Disrupting Divisions

Contemporary, online introductions, like how I met Antonius Bui, still send me down a rabbit-hole of "(blank) in the age of the internet".

I was tagged in a comment, on one of their Instagram posts, by a mutual friend we had met at respective residencies. The connection being that we were both based in Oklahoma at the time. At the time of this interview, Bui was one of the 2017 Tulsa Artist Fellows. This tag led to a binge-stalking of their Instagram feed. Then their website. Finally reaching out via DM and text.

Lucky for me, they were heading down to OKC for a visit to a friend, and were available for a meet-up over drinks. We met in the Plaza District, exchanged pronouns and rapid fire of common friends, experiences, projects and complications of living in Oklahoma as POC.

A few weeks later we met up for an interview at their studio in Tulsa. Antonius and DADA (their newly rescued dog) walked me over to the TAF studio building, where we began the interview.

ESTABLISHING ACCESSIBLE ARCHIVES

Major/Minor is the collaborative blog Bui runs with their brother, Joseph. The space is one that presents interviews and profiles on queer and trans people of colour, as a means of visibility and self-presentation.

We always wanted to start a project together, and we're finally getting to a point where we are learning to collaborate more effectively.

Growing up in a family of four kids, both of us growing up queer and artsy, and feeling Othered in our strict, Catholic, Vietnamese family - we just wanted a way to build community wherever we went.

Being transient a lot of the time, they want to create a central space for others to gravitate towards - one that features the stories of exclusively queer, people of colour.

The blog posts feature photo portraits, and Antonius and Joseph (graphic designer) are focusing on new ways of visually conveying each interview.

I think a lot of people won't read through the whole interview, and I don't blame them, they take what they need.

The dream would be to create a multi-disciplinary platform, with podcasts, a zine, the blog itself and we need to hop onto social media. Major/Minor is a lifelong work in progress that can use all the help it can get. We would love to have people from all over the world send us content based out of their local communities. All you need is a notepad, camera, and recording device. Let’s decolonize our minds and rewrite history together.

The process of finding people to interview for Major/Minor relies heavily on personal introductions through friends they've met from the various residency stints across the country. Bui also isn't intimidated to use social media as a means of connecting directly.

I'll literally DM someone and be like, "Hey, I think you're awesome! Let's meet up!" And since the LGBTQ community is pretty small, I think we're all yearning for a community.

One of the more obvious and important repercussions of this project is that the digital platform, not only creates an accessible record of POC queerness, but also makes a diverse range of historical narratives available.

INFLUENCE OF FASHION

We grew up in the Bronx, and my parents did production work, so imagine scarves, ties, accessories... I grew up packed in materials at night with my parents, using the heat sealer, staple gun, putting tags on stuff.

I've always been interested in fashion, but having many friends and relatives who've done it, and growing up doing textile work for my parents made me aware of how much exploitation can be on the other end of it, I didn't exactly want to enter the fashion world.  

During my second year at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) I was approached by Josie Natori, who is a Filipino-American designer, to do a window display for her storefront in New York, for New York Fashion Week (2015).

This is a collaboration that is ongoing – Bui has recently finished a 4th installation for Natori.

One fantastic thing about MICA is that we have an annual benefit fashion show where you don't have to be a fashion or fiber major to showcase your line. This produces a interdisciplinary show that pushes the boundaries of fashion. It was an opportunity for me to collaborate with my great friend Robert Penn - it was an extremely performative show.

Bui and Penn’s collaboration for the MICA benefit fashion show was named Real Fun, (an anagram of funeral). Themes of death, rituals and spirituality were presented using cut paper techniques for garments, complimented by more theatrical costume elements such as tombstones and monsters. Watching the video of that performance, the lighting is an essential role in highlighting the context of these garments - the overall form and especially the “negative space” of the cuts are distinguished clearly from one another. The effect is something akin to a foliage or floral flourish on the models.

We came up with the idea of a military style formation, but then juxtaposed with the feminine, floral paperwork.

