You’re on Tour de friends, tell me what that is.
Tour de friends is a project, where I go around to my friends around the world and make art inspired by them in their space, and after my stay with them they get to choose a piece to keep if they like and I take their portrait in their home with the work that we made together or that I made alone or that we made separately.
What made you think of the project?
Hmm, just happened one day, I was already going around, I had already decided to quit my job and leave and kind of just go house sit, then I decided that Id like to keep going, and I wanted to see all my friends and I missed them and I love to travel and I love to make art so it just made sense.
And are the people you’re visiting, old friends, new friends, a mixture?
Thus far it’s old friends, but I’d like to meet new friends too.
Do you have it open to anyone?
No…definitely not, just for safety precautions, maybe people with mutual friends, or someone I had some sort of connection with or know of, that kind of stuff, or a friend of a friend, like someone recommends them, that would be nice.
Do you have any specific goals by the end?
To… well definitely to make it to the end, I want to do one year, and I’m kind of just flying by the seat of my pants so I just hope to make it to the end for sure, finish the project and not to get lazy with the work. To constantly challenge myself and grow stamina and make good art and have fun and just enjoy myself.
Do you have any intention to have an exhibition at the end?
Yeah I’d love to do either an exhibition or make a coffee table book, there’s lots of background photos of everything that go on behind the scenes, and you know there are stories I have with each person, when I’m with them, art that's made, so I’d love to do a book or something.
And are you going in this with people and you know whats going to happen or is it free form?
Free form, some people I have a vague Idea of what I want to do already, but italways tends to change and mold depending on what happens.
What are you most excited for?
Hmm, spend time with people I love, and see new places that I’ve never been to, ooo and make art. Oh and I’m really excited to see what happens at the end, to see if I’ll just go back to my normal life and everything will be the same or where I’ll end up, who knows.
Why did you pick three days?
Some of them are longer, like when I’m going abroad it’ll be longer, but I think three days is enough time with a person, (laughs). I like change and I like a challenge so the time constraints are fun and they really make you push the boundaries, you gotta really try.
Are there any places you’re hesitant about going?
Definitely not hesitant, but there are some places that are a little bit challenging, like I have a friend who her & her family live in Uganda and have lived there a while, so that’s going to be a place that's quite a bit different, but I don’t have any concerns or hesitations, it’s just going to be something very different. Which I’m excited for, just getting there is going to be a challenge.
Are you excited to try new art forms that you don’t usually do?
Absolutely! I love learning new mediums, I love working with my hands, I love building stuff & I just see it as an arsenal because if you’re traveling and you know how to use new materials you’re just going to have a lot more options. Would you do a tour de friends?
Um... yes, but I’m not extremely good at collaborating.
You don’t have to collaborate, its more of like being inspired them, collaboration’s not necessary.
Visiting people has got to be a nice fringe benefit of this project too, being able to travel all over?
Mmmhmm, it is. Well I love learning new cultures and so meeting people from all over the world is really fun.
What’s going to be the longest time you spend somewhere?
Probably no longer than a week I’d say, I’ll take some breaks, got some things to do along the way but the breaks won’t be for longer than a month, I’d like to keep the momentum going.
You mentioned making a book, if you were to have an exhibition where would you want to do it?
Hmmm, I don’t know, anywhere someone offered me one, (laughs), I could do it all over. “Traveling in hopes of a show!”
Could be next year’s project.
Well, there are certain things, I already made one piece that isn’t withstanding the test of time, because it was made out of nature and I left it where I made it.
What was that?
It was a piece I made at a place called the Proper Guard Station in the Plumas National Forest and we went gathering for materials in the woods and I felt at one point, I laid in this giant grassy meadow with this huge long grass that was bent over on its side so it created this bed and it was in an Aspen grove and I laid in there and I just felt like I was underwater, and throughout the day everything reminded me of underwater creatures, like coral, moss reminds me of coral. So I built these little figurines, I don’t know what to call them, sculptures I guess, out of materials from the forest to make it look like underwater coral reef kind of thing.
