Cam where I asked women to send me videos of them doing whatever on their webcam.”
I feel like, as much as your work is about yourself, it’s almost much more about the people consuming it. How much of your work is about organizing information you see on the internet, and reflecting it back to your audience? I’m collecting. I’m like an internet collector. I’m literally taking my little paws, shoveling as much information as I can, trying to read it all, and then spitting it back out. Even more so now that I’m getting older and thinking all of these crazy thoughts how, one day we’re going to wake up and Instagram is not going to be there. I’m definitely thinking in those terms of archiving, selective memory, and the feedback loop of what people are saying to me and how I’m responding. I’ve always said, I need them as much as they need me—even though a lot of people might find comfort in what I do or think that I’m this sincere being or whatever they want me to be. We’re all just sitting there being what the other person wants us to be. But yeah, it is a lot of collecting data. Not in such an impersonal way—but it is a big part of it. That inevitably involves the other people that are looking at my work. Not to scare anyone, but I screen shot everything. It’s never in a way that’s like “I’m going to use this against you, cause you’re a snake!!!” It’s more like “I have to remember exactly how this page looked in this year.” and “What you said is maybe really important, but I don’t know that because I haven’t thought about my life in the grand scope of things.” We’re always so in the moment, and I’m always weirdly planning ahead—and maybe that’s bad! But it’s like I’m planning for the apocalypse or something. Does that make sense? Totally! I think often your work is less about the specific object, but more about what everything you’re making says together as a whole. Yeah! That’s how I feel, honestly. My work is really like pieces of a puzzle. You could look at my YouTube and pluck out one video and say “Well why is this important?” But my response is like “But look at site! Then looks at the comments! And look at the views and the likes and the suggested videos.” It’s not just that thing that’s going to sit on a screen.” Sure you can do that, but then it’s just devoid of all of it’s context. It has to live and swim in these ecosystems for it to make sense in my opinion—which is why it’s so important that it’s online. That’s why view count is so important, and why comments are so important. It can exist with out it, but you’re going to look at it differently. I understand why look at what I do and think “That isn’t art.” or “Why is that important?” or “What makes her different from a beauty blogger on YouTube?” That’s fine if that’s the way they want to read it, but then they’re not really thinking about what I’m actually doing. I don’t really have the time to explain it to everyone, because I’m just going to keep doing it.
How do you deal with people condescending to you because of your work? How do address people taking the wrong thing away from your work? It’s hard to sometime. I think that always causes people to self censor in a really sad way, which is why I’ve tried not to do that. I lot of times I have succumbed to that. I remember one time I was like Oh, people think I’m a narcissist because I use my body in my work, and I don’t want people to think that about me anymore, so I think I’m going to start making digital paintings. So I started doing digital paintings… I mean, I don’t really do anything with them. I have let things get to me, and then I react like “Why isn’t this as successful?” and then I realize “Oh, this is not what you’re good at.” It’s okay that people don’t like it. It’s okay that people are confused, or arguing about you, or decide that they don’t like you based on whatever you’re putting out there. It’s fine. Not everyone likes everything that everyone does. It’s just interesting to have someone look at it and completely take away the wrong message from it. I feel like a lot of people will take away the wrong message from it, and will then be happy with what I do. Then I’ll be like “Well that’s not what I meant at all!” I’m also not here to tell people how to feel about me. I try not to let it bother me, but I’ve definitely had it let me spiral into those thoughts where I’m like You’re a shitty artist. You need to make more art that’s explicitly art. You’re lazy. You’re actually really lazy, and that’s why you make this kind of art. I’ve actually thought that. I’ll think You’re a shit artist because you’re not doing anything skilled. You’re lying to yourself, and nothing that you do actually matters. You’re really vain, that’s why you do what you do.” Then I realized You know, that’s not right. I don’t think that I would be this obsessive if I were lazy. But it’s easy to tell yourself those things. The way that we place value on things as a society is so wrong. Of course I’m going to feel that way, and of course I’m going to feel ashamed that any time I want to ask for payment for something or that I feel like I’m worth more than I’m getting. That’s why I conceived that I would never get paid for what I was doing early on. Even though, almost everything I do is free labor. 95 percent of the work that I do is because I want to do it, not because someone is paying me to do it. I see how artists change once money is involved in their practices. I see digital artists who don’t make digital art anymore because they can’t sell digital art, and that’s totally fine, because I understand that you have to do that in order to achieve whatever else you want in life. Our self worth is very much dictated by what we can place money on, what is tangible—those sorts of ideas. What’s the role of sincerity in your work? I think there was a turning point when I realized younger people were paying attention to me. It wasn’t like “Okay, I need to be a responsible adult. I need to stop drinking and partying and posting about it online.” That really wasn’t what I was trying to get people to think differently
“Even though a lot of people might find comfort in what I do or think that I’m this sincere being or whatever they want me to be. We’re all just sitting there being what the other person wants us to be.” about—they can do whatever they want. It was more so like “You need to stop being a bitch online. You have to realize that people maybe look up to you or people think about you as a moral guide or compass. I don’t want to say that and think that I’m better than I am. But when you’re having young people email you for serious advice or really look to you for guidance, it changes. I was like “Alright, this is getting a little more serious. I can’t just be this person that’s just apathetic.” I realized I was sort of always going for this idea that I wanted to be this mysterious person, because I was actually just flailing around all the time. That’s when it sort of started the change. It was also probably around the time I quit drinking. I started to really think about it. I quite drinking in the fall of 2014, and that’s when I think I became a lot more interested in being like “You don’t have to perform in the perform-y way that you thought that you did. It’s okay for you to talk about your life in genuine terms. It’s okay for you to be embarrassed and for you to be ashamed.” I was always doing that in the beginning. Shame and embarrassment have always been a big part of my work—my way to deal with those things and the way we perform for the internet, and how that ties into apologizing for yourself, especially as a woman. So that’s always been there, but I think I was definitely
a bit more proactive about owning it a little bit more so. Now I’m really trying to always push further—especially when it comes to aesthetics or how I look. I try to edit a little bit less. Then people started to get to know me as an “authentic” or “sincere” person. But at the same time, those are just marketing terms or like branding terms, and I don’t like that. I do like sincerity as a subject, but when it comes to your personal brand, it’s hard for that to be your personal brand, because no one is being sincere online. Even if I appear more sincere than other people, I’m still my avatar online. Sure, I’m sharing information that other people may not share, and maybe they read that as more sincere. But I’m still within my comfort level. So is that really sincere if I’m still comfortable? I think your work has been really impactful because it’s revealed how the internet allows people to show themselves within really intimate moments in their life. But I think a lot of people have seen that in your work, and then take the very surface level aspects of what you’re doing and try to mimic those things in how they present themselves on the internet. Yeah! But that’s just a part of how we costume. That’s how we learn to make the work that we want to make. That’s probably what I was doing when I was in college. I would
be looking at a video and I would be like “I want to do that! I’m just going to do that.” and then I’d do it and be like “Why didn’t this work out for me?” Then eventually I’d realize that the intention wasn’t there, or the context wasn’t there, or what was actually being said is not what I was doing. People really concern themselves with ownership and copying. I’ve never cared about that because everyone’s going to do it differently, and no one owns anything anyways—especially on the internet. But yeah, it is interesting. We all have to do that though. I have to do things and get them out of my system whether or not it’s good or not. It doesn’t mean I have to show it to anyone. Who are some people who’ve had a big impact on your work? Oh, so many people. Like I said, the biggest impact on my work is just literally other people on the internet who aren’t artists. Those are my favorite people. My YouTube holes, my comments, my DMs—that stuff is really big. I obviously want to continue working with those themes. Also music has a really big impact on my work. Karaoke has a really big impact on my work. Performers have a big influence on my work. Women who do a lot of costuming or persona playing are really big to me. PJ Harvey, Kate Bush, Fiona Apple, and other women of that nature really do impact my work—even if you don’t really see it. But they get me into certain grooves or mind sets. Even like Paramore… come one, like for real! But outside of that, in a more art scope, I’m not really sure. I often go to a museum or a gallery or a show and I don’t really leave with feeling inspired. Sometimes I really do and there’ll be one piece that really sticks out at me. I remember there was a show at MoMA PS1 when I was in college called 100 Years of Video Art. I went to it and there were some Ryan Trecartin videos and I fucking lost my mind! I was alone—thank god I went to this show alone. You can’t really show 100 years of video art in one museum. That’s a stupid idea for a show. You’re an idiot. But thankfully these Ryan Trecartin pieces were there, and a lot of the work was good. I was just like “This is amazing! I’ve never seen work like this.” It was so up my alley, but not even close to what I was doing. It just made so much sense. Everytime I’d watch Ryan Trecartin videos—probably a lot less now because I’m more comfortable with my work—but at the time I’d be like “Why am I even making art?! This is so good!” That’s someone I’d love to work with at some degree in the future, just because they were a more early influence that felt more tangible to me. They were less in the art history canon and were more adjacent or working in the same realm. How have you seen your work change over the past few years? Where do you see it going now? Well, there’s a lot more work. I make more work than I did in the beginning. I just maybe have more time to devote to it now that I work for myself. The whole sincerity thing that
we touched on. It’s changed a lot, but it all makes sense in the trajectory. I don’t think I’ve done any divisive changes. I’ve never left to go do something completely different. I do produce a little bit more physical work now, because I’m showing more. But even then, I’m trying to make sure that that’s something that is to the aid of the show, and I’m not just trying to flip it and sell. I really do want my work to remain digital or at least, also online in whatever respect. What are you working on right now that you can talk about? Right now I have a bunch of things sort of simmering. The biggest focus of mine right now is a solo show I have coming up in Los Angeles. It open’s April 6th. It’s called Thanks for the Add and it’s about my early stages online and how it’s informed who I am now. The act of looking back, and the collective memory, and how these things have shaped us are also a part of it. What it means to dredge up old memories and how much is lost. It’s sort of like a graveyard of things. In the whole process I’ve been remembering so much—even like old websites I use to look at that are nonexistent anymore. It’s also just about thinking about how the internet has changed so much. It’s only been like what, 15 to 20 years? It’s maybe been my favorite show to work on so far. I’m really excited. I thought it was going to be a one off thing where I was like “Yeah, I’ll just do a bunch of cute stuff about LiveJournal.” Then the more I started working on it I was like “There is so much to be said, and I haven’t even touched the tip of it, and I need to continue to make work about it. So hopefully there will be a lot more that comes out of it once it opens. Are there any project you’d like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I want to do a project in a public space really badly. I want to do something in a park or an area that people would go to. I also want to take over Time Square and all of the screens and have it be me or my work. hahaha. I know that people sort of do that, but I don’t know who can hook that up for me. But yeah, I really want to do more public sort of “intervention with space” art. If my work is on the most public platform, the internet, then how can I make that extend to a physical space, but still accessible by anyone? So my next step is public space. Also, because I do so much work about being in private, and now that I live in New York, I think about how our public space actually becomes our private space because we have to compensate for the fact that we’re always out. I think about that a lot, and I think it would be great to make work regarding public space. Doing something in a park, or where there is a lot of foot traffic—not just because I want people to look at it, but because I want people to think about how we’re discretely dealing with emotions in public. So I’ll hold on to that idea. I also really want to write a TV show, but I’ve decided that’s not until I’m older, haha.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
In both her personal and professional work, Caroline Tompkins is a photographer that’s willing to confront her own life ex-
perience and agency in the world. Although she’s tried on many hats throughout her life, never shying away from a chance to stay up for hours researching something to making work about, photography seems to be the creative output that she has never gotten sick of. After graduating SVA, in a cohort of students bursting with talent and thing to say, she has gracefully mastered the balance of creating work to feel fulfilled and creating work to make a living. Despite the clear devision between the two, she’s brought the same progressive intentions to her work as a photo editor at Bloomberg Buissnessweek and her personal projects like Ohio and Rider.
