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

Text? Check. Drugs? Debatable. Rock and roll? Art stars aplenty. At least, one of the show’s artists walked around cradling a handmade Jack Daniels plushie (probably the world’s most comforting security blanket, to be quite honest). Featuring an international group of over 40 artists working across different media, Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll opened last Friday at Maxwell Colette Gallery with fanfare. Amidst the reveling masses, I managed to chat with curator Billy Craven and a few of the participating artists including Ron Copeland. In the following interviews, we talk about text’s ubiquitous presence; finding beauty in the everyday; how art scenes differ from city to city; and people who are only into Andy Warhol.

Check back next Monday the 19th for PART II, in which I interview participating artists Brooks Golden and Bill Connors and we discuss 80s heavy metal, punk rock, and skateboarding; putting the sex back into the show’s name; Chicago’s fascist stance on street art; how Midwest street artists focus on craftsmanship as opposed to those on the Coasts “who are very big into the cut and paste aspect of ‘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 “low-brow, melty, goopy, funny, drunk shit.”

Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll opening at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

Jenny Lam: How did you come up with the idea for this show?

Billy Craven: Oliver [Hild], the owner of the gallery, and I have been friends for a while, especially since Banksy was recently in town. We have very similar interests: graffiti, street art… but we’re both very different. We have our favorites. We had just spent some time together, and earlier this year when Roa was in town to do a couple pieces, the really beautiful 60-ft.-long animal carcasses out of spray paint and paint roller, Oliver had mentioned to me that he had been using the process of putting together a group show, and he had the idea for Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, and wanted to focus on the “text” part—everyone seems focused on the “drugs” part, but—because he wanted to see how different artists from different backgrounds incorporate text or see text in their artwork. And so since we’re very different, he pitched the show to me and then later asked me if I wanted to curate it, and I thought that would be really fun, and just got on it, and started contacting artists that I’m a fan of.

I didn’t want it to be a Chicago show, and I didn’t want it to be a non-Chicago show, and I didn’t want it to be a graffiti show, or a street art show, or a fine art [show]. We like pretty much all art, so I think that it was a great chance to get artists from all over the world to participate in the show. So I jumped on it and took the opportunity to put the show together.

There were really no parameters, like whether there’s one piece or on paper or wood, and I thought that there were some artists that really translate well just with one piece, and there are some artists who tell a whole story, like Fred Litch, who just flew in from California. He works with collage, he does a lot of hand painting, found objects, and stuff like that, and so, to me, that’s what text is, and it’s everything. It’s in everything we do.

Mark O'Brien. Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll opening at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

JL: Did you try to strike a balance between local and international artists, or was it more about who you liked?

BC: I’d love to say, “Oh no, it wasn’t about who I liked,” but it was about who I liked, and I’m not every guy and I’m not status quo, but I think that, like my music, I like everything, as long as it appeals to me in some way.

I would’ve loved it to be a healthy balance of international and local, but [there’s] the cost of delivery. Right here is Mark O’Brien’s work, which is featured in the Reader this week. He’s from London, so to ship something like this in a box is quite expensive, but the reward… He works with found, recycled cardboard and beer bottles. He made a vintage Les Paul out of Budweiser beer packaging for the show. And I think that that’s something that’s exciting because you don’t expect it, it’s well-crafted, and it’s beautiful.

And people are bombarded with street signs. Colt Bowden, out of Utah, does some really beautiful hand-painted street signs. So that’s what he does by trade. We have schoolteachers from Michigan. So I just put it all together and I try to make it a healthy balance. I want to expose the people who come to the gallery to something new that they wouldn’t find or they would take for granted, because you see a bodega everywhere all day long, and you see a hand-painted sign and take it for granted, but it looks really beautiful when it’s taken out of its context.

JL: Right, exactly. Speaking of context, what’s your opinion on the difference between running across a tag in an alley versus in a nicely lit room where there’s alcohol, and where…

BC: Where people are socializing? [laughter]

JL: Yes.

BC: There are a couple of artists in here who are known for tagging or graffiti, but… That’s a really tough, loaded question! Because, on one hand, the argument can be made for an artist tagging the alley, like “That’s my art,” but it’s all about fame and notoriety, getting up, getting recognized, whereas somebody who is trained in fine arts does it on a completely different level. I don’t feel one way or the other. [laughter] That’s a really tough question. But if you tag in an alley, just do it nice—that’s all I care about. [laughter]

JL: That’s good advice! Do you do art yourself?

BC: Yeah I’m a screenprinter.

JL: What’s the relationship between your own personal creative practice and your curatorial practice, if there is one?

