Anti-Pop: loud paper interviews Bill Barminski
LP: How would you describe your work?
BB: I some know people describe it as "neo-pop" or all kinds of other things. I think it of it as collaged media work. That’s generally what it turns out to be.
LP: How do you feel about the moniker "neo-pop" or pop in general?
BB: I don’t like it. I don’t think it really fits because it’s an easy handle to put on. If you look at it superficially, the work looks like pop but it’s really the antithesis of it: anti-pop.
LP: How’s that?
BB: Pop artworks, like Andy Warhol’s, reveled in those images. And they thought that they were in a way, beautiful. I use them in a different context.
The images are meant to be eye-candy that attracts you, but then you are supposed to read the subtext.
LP: So, for example, if I was looking at some of the Fred Flintstone imagery in your show, what would that then read as?
BB: Well, I think the gas masks function in that way that I’m talking about.
They are these cartoon pop images that are supposed to suck you in, like "oh, that’s really... oh, what is that? It’s a gas mask." So, this sinister reality is revealed.
Some of my other works incorporate embossed subtext that you don’t see until you get up close and start really looking.
LP: What about your show, Filter? I was noticing on some of the paintings there were Photoshopped images.
BB: All the images are culled from media. A lot of it is nostalgic-looking-magazines from the fifties, sixties and seventies. I use Photoshop to alter and change a lot of the images. Then I print them out and then decoupage them to the wood surface on those paintings.
LP: How do you find people buying your paintings? Do they buy them for the pop imagery or for the weird tension?
BB: You know, it’s hard to say. I think it runs the gamut. Some people get stuff, and some people read a lot more into it than I intended or read it differently.
Sometimes people point out meanings that I didn’t know were there. Maybe on a subconscious level I put the images together without really thinking about it.
LP: What would be an example of that?
BB: In the image of the Barbie gas mask, above there I put this tire. An automobile tire. And I turned it horizontally, so that it’s sitting above her head. The reviewer said that it’s obvious by looking at this that "Barbie has been sainted." That it’s a halo. I looked at it and thought, "you’re right," but it didn’t even occur to me when I was doing it, but for some reason I flipped the tire horizontally right above her head.
LP: What’s changed since September 11? Your show, Filter, was somewhat prescient given that it opened on September 8.
BB: I’m not sure. In the middle of the gallery there was a big pile of dirt with a TV in it. After the bombings you would walk into the gallery and there was twenty-four hour news coverage coming out of that pile of dirt.
That piece became really creepy. And it had a totally different meaning than what was intended, although, not completely different, but it really took on it’s own meaning.
I’m looking at my own work now and I am trying to identify the things that I do in my own work that are easy. Easy targets. I’m still working thorough what this is going to mean for my artwork, but what I think it is going to mean is that I’m going to have to work harder and try to be more thoughtful about what I do and try not to take easy targets.
I did all these paintings with a Coca-Cola bottle and I labeled it "crap."
That’s so easy now. And I realize that. I need to push to go to some other level. Otherwise is such a cartoon.
LP: Do you feel like now that there are some sensitive topics that you feel like you have to stay away from?
BB: I don’t feel like there is anything that I have to stay away from.
I’d never do that. I feel like a lot of my artwork is a skewing of popular culture and American culture in particular. I feel like I need to put some balance in it. It’s a pot shot to say, "Oh, look at those stock brokers, they are just money grubbing." Yeah, but they are also people they are not cartoons. But I don’t feel the need to stop criticizing mass culture for the way it denigrates language and the human soul.
LP: So the artist or the critic is part of the consumption as anything else?
BB: Yes and no. This is why it gets back to what that show, Filter, was originally about. It was about the act of trying to separate yourself from it makes you become more apart of it. The gas masks epitomize it. You are trying to filter out, but at the same time you are putting on a Mickey Mouse mask. You can try to hide, but you are still a part of it. Also it is about how we take any kind of sinister thing and put a happy face on it.
That points to the complexities. I’ve been having arguments about American foreign policy. You have some people who are say that we are totally evil and the others say that we are the greatest. You know what... we are both of those at the same time. It is more complex than saying we are either good or evil.
LP: It’s like the cluster bombs and the food aid packages looking the same.
BB: It’s a complex thing. Everything is divided into shades of gray instead of what people want them to be: which is to fit into little pigeonholes.
I would like to work in more complex messages.
LP: Tell me a bit about the Absolut billboard you did and working in public space. Does that fall into you list of things you would like to pursue?
BB: I’m not sure if pursing is the right word because these kind of things fall into your lap, or don’t. So if someone asked me to do that again I certainly would entertain it. Some people criticized me because I do a lot of anti-advertising artwork, and then I did this ad. I would allow a certain amount of hypocrisy on my part, but on the other hand, I have to pay the bills. Anyway, I like to drink vodka, and sometimes I like to drink Absolut....
LP: And they sponsored the drinks for your opening.
BB: Hey. That’s right. A side benefit.
I have to admit that I got a bit of a charge out of seeing my name twenty feet tall on Sunset Boulevard. I would purposely drive by just to see it.
They didn’t alter my design at all. I designed it as a designer not an artist, so that it would be something unique, but also suit their needs.
LP: What about doing your anti-commercialism ads in public space?
BB: I’d love to do that. That’s what I’d prefer to do. Art in public spaces... it’s hard to get the wherewithal to get it to happen.
LP: Tell me about your underground comic, Tex Hitler: Fascist Gun in the West, that you first started publishing in Texas.
BB: I was in college and I realized that I wanted to be an artist, but at the time I was doing cartoons, but that was like "art." I started doing my own fanzines in Austin in the punk rock scene in the early eighties.
Being a student, not having much money, I started making these zines.... I used them to get into clubs. It was really my currency.
LP: I know about that.
BB: Then you are at the bar and someone asks about a new issue and I would say, "Buy me a beer and I’ll give you one." It became like dollar bills that I was making. It gave me a lot of incentive to keep making new ones. It was something I was doing for fun and then all of a sudden I started getting written about in the local paper and in Artforum. So, it was like, "Hey, maybe I should think about a career in the arts!"
LP: Checking in on your favorite piece of architecture for the architecture zine....
BB: My favorite piece of architecture? It’s got to be a whole genre of things like Randy’s Donuts. Themed roadside places like that. Or the dinosaurs out in the desert by Palm Springs. Then, there are the storefronts that look like cameras.
LP: There’s one on Wilshire...
BB: Yeah, I think it’s an Indian restaurant now.
(check out Bill’s work at www.plasticland.com)