Clarity Amidst the Ambiguity of Contemporary Art: Mat Gleason

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Mat Gleason, author of the book Most Art Sucks and founder and editor of the L.A. based art rag Coagula Art Journal.

* To begin I'd like you to tell us what Coagula is all about and fill us in a little bit on the 100th issue.

I have been publishing this little rag for 17 years and it has been about art and the art world, the artists and other messes too. This issue is a quick tour of each issue, one might be about what i thought of the person who was on the cover, another is about how my roof was leaking while I was editing that specific issue. Kinda like art history is random that way as well...

* What role does instinctual energy play in art?

There is no blueprint for a masterpiece, there are only mistakes when you stop or go too far, so instinct - which I would define as "what you know that you know without knowing that you know it until you do it" - fills in the blanks. They just proved that babies cry on the day they are born in the language of their mother, so there is a lot more cerebral hardwiring than people who take ridiculous amounts of notes and execute five rough drafts before composing an email will ever want to believe.

* What do you think is the importance of archetypal imagery?

Art objects have proven to last a long time and, therefore, it is amazing to be able to understand a representation created hundreds of years ago on a different continent under a different form of government by a person who did not speak my language - it is like time travel in vented in the 1400s - it is the closest thing to magic that one can experience.

* How does one distinguish archetypal imagery from stereotypical imagery?

Stereotypes are so culturally specific that they lose their meaning completely or become grotesqueries in their own right. Archetypes are shared across cultures.

* What do you think it means to be an artist in the 21st century?
What is the artist's role today?

To soothe that compulsion to create by creating - the rest (audience, gallery, sales, acclaim, criticism) is all superfluous even though it is almost all people talk about.

* Who are your favorite artists? Why?

I went to a show of Carlos Almaraz work the other day and almost started crying it was so perfect - but I'm from SoCal, the work is as L.A. as it gets, a hundred times more L.A. than all the "finish fetish" school and stuff like that, so I am a sucker for the best expression of my region, but Almaraz is beyond "regionalism" and is as good it gets. But ask me six months form now and I might be raving about something else... but my soul is in East L.A.

* What do you think of the abstract expressionists? Pollock, de Kooning, etc. Was their art archetypal? How?

I have a tattoo of Pollock in mid-drip profile on my right shoulder - the AbExers were the archetype - right up there with cowboys - the art is the gorgeous residue of their freedom, but don't believe the art and the artist are inseparable, that is an old Soviet circular logic game. Their art was not an archetype, their making it was. Go read what they said about their work - they were drop-down drunks talking about an eternity that none of their atheist souls even believed in.

* What about Warhol? Was he important? His Elvis, Marylyn, soup can etc. --are they archetypal? What do you think of his statement, "Business art is the step that comes after Art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist."

Warhol had a lot of one-liners, and in that regard he was a conceptual artist, but he knew how to balance the concept with great design, so that is art. His paintings are all icons of his culture like you would find icons of saints in a catholic church -which was where he was raised and the art he saw on the wall every day was icons of his religion's celebrities. HE just switched religions from catholicism to americanism.

* What do you think of Johnny Rotten similarly saying that he wanted to think of The Sex Pistols as a business rather than a band?

Johnny is close to my heart. When I was 17, in my mind's eye I wanted girls to see me as Joe Strummer and guys to see me as Johnny Rotten. I think John saw the impossibility of any success occurring without the music business fucking it up, but in order to at least do some of what he wanted there would be an inevitable capitulation to these interests - so he compromised by parading around his selling out rather then pretending he was virginal and above it.

* What about politics and art? Do they ever make for a good mix?

Politics demands that art serve. What happens is that it becomes watered-down or turns into propaganda. Usually. For every Guernica there are a hundred thousand artists serving the interests of policy makers who only want to use them and have no appreciation for their true value anyway.

* What do you make of Ron English? Does his art subvert mainstream ideas or expand consciousness in any significant way?

His Obama-as-Lincoln was sublime. It made you go ... oh shit I could be living in history ... as far as subversion, look, subverting anything has lost its electricity - in the 50s you could not show boobs in advertising - by the 70s you could. In the 70s you could not subvert mainstream ideas when you were part of the mainstream - now every level and form of media subverts the mainstream. I like Ron English and I like his painting, but subversion is not what it used to be ... but better to be guilty of becoming ubiquitous than to have never had your finger near the pulse at all...

* What about Basquiat? Do you think his art did much as far as deconstructing the art world establishment?

He made the ugly urban landscape pretty by abstracting it and using bright colors in the right compositional places - and i am not minimizing him here, that is genius, but he gets a lot of other people's trips laid on him to serve their agenda. HE was too loaded to be actively instigating any sort of "revolutionary agenda" against the art world, he enjoyed getting fucked up with rich people and not giving a shit if he was getting fucked up with poor people the next day.

* What do you think of the phenomenon of art-stars in general?

If you play poker, someone wins every hand. After a while, someone played the game well and won a lot more than the others. Some of it was skill, some of it was the luck of the shuffle. Actually, it is nice that the art world is no different, because hey, you plug away on your work in your studio and there is verifiable evidence out there that you MIGHT become an art star. And that is better than many times in history where you croaked and they tossed all your artwork into the fireplace before they even buried you.

* What's your take on LowBrow? What's it's place in the evolution of contemporary art?

LowBrow pretty much IS contemporary art - the bullshit in ArtForum is an old academy that does not know it is dead yet - boring conceptualism by tenured professors and their rich kid students is invisible in its impact on every facet of human existence. LowBrow is where art history is at right now. There is interesting art being made outside of LowBrow, but in 20 years I sure as fuck will not be bragging about having met Wolfgang Laib at his show at MOCA.

* Do you think of Robert Williams' imagery and/or the pop culture influenced imagery of Lowbrow as being archetypal?

His influence is profound in that he demands an intellectual foundation and a commitment to an outlook about existence - be it moral, nihilistic, optimistic, whatever - on top of returning the basic principle of a meritocracy of talent as the pecking order of things. Robert Williams is the central figure in how the art history narrative will shift gears after 1990.

* Is pop culture in it's original context, before being appropriated by "art" archetypal? ie is a hotrod seen on the street a representation of an archetype?

Absolutely. The art, in fact, is only a small part of it. There is a reason these objects become fetishes. There is a power there beyond what they are. What they represent is far more powerful.

* Do you feel passion is important or even necessary when creating art? How does one find one's passion?

The only thing more important than passion is curiosity. The day you are incurious is the day you are a jaded asshole and deserve to die. And curiosity is almost always a manifestation about passion or at lest wanting passion, so yeah, it is important. You find it by wanting it. You want it? go look for it? Maybe you find it in that drawing you will start tonight or the one you worked on last month, you know which one I am talking about. Why are you reading me babble on and on here on Reuben's blog when you could be making fucking art history tonight? See that is how you find passion.


jhammer said...

Great interview-I actually feel like I learned and/or reinforced alot of things in my head. Now I have to read Mat's work in the mags.

Anonymous said...

It is rather interesting for me to read that blog. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Anonymous said...

I like Mat's views.I have seen him on a couple of shows on ovation TV offering his views on art.Great stuff.

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Anonymous said...

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aline said...

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