WEB EXCLUSIVE: SPEED RACER
Button-Down Top by Marcelo Burlon
Button-Down Top by Marcelo Burlon
VICTORIA HAYES jacket
VICTORIA HAYES jacket and pants
Coat by Philipp Plein
Photography by Dustin Mansyur | Styling by Marc Sifuentes | Grooming by Nina Soriano | Production by Ben Price | Video Director of Photography Johnny Vicari | Model Dagsen Love @ Wilhelmina Models
Photographed at Baby Love Studio – Brooklyn, NY
Coat by Philipp Plein
Shirt by Philipp Plein, Scarf stylist’s own
Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask
Photography: Hans Eric Olson | Stylist: Michael Louis Umesiobi | Talent: DESAMPA
Interview: Sarah Conboy | Creative Direction/Production/Grooming using EVO Hair Products and Lab Series for Men by: Mike Fernandez
DESAMPA isn’t an artist that’s afraid to get controversial. In fact, his work seems to beg for controversy. In our conversation with the Brazilian-native, the number of taboo subjects we touch on is numerous. But it’s not just with us: these subjects come through in all his work as a musician, whether lyrically or in his various music videos and art projects. From sexuality to immigration to the constraints of the music industry, nothing is off-limits. Rather than shy away from it, DESAMPA talks about these things with a refreshing honesty and passion, finding inspiration in these taboo realms.
Self-described as an artist for a “dystopian future filled with hope,” DESAMPA tackles the issues most personal to himself, and in the end, produces a product that everyone can somehow relate to. It’s his emotional depth and harrowing voice that draws the listener in, and his smart aesthetic that keeps them guessing and interested. DESAMPA is an enigmatic figure, always disguised by elaborate masks; an intriguing, partially-hidden identity. But despite this, DESAMPA wears his heart on his sleeve—speaking to the love and loss, trials and tribulations that all humans experience.
Here DESAMPA talks to Iris Covet Book about being an immigrant in Trump’s America, gathering inspiration from fetish play, and why he wants to be this generation’s Björk.
Grapa Wrap Vest – Sigilo, Mask by DESAMPA
To start, can you share your background?
I’m Brazilian. Born in São Paulo, 1991. I moved to New York two and a half years ago. I decided to move here right after a residency program. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Red Bull Music Academy. It’s this amazing residency program that they do every two years in a different city, and they bring out 60 musicians from around the world. It’s really competitive, and I was selected in 2015 to go to Paris. So that really changed everything for me, musically. I got more contacts and networking and I was like, “It’s finally time to move to New York.” Because it’s been my dream since I was a teenager, due to my influences in architecture and artists, musicians, films. After Paris in 2016, I was like, “Okay, I’m leaving São Paulo. There’s no scene here for me.” I was trying to create one, and it didn’t pick up. So I just moved [to New York].
How did you get into music? Is it something you always have wanted to do from an early age? Did you take music lessons, et cetera?
Yeah, I started taking piano lessons when I was seven. I was also classically trained at one point. I had the option to pursue classical music, but I was too confined. I thought, “I don’t see myself in this. Maybe I don’t want to be perfect; I just want to be honest,” and that’s when I left classical music to the side. Not that you can’t be honest with classical music, but it’s just that what I was doing, my compositions…they weren’t looked at as good, from the classical perspective. I’m like, “Well, they’re good for me and they’re honest, so I’m just gonna do my own thing.” That’s when I started using the computer to produce music, instead of the piano. I started making beats and electronic music. So I jumped towards that part, and also tried to incorporate the classical music aspect into my compositions. But yeah, it was always music. I don’t know how to do anything else; I suck at everything else. So it’s just music. I don’t even know if I’m good at it—it’s just the only thing that I know how to do.
Your music seems to defy categorization—how would you describe it yourself?
I just usually say it’s “futuristic soul” music. Because when I say I’m an electronic musician, people go listen to my music and they’re like, “Yeah, this is not electronic music.” I’m like, “Okay, so…soul?” and then they’re like, “Yeah, this is not soul.” So I’m like, “Okay. Futuristic soul.” Meet in-between. I tend to use soul music on top of the electronic beats, so I would say “futuristic soul.” It sounds cheesy…
Where do you draw inspiration from?
I usually tend to just look to the future, you know? Try to create the sound of what people are going to be listening to in the future. Like what Björk was doing 10 years ago—people are doing it now. I kind of drink from her fountain. I want to do something that people will be doing 10 years from now. So Björk is a really big influence for me, artistically. Sonically also, but artistically. [She has] a consistent career, and that’s what I want to have. It’s not based on hype, it’s just based on consistently good work and good music. That’s what I’m about.
Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask
What about Brazilian heritage—how has it influenced your work? Specifically, how did growing up in São Paulo influence your work?
