As I met Dame Darcy in her small apartment in the East Village, she was in the middle of creating a new series of paintings. I came there, Planet Filly as she calls it, to talk about her comic book, MEAT CAKE. But she turned out to be an artist of many talents. Dame Darcy showed me the dolls that she made. She had previously invited me to see her play banjo at the Fez. I was not feeling well that day so I never made it. She was a painter. She had made animated films, and recently made a pilot film for television. She was very busy as an artist, as well as being well-known in the comic book world where Dame Darcy is gathering a cult following. I met her on Good Friday, so religious themes were in the air. Her work evokes the Victorian and Gothic periods, so by just talking to her I felt that I was a figure at the turn of the century. She showed me some of the letters she received recently including a suicide note from some mental patient who had recently proposed marriage to her. Her birthday is June 19th. If you want to send her birthday presents like colored parasols you can send them to the address: PO Box 730, New York, NY 10009. She really needs a new parasol! She showed me three paintings recently done: one was a house, another was a group of butterflies, and the one she was working on, while we talked, was a bird.
Maybe I should have some questions? Like what I am doing here in your apartment?
Dame Darcy: Yeah. Just ask me any questions.
Do you feel comfortable painting while we're talking?
DD: Do you care?
DD: OK. I just want to get this done before we go out tonight. Or maybe I won't go out because I've been feeling sick lately. We'll see. (Pause). I think these clouds are creating some sort of atmosphere. It's helping. I think that it's important to have some sort of atmosphere going. It's imperative to have atmosphere in all art.
You have a link to nature in all your work?
DD: I don't know. All my paintings have been nature themes so far. But I don't feel a link to nature. I feel that I'm more of a luddite than anything. Even though I would like to have a career in television, I want to use television as a medium to portray ludditian theories, so that way it's a juxtaposition. I love juxtapositions.
How did you come up with the idea for a television pilot that was also an animated film?
DD: Ever since I was eight, I wanted to be an animator. Ever since I found out how people did animation.
How did you figure that out?
DD: I think that I saw an animation special on Zoom. Or maybe on PBS. I remember seeing them doing cut-out animation, not cell animation. Then I got a book about animation, given to me by my Dad. My first animated film was like this: the background was this picture of a barn, and a creepy road leading up to the barn, and there was this ribbon going up the edge of it. It was a stop-motion animation and it was one minute forty seconds long. The ribbon was the blood and the frame. The frame was moving around the barn. I stop-motion animated this rat skull, and it was singing the words to this song by Caroliner, which was a band that I was in at the time. The rat skull had these sculpy limbs. I make the dolls out of sculpy too. The rat was walking around with these arms and legs made out of sculpy.
You had a live rat or you made a rat?
DD: It was a live rat skull. I mean it was a dead rat skull! Of course.
Where did you get this rat skull?
DD: I don't remember. I made a little dress for it and the arms and legs.
You could tell it's a rat skull from watching the film?
DD: What else would you think it was? If I saw a rat skull I would know it. Anybody that knows a rat skull is a numskull. Ha! Ha! Ha! These films were made with a 16mm Bolex. Before that I made hundreds of flipbooks. I kept telling my parents to get me some animation equipment, so I never got to do any of these films till I was eighteen. I lived in Idaho. It was horrible there. I kept begging my parents. In Idaho Falls, animation stands are few and far between. They have crafts stuff. There isn't any painting scene.
What do your parents think of what your doing?
DD: They're artists. My Dad is an artist. My mother is a nurse but she's really crafty. She does little craft things all the time. I have a really big family. I'm really glad that I had my family there, because my Dad really taught me all the skills that I know. My Dad taught me everything when I was really young. He started teaching me perspective, composition, and how to mix colors, hues and shapes, when I was six. He had actually went to art school and learned stuff there. I basically learned from him, so when I went to art school myself I didn't take any drawing classes because I didn't need to. I knew what they were teaching in there. I majored in film so I could learn animation, because that is what I wanted to do.
Who's the better painter: you or your Dad?
DD: Just different painters. Different styles.
Who has better drawing skills?