And you took photographs of it?
So it exists in that sense.
Yes, and they would be really beautiful prints, so there’s that. Have you ever felt like you’re underwater in the forest? Felt like the forest is an underwater world?
Hmm, no I think that in the desert actually. I mean at one point, some of them were, people talk about finding whale bones and then you look at the landscape.
That’s so true, oh my gosh, they are huge mountains with a giant valley.
So my first question, the name, Bubblegum Garbage Party, where did that come from?
Sam: Yeah, that's all you.
Thomas: Haha, yeah so the name, I've jokingly said and its kind of true, I was really sick, when I get sick, my approach to it and healing myself is to do a drug induced coma, where I take NyQuil at all hours, I call out of work, and then get into that weird sleep, it's not real sleep, you're half awake, so when I'm in that for an extended period of time I have, hmmm visions, for lack of a better term.
Thomas: Sort of yeah, they're sort of semi lucid dreams because you're awake. That string of three words just came to me and this was at the time when I was a stand up, and I was desperate for material but I was also thinking in the back of my head that as a stand up you should be and active twitter participant, but I've never had the energy nor drive or predilection to be one.
When was this?
Thomas: 2 years ago, when I first moved to the bay, it came to me, so it turned into a tweet I wrote, a "tweet". And I mean if you look at my twitter account, everything that I write is just announcements of shows I'm going to do, every now and then I'll write a joke, and it's rare, because I'm long winded. So i just wrote this short one, "Bubblegum Garbage Party is my Burning Man nickname, but the name I use when I go to the bank is much more legit, Anal Sex." So it was just a dumb tweet, and then the first show I ever produced, ever, solo produced was in response to an open call by Anthony Medina, who does the True Hustle at BrainWash. And he said "Anyone wants to produce a show, hit me up right now and I'll give you a show, you produce it, do everything." So I just responded on Facebook and I got a slot, it was in October of 2013, and I named it Bubblegum Garbage Party. I booked it with, I thought a bunch of really funny, really diverse people, and I thought the name was silly and filthy and weird, people would like it. And, nobody came to the show but it was pretty good, cause they were good comics and it was fun. And then later on I got this show at Mutiny Radio with Andrew Roberts, an Australian comic, who's a lunatic and he named the show "I Fucking Hate Comedy." It's at a radio station, so it's a podcast automatically, it's a radio show automatically and it's a live show automatically. And then he didn't show up for the first 4 shows, so almost a full month went by where he didn't show up. So I just started doing it.
He's sticking true to the name at least.
Thomas: Exactly, "Well yeah, I fuckin hate comedy mate, look mate if you wanna du comedy, I dunt wanna be there, cause I don't fuckin like it." So yeah he didn't show up so I started running it and I did this dumb thing where I do all the accents I have and I just interviewed everybody in accent. And they were all standing there, everyone was like, "It's an open mic right? That's what Andrew told me." and then they show up and it's just me and I'm like "Hullo mate, let's do it!" and then I'd throw on a German accent and say something like "And now it's the time in which we are going to speak because obviously I come from the land of Germany and this is the point which we will have a conversation."
Sam: That was your whole stand up schtick too.
Thomas: Yeah it was a big part of my stand up, and I've since quit stand up. Yeah accents were a big thing for me.
You quit stand up?
Thomas: I quit stand up. To be a better version of myself on this show.
You don't think you're doing stand up when you're on stage? Or you mean not having a set?
Thomas: To be stand up, you need to be at an open mic every single night that you aren't booked on a show, so that you're constantly writing material. And the point at which I decided to quit stand up, September 29th basically, my October I was booked on every high brow stand up show I'd wanted to be on the entire 2 years I've been living here, I had every show I wanted laid out in front of me. And then I also just landed this gig here at Piano Fight, and was still going to do my Mutiny Show, I also was going through a divorce, I was homeless and I almost had a fucking heart attack. I was doing a duty at my job which is very physically demanding and I literally felt like I was going to die. I was also coming off of this tour I planned for this show we did in the Northwest, my world was a maelstrom of chaos. And the thought occurred to me, "You can stop doing stand up and just do improv and be the best host of Bubblegum Garbage Party you can be and you don't have to die." And my whole body just softened, all of my muscled relaxed, and my brain became a manageable city, "Ok, it's a grid system now! We can go up, down, left, right. We don't have to have all these fucking diagonals, all of a sudden, it's not Prague, it's not Amsterdam, it's fucking Manhattan, you can negotiate that shit."