We have a lot of national holidays, [and] they have specific music for them. Like we have specific music for Carnival. They’re kind of like jingles, you would say, but they’re not promoting any product. They seem like a jingle; a small track. It’s like Samba and Bossa Nova. So yeah, I grew up every year being inserted in this scenario, of Brazilian holidays and Brazilian holiday music. That led me to Bossa Nova. Dug deeper, and found the voice of Elis Regina. She was like the biggest singer in Brazil in the ’60s. I got obsessed with her voice. I’m like, “How come we don’t talk about her? How is she not being talked about everyday?” Because what she did was so…nobody was doing that back then, in Brazil. She really inspired me. I said, “I want to do something that nobody’s doing here in São Paulo.” I grew up Brazilian, and [I’m influenced by Brazil], not even [just] with music, but art and food and architecture as well…we wear our emotions on our skin, so I tend to do that with my music. It’s very raw. I don’t know if you’ve been to or read anything about São Paulo, but it’s such a raw city. It’s violent and beautiful and concrete and ugly. It’s everything at the same time. Graffiti tags everywhere. I’m tending to bring more of that aggression from São Paulo into my own music. I think that’s really important. Because in New York, compared to Brazil, everything’s safe and well-kept. It’s polished; [the United States] is a polished country. Brazil is definitely not a polished country. It’s how it comes…dirty and clean…contradictions all around. That really inspires me, and the architecture there inspires me. We have this…he’s the national treasure: his name is Oscar Niemeyer. He’s brilliant. He did some buildings that are oval and very round, curvy buildings. He really inspires my music as well.
So, you describe yourself as a multimedia artist—what does this mean to you?
I use that term just so I’m not stuck inside one box, you know? When I try in the future to do something [like] I don’t know, maybe fashion, I want people to take me seriously. Or anything else. Architecture. If I want to design a building, I have to study for that. But eventually, if I’m interested in that, and I accomplish that, I don’t want people to be like, “Ugh. That singer designed this building.” But at the same time, right now, I’m experimenting with different materials to create masks and molds of my face. I’m really obsessed with face masks and heads and torsos. So I’m experimenting with that…and currently I’m doing some faces with ice; I’m studying ice and how it sticks to the face. I did a mold, and I’m trying to create a lot of replicas of my face and eyes. Also, I do a lot of videos. I have so many videos that I shot in Brazil this past year, that haven’t been released yet. I direct. I’m not doing all these things by myself, by any means. I have always had friends and other creative people helping me out with all this stuff. So I have plenty of videos that I directed and came up with the storyboard and the mood and everything. Also some videos don’t even have music. I’m itching myself to put music, because that’s what I know how to do. But at the same time, I’m like, “No, maybe this should be a silent film” or something. So I’m exercising that. I don’t need to put my music out everywhere; it can be silent as well sometimes.
You explore themes of sexuality and politics in your work, to name a few. Do you think it’s important as an artist to spread a larger or public message, or are these just personal to you?
Both. They’re really personal to me. In any of my tracks, I’m not talking about things that I haven’t experienced, or that I’m not close to. Everything that I’m talking about like immigration and sexuality and being dumped and loving unconditionally, all of that is close to me. I’m facing that right now. Immigration—what is [it like] being a Latino guy from Brazil in New York, in this country ruled by Trump? It’s something [in which] I have no option. I live it 24/7. Because in Brazil I’m “white,” and then I leave there and come here, and I’m “Latino.” But at the same time, in some Latino communities, Brazilians are not considered Latinos. Where do I belong even? If Brazilians are not considered Latinos, but they are considered Latinos to white people, and in Brazil I’m white…I fluctuate between things. So I’m trying to find the light in all that, in the difficulties. The track I am referring to has not been released yet, it’s going to be on my EP that I’m hopefully releasing by the end of this year. It’s just taking so long because of labels and life…
Speaking of labels—you’ve self-released music. What is your reasoning behind this? Do you think the music industry is restrictive in your artistic process in any way?
It is pretty restrictive. From what I’ve learned, labels are not signing albums anymore unless you’re a bigger artist. They don’t want to risk it. It’s a risk for them to sign a full album––nine tracks. It’s a lot of tracks to be mastered; it’s more promotion and more singles and videos and all that. There’s no money in the music industry anymore, so they’re signing smaller EPs, and if that works out, then maybe a second EP and if that works out, maybe an album. So nothing’s certain anymore in the industry. That passes onto the musicians, because they’re like, “Shit. Should I maybe just format my music for how people are consuming music nowadays?” Because people just listen to singles and [watch] music videos. People just want to see visuals with music, and singles. So that affects me, because my biggest dream is to tell a story in an album, in a 10-track album. A lot of people are like, “Don’t do that. Because you’re gonna end up self-releasing it again, and nobody’s gonna hear it.” So I have to work around the walls of the music industry, that’s for sure. It’s kind of limiting, at some points. Even if I’m an independent musician. But I also want to have a career in music, so I need to think of those things when I’m finalizing my project. Whether it’s an EP, an album, a single—I gotta have in mind the way people are consuming music nowadays.