With no audience, her work would extensively fulfill the introspective desires and questions she hopes to explore in her
life. But with an audience, Caroline successfully begins a conversation, projecting her own feelings so that others can reflect on theirs. Her intentions are pure, in that she looks inward before considering how to capture what’s in front of her. But overall, her work thrives on the the power it offers to others who have seen the world through a similar lens.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I’m from Cincinnati, Ohio, and I currently like in Brooklyn, New York. What was your relationship to taking photos while you were growing up? My school didn’t have like a photo program or anything, but I always did a lot of things. I was always really involved in swimming and school, haha. But doing photo stuff was what I spent my nights doing. I use to make soft boxes out of cardboard and line them with tin foil and trash bags and stuff, haha. I think it was just the thing I never got board of. There were so many things that I was involved in that I was good at, but doing photography was never boring to me. I started going to shows and being involved in the punk community and, especially being a young girl, it’s really hard to enter into that. I played instruments and stuff, but I felt like taking pictures was the quickest way of knowing someone or having “a thing” that I did. It was a void that I could fill. But I didn’t really know many people who were doing it. It wasn’t really until I moved to New York that I was like “Other people do this?!” What was the punk scene you were a part of in Cincinnati like? How much art were you getting exposed through your surrounding and how much art were you getting exposed to through the internet? Yeah I think it was a balance of going to shows and being on the internet. It’s super strange that I’m now friends with people who I followed on flickr when I was like 15 or something. But yeah, I think going to shows was a place
that I felt like I could escape to or something. Having a car, or knowing people who had cars, was liberating. Something cool about a lot of the US, but Cincinnati in particular, is that, since it’s so cheap to live there, it’s super cheap to have DIY spaces. Shows were mostly just at people’s houses and basements and stuff. It wasn’t super hard to enter into that. I think in hindsight, being a girl was maybe a good thing in terms of people wanting to welcome me or something. But at the time it felt super alienating to realize Well, here’s a bunch of dudes, and then me. When did you start taking photography or making work more seriously? I mean, I think I knew very little before going to college. Going to school was a huge awakening of being like “I don’t know anything! I can’t believe I got to this point.” hahaha. I just realized my scope of photography was very different than it is now, I guess. I had no reference of photo history—I knew like Ansel Adams or something haha. I didn’t know who my heroes were at that point. I didn’t know what a photo project meant. I was just like “I just took some pics, then put them together.” It’s interesting because, I think, looking now I see the way that I looked at photography then, having no basis of what was happening in contemporary photography or what people are thinking about. I think that was a very shallow way of looking at a photo projects, and if I didn’t go to school, I might have been in that same place. I was just making work that was pretty shallow in thought. I think I was in high school and I made a project about like… texture. I just did all these ideas that I’d now think That doesn’t mean anything! I was just like “Look at all of
these things that have texture on them!” haha. It’s super embarrassing, and I see people making work with that same intention now. But I feel super grateful to have gone to an art school where I could think of photography theoretically and understand the history or it. I didn’t have any formal photo education so I was still trying to figure out aperture, and shutter speed, and ISO, and those things by just fucking around. I remember there was this blog called Strobist that I totally went on all the time, haha. It’s like the dorkiest BlogSpot by this guy using these little speed lights to make horrible photos. But I loved it.
and that’s going to be my life!” There was just this very small view of the world and for me, going to Chicago was like a big idea. I think my mom was like “Well, if the photography community is in New York, why wouldn’t you just go there?” and then I was just like “I didn’t even know that that was an option!” We toured Parsons, Pratt, and SVA. SVA seemed to have the most dedicated photo program, and I just had the best experience there in terms of talking to the students. Then I got a large scholarship to go there, haha. All of those factors combined were the reason I went there.
How did you decided to move to New York and go to art school?
I really loved it. I think it’s very possible for everyone to have a vastly different experience at art school. I think every art school offers something completely different in a lot of ways. If you wanted more of a technical education, there’s a photo school for that—and it’s not SVA. If you wanted a more multidisciplinary approach, then that also wasn’t SVA. So for what I wanted, which was super
Well, I originally thought I’d go to Columbia in Chicago, because it’s pretty close to Cincinnati. I feel like the way people that were around me in high school viewed life was just like “I’m going to go to school 20 minutes away,
“There were also all of these illustrators that I loved and wanted to know in some way, and it was a way to create an outlet to publish them or make them more well known.”
“I think it’s very possible for everyone to have a vastly different experience at art school. I think every art school offers something completely different in a lot of ways.”
theoretical and conceptual based experience, that was at SVA. I mean there were definitely technical benefits from it, but for the most part it was just about… thinking about pics, haha. I think a lot of people hated that about school—students who were just like “I just want to editorial photos and fashion photos, and not have to talk about what they mean.” But for me it was great.
I think art school is kind of what you make of it. I think all the potential is there to have a really remarkable experience. But it’s sort of just if you’re willing to put the work in. I was lucky enough to find a group of people that were all very similar to me in terms of actually trying and wanting to do things, and not caring about partying as much. But yeah, I thought it was great. You started making zines and publishing them as Girl Pains while you were in school. Where did the motivation to make those early writing and illustration zines come from? Like I was saying before, I get really interested in things for very short periods of time. I think photo is the only thing
that that hasn’t happened to. I was really interested in illustration, and I was drawing a lot. Also, being a part of the punk community, I was making a lot of zines and stuff. Girl Pains, I thought was like a funny name, so I just kind of put it all under that umbrella. But yeah, I made a writing zine, an illustration zine with someone I was dating—it just felt like an outlet for all of these different things. I’ve always felt sort of strange about putting photo into zines… which is something I need to get over, haha. I’ve just never had a project that felt so temporal to put into a closed sort of disposable thing. But with illustration and writing, I thought the format was totally great. There were also all of these illustrators that I loved and wanted to know in some way, and it was a way to create an outlet to publish them or make them more well known. I think the thing I worked the most on was this X-Files zine. I just contacted all of my favorite illustrators at the time and asked them to be a part of it. And a lot of them said yes which was nice! I’m working on something similar that’s about women in radio, which is an illustration zine. I have it all done, I just need to put it into the world, haha. I don’t know, that was the thing. I kind of lost my interest in zines, but I had al-
ready like finished this project, so it’s been a year and I need to just put it out. In my mind, you’re sort of a part of this group of photographers who all graduated SVA around the same time who all became really significant or impactful professional photographers immediately after school. That sort of thing doesn’t really happen a lot. Who were some of those students and why do you think you all came out really strong artists after leaving school? It was like Molly Matalon, Corey Olsen, Zach Krevitt, Tim Schutsky, Pat O’Malley, Jake Sigl, and I. While still in school we made SVA give us a class that was just the seven of us, haha. Through that we sort of all made a body of work, and we went to Spain and got SVA to pay for it. It was so nuts! We were all like best friends, and that was a big part of it. But the other part was that, we kind of felt like the classes were getting diluted a little bit with having to spend time on work with people who didn’t want to be in school. So we wanted to create a class where the teachers would be really hard on us, because the professors had to be nicer to the students who clearly didn’t care, to be able to keep them in school, haha. We felt like we
wanted to opposite of that with real criticism. After school each of us have sort of taken our own path. It’s interesting to see because, I think I’m the only one that’s done a more career or office based thing, and everyone else has pretty much just done freelance, and have been super successful in that. Immediately after school I went on a long extended trip on a truck. That was kind of my response to school ending, but everyone while still in school and immediately afterwords were already doing jobs for people. Everyone has gone on to do various different things. What were some of your first photo jobs you did at the end of school or right after you graduated? I don’t know if I had any while I was in school. I think I had like small jobs that were like events that sucked, haha. But I don’t really consider any of those jobs. I think some of my first jobs that I was actually nervous or excited about were for VICE. I had pitched to Liz (Renstrom), the photo editor, a photo series where I would shoot this event called Meet the Breeds. It’s this New York which is so amazing—it’s one of my favorite events in the city. It’s like the New York Art Book Fair, but for dogs. It’s something like 200 booths,
“While still in school we made SVA give us a class that was just the seven of us. Through that we sort of all made a body of work, and we went to Spain and got SVA to pay for it.’”
“ I definitely use my time way better when I only have the hours from 6 pm to the next day when I have to go back to work.”
and you just go around and pet dogs.
I guess my first real job was, working at SVA as a photo technician, where I was mixing dark room chemicals. I did that from like four to midnight, and then from like nine to four I worked at Bloomberg. I was working like 80 hours a week or something. I think I was just in survival mode or something, haha. I think I thrive in structure, so having school as my structure was super good for me. But not having any, I felt very listless and just did a lot of laying in my bed. So then I was just like “I’ll just get two jobs!” I mean, the reality is that it was more like I wasn’t getting paid enough at Bloomberg as an intern/assistant, so working at SVA was a way to live. But then eventually I got hired as a capital P Photo Editor. People often ask me for advice, which is very nice, but I often feel like I end up talking to people about letting yourself have a year after school to figure out how to live and how you’re going to make money without the confines of school. I think it was a year after I graduated that I started working on freelance stuff. A lot of it was for VICE. I think in school I didn’t even realize that you could pitch things or that you could be like “I’m going to give the assignment to myself!” haha. I think that’s a secret that a lot of people still aren’t fully aware of. You have to be in the
right mind to do it, in terms of what the publication publishes. Then after that I think it’s more about just telling people that you do photography. It’s something I struggle with, having a full time job. I think people don’t even realize that I also want to take pictures. But I’m working on it. What was the relationship between the personal work you were making and the professional work you were making at the time? A few days after I graduated I went on this truck, and then I came back because I had an interview at Bloomberg. There was definitely a period where I was like “I’m not sure what’s going to happen.” And I went on the truck to make personal work among other things. I think, as I said about structure based lifestyle, having limited time is super beneficial for me. I definitely use my time way better when I only have the hours from 6 pm to the next day when I have to go back to work. Something nice about Bloomberg Businessweek is that we have these things called “dark weeks” which are weeks where we don’t produce a magazine. There are four or five a year and they are these instilled times where, for me I’m like Okay, now I’m going to make work! I’ve never had financial freedom the way that I have now—I’ve only ever been very poor, haha. So to be able to take a trip and make work without
really hurting for a couple months afterwords is new for me. I’m sure I’ll be there again, but for right now it’s like “Oh, I can go to Ohio and send a week taking pics of swimmers.” and I can shoot film and be okay. I guess this is all to say that, I make a lot more work now because I just don’t have endless time to do it. One of the first projects you did that got some attention was your Hey Baby photo series where you took photos of all of the people who had cat-called you on the street. I know now you said you’ve had a lot of mixed feelings since making that work, but what was the process like taking those photos when you started it? The experience was very strange… haha. I think it I started it in 2012 or 2011. I was living in Bushwick and was experiencing cat-calling in a way that I had never before. I mean, it’s something I’ve experienced my whole life, but just not to that sort of extreme. I think in hind sight, I wasn’t thinking a lot about things I maybe should have been, in terms of—I was gentrifying the space and then I was criticizing it, or like I’m a white woman and a lot of these photos are of men of color. There are a lot of issues with the work and I still feel like it’s very problematic. But I was just feeling very powerless to this thing
that was happening. At this point when I was making the work, it wasn’t the click-bait wet dream that it is now. Cat-calling wasn’t really taken seriously. I would show it in class during critiques and people would be like “Well, you’re like cute so… that makes sense.” I would have teachers be like “Well maybe you should die your hair brown.” or say stuff like “Oh, maybe you should pose with the guys!”—just all of these problematic sort of responses. Anyways, I worked on it for a while and then ended the work because I just couldn’t do it anymore. It was a daily experience and something that sucks, and I couldn’t always be ready to do it. So I finished the work and I had sent it in to a few places, but every editor was like “Nah.” haha. It wasn’t like hot or “trending” at that time. But then about a year after I tried to do all of that, something like the Christian Science Montitor had a small quote about it. Then after that Al Jazeera contacted me, and then through that it kind of all happened. But I’m still very very conflicted about the whole experience. There were a few places that had done video interviews with me and they were like “Alright! What we’re going to do is go out, and we’re going to film you getting cat-called!” This one publication was like “We’re going to give you a coffee cup that has a hidden camera in it, and then you’re going to go and
“ I think in hind sight, I wasn’t thinking a lot about things I maybe should have been, in terms of—I was gentrifying the space and then I was criticizing it”