About hosting, do you see that as more important? Helping other comedians?
Thomas: I love helping comedians, I love helping my fellow human beings. It's kind of the prime directive. If I were Robocop, my prime directive would be "Help humans". I talk to my therapist about this constantly, and I'm constantly trying to figure out the reasons why I don't want to just self destruct, because that feels great, or maybe it doesn't feel great but it's my instinct, to self destruct. And my therapist asked "What are the things that keep you from self destructing?" And my only answer was, helping other people. The first time I felt like I wasn't a boy anymore but a man was when I realized that I'm taking care of another person. Taking care of someone besides yourself is the point when you stop being a child and become an adult, right? And in the culture I grew up with, masculinity is very fucking ambiguous, the old style of what a man is is gone and the new style of what a man is, has not yet been defined. So I think a lot of guys are out there going, "I'm a man but also video games, guh!!"
It's like my old roommate.
Thomas: It's EVERYBODY'S roommate! I feel like you are not worth anything if you aren't doing something to help someone else. We're all dominoes, you have to be fixing something for someone else, otherwise you're just taking, you're just a parasite, and I can't be that, so.
That was actually the reason I wanted to interview you guys in the first place, when I saw you at Mutiny Radio, every time a comic would do a set, I loved your enthusiasm to jump in and occasionally when it wasn't working for them to give them a bump.
Thomas: It's like volleyball, yeah yeah, totally! Bump, set, spike.
It was nice, you weren't taking over their set, you were enhancing it.
Thomas: Thank you, that's the greatest compliment, that means a lot. And Sweet Sam here, she knows, I don't see myself that way, I'll call her or text her after a show "Was I being a monster, did I take that over, was I a jerk to that person?" I'm constantly worried that I'm not living up to my own ideals.
Sam: I think the interview portion of it is super productive and super informative to everyone, it serves so many purposes. It opens up the comic to thinking of things they hadn't thought about before, it helps their jokes but also helps their thought process and their feelings about their own lives. And I think that you're such an approachable person that when you ask them questions I don't think any comic has thought "This guy's judging me." because you give off this vibe like "I am the most judged! I'm here to make you feel ok." and it's so awesome, it makes people open up so much. I've always really enjoyed that about your show.
Thomas: My show? It's our show.
Sam: Yeah, but you started it. And the improv is cool, it's the same way as the interview but in a much more reluctant way from the comedians. Tom will jump in and they'll be like "I didn't want to do this!", that's their face, but they do it, because its the same type of attitude, "No, no, you're in a cool place, you're in a safe space, you can do this." and for a lot of people who aren't veteran in improv they open up and are alright, and for veteran improv people they're like, "Ah just another day we're cool with it."
Do you identify as a comedian?
Sam: Yeah, I started with improv and I used to do just improv and I was jealous of everyone I did improv with that also did stand up. So then I started doing stand up, and I like it more but I don't think of improv as a lesser art form at all. There's a big rivalry between improv and stand up and I don't think there should be, everything I learned from improv is not only valuable as a performer but it's valuable as a person, it's simple things like listen to what the other person have to say and then comment on specific items that they said. And you're like "Oh, wow this is opening up my whole world!"
Thomas: Such a reasonable thing to ask for!
Some of the biggest belly laughs I had tonight was from the format you guys have and the spontaneity. You become a better comic from the riffing.
Sam: Yeah totally.
And when Thomas jumps in I go "Oh shit, she just thought of that off the top of her head, that's hilarious."