We also created tombstones and monsters - it's kind of hard to imagine, but it draws parallels in my mind - how it's all over the place, and I can't imagine a show without a multi-disciplinary approach. The show definitely mirrored how I express gender and break away from heteronormativity.

PAPER PATH

Bui's process of arriving at paper cutting was not straightforward.

They began at the University of Houston, in a field unrelated to art production.

I was studying chemistry at first, as a way to please my parents and their version of success.

In order to transfer to MICA, they spent a semester creating an entire portfolio – predominantly of photo-realistic drawings.

Every department I went to for a portfolio review was like, "You're a print maker!", and I was like, "I don't know what printmaking is, but I'm going to apply with this major".

I fell in love with relief printing, really enjoyed the production of screen printing, the multiplicity, the ease and then hand-cut paper work, I guess they developed side by side from there and it eventually just took over.

The hand-cut part is important to my work, allowing me to reflect: whether it's the interviews with people, the moments I've had with loved ones, being in queer spaces - for me it's like rewriting history in many ways. The paper begins as a white canvas which I puncture, allowing the background and my narratives to shine through.

The symbolism and meaning behind my use of cut paper has changed quite a bit. It first began as this interest in the history of paper, which started off in Asia and revolutionized the world in many regards. Then I was interested in dying - in the form of print. We're entering this technological age, and paper is a way to slow down. Now, for me, it's about rewriting history, writing queerness into that history - and POC queerness - since history is predominantly white.

I'll say this cutting work is much, more intuitive. Whenever I'm back home and I'm forced to go to church with my parents, I realize how much of my upbringing is in my work - it looks like how the church is structured, it looks like stained glass windows, it looks like excessive flowers at the church and it also references the áo dài - the traditional Vietnamese garments.

The cuts are so instinctive and ingrained in my brain, very cultural. While the newer body of work, the portraits, because I want to portray them as accurately as possible, they do start off as projected images that I then draw. They're more dictated, there's still space for interpretation - like the way I decide what's cut what's not, and what is perforated instead.

PORTRAITS

The most striking piece in during our studio visit was, the portrait of Chris Lopez.

I started exploring cyanotypes a lot because I was thinking more about the metaphor of light: shining light on a history that's often, not seen or heard.

The dark blue background of the cyanotype cloth contrasts against the paler form of the head and upper torso of Lopez. The body is layered with ghostly traces of leaves and words that fade in and out of legibility.

The cut paper portrait of Chris was shown at the Lawndale Art Centre in Houston. I used that piece as a stencil, and the middle region is a second cyanotype - I went over this stencil with a second exposure.

The darker piece over his mouth was a happy experimental accident, but many people have enjoyed it - since this (middle region) is actually a poem he wrote called: My Brown Skin.

The poems lines fade in and out of legibility creating a visual effect of waking up from a dream, ideas fading in and out of ones’ memory. The artist used Lopez's handwriting itself.  

It'd definitely one of the most rewarding parts of Major/Minor, where I interviewed him and was like, "Oh wait, Chris, I loved our conversation, I love our friendship, it would be an honor to portray you, may I photograph you?"

When I went to his house to photograph him, we were throwing around ideas, and he was like, “Oh wait, can I show you my journal?”

He showed me this poem that he wrote, and I said, "Whoa Chris this is what we need!" I like the ins and outs of the poem in many ways, having to fight to read it, as well, because you need to develop a bond and relationship with someone in order to get to this point.

Toward the end of the visit, we walked over to Living Arts, the gallery/project space where Bui had another portrait - one that had won Best in Show.

The work is of another artist, educator interviewed by Bui for Major/Minor: Noèl Puèllo.

Her portrait shimmers black and glittery as one moves past its space on the wall.The cut parts of Noèls’ clothing are simple strips that flop and fold themselves into facets that gently undulate at the slightest draft, or movement of a body around it. Her face is shaped and highlighted by intricate cuts that reveal the reflecting light from the wall underneath. Her features are bookended between her coiffed curls and beard, which flicker light caught on the dark glitter.

Whenever I win an award, and it has to do with the project (Major/Minor), I give a percentage to the person portrayed and then a percentage to a non-profit of their choice.