get cat-called!” and I was like “I’m not doing that! That’s fucked up!” So then, they just had their reporter do that and strike up a conversation with these men. It was like they needed further proof, as though the photos weren’t enough. Also, who’s going to cat-call me with fucking cameras behind me? The whole thing was bad, and it really showed people’s biases in a way that was really gross to me. At one point one of the women was literally like “Hey, why don’t you walk through that construction sites!” and I was just like “No! This is insane!” It was also interesting to me that most if not all of the people who interviewed me about it were women. People have asked me to have it in shows and stuff, and I just say “No.” Luckily I was already done with the work. I’ve seen the internet make something viral, and then the artist feels like “That’s me now. That’s what I’m going to do.” It was very worrisome for me. I was already on to the next thing, so eventually it was just funny. Meanwhile, on the monetary side of it, I was working 80 hours a week to make a living. I remember one day I was on the phone with Huffington Post and I was at work at SVA, razorblading tape off of the floor, hahaha. That was like my task for the day and I was just on the phone like “Yeah, this is what the work is about.” You and a lot of other photographers are beginning to make work in this era on the internet where the person making the work is almost as important as the work itself. How much of yourself do you put in your work and how does the fact that people are looking at you as a person affect the work that you’re making? I will say the photo industry is pretty small, and it was Yeah! I think for me, it’s super problematic to pretend that who you are isn’t a huge way to think about the work. This is maybe a different conversation, but it’s something that I experience at Bloomberg in terms of who we hire and for what stories. It matters! If I’ve brought anything to them it’s that idea. It shouldn’t just be who’s work is the best, it’s more about thinking who is going to be representing these people and how they’re going to be able to relate to a subject in a more “real” way. Like, hiring a white dude to shoot the Ferguson protests is not okay with me, you know? I think since I’ve graduated, I’ve been really interested in female desire and what that looks like. If the only desire we’re familiar with is a male “gaze” then—something as simple as, if it’s a photo of a naked man, then it’s immediately thought to be homo-erotic, instead of a female photographing a man that she’s attracted to. I’m interested in figuring out how to define what that “female gaze” looks like. And not just trying to re-box what that looks like by taking Olympia and putting a man in it instead of a woman. Trying to figure out what that actually looks like, while also trying to bring to light that female desire exists. I think me being a woman is a huge part of that. It’s interesting
to think about what’s sexy for a woman. I think a lot about porn that’s “made for women” and how it’s like not attractive to me, haha. I’m just like What does that mean? haha. I don’t mean to say that all of my pictures are sexy to women, but some of them are at least sexy to me. Something I experience a lot, being a photo editor, is a lot of white dudes coming in and being like “I just picked a place on the map and went there and photographed it! Then I made it into a book, and it got published by a big publisher.” Then I’m just like “Alright! I guess you just get to decide how these people get to be represented, even though you just sort of picked a place on a map.” How have your experience the sort of positive and negative implications of someone hiring you based on the your identity or gender? When does it feel nice to have people want to involve your perspective, and when is it frustrating to realize someone is hiring you just to fill their quota? I think publications have been having to take more accountability for it, and I think there’s been—like I hate call our culture on the internet, but I think it has at least made a difference in publications. There’s like that New York Times story that was about women in Hollywood, and they had a man photograph it, and it received a lot of criticism—which is good I think. So I think there is a little bit more accountability, which is nice. I don’t know, if someone is hiring me because it’s giving them like a “cool card” or something, that’s fine, haha. It’s not a bad thing hiring more women, just because you feel guilty about it or something. I guess? I don’t know. It’s complicated. It’s kind of like how meditation is being fetishized now. It’s not the worst thing to be commodified I guess. But in terms of my frustration with it, I honestly feel it with interviews and stuff like that. Like with the Hey Baby series and other stuff, I just get so many questions like “Isn’t having a camera so empowering?” You would not ask a dude that! What does that even mean? But I almost like those questions, because then I get to rip into them a little bit, hahaha. It’s also frustrating to seeing people not taking accountability. There’s still plenty all white male shows. There’s publishers that I like, that I then realize only have books by dudes. There’s agencies and reps, where I love all of the photographers on them, but then I’m like “There’s like one woman on this…” Feeling like you don’t have a place there, it’s still like an issue. It’s nice to see that it’s beginning to change, but it’s certainly still a thing. It’s weird to feel that as someone who’s not a white guy, because you don’t want to feel entitled to having your work shown or something. What are you suppose to do, reach out to them and be like “Just so you know, I’m a woman. You need more of me.” you know? It’s obnoxious to see things that aren’t even acknowledging that they’re not diversifying or whatever.
“I think the reason why someone would build a 20 foot loaf of bread is always going to fascinate me.”
How do think your experience growing up in the Midwest affected the tone of your work?
I mean, I think there’s a sincerity to my work, that I feel like has been impacted by the Midwest. There’s a certain amount of criticality with love or something from living there. I’m still very much drawn to making work there because, you know, when you’re growing up somewhere, you don’t realize it’s pregnant with potential. I think leaving, for me, made me realize that Ohio is a very strange place, haha. It’s strange getting older and feeling like less of a connection to it. I remember growing up and not liking Hillary Clinton and thinking in my head Yeah, she’s like a bitch. because that’s what I heard all of the time! That was ingrained in me because of the way people talk about women or non-white people. It was just one of these sort of biases that are part of life somewhere. It’s not necessarily all bad things. Something I was interested in in school was the way people deal with tourism in the Midwest and in Ohio, because there’s no ocean or mountains. There isn’t like a reason to go, haha. But I think a human behavior is to wanting people to come—or even seeing the monetary value in that. I think people’s responses to that were roller coasters and very strange attractions. I think the reason why someone would build a 20 foot loaf of bread is always going to fascinate me, haha. I like the strange thinking of This is why people will come here! This is going to put us on the map!
I’m really happy to understand those biases and to be really aware of the way people think about stuff. I did a job over the summer in Michigan, and it was during the election, and there was this little boy during the shoot who was like eight, and he kept making jokes where the punchline was always about Hillary being fat or ugly or stupid. It just felt all too familiar, haha. But I think if I was from here I’d be mortified. But I think I have a certain level of empathy or understanding of where that’s coming from. Not empathy for the idea, but at least for this little kid. What motivates you about the subject or subject matter when you’re taking portraiture? Are you hopping to capture something about the specific person, or do you try to utilize them to convey an idea? I think all portraiture is a projection of the artist, personally. I don’t believe it’s ever just capturing a person necessarily. I think every photo is a projection of myself probably— with thinking that it’s at least a projection of the human experience. In terms of the slowness to it, I think that’s a reason I still shoot film. Not to have that conversation but, I think by having a big camera it legitimizes me to strangers. I think it’s very easy to be like “Hey, there’s a girl with a camera. I’m not going to care about what she’s up to.” Whereas having a bigger camera that people don’t understand makes people feel like I’m smarter or something, and are more willing to give me their time. I think if I had an iPhone and was like “Hey, can I take your pic-
ture?” people would be freaked out. But If I have this large thing people are like “Oh, this is important.” For the swimmers series in particular—that was like my first project that I was working on outside of school. I’m not really sure if it’s something I’m finished with. That’s the weird thing of being outside of school, you’re just like “I guess I’m going to put this down now and pick up a new thing.” I grew up swimming and went to the same swim club I was a part of for fourteen or fifteen years. I wanted to photograph the experience of swimming—and it’s still something I’m thinking about. I think they’re nice photos, but I’m not sure if they’re exactly where I want to go with it. I talked to the coaches and had a line of kids with a portrait studio vibe, haha. For everyone of those pictures I probably have like 15 to 30 of the same photo with different people. I just spent like two weeks photographing all of them. What are some of the reoccurring themes you see popping up in your work? I always tell people, when ever I’m in the position to give advice, to just make work about the thing that you’re thinking about the most. Make work about experiencing what bothered you the most, or the thing that you spent until 3 am researching. Make work about that! That’s at least
how it works for me. It’s interesting to see the ways that I’m changing and the ways that my work reflects that, without even realizing it. As I said, in school because I was away from home, I was very interested in home. When you’re in school, that’s when you start becoming a person, and you do so much unlearning. So I think, because of that, I was responding to going back home and figuring that out. I didn’t want to like photograph my dead grandmother’s home or anything, haha. It wasn’t quite that literal. But I think a lot of people were responding to home when they were in school, in a way that I thought was mostly bad, haha. And not saying that my version of that was great, but I was more focused on things about Ohio that were strange and that I’m interested in. Then through experiencing my new home and feeling very unsafe a lot—like being followed home on the subway or being in not great situations—I started responding to that simultaneously. I think when I graduated I was more interested in this female desire thing. Usually I keep a list of photos I want to make, and I noticed just a week ago, lately I’ve been really wanting to make a photo of a car on fire and a photo of people getting beat up or in a moshpit, haha. I just noticed this theme of destruction and the other day I was like Oh, all of these photos are about things falling apart. Not many women take photos of those kinds of things, so what does it mean
“Just make work about the thing that you’re thinking about the most. Make work about experiencing what bothered you the most, or the thing that you spent until 3 am researching.”
to want to take those? But anyways, it’s just interesting to see what makes me think “Oh I want to take a picture of that!” and then sort of at the end I’ll have them all on a list and realize “Oh, these are about this thing.” haha. I guess those things will constantly be changing. But I think it’s always going to be about me or about experiencing being a woman. How did you start working as a photo editor at Bloomberg Businessweek? So before I had graduated I had assisted friends on shoots through a photo editor there. Sort of through that I had become friends with her. She said something on set once that was like “I feel like no one wants to be a photo editor anymore.” and I was like “Uh… I do…” haha. So I had emailed her saying that I wanted to and I sent her a resume and stuff. That was maybe in May of 2014. Then in August she had sent me a random email being like “Do you want to come in for an interview?” and I was like “Oh my god!!!” I was still on the truck at the time, so I bought a ticket out to New York the next day. I’m super grateful to her—Alis Atwell. Then through that she fought for me a lot. I had to negotiate with them for me to not work for the second half of the day. I was basically like her direct assistant, so I was building sets, writing call sheets, and being another set of hands for her. Through that whole time I had been talking to my current boss being like “If you need anybody, let me know…” Then a different photo editor left. I still can’t believe that they hired me. Looking back now, thinking about how little I knew, it seems really crazy. But, you know, I worked really hard and cared a lot. I think that’s all he was looking for. Someone who was going to dedicate a lot to it. So when that person left, I started working a lot less for Alis, and was doing mostly news based stuff. I was finding photos on press sites or doing a couple of shoots. Then it just sort of moved into doing bigger or more fun shoots. I’m still working my way up. There’s a weird thing with millennials or something where you think that, because you have an online presence, or because you had a zine once, you think that you should be working on cover shoots or something. I think I just tried to be really patient about whatever I could do. I’ve always maintained my personal practice, so climbing this corporate ladder has never been important to me I guess. I’ve always been like “This other this is the thing that I stay up really late doing.” It’s a good day job that I really love and am continually learning from. But I think everyone that I work with has their own practice as well, or their own thing that they do. That’s super inspiring to me, and I think it makes it a better work place because, everyone’s bringing all of these different approaches and different things. I think I just generally respect everyone a lot more too. Nothing bums me out more than just people talking about the TV they watched the night before. I have this joke at work where, mondays and tuesdays you can ask someone about their weekend. Then wednesdays
you can’t. But then thursdays and fridays you can ask them what they’re doing the next weekend. There’s a lot of really amazing art direction happening at Bloomberg right now! How have you seen it change, and who are some of the forces behind that change? It was bought by Bloomberg in 2010, I think. Josh Tyrangiel, who works at VICE now, was brought in as the Editor in Chief and he had this idea that he wanted it to be a business magazine, but written as a lifestyle magazine. I don’t think that had been done before—or at least it wasn’t happening at the time—so he brought on Richard Turley, who now works at Wieden+Kennedy, who was a big design force and kind of built the magazine around that. I came in right around the time Richard Turley was leaving, as well as Emily Keegin, who works at The Fader. Everyone was sort of hand picked to be there based on their personal stuff and the things that they do that are good independently of the company. That was super special, and I feel like it’ll never happen to me again, haha. I don’t know if that’s true, but it feels like a very rare experience and something that’s changing even now. In terms of what I actually hoped to bring—I feel like a big thing for me is hiring people who aren’t white dudes. That’s been a big part of my tenure there. I mean, I’m definitely by far the youngest person who’s a photo editor, so that was another thing in terms of bringing people in that I am excited about. That’s the cool thing about working for a weekly magazine. There’s a lot less preciousness to it, so you can try someone out, and I’ve given a lot of people their first jobs—myself included. I shoot for them pretty much once a week, so it’s a really nice umbrella to have. Like if a shoot doesn’t go well, I can just do it again tomorrow, or like I can fuck around in the studio for a couple of hours. That was like a really nice way to start. Now I feel like I get hired for things and I’m comfortable. It didn’t take like a bunch of flops to get there. I can’t imagine, if I was being hired for all of the shoots that I’ve done and all of the times I couldn’t figure it out or I was having trouble with it. I’m also the only photo editor who shoots for the magazine too so I think that was another… reason to keep me around, haha. It’s really exciting though. Caroline (David) and Kurt (Weorpel) are pretty new, and it feels like everyone that comes in brings something different. It’s really exciting to see that, and it’s very encouraged and welcome. I’ve only worked shitty jobs besides this job, so it’s really crazy to be in a job where there’s no weird ego or hierarchy. I don’t like fear anybody at work, which is really nice. How do you balance the freelance work, photo editing, and personal work that you do? I’m still figuring that out, haha. I’m still technically a contractor, for very logistical reasons, so if they’re not going to hire me full time, it shouldn’t be a problem for me to
look for other things. I just try to communicate with my boss as much as possible about everything. I’ll be like “I got asked to do this thing, and I want to do it!” and he’s been super respectful and good with that. That’s another benefit of people having their own stuff. I think for me, I’ve been having a hard time figuring out what I really want. I really like my job, and I have enough energy when I come home, for the most part, to do my other jobs, haha. I have plenty of friends who text me being like “When are you going to quit your job and just be a photographer?” and I’m always like “Ugh… I don’t know…” haha. But that’s okay. I think I’m stoked to be where I am. But I think I go through phases of being like “I should be hustling more.” Because I have the sort of “job security” that allows me to not have to be hustling and not have to be emailing photo editors and trying to get meetings, and sending out mailers—all of the stuff where I think I’ll have a week where I’ll be like “Okay, I’m going to try to be a photographer this week! Also I’m going to send out emails.” haha. Then I’ll have weeks where people are asking me to shoot a bunch of things and I’m like “Oh no! What am I going to do!” I’m trying to figure out how to balance it, and also have friends, and making personal work too. But it’s a good thing over all! I think my biggest problem in life right now is having too many things, which is a great problem to have.