You are working on a new album, correct? You posted on Facebook about losing most of your work for it. Can you tell me the story about losing your external hard drive?
I had 50% of my album done, or something…70%…I forget the percentage. But I had a large amount of my album. I started four years ago, and I had a lot of music that I was gonna put in it. Then I went to Brazil, and I just lost it. It was taken from me. I don’t know what happened. I put “Lost” signs on the streets and tried to find it at all costs and I learned my lesson. Because now I save all my projects in like seven different places, you know? I’m not losing this shit again. It broke my heart; it broke my trust in myself. Four years of work that I had done, and I’ll never find those tracks again. I don’t even know where to begin to make them again. I just don’t know. So I gave up on trying to find them, and I’m focusing on creating new material. That really forced me to make more stuff, and it’s more current. Because when I started writing it, I wasn’t an immigrant yet. So I had a different take. Now I have more to talk about, more life experience. More ugly, sad shit happened to me, and I have this anger to write about. So it helped in a sense. That EP came for me…I was like, “I don’t know if I’m gonna do an album again, so I’m just gonna start writing music and then I’ll figure it out.” I finish all my songs at Red Bull Studios in Chelsea, New York. They’re really great. I have an engineer there, and I have some people that are really interested in me and want to help. So they’re organizing, and giving me a bunch of dates on the schedule for me to finish this project. They were like, “I really think you should do an EP, because all these tracks that you have are really strong. They could be pushed into a successful EP.” So that’s what I’m doing right now. I’m finishing that. I’m not losing that for anything. Like I said, I saved it in seven different places. I plan on releasing it by the end of this year, with two videos as well. Both were shot in São Paulo.
Your new logo is being released in conjunction with your upcoming single “Still Here.” Can you explain the inspiration behind it?
Are you familiar with the website CAM4? It’s a website that people go to strip their clothes, but they get paid for it; they get tips. People are like, “I’ll pay you $25 and you take your clothes off ” You know? People testing out sex toys or fucking. It’s voyeuristic. It fascinates me, but it also scares me to think that relationships are turning virtual. It’s satisfying for them, just to watch another person around the world being naked or jerking off or fucking. That’s enough; they don’t want to meet people in person. It’s a combination of scary and fascinating. So my music video for “Still Here” is a play on that. It’s me in different rooms, with different fetish masks and fetish outfits. It doesn’t go directly with what I’m talking about in the song. It’s more of visual thing that I created and then decided to put the music, and bring the two of them together. In the song, “Still Here,” I’m talking about this Tinder date—the only one that I had. It was kind of successful, but then the person just vanished. In this short amount of time you give a lot of your secrets to this stranger, and the stranger just vanishes with all of your secrets. They’re expecting you to be hurt or something. I’m just saying that, “I’m still here.” Even though everything was taken from me, the fucked up things that happened, I’m still existing and still here. Also, at one point, it turns into me criticizing myself. Like, “How do I allow myself to continuously be in these shitty positions?”
You talked a little about this earlier—you often employ masks in your work. What’s the meaning behind them, and why are they so important to you?
So I never really liked showing my face, anywhere. This whole Kardashian era, [where] you have to put your face on everything all the time, doing everything possible—showering, brushing your teeth, eating, going down a slide, riding a bike—it’s too much. I’m not like that. My life is very private; I don’t share. So that mask is something that I can utilize to be creative, and create a new face for myself. That’s something I’m really interested in. At the same time, I can protect my identity. I was a kid that was obsessed with superheroes, so you can kind of see how that led into protecting my identity. That’s mainly it: I’m gonna hide my face everywhere. But also, my sci-fi obsession with different materials. Like plastic and silicone and fake robotic lenses. You know Alien, the movies? I really love that type of stuff. It’s something I can play with, “Oh, I’m gonna create this mask now. Oh, I’m gonna use this to illustrate my changed mood.” I can play with it, and it’s art that I’m producing. It’s art itself—my second face, second skin.
Do you create all of them yourself?
For the most part. Back in the day, when I started, no. I had someone doing them for me. I designed them, but someone else actually made them. I didn’t even touch them before they were made. But nowadays, I’m doing it myself with my boyfriend. We do it together. We find the material; we trick them out; we paint over it and put the straps. Right now, my inspirations are really the fetish masks. I’m not a fetish-y person; I don’t have a lot of fetishes. But the imagery of BDSM, the aesthetic of it, is really interesting to me. They’re made from really beautiful materials and employ symmetry. Deprive you of air, deprive you of vision. It’s really interesting. I’m leaning towards that,studying and experimenting with those materials… plastic and leather and metal, but I always have people helping me out. I really don’t like doing art by myself. I think it’s a time to bring people together—different backgrounds, different visions. Because otherwise it’s just 2-D. I want 3-D, 4-D. I want more dimensions than just my own.