DD: Probably me. But my Dad is a better musician. He plays the banjo better than me. But he's been playing for thirty years. I don't practice enough. I do a lot of stuff. My Dad told me to focus on just one thing when I was sixteen. Music for me is just a hobby. I still like performing in front of a crowd. I get a lot of fan mail. I love it. I like to respond to it. It's really quaint and personal. But there's nothing like the instant gratification of being on stage and seeing an audience and seeing them react. I figure that if you're talented, you can apply your talent to anything and it will come out with your vision, and come out halfway legitimate. It's a test of talent.
What do you have the most respect for: the art world, the comic book world, or the literary world?
DD: It's all part of the art world. My films are art films, my comic book is underground comic book art, and my paintings are art: I'm an artist. (Laughter). It's all part of my planet, Planet Filly. And Planet Filly is an art planet.
What's up with this Planet Filly stuff?
DD: What do you mean?
Where did that come from?
DD: (Loudly) It came from Planet Filly!!!
Where is Planet Filly?
DD: Your sitting in it!
Oh! I'm in Planet Filly?
What I was saying before was that many people already take paintings seriously, not so with comic books.
DD: That's why I'm doing these paintings. So I'm taken seriously as a fine artist and that takes the comic book up to a new level. Many people recognize Meat Cake as being a legitimate underground comic book; so many people don't think that it's art. So I figured that if I got my name around more as an artist and not just as a cartoonist, that would help my comic books and my films. The only reason I wanted to be a cartoonist, besides being an animator, was the funding. Comic books are a little cheaper to produce. I didn't know anybody who would show my cartoons if I did get them made. I did the comic books while I was waiting to get my animation show on television. At the same time, if I do get a television show, I'm not going to stop doing cartoons because I like to do Meat Cake. I like to do the sequence of stories with little pictures that cartoons are. I think that it's a good medium and a good way to express you. I come up with a lot more stories than I can possibly make films into. So that way at least they get to come out. If I sat here and waited to get all the money to make all the comics into film, I'd only have maybe ten of them done by now, or wait till doomsday to finish them all.
How many hours per day do you work on your art?
DD: Oh. Probably all day.
What? Twenty hours. Then sleep four hours.
DD: Yeah. I don't sleep very much. I'm an insomniac. That helps me get everything finished.
Do you have a secret political agenda?
DD: I don't care about politics. I just want to go back to the 1800s. I like the internet and television, but I would be content being a silent movie star. I like the 1890s up to the 1920s. I just finished a silent film last week, and I'm working on another film. E. Steven Fried directs one of them, and it's about me thinking about the devil and angels, and lust and avarice and greed, all the deadly sins....
This came natural for you?
Did you have to act? Did you ever think about good and evil, or the deadly sins before?
DD: I am Catholic.
And it's Good Friday!
DD: I know.
We should be in church.
DD: I'm going to one tomorrow.
Well, my question before was: Do you think about good and evil a lot and how does this inform your work?
DD: Oh. Um. Good and evil. Um.
Being raised a Catholic.
DD: Oh. Yeah, I guess so. I'm not so preoccupied with it. It was just a story idea. It was a five-minute film. If you asked me to come up with two hundred stories in a week I probably could. They might not all be that brilliant.
So the Catholic influence was a big deal?
DD: I was definitely shaped by the Catholic church. It was definitely a factor in making me the way that I am, and making my art the way it is. I hope that I'm not coming off as too pretentious. You don't think? I really care about people.
In Meat Cake, you reprint many of the letters that you receive. What decides which ones go in the magazine and which ones get left out?
DD: I like the ones that are smart, cute, or funny, or have some reference to science. I like science. If I was a man, I would have been a scientist. Things would have been different if I wasn't dyslexic. I love science because it's so sexy. I really love Devo. I think that Devo's world is really beautiful.
You don't have a talent for adding up numbers?
DD: My brain gets confused by a lot of stuff. It's really hard for me to find my way around as far as directions. I get really confused when people try to explain things to me that have to do with paperwork, numbers, and logistical stuff. I don't see why it's supposed to make so much sense. It's makes me feel stupid and I want to cry. If I was good in school and good at academics, I would have been a scientist. I have always been interested in biology and genetics.
You get many letters from psychos?
DD: Only about ten percent of the mail I get is from psychotic people or lecherous gross people. Nice people write most of the fan mail. I get a lot of letters by ladies. I really like it when ladies write me, because I feel a real kinship with women.
You have a secret feminism agenda then?
