I can’t remember exactly how I met David, but we had been following parallel courses in the local music and arts scene without realizing it. I was a big fan of some of the bands which used his work in their album covers or posters, and thus became a big fan of his artwork. David Goodrich has a very distinctive style. To get a really good taste, go to his webpage, or go see his piece on display at “America, Now and Here.”
What are some recent projects that you have been working on?
The last few years have been full of distractions and it’s been difficult for me to focus on my artwork. Finally last year I made the decision to forsake my artwork until I had all lingering responsibilities wrapped up. I accomplished this just last February, and was excited at the prospect that I could now begin to give all attention to my painting and the promotion of it. It’s incredible to me how many really wonderful opportunities fell straight into my lap just as soon as I made this transition.
Not only have I been painting at an increasing rate, but I’ve been allowed a bit of public visibility through a few venues. One is that I’m happy to be featured in the new William S. Burroughs documentary “William S. Burroughs: A Man Within.” A few years back the director of the film, Yony Leyser, contacted me through my web site to ask permission to use a photograph of Burroughs and I together with the painting that we had collaborated on. Leyser had found this photo on line. I would have loved to have been interviewed for the movie but I think that at this time Leyser had all actual filming wrapped up. All that he wanted, I think, was some document of Burroughs’ painting that could be briefly presented. Anyway, of course I gave him permission to use the photo and the movie has just recently been released on DVD. It has also aired on television. It is not much representation of me, perhaps, but I was happy to see that he used most of the photo, relatively uncropped, and I’m happy to be some small part of that.
I’m also included in a great art exhibit here in Kansas City that is going on over at the Leedy-Voulkos Art Center and surrounding area. This is the “America: Now and Here” show, which was conceived of by the very popular New York artist Eric Fischl. The intent of this is to open a dialogue about what it means to be an American. This involves a core group of nationally and internationally known artists which will be traveling to at least six cities over a period of a few years, and in each city there will be an additional segment of local artists to join the exhibit. The Kansas City segment has been curated by David Ford, and he has made a very good selection of artists, I think. This has only recently opened and will be on view until May 28, and it is a show that I would strongly encourage people to see if they have the opportunity. Some of my favorites of the nationally known artists include Eric Fischl, Laurie Anderson, Martin Mull, Bill Viola, Andres Serrano, Barbara Kruger, and Chuck Close. Aside from myself, a few of the other local names are David Ford, Archie Scott Gobber, Jay Norton, Jim Leedy, Roger Shimomura, and Alexander Austin.
What is your favorite piece right now?
Right now my favorite piece is “Buffalo: in Bloom,” which I did back in 2005. It has turned out to be a very popular piece for me.
It’s funny that, as an artist, you may sometimes do a painting that you assume will be your masterpiece, but when you finish and show it to the world everybody yawns and walks off. On the other hand, there are times that you feel you’re doing something silly, throw-away, and when the public sees it they all fall over for it.
This is the way that “Buffalo: in Bloom” has been for me. At the time that I did it I felt it was a bit silly, and used to jokingly refer to it as my “Buffalo Chia Pet,” but no sooner than I posted an image of it on line did someone contact me to buy it. It sold right off, before I had an opportunity to exhibit it, and others who have seen it on line, some of which don’t even generally like my paintings, are attracted to it. It has turned out that this is the painting of mine which is currently featured in the “America: Now and Here” show, which is on loan to the exhibit by my collectors, Ben and Donna Raskin. People have been very complementary of it and it has been chosen to represent the exhibit in promotional interviews with Eric Fischl on the local television news. And so the “Buffalo: in Bloom” has been very good to me. It has been the painting of mine of recent years to have the most public appeal, and I have come to appreciate it myself as one of my better pieces.
You are known for some poster art for local and national bands that you did in the 80’s. What are some of the most interesting stories you have from that time?
Oh boy, what a wild time.
My friend Duncan Burnett was into promoting concerts in the mid-80s, at the time that I moved to town. Duncan brought some great bands, perhaps a bit too early on to be profitable. When he booked the Residents to play in Lawrence he asked me to do a flier for it and that was the first one that I did. Soon after that I did one for a show he promoted of Einsturzende Neubauten and that was quite an event. At the time Neubauten would arrive in a city and would want to be taken to the industrial section of the place to find metal scraps to incorporate into their show. I didn’t go with them to the Bottoms but I was there to help them hang some sheet metal and other things that they had found and had dragged to the venue. Duncan ran into some financial trouble with that show and there were a few of the band members that stayed behind afterwards while others traveled on, with the intention of collecting from Duncan. I don’t know what went on with the finances but I do remember visiting the hotel room where FM Einheit and Marc Chung were staying. They wanted to get out and do something. Aside from them and their girlfriends, there was Duncan and I, Rebecca Gavin, and Dan Heidebrecht. We went first to some apartment where we scored some drugs. From there we went to the Grand Emporium where Maria Muldaur was playing. The Germans weren’t familiar with Maria Muldaur and I don’t think they were very impressed. I recall that they were annoyed that they couldn’t take their beer out of the bar in the US. When the whole thing became rather boring I just walked home from the Emporium.
