Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Current town: Kansas City, MO
Job description: Visual Artist and Serial Abuser of First Amendment
Bio: I was born in 1977, but my formative years were spent in the 80’s. Reagan was President, prime time television hailed the businessmen of finance (whose business acumen was typically measured in grams of cocaine), and mutually-assured destruction between the two global superpowers was such a mainstay of life that we had info sheets in my elementary school detailing the possibility of a nuclear strike and what we could expect (which was usually a tactfully-worded “kiss your ass goodbye”). We were the last generation raised in the shadow of The Bomb, the grandchildren of the Atomic Age.
Alongside our reading and arithmetic, we got to learn how we could all be instantaneously vaporized with scarcely minute’s worth of warning, so its not hard to make the logical leap from this sort of “apocalypse culture” to a crop of attention deficit issues.
Growing up in this climate was, at times, complicated by being born from a Czech-immigrant father in the Midwestern United States. The God-fearing, red-blooded Uh-muricuns of the Midwest were sometimes loathe to trouble themselves to differentiate my Dad’s Czech accent from a Russian, and so I figured out pretty early on that I couldn’t talk like that in school for fear of creating my own complications.
It is this era in time that seems to be an anchor point for my life, as my time in the Air Force would see me working with lots of Cold War Era technology that had scarcely been upgraded since the end of the Arms Race. This was all the more solidified in about 2006, when I came face-to-face with the Godmother of the Cold War Generation, Nancy Reagan, during the dedication ceremony of the Ronald Reagan Memorial Missile Defense platform at Vandenberg AFB in California.
All this is to illustrate that I am a relic of a bygone age, much like my drawings in an age of digital media, CAD, and photo-manipulation…out-of-date and out-of-sync with the tides of the art world and the world at large…
What are you working on/describe your work.
I’ve never had a good way to describe exactly what it is that I do; the most accessible collective label that I can apply to it and have everyone nod their heads is “surrealism.” Most people point to Giger when they see my work, typically because they don’t know what else to compare it to (full disclosure: I actually have a stronger affinity for the style and color palette of Beksinski, and those who are familiar with both are generally inclined to agree).
What’s your art background/when did you begin really focusing on art?
My art “background” is negligible. I don’t have any formal training and I’ve not set a foot in an art school a day in my life. My artistic drive manifested itself early-on, however. Because of this, my mother found that I was the easiest of her four children to manage; so long as I had an ample supply of paper and implements to mark on it with, I could fairly well keep myself engaged and occupied for hours.
I tried briefly in my early 20’s to shop some of my drawings around which, to be perfectly honest, were absolute crap…but I do feel that it was an essential phase for me to go through and work I’m doing now is very much built on the underlying framework of that “crap.” Those horrible, horrible drawings (which are have all hopefully been recycled as fire lighters by now) were invaluable lessons for me, without which I wouldn’t be doing what I am now.
After that brief flirtation, I kind of let my drawings fall to the wayside in favor of things like food and shelter, working a long run of graveyard shift jobs until I’d finally had my fill of ramen and joined the military in 2001. I wouldn’t pick up a pencil as a drawing implement again until 2007, and that was only because of an internet friend from England who saw some old photos of my old scribblings on Myspace and sent me a tin of colored pencils on the condition that I had to promise to “do something” with them. And so I did, and continue to do so…
Any exhibits coming up/past exhibits you’d like to mention?
I definitely have submissions in at several places, so it’s a waiting game at this point to see which ones respond. I’ve largely written off showing in my own city simply because the art scene here is riddled with little cliques, none of which I belong to.
Also, Kansas City is an odd duck in that we desperately want our art scene to be taken seriously by the rest of the country, which is why we outsource most of it. We don’t actually want to foster local talent…we much prefer someone else to do that and if it works we’ll happily take credit for it. For most Kansas Citians, Peregrine Honig is the only name they know, and that’s only because she was on television. That isn’t a slight against Ms. Honig so much as it is a statement about the mindset of the typical Kansas Citian.
Is any of your work political?
Some of it, though I don’t back or belong to any political faction…I’m one of those mysterious and non-committal “independent” voters that were so highly-prized and out-reached to during the last election, but I have no actual partisan loyalties; I support ideas, not parties.
What is one of the biggest challenges you face as an artist?
The jaded and over-stimulated masses. That and “multi-purpose galleries.” You’ll know exactly what I mean if you’ve ever interacted with one. I’ve actually had submissions to galleries shot down, not for the quality of the work but because they also rent the gallery out for parties and events, and my work might not be well-received in the wedding reception they had booked.
I understand that galleries are technically a business and thus they have bills to pay, and it has become something of a norm for galleries to wear more than one hat to bring in money to pay those expenses. However, having said that, when your “peripheral” revenue streams become a deciding factor in your curatorial process, you’re not a gallery. You’re an event space. I suspect most such gallery owners thought it would just be awesome to run a gallery and didn’t realize what an impractical business model it can be…
Has the meaning of your work changed over time?
I still haven’t figured out what some of my work “means”…I don’t give much thought to it beforehand and I rarely ever rough draft anything. Each piece happens in a stream-of- consciousness, starting with only a very vague idea and allowing it to take its own shape as the piece comes together, so I don’t feel particularly pressed to assign it a meaning. The viewer is invariably going to come to their own interpretation of it anyway, so why rob them of that for the sake of narcissism?
Are you involved with any organizations/ do you collaborate with other artists?
I have an on-again/off-again relationship with the Kansas City Artist’s Coalition, and by relationship I mean that I sometimes give them a year’s membership fee and get invited to donate artwork for a benefit auction every year. I don’t think I’m going to keep that going, though, as they seem to be getting the better end of that deal.
I’ve yet to collaborate with any other artists. I’m not opposed to it, it’s just never come up before.
What are you listening to these days?
Lately I’ve been rotating through a playlist of old Bauhaus, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Voltaire, Leonard Cohen, Le’rue Delashay, KMFDM, Lords of Acid, and Cyndi Lauper.
What is your ideal job?
Honestly? The job where I get paid to do pretty much whatever I want. I don’t get those often, but they DO happen. I’ve had a couple clients in the past who’ve just loved everything I’ve done, and have once or twice just simply paid me to do something “for them,” with no further direction. I cherish these types of clients and I do my best to keep them happy.
Those rare instances aside, I’ll also be fine with anything where I have some decent lateral freedom in terms of creative license and have some input on the project. Then I don’t feel like I’m just an extension to make a pencil more useable for the layman; I actually have a stake in the project.
Favorite artists and why/people in your field whom you most admire:
Any artist that is still alive to enjoy their success when it happens is an artist that I can look up to, because they beat the mythical stereotype (particularly prevalent in American culture) that artists are this listless, hideous troll caste that only ever amounts to anything after they’re dead. They won the game and beat the table that was rigged against them.
What was the first piece of artwork you bought/do you buy a lot of artwork?
The very first piece I bought was a print of a drawing called “French” by an artist I found on deviantart only identified as “the CrackerJap.” It was a cute little drawing that I bought a print of as a gift for another friend of mine at the time who was notable in the sheer volume of pride they expressed in being quite particularly French.
Since then I occasionally buy prints when I can manage it, and have traded for an original painting once. I don’t really have the means at this point in time to make an earnest run collecting all the pieces I’d like to have…perhaps some day.
Your website(s): http://www.schamballah.com