trevor brown interview by sloan freer, 2007 - conducted by email - unedited text
Okay, Trevor it°«s a hop back onto the psychiatrist°«s couch again. I°«ve tried not to repeat things I asked you before°ń
The last time I interviewed you, the exquisite Li°«l Miss Sticky Kiss had just been published. While all your work is gorgeous, I know you were particularly proud of the art in this book and considered it your best work ever [I°«d have bought it all if I could have done!]. How did you feel when it didn°«t perform as well as you expected?
Disappointment. Another underachievement, undue to any intrinsic lacking but not entirely unexpected. Anything i do is at the mercy of the oppressive and irrational forces stacked against me. For me at least Li'l Miss Sticky Kiss was a success and i think she deserved much better than she got The high hopes were that she'd maintain a life outside of the book but evidently she was unwanted in this world and it wasn't to be. So "rest in peace". Back to the drawing board again.
You also talked at that point of expanding and marketing into other mediums beyond the original art eg animation, Sticky Kiss dolls etc. Why did you feel this was necessary? And given that everything you paint is instantly recognisable as your work to those in the know anyway, why was it so important to have a °»recognisable Trevor Brown character°…?
Career security i suppose. Generally i don't have any work at all. And i'm mostly unenthusiastic about even doing any work that does actually come my way. Royalties on Trevor Brown books don't pay the rent. So it'd just be nice to have something that continually generated revenue so i could relax a bit, be less of a crabby old git, and get on with painting more pretty pictures.
In her short life-span maybe Li'l Miss Sticky Kiss did help a little to achieve the desire to have something recognisably Trevor Brown. The character provokes that "who painted it" curiosity and encompasses many of the idiosyncrasies of the Trevor Brown world in an accessible and memorable way?
In the postscript you did for the Alicia Allen book interview following the publication of Sticky Kiss you said that: °»I know I am never going to be appreciated as a real artist and hopes of commercial success are utterly futile.°… How do you generate the strength to continue with your art when you get feelings like this? And what is a °»real artist°… anyway?
Don't ask me. As far as i can tell it's just some old school tie nonsense. Much of so-called contemporary "fine art" is pure shit. I certainly don't aspire to be part of that but at the same time it's depressing my work is regarded as utterly without value and even snubbed by even the likes of Juxtapoz magazine. Especially when i see watered down versions (if not blatant copies) of my own images and ideas being appraised and thus selling for large amounts of money. So many times i wonder why bother. And in fact i go through long periods when i've no enthusiasm (or reason?) to do anything! I'm proud of retaining integrity though - this is what defines a "real artist" in my opinion. I''ll continue to fight and endlessly bitch about the injustice of it all. Someone recently told me that you can't be a good artist if you are not angry ..and i think this is very true. It's sad to watch artists you formerly liked become big stars and complacent boring artists because they have people standing in line with too much money and too little sense who'll buy any old garbage just for the trendy signature at the bottom.
From your website, MySpace page and emails I°«ve personally received, it seems that when you°«re painting you°«re on a real high, full of positive energy. It°«s only when it°«s time to show your work to the public that you become doubting and cynical about their perception. Has the fact that you°«ve just had two successful shows made you think differently about artistically baring yourself to the public?
If i could forget about all that outside world nonsense, obligations to fucked up value systems etc, i'm sure i could be a lot happier, yes. Im also frustrated with myself however. Things like lack of drawing skill and technical ability (ironically things that people concede to praise about my work after dismissing the content) impede the pursuit of satisfaction and bliss. Ultimately my ego does demand some recognition and reassurance after the toil though. The response to "Rubber Doll" has been fabulous, thankfully (i'm regaining the ground lost by Sticky Kiss). The book has proved to be very popular and nearly all the paintings sold quickly. I've not suddenly become complacent though. The usual lack of momentum ensues. I'm always back to square one after completing something. The phone still never rings. Which is doubly perplexing as my art is prestigiously on the cover of "Gothic and Lolita Bible" currently and apparently also much admired by everyone. Okay, i shudder at the thought of doing cd covers for cringe-inducing "visual kei" j-rock bands but it still fills me with dismay not to be approached at all...