Sam: Yeah, it challenges you to expand on the jokes you already have, it's a very cool format.
Thomas: I have to wonder too, I don't think improv people are sitting around like stand ups being like "Fuckin stand ups man, those guys are dicks, screw um, lets never do stand up cause stand up sucks balls." But stand ups are like "Fuck improv!".
Sam: That's how I feel too, every improvisor was always like "I'm just about my craft.", they were so enthusiastic about improv itself, when I talk to stand ups they're like "Fuck improv!" and I'm like "Have you gone? It's super valuable." I will say, a lot of times it's not fun to watch, but.
Thomas: Sure, improv's not always great, so what? Stand up is mostly garbage.
Sam: True, totally true. It's super rewarding to do improv, if you do good improv you're like "I created that out of nothing, oh my god that's nuts."
You're also looking for the same product at the end of the day.
Thomas: Yeah, exactly.
Sam: Exactly, you want people to enjoy it.
Thomas: And when you see bad improv, people are like "I don't think I'm going to go to many more improv shows." When you see bad stand up, people are like "The world is poisoned, there is hate everywhere, these people are monsters I should kill them or I should kill myself." I feel like bad stand up is like poison for goodness.
Sam: Hell hath no offense like a person after a bad stand up show. And their stories are like "One time ten years ago a comedian picked on me and said I was fat." That was one asshole comedian, that's not how all of us operate, it's almost like a racist approach.
San Francisco & Oakland, in the past few years there are so many stand up shows.
Thomas: Tons of stand ups too, it's a plague. I feel like it might start to slow down, it's the thing of a population grows, then it kills it's environment, then it dies off because it starves.
Is it exciting though where there are so many shows and so many options?
Thomas: No, not exciting, it's miserable. It's overpopulated, it's hot and stinky, and everyone's bad.
Sam: You've been in a gym with no ventilation before right?
Thomas: Where no one knows you're not supposed to slam the weights down, "clunk clunk!"
Sam: There's also a weird tier system that I hate to admit, I was talking to another stand up comedian and they were like "How do you feel about all the top people moving to LA?" Like we're all poaching on their bodies, "What do you think is going to happen?"
Thomas: Well I'm going to eat the arm.
Sam: "Oh my god, I don't know man, I'm gonna keep doing my dumb bar show that I do every 4th Monday."
Their success is their success and it doesn't effect anyone else.
Sam: Yeah, they're like "Do you think you're gonna become the new famous comedian of San Francisco?" I don't know, what kind of title is that anyway?
Thomas: The funny thing is it's not success if they move to LA, they aren't moving there because they have a job, they're moving because they think they'll get a job. They move there, maybe they'll come back, most of the people who have moved there are good enough, you assume to do well and go ahead with it.
Sam: There's a stigma with moving to LA, cause it's like "Ok mr. LA, you think you're good enough, alright, call us in a year. "
Thomas: Which is a bummer, it's super cynical.
How long have you been doing stand up Sam?
Sam: About 3 years.
You said you're from Reno, did you start there?
Sam: Yeah, I did it for a year there. The scene in Reno is pretty small as you could imagine, there's only 3 open mics and one big booked showcase. So at most you're getting on stage 4 times a week and thats only if you're a hard worker. Here you can get on stage twice a night if you want and so it was huge change, and at most there were 30 comedians in Reno and there's probably over 200 here. It's insane the difference I had to adjust to, but it's so much better. I'm so glad there's such diversity of comics and diversity of comedy itself, that's part of the reason I moved here, I was like "Man I bet it's not like all these 30 white men & women I'm doing comedy with." Reno is not very diverse at all, so it's good to be somewhere with a lot of options, and not only that there's a lot of different kinds of shows, in Reno it's just a straight up stand up show, we didn't do any different formats like, a game show or I do a show here where it's just a straight riffing show.
How did you end up wanting to get into comedy in the first place?
