The Electric Chair Cut
In conversation with
Joe Heaps Nelson
“Yeah I have boxes and boxes of people's hair. I guess I roughed somebody up a little too much and they said that I needed sensitivity training. Maybe I should be my own victim some time and see what it's like.”
I reckon I have known Nelson Loskamp for about nine years. In the 20th century, we both used to try and hang around American Fine Arts on Wooster Street , which was, at the time, the coolest gallery in New York . In those days, everybody knew Nelson, but nobody knew his last name. He was strictly a one-name guy, like Cher . He was low-key, but not necessarily low-profile, and "the Electric Chaircut" was really, well, how do you say? Downtown.
We got to know each other better when we were neighbors in DUMBO. His studio was crammed with paintings. Just about all of them were paintings of a head. Day after day, Nelson painted these mysterious heads, with lopsided, searching eyes. He was a big time palette knife man. I remember asking him then what he was up to, and Nelson replied, very humbly, "Oh, I just come in here and move paint around until this guy just kind of... shows up." Every so often he would wrestle some giant tree stump out on the fire escape and molest it with a chainsaw until it became truly odd. He is a triple threat - painter, sculptor, and... electric chaircutter!
Besides being an artist/superhero, Nelson works as a hairstylist. He grew up in L.A., then lived in San Francisco for a long time before he moved to New York . That California vibe is a major feature of his personality. He's remarkably gentle. We met at his studio on
Classon Avenue in Brooklyn , where I was surprised to encounter a new set of paintings that were, for Nelson anyway, nearly serene .
Joe Heaps Nelson: It seems like you used to work in a style where you were describing an internal state.
Nelson Loskamp: Yeah, exorcising demons. Now, I'm actually trying to paint pretty ladies.
Heaps: You're painting more realistically.
Loskamp: Yeah, I'm looking at things, referencing the real world. I wasn't very interested in that before but I thought I might as well do something different.
Heaps: There's still an expressionistic quality.
Loskamp: Oh, definitely. They are figurative, they're expressionistic. They have a little more suggestion of the outside world.
I like the outside, I like trees, I like hammocks, I like my wife. (pause)
They're weird, right?
Heaps: Your paintings have some kind of funky special effects. What kind of medium do you use?
Loskamp: Well they're oil. I painted on wood for a long time and I used a knife, and I recently switched to canvas. I'm using brush, and some knife, but I prep the canvas with a lot of matte medium so it retains the raw canvas color, but it's a smooth surface. I put on a lot of coats and sand it down so I can use a knife on it.
I use some medium in there, thin it down, use some varnish, it's all different. It goes from really flat black thinned down black, to heavy, knived in black and purple.Some of the actual canvas shows through. It's a combination of knife and brush work. When I was younger I really hated brushstrokes. That's why I started painting with a knife. I've loosened up on that. Now brushstrokes are OK. But I don't want anything to be consistently the same all the way across the painting. I like to break it up.
Loskamp: I like to carve wood - figurative stuff. I whittle some, chain saw some. I haven't done any in a while. I'd like to, but my space is a little small.
Heaps: Well now the weather is getting nicer maybe you can work outside.
Loskamp: Maybe. We'll see what happens.
Heaps: Tell me about the sculpture that was in "Dead Kids Do Nothing" at 31 Grand.
Loskamp: Oh, Mr. Shiv'd. I'll describe it. There's a large, carved, animal-like head on a table, with hair wrapped around it, presented like the head of John the Baptist or something, and a bouquet of knives stuck into the top of the head. I found the bouquet of shivs, and I had them in my studio, and the hole presented itself to me, and I stuck 'em in there, and it just worked.
Heaps: So you found the knives on the street, already taped together?
Loskamp: Yeah, already taped together. Somebody was throwing them away. Yeah, I just stuck 'em in the hole in the top of the head and it was perfect.
Heaps: What's an electric chaircut like?
Loskamp: It's a haircutting performance. I'll select my victims from the audience - they volunteer - I tape them in the chair and I cut their hair.
Heaps: Yeah but you also blindfold 'em.
Loskamp: I do.
Heaps: Did any of your electric chaircut victims ever get really mad?
Loskamp: Get really mad? Not really. I have found some notes, after the fact.
I've had people request to have their hair back, on occasion.
Heaps: I should mention that Nelson keeps some of the hair, after he cuts it off, as part of the documentation of the project.
Loskamp: Yeah I have boxes and boxes of people's hair. I guess I roughed somebody up a little too much and they said that I needed sensitivity training. Maybe I should be my own victim some time and see what it's like. People generally like it. I had one guy tell me I made him look like Elvis. He didn't like that. I had to re-cut his hair. It's difficult because you have to judge what a person wants in a matter of seconds.
Heaps: I thought you just kind of did what you want.
Loskamp: I try to do what people want.
Heaps: But you never ask anybody what they want.
Loskamp: Oh yeah!
Heaps: You do?
Loskamp: I do. I didn't ask you? I think you said, do whatever.
Heaps: Oh, I thought that was just how it went.
Loskamp: I can't cut holes in people's heads, and expect them to like it.
Heaps: Yeah, but you could say, I'm the artist, and this is my vision!
Loskamp: It takes the right person for that.
Heaps: Explain the technical apparatus.
Loskamp: My scissors and implements are prepared. The sound is amplified. I wear a practice amp on my back, some pedal effects and I can change it up a little bit. Sometimes I have somebody mix live. My friend John Blue does that. While I'm doing it, he'll take the sound, re-sample it and project it out. I do have another piece I have been working on called a "Scissor Symphony" where I have 7 people cutting hair all at the same time, all with amplified scissors. The sound is a little different on each scissors. I hope to do that here. I did it in Peekskill at the Peekskill Project last year. I got the beauty school kids doing it, and I amplified their haircuts and got video footage. That was scissor symphony #1, and #2 is coming soon!
To find out more about Nelson Loskamp, http://www.chaircut.com
NELSON WILL BE AT: PRESS PLAY A VIDEO AND PERFORMANCE ART PARTY
SATURDAY, APRIL 14, 2007
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.
1520 14 st nw
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Joe Heaps Nelson is an artist and writer in New York City.