of her photos could have been like a project, yet they’re just autonomous photos. I’ve been thinking about that towards my own work. Maybe it’s okay to just have, at the end of my life, 30 good photos, and not like 15 projects that are good, haha. There are a lot of things I guess. I get excited about a lot of things, so I pick them up and put them down a lot. Are there any project that you would like to embark on, that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I think all of the ones I just listed, haha. I don’t know… not really I guess. I think it would be nice to have unlimited time and money. I think I would do a lot more things. I’ve been wanting to live on a boat, I’ve been wanting to get my pilot’s license. I’ve been wanting to spend more time not in New York or California. I don’t know if I’m interested in making political work or work about the election or something, but I’m interested in why I felt so shocked by the election. I feel like that was a reflection of myself and not being connected to—even the place I grew up and am very connected to in other ways. I just want to spend more time understanding why people would make that choice. I think if I had no job, it would be nice to just be able to travel and talk to more people and maybe understand.
What stuff are you working on right now that you can talk about?
Do you have a specific thing you hope to ultimately accomplish with your work?
Hmm, let’s see. I’m making this little funny book or something about a town called Caroline, New York which is in Tompkins county, hahaha. It mostly started because I was googling myself a couple years ago, and it was like one of the first results or something. So I was just like “I’m just going to go there and make pictures!” I think it was mostly a stupid idea, but for that reason, I think it’s a really cool challenge to try to make interesting pictures about a place that I have basically no connection to, other than it’s name. That’s something smaller, and silly, but still something to work on. I think for me it’s just been really important to have exercises of making pictures, even if I don’t ever show them to anybody. It’s still good to be using that muscle, or something.
It depends. I think with the cat-calling stuff I wanted other women to feel not so helpless. Again, when I said I was making it, it wasn’t the thing that it is now, so I feel like most of the response I was getting was talking about me, instead of talking about the act. So to be a part of that conversation. I feel lucky to have been a contributing member of that sort of opinion. But yeah, I don’t know. I think maybe it’s to normalize something. I feel like I’m often responding to something. In terms of the women’s desire stuff, I’m at least trying to make other women and other people feel more powerful. I think a general feeling would be to make other people feel like they have the tools to do something too. It’s not something I experience so much here, but definitely in Ohio, experiencing women feeling very differently from what their life can have, and how it doesn’t have to be that way—even within m own family.
I mean, I’m still working on the female desire thing. It’s still something that I’m interested in trying to figure out. As I said, I also have those pictures that I want to take of a burning car—which is highly illegal as I’m finding, haha. There’s some work I want to make in Ohio. There’s a flea market where, if you go in there, there’s confederate flags everywhere. It’s very strange for me. You know, Ohio is not the south, so trying to figure out if it’s racism or what. I’ve been trying to rent out a booth and open up a photo studio. Again, I don’t know if I’ll show anyone the photos. I don’t know, I saw the Diane Arbus show in San Francisco last month, and it seems like every one
But yeah, it’s hard to say. I got this question recently that was like “What are your life goals?” or something. To take something like the complexity of life and boil it down to goals is sort of problematic I think, haha. I don’t think I live my life being like “Check! Another goal done!” haha. But I certainly have short term things of like “I want to take that photo.” or “I want to get my pilot’s license.” But in general, I can hardly decide if I want to get married, let alone what I want to dedicate my life to. I’m figuring it out.
by MATTHEW JAMES-WILSON
Niv Bavarsky’s work generously exudes the pleasure he has making it. With whatever materials he has available—be it
crayon, markers, ink, or paints—Niv creates work that elevates the juvenile love of image making, that’s often lost once someone makes illustration their livelihood. Since graduating MICA, Niv has brought that sensibility to a slew of publications, big and small, including Lucky Peach, The New York Times, The MIT Technology Review, and WIRED. His overwhelming desire to push the limits of composition, color theory, and form in his personal and professional work has helped to pioneer a new era of esoteric illustration, that many young artists are beginning to follow suit in.
I’ve been a huge fan of Niv’s work for the past few years, and finally got to meet him when visited Los Angeles this April.
We met up at his apartment in Silverlake, and sauntered around the neighborhood to take the photos for this interview. After spending the day getting to know Niv better, and seeing the world he operates in, it’s clear why his work evokes this unique gut reaction of joy and contemplation. Niv nestles pleasure and inspiration into into his life, through the artists he surrounds himself with, the creative freedom he allows himself, and the perseverance he has to get better, the same way that he nestles pleasure and inspiration into every square inch of his work.
Where are you from and where do you live currently? I was born in Israel, but grew up in the San Fernando Valley, in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I moved around a bunch for school and throughout my twenties, but am now back in LA. What was your relationship to making art while you were growing up? I was always a compulsive doodler, carrying sketchbooks around everywhere. I started drawing at a really young age. Art became kind of a social crutch, or a way to get attention, but I also just had a lot of exposure to art from a young age from my folks—my mom is an artist and my parents seemed pretty intent on immersing
my brother and I in culture, so we were always going to museums. Creativity was always encouraged. My brother was taking piano lessons and I was drawing all day. Some of my early childhood drawings are these very melancholy, surreal, serious graphite drawings—I think I was trying on a melodramatic artistic persona in reaction to all the 20th century European art my mom was taking me to see. Cartoons and anime came into the picture a little later and shifted my direction a lot. Seeing Akira when I was around 11 or 12 really blew my mind and opened up whole new possibilities to me. Was there any sort of sub-cultural art or music scene that you were a part of when you were in high school? I was never really a part of any one subculture, I just float-
“Art became kind of a social crutch, or a way to get attention, but I also just had a lot of exposure to art from a young age from my folks.”
“My illustration education was more about the thought process and mechanisms of illustration, not so much ‘how to draw.’ It was on you to figure that one out, to some degree.’” ed around on the outside of several of them. There weren’t really many artsy kids at my high school but I would go to an art school after school and on weekends and met a bunch of artists my age, a bunch of whom have gone on to do really cool things. As far as music goes, I was a teenage jazz nerd surrounded by emo kids. I was in a math-rock-jazz band named after a Magic: the Gathering card, if that gives you any indication of where I was at. Yeah I’ve noticed music is a really big part of your creative output! When did music become a big part of your life, and what made you decide not to pursue it? Music was always around—my older brother is an incredible pianist. I took piano lessons as a kid but was stubborn about practice and didn’t want to compete with my brother, who is six years older. I didn’t feel like I could ever catch up and I wanted to have my own thing I was great at. I was already drawing all the time, so it was just more natural to view that as my “thing.” But I still really loved music and spent a lot of time teaching myself instruments, using my brother’s recording equipment to make weird stuff. I still play and record a lot, but it’s more therapeutic, and I don’t necessarily feel the need to get something else out of it or get recognition for it. I’m not at all shy about my visual work but I’m pretty careful about
what music I let people hear. That said, I do have an album brewing. Do you have any formal training in your field of art or are you primarily self taught? I had some formal training early on, and I went to art school and studied illustration at MICA in Baltimore, Maryland. My illustration education was more about the thought process and mechanisms of illustration, not so much “how to draw.” It was on you to figure that one out, to some degree. What was your experience like at MICA? Were you motivated by the environment or your peers there? I had some really great teachers and some not so great ones, but my peers were by far the biggest motivating factor for me. There were some real talents there, and I really wanted to be on their level. You could see who was showing up at their studios day in and day out to work, and which desks were usually empty, and you could see the results of that, so it made it pretty clear to me what kind of effort I had to put in if I wanted to make work I could be proud of.
“I’d do flyers and covers for my friends and my own musical projects, which later translated into doing work for more established labels.” You started out doing a lot of art for gig posters, and album covers right? How was music an entry way into making work for other people? It was just a natural result of being an artist with musician friends. I’d do flyers and covers for my friends and my own musical projects, which later translated into doing work for more established labels. Musical aesthetics were a really big inspiration for me, I was always staring at the old Blue Note Reid Miles covers. I had a whole droopy face phase when I was a teen strictly in reaction to that screaming face on the cover of In the Court of the Crimson King. Hopefully I always have some connection between my visual work and music. It’s still my dream to do work for Stones Throw. That’s interesting that you have that specific touchstone with the Reid Miles covers. Are there any other things that have had a really monumental impact on how you image make? A big shift for me was finding Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s work–I became just completely obsessed. I still sometimes hide little nods to his work in mine. Philip Guston is another big one for me. The list of monumental impacts could get pretty long. How did you initially start working professionally as an illustrator? Besides doing album covers and gig posters and stuff,
my first real illustration gig was for the New York Times Book Review, literally the day after I graduated from college. I watched the moving truck leave my apartment in Baltimore taking my stuff back to Los Angeles and got the call as I was sitting on my stoop for the last time. I had to use a friend’s computer and materials because mine were all packed up. That was encouraging, but it was still a grind for years after that, working other jobs and trying to get established, making work all the time for myself and showing it on the internet. What were you doing for the first couple years following school? I lived at home in LA for a year, working a couple odd jobs and saving money, before moving up to the Bay Area. I lived in Berkeley for about 5 years, where I lived life very, very loosely. I taught ESL briefly, and had a job at a hotel for a little while, but mostly I was freelancing, drawing in cafes, taking long walks, collaborating with my friends, eating cheap banh mi sandwiches. How has living in Los Angeles effected you and the work you make? I love Los Angeles. All my various worlds converge here. I have my family here, a community of artists, illustrators, cartoonists, a music community. I live in a house with some really incredible musicians, so listening to and making music is a really big part of my life, which informs my visual work as well. In general, there are so many incred-
ibly talented, hard working people in my social circle here that really inspire me to stretch out and develop different parts of my own creativity.
something. I like to impose limitations, too—sometimes just picking 3 or 4 colors for a set of paintings and varying which color dominates the image.
What materials do you often work with?
You also have a really flexible style of image making. How long did it take to you develop the way of drawing you use now? What motivates you to constantly change it up?