As an artist, what has been one of your career highlights so far?
I think definitely the highlight was the Red Bull Music Academy (RBMA) in 2015, in Paris. Because a lot of musicians that do what I do—electronic and the more contemporary musicians—it’s their dream to go to this thing. It helps you out a lot, and you get to meet people. I got to meet Laurie Anderson. Sheila E., Prince’s drummer. The amount of people that they put you in contact with in the lectures and the studio space and the other musicians that they select; it’s such a good exchange, and they don’t ask for anything back. I got to play an amazing show in Paris and expand my fanbase and spread my music through Europe. That’s definitely a highlight. Then after that, I played SXSW the following year. But the highlight was definitely RBMA.
Are there any other artists that you are loving right now? Ones who inspire your work, or you admire?
There’s so many. Let’s see. The first that comes to mind: I’m really obsessed with Smerz. They’re from Oslo, and it’s this really cool, experimental House. It’s like ABRA, but more experimental, and very European. I really like serpentwithfeet. I think he’s insanely talented. I’ve never seen anyone that can sing like him. Kind of nerve-wracking to hear someone that good. Oneohtrix Point Never definitely. He’s an amazing producer. He also works closely with Red Bull, which hits close to heart. His music is really, really boundary-breaking. He’s worked with ANOHNI; he’s worked with FKA Twigs, and a bunch of female artists that I’m really into right now. ANOHNI is a really amazing artist that I get inspired by. Björk, Kelela…I don’t know. Every time people ask me that question I don’t know what to do. They shift.
What can we expect from you in the future? You’re going to be releasing music at the end of the year, but what else? What is your ultimate goal as an artist?
In the future, you can expect my EP. In the nearest future. I’m just gonna talk about the nearest future, because if I go on with my future, I’m just gonna be here all day because I have so many plans. But nearest future, an EP and music videos. A bunch of visuals—shoots, and hopefully an installation that I’m working on, with face casting and molds. What else? More collaborations. This next EP that I’m releasing, I’m not gonna have collaborations with different musicians, in the sense of “Oh, I’m getting a singer to sing with me on this.” I’m having collaborations in production, but not on the forefront. So I want to do more of that, and keep producing more and more. I really want to write a soundtrack for something, either a dance piece or a movie. I really like soundtracking things. I always have a soundtrack for things in my head, and I really want to get this out, and put it into a movie or dance piece or something.
Undercover Double Breasted Raincoat, DESAMPA’S Mask
Support Your Local Immigrants – DESAMPA
Red Bull Radio Alumni Mix– DESAMPA
Photo Retoucher: Amanda Sperry
Top and Skirt by Valentino, Earring by Bond Hardware, Small Earrings Model’s Own, Necklace by Missoni, Bracelets by Lynn Ban, Ring (far left) by Lynn Ban, Ring (middle left hand) by Chrishabana, Ring (pointer right hand) by Chrishabana, Ring (ring finger right hand) by Lynn Ban, Ring (right pinky) by Chrishabana
Photography by Johnny Vicari | Styling by Marc Anthony George | Model Delilah Belle @ IMG Models
Makeup by Kanako Takase @ Streeters using Shiseido | Hair Shingo Shibata @ The Wall Group | Manicure by Jini Lim using Chanel le Vernis
Trench Coat, Body suit, necklace and earring (large) by Roberto Cavalli, Earrings (small) Model’s Own
Photo Assistants Fujio Eumera and Marion Aguas | Producer Dustin Mansyur | Retouching by Cloak Studios | Photographed at Baby Love Studio
Scrolling through Lynn Ban’s Instagram profile is enough to understand the designer’s seductively ostentatious aesthetic. Heralding the spirit of modern women, Ban strikes an effortless balance of sensuality and strength, suggesting the dreams of her world within and summoning the mysteries of the world beyond. Ban has designed rings of glittering, articulated armor, ear cuffs akin to the Death Star, and minaudieres that resemble solid gold bricks; she is glamour, excess, and luxury, offset by a healthy dose of humorous self-awareness. Lynn has been influenced by the gritty-meets-glittering allure of New York, and her work is a reflection of the high energy, high-opulence, global-citizen culture of the city she’s been immersed in since her family’s immigration as a young girl. Her singular perspective transforms bold indulgences into bejeweled sophistication.
If we knew you as a child, would we have been able to see your future as a creative in the jewelry world?
As a child I would play in my mother’s jewelry for hours on end. I always saw jewelry as completing the outfit or playing to one’s mood and was always drawn to big statement pieces. Pile it on!
What motivated you to pursue a career in jewelry design? Did your family and friends influence your decision to go into design?
