Michael Bevilacqua

Michael Bevilacqua Interview - By Steven Cox

Steven Cox: Your work references several bands, with lyrics such as Wind Screaming Around The Trees For My Psycho Candy (Psycho Candy, 2015) referencing Jesus and Mary Chain, and Our Love Passed Out On The Couch (Too Drunk To Fuck, 2014) references the band X.  I personally interpret these works that combine both music lyrics and Rothko as being a dual exploration of both spiritualism and tragedy.  So, to begin I would like to discuss the idea of spiritualism within painting and how significant this is to you?

Michael Bevilacqua: I do work alone...but I never really thought about the idea of spiritualism until the Rothko/Word paintings.  There is something heavy handed regarding Rothko paintings.  He talks about crying in front of them and emotions, blah blah, but I don't get it.  I wanted to take the idea of graffiti spray paint veiled and juxtaposed against words.  The lyrics are out of context, words misspelled, letters fallen off or spaced oddly.  All of this is intentional and accidental.  My word paintings also can be seen as bad pulp fiction covers for some odd poetry compilation.  A friend, Christian Caliandro, described them as seeing a road sign on a long stretch of highway in the fog...a dark calm.  I never felt Ruscha cared so much about the background in his word paintings, but I do immensely.  The first word painting I hung at the end of the hallway in my home had this bizarre effect...it had an insane calming effect on those who entered.  Words as spiritual motif?  No, but it is the combination of the words within the atmospheric background.

SC: I find that Rothko’s work plays on an emotional impressionism and his underlying presence of a tragic emotionality is a universal one to which the viewer of his work can relate to. Everyone can interact and respond to tragedy as it is common for one to have dealt with suffering at one point or another, but do you consider the inclusion of tragic references within some of your Rothko/Word paintings as being an ironic exploration of celebrity tragedy?  Or would you rather that these words are read in a neutral manner out with their connection to either music or literature?

MB: Well for the most part the words and or phrases are taken out of context.  I am drawn to these phrases because of their dark overtones.  I like the idea of poetry and taking from popular culture. Rather than spray paint blank fields my natural instinct was to make faux Rothko backgrounds.  The beauty of spray paint these days is there are loads of colors.  Most of the paintings are pastel which is not really very Rothko. It's not like I am opening a page in a catalog and painting Blue 37.  I lay the words out and just react to it and see what happens.

SC: That’s true, and perhaps there would be too much of a literal connection if you recreated specific Rothko works by using spray paint.  In regards to spray paint, what was your initial reason to begin using spray paint?  Usually most artists who use spray paint have dabbled with graffiti in one way or another.  Is this the case with you?

MB: Ha. Your questions are so on point.  This sort of goes back to me talking about Rothko works being heavy handed.  Spray paint comes in so many hues these days I just thought it would be interesting to create veils of color as opposed to blocks as with oil or acrylic paint.  Montana spray paint actually allows you to mix colors in veils.  The idea of spray paint being associated with graffiti is correct and I want to use it totally out of that context...I like the idea of graffiti but it does not interest me...I want to take it to another visual level.

SC: In regards to the tragic figure, Ian Curtis of Joy Division has been referenced and appeared within your work, amongst other works, Messiah (After MF) 2012, Hello My Name Is 2012, or Heaven Can Wait 2014.  What is it about Ian Curtis that initially motivated you to explore his persona and reference him directly?

MB: Joy Division has always been in and out of my life, but a few years back a friend left a can of chrome spray paint in my studio.  I picked it up one day and covered a failed painting...cue the song "She's Lost Control", after that afternoon I began reading anything I could about Ian Curtis.  Soon I found out that we had the same birthday 7:15 and he killed himself 5:18, the same calendar date I was married.  Ian Curtis had great empathy for human suffering.  He was a tragic figure, but a person who suffered.  His lyrics are pure poetry and combining them with the moody backgrounds seemed a natural marriage.  On the other end of the spectrum is Miss Lana Del Rey who writes tragedy of another color.

SC: Me and Jane Doe, 2014, bears the lyrics of Ultraviolence by Lana Del Ray, “He Used To Call Me DN, That Stood For Deadly Nightshade Cuz I Was Filled With Poison But Blessed With Beauty And Rage”.  This song is tragic; Ultraviolence is a confession about one’s dark and disillusioned desire to live a self-harming lifestyle.  I find that such works suggest a connection to this very issue, for references to the tragic self-destructive lifestyle of the artist (in light of Rothko) appears throughout much of your work. Can you tell me more about these issues and to what extent do you relate to what I have said?

MB: The music dictates to me what goes on in the studio, and well unfortunately for me I am a sensitive artist as much as I hate to admit.  The splitting of personality begins the minute I walk out of my house and enter the studio.  I do love tragic and tortured figures.  One of my first exhibitions was titled "What is it, that is the worm inside of you?" There are a lot of worms milling around this apple eating away at me. 