DD: No! I am just a philanthropist. I care about the well being of people in general. I have a lot of friends. I have a boyfriend. I have a lot of female friends.
So who are some of the characters in Meat Cake?
DD: There's Richard Dirt. She's the main character. She's a normal girl except that she's kind of wacky. There's Wax Wolf. He's an undead wolf made out of wax and fur. Then there are the Siamese twins, named Hindrance and Perfidia, and Perfidia means "two-faced." Hindrance is a "hindrance" to Perfidia, being the more alpha twin. There's a mermaid named Effluvia, and she has a really great car, and she lives in the ocean. There's Strega Pez whose mother was a witch, and she has pez candy that comes out of her slit throat, and that's how she talks. Her mother gave birth to Strega Pez through her throat as a curse, so that she would die. Strega Pez has been cursed all her life, so she has to do all these horrible menial jobs. Then there's Scampi The Selfish Shellfish, who is Richard's really big pet that has no head. There's Granny who gives them all advice. Granny is kind of demented. There's Igpay who is the Pig Latin speaking pig.
You are a character too?
DD: I'm sort of represented by Richard Dirt.
Which character is the most grounded in the real world?
DD: Friend The Girl. I didn't mention her before. She's the straight character.
Where did this Friend The Girl character come from?
DD: Just a girl. (Laughter). She is just a normal girl. Different people associate themselves with the different characters, and I think it's a psychology test to see who identifies with each character. Or who has a crush on whom. A lot of guys have a crush on Strega Pez. But a lot of girls identify with her because she's shy and hard working. Or the twins. People will write to me about them.
Do you have any advice for younger girls who are looking for ways of expressing themselves in art, or in life, or just rebelling?
DD: I would just say: Figure out what you want to do, then just work towards it, and don't let anybody stop you. If people want to help you, or if you get any encouragement, or any opportunities, follow through on all of them, and follow through on it completely. Don't do anything half-heartedly. Don't stop in the middle. I think that a lot of artists get discouraged. Being an artist is like taking a test. If you can survive it through the lean years, then you'll be OK later. Maybe it will never pay off, and only after you're dead, people discover your work. If you're not crazy when you started being an artist, you'll be eventually driven crazy.
Tell me about your television show?
DD: My television show is called "TURN OF THE CENTURY." I would host it, and we would have a vaudevillian style freak show and variety show. Then we would have little vignettes of animation by different artists, and little short films that were fairy tales. The whole theme of it would have a Victorian kooky, spooky, Gothic esthetic. That's what I'm doing right now. I finished my pilot for that. I sent out the pilot to people and pitch it to people, and see if I get any response.
Read more / Permalink
Read more / Permalink
On one of the last days I was in London, it rained, and I got to meet Katharine Gifford, the leader of Snowpony. We met at a cafe on Curtain Road, in Shoreditch. It was actually one of the first places I had been to in London, and it was like returning to the womb. Snowpony came out with their first record a few years ago. They did a few tours of America, and played around England and Europe, but lately they have been laying low. It was interesting to find out what was up with them, as we all wait for the next release. Hopefully this summer we will see them in some festivals. Katharine could then take some time off watching Australian survivalist shows and doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
AL: So how's the new record going?
KG: We did three tracks and they turned out pretty well. We sent them to our label, Radioactive, and it turns out that they are having financial problems. There's been a big shakeup between them and MCA, and they haven't got back to us. We waiting for them. I guess that they are streamlining the business. If you don't have a current record out it's difficult to get gigs.
AL: What are you doing in the meantime?
KG: We're still rehearsing a lot. We have a new member. She plays guitar and keyboards. Me and her are doing a side project. We'd like to start our own label, but we're tied to this contract, and we'd like to get that sorted out. Debbie Googe is doing a computer course. Her mission at the moment is learn how to design websites so we can do our own website. We're trying to use the time productively.
AL: What will the second record be like then?
KG: All the songs are written. It will be more polished sounding than the first one. The first one was sort of murky sounding. In places in was murky and had an interesting ambiance. The new stuff is more like Northern Soul songs. There's three sorts of songs that we do. We do quite fast in your face rocky songs, then slow melancholy songs, and then totally stupid songs. So we have those three categories. Punk and Northern Soul have a lot in common. There both sort of short songs, but our songs are becoming more extreme. Once we get the go ahead, we're ready to record. We finished the three songs for a single.
AL: You write all the songs. Do you have a studio at home?
KG: I have one of the first portable four-tracks ever made. It's good actually. I have a bunch of old gear. It's not flash; it's quite basic. Everything is out of date because it's cheaper that way. I wish that I get a Therimin. I have a Watkin's copycat. I have to patch in every sound through. I have an old Farfisa that doesn't work very well. It's one with the speaker built into the keyboard.
AL: The song "Easy Way Down" your referred to Dalston. We're not too far from Dalston now. What do you like about Dalston?
KG: There's a Gene Pitney song "24 Hours From Tulsa." When I heard that, I thought he was saying "24 hours from Dalston" so I thought I would put that in the song. I have another song about Dalston too. You've been there, haven't you? I tell people that I live in Dalston. And they say "Oh, no. Sorry to hear that." Sort of a taboo area to live in. Now it's slowly being colonized by the bohemians.
AL: How did you like the tours in America?
KG: Last time we were in the States, we toured with Hooverphonic. They're a good band actually. One of the members left after the tour, so I don't know what they're like now. We toured the South with them, places like Texas, Florida, and Atlanta. We had never been to that part of the States. I like it a lot. Once when we played a show with Henry Rollins, before he went on, he was get all pumped up, and all these veins are popping out of his neck. So that's what I do before I go on. Being on tour is like one of those social experiments where they put people on a secluded island in Scotland and see how long they can survive.
AL: Is Ian still in the band?
KG: My little cousin joined us for a while because Ian went mad on tour. He went mad in Atlanta, and we almost left him there because he was really annoying. He's a little bit too rock and roll without actually putting any real effort into things. After Ian got a sick note, my little cousin started to sing with us. He was really great. He has a choirboy's voice because he's only twenty-one. He's not a permanent member of the band because he's still doing his degree. His mother won't let him join full-time. There's family pressure. I don't want to be responsible for destroying his future career. He played Glastonbury with us. That was more or less his first gig.
AL: You have been using samplers and programming sounds, and using sequencers. What sound are you after eventually?
KG: I like the idea of fictional sounds that have never been heard before. You can use that stuff as a starting sound and sculpt it as you go along. I like a bit of noise definitely. It's all about finding a balance between melody and noise. If it's too melodic, it becomes syrupy. You need a certain vibration.
AL: Do you have any advice to young girls who want to start a band?
KG: Be very careful if you sign a deal with a record label. Make sure that you have a real good lawyer. You have to make this choice whether you want to tour and have your record promoted, then the record label has you by the balls. If you want more freedom, it's going to be difficult. Stereolab were really smart because they had their own label and all the control.
Read more / Permalink
all photos by Alexander Laurence
Read more / Permalink
The Quarter After
All photos by Alexander Laurence
Read more / Permalink
I met the artist Spencer Tunick recently at his home in Greenwich Village. He showed me the many nudes he has been photographing over the past ten years. He combines conceptual elements with urban settings. His photographs are a document of a live performance. Most of his work has not been seen, except in magazines. Now with much of his nude series near completion, we will be seeing the work in a setting the way it was meant to be shown. Spencer's work is usually done in the morning. He finds an interesting setting or juxtaposition, and takes a picture of a nude person or group of nude people. The work is done quickly with early morning risers looking on with approval or disapproval. Spencer has been arrested a few times for creating indecency, but his work is not pornography, but visual constructs. He has photographed many famous New York people, and hundreds of anonymous people who have collaborated in this strange world of Spencer Tunick. His work is fun, exciting, and yet sometimes political.
--------------------------------I always think of your work like I do think of Joseph Beuys' or Yves Klein's work. The photography is a documentation of the real art, which was the public performance that happened already, with all these nude people, or one nude person in an urban situation.
Spencer Tunick: There is a solid piece that comes from it, the event that is a performance. I turn everyday people, for one morning of their lives, into performance artists. Then, they return to their lives, for the rest of the day. So it's quasi-documentary, quasi-performance, quasi-conceptual. It's in-between everything, so that's why I don't really consider myself a straight photographer.
Do you use a lot of heavy equipment or expensive cameras or plates?
ST: I'd love to have the money and a truck to do all that. You need a truck to haul around an 8 x 10 camera. It would be a very slow process, and I have to get this done before the police show up. Some of my shoots take place in the street, so safety is my number one concern. To set up a big camera would be insane, so I just use a medium format, with one camera and one lens, since 1990. It's not about technology. Sometimes I'm so nervous, that I don't hold the camera strong enough or I drop out of focus. With my "Naked States Tour" I incorporated the idea of a traveling artist. I set out to document a situation or an experience. I was influenced by Robert Frank's book The Americans, where he went around to 48 states and photograph people there. I liked Edward Ruscha's series of gas stations.
How many people have you photographed nude over the years?
ST: Probably over two thousand. To do my art, you have to be able to work with the masses. It's hard. The only connection you have with the masses is if you're in government or in music. Those have been great organizers. I thought to myself, the only way to create large shoots on the road was to go to festivals and ask them whether or not I could create my work within the context of those festivals. I went to this Phish concert in Maine. I went to Sturges. I couldn't find anyone. I went to Burning Man in the Nevada Desert and got 160 people to pose. I could have had over 500 people but I didn't wait. The internet was our main form of organizing the shoots. I posted my journal on my site and contacted many people over the internet. I sent snapshots to a person who kept the website up, and people who were interested could follow our journey on the road. I want to launch a book on the web. I think that is an interesting way of showing work.
Did you have any problems with the police? Did they stop you or take away your cameras?
ST: In Indiana we were stopped by the Indiana State Police. They said that they were going to confiscate my van, my photo equipment. Both the models and myself were nervous. There was three police cars. One of the officers saw us in the middle of a shoot. I didn't know how I was going to get out of it this time. In New York, I can call my lawyers. William Kunstler helped me on my first case. CNN had done a piece on one of my arrests before. Just off the top of my head I asked them "If they watched CNN and do they remember a photographer getting arrested trying to photograph a male nude on top of the crystal ball at Rockerfeller Center?" Four out of the six officers had seen it. That softened them up a little. They started to listen to me. I told them that "I am an artist. I'm not a pornographer. I'm out of state. I'm here to do this one picture." I showed them my pictures and they started to get into it, and everything started to change around. That was my one dealing with the police on this tour.
What do you think of some of these photographers who have been getting a lot of attention recently like Charles Gatewood, Eric Kroll, and Richard Kern?
ST: Gatewood mostly documents stuff. I like Eric Kroll's early work. His black and white photographs of his wife. They weren't as aggressive. There was no bondage. As far as Richard goes: I like his work and he likes my work. We trade prints. But I don't trade for his bondage prints. I like his softer stuff and he likes anything I do. Again I'm not a big fan of photography. I like pockets of an artist's work. There's not so many artists who are working with nudes these days where you like everything that they do. I do like Sally Mann. I hope that she continues to photograph her children as they grow older. I like things that are conceptual. I don't like pure documentation although I like Larry Clark's work. It's voyeuristic yet real. I also like Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins.
Is music or films an influence?
ST: On this tour we listened to Pavement, Radiohead, and Dylan. When we got to California we listened to Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Spinanes and Cibo Matto. AS far as films, I'm into Ray Harryhausen. Special effects. Japanese creature films. I'm very fantasy oriented.
What was this picture about?
ST: This one is about chemical warfare. It's on my poster. I was interested in violence, not domestic violence, but violence in the United States. To create an explosion beforehand, it soothes me and prepares me. On my shoots I do two set-ups. One is more abstract, and then I do one that is just chaos. Those shoots are like therapy because I can then deal with my fear of terrorism and loss of life.
Your prints are very large. Many people miss out on that when they see them only in magazines
ST: The great thing about having a show, is that you can exhibit it in the way that the artist meant you to see it. When you see it in a magazine, you don't realize what the scale is of the photographs. The best people to work with are people who have a sense of art as it hangs in a gallery or museum. They know that they're not going to see their picture in a pornographic context. A lot of people on the Naked States tour, had never seen art before. They had only seen Playboy Magazine. Sometimes I had to discuss my work for an hour, and talk about figurative nudes.
Are you are very tactile person?
ST: Uh. (pause) I like to work with my hands. Sometimes I have breakfast with the models afterwards. If they want to give me a massage on my shoulders, that's fine. I'm very professional. I meet a lot of people and am very open-minded.
Read more / Permalink