Each of these pieces are meant to be writing exercises for myself and probably come across as half finished. I’m trying to figure something out and in my mind i keep hearing “Write, write, write.” So here I am throwing forth these small pieces that are more conversation starters and less full stories.
Whenever i write I think about Kurt Vonnegut and a book I’ve always wanted to write called “Who Took the Clap Out of the Clap Clap? I came up with the idea in my early twenties while laying in my boyfriends bed. I think i had just read Breakfast of Champions or maybe Cat’s Cradle and was trying to mimic Kurt Vonnegut’s style. During this time, and for a reason I can’t remember, neither my boyfriend or I had a job and we were subsisting on McDonald’s combo meals, which we would split. We also ate a lot of Popeye Puffed Wheat, a puffed wheat cereal that came in a long plastic bag instead of a box and would make your pee smell sweet and nutty. It was under a dollar for a bag so we ate a lot of it. This was in Chicago in the mid ninety’s.
The title “Who Took the Clap Out of the Clap Clap?” is now twenty-four years old and I’ve never written even one word explaining what it’s about. I’ve never had an idea what it was about. I just thought the name sounded cheeky. I suppose if i were to write about it now i would guess it would have something to do with feeling cynical.
When I think of applause I can imagine a variety of audiences, some determined not to show any form of expression and lightly clapping once the performance is through, some over enthusiastic and clapping so excitedly that they’re enthusiasm comes across as false, some rhythmically clapping in beat with the band, and some clapping turning to stomping or pounding or kicking the shit out of one another. That’s my favorite style of clap. I love it when the clapping gets rough and the audience becomes unhinged. It’s the opposite of the cool, cynical clap. I want to come away bruised by the clap with my ears ringing and make up smeared across my face.
I compare these claps to living in Chicago and living in New York. In Chicago i felt trapped by the self serious clap, the type of smug ovation that comes with standing still and listening tensely while sneering at anyone around you who dare make a peep or God forbid, dance. In New York I felt exorcized! I clapped, screamed howled, and stomped all in unison to those around me and joined an equally rabid group of women who made me feel like i could finally cheer as loud as I wanted with no hushes or anyone asking me why I was so angry.
“Why are you so angry?”
“Why are you not angry?”
A lot of this, of course has to do with the time period, tastes in music and my own personality and is not meant to be a comparison of the two cites. I had a lot of fun in Chicago but i was also relieved to leave. There’s an icy tombstone in my imagination perched on the edge of Lake Michigan, that reads Christiane Hultquist “Good bye to my early twenties, May they rest in peace and never ever come back to haunt me. 1995-1998”
I got asked last night to give a lecture to a group of friends. The lecture has to be 15-22 minutes and it has to be about something that doesn’t pertain to my job, so I can’t talk about fashion, or making costumes, or painting or anything art related in general. A few ideas have come to mind, one is to talk about memory and the idea that according to scientists most of what you remember never happened in the way you remember it. I find this fascinating since it seems to make so much of my life totally meaningless, but if I’m to believe the reasons why we have memory in the first place is to keep moving forward then why do i worry all of the time about past issues or some embarrassing thing that I said. Those memories plague me more than the good ones. As well, along with the fact that we are now more open to talking about our past traumas, in can seem like maybe you just made that memory up at the pressing of a therapist or that maybe you should be able to splat that memory like a bug and pretend that it never happened. But then I’ve also started to read a book called The Body Keeps the Score and it’s about PTSD and how the body keeps all of it’s past sufferings locked inside our minds and how these disturbances are released in very disconcerting ways. So, really what is memory for if you we can’t remember events correctly yet we store these acts in our mind to be released in ugly episodes in the future?
As well, and sort of along the same lines I read an article in the New Yorker this morning called “The Case For Not Being Born” about the “anti-natalist” philosopher David Benetar. Basically, he believes that life sucks so much that we should stop having children for reasons of compassion. I can’t say that in some way I haven’t had this exact same feeling. The thought of my nieces and nephews having to go through their early twenties, a time that i found to be confusing and painful in a multitude of ways, makes my heart ache so badly that I want to throw up. Grief is another reason for never wanting to be born. It’s the ultimate annihilation of any sort of once happy existence. I’ve seen it eat away at people in ways unimaginable. Your soul becomes a wet sheet, bagging at the center where once flourished some sort of life. Grief on top of grief on top of more grief, that’s the way it hits if you believe that death comes in threes. So, yes, if you want to be a compassionate person, why ever procreate?