I like to switch it up. I often use crayons, gouache, ink and screentone, Muji pens, and my cintiq tablet. You have this incredible talent for balancing a wide rang of colors in a single piece! How do you go about choosing a pallet for an illustration? Color is the most intuitive part of image making for me. I’ll usually start with a main dominant color that defines the feel of the image, and then react to it from there. It’s improvisational. I’m not above stealing, either. I’ll see a color scheme I like and grab it, maybe add or remove
I’m just interested in a lot of things, so I never really feel like settling on one method. Some artists are more goal oriented than I am. They have some idea they want to get out, and they have their refined methods to get it out. I totally respect and sometimes envy this approach, but I’m much more improvisational, it’s a lot more about process for me. I’ve always liked to draw for drawing’s sake, which for me involves experimenting with my approach, changing mediums, trying new things.
“Color is the most intuitive part of image making for me.”
What separates the work you make for yourself and the work you make for clients? A lot of it is in the planning. My personal work allows me to be completely spontaneous, whereas clients need to know where you’re going. I like both approaches, honestly. They’re different muscles. In illustration you have to be very deliberate in your symbols and ideas, and really know why you’re drawing what you’re drawing, but when I’m working on personal paintings I don’t necessarily know what I’m dealing with until way later when I start to see patterns emerge. Who have been some of your favorite clients to work with? What are some memorable projects you’ve worked on? For editorial work, I always really enjoy working for the New York Times, especially under time crunch. It’s kind of a thrill, you have to force yourself to get into the zone right away. I always like working for MIT Technology Review. The subject matter usually has some pretty interesting implications. Some of my most memorable projects haven’t been editorial. A few years ago I designed allover patterns & t-shirts for a street wear brand from Hong Kong run by a famous HK rapper, which was pretty wild.
I ended up wearing the tiger print hoodie they sent me all the time. Recently, I was working on a big poster for Beutler Ink, a riff on Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights turned into a pop-culture & news mashup image summarizing 2016. It was kind of intense to work on, partially because of how much work it was, but also just what was happening in the world–the election had just happened, which was a lot to process, and I was drawing all these celebrities who had passed, and big names were dying while I was in the middle of the work. I had to rearrange the image to fit Fidel Castro and John Glenn in there. The Ghostship Fire in Oakland happened the day of my deadline, and that event was really devastating within my social circle. I added a tribute for that. The end of 2016 was really intense for everyone, in a lot of really ugly ways, and working on that project was another magnifying glass in a time that already felt super magnified. How has the editorial illustration world changed since you first started? Has anything become easier or more difficult? I’m not the new guy anymore so I see a lot of incredibly talented people coming right out of school, which lies somewhere between inspiring and threatening. There are a lot more online-only clients now, which makes sense.
“At the time we just felt like ‘There’s just two zine fairs a year in Toronto and there should be more opportunity for people who make books and comics and prints to have a chance to sell and share their work.’”
I’ve noticed a lot fewer late payments from my editorial clients in the past couple years, that’s been nice, but might be a fluke. I also noticed much more humanity and vulnerability in art director emails directly post-election. How do you feel that sort of competitiveness or often “lack of humanity” in the illustration industry effects the artists and the work they’re ultimately making? I try to tune this stuff out, to some degree. I really just want to draw. I’ve never lived in New York so I feel a little removed from the rat-race aspects of this business. It seems a lot more tangible there. Maintaining my humanity is a pretty high priority for me. You’ve also done a handful of comics and printed projects with Get Lost Press, Retrofit, etc… How have those come about? Get Lost is run by good friend Nick Iluzada, he had the
idea to compile some of the drawings I had been doing back then (circa 2012-2013), and he had the vision to make it a nice product, with a screenprinted cover. Box Brown from Retrofit reached out to me encouraging me to make some comics, which I really appreciated. I love comics and had experimented with them a little but had yet to really dive into the medium, so Piggy was me experimenting a little. It’s a pretty crude little book, but it set me onto some new things. I have a bigger comic project in the works now in collaboration with Michael Olivo that I’m really excited about. It’s by far the most substantial comic project I’ve worked on and I’m excited for people to see it. Do you notice any reoccurring patterns or themes in your work? I’ll notice the same motifs popping in over and over. Lately, a lot of cars and this butterfly with a sort of human face looking really, really anxious. He keeps showing up.
“I’m not the new guy anymore so I see a lot of incredibly talented people coming right out of school, which lies somewhere between inspiring and threatening.”
“In general, there are so many incredibly talented, hard working people in my social circle here that really inspire me to stretch out and develop different parts of my own creativity.” How has the art and zine community changed in Los Angeles? I’m no expert on this–I only became involved in the art/ zine/comics scene when I was living in the Bay Area. I guess one of the big things is that so many people from that community have moved to LA to work in animation! How has the internet affected your ability to do what you do? Just completely! Most if not all of my business is conducted over the internet, I’ve met some of my best friends and favorite artists through the internet. Early on, the internet was a way for me to see beyond the confines of my suburb and see what other people were doing. Internet forums introduced me to other young artists who were frankly just much better than I was, which made me want to take it more seriously myself. Which of your peers or other contemporary artists have had a big impact on your work? In 2011, I was living in Berkeley, CA, and one day I got an
email that said “In short: I think you are a magical man”, with a submission link to a comics anthology, signed off with an animated gif of a snowman tipping his top hat. That was from Michael Olivo, who ended up moving to Oakland a couple months later, and he and I started trying out collaborative drawing, which I hadn’t really done up until that point. Jesse Balmer was living in San Francisco at the time, saw the drawings Michael and I were making on the internet, and asked if we’d want to try drawing together. The three of us clicked really quickly, and for the next couple years worked on hundreds of drawings together. That period of time definitely had a huge impact on me, personally and artistically. Those guys are great artists and two of my best friends, and when I make work now, they’re kind of my target audience. How important is it to move past your influences? How do you make sure the work you’re creating feels like it’s your own? I think it all comes down to honesty and being willing to challenge yourself. You can wear your influences right on your sleeve as long as you’re not just trying to recreate someone else’s work. For me, it’s important to have di-
“I can be super anxious and self-critical a lot of the time, but when I’m actually working I try to tune my own brain out and get into play mode.”
verse influences, and not only study the work my peers are making. Hopefully the amalgamation of many influences and interests creates something new, or something unique to me, or at the very least something honest to myself and what I like.
Your illustrations really have this visible pleasure behind them! How much of the final product of your illustration comes out of the joy your having just drawing? Thanks! That’s definitely a big part of it for me. I can be super anxious and self-critical a lot of the time, but when I’m actually working I try to tune my own brain out and get into play mode. Flow state. That’s what I’m chasing when it comes to creativity, this kind of pure zone where it’s all just pouring out.
What are you currently working on right now that you can talk about? I’ve been working on a long-form comic with Michael Olivo. It’s been a really great process watching it evolve. It started as just us playing around trading files, and then we decided to get a lot more ambitious with it. We’ve been very quiet about it so far, not sharing any images publicly, but it’s a big growing egg and it’s getting ready to hatch later this year. Are there any projects you would like to embark on that you just don’t have the time or money for at the moment? I’d love to do some big murals, and I’d love to work on an animated short, both visually and musically. The time will come.
TXTBOOKS b y MAT T HE W J A ME S -WI L S O N
PUSHERS is a new section I’m introducing in this issue as a way to elevated the often overlooked efforts of publish-
ers, curators, distributors—anyone involved with bringing artist’s work to other people. I initially thought of the idea after meeting Thomas Colligan, Nichole Shinn, Kurt Woerpel, and Robert Blaire of TXTbooks about a year ago, and seeing the massive archive of work by young artists they’ve been publishing in the few years that they’ve been around. A few months ago, once I started working on this issues, I reached out to them again and asked them to be the subjects of the inaugural interview in the section. The four of them embody everything I hope to do with PUSHERS in their personal work and with TXTbooks, so I could not be more excited to have them christen the following pages. Since graduating Pratt in 2014, Thomas, Nichole, Kurt, and Robert have willingly combined their time, energy, and income to put together a DIY print operation that celebrates everything strange and self-actualizing. With their amalgamation of taste, talent, and motivation, TXTbooks has quickly become one of the most consistently interesting publishers in the zine community. With every book or project they’ve released, they’ve brought out a new level or clarity in the voices of the artists and writers they’ve worked with. As TXTbooks takes new shape with the various projects and ideas they have on the horizon, what will always remain is the dedication to creativity and communication that the four forces behind the publisher share.
Where are you all from and where do you live currently? Robert Blair: I came here from Tuscon, Arizona, which is where I’ve spent most of my life. I came here to go to Pratt in Brooklyn in 2010. We all graduated the same year and went to the same school. Thomas Colligan: I’m from Switzerland originally. I also came here for Pratt. I lived in Switzerland until I was like 20, and I’ve been living here in Brooklyn ever since. Nicole Shinn: I was born and raised in Austin, Texas. I came here for Pratt too. Thomas, Kurt, and I actually all live together. Kurt Woerpel: I came to New York in 2010, same as everyone else. But I’m from Charlottesville, Virginia originally. How did you all initially meet each other? Robert: Pratt is a pretty tight knit community. I probably met Nichole before I knew anyone else, because we lived in the same dorm freshman year. Kurt I got to know through doing the literary magazine at Pratt together. I think we knew each other before, but that’s probably when we became friends.
s for maybe a mo Robert: Yeah it was all in the graphic design program. I think that was the same with Thomas. There was a lot of intersecting. Thomas: Yeah, I think I got to know Kurt and Rob when we did the yearbook. At Pratt they get the students to do it, and we did something that was kind of actually inspired by zines. That’s sort of when we started working together. Kurt: Yeah, before that I remember thinking “Oh, both of these people are people whose work I like a lot. I should be friends with them.” Then I tried to make that happen, and it did. Then through Rob I met Nichole, and then that all just tied itself together. Nichole: I’ve known Robert the longest. We were pretty close friends and we lived together for most of our time at Pratt. Thomas I think I met before Kurt because Kurt was the last person I met, haha. I was a painting major, so I was not in the communications world at all. It was nice though, because I think now most of my friends are graphic designers and illustrators—more than the painters I knew—which is kind of weird.
Kurt: Yeah, I think we had an After Effects class together. We had that, and then a type class together, and then we started doing the lit mag together.