The only self-destructive thing I am battling is my complete honesty towards people and it gets me in trouble. Dealers think they can tell artists what to do and paint but not me. Homey, I don't play that game. 

SC: Have you had any specific bad experiences with gallerists that have made you cautious of them altogether?

MB: well...let's say galleries have given me the "problematic" label.  I don't give a fuck.  I'm no puppet for their pockets.  Artists have become week and play too much to the idea of a "brand." Most of my collectors have been buying my work through the last two decades and they looooove how the work has evolved.  I can't help it if life affects me…what if Picasso just painted cubism or the blue period???

SC: The sound of Joy Division has been compared to the sound of Manchester during the late 70’s and early 80’s, their album Unknown Pleasures being an experimental interpretation of their environment – a mindscape and soundscape of Manchester.  Would you say your work is autobiographical in anyway?  Do you consider your paintings as paying testament to the times we live in today, and also a response to living in NYC?

MB: My work is a complete response to loving life and letting it seep into every facet.  It's the music, it's the street.  Joy Division captured the sound and the industrial landscape.  They created something from nothing.  They first started out by saying fuck you and turned that into "We are Fucked." I didn't make that up but I heard it in a documentary.  That's not really my mantra but I get it...my work is diaristic in the sense that I am open to life and what it throws my way. The work will bend and twitch with every obsession that I morph into.

SC: Earlier, you mentioned the work of Ed Ruscha, and despite how you feel he doesn’t overly consider his backgrounds you find yours “immensely important”.  Though in contrast, Ed Ruscha is recognized by varying his fonts, though it doesn’t seem that you have, for a uniform font is consistently present in your Rothko/Word paintings.  Have you explored different fonts for these Rothko/word paintings, and what made you stick to this particular font throughout?

MB: I don't want the font to distract the viewer.  Ruscha is more about calligraphy and fonts.  The vinyl letters I use are a gothic generic.  The canvases are painting black gesso and then the letters are placed.  After the background is painted then the letters are removed.  The black gesso is a flat black...another attempt at the letters not to compete with the fields of color.

I used different fonts when I made the disorder chrome and black series.

SC: That’s true; what interests me are the 7 word based stencils that form your work From Order to Oblivion 2012, as exhibited within your exhibition Radio Amnesia: A Survery Of Works On Paper 1997 – 2013.  I find that these cardboard stencils own such a connection to graffiti/street art whilst simultaneously owning a dark gothic quality not usually found within street art.  Can you tell me about these cardboard stencils and your decision to specifically use a gothic font?

MB: The gothic font came basically because I associate it with the music I was listening to at the time.  I love basic gothic fonts.  The word stencils were used to make paintings and then are retired before they completely fall apart from use. The detritus of the studio becomes the work.  This is one of my favorite pieces I have ever made because the "artist " was not present.

SC: The spider web motif traditionally has a symbolism associated with time spent within prison, or the idea that the web will catch its prey.  I am curious to know your take on this motif, for the web has featured in many of your spray painted works, such as Pink Narciss, 2013 or Mother Sky III, 2015.  Where and when did it originate and how do you wish for these works to be interpreted?

MB: The web has been in my work for almost two decades.  I haven't been in prison... Yet.

I guess the book Catcher in the Rye has a lot to do with the idea of the Web. Holden Caulfield wanting to save phoebe, hold onto youth etc.  Both the web and the grid are interesting designs.  One is made in nature and the other is in outer space (Between Two Worlds...that's where I live).  The new spray painted webs are made by spraying through a Halloween rubber doormat I found at Target. The effect is amazing and the webs are layered creating another dimension within a flat surface.  I love Goth music. Christian Death Sisters of Mercy Bauahaus, and of course what a day would be like without a little Joy Division!

SC: Your exhibition Blankism: The Artist Is Not Present was created by reusing cardboard that was once used to protectively pack your paintings.  This recycling of material touches on the idea of the by-product and reminds me of the cardboard tabletop works of Dieter and Bjorn Roth.  This past exhibition appears more like a diary of sorts that comments on your studio environment and process of working.  Since this exhibition, have you continued to recycle materials within your studio?  Do such works continue to gradually evolve within your studio?

MB: I am definitely not one to throw anything away.  I never know when something might work its way into a painting.  The "artist is not present" is probably one of my favorite exhibitions.  A financial disaster as none of the work sold...oh well.  I have collected a lot of one offs.  Hopefully I will show them someday.

SC: Other than the works shown within Blankism, all of your works take the form of paint on canvas.  I am curious to know more about how you choose which dimensions to work to.  Are there any restrictions preventing you to work larger or perhaps to the other extreme really small? I am just really curious to see what an XL scale work would be like…

MB: Well scale is very important and definitely something I play around.  I paint small works and the big joy division painting An Ideal for Living 2012, is 30' long, and the Louisiana Museum in Denmark has a work currently on display that is about 18 feet.  The word paintings are supposed to be the dimensions of pulp fiction books and the game over and numbers work are a little bigger and wider.  I like the size 84" x 72".  It is a nice space.  I also paint a lot of the silver and black works 18" x 14" and smaller because I liked to cluster hang them.  There are no restrictions.