We’re giving 30% of the award to an art program that Noèl went to as a teenager, one she found her voice through.

This practice is something Bui, set into motion after seeing other artists exposing their subjects and related issues in an exploitative manner.

I'm still figuring out how to do it without feeling like I'm exploiting their story in any way. If you happen to have any suggestions, I am all ears. Though artists are often full of good intention, we sometimes enter communities, complete a project, and leave the people behind.

I make sure to title it with a quote from the interview, and it feels a little didactic, but I feel we do need to slow down.

We process images so fast through Instagram, that to have people take even three seconds longer to read a title is a small, meaningful gesture.

ACROSS PLATFORMS

Bui manages to organically integrate their interviews into their visual-art, again, taking on a multi-disciplinary approach in all, creative endeavors.  For them, wearing several different hats (writer, artist, designer, performer) is an urgent necessity, one that comes out of a need for career survival.

We are often times judged by the skills we can provide. Taking that on and realizing that these are platforms for our voices to be heard is empowering in many ways, but I can definitely see the other side of it - it's restrictive. You want to concentrate on this aspect of my life, but have to do all the other parts in order to be recognized.

On Bui's website, they have separated their practice into three sections: Cut Paper, Explorations, and Major/Minor.

I have an issue with the way that I compartmentalize my work, I feel so much pressure to do that, by the art world. In order to secure funding, to get these fellowships, and to explore the other work, I need to continue this paper-cutting work. Not that I don't like them, but I do need to find a way to combine them more. Like combining drawing with the cut paper work, I'm still thinking of printing large format photos, and cutting into that.

Now that we're talking, I realize how important fashion is and how it continues to influence me. It combines every aspect into one form: photography for the shoots/editorial, the writing, the textile design, the performance aspect of the shows itself.

POLITICS AND APATHY

ReModel Minority and Model Minority Mutiny are two series of laser cut, monochromatic paper works featuring statements such as, “NOT YOUR MODEL MINORITY” and “NOT YOUR ASIAN SIDEKICK”. The work seeks to confront silenced issues of being a “Model Minority”.

This came out of a sense of urgency - both bodies were created in less than a week. I needed to make these for myself.

The term describes demographic as being perceived to be more successful socio-economically (ie. family stability, low-crime, highly educated and financially stable) than the general population.  The controversy around this term comes from the lack of government intervention and adjustments inequalities in the group, because of the perceived success.

This "model minority" thing is such a myth: there are so many Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders who are struggling. It not only affects AAPIs who don’t achieve/ don’t desire the “American Dream”, but also negatively impacts other minorities as well. For instance, my parents blame Black and Brown folks for their problems because they don’t understand systemic racism and their histories. The Model Minority Myth creates this unrealistic idea that hard work alone leads to success. Lies!

With Model Minority, I will say, I am so annoyed with apolitical Asians.

So many AAPIs can be so apathetic and I understand why: there’s huge history of separating us from Black people, and also riding on anti-blackness to get to that level.

I hate, hate the idea of the Asian guy who is into cars, and sport, who prefers skinny, pale Asian women, who lifts – they aspire to white “bro” culture so much!

They can be so complacent! Get politically involved and stand up for other marginalized groups.

Too often you only see Asian Americans stand up when it comes to cinema and actresses and actors - and it's important! But, where are we at marches and protests? Where are we for Black Lives Matter? Where are we for DACA?

This sense of solidarity is something Bui follows online via closed Facebook groups like Sad And Asian.

They started out as a phenomenal femme Asian Art collective, Sad Asian Girls, based out of New York.

The closed Facebook group relies on heavy moderation by the organizers – calling out users for inappropriate behavior and posts that do not follow the group rules.

Some of the rules include tagging everything: Friday is "LGBTQA day", Thursday is "Disabilities day", and Saturdays and Sundays are "No East Asians day" - so they're very aware of how East Asians are often highlighted over other Asian groups.

They provide reading groups, you can vent, advertise opportunities, even just, "Hey, I’m going through this - is anyone else going through something similar?"