BC: Whenever I screenprint, I do the screenprint only if I like it, so I’m definitely more biased about what I like. My aesthetic… I’m fond of vintage illustration and stuff like that, and since I can’t draw to save my life, I just like to go through old clip art or magazines and advertisements and reproduce something that in many cases won’t be seen again, because once an old magazine is thrown in the trash, there are less old magazines, and I like to print things that I find pretty.

Curatorial, I like to show things that, whether it’s pretty or ugly, that’s all up to the viewer. I wouldn’t invite them to the show if I didn’t like them. [laughter] And if I didn’t think that other people wouldn’t gain something from viewing them.

Colt Bowden. Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll opening at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

JL: How long have you been in Chicago?

BC: I moved back here almost 4 years ago. I lived here once before for about 2½ years. Before Chicago, I was in New York for about 6 years, Hawaii, California…

JL: What’s your take on the art scene in Chicago, versus the ones that you’ve seen everywhere else that you’ve been?

BC: They’re so different. And that is a loaded question. They’re very, very different, and they’re very, very much the same. When I first moved back to Chicago, I would catch the heat from all the local street artists and graffiti writers, because when you live in New York and you’re surrounded by… there’s 8½ million people on the island of Manhattan at any time, and people from all over the world go there just to get up, so the style is happening so much faster. And in New York you’re not worried about painting over it with doo-doo brown paint, whether or not it was legal—sometimes they like to buff the legal stuff too here—but eventually I got over it and realized that there were a lot of really talented artists here in the city, so I started focusing on hunting down the locals that I respected. Whether or not I loved their work, I respected their work because they had talent. So there are a lot of talented people here, and, like I said, it’s all different, and it’s all the same. It’s just that, in New York, with 8½ million people, and they don’t spend all the taxpayer money on buffing stuff out the minute it goes up… you’re bound to see more.

JL: Are there any highlights for you, personally, in this show?

BC: Things that I love? I’m totally amazed by Mark O’Brien from London.

Mike Perry is my favorite screenprinter out of Brooklyn, and he’s got five published books out. He does handwritten typography, and I love his work.

And I love Scotty Albrecht for different reasons. [He’s] out of Brooklyn as well.

I love the collaging style of Fred Litch. I want to collage, but I can’t. [laughter] I haven’t done anything in collage that I’m impressed with, so I don’t collage, and he does the things that I aspire to do. So I love his work.

Ron Copeland up there—the screenprinting on the wooden boxes—he’s just amazing.

Yeah, I have a lot of favorites. [laughter]

Ron Copeland. Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll opening at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. (Image courtesy of Jenny Lam.)

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

Ron Copeland: Yes! So 2010, 2011, I did this romance series, and Billy actually found me on Flickr, so I was just ending this whole romance series, and it fit in perfectly—the sex, drugs, rock and roll… text, drugs, and rock and roll. These are silkscreens of some designs I did over the past 2 years, and then collaged with a lot of vintage found papers, newspaper, magazine, other prints and stuff I found over the past 2 years.

JL: What’s your process with this kind of art? Does it take a lot of time?

RC: My process is really odd. It’s continuous. There’s kind of an end, but there’s no real exact, defined start. Because I’ll go to thrift stores and antique stores and abandoned buildings to shoot photos, and just collect anything I can, like papers, magazines, newspaper, interesting papers, and then use a lot of the elements from what I collected for graphic design, and then I’ll design these things and then print them and I do prints on wood and then prints on paper, and usually an installation is the finished product for me as opposed to an individual piece, but it’s multi-faceted because I’m just collecting as much as I think about the design or composition.

JL: Where are you from?

RC: I’m from Pittsburgh.

JL: How long have you been in Pittsburgh for?

RC: 4 years. I’m originally from Ohio. I moved there actually to shoot photos of abandoned buildings, and it was right as they were tearing them down, unfortunately. I thought it was like a goldmine, and it was for a few months, and then it kind of ended real fast, but I like it there. It’s nice. It’s really laid-back.

JL: How’s it like being an artist over there?

RC: It’s a little odd, because people aren’t overly interested in art. Like they like Andy Warhol, but they don’t like… a whole section of people don’t pay attention to art for some reason in that city, like people are really into sports like football and hockey, and then the people that are into the art are the artists. But the artist art scene is pretty cool; it’s getting more dynamic with a variety of music and all the musicians are starting to work with the artists on different events. So there are warehouses that put on performances, and then they’ll have an art show correspond with it, and house shows with art as well. So it’s breaking the conventional norm. It’s not changing it, but it’s trying to do it a little differently, which is cool, so it’s an interesting art scene.

PART II coming next Monday.

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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1 Response to " Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll // PART I "

  1. […] PART I here. Flyer for "Text, Drugs, and Rock & Roll" at Maxwell Colette Gallery. December 2011. […]

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