Sam: Yeah, so I was trying to remember this, I get asked that a lot actually and I kind of just give a stock answer but I don't even know if that's true so maybe I should re-examine. I wanted to be a communication major in college and I was going to register for classes and had an existential crisis "What am I doing? I don't want to do this!" so I signed up for an improv class. And rewind a few years from that, I'm at Reno university, I'm 19, "I'll be wild and do theater classes", and none of them worked out, I never got cast in anything, and I'd taken theater classes all throughout high school and college. Then I took this improv class and I was really good at it for, the most part and all of the theater kids were bad at it and I was like "Yes! Alright let's do this." And the guy who taught my theater class ran an improv troupe in Reno and they were going to have try outs, I did that and I got in, and like I said everyone in my improv troupe also did stand up and secretly that's what I always wanted to do, I loved stand up for a long time, I had written jokes. And so I signed up with my two best friends at the time for a stand up show at our college, and it was very coddled, it was promoted, there were people were there, my whole family came.
Sam: This was not a dream scenario, but it was, because we were so excited. And all of us had drank our own pitcher of beer before the show, we were like "Alright we're ready to do stand up."
"Got about ten minutes before I black out so let's do this."
Sam: And it's taped, it's online but no one will ever find it. And it didn't go poorly so I kept doing it, eventually it went poorly and I still kept doing it, and then I moved here and it went poorly for a long time here, I want to say the first six months where I did the jokes I was doing in Reno, everyone was like "This sucks." And I was like "Oh no! Maybe I should consider another career." But I didn't have anything on deck to do and I didn't like doing anything else, so that's what I decided to do and that's why I'm here today.
Did you find your voice right away or did it take a while?
Sam: No, I talk about this a lot. My first shows I was so mean to myself, I still make fun of myself a lot but they were awful, really degrading sexually to myself. When I listen to them now I'm like "Oh god, why did you say that about yourself? It wasn't even true." So yeah it definitely took a long time, it was a combination of me not being comfortable with what I was saying and my friends coming to see me they'd be like "It was hard for me to watch that, it's so weird, it's not you, it's not true, it doesn't sound good when you say it, you don't sound confident in it." And that's a huge part of it, because if you're not selling what you're saying no one else is buying it.
And it's one of the few things you have to fail a lot, in front of people to figure that out.
Sam: Yeah, it's crazy because there's a difference between failing and not liking what you're saying, I've had jokes that do really well but I'm like "I hate this, I hate how it sounds, I hate what this says." It's coming to terms with yourself, where you're like "I hate this joke, I should never tell it again, it's not how I feel." and it's so cool to tell jokes that you love to an audience that doesn't love it even, if it's total silence in your head you're like "Well I love that joke. I believe this 100%." opposed to telling a joke where to yourself you sound like an asshole and everyone loves it, then you're like "Ugh, that's not me."
It's like slightly selling your soul.
Sam: Yeah, totally, it's like Ariel giving up her voice to get legs.
Do you enjoy doing a show like Bubblegum Garbage Party, where it's more back and forth?
Sam: Yeah, it's kind of cool because it's not just you, there's a lot more elements, one of the other comics can bring up something you want to talk about but don't know how to talk about. That's the cool thing about improv is that you can explore things you wanted to explore that you never had explored and have that opportunity to talk about it or think about it. And for stand ups it'll lead to writing sets on it, potentially, but just as a person you're like "Oh cool, I would have never thought about this or talked about it." Actually on the way here, Tom ran a topic by me to talk about and I said "Sure, whatever I guess you can talk to me about that." And after he said "Whoa, I'm never running a topic by you ever again." and in my head that's preferable, I hope he doesn't run stuff by me because then I'm prepared for it and I'm obsessing over it. What am I going to say to be funny to everyone, it's so much better if he just brings it up in the moment and you get my gut reaction to it, rather than me meditating on a response that may or may not be funny to X amount of people in the audience.
You guys are dating, yeah?
How does that work with this process tonight? Because I feel like you can go a little more under the skin for laughs.