I was always interested in design, whether it be clothing or jewelry. My mother is a gemologist and I learned a lot about stones and jewelry through her and her collection. I started making custom pieces for myself; I was drawn to things that did not exist in the market so I started making pieces that I wanted to wear.
When would you say you experienced your “big break” and what has the journey been like since?
Working with Rihanna. I’ve been fortunate to work with her since I launched my line seven years ago. It’s been an incredible journey being able to do jewelry for her tours, videos, and performances, leading up to four seasons of Fenty Puma shows. She really pushes her team to do their best, and it’s so inspiring working for her. She is THE BOSS!
You have a vivacious, flamboyant, and daring signature luxury style, where does this aesthetic come from?
Fashion is meant to be fun and fantasy. I’ve always loved making a statement and over-the-top pieces. Who says you can’t wear sequins in the daytime? Fashion should put a smile on your face whether you be the wearer or spectator.
You have worked with some of the most influential musicians and actors in the world – how do these iconic talents change the work you produce? Do you feel your work becomes transformed when someone like Lady Gaga or Madonna wears it?
These artists definitely influence my work. They give me creative inspiration. When designing a piece, I think, .what would they wear and rock? When and how would they wear it?. Artists like Madonna and Gaga are both so influential through their fashion and many incarnations.
Many brands have decided to make their work more sustainable in an effort to combat the harmful effects of the fashion industry – how does your brand reconcile the mining and consumption of precious materials with the brand’s opulence and ethos?
I think it’s great that fashion and jewelry are becoming conscious of their carbon footprint and sustainability. I obviously use conflict-free diamonds. Jewelry is timeless, and beautiful pieces are heirlooms that retain their intrinsic value through their materials and design.
What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is the Lynn Ban brand going into for 2018?
I am launching a capsule collection of evening bags. I’m super excited for the Lynn Ban woman to rock a killer evening bag that makes as much of a statement as her fashion and jewelry. I mean, what is more baller than a gold bullion evening bag? Slapping that gold brick on a table when you sit down for dinner says it all!
Currently there is a huge force of women standing up for themselves and voicing their power – how do you feel as a female designer in this day and age? Have these events in Hollywood, politics, and fashion affected you?
Most definitely! The escapism and fantasy and joy that we find in fashion is needed more than ever. In these socially and politically tumultuous times, women need to feel empowered and let those abusers know that #TimesUp.
What have you learned the most about yourself since launching your eponymous label and how has that affected your brand identity since you first began?
To always keep pushing yourself and take risks. Don’t be BASIC!
What is the future of jewelry design and how do you think technology will affect it?
Mining outer space and discovering new materials and stones.
Where do you see the brand in 10 years?
At the very TOP of course!
Dress by Paco Rabanne
For more information visit lynnban.com
Ana Khouri spent her formative years between her native Brazil and the United States. First studying sculpture in Sao Paulo, Khouri later moved to New York attaining degrees from Parsons School of Design and the Gemological Institute of America. Upon completing her education in New York, Khouri traveled to London to attend Central Saint Martins, before ultimately returning to New York to set up her studio practice. For Khouri, designing jewelry is about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape on its wearer, and the balance the work creates with the body. Ana’s designs accentuate the natural elegance and organic lines of the exquisite materials that she utilizes, and her work’s timeless quality transcends simple jewelry design into an ethereal world. Inspired by the magic of the earth and the cosmos, Khouri’s work evokes the vast majesty of nature as a whole.
What was your motivation to pursue a career in jewelry design?
While still in art school, I had a show where I presented sculptures hanging from bodies. After the show, I received an order for ten pieces to be adapted and worn as jewelry. From that moment, it triggered a significant interest in jewelry making and led me to begin studying jewelry right after I graduated in 2004.
How did your formative years in Brazil affect your life and your design ethos? Did your parents – one an engineer, and one a pianist and teacher – influence your work and your creative career path?
Yes, absolutely. I grew up between beauty and art shaping my sensibility but always having functionality in mind. Later on, after graduation, I created sculptures for many years, which is how my jewelry business first beganit was all about creating the personal connection between sculpture and body lines.
Who is the “Ana Khouri” woman and how has she evolved over time? Is there a particular person whom you feel embodies your brand identity?
The Ana Khouri woman has an interest in or comes from the art world and values self expression through accessories. My clients usually have a uniqueness about them, something that is inherently their own. They are artistic, intelligent, inspirational and strong women who connect to my world, ideas, and work.
How do you begin your creative process when designing each new collection?
My idea of jewelry goes beyond the intended purpose of ornamentation, entering more into the realms of art and sculpture. The designs are about the myriad of ways that a piece can take shape by wearing it, and the balance the work creates with the wearer’s body. I value simplicity above all else. Simplicity in composition and in motivation, as it is really the ultimate luxury. I focus on one-of- a-kind designs and limited edition pieces. My overall approach is born from the belief that jewelry has the ability to help create a deep connection with the wearer.
