“All of my work is made as a result of a little game I play with myself and sometimes with other people . . . You win the game by following the link of so many lies that you end up back to something that’s essentially truthful.”
We collaborated by inventing (I like to say) the Pfaugler print, a process which involves printing on the right and/or wrong side of an inkjet transparency, and then layering those transparencies perhaps two to seven layers thick. We (George) named this collaboration “Ancestral Palimpsest” because we were both using artwork originally created by his grandfather and my great-great grandmother, both of whom had died long before George or I entered the cosmic stage.
By printing on the slick side of a transparency, one can move the ink around with a finger or brush–paint with it, so to speak–since it takes a week or two to dry. Then, by layering the transparencies, new, unexpected imagery forms. It becomes a trial-and-error process of layering each other’s intentionally faulty inkjet prints until something worthwhile emerges. Each Pfaugler print is unique. Buy yours today.
A: The inspiration came as much or more from George’s work as from my own. I’ve been dealing with ideas about an abstract hunt or chase for almost two years, while George has been interested in overlapping concerns through the vehicle of zombies. I was definitely thinking of George’s zombies when that title came to mind.
It’s hard not to sense a kind of general urgency, whether we’re talking about religion, the economy, politics, etc. Yet a cursory look back through history reveals that this urgency has always been with us. I’m thinking of that ancient voice ascending through the generations and emerging through the airport speaker, “We are currently experiencing a Homeland Security threat level of orange.” There are six colors I think, but I haven’t heard the voice warn me about green yet.
A: You have no idea, actually. But telling them might get us in trouble.
I did have an ex-girlfriend from high school show up and I was very nervous. She’s quite striking and I couldn’t make words with my mouth. I did that thing where you introduce your wife (even more striking and I love her) but you forget her name suddenly. Then I remembered my wife’s name (it’s Laura) and went on with the stuttering.
Also, George got very drunk and began flashing anyone he thought might be a collector, thinking rightly that it would improve his chances for sales, which it did.
So as you can see, the opening went spectacularly. I might have seen Jay-Z in the crowd.
A: I’m going to tell the truth.
All of my work is made as a result of a little game I play with myself and sometimes with other people, in which the main rule is you have to distort the truth so many times and so wildly that you can’t remember the first deception. You win the game by following the link of so many lies that you end up back to something that’s essentially truthful.
A: I’ll tell you what the painting means. It means that I’m terrified of becoming my father. That’s my father and me in the picture. The 3D models depict our respective faces. I was thinking of those routine myths, Abraham and Isaac, Oedipus Rex.
The explanation that’s missing from all of this is that the content in my work is actually coming from four individuals whom I interviewed–my father, a homeless friend who warns about future disasters, a well-known cartoonist, and the kind fellow who burned down my apartment three years ago. The homeless friend was molested by his father as a kid and wrote a self-published comic book about the second coming of Christ born to a scavenger woman in a landfill. So I excavated from his past to make this. I’ve been excavating from all of their pasts and imaginations and imposing my own narrative just beneath theirs. I think of myself as a Gnostic painter.
Since the homeless friend also sees himself as a prophet–as someone whose thoughts change the very fabric of reality around him–I’m sort of at his service. So if his vision finds its way into my work, then he’s not just crazy; he’s validated. I’m supporting his claim to be a prophet rather than dismissing him as crazy. This is true for all four of my collaborators.
I currently have a 12-minute animation in progress based on the interviews with my four evangelists. You’ll start to see it all come together next year.
A: Roberta Smith wrote in an essay published in the New York Times that what’s missing in art museums is work that’s made from “intense personal necessity.” This phrase hasn’t left me and pretty much guides what I like about art at all, whether it be visual or otherwise. As she said, this work is often painting, and as you could expect, since I am a painter, I often gravitate to it.
I like Shiri Mordechay, Kiki Smith, Cecily Brown, Cai Guo-Qiang, Maurizio Cattelan, Glenn Brown, Wangechi Mutu, William Kentridge, Allison Schulnik, Folkert de Jong, Dana Schutz, Kara Walker, David Lynch, Henry Darger, Francis Bacon, James Ensor, Leon Golub, and lots of others.