Thomas: It's so good, she and I, we love each other deeply and intimately, it's hard, we love each other hard. And we improvise probably 40% of the time we're around each other, where most of the time we're pretending we're breaking up over something. It's usually she's cheating on me with an animal, and I'm like "Why the fuck are you so into that bear?" You know, and she's like "Well bears are super attractive, first of all."
"They cuddle, unlike some people."
Thomas: And I'm like "No they don't! They're murderous animals, and they're covered in fucking fish scales because they salmon out of the river, they're monsters!" and she's like "Their cocks are so big!" "How dare you!"
Sam: It's so fun to be able to do that in a relationship, where you have that kind of trust and can play.
Thomas: I trust her so much, I trust her more than I trust anybody, and that's why she's the perfect co-host, she knows my limitations and she knows my potential. And so giving her the opportunity to take me somewhere I don't know where I'm going to go and also she knows that I respect her and so I can take her where I think she's willing to go, and I know where to pull back. And you start out a relationship and you have no idea who each other are, and you're just fighting through it. And I'm recently divorced, so I have 12 years of a relationship with somebody else as a backlog of conditioning of my behavior that I'm trying to undo, and I think that improv and stand up are two different ways someone unloads what's going on inside of themselves. You're a version of yourself slightly altered every time you do stand up and when you do improv you're yourself laid bare I think. If you're doing improv right, you're being your most honest self but you're turning it into characters.
Sam: It's a version of yourself, you always hold onto a little bit of yourself, even if you're playing a person that you hate, its a person that you hate portrayed by you.
You're holding up a magnifying glass to an aspect of yourself.
Tom: Exactly, and you know that it's all micro form, you're going to do little vignettes, you're going to do quick little pieces of how you would react, if you're doing it right. If you're doing it wrong, you're slow and you're doing things you've thought about already. And so it's much more interesting to see somebody react quickly and sometimes fail, and I feel like that's good improv, failing all the time and every now and then hitting it, but you're honest. And that's the kind of stand up I was, in baseball terms I had a .100 average, I was hitting about 10% of the time, and living with it and being cool with it because I'm an old fucking man. I was a rock star, a construction worker, a social worker, a tech worker, I was a chef, I've done fucking everything, I'm 37, I've lived a life, if I die tomorrow I'd have a great eulogy.
Thomas: I'm deeply suicidal, Sam knows it too. I constantly talk about this with my therapist, the last time I was there I was like, very calmly with my chin on my hand "So, right now I'm just dealing with the idea that I'm only really living because of the people that I love, I'm not living for myself, If I didn't have anyone in my life I would kill myself in a second, I've thought about killing myself everyday for the past ten years, and I've tried to kill myself twice but I'm still here. I'm deeply codependent, this notion of all your happiness is dependent on other people's reaction to you, it's a very common story among comedy. My goal in life is to help as many people as I can along the way, based on as much as I've learned, what little I've fucking learned.
In comedy and life?
Thomas: Both, they're totally connected to me, there's no difference. I think we all make excuses and put up with everything and really the most important thing is to accept yourself and think, no not think, know that's good enough for you, because when you can't change, just know that's ok, where else you gonna go, you gonna kill yourself? Or you going to pretend? So don't pretend. Be yourself. And don't kill yourself, and then find the person that will love that thing that won't get changed, or killed, haha.
For more of Thomas & Sam's work and where to find them:
And starting February 2016 you can check them out every Thursday night for Bubblegum Garbage Party at PianoFight in San Francisco!
Interview on 12/5/15
It’s a shame that I have no wit,
and I don’t know how words should fit.