The idea of the tortured artist slaving away, doubting himself and his work and only being recognized for his greatness when he°«s dead, was always a reality of the art world. It°«s only in recent years that artists have started to see the fruits of their labour during their actual lifetime. But given the socially °∆difficult°« themes you explore in your work, do you think there°«s a possibility of being embraced by the so-called °∆serious°« art world without capitulation, or losing the ethos of Trevor Brown the artist?
No is the simple answer. Despite the 'unacceptable' themes of my work the serious art world wants deferential artists. Not some dark horse like me opposed to the self-importance of art galleries (with their 50/50 cuts etc) and the whole art system. Art must remain something abstruse and privileged. You can forget it you fail to market your stuff under the desired veneer of po-faced pretension with silly artist statements and bollocks.
I have to say; I actually think many modern artists have been ruined by wealth. The hunger and passion is no longer there, it°«s just a conveyor-belt process to boost their bank accounts. Look at the man you always get asked about °› namely Mark Ryden. His work is more repetitive than it used to be; he°«s knocking out all these hugely expensive prints that immediately go onto eBay. Doing the merchandise tie-ins, the handbags etc. His work doesn°«t feel special anymore, and this is happening to a lot of the so-called °∆low-brow°« artists. What do you think on this subject?
Set 'em up, knock 'em down. Ha! I was actually inferring to him above before i got down to this question. So really I couldn't agree with you more. I used to love his work but i've just seen the latest tree show work and, besides the centrepiece painting, it is mostly a rather weak collection. in my view. It's Walt Disney isn't it? (Is this printable? Probably not!) I can't help but feel resentful when all he has to do is spend 30 minutes painting literally just an eye on a piece of wood, put an astronomic $30,000 price tag on it, and it's sold within seconds (most probably sight unseen!). I really hope Mark's being cynical mocking the stupidity of Los Angeles art buyers, but i doubt it. He's not exactly suffering for his art. And, yes, the merchandise tie-ins (ebay fodder!) for many artists is getting over the top and kills the art. I should be glad Li'l Miss Sticky Kiss was a failure?! Though i did create her specifically for this intention. I probably wouldn't be too happy about my other work being commercially contaminated in this way. I even will stomp on young women making pocket money selling bootleg badges of my work on eBay. It needs careful control.
By so-called ordinary people°«s standards, your imagery is extremely disturbing. But looking at it myself, I can appreciate that you could be far more out-there if you chose to be (as a visit to certain Tokyo bookshops plainly revealed). Do you ever pull back when you°«re painting and apply self-censorship to your work? Is what goes on in your head more extreme than what we see on your canvas?
Yes, i don't think my work is nearly as extreme and terrible as everyone is making it out to be. What would these people think if they saw toddlerkon manga, which explicitly shows toddlers as sexual objects and is freely (and legally?!) downloadable on the internet distributed around retard fanboys. My own paintings are rarely ever explicit and never (or rarely?) stoop so low. I suspect keeping it "soft core" and acceptable is what actually throws people off balance and makes the work "extremely disturbing". I suppose there is a certain amount of self-censorship, inevitably. Sometimes i do think i'd like to push things further. If i'm being accused for something i might as well get the pleasure of actually doing it? Maybe one day? Or maybe I'm too much of wimp?
Now your new book Rubber Doll pulls together a lot of different themes that we°«ve seen across your career °› the medical procedures; car crashes; Gothic Lolitas; °∆kawaii°« etc. Why though did you decide for the fetish of rubber to be the focus and linking factor between the pictures?
I always need to narrow the margins and set myself some kind of project or something to focus on else i'd never paint anything. The rubber fetish theme was a return to what i started doing in the early nineties but turned my back on after coming to japan. At that time I found the fetish world too tediously generic so abandoned it in favour of, what i dubbed, "baby art": ie (not so) innocent paintings of dolls and childhood themes. I thought it would be interesting to go back to the rubber fetish theme now after the experience of doing all that cute stuff in the interim. I could approach it with less tired eyes and maybe inject fresh imagination into what is still a rather bland uninspired area.
Did you have any problems with the publisher over this one? Were any of your images or cover art concepts rejected? And if so, why?