Crime and the City Solution was a brilliant show that Duncan promoted at that time, which was entirely under-appreciated and played to only a handful of people.
Duncan’s ambitious projects were not panning out well in any business sense, and so he had to step back. At about that same time some accountant, Bob Power, who had developed an interest in some of the lesser known rock groups decided that concert promotion would make a nice hobby. He picked Duncan’s brain about this a bit and Duncan recommended that he should hire me to design fliers for his shows. This was the first time that I really made any sort of a business agreement concerning these. I think I asked something like about $20 a flier and free admission to all shows.
There was actually an article written about my fliers in the Nighthawks section of the Kansas City Star in about 1988. Brian McTavish, who wrote the article, interviewed me for it. The article mentioned the influence of Big Daddy Roth, Odd Rod stickers, and Mad Magazine, all of which I indulged in as a child.
Now I was also married to a woman who played guitar in Mudhead, and she and I shared our house with Buddy Lush, who was then playing drums with the Sin City Disciples. Almost everyone in Mudhead was an art student and so I never did do any designs for them, but I did do some work for the Disciples. Foremost among these would be the CD cover design that I made for their first CD release, a little four song thing put out by Sordide Sentimental in France. Jean-Pierre Turmel of Sordide Sentimental had run across the music of the Sin City Disciples and had contacted them to send four songs and some graphics for a release. The Disciples then commissioned both Greg Blair and myself to design some drawings for this. I did two and Greg did two. Turmel chose my sex monster cartoon to be the front cover graphic, but he included other of the drawings in the packaging.
I did promotional fliers for some of the KKFI punk shows: “Susan,” which was the name of a show that Mott-ly did, “the Orphan Annie Show” which featured Anne Winter, and “Axeman’s Jazz,” which was Tim Kearns’s show.
But the eventual problem was that I really didn’t want to gain a reputation as a cartoonist. I enjoyed doing the fliers, they were fun, but I felt at last like they were a bit of a concession. I was developing as a painter and I was more serious about other work that I was doing, and I felt compromised by my fliers. And so, even though people were increasingly interested, I had to start saying no. I did make a few designs into the 90s for friends, but they were the exception.
Do you feel that you and others have helped document history in Kansas City in many ways?
Yes, I do.
When I graduated from college in Oklahoma I had not really had any direction as an artist and I had resisted, until then, the good advice to young artists: “paint what you know.” I was a kid in Oklahoma, I didn’t fell like there was anything around me that was all that interesting. My opinion changed when I moved to Norman and became more involved in the punk scene that was going on there. This was the thing that first inspired me to “paint what you know,” and what followed was about ten years of painting portraits. These weren’t typical portraits, they generally weren’t at all flattering, they were very expressionist, and the people that I was attracted to generally weren’t the most “attractive.” I did develop the attitude, with time, that I was very much documenting what was going on around me.
I moved to Kansas City in 1985 and immediately became involved in the punk scene here. I continued to paint the people I met at the nightclubs and at the record stores and I think that my paintings of the period very much reflect what was going on in the underground at the time.
I have been an active journalizer through most of my adult life, and there has been a lot of interest shown in my memoirs. Anne Winter proposed, years ago, that an “oral history” should be compiled of the Kansas City underground of the 80s, and at that time I compiled several journal excerpts and other writings to be included. That project never materialized, but all that I compiled has been turned over to Patrick Sumner, who is very serious about seeing through a similar project. And so there should eventually be, in book form, the writings and interviews of myself and others concerning this period of the Kansas City underground.
You are originally from Oklahoma, and have had to spend some time taking care of business there. What brings you back to Kansas City?
When I left Kansas City I was thoroughly disgusted with it. My job situation wasn’t good, and my artistic situation wasn’t good. Although I had representation at Mott-ly’s art space the local press was in a perpetual state of misrepresentation of me and I saw little way of moving forward locally. My parents had both died, my brother had died, and I felt that both I and my responsibilities would be better served if I just threw it all in and moved back to the family home in Oklahoma to take care of business. And so I did.
I had both a sister and a sister-in-law (my brother’s widow) in Oklahoma and we shared responsibilities to take care of the estate, which, for me, turned out to be a two year ordeal exactly.
Although it was all work, I loved the time spent in Oklahoma, and in some respects it was the most satisfied that I’d been in years. But during that time Mott-ly died and it left an opportunity for me back in Kansas City.
