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Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll // PART II

Originality, “gestapo graffiti blasters” in Chicago, the legacy of the Imagists, and writing your contact info on the backs of other people’s business cards when you’re a typical artist and therefore don’t have your own… What follows is the second half of my opening night interviews with those behind Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, Maxwell Colette Gallery’s latest show, curated by Billy Craven. Free booze and fake booze were present.

Read PART I here.

Flyer for "Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Billy Craven.)

Jenny Lam: See, everyone wants your Jack Daniels plushie.

Brooks Golden: Everybody loves the Jack Daniels.

JL: Is that your prop?

BG: No, but it kind of works in that way that it does. Because I’m selling snacks, hugs, and rock & roll tonight. Right?

JL: That… yes.

BG: That’s the DIPSTK [a fictional “art metal” band created by Brooks Golden] theme.

JL: Could you tell me about your work in this show?

BG: The work in this show is DIPSTK-related, is what I’m calling it. It means that it differentiates itself a little bit from the work that I normally make. The DIPSTK work is loosely based around a few different themes, one being 80s heavy metal, punk rock, and skateboarding. So it kind of provides me with an instance of go-to subject matter that I can draw from. So this piece is a take on the theme, Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, so the guy’s physically texting, like I’m using “text” as a verb, as opposed to what we know “text” as. And then “rock & roll” is the DIPSTK kind of brand of things, and the drugs isn’t really apparent… but, I mean, maybe. [laughter] Maybe they’re there. But when I heard Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, I was like, yeah, there has to be this kind of heavy metal guy texting, and there has to be… because they took the word “sex” out of that well-known phrase, I had to put the sex back into it, but in this way that I was trying to be clever, so there’s not actual sex but there are sexual things happening, like in the emoticon and in the action of the piece.

Brooks Golden. "Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Oscar Arriola.)

JL: For your work in general, what’s your opinion on doing things on the street versus taking street art and putting that into the context of the gallery?

BG: The way that I’ll answer that is: someone asked me about my piece and they were like, “This is a great piece! Are you happy with it?” and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m very happy with it as a piece of artwork hanging on a gallery wall…” but the piece was intended to be on the street. The scale of it, the size of it, to me, it doesn’t read as a piece of artwork that I would sell. It reads as a street piece that people need to be living with, have contact with on the street. I told this person that “I draw all the time, small things, smaller scale things—this thing is 4” x 6”, this piece—I draw smaller things all the time for the consumption of people who want to buy art,” so I would prefer to see the kind of art that I’m making at this point on the street.

I think it differentiates itself from the other work that’s out there. It’s clearly not gang- or hip-hop- or graffiti-related things, and in that way it’s so different from everything else that there’s little chance that it’s going to be mixed up with anything else. If anything, the originality of the work is hugely important to me. I like a lot of the work that people like, “Well it’s not even that good,” but I’m like, “But it doesn’t look like anything else,” and that person puts up a lot of things and it doesn’t look like anything else that’s out there, and in that way it’s important to me.

JL: What’s your take on the local art scene, particularly street art?

BG: Man, that’s a really loaded question. Because it’s multi-dimensional in the way that, if you talk about one facet of it… I’ll answer the question this way. I think it’s a really great scene. I think Chicagoans, as street artists, are very prone to originality and hand-made work. So you have guys like myself, Nice One, Goons…

There’s this level of craftsmanship that’s apparent here in the Midwest and Chicago in particular, whereas if you go out to New York or California, New York in particular, people are very big on the cut and paste aspect of—and I’m going to sound like a jerk right now, but—“Oh! I have a cat and I like cats! So I’m going to blow up a giant cat head to be 8 ft. tall and I’m going to put it up everywhere!” And I guess if that’s your cat and it’s personal to you and you like cats, that all makes a lot of sense, but as an artist, it doesn’t feel valid in the way that there’s a lot of creativity and a lot of work that went into that.

Goons. "Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" opening at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Oscar Arriola.)