It's politically charged and to be part of this group, is like "YES!"

Other groups that I have found include VANGUARD and the Tiger Balm Project, both fantastic zines that cater to Southeast Asians.

Now it's a matter of trying to get other Asian friends involved!

Yeah, a lot of the slogans (in Model Minority) were informed by conversations with community members or looking at problems other AAPIs go through, looking at AAPI resistance history as well - like reading about the term "Yellow Peril" and realizing, I wasn't taught any of this…it's crazy how much history was hidden from us!

Additional Information & Images:

 

Be sure to follow Antonius Bui’s interviews at Major/Minor (https://www.major-minor.space/)

The artists’ website is (http://www.antoniusbui.com/)

And posts regularly on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/buimonster/


Looking for a brighter day

Leah Thomason Bromberg visits Lakwena Maciver’s studio

I walked past endless stalls of vegetables, a black and white dress I really liked, patterned fabrics of every sorts. It was crowded enough to make it hard to walk. I spent £1 on raspberries as I made my way to Lakwena Maciver’s studio toward the end of a Dalston street market in east London. Inside her studio it was still filled with bright colors and voices, but they were on the five paintings she was working on for her exhibition, The future’s gold.

Lakwena herself is quiet with a lot to say. Her work comes from political promises. They are cutting in what is promised, yet sincerely optimistic. The work points to how the state of politics are far from the way they need to be.

lakwenainstudio.jpg

My visit to her studio was a few weeks after another election in the United Kingdom which destabilized Theresa May and the Tories’ grasp of power, and a year after the Brexit vote--a process looming over us still. There is always the sympathetic look of knowing when the conversation turns to American politics.


LTB: What is your normal, ‘working size’ for your paintings?
LM: There’s something political in filling up space.

And there is political weight in filling space. Lakwena shares that she usually works really large, filling as much space as she can. Lakwena’s voice is undeniable in the work as well as in the space it takes over. The vibrancy of her paintings fill the space. The largest of her five pieces seemed about 4’ x 4’, yet feels much larger than that given her palette. Lakwena has also completed several murals in various locations internationally that also envelop the entire space. For The future’s gold she has painted the walls as well as installed her work.

Lakwena’s work seems to need to spread beyond the frame. Even in her studio, it feels like they have oozed onto the floor--it is covered in black and white checked utility rubber mats.

Pictorial space has always felt political to me: when else does someone have complete autonomy over an entire world? As a woman who was taught it was “good manners” to be quiet and invisible, I can’t help but appreciate the sass in taking up space. Voices need to go beyond their allotted space.


LTB: What’s the relationship between the image and the text?
LM: I think a lot about mirrors. There is a quote: “For now we see through a glass darkly,” which ends with the idea that “now we see clearly.”

A collection of fabrics and books fill up Lakwena’s studio. A small black and white necklace finds itself in the edge of one of her paintings. Her desk drawers are painted in a day-glo gradient. The patterns feel like they just naturally emerge from Lakwena, standing next to me in her lime green dress.

The paintings draw on her experiences as a sign painter, and she subverts the connection to commercial advertising with her politics. There is the analogy of commercialism with politics: selling a message that the future will be better if you buy this or vote for him. There’s also the analogy of a mirror--how advertising reflects desire. The way the patterns frame the text echo a sort of mirror in the work. It’s a biblical reference to our lack of vision into the future as Lakwena quoted: “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known” (I Corinthians 13:12). 

The gold in the paintings also reflect poorly, a vinyl imitation of something far more precious. Lakwena opted for vinyl instead of gold leaf--it’s more commercial, less referential to history painting, and non-elitist. For a moment I’m lost in imagining all the Renaissance cathedral paintings and the apocalyptic visions in the book of Revelation. In that book there are promises of a “new Jerusalem” paved with gold, but the gold is so pure it is perfectly clear. Again: what we see here feels inferior. How clear is our vision of reality?


LTB: Where do you find the phrases that go into the work?
LM: For this painting, there’s a song by Gil Scott-Heron that says, ‘Black people / will be in the street looking for a brighter day. / The revolution will not be televised.’