The history of jewelry goes back millenia and has been associated with love, war, class, magic and everything in between—how does your brand take this history into account in the process of design?
Our brand takes history into account through art in different forms. For instance, a lot of my inspiration in terms of art and sculpture come from artists like Louise Bourgeois, Calder, and Sera who have inspired me to look at shapes in relation to space and movement. But most of all, I think that jewelry should always be associated with one’s personal history. I don’t simply want these pieces to adorn, or to stand alone as beautiful objects; I want my designs to evoke their connection to space, its vastness, its majesty, yet also relate to one’s personal history.
Is technology presently shaping jewelry design (production, form or function) and how do you foresee its role affecting jewelry design in the future?
For me, the process has consistently stayed the same. The way I start every piece is still the same for both sculpture and jewelry. I start by molding them by hand; it is a very intuitive and intimate process for me. I work on making the overall piece and then find a way to add functionality. The process of design is as important as the result. I normally spend up to six months on each design.
What can you tell us of your upcoming projects and collections? What direction is your brand going into for 2018?
I focus 50% of my time on unique pieces for personal clients, which is what I love doing most. The rest of my time goes to designing the edition pieces that you can find on the “specialty/multi brand“ stores we choose to work with like Dover Street Market, Barneys, and Net-a-Porter to name a few. We have two special collaborations lined up for 2018 that I am very excited about. I feel very challenged in my work and that excites me more than anything.
For more information visit anakhouri.com
Through her illustrious career, revolutionary gallerist Mary Boone has represented some of the most influential artists of our time. In a rare opportunity, we get to sit in on the conversation between one of America’s best known fine-art painters, artist Peter Saul, and Mary Boone at her gallery located on 5th Avenue in New York City.
Portrait Photography by Dustin Mansyur
From the beginning of her career, Mary Boone made a name for herself as a brash, subversive, enfant terrible of the New York art scene. David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Francesco Clemente, Jeff Koons, and Ai WeiWei all have been represented by Boone. Early in her career, Boone revitalized the New York art scene by creating exhibitions for young, unorthodox, avant-garde downtown artists and giving them a new platform made up of influential international collectors. Boone’s keen instinct and bold moves revolutionized the art of dealing, making her the first to have waiting lists of collectors vying to purchase works yet to be created. New York magazine once dubbed Boone “The Queen of the Art Scene”, and now over forty years later and with two New York galleries that remain internationally respected, her crown remains firmly in place.
Of the many controversial artists in Mary Boone’s kingdom, Peter Saul, known for his cartoonish lampoon of American political figures and anti-war commentaries, is perhaps one of the leading contenders. Saul’s fantastic representations of American politics painted in his signature psychedelic, hyper-saturated palette, paired with historical influences and intellectual irreverence, have opened the interpretive, and at times controversial, dialogue between politics and pop culture. Educated in Europe in the 1950’s and keeping his art career under theradar through most of his life, Peter Saul found a champion in Mary Boone, who helped him claim his rightful title as one of the top contemporary artists in the US.
In the library of her uptown gallery in New York City, Iris Covet Book captured a conversation between the notoriously pressshy Mary Boone and Peter Saul as they discuss the history of the gallery, the politics of fine art, and painting Donald Trump.
So, Peter, to start from the beginning, you began your career in Europe in ‘56, correct?
Yes, and I started showing here in New York in 1962; it was my first show in New York City. I’ve been showing all these years but it hadn’t been appreciated until recently. I’ve had some success in Europe over the years, which is great. That’s really kept me going a lot of the time. In the ‘90s I sold a lot of work in Europe, very inexpensively, but for a college professor it seemed like a miracle of finances. Like, “Wow, 20,000 bucks!” You buy a new car and it’s just wonderful. I didn’t look any further than that. I suffered from modesty somewhat, and now I’m much less modest. Now I grumble at small amounts of money. (laughing)
My early days as a gallerist…I mean it was really a hard struggle too. People kind of think it must have been really glamorous. I worked as a secretary at Bykert for Klaus [Kertess], then the gallery closed and I went off on my own in ‘77. And when I was at Bykert, I met an artist named Ross Bleckner. I put him in a group show in Bykert, and he was showing with me and with Paula Cooper. In those days artists would try different galleries and find which one sells, which one fits. So when I opened my own gallery, he introduced me to a lot of his friends from CalArts, and that included David Salle, Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons and a lot of other artists. So, I met artists through word of mouth from other artists.
