whitehot | May 2008, Travis Lindquist Interview
Joe Heaps Nelson interviews Travis Lindquist
The great thing about Travis Lindquist is that his art and his life are basically the same thing. Whatever is in his mind comes into the work, and he's always drawing, painting and silk screening.
Whether the immediate subject is mind-controlling cults or anonymous corporate killers, the work generally circles back to the ancient twin themes of power and corruption. In the last year Travis's paintings were full of dubious characters like Jim Jones, the cult leader; Bob Ford, who betrayed and killed Jesse James; and nameless functionaries of the military/industrial complex. Sometimes the paintings are densely layered with text or overpainted images. Stylistically he shifts between deft realism and a cruder, give-a-shit drawing style that bluntly expresses the conviction of the true believer. He'll scratch drawings or phrases into the paint and he lets drips drip. Anyway, he's not the kind of painter who cries when a brush hair gets stuck in the painting.
His paintings are moody and dark, but he plays well with others. Collaboration has long been a crucial component of Travis's artistic production, whether it's a silkscreen party with the Goldmine Shithouse or drawings he makes with his friends.
All of a sudden he decided to pack it up and move to L.A.! So I grabbed the opportunity to interview my friend before he left town. It's characteristic of Travis's generous nature that he took a break from packing up his entire life to converse with me for you, the readers of Whitehot Magazine.
It was a sunny day in May, so we sat down on his stoop in Bed Stuy. Every neighbor who passed said hello. In Manhattan they are building cages around the stoops but in Brooklyn you can still pull up some stoop and shoot the poop.
Joe Heaps Nelson: Do you think a change of scene will impact your painting and what do you anticipate?
Travis Lindquist: Change of scenery will always have some impact on the work. L.A. always makes me think of Charles Manson and cults. I've been kind of working on those themes for a while but I think that'll probably escalate. I won't know until I get out there and get working. I have a show coming up in October at McCaig-Welles.
JHN: McCaig-Welles in Brooklyn!
TL: On Roebling between North 5th and Metropolitan.
JHN: In October we'll have a chance to see the new stuff from California.
TL: See what L.A. has done to me! I'll definitely have a much better studio. I already found a place and I have a nice large studio which will be great because I've been working in my living room the past 3 or 4 years.
JHN: Do you know Dennis Hopper?
TL: Not personally.
Travis Lindquist, 2008, courtesy the artist
JHN: He'd be a good person to meet, since he's a big collector and an artist. You have a lot of themes running through your work. Criminals and cult leaders...
TL: Mind control victims and doctors...
JHN: War industry, gunpowder, DuPont...
TL: Yeah, that's due to the research I do. I've been researching the shadow government for years now.
JHN: Did you used to listen to Art Bell on the radio?
TL: I have, but never on a regular basis. That was my dad's job. I definitely like the alternative views, and don't call them conspiracy theories. I think that's just trying to discredit them by labeling them as such.
JHN: Well conspiracy theories are hard to believe in because how could something so big be that organized without somebody freaking out and squealing.
TL: Well, that's how people get killed. Cancer is one of the best forms of assassination there is.
JHN: Why are you interested in these destructive characters?
TL: Darkness. You know, it's the regular paradox. Without evil, what is good? There's just some morbid fascination with mass murderers, serial killers, cult leaders. That kind of stuff appeals to me because I think all people have the potential to go either way. It's like watching a fistfight or rubbernecking at an accident.
JHN: As long as I've known you, for several years, you've been a big part of the Brooklyn and NYC scene and done a lot of collaborative work with guys like our friends David Hochbaum and Jason Douglas Griffin. Can you talk about some of the collaborative work you've done?
[Travis's phone rings] "It's Johnny Fenix!" [takes call but keeps it short]
JHN: Johnny Fenix lives in L.A.!
TL: Actually he's moved up to Seattle. I'm really bummin', I wish Johnny Fenix was out there but I got Colin Burns out there, Eduardo Benevido, Kevin Willis, among many others. There's a really good scene. It's pretty vibrant out there. And I'll be able to take strolls on the beach and go surfing and all that stuff.
Travis Lindquist on his stoop
JHN: Well we gotta talk about the Goldmine Shithouse. Who is it, and what do they do?
TL: That's David Hochbaum, Colin Burns and myself, and we've been working together for 5 years now, maybe on our 6th year I bet. It's an art collaboration group that started really informally in 2002. It was me and David Hochbaum at first. We were doing collaborations as books, then decided to try doing it as a studio and it worked really well and we decided to invite other people, and we invited Colin Burns. The first time the 3 of us worked together we knew we had something pretty extraordinary and inspirational. At that time we were collaborating in my studio in Greenpoint on Saturday nights as a way not to have to deal with all the douchebags out on Saturday night. We invited our friends along and everybody called it "Gay Art Night".
After a few months I said you know guys, that's the worst name for a collaborative group ever because none of us are gay. So I brainstormed up a list and Goldmine Shithouse stuck and it's been like that ever since.
Now it's changed because Colin moved to L.A. 3 or 4 years ago. We were only together operating in the same city about a year. We started getting gallery shows and living in the gallery and making all the work for the show while we lived there. We sold out the first couple shows and people really got it and enjoyed it, and everybody caught the inspiration and the different people around influenced the direction of the work and it's been going like that ever since.