I’ve never been a nihilist though. I really love life. I keep thinking about how when i’m going through a difficult time, i get this feeling of ecstatic joy mixed with sadness. I think it’s because i love solving problems. I’d rather have a problem that not have a problem just so I could solve it. It’s kind of why i’ve started to write. I know I have a problem that I need to solve and for some reason making it known to everyone around the planet seems like the best way to work out my dilemma. Writing, i think, is about everything coming out sideways and so i present to you some really sideways writing that is both truthful and at the same time trying to hide my real feelings about life, the un-Instagarmmable ones.
I’m giving myself the task of writing at least a little bit each day on my blog. My rule is that I can’t write it out in a word program or on paper but that i have to write straight to the blog. This feels very daunting, but everything feels that way lately so why not get really uncomfortable?
I’m going to start by responding to some answers I received on my instagram post “What would you like me to write about?”
One of the first responses I received was “Advantages and disadvantages of being a 20something these days. How did yours compare?”
You’re twenties, I feel, are about figuring it out. It’s hard to leave home and suddenly be responsible for yourself. I remember when I first moved to Chicago from Iowa, I was afraid to even leave my apartment. It took me a whole day to walk out the front door because I thought for sure everyone would think I was just a hick from a small town. Of course that didn’t happen and i caught my stride as awkwardly as I was able. I worked at shitty jobs, mainly waiting tables but I also got a job at a cigar store where i was meant to clip and light the end of the cigar for the customer, exclusively men. The irony was too much for me though and i didn’t have the finesse to even attempt to keep a straight face.
Basically, I could write an entire book about my twenties. I put myself through some very unnecessary ordeals just to appeal to my own sense of drama.
I think in many ways my twenties would compare in much of the same way to a twenty-something now. We were all looking for a sense of direction, having crap relationships with bad lovers, trying to figure out a career and finding friends who had the same outlook on life. For myself, finding good friends was the key. In Chicago I had friends who were mainly men and in wasn’t until i moved to New York that i finally found a group of women who had the same chaotic and creative energy as myself. I was twenty four and feeling self assured ready to channel the intensity of the punks that had come before us. I wanted to get messy and make art that reflected those desires.
I don’t know if we necessarily had any advantages over a twenty-something in 2019. It was harder to get seen in a time before social media. You were lucky if anyone ever saw your work and you often had to be in places like New York or LA. Now, you have the opportunity to live in a small town and build a fan base that extends to a larger part of the world. It’s how you use the tools that are given to you. New technology can give you more opportunities and it can also push you to confront your fears of failure.
I’ve been trying to learn to paint. In the beginning I felt very confident because what I was creating didn’t feel too far off from what i had created in the past and I was happy to share it on Instagram. Lately i’ve been experimenting with new methods and a lot of what i’m making looks to me like total crap. I struggle so much with the fear of presenting work that people will see as poor that at points it feels like my legs are about to collapse beneath me. The same goes with writing. It’s a battle to sit here and write. I get caught up in my own language, ideas and poor vocabulary.
Writing all of this and weaving in and out of the question that i was asked to answer is making me realize that being in your twenties is a lot like being in your forties but it’s also all dependent on how you choose to live your life. You could go through your entire life without every questioning anything or trying anything new. The fact that the question was asked can only mean that you desire more from life. We’re all putting ourselves out there the best we can, whether we’re just sharing our work with friends or taking it to another level and presenting it on social media. We’re fortunate to live in the time we are in, no matter how vile the world can seem. We are able to get to know one another on a different level and share in our experiences like we never could before.
I’ve started to write again. I wrote a lot in my teens and early twenties. I threw many of my pre-New York City, 1998 journals away in a dramatic fury where I also threw away my high school yearbooks and a whole lot of artwork. I was trying to free myself for the next chapter in my life, getting the fuck out of Chicago and moving to New York.
New York, the place I’ve always wanted to be. When I think about my desire to move to New York I imagine myself as a child, staring out the window on a rainy day and singing the 1970’s slow jam “Feelings”
Nothing more but feelings
I look through my window waiting for someone to sing me a song.