“Kurt: They weren’t trying to be as weird or self serving, which I think we all kind of had in common.” What was your experience like at Pratt? Did you feel motivated by all of the people you were going to school with, or did you have to find the smaller fraction of students you actually resonated with? Nichole: I think it was the latter definitely. Robert: The small fraction, for sure! I think at Pratt in particular, there are a lot of people who are super talented. I think within each discipline you have to find that niche of people who are definitely there because they want to improve their art, or find what they want to make. There are a lot of people who I think just go there almost like it’s just any college. They’re like “Oh I have to go to college.” and are just trying to breeze through, which is I don’t think the point of art school. I don’t know why you would go there if that were your intention. But it’s good because I think a lot of the people who I’ve come in contact with—us specifically and a lot of our friends outside of this project are people who’s work I genuinely think is great. I’m like “This is better than so much of what is out there.” In that sense I thought of those people as being “the next big thing” or “the next great thing.” Kurt: At somewhere like Pratt it felt like, even if a lot of
people were talented, there were a lot of people who were trying to apply that in different ways. Especially in the communications department, there were a lot of people who were really good, but had aspirations to just go into the advertising agencies or the design agency world—not that there’s a problem with that. It just didn’t really click with them in the same way. They weren’t trying to be as weird or self serving, which I think we all kind of had in common. I think a lot of the people we hang with have that kind of idea of that DIY spirit. So I think that was a big thing that you could pick up pm, and then separate people out. Nichole: Yeah, I had a weird experience with my fellow painting majors. I would say about 80 percent of those students were the kind that were always talking about how they were hanging out a lot, haha. There were a lot of kids who were using school as a means to chill in New York and party. Then they wouldn’t actually focus on their work, or they thought maybe since it’s painting, it’s not as disciplined. There were only a handful of us— at least in our grade—who were really dedicated. There was also this fire at Pratt that burned down the painting department. It was this crazy experience and it kind of disheartened a lot of the painting majors. For some of
us it brought us really close, and we started doing more activities. We started a painting club where we had artists come and do lectures and critiques. In that sense it brought us closers, but then it also distanced other people who felt like What’s the point of making paintings anymore? I think it kind of hurt a lot of people. It was a really weird time. They actually moved all of our studios in the gym, so we were painting while people were playing basketball everyday. What were you all doing at the end of school that sort of led into starting TXTbooks? Robert: Yeah, it was kind of directly after. What we were making sort of translated very easily into this. We did the yearbook project which was kind of like a set of zines. A lot of my thesis was a lot of small publication work and printed pieces. The three of us took independent publishing class with Duncan Hamilton, which was kind of exactly what this is. Kurt: It was like an intro to riso and bookbinding. Robert: It was a good primer into this whole world of independent publishing which was really cool, because
before that I didn’t really know that that existed. I was like “Wait, this is really rad!” It was something we all liked doing, so it seemed like a logical next step. It started off as us mostly just still using the Pratt risograph… for about a whole year, haha. But you know, let’s be real, that tuition has to go to something, haha. So I think we were owed it. Kurt: Duncan also told us to. He was like “You guys should use this as much as possible. Also don’t pay anything for it either.” Robert: Yeah that was still under the radar. But it was a really good way to kickstart us into being able to have stock and something to show for our work. The first fair we did was the New York Art Book Fair that year when we graduated in 2014. We got excepted so we were like “Welp. I guess we’ve got to do this thing now.” It just started evolving from there too, which was really cool. I remember the year before going to the New York Art Book Fair and thinking Man, my goal would be to do this. This seems amazing. At that time it seemed like Hmm PS1. I don’t know about that. Even though it’s in a tent, as a student it was kind of really intimidating, haha. That was in a sense an exercise. If you want to do something or be in an artistic community, you just kind of do it. It was
“Robert: It started off as us mostly just still using the Pratt risograph… for about a whole year”
much less of a threshold than we thought, which is cool. I think we kind of took that thinking to a lot of our projects so we could start initiating something either in collaboration with somebody or that was just something of our own, on our own time. It’s great that it’s the four of us, so even if some of us are taking some more long term projects, another one of us might be on a really quick, short turn around chapbook that you could design and printed on a weekend. That also has a really interesting affect on our output. I know a lot of people mention “Oh wow, you guys have a lot of stuff.” and sometimes you don’t even realize it until you see that you had ten new books come out in four months. That is a little bit insane sometimes. After leaving school, what was the motivation to start a DIY printing project? I think it’s really amazing that you guys quickly made a project that involves sinking in money and time with little return, while most graduates are just focused on legitimizing their career. Thomas: I think we’re still losing money. Kurt: Haha, yeah we definitely still don’t make money. It’s a money losing operation. All of our professors in school use to joke about that. We had these teachers named Dan and Andre and they were like “Don’t ever make books! All of you need to go into motion graphics. There’s no money in books!” and these European exchange students were in our class and they were like “That’s really sad because… I just want to make books. There’s a lot of money in Europe for books.” Then our teacher was just like “You’re stupid. There’s no money in books.” haha. I don’t know. I think we just all knew that we weren’t going to make any money doing it. But it was more of a way to continue and be selfish with how we were framing our own output. Nichole: I think leaving school—it’s kind of like a scary moment. We had so much fun doing it at the end that we were like “Oh, this is something that we can do together that will still motivate us to experiment and do stuff that maybe, if you’re working at MTV, you might now be able to do.” I think we were feeling like we hoped we wouldn’t get trapped in a job that wouldn’t let us do stuff for ourselves. Collectively we were supporting each other, so there wasn’t a lot of pressure for us to just do something on our own. Kurt: I think there’s definitely a fear, at least for myself, that you go out into the world, you button up your top button, and you’re like a capital D designer. You don’t work on anything besides what you work on at work. I think it was like a reaction against that. Robert: Yeah, I think it’s kind of a way to medicate that need. Coming out of school, you’re going to be in a lot of positions where you’re not super senior, and in most cases your not really going to be able to dictate—at least
from a design point of view—what you output creatively. A lot of it is going to be like, executing ideas that are maybe a few steps removed from yourself. This project was in turn, kind of a reaction to that. It was like “Well, maybe I’ll have to work on something that’s not necessarily what I’d like to be making. But I can still make this dumb zine and no ones going to tell me ‘Uh, I don’t know about that.’” haha. Kurt: “Uh yeah, you’re going to have to scale that back a little bit. We’ve just got to tighten it up.” haha. Robert: No ones going to tell me it’s out of budget. I’m not going to get client feedback about where these letters should be. Which is good, because it could be as right or as wrong as I want it to be. There’s something really gratifying about having final sign off on something you make. It’s something you have in school, but immediately when you’re out of school, you kind of lose it. By having this kind of run seamlessly between graduating and then entering what we would call “the work world,” it felt nice to hold on to that. I think we also know a lot of people who haven’t done something like that—haven’t maintained a personal project or passion project, and you can tell it kind of has worn on them a little bit. I hear “I wish I was doing this!” and they have a little bit more existential dread. Kurt: It’s a lot easier to keep on doing something than starting something all over again. That energy to begin something from scratch that you haven’t been doing, is a lot harder. So even if you keep things going and come to a rolling stop, it’s easier than not doing anything. After doing an entire year of senior projects, where you’re basically given free reign to do whatever you want while your professors maybe give you some feed back, I think we all wanted to keep that energy going. That’s kind of like the ideal world, where you more or less have everything figured out and you go to your studio and spend your time doing whatever you want, for an entire year I guess. Robert: It definitely was not like “Yo, we’re going to make this art, we’re going to make these zines, and we’re going to get fucking rich.” haha. That was never going to be the case. It’s great going to fairs and getting a big turn out—we actually do sell pretty well comparatively, and that’s really awesome! But funding a studio space, what it takes to run it, the time and technical things—Kurt is always halfway in a riso drum when I walk in and I’m like “Uh, how do I help?” haha. It’s always great when we have a slush fund going, so we can cover the cost of applying to a bunch of fairs, or buying a bunch of paper and a bunch of ink. But everything we do kind of gets recycled back into the project. Kurt: No one’s getting bonuses here. It’s pretty much all funded by all of our other jobs.
What was the clear starting point of TXTbooks? Where did the name come from? Robert: I think someone just asked us this question recently, and Kurt had a really good answer. Kurt: It’s meandering, and it’s going to be a mouthful, but here it goes, haha. Rob and I sat down and came up with a list of like 200 different names, so we could complete the New York Art Book Fair application. Thomas: It’s important to note that we weren’t a collective before this, so we were like “Oh we should make up a fake name to apply to the New York Art Book Fair. Then they might just make a clerical error and actually take us in.” which is what happened, haha. Kurt: Yeah! I think there was definitely a thought that If you have a really good sounding name, no one will know your just a group of fucking recently graduated kids. So the name TXTbooks kind of stood out as the best one in our run of 200 names. The sort of immediate joke was “It’s like text books, which are for smart people… but this won’t be.” and also “TXT, like if you were txt speaking.” We were just like “How can we make the dumbest name
of all time.” haha. There was also a moment at this place where I was interning where the studio head was making fun of people who are my age where he was like “All of these kids just leave out letters from their band names. That makes them cool. You think it’s cool to leave letters out of names?” and I was just like “Fuk you! We don’t do that.” Robert: I think a lot of our work at the time dealt with these very short tidbits of information. They were a lot of these sort of small zines that were easily digestible and sort of quick reads. I think that was important in coming up with the name too. I think theres a lot of humor present in a lot of our publications. Mike Devine’s book, Whoa Fuck Maaan, is sort of an example of straight up humor. But there are a lot of different levels of nuanced jokes. I was just like Kurt: Even a book like Love Poems is super funny, but it’s also a little bit more sincere. Robert: Even in Nichole’s Kiss Me book—it’s objectively this beautiful, crazy collage and an insane print job. But then it’s also like “Oh wait, is that Bulma?” I think even though we have a lot of sincere art work in there, as a
“Nichole: I think we were feeling like we hoped we wouldn’t get trapped in a job that wouldn’t let us do stuff for ourselves.”
“Thomas: I feel like there’s a to-do list of like thousands of small goals, from the most boring things to the bigger things.” whole, we won’t shy away from jokes. Maybe I’m speaking for everyone, but I don’t think that we don’t see that as something that cheapens our work. For me, even in the realm of fine art, if there’s a joke in there that’s kind of—to borrow an english phrase—“taking the piss out of it,” I love that. When you were starting out, where there other publishers that you took inspiration form, or who you wanted to model what you were doing after? Thomas: I think there were a lot of amazing publishers. But one of the big ones was actually from people who went to Pratt who were running this this bi-weekly magazine called PACKET. They took the same class we all took with Duncan Hamilton. Their project is really really different from ours, But I think they were doing things in a way that was really really inspiring. Their vibe was really something we responded to. Robert: There was definitely a direct correlation after seeing “Oh, these kids went to Pratt.” We took a lot of the same classes, and now they’re kind of doing this thing and being a part of this word that we want to be a part of. It was nice to see that that was possible. Even though I
think our model is probably a lot different. Kurt: I think in terms of a lineage and seeing things happen slightly in front of you, I think they were probably a huge inspiration to us. It was like “Oh, I guess it’s not that hard to be out there and doing what you want. If they did Art Book Fair, we can do that too.“ But I think, also from our own perspective, we looked to more traditional and non-traditional publishing. I think we liked Nieves and Rollo Press or places like that were early exampled to us of things we liked. Also Knust Extrapool had really nice riso books that we responded to a lot. Even like, there was that book called Animals that Saw Me that I think we all saw our senior year. We were all like “This is the stupidest title of all time. These are just animals that are looking at the photographer.” But then we were like “Oh, this is so tight. We want to do stuff like this.” Robert: Yeah, it was cool to see these simple ideas can be taken to an extreme. We were like “You can’t make a book like that!” but it was like “Yeah you can.” haha.
It’s really cool to see how everyone has these different points of reference that may even just be from a few years earlier than it existed. Yet all together, every publisher and artist creates this lineage of work that shows the passing of time and culture. Robert: I think why a lot of the people we respond to are more contemporary is—I always have this thought that a format gets really interesting when it no longer becomes commercially viable. It’s like “Why would I print a product catalog or a magazine and then ship that around, when I can just send someone a pdf?” The same thing sort of happened with radio once people started leaving. Freeform radio got really interesting in the same sense that books are becoming more interesting. The sentiment “print is dead” is kind of really untrue. But I think somewhere in the public’s consciousness, people are like “Cool! Now it’s actually really not hard to print something. I can kind of adopt this medium.” It gives it this immediate legitimacy where you’re like “Oh, it’s in a book! That’s cool! You got that published!” Self published or not, it still has that impact. Thomas: I feel like a place like Badlands have tried to really push the pdf or e-book stuff, and for every publication they have a digital version. They also sell all of their stuff at this 99 cent store. They’re a really good example of people trying to do that. Nichole: But even like, just normal book stores are closing really rapidly. For the stuff that all of us make—you couldn’t really pitch it to your grandma, or something. After the New York Art Book Fair what became your goal with doing TXTbooks? Kurt: Our immediate goal was… the LA Art Book Fair! We were like “We’re going to LA. We’re going to swim with some dolphins, and give them some zines.” haha. Robert: I think it was just kind of just to keep on going. As it’s progressed we’ve kind of hatched out attainable goals like, who do we want to work with, how do we want to work, and what do we want to put out. I think we originally adopted the idea of Yeah, just keep doing it. Thomas: I feel like there’s a to-do list of like thousands of small goals, from the most boring things to the bigger things. I don’t think there’s ever been an overall goal in mind. Nichole: I think the goals have also changed. When we started, it was very much like “This is a tool all of us can use for ourselves to do other things and experiment.” Then there was a point, I think after New York Art Book Fair, that we saw more examples of other publishers and thought Oh, we could work with other artists. We could support other people. Somewhere a few months after we
were like “Let’s reach out to other artists and work with them. Who do we like? Who are friends that need something to motivate them to make something different then what they would normally do.” I think something that’s involved now too is, we’re coming up with more and more collaborative projects. I don’t know if there’s a particular goal, where we’re like “TXTbooks is this.” and I think that’s actually more interesting. It leaves more opportunity to say “We want to do some crazy random project?” and we can still call it a TXTbooks project. Like “Let’s make a radio show.” or something like that. We could do that, and it’s not that crazy. Robert: It is cool also just to establish this sort of group of artists who we’ve published, and then artists in these satellite circles that are like “Oh, I love this guy! His stuff is really cool. That’s so cool you worked with him.” It’s cool to see how it grows in ways that you don’t know. You’ll print something and then you’ll meet someone who’s like “Oh, I have that in my house!” It’s cool to see it expanding in this way beyond how it formed. I moved in with a roommate who I didn’t know I had met at that first New York Art Book Fair. I looked in his room and was like “Wait, where did you get that print?” and he was like “Oh, I think I bought this from you guys.”—and this was a couple years down the road. I didn’t know the guy at all before. So I think it’s really cool to keep putting things into the ether and into the realm of this public supply of art, and just see what happens. Kurt: I think there’s also something funny now when people order stuff from us, I can be like “This is going to Apple headquarters. Why is someone from Apple buying this?” haha. Thomas was once like “You know this is address is Nike’s Europe headquarters, right? Someone from Nike Europe is buying our books.” haha. I think there’s something exciting about something getting out of your hands. Why has riso printing been the anchor of everything you guys have done? Why have you continued to do it as it’s become less and less accessible after leaving school? Nichole: I think it’s something that has this very very specific visual style that I think is what draws everyone to riso. The quality of the print is so pretty. It’s different then anything else. Even offset printing is different looking. Silkscreen looks different. You can’t really replicate it, and I think it’s a very niche commodity that people are attracted to. Even like a laser print can feel cheap or dead or empty. I think a lot of artists are trying to reach back into things that have more materials that you can have a personal attachment to. I think painting is coming back into the scene more. There’s also “new media” and older styles of art competing with each other. I think they’re both reactions to how insane technology and computers are. I think for riso, the materiality to it is just really special.