All my books cause problems! Even the one with a simple red cross on the cover: someone, probably unhappy about the content of the book. informed the Red Cross organisation in Japan about it and they gave a token ticking off to my publisher, although i don't think they were really that overly concerned about it. The recent reprint of my "My Alphabet" book had to be put in a slipcover to hide the cover illustration of a doll in a hospital bed reading a book. The problem with that being you could see her nipples ...which was somehow connected, the distributers contended, to a spate of Japanese parents killing their children. There's always something like this in the news which delays the publication of my books. With caution being taken to such ridiculously absurd levels, the cover of "Rubber Doll" was under extra vigilant consideration. The best choices couldn't be used and i fussed over the designers proposals. So in the end the assumed least obvious image but effectively the most conspicuous image from the collection of work was used: a black (noduled rubber) babies dummy. Identifiably "Trevor Brown" for my fans and bizarre enough to attract (or repel) bookshop customer curiosity.
You talked before about the concept of fragility = beauty. I think while this was implied in Li°«l Miss Sticky Kiss (her black eye, for example), it°«s made explicit in Rubber Doll °› both in the obvious S&M imagery and also in the °∆gentler°« images, such as °∆Atom Girl°«. Was this concept in your mind as you painted? And what were your overall influences?
The fragility motive generally is kept in mind when working but i think to a much lesser extent with "Rubber Doll". It wasn't so important. Although it's maybe ingrained into me now to find images unworthwhile to begin painting if they don't fit my usual favoured juxtapositions and contrary ideas, without me even making any conscious decision. Although tied together by the rubber theme, the work in "Rubber Doll" is actually hugely varied so no real over-riding influence. The work was produced over three years. One time i'd just be lazy and do something quick and easy. Another time i'd want to try something more challenging or unexpected (a non-flat landscape background, "photo-realistic" car crash images, etc)
When you paint something like °∆Insulation Tape°«, with the girl trussed up, naked and defenceless with her anus exposed as if waiting for penetration, or °∆Slut Toy°«, with the young girl seemingly offering her naked breast to the viewer, where do those images come from and what°«s going on in your head as you paint them? And how do you expect the viewer to react to this type of image? Especially a female one? Are you deliberately trying to provoke a °∆shock°« response?
Yes, these are deliberately provocative. A girl with her legs open is about the easiest way to grab attention. Perhaps that's why i do them, in moments when i feel dejected and unimportant? I noticed, when i still had my own web site and could see the visitor tracking logs, that way more people downloaded "slut toy" than any other much better pictures. So, i'm also being partly sardonic. Even the title of "slut toy" should be a dead give-away? I've no excuse. Sometimes i just want to do something more pornographic. How the viewer reacts is inconsequential. As already noted, even my "innocent" paintings are deemed disgusting. I can't pay any serious heed to peoples opinions. Females in fact seem to gravitate to these more offensive and vulnerable images to a surprising degree. Perhaps in the reassurance of the cuteness of some of my other work (I'm not all bad!). It's something they can intimately relate too, i gather, and that of course is something best kept out of my understanding...? One girl at my Tokyo "Rubber Doll" exhibition, in her affecting battle with English, tried to describe the feelings my work gave her comparing it to floating down a river and making her all warm inside. "Shock"? Perhaps just a pleasant one!
While your work has been criticised for its adult content, why do you think so many young girls love it? And how does it feel being so adored by them, like a rock star?
Great!!! Haha! Who doesn't want to be loved? Though perhaps the true answer is "Scary!". My popularity is still (and forever) at a relatively small-scale underground and exclusive level so it tends to be a bit cult-like. My work is sort of rebellious and cool? It seems to attract the obsessive type and those of questionable sanity. Most importantly, as far as girls are concerned, it's cute and beautiful (all in capital letters!). I was actually slightly disappointed that at my Tokyo "Rubber Doll" exhibition the number of cute gothic lolita type girls was down on my last "Li'l Miss Sticky KIss" exhibition. I'm very shy so it's actually easier to deal with if the girls approaching me are in awe and even more shy than me. Things got more frightening at the Osaka "Rubber Doll" exhibition where they are a bit more brazen and had a penchant for taking hold of both my hands ...until i shook them free (or i'd be glued to these girls forever?!). The admiration is obviously very nice and helps wash away personal doubts and insecurity but can quickly reach a point where it turns to unease. One girl in particular freaked me out but i think freaked everyone out who came into contact with her even more so because of her strangeness. She gazed at me endlessly. I was actually sort of attracted to her (like a fly to the flame?!) if only because i could understand her cute babyish japanese. But, umm, Mark David Chapman / John Lennon syndrome?!