I would gaze longingly out that window at the gravel in the driveway and the big tree in mean Mr. Gates’ yard. Mr. Gates had tried to sue my mom after he slipped on some ice on the sidewalk running in front of our house. My older brother, who at the time must have been about 11 or 12 had shoveled the walk and missed the ice. Mr. Gates tried to sue us, but you can’t get much from a single mom on welfare so he must have decided not to follow through on his threats.
I longed to get away from Mr. Gates and the couple who owned Irwin’s in uptown Marion where they sold men’s clothing and Marion Indians High School t-shirts and matching shorts and socks in red and yellow. I loathed them after they snapped at my brother and I to only take one candy bar from the dish on Halloween. We were always treated like greedy, greasy, stupid poor people, but I knew we were smarter than they were. We just did things differently.
But who knows if any of this actually happened? I was watching a show recently on Netflix about how the mind works and It’s made me question nearly every event in my life. The neuroscientists on the show basically said that you can’t trust your memories and that memories are really only there to keep you moving forward in life. They used as an example a man who had lost the part of his brain that kept long term memories when a doctor accidentally removed it during brain surgery. Whenever they asked him if he had any plans for the coming days he would answer in a confused and lethargic tone that he had no future plans. However, I may be remembering this all wrong, so you should probably just watch the show. I think it’s called How the Mind Works.
I can’t be sure about anything anymore so I’m acting solely on my feelings.
I started to write a piece about how when I was in my teens, I was sure I would become a writer and then that piece of writing veered into writing about my mother writing and here it goes again. My mom used to write everything on an email machine because she couldn’t afford a computer. She wrote a newsletter called Happy Housewifery and both in an attempt to sound like she lived on a mountain top in weather worn shack and to save room in an email format that only allowed for a certain number of words, she would remove the letters O and L from any word usually needing an “OUL”. For example, should became “shud” and could “cud.” She did all of this while homeschooling my three youngest siblings making them study by candlelight while pretending to be pioneers in the old west until my dad would finally growl “ok, pioneer day is over. I’m turning on the tv.”
My dad put up with a lot from my mom and my mom from my dad. In fact, he was far worse than her, so he really deserved at least a year worth of pioneer day and no tv for at least ten years.
Anyway, back to my decision to write and most likely my decision to stop writing as well. After a particularly bad acid trip on a type of acid called Death Notes. The name itself should probably tell you that one hit is more than enough and that two will make all hell break loose and your friends disappear into thin air, like my friend who kept coming apart right before my eyes. He would become little particles that would blow away like smoke starting at the top of his head until he was just a lower torso with a voice. Fortunately, if I closed my eyes tight and then open them again I “cud” kind of put him together again. Phew!
My bad trip paired with a recent divorce from a person I never really wanted to marry and leaving my family in Iowa for Chicago really put me on a downward spiral and I began to have constant panic attacks paired with a nagging voice that would whisper “just commit suicide” over and over. I wish my mom would have been there to rebuke the devil in the name of Jesus from my body because I really needed it!
Alas, I was alone with only my asshole brother who spray painted his entire bedroom and then left without paying rent.
Finally, in a desperate moment I called a suicide hotline. The woman that answered sounded like she had just woken up.
“hello” she answered in a weary voice.
“hi, I’m thinking about committing suicide” I squeaked.
Clearly flabbergasted she huffed. “Well what do you want to do with your life?”
“I want to be a writer” I answered feebly.
Her response came loud and clear down the Illinois land line. “Well you’d better get used to it then!”
I had no idea what to say, so I said, “Thank you.” And then went into the bathroom, tied a towel tightly around my neck, held it there for a moment until the feeling had passed and then shuffled to bed and slept soundly for the first time in many months.
Somehow I continued to write after that, but it must have blown the wind out of my sails because I never again took it seriously and I decided when I moved to New York that being a visual artist was so much cooler than being a writer or maybe I just decided that the suicided hotline lady was right and I just couldn’t live like that.
Surface design has always been a major part of my work. In the beginning of my costume design career I painted, stapled, and taped fake dollar bills to prom dresses and glittered the names of ex-boyfriends over blue satin skirts to create a collaged appearance that was messy and raw.
In 2005 I began working with custom screen printed fabrics in a desire to mimic Kansai Yamamotos’ bold looks for David Bowie. I also became fascinated with Japanese woodblock prints and the way the colors, patterns and flow of the line created movement within the work.