The sort of discontent with the status quo and push for the newly imagined is a huge part of Afrofuturism. Lakwena herself likes to blend Afrofuturism with a messianic philosophy: waiting for, longing for, imagining a promised and better future. 

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised goes on:

Green Acres, The Beverly Hillbillies, and Hooterville
Junction will no longer be so damned relevant, and
women will not care if Dick finally gets down with
Jane on Search for Tomorrow because Black people
will be in the street looking for a brighter day.
The revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised, will not be televised,
will not be televised, will not be televised.
The revolution will be no re-run, brothers;
The revolution will be live.
— Gil Scott-Heron

The future and the revolution take on this mythical quality.  When are people more empowered than when they are creating their own myths? Myths are about making the ordinary, extraordinary--beyond and outside of the quotidian--as well as unrecognized by capitalist interests. Advertising has nothing to do with changing power dynamics.

Lakwena's paintings as contemporary work feel alive, living in both the present and the future. The text could easily become sarcastic or glib; but I found myself being spurred on to imagine what a golden future would maybe be.

She pulls out books about Oakland’s Sun Ra, a musician and artist whose bright aesthetic echoes in her studio. He took on his persona as a prophet and never deviated from it, becoming a pioneer of Afrofuturism itself. The small artworks inside the book are themselves mythic and feature characters wielding unworldly powers. This too is an imagined world grappling with extraordinary powers. There’s a similar sincerity in Lakwena’s work: optimistic but not removed from the realities of present day. 

That is after all what we are constantly promised: for the future to be great again, strong and stable. And the best slogans promise what we want. I remember “hope” being so important after the Bush years. For whom are these promises? Her son napped quietly next to her work, a reminder that politics and power dynamics aren’t at all theoretical. 

The present isn’t gold; let’s hope that the future could be.



Lakwena Maciver lives and works in London. Her exhibition, The future's gold, is at KK Outlet, London N1 from 7 July to 31 August 2017. You can also see more of her work at lakwena.com or follow her on Instagram @lakwena.

Cupid Ojala visited by Nick Naber

As with many of the artist I meet, I met Cupid through a mutual friend at a party. Cupid came right up to me and started talking. Typically, being the curmudgeon that I am this would be off putting, but Cupid has a sweet and genuine charm to him. We talked for about an hour at this party, later that night I took a look at his site. There was so much to mine there, from performance work, collaborations, and his line drawings. I asked him if he’d mind me coming to see him and talking about what he was up to.

How long have you been working on these drawings?  You’d been doing a lot of Performance work previously? 

I went to The Vermont Studio Center Artist Residency last May and I spent the past year processing what I did there. I’ve been working on and finishing up other projects. Then the election happened, and I no longer felt inspired to work on the performances.  I can't believe how affected I was by the election. I started doing these Queer drawings, and it's been a nice way to be political and in your face but also have these affirming images of the community that I want to see. They are fun and unpredictable things happen in them. 

I'm looking at the drawings and I see you and friends, which is great. Others have celebrities like Cher and Divine. Are you conscious of using yourself and your friends in the work when you sit down to draw them?

Yes, but most of them are different faces I’ve seen. Some are celebrates and some come from a drawing group at the museum (Leslie-Lohman Museum Of Gay and Lesbian Art) has. They have a male model every week and sometimes I'll take one of these drawings and work on them at home. I don't see any trans woman or trans men posing at these. I want to make this dialogue between trans bodies and different genders.

And then in that in-between forms in some of the drawings, and  I am inspired to use symbols of Queerness

From different decades Joan Crawford, Cher and Divine. Also, there are happens to be this man wearing a harness who looks like me with a flower in his ass. These two queer folks gender nonconforming are enjoying the first day of spring with a masculine flower vase.

CUNT 3.14.2017 Weird Sisters, 2017, pigma pen on paper, 9x12 inches

There's like a certain humor to most of them. Some are obviously erotic but I think for the most part there's like an inherent humor. Is that something that you're conscious of when you're putting them together or deciding where people are going to be placed on the page?