They should be great,
but I’m starting to hate,
how my limericks all sound like shit.
hello, dusty condom!
of past pleasure
i think not;
not of knots and not
of rope that's taut
of hope that's sought
and bought; what rot,
this knot of not,
fraught with naught.
i caught a thought
and wrought that thought
(a gordian knot)
to what i ought
and yet cannot.
and then, distraught,
I brought the knot,
my clot of thought,
to what i've got.
a lot of rot
and found a lot
this poem begins self-referential,
and so to you it is inconsequential.
but if you make it through,
you'll find that it's true -
another poem would have been preferential
i dream of hairy women
taking off their clothes
Hairy arms extended
as shirts lift over heads
Hairy armpits visible
on chests are hairy breasts.
belly buttons over-thatched,
yet faces are smooth and clear -
of eyebrows they have none.
all as one they turn about
hairy backs tilt forward now
and hairy shoulders flex;
pants slide down hairy hips
past hairy knee and calf
and hairy feet appear
each woman's hair is different
(tangled) (coarse) (soft) (well-kempt);
some with short tough bristles
some with long silken strands
and some patchy, mangy, clumpy
they're turning all about and i can
see their hairy fronts again
the hairy curves of their hairy breasts
with knots of hairy nipples
hairy necks all shimmering
hairy pelvises as well, and tufts
all about their hairy vaginas,
cascading down in hairy waves
these women now begin to smile
and i see hair in their teeth,
with hairy tongues rasping
over hairless lips in thirst
clogging their throats and lungs
these are not hairy women,
these women who are hairy
they are instead hair-that-is-women
or women made of hair.
i dream of hairy women
and then i'm waking up;
i dream of hairy women.
You can find more of Sean's writing at:
Let's get into Newspaperpapers, how did they start? When did you start doing them?
I started doing them about 5 years ago when I started reading the paper on Sundays, like I really got a real newspaper habit on Sundays, to the point where it was the only day I'd request off, "I can work anytime just not Sunday cause I like to drink coffee and read the newspaper."
New York Times?
Reading the Sunday Times just changed everything, it was so awesome. They have so many good sections, it's so interesting. Well A, after I was done reading one I just didn't want to throw em away, it just felt wrong to. And B, there were just so many things I wanted to keep with me that I read, the same way you read books and you underline certain words or circle certain words, those are the sentences and words that I cut out instead. So then I started cutting out everything that popped out at me, words I liked and pictures that I liked, and I would say "Oh, I'll put this in my journal." And then I started, I dunno when, I don't know what the first one that I made was but I started putting a picture and some words together with the idea that I could basically tell and entire story by doing so. Because I really think that you can.
Yes, definitely. Would you find words and a picture and think that would be a good story or would you have a story in mind and try to make it?
No, no they really range. Some of them simply tell a story, or make a statement or just make you ask questions. Some of them I try to show a real literal interpretations of the words. Some of them it's not at all what the picture was about or what the words were about, and some of them get really humorous, or at least in my own head they're pretty funny. But even the funny ones make me a little sad, like there's more to the story. They don't necessarily have to be funny but they could be, let me show you this one I'm thinking of.
They're not one liners, you get a little peak throw the window of a bigger story.
Yeah, exactly. It just makes you ask questions and want to know the rest of it and it could go so many different ways. The same way short fiction could, there's a lot left in the gap between the words and the pictures.
I was looking through them yesterday, and found one that said "Go outside." , it was a bad day at work anyway, and it made me say "Ya know what fuck it, I'm gonna leave." so I left.
Yeah that's the stuff, it's almost like I feel like I have a pair of goggles on when I'm reading the newspaper now too and these things just pop out at me. I havn't really zeroed in one idea of what they are or what they mean, but I think it's just a different interpretation of the newspaper, like the way everybody interprets the world so differently. I picture a person reading the newspaper and being "I'm going to pick out these words and these words and these words, this is it."
Will you pick out something and be like "that's pretty good!" and you go immediately to find out a photo or do you have a repertoire of "these are good."?….ahhh, ha, that's answers that question.
Yeah I have a bunch of pictures and a bunch of these sleeves with words. I mean really the best way to do it is immediately. I think the best way is to pick out words that speak to me in a certain moment, and then its funny because I can line up 5 pictures that can go with them but each one tells such a different story. Then I have to turn something off in my brain and pick, be like, "This is the most important one." Glue stick.
Do you want to make them live somewhere? Is it exercise, just spontaneous?