But you have to remember that at the time no one believed in any of the artists I was showing, no one believed in them. No one wanted to see them or hear about them. They were either unknown or too hyped. People didn’t believe in Schnabel or Basquiat or Sally or Fischl, or even Brice Marden. Jean-Michel [Basquiat] and I met when he was 19; he decided he wanted to show in my gallery because he wanted to show with all these other artists who he thought were really good artists. And I was really very, reticent, like, “Is this right?” but he was really a wonderful person, so sweet to me and really a good artist. I showed Francis Picabia in 1983 and got a scathing review from The Times about it.
They’re so dumb!
They said it was a terrible show and that I was just trying to trick the art world. There was this conspiracy theory that I was making fun of art or artists, but eventually they started to believe in them.
It is easy to kind of glamorize things in retrospect, but mostly I like artists that are challenging. I mean, you are challenging. Even though you were not young chronologically, you were really young as an artist. The paintings weren’t just flying off the wall like they are now. It was hard to sell them, but to me you are such a master and such a forward thinker; everybody should want to be grabbing them up. But it takes a long time to make an artist. How were you exposed to the art world in your early career?
Well, I met [art collector] Allan Frumkin, he was very important to me. I accepted a certain amount of money every month for my work. He would show up one day of the year and pick which pieces of mine he wanted and then leave again, and I could do whatever with the ones that were left. This lasted for about 30 years; it was a long relationship. From 1960 through 1990. The last time he arranged a show of my work was ‘97 I believe, so this is 37 years of activity. During this time I took the opportunity to not mess with business. I just enjoyed my life. Unfortunately, I was looking backwards when I decided to be an artist in 1950. I was looking to the 19th century: you have a lot of cigarettes to smoke, wake up late in the morning, work on your picture, there is a beautiful woman in your life, there is a room you call a studio, you look at the painting, and that’s it. That’s your life, you know. You don’t worry about any business or anything, and I was encouraged in this attitude by my art teachers.
My life was very simple, and not lived fully up until the decision to move to New York City in ‘97, and I thought “Why not normalize my career?” I realized at that point it depends a lot on the artist. You have to present yourself to the buyers, and I hadn’t done this before. I simply hadn’t shown up. I did everything I could to make my paintings attractive and interesting, but I personally didn’t show up, hardly ever. This was weird, and I suddenly realized this was weird, so I said [to myself ], “Hey, from now on, be normal.” So, we showed up. By then I was with Sally, we were in Austin, and I retired from my job at age 66 and came here to proceed with you.
Peter Saul, Nightwatch, 88” by 128”, acrylic/canvas, 1974-1975 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York.
Peter Saul, QuackQuack, Trump, 78” by 120”, acrylic/canvas, 2017 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York
We were meant to be.
A lot of it is just showing up and being a nice person. Sally and I show up, we’re nice people, we get along, and that is very attractive because most of the time artists who are married don’t get along. I didn’t know this, but this is the way it is. This has helped us to be liked by important people in the art world who think we are attractive to work with because we get along with each other. It’s crazy, but it’s the truth. You have to be a nice person.
It’s not enough to make an interesting picture or whatever.
Do you think the newfound appreciation you’ve been experiencing has to do with the times?
I guess so.
I remember remarking at your first show that the average age of the audience was like 22. There was us and then all these 20 year-olds. You have become a mentor to a lot of young artists.
It’s true. It’s a blessing; it’s a good sign.
In speaking of mentorships, influencing and teaching, are there any important mentorships or up-and-coming young artists that you are working with, Peter?
Well for example, Erik Parker is an artist that was in my art class, he showed up at some point in the ‘90s and is now in the art world. He has shown some flexibility, he’s stuck around, and he is now going to have a show at this gallery. So I have him and others from Texas. I don’t know… people introduce themselves to me and say, “I remember your art class!” and then say something I never would have said, but that’s okay, I just let it pass. I don’t concentrate on what has already happened, I try to keep my mind open for the painting I’m working on and that’s pretty much it; I’m not a historian.
Well that’s good, because then you’re not looking in the past, you’re always looking forward.
Yeah it’s important not to get hung up. If you’ve been around for 40 or 50 years, it’s easy to begin getting interested in research into those years, and what did you do and all of that stuff, but that’s deadening. Likewise, I like to show at a gallery where there is one person in charge and it’s not a corporate thing. What I don’t like is when a gallery has a selection of people that is based on age and gender and stuff. When they’re like, “Well, we have four male artists in their 70’s, so we got enough of them. Let’s get three women between the ages of 30 and 40.” That kind of thing is nonsense. I like the individuality of this gallery, that’s why I’m here really.
Oh, I love that you said that! I do think of artists in terms of their individuality, I’m not trying to make a movement. So many of the galleries now are going towards assigning different staff members to artists, and I think it is impersonal. I always thought the greatest thing was becoming friends with the artist and having a relationship.
Yes, we want to, sort of, “skip” the corporate scene, don’t we?
I think that it’s ruining the art world. What are your thoughts on the art world today?