Humor is a great way to get people to look and to listen.  It's a sneaky way that I get people to see the people in these images. I want them to like or to find something endearing about them. It’s nice that people who don’t identify as queer can make associations with the people in my drawings. Many of them are of my friends horsing around. 

In this drawing I was inspired Vincent Tiley who collaborated with Chris Habana to do a performance at the Museum of Art and Design. Instead of humans I drew the figures as unicorns and changed their bodies a little bit. But for the most part this is what Vincent Tiley's sculpture with the jewelry looked like. Chris Habana’s jewelry is gorgeous and it's totally impractical.  His jewelry makes the wearer suffer It's suffering by choice it's a fetish. People may look at this and feel uncomfortable but by making it a unicorn it's kind of endearing. 

CUNT 6.20.2017 Unicorn Games, 2017, pigma pen on paper, 9 x 12 inches

Yeah it's a different thing, totally. You center everything on the page nothing is pushed off the edge or hidden, why do you make it all visible? 

No I like that they are illustration. I love Norman Rockwell's really cheesy family portraits of Americana, but I am also inspired by Edward Gorey’s unsettling family images. So cheesy and unsettling could turn into Queer Americana.

I went to see Jennifer Finney Boylan and Caitlyn Jenner speak at the 92nd Street Y. I live in New York so I can see shit like that. I enjoyed their conversation and the things Caitlyn said pleasantly surprised me.  It's so easy to attack someone who is coming from privilege, you know? But, transitioning sucks for everyone.  She maybe doesn’t look like she's suffering but she's suffering, that's for sure. In this way she's conscious of being a role model for other trans people.

Do you see these becoming some sort of like book?  

Yes, potentially...this series of work is interrelated. I like that they can also be broken down into smaller series. As the year goes on they are going to divide up into different categories with in the series. I definitely want to do a coloring book, coloring books are things that I’ve made in the past and I enjoy. Coloring books are accessible for a lot of people. I’ve also been thinking about doing a printmaking residency. I could see these evolve to the next level as etchings or silkscreens or something like that. 

They lend themselves to so many different project possibilities. Their current scale is personal but I’d love to see them super large and in your face. It would give it a different life. 

Looking at these now and seeing the unicorns here and Joan Crawford I’m thinking about video or animation. Possibly life size…like a stage set, inspired by Edward Gorey’s Dracula. He created an animation for mystery, when I was a kid I loved watching it.

That would be really cool. I don't know how to do that. That's something I definitely would need to ask around for help on.

Have you seen the movie “Fantastic Planet” It’s all animation and there's a lot of brain imagery and sexual imagery. 

So you're doing these and then you're also are you working on other series too?  Is this the primary series? 

I have footage from “Ranger Risky” that I’m trying to finish up and put together a video for “Kelly the Cub Scout.”  

[Looking at the paintings behind Cupid] Do you know about Ingo Swann? He’s this artist that government to paid to see through walls. He made art and wrote books about seeing aliens, psychic abilities and desire. He really had an otherness quality that was genuine. I have been trying to Astro-project before I go to sleep at night and now I feel inspired to make-work in outer space.  I'm dead serious; I'm going to figure this out.  I'm not sure about how to do this project. I have a good friend who is also interested in doing work about Space. Sci-fi is a kind of escape from my daily grind. 

[Viewing at Kelly the Cub Scout]

In this video I'm wearing my brother's Cub Scout shirt, which I and grew into. I had this elaborate fantasy around it. My brother hated the Cub Scouts. He was over it he never really did anything in the Scouts. I made up all these things in this performance like getting a Swiss Army knife. My brother got a knife when he was 10 years old, I didn't get a knife neither did my sisters. Then we all complain about it so much that we all got these crazy survival knives.

I shaved all my body hair off to transform into this character and I used that hair to make this fire starter. That's like an ongoing thing I want to redesign the packaging for it, it’s like a sculpture kind of performing performance piece. People can buy my body hair and start fires! It smells terrible. 