Screen printing became my go to technique for many looks. I loved the way a print bounced off stage and the idea that even a simple shape could become unique when brought to life with high contrast color combinations and sharp zig- zag designs.
In 2012 I was invited to show at the Diesel Gallery in Tokyo. I was showing five of Karen O’s costumes but the gallery also wanted pieces that could be sold, so for the first time I made prints on paper and canvas to be hung on a wall. This experience made me realize that more than creating clothing, what I loved more was painting, printing and collage. It was where my heart felt most at home.
These pieces are meant to represent my love of print and collage, bold color and the movement that can be created with shapes and tonal combinations
Last summer I did a show at the DIY space Secret Project Robot, in Bushwick. Unfortunately, due to the nature of the space I didn’t get a lot of great photos. DIY spaces can be difficult because they’re not always well lit and there tends to be a lot of other stuff sort of hanging around in the space. Basically, it’s not a gallery so you’re just kind of going for it. However, Eric and Rachel are always so awesome and really great about supporting artists so it’s always a fun spot to show.
I didn’t have much time to put pieces together, just a month. I think i had asked about having an exhibition and then a bunch of other work came up so it didn’t give me a lot of time to make new pieces. I love a deadline though and the more hectic the better I seem to work. Of course that does not mean I want to work that way all of the time, but in most cases this tends to be the situation.
The concept for the show was my upbringing in Iowa and I called the show Iowa Joy, however I don’t feel like I was able, due to limited time, to really explore the whole concept. I mean that’s an idea I could explore for the rest of my life. I kind of skimmed the top and created a bunch of imagery using corn.
When I was a kid I used to detassel corn in the summer. I feel like i must have been only 12 or 13 when I did it, possibly older, but I think it must have been before I got a work permit at age 14. I’d get up every morning around 5:30 and go meet a school bus that would take us to the field and then from around 6:30 or 7:00 am until 3:00 pm we’d walk through huge fields detasseling corn. Sometimes, if the corn was tall enough, you’d take a tractor through, but you’d have to work much faster and be more aware. I’m a little surprised that they had such young kids doing the job. Here’s the basic definition of detasseling that I got from Wikipedia. Quite honestly I never knew what it did. I guess i didn’t pay enough attention.
“Detasseling corn is removing the immature pollen-producing bodies, the tassel, from the tops of corn (maize) plants and placing them on the ground. It is a form of pollination control, employed to cross-breed, or hybridize, two varieties of corn.”
I also used as inspiration, Playtime Poppy, a giant ear of corn that was the mascot for a children’t theater in Iowa. This song still goes through my head although I never knew it to have so many lyrics.
I’m a playtime, Playtime Poppy
A cornfield is where I was born.
I’m a playtime, Playtime Poppy
Happy little ear of corn!
I love to sing and dance and play
Most every kind of game.
The Children’s Theatre is my home
And Playtime Poppy is my name!
Oh I’m a playtime, Playtime Poppy
And never will I be forlorn.
We’ll have a great time with Playtime Poppy
Happy little ear of corn!
i remember feeling sort of bad about the show because I wasn’t able to put in enough time and effort. I spoke to a friend who is a professor at Parson’s and she gave me the best bit of advice. This is from an email that I wrote to her asking again for the advice so that I could remember it for the future.
“Yes, it's actually a two-part piece of advice. The first part is that you just have to get some work out there for people to see. It doesn't have to represent your final, completed creative process. Rather, your life's work is that thought process. You will have time to review and revise what you present in the next body of work you make. The second part is that releasing work into the public often makes it easier to see it and reflect on it. Sometimes when you're making it, you're too in it and can't really see the forest through the trees. When it's out there, it gives you a different perspective, helps you push the bigger project along. Each project is part of a bigger goal.”
Even though I feel like I just hit the tip of the iceberg with Iowa Joy it’s actually a continuation of my previous work, but told using the basic imagery of the Iowa landscape. I’ve realized as I’ve re-read the statement from my friend that my work has always been told from the point of view of my Iowa upbringing and since the beginning I’ve used the examples of growing up with little money and using creativity as a necessity. I’ ll explore this more in my next post.