SC: The newest works that you are currently working on own a pixelated Atari 8-bit graphic quality, though what draws me to these works are the non-computer elements, the areas where your hand is most evident.  The brush and pencil lines contrast against the sharp graphic edges of the pixels, making it evident that these works are not printed.  Are you interpreting the artist’s hand as the physical glitch within graphic orientated painting?

MB: Yes it was important to add the human element to these works.  People think they are printed until they see them in person.  The black gesso backgrounds have finger marks and rubbings, but the most important part is the pencil marks that reveal the grid.  These new works combine painting, drawing, and object.  The black gesso is laid down very haphazard and then from that the painting builds

SC: The imagery for these works reference games such as Pac-Man, Pong and Space Invaders, whilst simultaneously owning geometric forms that evoke compositions similar to the Suprematist works of Malevich.  Suprematism itself aimed to rid itself of references to the natural world, whilst such computer games are fully mystical exploring an alternate reality.  Is there a connection here that you are commenting on?

MB: The world of Minecraft is probably one of the coolest games I have ever seen.  The idea of building in and out of the grid. It all started for me when I discovered the world of the Dogon people of Mali.  Their dance of death centers around the Kanaga ceremony.  The Kanaga mask is this wild headdress that looks like a Mondrian painting on your head.  So these paintings combine Kanaga, Minecraft set to the Soundtrack of Kraftwerk!

SC: It is interesting you discuss the Kanaga mask dance for your Instagram name is @Kanagaspirit. Conveniently, this brings up the topic of Instagram, which is what I also want to discuss!  In light of multiple articles online discussing the role of Instagram within the art market, and its function for artists to help promote their work, I am curious to know your thoughts about Instagram, and to what extent the exposure of your work on this platform is/has been beneficial for you?

MB: INSTAGASM, is so much fun.  I can reach all kinds of people that would never approach a gallery and meet people that like the work all over the world.  It's absolutely fantastic!! I love it.  The only bummer is that it sort of does not promote dialog.  Happy Happy, all positive.  That sucks.  Although shitty_ass_art is damn funny and pissing people off!!  I think it's hilarious.

SC: Are there any specific artists/Instagram accounts that you like, and particularly dislike? Perhaps list a few…

MB: Likes: Mysteriousfog, Masonsaltarrelli, Brask007 (Jens-Peter Brask), Shitty_ass_art, Aftermodernism, Peresprojects (Javier), Imathefox, Angelosfrentzos, Mikeloodsarmyofthedamned, Greatartinuglyrooms, Emptyfridge, Billgeorgoussis, Cruiseorbecruised, Josepharialoi (jk5), Matthewaweistein, _persephoni_, Screamqueensfox.

Dislikes: I don't follow people whose work sucks and the list is long of boring artists still thinking modernism is interesting to copy. If you really want my top 10 shitty artists I will do it...but what's the point. They sadly know who they are and they are desperately stashing cash because the young generation will not be into their crap.  The young kids today are so much smarter…MODERNISM IS DEAD

SC: Tell me a little about your current studio and working routine.  Do you aim for set working hours within the studio?  Do you live close by your studio?

MB: My studio is in Brooklyn and I live on the Upper Eastside in Manhattan.  I drive to work listening to music that I hope will set the tone for the day.  Usually get there around 9 am and stay till 6-7 pm.  Working everyday is a good thing for me.  I love to paint and I love even more that nobody is around when I do it.  The idea of an assistant would drive me insane.  I get my own coffee and my own supplies.  It is part of the whole process DIY.  My studio is small right now because I am really into painting like I'm in a studio apartment.  I have several storage spaces and work outside in Long Island on the spray paint works.

SC: What are some of the common issues you stumble upon in your working process?  Are you destructive with works that you deem have failed?  Are you precious about your works?

MB: I wish I had more time in the studio to work.  I have a family so it is important that we spend time together.  They keep me balanced from my narcissistic self-absorbed artist bullshit.

Some times I work late but not often.  I am not precious about the work and when people come over I don't tell them what they can and can't take pictures of. I know some artists are complete pricks about this...I don't slash failed paintings but I do paint over and I am open to the happy accident.

I don't want to be a complacent person/artist.  The idea of painting the same or similar thing does not work for me.  I am not a textbook "art school" artist that looks in textbooks and copies work of modernists or finds an obscure artist that they think nobody knows about and then they copy their work.

SC: Can you tell me about the future projects you have scheduled?

MB: I have Solo exhibitions in 2016 at Massimo Carasi in Milan, Kravets Wehby New York and. Jacob Lewis Gallery in New York in which we will hopefully be collaborating with Pace Primitive.

All images courtesy of Michael Bevilacqua, Last Resort Gallery, Sandra Gering Inc, Kravets | Wehby, Jacob Lewis Gallery and Massimo Carasi