“Robert: It adds another layer of consideration to how other artists or writers will work with us, and how they can perceive the project.” Thomas: Yeah… It’s just like really beautiful, haha. I think that’s the main thing. It’s in the midpoint between really beautiful and accessible enough. It’s difficult for sure. But it’s definitely less expensive than offset, and a lot less hard than any printmaking. Robert: It also kind of gives you these sets of constraints, which I think is always nice in doing something creative. I think a lot of people would agree with that. We can only print a few colors. We can do four color, dual tones, separations—so the range is within there. But we are kind of set on “This is what we have. How can we design within that?” I think from a design background we kind of know how to approach that. But it’s interesting when we work with other people and we tell them about how the process works, and it’s very different from what they’re use to. They’re often like “Oh, this is a printer. It prints any color, right?” and we’re like “Well… we’re going to have to explain this a little bit.” But it’s cool when they kind of come back and interact with it. It adds another layer of consideration to how other artists or writers will work with us, and how they can perceive the project. Kurt: There’s definitely something nice about it as a flattening tool. Everything filtered through it becomes simplified and aestheticized. I think when we first started using a riso we were just like “No matter what you scan in, it just looks so good! Better than I even thought before it came
out the other side! How is this possible?” What’s the story behind getting your first risograph after you stopped going to Pratt to use theirs? Robert: At the time I was interning at a design studio called Other Means. They had this big old one—the model was the V8000—I think it was the first ever two color riso that the company had put out. They were trying to get rid of it to make room in their studio, so we went and check it out and were like “Yeah, this looks cool!” So then we needed a studio space, because it wouldn’t fit anywhere and it was massively heavy. It was a bit of a 600 pound logistical nightmare. But that’s kind of when we got our first space in our old studio, just to house that. That machine was cool. It had a lot of quirks, and a lot of problems, like anything that old would. Kurt: It was like buying a used car. Thomas: I feel like when we were looking around for risos, we were really spoiled by Pratt’s selection of colors. They had around 12 colors. So we were like “We can’t just buy a riso with just two colors.” and these people were selling one with like six! That was like a lot to start with. Probably too many, haha. Kurt: We had never really printed on a two color before so we were like “This is so sick!” But it turned out to be
pretty old and too hard to use. And loud. So loud… We ended up getting it in good working condition, and it did have seven working colors, so we really got up to speed and were able to do a lot of stuff a lot faster than we would have. At the time we were also trying to find an MZ model maybe, because we were like “If we’re going to drop money, it has to be good.” Then we realized Oh, MZs are like $5,000. I guess we can’t do that. The one we got definitely had it’s moments when it was hard to use—a lot of the times I wanted to pull my hair out. But it was worth it. It was a really good first machine. I think we also didn’t use it very smartly, so we probably could have made it easier on ourselves. One of the main problems was one of the drums they told us straight up was broken. But I just really wanted it to work, so I wasted a lot of time trying to get it to work, only to come to terms with it being broken. It’s actually under this table wrapped in a plastic bag, haha. The people who bought that riso from us were like “We don’t want that.” What were some of the first things you remember publishing? What zines still really stand out to you? Kurt: I think Hiroshima Girls was the first thing we printed that was actually difficult. Paso was really hard. I think the first thing we printed was Love Poems. It was like a good one color intro to using the machine we got. How did you start working with other artists to publish their work? Nichole: I think we were just like “We have a new studio, we have a new machine. We should just go big or go home, right? Everyone, come up with people that we could reach out to now that would respond and want to do this.” Kurt wanted to start doing the chapbooks series, and I had met Anibal (Bley) a year or two before that. He’s a musician/animator from Chile, and that was the first book he had ever made. When I reached out to him he was like “What!? A book!? That’t crazy! I’d love to do it.” I think that book was the first book that was really hard to print, but it was also a learning experience on how to communicate back and forth with people. Because he was in Chile it took us a year to print—also the blue was broken. When we originally made the design, I gave him all of the eight colors we had. I maybe should have only limited it to two or three colors, because we hadn’t really tried to make a book with that many colors yet. Then he was like “Oh cool! I’ll do these five colors.” But blue was the main color through out the book, so we couldn’t like change it. I was like “What if we changed the blue part to a different color?” and he was like “No… it should be blue.” haha. Thomas: But he was so nice! He waited like a year! Kurt: I think as soon as we had our own machine, and once we had the ability to make things on our own time
without sneaking into Pratt—that’s when we were kind of like “Okay. Now we have this thing that other people should sneak in and use.” Even now that we have a easier to use machine and a larger space, I think we want to try and expand that even more. You should definitely come print some stuff, haha. Nichole: I think another thing is that, some of those artists we worked with never thought about making a book like that. Even for me, since my background is in painting, the thought of making books is really liberating for me. I think a huge part of it is trying to reach out to people we know. At first it was friends that we knew that would do a really good job—who have the time and motivation to want to do something new. So when I reached out to him, he was super excited and said “Wow! I wouldn’t even know what that would look like. Let me do something new.” Then Annie (Paradis) is an amazing poet, but might not have been able to make a really nicely designed chapbook on her own. Chapbooks are such an important part of the poetry community, so I think in general, the chapbook project that Kurt is doing is cool because it’s giving a more artistic accreditation to the work, rather than someone typing it up in Microsoft Word and going to Kinkos and printing a bunch. Kurt: No offense to poets but… some of them can look rough. Robert: I think it’s just looking at who has the resources to do what? “You’re a really great writer, and we know how to make a book. There’s no reason not to.” Kurt: It’s just each person contributing in the way that they can. Honestly talking to these two about the chapbook series, they were both just super excited. I think, in terms of trying to find our way into being more of a resource, that’s a good way to do it. We’re about to try experimenting with the chapbook series. You know the game Snake, where you go around collecting pellets and you create this long snake? We want to try and do the chapbook series like that… Thomas: Conceptually, haha. Kurt: Haha, yeah. So instead of us picking who is going to be the next in the series, each poet will do a book and then pick the next person to do a book. Then they’ll work with them to edit a collection that can be a chapbook. Then we’ll design it and print it. That way, we can try and get to know people that we don’t know, while also giving people that rush of working with other people. Working with people is fun. I think a really remarkable thing about you guys as publishers is, you’ll take this time consuming and complex printing method, and then bring it to these incredibly low stakes projects with new artists or peo-
ple you’ve maybe never even met before. How do you maintain that balance? Nichole: Printing is like a tool that we can offer other people, and the important thing about growing an art community is offering resources to other people. So I think in general, our whole thing is trying not to think of money as a huge factor in it. We want to expand by sending our books to more places. That’s something that we really need to work on—getting our books out as much as possible. In the past, we just been spread so thin that we can’t really do that so easily. But now that we have a space, that’s now something we’re going to try to do. I think they whole money thing is not on our radar at all. One of the things that’s inspiring to me about books in the whole punk movement is, making zines is a very political thing. It was way cheaper for them to do it, and it wasn’t really about making an art object, but it was more about a message. But it’s inspiring because it’s brought people together. Even if the message isn’t getting across to as many people as you would want, the act of doing it is fulfilling to that community, because it makes them feel sat-
isfied that they’re at least doing something. For the project with Anibal, it was super satisfying to just make a thing, and they maybe wouldn’t have ever experienced making it. Then we also get to see his work in a new way. That’s then led to so many things like, he just had a feature on It’s Nice That for this book. He probably doesn’t even go on that website, but I think it’s really special that we could be a part of making that happen. When we make something that’s really nice like Thomas’s book, Small Notes, it’s such a special object—it’s like questioning art in general! Why would you spend six months making a painting if it’s just going to be in a small gallery for a week? You know what I mean? You do it because you love doing it. Thomas: I think also, when we start a book project either by ourselves or with someone else, we’re pretty sure Oh this is going to blow up! Everyone’s going to like it! haha. We don’t really foresee it very well. Sometimes we don’t foresee how long something will take. For the Anibal book, there were a lot of conversations that were like “Oh yeah, this will be done in two weekends of work, and then we’ll be all set.” Every project we pretty much miss judge
“Nichole: Printing is like a tool that we can offer other people, and the important thing about growing an art community is offering resources to other people. ”
“Kurt: So then, if we make something as weird as we want, and people actually like it, it’s kind of like a pleasant surprise. It’s like ‘Oh! I can’t believe you want to buy that!’”
the time, by a lot.
Robert: I think if we did just want to make a lot of money, we’d probably just print a bunch of Thomas’s books. Cause everyone wants that, haha. They’re so beautiful. I think there’s a couple schools of thought in making this. There’s the zine culture that kind of came out of the punk movements, which were much more about disseminating information very cheaply. Then there’s sort of this independent publisher movement that seems to be a bit more like “renegade design” where the attitude is This is what we want to make and we want to make it really nice. It’s more like book arts, where it’s less so about spreading information in a cheap, cost affective way, and more about doing something really intentionally and making something that is in itself the piece of art. Kurt: In terms of thinking about stuff to sell, I think we all get excited by stuff that’s as weird as possible. We’ve had times where people have approached us to do books that would definitely would actually be books that would probably sell a lot more. We printed one for another publisher that kind of didn’t really fall in our vibe. Then they were like “Oh, you should table this at the New York Art Book Fair.” and we were like “I don’t know… We kind of don’t want to.” If we had, more people probably would have bought it. But it didn’t really feel like the area we were interested in. So we do think everything is going to be the next hot-
test book on the market, but also in our minds don’t know if anyone’s going to buy anything. So then, if we make something as weird as we want, and people actually like it, it’s kind of like a pleasant surprise. It’s like “Oh! I can’t believe you want to buy that! That’s so cool! Awesome!” But also, we’ve done projects like Anibal’s where—I think he sold all of his copies, and we only have a few left, and that was definitely a weird inaccessible project. Whoa Fuck Maaan is also one of the weirdest projects we’ve done, and we’ve like sold out of those. Robert: The cool thing is there’s a market for everybody. For each publication there is somebody out there that wants that. I think it’s cool when it’s something really esoteric. Kurt did one once where it was just a giant laser printed black and white—how many pages was it? Kurt: It was like 350 pages. Robert: Yeah so it was 350 pages just of his facebook metadata, haha. Objectively it’s like “Okay. This kid is selling me all of his personal information in a weird way. Why would I want that?” But we did a small run of it, and a few people were like “Hell yeah!” hahaha. Kurt: Yeah I think we printed three or four or five, and I think we sold all of them. We were selling it for $60 or $100.
