Fassbinder and Warhol on the set of Querelle, 2006 Oil on Linen 52 × 36 inches
Fassbinder and Warhol on the set of Querelle, 2006
Oil on Linen 52 × 36 inches

As a son of a psychoanalyst, I do believe we have turn over the rocks and see all the writhing worms in order to get over them—hence my love for Fassbinder. I think of "Post post-modern" as just a time differentiation, as it’s 2015, long after whenever "post-modernism" was an "ism." But personally I also think it can be the "have your cake and eat it too, plan" where you can make work that is "smart," self-knowing, in how it can be contextualized and relevant in a larger cultural and historical atmosphere (if this was what Post Modernism was about) but also have room for the ineffable, beauty, emotions, feelings, etc., and formally complex within the hegemony of the picture plane, or mise-en-scene in cinematic terms. Fassbinder and Pasolini really inspired me in college for doing all these things (although maybe they were working in Post Modern times, technically? Ugh, what does it matter…).

I was drawing, as they say, since I could hold a pencil, and I was always the "cartoon guy" on campus, since grade school the primary person creating illustrations and comics for school publications through Brown University, where I went as an undergrad, and did the daily comic strip. I was a Studio Art and also Semiotics major at Brown, where I first began to paint and also involve myself in theater, performing in plays and writing and directing them, all the while studying the ideas and language philosophy surrounding French theory and semiotics. I also love visionary fiction, poetry, and film (at the time classes on Fassbinder and Pasolini were incredibly impactful, as they addressed theory/philosophy, psychoanalysis, Marx/Freud, in emotional narrative context), which I put into my work as an artist, playwright, and cartoonist. When I got out of Brown, I came to NYC to be a "New Yorker Cartoonist," thinking that would pay my way to write and to paint, not knowing at the time that it took years, just like as a fine artist, to break into the magazine. While I was dropping off ten cartoons a week, I had jobs at an art magazine as an editorial assistant, and later, at a major blue chip gallery uptown. Before, having grown up in Colorado and not having access to great fine art galleries or museums, I didn’t realize you can "do this" as a career (I still think an "art career" is oxymoronic—that being in artists is about thinking like one and hopefully creating things, and if you can exhibit or sell work this is just icing on the cake), but that art, like a cartoon, was about bringing up ideas aesthetically. I realized that creating fine art wasn’t just about making people laugh, but deeper thoughts perhaps, and while I knew I didn’t have it in me to be a theoretician, and having created images longer than writing plays, I thought I would go to grad school to pursue the high goal of becoming whatever it might be to be a "fine artist."

Saving my pennies from my earnings in New York, I went to live with my best friend and his girlfriend in Colorado, where he was living at his mother’s home (who at the time was divorced and not living there). Serendipitously for the Biennial, his girlfriend was Lisa Anne Auerbach, my Biennial roommate! We all were making work to apply for grad school in Southern California, where the best schools were, and where Mike Kelley and friends were shaking things up in the early 90’s. Having seen his work of the stuffed animals on the blankets at Metro Pictures had a huge effect on me—I realized that what he was doing was different than many of the post-Duchamp practices at the time. He was finding the ready-mades of the plushies and the blankets, like Duchamp, and putting them in a gallery and calling it "art," but more than this, like Fassbinder in some ways, there were narratives with the "characters" and how they were placed in their arrangements, and there was also emotion in the patina frays of the animals, and a certain empathic nostalgia generated by relating to these iconic forms. I thought it was a breakthrough, or at least for me, I had an epiphany of a Post Post Modernism, where you could "have your cake and eat it too" and make work, like Duchamp, that related to the world outside the art object, that was "about something" that could be political and/or about the viewer "waking up" to their perceptions of things, ideologies, and different perspectives. But, like Modernism, you could also simultaneously make work that was about the ineffable, about feeling and emotion, the hegemony of the formal aspects of a piece, that could be a meditation that transcended language, perhaps even evoking the Kantian sublime.

After painting though works involving people like Keanu Reeves "portraying Hamlet" I realized more and more that it was significant that I was doing these portraits, which ultimately were about bringing about the inner personality of the person I was portraying as much as what they stood for. Maybe Keanu Reeves was a bad actor! And wouldn’t it be more significant to paint someone who really had an effect on culture, someone like James Dean, who was one of the first people to give a voice to a youth generation, inspiring Elvis to be Elvis, and John Lennon to be John Lennon, giving birth to Rock and Roll? I love Warhol, but think he might have had Aspergers, as although he was obviously a genius, like people who have ASD, wasn’t emotional, and would "flatten out" his icons in silkscreens, building on Duchamp in paintings that eschewed the painterly notions of mood, texture, and expression. Could you bring emotions and a painterly touch like Rembrandt to a culturally relevant icon like Dean? Would this be something "new"?

In this work, I wanted to marry these two (or three, if you count the actor Brad Davis, one of the first Hollywood actors to die of AIDS related causes) great artists, who were meeting on the set of a film that had a huge impact on my life Querelle, based on the incredible writer Jean Genet’s seminal book. I remember first seeing the coming attraction of Querelle at the Denver downtown art movie house The Ogden, and it excitedly me greatly—it was obviously "gay" but in a masculine, aesthetically super charged and intensely sexual way. I never had the guts to see it in person in this closeted time in my repressed Colorado suburban environment, but like punk rock, it gave me a clue to a broader world that existed in culture and art beyond my own gated community. When I finally saw it in the Kaja Silverman-taught class at Brown, it sent me to the moon, and I watched it repeatedly after this, significantly when I was playing a hustler in a school play, and was trying to "get into the character" inspired by the film and Brad Davis’ performance. Even for Fassbinder officianos it’s the Fassbinder film that uncool to like, and I could never quite understand why. Like David Lynch’s Dune (another cult classic!) it is its own complete atmospheric world, like a Gene Kelley musical, hermetic onto itself, with dance-like moves all sexually choreographed and staged, and a strange rhythm in its voice and pacing. I love suturing into its world, and more that Tom of Finland and the like, taught me, inspired by Genet, that you can be "masculine" and gay, unlike most of the feminitized flamboyance of gays depicted in popular culture until this time. And of course, Fassbinder and Warhol are "old queens" but powerful artists with integrity in their own right. If you could marry the cultural relativity of Warhol, with the intellect and psychological and political ideology and use of melodrama and narrative (and avant garde sensibilities of both) you could really have something—influenced by these two giants, I try.