[Watching the video] This is my ideal bedroom, which was my little bedroom for months to the month at Vermont Studio Center. There is a poster of Prince and the Revolution, and Michael Jackson and E.T., and Smokey the Bear. 

I’m working on editing the “Ranger Risky” video has taken me a couple of years because I just haven't had time to finish it but now I feel inspired because Wonder Woman is back.  Wonder Woman plays a key role and when I'm dealing with the ranger for this video series. 

Is it a character that you think you're going to reprise?

It's a character that I have I'm going to edit all the shorts and put out. It’s finishing up a lot of things that have been hanging around because I haven't had a to of time to devote to editing. 

That takes a long time.

I thought about getting another iPhone to have two angles because using the iPhone has been so much easier to take photographs.  I have this doll called “Not Me,” and not me is a pillow person sewn to full size my size.  My size is kids size, right? 5’2” 100 lbs., the doll is a recreation of a doll my mother made. So, I’m like putting this little project in here and there too. How did this relate?

This was the reason why I bought the book it all sounds like a puzzle or something to do with a childhood but it's a really deeply personal thing to be wearing your brother's Cub Scout uniform and then also to be carrying around a doll that is exactly your size.

Exactly! Exactly!  I'm time traveling to my child to talk about these things I think are interesting or unique or queer. The doll doesn't have a gender. You put the doll in wherever clothes you want to and it’s whatever gender then. It’s made out of old bed sheets and I have these little photos on my Instagram which taken with my iPhone about with this doll does, because the doll does things that I "don’t do".  It's kind of like making fun of myself a little bit but tongue in cheek. There is one of the doll sitting on the toilet in my tiny bathroom. It says only “Not Me, only gets alone time in the bathroom." Something like that or, putting the doll in bed and gravity pulls the doll down in places so it looks more human than not. It's interesting that we played with this doll that was like a miniature person to play with, and then as a kid we would do little craft things. Yesterday I spent three hours making 40 origami pieces because number one I wanted to calm the fuck down because I’m on vacation and just do something that I could focus on without a computer. We used to do this when I was a kid and now it helps my creative process. I’ve been drawing little faces on them, thinking how expressive they could be. Anyway it was like time traveling back to my childhood for a few hours.  

Well, there is no specific destination with this. Sometimes it's just nice to make something and then like maybe later down the line leads to something or maybe it doesn’t.

Absolutely mundane, turn off my brain and just go with the flow.

I just did this presentation at VCU and I'm thinking about archetypes of masculinity and I've been doing it the whole time throughout my career and certainly until I prepared a presentation for VCU…in my undergrad I was making paintings of Elvis Presley. I kind of masculinity icon of sexuality controversy also male beauty…

Especially in those later years.

Oh yea. Gluttony.  It was interesting because I was an Elvis Presley fan and I grew up as an Elvis Presley fan. When I stopped painting portraits of Elvis, I started painting portraits of myself and I painted myself with no hair. I would remove my gender, I’d do pull-ups and pushes ups and photographed myself and make these black and white paintings. It was very hard to tell my gender in this process. At that time I didn't have the language of like trans or queer. Nobody talked to me about identity politics or identity… because I didn't know what I was doing and no one around me knew how to talk to me about it. They were just like, “fat over lean, here’s paint go do your thing.” 

Painting is also this older mode. Where if you make your work as a performance maybe it has more impact for the subject matter that you're talking about.  That may be my bias.

I think it's attention span. You know like sitting down and taking time to focus on something is hard for people to do because we have so many things flashing in front of us. Noticing everyone on their phones on the train they're not participating because there's this dialogue with your eyes you have the people you look at them on the train.  If there's someone crazy doing something you shoot a look at someone and you smile like you're like, “OK I'm not the only one.” It’s this silent kind of communication. That's something I think in the queer community constantly finding places to see each other. Whether you see yourself in a museum, whether you see yourself in a drawing series or you connect with… someone contacted me and said, “I really like how you draw these figures.  I really like the hair on these figures I really like the line quality. I like that they're in this pseudo sexual but mostly playful kinds of kinds of poses.”  The sex is there sex is always there it's going to be there but it's more about intimacy it's about community. 