We have a lot of stuff planned. McCaig-Welles is opening a San Francisco space and we'll be their first show out there in September. So, that's really exciting, and in '09 we've got a lot of European shit planned. We have something in Stockholm, something in Berlin, there's an Antwerp, maybe London, I'm not sure about that. Our calendar's looking pretty full, which is nice.
JHN: What is it that makes a good collaboration work?
TL: A pretty simple answer ... not having the ego or placing such preciousness on the work, so as to shut down, or not be open to the work taking whatever direction it does. That would be one, and the second is work with really talented people who can do that, check their ego at the door.
JHN: I feel you do that in your painting too. You're open to ... I don't want to say accident, but you're open to chance, and allowing things to happen in the process of painting.
TL: Yeah, that's true. Spontaneity is a good part of my work, as is just random shit. Like when you asked why would I choose those characters, the images just come to me. I really don't have much of a choice about it. I'll find them on the street, or next thing I know I have Jim Jones staring at me and obviously I have to do a painting of this!
Yeah, being open to that is nice and also, really losing preciousness of your work, being able to just hit shit with confidence and not worry if you destroy something you've been working on for a long time because through destruction comes some of the best creations that can happen.
JHN: Do you have a gallery in L.A.?
TL: McCaig-Welles is tentatively talking about opening a gallery there next year. So I don't as of now. I've worked with a few different people out there. Shithouse did something with Sheperd Fairey and Subliminal. That was OK. The work we made was fantastic but we didn't really get much... L.A.'s a pretty hard nut to crack when it comes to selling. I have not figured it out. I've curated out there and didn't sell shit. I don't really understand the dynamic of it, so hopefully moving there I'll get more of an understanding and be able to milk some of that celebrity blood money.
JHN: Brooklyn's loss is L.A.'s gain.
TL: You know what? I'll be back. I don't see this as a completely permanent move. An opportunity came, my girlfriend Aimee Chan got a great job as associate director of the Christopher Grimes Gallery and we just decided, fuck it, let's move to L.A. We've been together about a year now, and we do a lot of art stuff together. We're gonna start a design company making housewares, plates, pillowcases, curtains, that kinda shit, cause we have such an abundant resource of talented artists. The work, I think, will translate really nicely into design products. As of right now it's tentatively called "the company".
I've lived here for 6 years and I love it here in New York, but the grind of the city, day after day, a change in my life sounds like a pleasant way to do things. This is not the end-all be-all and there are lots of other places to go, although I know that once you get out of New York you itch for it and want it back. So I see myself having to come back. On the regular.
Travis and David silk screening
JHN: Well a lot of people have split. They're always going and coming.
TL: Yeah. I mean, you can leave. That's the whole thing. You don't have to stay here forever, although it's a great place to be. The life experience you get in New York, the shit that you see, you can see fucked up shit everywhere, but New York has its own special breed of beautiful insanity and chaos and death and destruction right there, in your face, every damn day, you gotta fight tooth and nail just to pay your rent, bills, be able to eat, keep clothes on your back. It's the big city beat down. I know L.A. probably has a bit of that too, but it's definitely a lot more laid back and I'm ready for it. I really am.
JHN: What are all the towns you have lived and worked in?
TL: Boston, Austin, New York, and now, soon to be L.A.
Moving sucks even if you're just moving locally. It's a pain in the fuckin' nuts!
I'm gonna miss this neighborhood too. Ol' Dirty Bastard grew up in this house right here (points to the building next door). I've got to know a lot of my neighbors.
JHN: This is Putnam Avenue.
TL: Between Classon and Franklin.
I was sitting right here on the stoop, just basically like I am, and this middle aged black dude came walking up missing his front tooth and he's like, pardon me, do you mind if I rest my ass? I was all like, dude, you asked, that's polite, please sit down. We started shooting the shit and got talking a bit of politics, about how Bush had stolen both elections and he said, because that's subliminal seduction! I said, man, that's great. Do you mind if I use that for the title of my show. So one of my shows at McCaig-Welles was titled Subliminal Seduction. So then it turns out that this dude is Shimmy, he's ODB's cousin, and the song Shimmy Shimmy Ya is about him. So we exchanged numbers. Then his father comes over and he pulled out a wad of bills - I thought he was homeless and he pulled out a wad of bills that was so fuckin' thick I was like, Damn!
So a month later, my phone rings at 9 in the morning and normally I'll never answer the phone at 9 in the morning because it's either creditors or... it's rarely someone I really want to talk to. But it's Shimmy, so I answered. I'm like Shimmy! He's like who the hell is this! I'm all like, Travis! He's all like, who the hell is that! The white dude you met on the stoop on Putnam! He's why the hell your phone number in my phone! I said cause you asked for it! He's like, Oh! And he hung up!
TL: There's a kid who lives in my neighborhood named DeQuon, he's 15 or 16. The way that I met him was his mom came up to me and said, excuse me, are you Travis the artist, and I kinda looked around, and she said Travis the CRAZY artist, I guess that would have to be me! She said, my son's an artist, would you look at his stuff? So, we've been hanging out now for a while. He'll come over and hang out and draw with me. It's nice, man. I've got a bunch of art supplies I'm giving him.
TL: You know. Take care of the people around you, and they take care of you.
I'll miss it but you gotta take the leap when you get the chance. I'm jumpin'!
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief