I met Roger at an art show in Astoria, we later hung out and I found him knowledgable on underground art and smart and opinionated. I guess I see Roger as a person who can look at the underground as an outsider, yet his art be it paintings or music is not too commercially viable and smacks of underground, but it is also considered fine art. I’m torn on the acceptance of art and if that takes away it’s underground street cred. Maybe it’s who accepts it and for what reason that defines if your work isn’t underground enough to be underground, maybe you can achieve enough where galleries lay your work on the ground and walk on it as most galleries do. I dig Roger, his expressions and his mind.
What is underground art?
Underground art exists as a pre-emergent aesthetic, which by definition does not emerge. It may later become discovered, but in that sense it has the patina of history. a perfect example might be Tijuana Bibles – marketed directly to their audience – we know about them as artifacts but they were never aimed at a wide distribution. merchandising is so insidious in the world that we live in that truly the only artists that aren’t affected are the ones who are cognitively affected (to some degree of impairment). we have an innate tendency to barter what we assign value to,…everything has its price.
to take the idea even further into another context, I wonder about how a tribe decided who got to put their images on the wall, in the caves in Lascaux – what hierarchy determined that? – was it that whoever had the propensity to transcribe images, or did they have to pass a series of initiations to hold that capacity? – so that even in a tribal setting there was acceptable, and non-acceptable art? When did someone figure out that “style” meant out-doing the last guy, and began that domino trail up to the present?
Are there rules or a set of ethics to the underground?
the rules seem to be set by a particular tribe. some artists in the underground retain control of their rights to self produce and can control leakage, for example the magazine Hopital Brut from Marseilles published by Pakito Bolino: the distribution is controlled by the artist, and doesn’t threaten to merge with other entities of vague intent.
rules are hierarchical, so within a given community the trick is to gain authority, however the pack determines that.
Hopefully the art in question is innately ‘underground’, and the question becomes obviated by the nature of the art.
What is selling out?
selling out means exchanging your creed for a handful of silver. an issue might be the overvaluing of art, or the tendency to measure value in terms of dollars. a dollar price means I guard my valor, but value is only really determined by market. What I mean is that artists tend to take a subjective stance. Wouldn’t it be cool if you only paid according to chops? I’m not sure where I’m going with that, other than that price really says nothing about value.
I’m always amazed at artists who weathered an entire life of outsidership, only to cash in their chips to the first pimp who comes along. I remember seeing a Levi’s ad done by Leon Golub about 20 years ago, and that blew my mind…..I still don’t understand it. Somewhere along the line John Waters no longer spoke to an underground audience, but I can still respect the originality that he brought to cinema.
I think that the real kernel of the problem of art is summed up in a story by Camus where a self-actualizing artist gets caught up in social impetus to create, and who somehow ends up dying in this struggle: however he leaves behind a work, which on the surface looks like a dot on an empty filed: however upon closer scrutiny it can be discerned that the dot is a word: but the dot is so small that it cannot be ascertained whether it reads ‘solidarity’, or ‘solitary’. what more can be added to that?
Can underground go above ground and still be underground?
I think that a de facto ‘work’ can get re-franchised as an art ‘artifact’ of historicity: was the Mona Lisa an ‘underground work’, at one time even though it is reproduced ad nauseum? probably a bad example. I don’t think that an artist can actively thread an underground style above ground without compromising the original intent and veracity of the statement. Of course the entire point of graffiti bombing a train is that it goes city-wide, but the authorship by nature of the statement is anonymous, in a grossly brand name sort of way.
The power of art though, is always triumphant – I really understood this when I first saw Les Demoiselles D’Avignon by Picasso – here was a work that doesn’t translate to the printed page – I didn’t understand how little painting there actually was there, but how much strength the work projected in its ability to retain its own power and give only if you were willing to see. In a sense some really great art is like this and only reveals itself to those on the same frequency band. maybe individual works are underground? Andy Warhol’s Empire State Building will probably never be mainstream. Can you see a marketing tie in between Nike’s, and Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Salo?
Certain artists seem to function really well on that cusp, Richard Corben for instance.
Have you ever sold out?
not really, i did a commission that was mildly obnoxious, but that was about it.
Is it possible to steal an idea?
this seems to be getting explored more through cinema, where the tension in the idea of appropriating an idea exists alongside a new work which presents a variation on a theme, examples being Gus Van Sant’s Psycho, or the argument of Black Swan being built around Perfect Blue. It’s interesting to think that in Stalinist Russia there were only proscribed subjects, but you had composers like Shostakovich who could convey the pathos of an entire generation without having his head cut off. In a sense taking a great theme drives the vehicle for a new work.
A truly radical variation on this idea would be to re-cut someone else’s vinyl: that would be a new conceptual generation, represented in its entirety of what I thought of the original work. That’s called piracy, though.
‘Ideas’ tend to bear the stamp of their inventor and by this trait they are highly vulnerable, the ‘expression’ is the impetus that conveys the concept, so in a sense any idea can be stolen, sometimes the thief makes better use of the idea.
Your biggest artistic regret?
Stopping where I was about 25 years ago – it actually side-tripped me into another reality, all experiences are good, I was in an artist dead-end – I had attention, which I traded, but I got back my soul. I guess my ‘regret’ was how narrow my window of vision was. I think I’ve learned to broaden my scope.
Your biggest artistic inspiration?
I feel that I have worked hard for 38 years practicing my own art to be able to say that I am my own biggest influence.
What is dangerous art?
Dangerous art represents the staid emotionally dead vacuum of fear, espoused by the timid, who ask only that art endorse their vapid and empty reality. I’m always reminded of the abysmal National Socialist Neo-Classicism of the Nazi Party – that was dangerous art, or perhaps the same tripe generated by Stalinist, and Maoist regimes.
Bonus Question – Nature or nurture?
I can address this in a certain way, because of where my thoughts are right now. I’ve always been fascinated with artists who don’t quite fit in to the normalized education system that we have, at this time. Philip K. Dick would be an example, people who find the means to meet their needs. I take exception to those who say that a being does not have the propensity to create their own parameters for thought, and to fill it out like a glass that is not sufficiently full. Who needs to have a yard-stick to measure others? The State mostly, or any other petit-bourgeois junior fascists who need to exert control over their own micro-environments.
Some current thinking shows that nature and nurture are two separate points from which to approach the same issue, basically who we are mentally and our behavioral expressions of our individual genetic phenotypes.
I guess another way to broach this would be to look at adaptive and non-adaptive factors in our individual environments.