Here are some photos from the show. Some are in my studio and some are at Secret Project Robot. I also tried to incorporate my love for capes into the show and used corn cobs with stars and lightning bolts to reflect my costume design work.
In June I spent three weeks in LA looking after a friend’s dog. I am very enthusiastic about LA at the beginning of every stay and my husband and I always talk about moving there. This time finally felt like the right moment and we began looking at neighborhoods but It only took one time for me to realize that no, I couldn’t just hop on the bus or subway or walk home, I would have to catch an Uber. I hate taking Uber’s especially in places that I don’t know well. I get that they have GPS but I just feel weird about being in a car with someone I don’t know. Oddly, I actually feel safer in a regular cab and also I feel better in NY because I know the routes well. Needless to say I won’t be moving to LA anytime soon, but I did have an amazing time reconnecting with old friends whom I love dearly.
The place where I stayed in LA had a really lush and magical backyard with a tree growing up through the deck and dense and fragrant plant life that made you feel enclosed in your own secret world. It felt good especially after being in NYC where it was hot, sticky, stinky, grey and loud.
Normally, I work nearly everyday either laying down an image to an ongoing piece or experimenting with new ideas. My main mode of creating is screen printing and over the years I’ve developed ways to print without having to burn new screens which can get very expensive if you don’t have your own set up. I either use construction paper or sticky paper to create stencils and then lay down the image onto canvas. I don’t really have a set up for printing meaning that i don’t do any registering of prints. I sort of just lay the canvas on the table and go for it.
i developed a love for printing around 2006 when I was creating new costumes for Karen O for the Show Your Bones tour. I remember looking at the costumes Kansai Yamamoto created for David Bowie and realizing that creating your own textiles was a good way to keep a look singular. Now it’s a major part of every ensemble. I love the way a graphic print looks on stage and how a textile can tell a story.
As my love for printing grew I began to collect books on the subject and some of my favorite go-to’s were books from the 1960’s and 70’s on textile printing. This one in particular is still a favorite of mine just based off the amazing photos of textiles in nature.
It’s always been a dream of mine to have a place where I could set up outside and print and the house where I stayed finally gave me that opportunity. I set up a table and a clothes line and watched my prints dry in the warm sun and flap in the wind.
I happened to also have my sewing machine with me, an old Pfaff that weighs a ton but does the job better than anything new. I bought it for $300 off Ebay. It needed a minor repair but I have to say if you need a machine and can’t afford an expensive one buy an old one off Ebay. The new plastic ones fall apart in no time and it’s difficult to sew anything more than a light cotton.
Out of my studio and in a new, slightly more confined space. (I don’t mind making a mess in my own space but I want to be respectful of friends homes) I began to create with the tools i had with me and I began to experiment with drawing with my sewing machine.
Drawing has never been my strong suit. My brothers drew like crazy when we were growing up but I was never interested and even now it feels like a chore. I’ve also realized over the years that I’m better with cutting out shapes. Somehow I can see the image more clearly when i’m using an Exacto knife or scissors. The same goes with the sewing machine. What I’m actually drawing with the machine is fairly exaggerated and undefined and really meant to compliment the print but the combo has turned into something I really love. Stitching a line creates the same clean, graphic style that I desire most.
i also had a show up while I was in LA at the OHYA Gallery owned by my friend and former Liars drummer Julian Gross. For the closing show I exhibited some of the new pieces I created during my time in LA in the magic garden.
So as I mentioned in the previous post I began painting at the end of January 2019. I basically discovered that I just needed to find my own form for painting. I love a graphic line and I love lots of color and shapes. I like to create with shapes. I've never been much for drawing and I feel like I can express myself best when i can cut out paper or cardboard. Even when I screen print I mainly print using stenciled shapes. So, I decided to use the same methods for painting as I was using for creating the cut out cardboard characters. I began by cutting pieces of cardboard to create a character or shape and then using it as a stencil for the painting. I guess it’s probably more like coloring in a coloring book. I layout the painting by drawing around each shape and then when it’s assembled I fill it in with color.
The painting below, called “This Love Lasts Forever” was created when I began to think about how we can hold onto the ones we love even after their passing. I was trying to create these beings that would always seem singular like they could always be identified as you or as part of your world. i thought about avatars and living forever inside the internet. I thought of these beings drifting through tubes and wires and living like microscopic water bears. This painting is about never losing someone you love. They’re part of you like stardust.