Childhood is classed as a period of innocent discovery, but in hindsight it°«s more a period of destructive curiosity, with a child constantly pushing and testing their boundaries and limitations, frequently in the most horrible ways. In the thematically childlike (though never infantile) nature of your art, is this what you perceive yourself as still doing?
Yes, probably. Sounds like a good analysis. I think frustration and retaliation has an awful lot to do with it.
Returning to the S&M aspect of Rubber Doll. You have been condemned for being a misogynist and also been accused of sadism °› accusations that this book will do little to temper. Is painting these frequently submissive images a power trip? Are you projecting subconscious desires to control women in some way?
The typical evasive and derisive Trevor Brown response would be to say the theme of the book gave me the excuse to paint such images. It's only art, it doesn't need vindicating. It's an artist's job to be provocative. Actually, it's only when i look through the work now that i notice the greater percentage of trussed up females in this book. So i suppose it is easy to reach a conclusion i'm some hateful old git with a bad inferiority complex ...and maybe that's partly true, haha!. It conveniently ignores other paintings in the book which have opposing connotations though. Who knows where the Trevor Brown stands? In a way of course it is a power trip to create the images (whatever they depict!). Greater artistic ability would allow increased eloquence. If you had the opportunity to play god, in your only little way, would you not take advantage of it?
You say you°«re very shy°ń could it be that we women freak you out a bit and so the only way you can handle us is to have us made defenceless in your art?
Okay, that was me playing devil°«s advocate a bit°ń because actually, there°«s a dichotomy in this new book. Take for example °∆Fly Baby°« and °∆Tooth Fairy°« °› they demonstrate both sides of the equation, one girl submissive, and one dominant. Given the choice in real life, or even the porno world, which do you prefer, and why?
The porn analogy probably makes the question easier to answer. What type of porno films do i download? I'm attracted to the covers of rape dvds but then i'll merely fast-forward through without any interest. So there's something about the image i like but the reality does nothing for me. The exception to the rule is if the girl is not struggling and is docile (doll-like?!) and accepting of the situation. Pure fem-dom films similarly fail to have any interest for me. But a "weak" girl in control is exciting. So my preferences neither one way or the other and probably mostly quite vanilla consensual?
You told me before that hospitals, blood etc freak you out, but they°«re themes you continually use. Do you think you°«re attempting to exorcise your fears in some way? Is there an aspect of facing up to your own mortality in your art?
A bit. Or a lot? All my paintings come from me so patently are a part of me. (Whether i like it or not!). Although never conceived as a deliberate conscious effort to deal with internal doubts and fears, this may happen anyway. I'm not convinced it's really possible to expurgate your demons just by painting but doubtless better than not confronting them at all. In any case thinking too much is not good as far as creating is concerned for me. The best course of action is to just do it, whatever feels right, then (leave other to) suss it all out afterwards.
When I interviewed you last, you said you°«d never had an S&M experience and °»Never had the opportunity°…. Considering your book is based on rubber fetish is it a secret desire of yours or was the theme merely plucked out of the air? If you weren°«t a self-described °»baby°… would you like to dabble in this area?
Rubber fetish seems primarily to be a fashion thing. MySpace and SuicideGirl bimbos who's sole objective in life is adding photographers they've worked for to their curriculum vitae. They wouldn't know an S&M experience if it slapped their pretty face. But my own interest is similarly visual and facile too!
Tell me about your painting of cocks and phallic objects. There are so many in your work. In some pictures, for example °∆Penis Pixie°« in your new book, the girl is riding one and apparently caressing it, like she°«s worshipping it, yet in others, the cock is violating or threatening to violate. I would ask the Chapman Brothers the same question, but what°«s the fascination with phallic objects in general and cocks in specific?