Well, I’m seeing a lot more shows than I want because my wife, Sally Saul, who makes ceramic sculpture, is extremely interested in art and what’s going on. She insists that I see a lot of shows. Today we’re going to the Outsider Art Fair, I think, and then to the Tom Laskowski opening, and then a group show where a painting of mine that belongs to Joe Bradley is being shown. Sally insists on a certain number of days a month we go see art. So, I see more art.
And you live in Germantown, so you have to travel a couple of hours to get here.
Yeah, but it’s relaxing to be on the train. You want to take a pause often from the painting so you can rethink certain areas that you’re working on. Painting for me is a slow thing, it gets done in various stages, it develops. And the next development came clear to me this morning so it can happen tomorrow.
We had a chance to show your recent Trump pieces a few months ago. What has the response been to them and have you experienced any backlash?
No, I don’t think so. I’ve treated Trump tenderly compared to the other Presidents I have painted. The most psychotic looking one was actually one of the first, Nixon. I tore the guy apart like he was in the hands of a serial killer or something: bad news. I hope for no particular response, but Trump is a good subject. I didn’t vote for him anymore than anyone else I know. 83% of New York voted for Hillary. I don’t know why she isn’t President. She won the election, but because of the electoral college she isn’t sitting in the Oval Office. As far as I know, Trump is not aware of me. He probably thinks of me as some loser artist. He looks at my prices and goes “This is cheap! He’s a loser, he’s a loser!”
“It’s fake! It’s fake art!” (both laughing)
No, but I’m not looking for trouble. I’m looking for subject.
For more information visit maryboonegallery.com
The Town Hall presents: A FLAWLESS NIGHT: LONG LIVE THE QUEEN
A Tribute to Flawless Mother Sabrina on Thursday May 10, 2018 at 8pm
Featuring A 50th Anniversary Screening of the Landmark Documentary The Queen, The Pioneering Producer’s Drag Show Beauty Pageant, Filmed at The Town Hall in 1968
For more information and to purchase tickets please go here
The Queen 1968 film poster
In 1967, Jack Doroshow, aka Flawless Sabrina, produced and hosted a legendary drag pageant at The Town Hall in New York. It was documented in the film, The Queen, and selected for the Cannes Film Festival. The film came to be regarded as a landmark of queer culture.
The Queen captures the groundbreaking (and law-breaking) spirit of Flawless Sabrina, who began producing drag shows in 1959 and continued on for a decade afterward. Crisscrossing the country, Flawless mounted dozens of local shows each year where many queens – including Divine – performed in drag for the first time. Andy Warhol saw a performance in Pittsburgh and helped locate a benefactor to fund a film of the “Miss All America Beauty Pageant” at the Town Hall, and The Queen was released in 1968.
Fifty years after the release of The Queen, the Town Hall and the children of Flawless Mother Sabrina celebrate their legacy. This special event, hosted by Linda Simpson, will feature a rare theatrical screening of The Queen plus performances by Taylor Mac, Justin Vivian Bond with Nath Ann Carrera, The House of LaBeija, Julie Atlas Muz, Tigger!, Brandon Olson, Poison Eve, DJ Sammy Jo, and more, joined for one special night to pay homage to a New York City icon, mentor and mother.
Flawless Sabrina circa 1968 (© Mary Ellen Mark)
Zackary Drucker, transgender artist and producer of the TV series Transparent will be on stage to introduce the film. Says Drucker: “The Queen is an invaluable relic of a bygone era that is sparsely documented.The history of drag queens and trans people is largely an oral history, but The Queen is a rare window into our community pre-Stonewall, when it was still illegal to cross dress.”
Over the years, Flawless Sabrina served as mother and mentor to hundreds of artists and musicians like Drucker, and as an inspiration to countless more people who visited her salon/home on the Upper East Side. Flawless Sabrina’s activism and compassion for others created reverberations that can be felt and observed to this day, from the continued tradition of drag performativity on RuPaul’s Drag Race, to having influenced the U.S. government to ensure trans people could change the gender marker on their passports.
On November 18, 2017, Flawless Sabrina, one of the loudest and proudest voices for the LGBTQ community, passed away at age 78. The Town Hall event honors Sabrina’s fearless commitment to art and individuality, reflected in the motto: “If it doesn’t make you nervous, it ain’t worth doing.”
Flawless Sabrina (© Zackary Drucker)
For more information and to purchase tickets please go here
A portion of the proceeds from A Flawless Night: Long Live The Queen benefits Ali Forney Center in its mission to protect LGBTQ youths from the harms of homelessness and empower them with the tools needed to live independently. Since AFC’s launch with just six beds in a church basement in New York City, the organization has grown to become the largest agency dedicated to LGBTQ homeless youths in the country – assisting nearly 1,400 youths per year through a 24-hour Drop-In Center which provides 70,000 meals annually, medical and mental health services through an on-site clinic, and a scattered site housing program.