So I personally love Goons’ work, because you can see the hand, you can see the work that’s painted—Don’t Fret, Nice One—you can see the work is being made, and you can see it being given to the street. It’s not disposable. These are one-off, unique pieces of work that are there on this wall or fence or whatever it is for as long as it lasts. If it lasts a day, then it’s only one day that it lasts. It might’ve taken a whole day to make it. Chicago differentiates itself in that way.

But as a whole, I think that Chicago, as a city, could be a little bit more lenient on public art and street art and those things, and I don’t think it needs to be criminalized at all in any way. It’s usually just wheatpaste and paper, and it could be washed away with a little bit of hot water, not that that’s some kind of secret to get rid of wheatpaste, but it’s the truth of the matter. But I don’t like that the city is kind of oppressed in that way concerning street work. There’s been graffiti here for over 30 years, and there’s still illegal buffings happening, where people’s work is being removed illegally, essentially. The work is removed within a day because the city has these gestapo graffiti blasters that go through and they’re like, “OK, we’re just going to remove this thing that these guys spent all day painting,” and I think that’s a shame, because it’s really silly, and it’s really fascist of our city to be that way about art.

JL: What can we look forward to seeing, both on the streets and in shows, from you in the future?

BG: Certainly more DIPSTK-related work and things concerning wheatpasting and… like I’m really, really, really interested in turning the street-making of the work into a job for myself, and being on a 3-time-a-week, 9-5 kind of thing where I’m making work and putting it up. I’ve talked about leaving Chicago for what I thought was a more liberal city in the United States, and I’ve changed my mind since and decided that I’m going to give Chicago another chance, and see if people are going to be receptive to this work that I’m making, and I’m going to give it another year or so and see what happens.

Bill Connors. "Scrubs." Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll at Maxwell Colette Gallery. (Image courtesy of Bill Connors.)

JL: Could you describe your work a little bit? In a nutshell?

Bill Connors: In a nutshell, I just like funny shit. Most of it is just inside jokes with myself, and the “text” connection I have with my work is usually irrelevant. I think humor is all that matters to me, really, and the things I like are pretty much evident because I rip them off so heavily. I love all the Chicago Imagists and all that old-school, low-brow sort of work. I just like melty, goopy, funny, drunk shit. That’s all I really care about.

JL: How long have you been in Chicago for?

BC: I’m from Chicago, so my whole life.

JL: So how does being in Chicago affect your creativity?

BC: Huge. Especially because I go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and I don’t believe that you get a lot of [opportunities] across the nation to you learn about, at least not as prevalently, Jim Nutt and Karl Wirsum and Gladys [Nilsson] and all the Imagists and the Harry Who, which pretty much what got me started doing the work that I’m doing. They all are graduates from my school, so that whole low-brow aesthetic is sort of built-in to me. They’re like the sweethearts of my school, pretty much.

Bill Connors. "Wizard." Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll at Maxwell Colette Gallery. (Image courtesy of Bill Connors.)

JL: What’s your take on the Chicago art scene?

BC: It’s a hard question for me to answer because I don’t know if I’m part of it as much. I’ve only done a couple gallery shows and the majority that the work that I do is more, I do a lot of posters and things that aren’t necessarily making their way into “the art scene” in Chicago, so the small taste that I have, I feel that it’s really diverse and I never really know what I’m going to walk into when I walk into a show.

JL: How did you become a part of this show?

BC: I met Billy at Renegade [Craft] Fair, so I had a booth there. He wandered into my booth and just asked me some questions about my work. I don’t have business cards because I’m the least professional human being on the face of the planet Earth, so I wrote my email on the back of my boothmate’s business card, and so when he wanted to get me for the show he couldn’t find my contact information until it was, like, 2 weeks before the show, so I had to get some work done quick and submit it, so it was sort of a last-minute thing for me.

JL: That’s awesome. Do you have anything in the near future that we can look forward to seeing?

BC: I’m working on a bunch of smaller projects right now, but I’m focused on, I’m graduating next semester, so pretty much have taken off all commissioned work that I’m doing and just trying to work on getting that BFA shit done.

Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll runs through January 7, 2012. For more information, visit More photos at curator Billy Craven’s Flickr.

Jenny Lam blogs at Artists on the Lam. Her Twitter handle is @TheJennyLam.

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