The situation was that Mott had plans of moving in with my friend Apryl McAnerny, and those two together were to open a little art space that would be called the Slap and Tickle. Their plan was to live in the space. No sooner than the place had been arranged to specifications, Mott-ly passed on. At that point Apryl let me know that she had a spare bedroom at her new place that she would like to rent out, being Mott’s intended room. For the time that I was still occupied in Oklahoma, this meant little to me other than an opportunity.
The work got done at my parents’ estate and we put the house on the market. When it sold it put me into a position where I needed to make a plan fast. Of course there was the possibility of staying in Oklahoma, but that was never my plan and I didn’t see that as a viable alternative. Mott’s room in Kansas City was available to me. I contacted Apryl and took her up on her deal.
This is the exact situation that put me back in Kansas City. But in the meantime I had gained collectors here and that was a consideration. My network of friends was here and that was a consideration. Another consideration was that I had more job connections here. Having pulled out of the Kansas City art scene altogether was perhaps what needed to be done, to be honest. In the meantime I had improved and promoted my web site, and this gave me more direct access to the public. With the advent and increasing popularity of the internet and of social networks, the press has less and less power, and isn’t in the position that it used to be in. So it isn’t like I’ve made better friends with the press, it’s just that they don’t matter anymore.
I like the Kansas City art scene but I had been worn out with the politics of it. In the meantime some of those politics had been compromised. I also realize that politics exist in any art scene. Artistically, I had gained a reputation and an audience here in KC that it was important to me to reconnect with.
You have a definite strong style in your paintings where narrative plays a large part. Can you talk about your inspirations?
I think that the values of the late modern art movements have compromised the story-telling aspects of painting. The idea that any representational art is illustrative and therefore beneath the quality of “pure” art has always been rather dumb, and it basically doesn’t reflect anything of any value other than to provide a convenient promotion for abstract work. All of the arts contain a huge element of story telling, and it seems foolishness to me to insist that, of the arts, painting alone should be bereft of this element.
I was raised in a religious family and it provided me with knowledge of and interaction with our culture’s “mythology,” if you will. (By referring to it as “mythology” I don’t intend to make a judgement of its truthfulness or lack thereof, but to assign it its position as the imaginative and spiritual aspect culturally.) I have also had an interest in Greek and other mythologies since I was a child.
I have encountered an attitude that these things are past conventions, no longer relevant, but I think that attitude to be entirely short-sighted. We still refer to the planets according to the gods that the Roman’s associated them with. And if we were to stop and think about the roots of several words that we use on a daily basis we would find that very many more of these than we might initially suspect are themselves references to mythological characters or events. Psychology is a very modern science, and yet consider the descriptive terms that it uses, such as “Oedipus Complex,” “nymphomania,” or “narcissism,” all derived from Classical mythology. Even more recently, a virus that you unwittingly invite into your computer is known as a “Trojan Horse.” And so we still create terms that make use of Classical mythology. Why? Because this mythology still serves as a common reference point in our culture.
And, of course, there is no point of treating the Biblical like it is something of the past when every city is packed full of every sort of a church and synagogue and mosque. If you’re against it all you’re still reacting to it. In our culture it is nearly impossible to be truly indifferent to the Biblical religions. Even if we were all to wake up tomorrow as atheists we would still exist in a culture that has been defined by Classical thought and the Biblical tradition, unless we woke up with an entirely new language, an entirely new culture, and no past, which simply isn’t going to happen.
So these stories, these mythologies, are not something that sit on top of or beside our culture. Instead, they are woven into the fabric of it. And when painting has made the decision to condemn the “illustrative” it has made a decision to extricate itself from any interaction with our own culture at any deep or long-term level. Why any form of art would subject itself to such nonsense is beyond me. Imagine how silly it would seem to us if those involved in music or filmmaking should announce that story-telling suddenly has no place in songs or in movies. And yet this is the sort of distorted view that many have rather recently accepted about painting.
At present we have every sort of information readily available to us through the internet, and with that consideration I think that there is less reason to avoid these themes than before. I recognize that there are several who don’t possess knowledge of many of these themes, but information about them is more available than ever before to anyone who has any degree of interest in finding out about them. This being the case, we know that narrative in painting can be appreciated whether it reflects simply what we see in the day-to-day, or whether it reflects deep-seated mythological aspects of our culture.
Perhaps this is a bit of a loaded question, but, who are some of your favorite local artists and where do you see the Kansas City art scene going?
Mott-ly was probably my very favorite KC artist. Other than him, I miss seeing more of Tom Greg’s things around, and I like what I’ve been seeing lately from Apryl McAnerny. Jesse Small does beautiful work. But KC has got so many good artists. I have to appreciate both Jim Leedy and David Ford, who represent to me two different spectrums of the KC art world. Leedy and his cohorts for establishing an art presence with a good foundation and some commercial viability, and Ford and others like him who have generated, through alternative venues and other forms of advocacy, a good amount of activity among other segments of the arts community.