I hit a real five pitch once i realized that I could indeed actually paint and I began to create one painting after another rising early in the morning to work. These paintings are mainly about these clawed, humped and somewhat amphibious or alien robot creatures loving one another or falling through space.
I also began to post works on process on my Instagram which was a learning lesson. A lot of people responded to the half made works but then less to the fully realized pieces which could have something to do with the algorithm. However, the people who were commenting were people who’s tastes I very much trusted. It made me think that maybe I needed to leave things with a bit more space. My desire is to always fill the entire space. It just feels good. So, I’ve quit posting the half made pieces, but I still desire the compliments of my peers.
I feel like this sort of creating and then it immediately being presented to the world has happened to me before when I began to make Karen O’s costumes. I had just begun to experiment with making clothes and then suddenly they were in magazines. i look back on it now and it was almost like presenting your freshman year collection. The only difference is that when I was making those first prom dresses I was 26 and I was just kind of going for it like the rest of my friends. No one cared that I had no idea what I was doing and i though it was hilarious. Now I’m 45 and because i feel like I have an awareness of what makes good art i feel a deal more insecure, but fuck it. It’s better to put stuff out there and have it crushed or praised then hide it away.
This painting below has given me a great deal of insecurity because part of me feels that it’s too naive but another part really fucking loves it so much. I think what’s tripping me up is that it seems too joyful. Hahhahahaha! Why on earth would that ever be a problem? But how many really happy paintings have you seen? I can’t think of many. Anyway, this is one of the last paintings I’ve created in awhile. I’ve made others but none that I really love. I’ve been printing a lot. I loooove to print. I’ll talk about that the next time.
It’s another hot day here in NYC, but i have to say not as near as it has been. We’re lucky to have a cool (ish) day. The summer is slow as summer is meant to be. I’ve started to update my website and I’ve decided to use this blog to talk a bit more about my work. I make work all of the time and many times it just gets thrown up on Instagram where i don’t feel like i can really speak about it. (I’m not a fan of long captions. )
At the end of January of this year (2019) I began to paint. I had never painted before although I guess a lot of people have mentioned that some of the layered prints I’ve made could qualify as paintings, but this was my first time actually brushing paint to canvas. It began after I had read the Jerry Saltz article “How to Be an Artist” in New York Magazine. Here’s the link if you want to check it out. https://www.vulture.com/2018/11/jerry-saltz-how-to-be-an-artist.html I know I’ve been creating for a long time now but that doesn’t mean I don’t need some inspiration and encouragement. One of the suggestions he gave was to copy something by your favorite artist (or something along those lines). I had been obsessed with this giant cardboard cut out by Claes Oldenburg that I had seen at his show at the MOMA in NYC. When my husband and I saw it we were both totally blown away because we only knew Oldenburg’s soft sculptures. Here is a photo but I think it doesn’t really show the size well. It’s the dude on the right that I loved so much.
So I decided to try to make my own version.
The first one looked like a robot or android. I have an obsession with otherworldly creatures.
These are the 2nd and 3rd versions. They’re all hot glued together and I began to realize that there would be nowhere to put them. They’re each about 8 feet tall. My husband and I now sleep with them in our bedroom. They’re sort of our protectors i guess.
Next I began to make some moveable pieces. I put them together with brads, but I have to say they’re not the greatest either. I haven’t really made too many since then because I’m running out of space and I’m worried they’re going to get wrecked in my storage space. I really prefer the hot glued pieces but I think I may also try some industrial strength Velcro.
Finally i’d had enough of the cardboard (which by the way is everywhere now so if you need a cheap project just walk down the street.) so I decided to make a soft sculpture. I’m beginning to realize that perhaps Claes realized the same thing I did and wanted something that would last. But first here is a weird headpiece I made at the Painted Cloud in a class taught by Nick DeMarco a master of cardboard. It was meant to be turned into a paper mache but It would have taken way too long and I didn’t want to bring it home so i threw it in a dumpster.
Here is the soft sculpture it’s in many iterations. I can’t stand to keep anything minimal or white even though sometimes I feel like it might look best. it’s just not my thing. i like color too much.
Anyway, creating these pieces made me realize I could paint . I’ll talk about that more in the next post.