“My dad did agree to be a part of my project, so that was pretty nice of him, and I suppose I might have abused his trust by including him in a homoerotic painting with me.”
A: Definitely. My favorite reaction was when a lady from Pleasanton or somewhere came to an open studio I was having, mistaking mine for a pottery/jewelry studio she meant to stop by. She became very angry with me, accusing me of hating religion and spreading general unhappiness. I don’t know if I’m spreading unhappiness, but she couldn’t be more wrong about religion. Religion provides me with all the excitement I could ever hope for. All the juiciest material comes from religion. May it never die.
Most people who declare it “scary,” just spit the word out onto the floor and there it lays at our feet, dead and useless, like a run-over chicken. This tends to be where the conversation ends, two people having very different ideas about what to cook it in, what to spice it with.
My family is sensationally apathetic. Only my brother expresses an opinion and probably because he is the only member of my family who possesses one. My dad did agree to be a part of my project, so that was pretty nice of him, and I suppose I might have abused his trust by including him in a homoerotic painting with me. But in general, each member of my family tends to be an equally mysterious piece of a puzzle none of us know how to put together, so it’s probably not their fault that they tend to pay the work no mind. Well, that’s not so bad when you consider the shenanigans I put them through once I get their attention.
A: That’s interesting about your upbringing. I do like how people tend to open up about their histories with religion when we talk about the work.
I don’t know if I understand organized religion better, but I certainly understand it differently than when I was a part of it. And it’s maybe ironic that when I was religious, I felt creatively stifled by it, but since the time I broke away, religion has remained a central source of inspiration. It is fascinating how the individual can take on such a dramatic change once he is absorbed into the group though isn’t it? Those works certainly addressed that directly.
A: Well, depending on a specific question, I might respond differently. My general attitude toward it is one of ambivalence. This is especially true of the institution of the MFA, which I tend to think specializes in the overpriced sale of students’ boring ideas back to them. The ones who succeed probably would have succeeded anyway.
I went to a cheap in-state university in Arizona where I got a BFA in VisCom, which is illustration and graphic design, and I thought that was a good overall experience, but that had a lot to do with how I chose to use my time. I still wish I had had the resources and encouragement to go to a real art school, which might have helped me to come out of my shell a little earlier. I made a lot of really bad art for a number of years, and my friends who had gone to art school certainly did a lot to help me grow out of that. Or so I tell myself.
A: I’d go back in time to meet the Apostle Paul. But it wouldn’t be tea, it would be wine. After we both drank our fill, I’d ask him to pick a hand. Behind my back, I’d hold in my right hand a knife, and in my left, I’d hold the Holy Bible as it was canonized by Constantine three hundred years after Paul’s death. If he picked my right hand, I’d slit his throat on the spot, to spare us all the horror that followed his successful creation of the Christian religion. But if he picked my left hand, I’d show him which of his letters made it, even the ones he didn’t actually write, so that years later, when they capture him in Rome and force his head onto the chopping block, he’ll rest easy knowing that his martyrdom means something, that his legacy will give birth to entire cultures, that even in those remaining seconds that Paul’s brain survives Paul’s head’s severance from Paul Proper and he discovers what he already knew to be true–that there is no God, or at least not as he imagined–that he won’t feel so terribly alone; he’ll know that all the heads of incalculably huge swaths of the human race are rolling along with his, on the same slab of Roman earth, justifying every awful thing he ever said or did and forgiving him for it, because had they not believed in his fantastic bullshit, they would have believed in someone else’s, and whose to guarantee it would have been as fantastic?
Well, either that, or I would have a beer with Jack White and talk about whatever.
Yeah, probably Jack White or the Apostle Paul.
But definitely not tea.
Joshua Hagler’s current exhibition “Nearly Approaching Never to Pass” is on view now at the Reaves Gallery in New York City. Click here for details.
For more of the artist’s images: www.joshuahagler.com