This present show that I’ve made mention of, “America: Now and Here,” has allowed me some interesting insight on how the local art scene is presently being accepted by those from elsewhere. There seems to be a crew from Los Angeles here working on the promotion and the practical aspects of the show. Those that I have conversed with have been very complimentary of what they’ve seen and experienced here. Paraphrasing, of course, I have heard, basically: “In Los Angeles all of the artists are competing for a dollar, or they’re trying to promote their personality when oftentimes they don’t even have one, and it’s all become too much politics and business and too little artwork. And here in Kansas City I don’t see that. I know that there are politics, like there is everywhere, but I see artists doing what they do because they love what they do, and it shows in the quality of work that I have seen.”
Kansas City is increasingly strong, and I’m sure that as things progress for us that the politics and the corrupting factors will gain momentum too. But we are now in a position where we are starting to receive attention on a national level and I think that at that first juncture at least, and hopefully for a time to come, that we will be appreciated for our honesty and our “pure creative energy,” as I heard one Californian recently put it.
You were good friends with Mott-ly, and recently somebody posted some pictures of Mudhead playing the Artists for Amnesty show in July 1989 that brought back many memories. We all miss Mott-ly. Do you feel knowing him has had a huge influence on who you are now?
In 1990 I moved into an apartment of a house where Mott-ly lived. I was very distraught about a recent girlfriend who had proved thoroughly hateful, and I was in that mode where I had to vent a bit more than most would want to listen to. And so I had been to Mott’s apartment, and I had vented quite enough, and I went back up to my place, sat down, and thought to myself: “What is wrong with me? I’ve gone on and on about someone who shouldn’t even matter to me to a guy with one foot.” In this respect many of us have known someone who may be crippled or who may have a disease, who, by their ability to accept their station, cause us to sometimes recognize what should or shouldn’t be of concern to us.
I first encountered Mott-ly when my friend Duncan took me to see his graduate show at the Art Institute in about 1986. I loved his artwork immediately, and he was an interesting character himself. I wanted to befriend him but didn’t have a real opportunity to until a year or so later when my wife, Lori, was forming Mudhead. Archer Prewitt was brought into the group and he brought Mott-ly in, and this was the situation when I was first able to really befriend Mott. At that time Mott-ly had a crippled foot, and it eventually caused him such pain that he had it amputated, in about 1988. He kept the other until it caused him too many problems and he lost it just a few years before he passed on. I believe that Mott-ly died in 2007.
Mott-ly’s artwork was constructions in boxes. His favorite artist was Joseph Cornell. I remember being with Mott at the Chicago Art Institute, where they have a good collection of Cornells, and it was almost impossible to drag him from them, he was so fascinated. But Mott-ly concentrated on found objects and I think it was important to him to make use, to recognize, exactly those things that were overlooked and ignored by everyone else. He was a collector, but a collector of the useless, the unappreciated, the mundane. He had hundreds of Pez dispensers. He had a collection of empty honey bears. In his apartment in the Warwick house he had a room filled with cigar boxes, which were his filing system, that would be labeled “lace,” “buttons,” “bones,” “feathers.”
I’ve seen other artists construct boxes of things, but none with his sensibilities. I really don’t believe that I say so only out of friendship since I was struck from the very beginning with his work. Although his things were very gray, Mott had a color sensibility that I don’t generally see in similar work. His things were never garish, always somewhat understated. Some would respond to them as depressing, and to an extent this may be realistic, but there was a delicacy and some sense of antiquity about them. He was really a very careful and thoughtful artist.
Like his boxes, Mott-ly himself was a bit understated and not certain of his own importance. Mott-ly was overlooked by the media, and by the self-appointed arbiters of art in Kansas City. He had said to all of his close friends that he was sure that when he died, and death always seemed just around the corner to him, that he would be immediately forgotten. Instead, when he died, and his funeral had been observed at the Rime Buddhist Center, which was his spiritual home, two to three hundred people paraded down 18th Street to observe his memory. And every year on his birthday those of us who were his nearest friends get together to remember him still, as I hope we always will.
I can’t say that Mott has been an influence on my artistically, although he ran the MoMO Studio, which was my venue for a few years. But in death, as in life, Mott still serves to me and others as a reminder of what is important. And it isn’t press, or the media, or the politics, or who the Charlotte Street might recognize this year. It’s self-satisfaction, acceptance of your station, appreciation, and satisfaction in your ability to create.
(The interview as posted on the Svoboda Blogspot also includes a video interview of myself and others taken at the Kansas City Flatfiles show in the early 2000s. To visit that page click here.)