You're creating something that’s deeply personal but I also feel like you've done a good job of making it not so personal that others can't enter into it.  It has a more universal feeling to it than, “Oh this is me doing all of these things.”   When you're playing a character there's a humor to it that allows everybody else to be in on it, and it doesn’t need to have a page of text for a viewer to understand it

Exactly. Exactly. It's right in front of you.

The most universal for me looking at your website was the “Cupid” series.  It seems super personal to have these people coming to you for these love prescriptions.  It’s also pretty evident that it’s a wide range of people who came not just those who are queer identified.  Can you talk a little bit about what that experience was like?

Yeah, that was a good series because I learned in that series to let people come to you instead of trying to people to try to sell something to people or entice people because I would hold a sign and I realized that maybe more of like oh, “ I have this, come here come here, come here.”  People were like, “We’re in New York. Why would we want to come to you, why should we come over there, what’s this about?”  When I sat down and waited for people and they were too curious to find out what I was doing. “You're just going to sit here and talk to us?”  I said, “ yeah” In 10 to 15 minutes you're (the person sitting with Cupid)  going to give me some kind of insight that you don't even realize that I am telling to you and I'm going to I'm going to figure out what that is and get back to you. People just dump, they’re so excited to talk about themselves, their feelings and was going on.  When I was a barber I’d ask them open questions and they just would tell me everything. When you say you’ll take time to listen you're going to somehow transform their information is something they can use. It doesn't cost anything. People are really excited about it. That was a unique kind of thing.

It's cool that you're saying that people were so open about it.  That's an experience you have in New York, most people seem really closed but once you have a conversation with somebody… for the most part people are open to that connection to talk to somebody.

Yeah, I can't help myself I have to break the rules I have to talk to someone on the train. If I like their outfit I tell them, if I smell their food and it smells good and I hate them I'm going to say, “Hey, I hate you your food smells really good. Where do you get it?” That was a really good performance to interact with a wide variety of people. It was training because it was work. I was like a real psychologist I was like, “oh, shit should I get certified and start charging?” 

You could.

But all this life experience listening to people like, I was a barber for seven years and I would talk to people about their lives for seven years so I had…all these different kinds of people straight, gay, families, non-families, drunks, and tow truck drivers with one eyebrow. 

Everybody needs a haircut.

Or, it plays some kind of role in your life at some point. They want to haircut and you just let people talk, some people don't want to talk. They're like, “I talk all day I hate fucking talking.” That would be me when I would go home, I don't want to talk about work. I spent all day talking about work when I come home I to think about art I want to think about something fun something new for me. Looking into the Sci-Fi thing or like mythology or looking at archetypes of identity is something that I've been also doing with these because I see archetypes and queer identities starting to pop out of these [referring to the drawings].

When do you typically make your work?

In the morning before going to work is when I get my best work done and for the “C U Next Tuesday” drawings I'll start drawing at the beginning of the day and finish it when I come home and that's like the thing I'm looking forward to when I'm coming home from work because I know that I have to do this drawing. Having these kind of deadlines…like the  “Love Prescription,” thing every month on the 14th day of the month I would go find a spot to do this and I would tell people 24 hours beforehand.  When you ask permission people ask too many questions and when you just show up and do it people say, “Oh that was cool, I'm going to tag you on my Instagram and repost this.”  For the people who participated it was it was much more than that.

For these specific drawings Tuesday is a full day, start the day with a drawing and end the day with a drawing and I work in between. Then the rest of the time I'm doing research in the morning or working through these files to figure out what I want to do and I was looking at archetypes and reading a bunch of science fiction kinds of things. I just picked up “Otherwise: Imagining queer feminist art histories-imagining a New Queer Reader,” that my friend Kris Grey just he helped write an article about trans identity a over year ago. Between reading Otherwise and Edward Gordy's Books and editing Ranger Risky I have my summer cut out for me. 

For additional information about Cupid please visit his website, Tumblr, or Instagram