“Robert: We have things that are also just kind of hard to categorize too. I think that’s something really liberating, in publishing and how we publish, because not everything might be for everybody.” Robert: It was one of our more expensive ones. But there was somebody out there that wanted it! I think that’s also something we try to accomplish in what we publish. It’s a pretty wide range. If you like illustration, we’ve got that for you. If you’re into poetry, we’ve got that. We have photo work. We have things that are also just kind of hard to categorize too. I think that’s something really liberating, in publishing and how we publish, because not everything might be for everybody. But I think we have this range where we could get people in and say “You may be interested in this, and you may not even know it.” There are a lot of ways we try to invite people into what we publish Kurt: I think because we’re four people, we have our central point, but we’re all splitting into different holes at this point. We have our overlaps and I think we all want to have our fingers in each pie. And yeah… eat all of the pie. I think everything is still a pleasant surprise at this point. It’s like, if anyone buys anything and is interested or is like “Oh my god! I know you.” that’s still exciting. With some of the stuff we’ve made, the people we’ve published have been like “I got a job because of this poster pack I did with you!” or like “This thing won an award for zines!” So it’s really crazy to see people get recognized in other ways like that. We had a book featured on Printed Matter’s best of New York Art Book Fair the past year. Even if not everything sells, everything still makes it’s way out into
Robert: For me, in art people that just keep doing what they’re doing, and do it for a while—that becomes their practice and that always gets good. The best artists are just people who are really just doing it. Even if it was weird, and even if it was sometime inaccessible, it’s always I think, going to eventually catch on. It’s eventually going to find it’s place, and that’s something I try to apply to this. Kurt: For design and building systems, you just have to do things enough times that it then makes sense, because it starts to support itself. If you do it enough times people are like “I see what’s happening here.” Then it legitimizes itself. What do you all feel is the role of a publisher in 2017? What do you guys have to offer an artist that they can’t do themselves at this point? Robert: There’s the pragmatic answer with is just like; we’ve been trained to do this as professional designers. We can layout this type, we can layout this book, we know how to print it and make it look good. But as far as purpose, I think—We once went to a talk that Paul Chan did at NYU specifically around his work with Badlands. He made the case that when you have a public that can read,
creating literary works and books is very much an act of public art—even more so than say, putting a sculpture in a park. I really liked that because, you’re putting out these things that people have no idea about and have never seen before, but everyone who bought Whoa Fuck Maaan was like “This is great! Who is this guy?” Then that’s really great because they can just delve into this trove of crazy obscure absurdist humor. A lot of people I live with saw that book and were like “This guy is great!” and then started following him—if I could only follow one thing for the rest of my life, it would probably be Mike Devine’s instagram. Kurt: @mikethedevine Robert: Haha, yeah hyperlink that. But it’s just about bringing things to light and bringing what you see as very important in art and just getting it out there. Kurt: Yeah, pretty much that. If someone were to say to us “Why should I print my book with you if I can print it myself?” then I would probably be like “You should print it yourself. That’s what I would do.” We’re just like four people doing a thing. Because we have resources and established relationships with places like Printed Matter or with artists who are familiar with us, we’re an easy way into that ecosystem. I think at the end of the day, everyone should have the power to do something for themselves.
Nichole: I care about publishers in general, because I come from fine art. The fine art world is super structured, super systematic, and kind of elitist. There’s a lot of big money involved in the fine art world. There’s definitely counter culture fine art places, but it’s not like you can make money in that industry. I think what’s cool about publications is that it’s another way that people can access art without feeling like alienated. I think books are so universal. When we did the Yale Art Book Fair, one of the security guards bought one of my books. She was just like “This is so cool! This really speaks to me personally.” Maybe she wouldn’t have been exposed to art or felt comfortable in an art space, where as books are like—you can look at a book in a bathroom by yourself. You don’t need this community pressure to enjoy it or to digest it. Every person can interpret it differently, while the fine art establishment has all of this pressure. So if you’re someone outside of the art world, you don’t have the same opportunity to relate to it. That makes it very very special. Robert: As far as we take this project and as this project grows and becomes more reputable, I think we kind of establish this very symbiotic bond with artists. The more that we can get out there, and the more that people start recognizing us, I think we can become a greater asset to the artists that we want to promote because one name lends itself to the other. We really believe in the artists and we want to become a better platform to help get them out there into the world.
“Nichole: I think what’s cool about publications is that it’s another way that people can access art without feeling like alienated. I think books are so universal.”
Shriya Samavai & Allyssa Yohana @ CURRENTS
Photography by Matthew James-Wilson
FLASH ME: Tattoo Art Show
John Malta & Siobhan Gallagher @ FLASH ME: Tattoo Art Show
FLASH ME: Tattoo Art Show
Joy Sneaks In: Charity Art Fair
Courtney Menard, Kjersti Faret, and Colleen Tighe @ Joy Sneaks In
Peow Press @ MoCCA
Hannah K. Lee & Anne IshI @ MoCCA
Hannah K Lee & Anne Ishi @ MoCCA
Rebekka Dunlap @ MoCCA
G.W. Duncanson @ @ Paper Jam 5
Wren McDonald @ MoCCA
2D Cloud @ MoCCA
John Malta & Siobhan Gallagher @ MoCCA
TONSTARTSBANDHT @ Sunnyvale
TONSTARTSBANDHT @ Sunnyvale
TONSTARTSBANDHT @ Sunnyvale
Cruel Angels @ Sunnyvale
David Blaine’s The Steakhouse‘s Final Show
Bethlehem Steel @ DBTS
Bethlehem Steel @ DBTS
Yowler @ DBTS
Yowler @ DBTS
Jacob Weingast, Jonathan Marty, and Maya Garfinkel @ DBTS
Dave Medina about to watch Ovlov @ DBTS
Ovlov @ DBTS
Ovlov @ DBTS
Ovlov @ DBTS
Audience @ DBTS
Krill @ DBTS
Krill @ DBTS
Krill @ DBTS
Dave Medina crowd surfing at Krill @ DBTS
Dave Medina crowd surfing at Krill @ DBTS
Krill @ DBTS
Frankie Cosmos @ DBTS
Frankie Cosmos @ DBTS
Frankie Cosmos @ DBTS
Audience @ DBTS
Tyler Gardosh @ DBTS
Adam Kolodny, Greg Rutkin, and Jim Hill @ DBTS
Mike Kolb @ The Glove
Lexie @ The Glove
Lexie @ The Glove
Lexie @ The Glove
Mal Devisa @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Vagabon @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Vagabon @ Babyâ€™s All Right
Christina Schniederâ€™s Jepeto Solutions @ The Glove
Christina Schniederâ€™s Jepeto Solutions @ The Glove
Potted Plant @ The Glove
Sheer Agony @ The Glove
Mega Bog @ The Glove
Mega Bog @ The Glove
Leapling @ Trans-Pecos
Leapling @ Trans-Pecos
Mothpuppy @ Trans-Pecos
Emily Yacina @ Trans-Pecos
Emily Yacina @ Trans-Pecos
Emily Yacina @ Trans-Pecos
Emily Yacina @ Trans-Pecos
You Should Check Out... By Matthew James-Wilson
it’s incredible to see how far laetitia tamko has come since i saw her perform one of her first shows as vagabon at the silent barn in 2014. what has remained consistent, despite the drastic changes in instrumentation, sound, and members, is the unbelievable conviction she brings to her song writing. this winter laetitia released infinite worlds, an album as expansive as it’s title suggests. the album combines lush new arrangements of older favorites, and a handful of new tracks to round it out. this record far exceeds the recordings the preceded it, showing an enormous amount of growth in laetitia’s craft. at just eight tracks long, infinite worlds says all that it needs to for the artists proper debut. the lp is concise and direct, much like the rest of the way that laetitia presents her music. the song are anecdotal and introspective, offering a lot of emotion depth over a intertwining guitars and synth. a few tracks showcase beautiful harmonies sung by eliza santos of crying and 100% (and formerly whatever, dad) as well as greta kline of frankie cosmos. almost every song follows the loud quite loud dynamic that’s been perfected by much of vagabon’s influences. yet laetitia conjures a level of intimacy and range that’s missing from a lot of contemporary indie music. go check out the record if you haven’t already!
shamir’s recent release was a big surprise on every front. after talking to shamir over the course of doing my interview with him last winter, i knew a big shift was coming— in his output and sound—but still, like most listeners, i definitely wasn’t prepared for hope. hope circumvents everything shamir has felt frustrated about within the music industry. the wait for the release, the nightmare of pr, and massive monetary investment from a label—all of that was purposely left out of the equation. sonically, hope shows shamir returning to many of the roots that made him the musician he is today, reflecting his longing for a return to some of his earlier projects. whether this release shows a permanent shift in shamir’s career, or a symbolic side step, shamir was able to make an important point about ownership and artistry through hope, and that can’t be taken lightly.
Save The Smell
typically i like to reserve this section for free downloads, but this time around i figured it would be overall more beneficial to promote a charitable download that actually matters to a lot of people. this winter danger collective records put out the appropriately titled save the smell compilations, collecting songs from many of the bands who’ve take the stage at the hallmark all ages venue over the years. the roster is loaded with heavy hitters like xiu xiu, ty segall, and calvin johnson’s selector dub narcotic, but is also beautifully balanced with more contemporary smell bands like post life, french vanilla, and rexx. some of my personal favorite tracks include cleo tucker’s track, boyo’s track, and of course current joy’s tack, which he’s sent me a few of different versions of over the past year. do yourself a favor and download this comp from danger collective’s bandcamp. also try to donate a little more than the minimum 6 dollars if you can!
the lot radio has become a greenpoint staple since starting up in an empty lot where the neighborhood connects with williamsburg. the lot successfully functions as an independent online radio that streams through their website 24/7. what sounds like a stereotypical 2007 brooklyn hipster’s wet dream, actually fulfills everything it sets out to do, without missing a beat. everyday, broadcasting from a reclaimed shipping container, the lot radio makes an effort to pump out a wide range of music to anyone with an internet connection who’s willing to listen.
Ghost Ramp ghost ramp is the collaborative effort of record label veteran, patrick mcdermott, and wavves’ nathan williams. after separate negative experiences of working under other labels, the two decided to start a new chapter in their respective musical careers, by joining forces to start their own independent label. ghost ramp succeeds where a lot of labels don’t, matching careful curation with satisfying an overlooked niche market of record collectors. in the past year they’ve grown at a alarming rate, introducing a new store and wide distribution this spring. i can’t wait to see what they decide to do next.
THANK YOU: KENDRA YEE KURT WOERPEL HATE PASTE ROBERT GILLIAM MADDY PRICE JACK OLIVER COLES JORDAN THOMPSON LARA KAMINOFF PAULA PUIUPO LEE LAI NICHOLE SHINN NIV BAVARSKY MOLLY SODA CAROLINE TOMPKINS HUNTER SCHEAFER THOMAS COLLIGAN LOGAN FITZPATRICK ROBERT BLAIR JULI MAJER EVAN COHEN KIRA ASZMAN TAJI AMEEN ADAM KOLODNY JAMES YEH JACK REESE JACOB RUBECK GREG RUTKIN DAVE MEDINA NICK RATTIGAN REED KANTER SEAN SOLOMAN LIZZIE KLEIN BJ RUBIN GRETA KLINE RIVER DONAGHEY SYMON JAMES-WILSON ROBERT TILDEN DUSTIN PAYSEUR ELIZABETH RENSTROM KATIE GRARCIA ALEX BAILEY BEN JACKSON PATRICK KYLE CHRIS KUZMA ANNIE KOYAMA GINETTE LAPALME SONIA JAMES-WILSON... JESSE MOYNIHAN KATE BUSH ARIEL DAVIS JONATHAN RICHMAN PEGGY NOLAND LILLIE WEST SUE MCLANE BARRY JENKINS BILL HICKS WAI WAI PANG SADIE DUPUIS DEREK BECKLES KIM TAYLOR BENNETT YIWEI MENG KATE FAGAN ALICE COLTRANE ESTHER NELSON JACKPINE SAVAGE
E D I T E D BY M AT T H E W JA M E S -W I L S O N
Published on Apr 30, 2017
FORGE. is a quarterly submission based art magazine, with the sole purpose of showcasing the work of different artists on the internet and a...