It goes back to acting like a kid again? Childish obsession. Boys just want to have fun. And i am absolutely sure the same answer applies to Jake and Dinos Chapman, despite all the barely comprehensible drivel written about the genitalia in their work (much of which they contribute to themselves). I think most of the dicks in my paintings are quite playful and humourous: doll heads with penises sprouting all over etc. Rarely ever truly offensive or obscene? In fact people deeming my work "obscene" i find slightly offensive myself. I'm not interested in ugliness, i'm trying to create works of refined beauty here!. This automatic assumption of a penis as profane and vulgar also fuels my fascination, like so many other taboos and hypocrisies. Its very deep-rooted, paintings that include penises are always harder to sell - i should stop doing it!
And on the subject of dicks°ń can you tell us about the condom line you planned?
I have to admit it was my wife's inspired idea when we were thinking about merchandise and promotion for my Rubber Doll exhibition. (Other ideas included a rubber strip curtain over the entrance to the gallery, like a Soho sex shop, and filling the floor with balloon dogs. Though in the end we used normal black balloons as we'd have had to have made around 1000 balloon dogs to fill the space) A quick search of the internet unearthed numerous companies that made promotional condoms, all in America. I wrote to several attaching my design and asking for quotes. Most didn't reply (!), but one that did implanted the seed of destruction by mentioning that some countries do not allow importation of condoms. And, predictably, i discovered Japan had strict laws regarding this so i disappointedly scrapped the idea. A happy twist of fate followed though. After putting the bad news up on my web site, i was approached by a guy from Condomania, one of the other companies i wrote to, who happened to be familiar with my work as he sold my books at a previous company he worked for. He liked my design and offered to produce it himself as the first in a new line of "artist's condoms". They've taken quite a few months to transpire but, just as i reach answering this question, they are now on sale. It's a bit sad the other artist designs aren't exclusive but yet more cash-in merchandise we've bitched about a great deal here, nevertheless i think my own design looks very cute and wonderful. Now everyone can have sex with Trevor Brown!
Your work is still deemed subversive. It°«s still being confiscated by customs in various countries and you recently had your PayPal contract terminated due to the alleged content of your website. This must really get you down. But at the same time, when so many artists are °∆selling out°« [hello, Banksy!] is it not in some way a badge of pride that you°«ve still got the ability to provoke such an extreme response?
Yes, especially as my work (in my own opinion at least) really isn't that obscene. Paypal proclaimed my work is child pornography and therefore, without warning, i am summarily banned permanently from using their services (and they keep all my dirty money for six months). They are judge, jury and executioner. I was not permitted no right to appeal these serious allegations. In their words: "This matter is considered closed.? Any further correspondance [sic] about this issue will go unanswered." At their sole discretion they can do what the hell they like and you agree to this when signing up with this criminal organisation. It's just another form of censorship of course. Nothing new. Another in the endless succession of doors slammed in my face. Conform or die. I'm not sure if it's a badge of honour or a badge of stupidity not to surrender and paint dolphins instead. Life could be so much easier.
As a postscript regarding Paypal: Fortunately this eminently reliable company, that countless millions foolishly put their trust in, made a mistake which allowed me to extract all my ill-earned cash without having to sit out their 180 day penalisation period. So i can take some meagre comic consolation signing into my account now and seeing their notices stating i still have no access to my money blah blah.
Can you explain a bit about your next project, the Babies Book?
Something else fastidiously contrived to piss off as many people as possible, haha. Originally it was planned as part of my "Mania" series of self-produced "artists books" (invariably computer printed booklets with print runs of less than 50). Each of these have some kind of (paraphiliac?) theme: nurses, car crashes, japanese schoolgirls... The theme for this new one being drawings of freak babies. A friend in France, now running his own book publishing company, expressed interest in publishing so i decided to expand the project by making small oil paintings of freak toys in intersperse among the drawings (for a more interesting contrast of styles). Although all the art is more or less complete I'm still unsure what's happening with this at the moment.
Thank you, Trevor. I hope these questions weren°«t lame. xxx