It started as something I just really enjoyed. I felt super crazy doing it, sitting on my floor cutting out these little funny words with my pair of scissors. I would love to make a book of them, I would love to have the New York Times pick them up and make a book of them as an alternative interpretation of the newspaper and also show how important print is, the value of print. But I dunno, that would be ideal, that would definitely be ideal. I would love to have a book of them.
With the New York Times, there's last week's crossword answers, there could be last week's Newspaperpaper.
Exactly! And then people would be like "Oh I remember that picture that was in the book review and those words are from that article about that fire that happened across town." I've thought about that, that would be fantastic.
Have you thought about reaching out to them?
I have thought about it, I just havn't yet. I've had a bad habit in the past of wanting things to be just right and be like "Oh I'm going to make this amazing website that looks like a newspaper online and then send it." But that's never quite happened so.
Well, you have everything already… all the bricks to build the house ya know what I mean?
I also have to spend a lot of quality time with my scanner because there's so many. My scanner and I just have to have a few nights together. That's another part of it, making the analog digital, that's part of the project, hence where the scanner comes in. I have an extreme interest in the analog but I feel like if we don't put some of this stuff it on the internet then it's all just going to disappear, maybe. It's better to have some of it than none of it, and I don't want it to disappear. So even if it's just scanning old newspapers and old photographs and making it into a website that's great and better than nothing.
When I first saw one of your notebooks with a bunch in it, i just couldn't stop flipping through, it would work so well as a book. And the great thing is as someone looking at them I'm not only trying to get inside your head and wonder "what was that one about?" but I can also paint a picture in so many different ways, it's open to viewer interpretation, it's great.
Some of them are really just a funny thing that happened to me that no one would be able to decipher, I looked at this one, and was like "wait a minute, this one isn't applicable to everyone but it's still is part of a longer story." Maybe I was tracing the horizon one day, I don't know, it's a story, I think they're great, I do get kind of passionate about them.
Do you see them as separate from your photography completely?
Yeah, definitely. I've had a few people reach out to me and say "Hey I've seen your newspaper paper things, I was thinking that would be awesome with your photographs." and I have tried to do it, but it just isn't the same. There's something about it that is both very personal and impersonal for me because I didn't' visually make any of the stuff. This is funny, I've had people talk to me about working from some other muse that's flowing through them and I've always been like "I've never felt that." But this is sort of it, I'm just like "I'm going to go with this, this works, yes, absolutely." And I don't really wrap up my ego in them, and I think, I hope that's why they work. I just cut out the words and I trust it, and I don't really care if people don't get them because I get them. And even if I don't completely get them they still feel right to me. And with my photography I really wrap my ego up in it, and am like "Uh, they're gonna think I'm good or bad at this." And I don't do it with these, at all. It's really nice.
Do you think there's an element of chance with these that wouldn't be there if you used your own photos?
Yes, definitely. I really also appreciate these images so much, I don't want to throw them out, this is what I want my photographs to look like, what I wished my photos looked like. So I think that's maybe why I started, I started cutting out the photographs going, "this is cool, I'd like to remember this." and then I couldn't help but cut out the words to go along with it. It really is a lot of things, I haven't narrowed it down yet, it's preserving the analog, preserving print, preserving the tangible and also so much of it stems from my interest in photography and fiction, short fiction and poetry. And the words on the picture aren't titles, I've never titled any of my photographs, and it's funny because when I go to a museum, especially when I'm looking at a painting or a photograph I definitely want to walk over and read what the title is, to somehow understand it a little bit better. So I think there is some accessibility to having words in the piece itself, having it can point you in the right direction, well there is no right direction but it can help prompt you to ask questions or start making up stories yourself that sometimes with art you don't want to do because you don't know if you get it or you'll be totally wrong.
It makes it active as opposed to passive viewing?
Yea, and I agree that words don't belong in all art, and they can take over in most cases. But for some reason with these I think it really works in terms of sparking the imagination. It's like how I look at photographs, I can look at them and start asking questions "What's going on here, is it this or is it this?" That's why I have a hard time when I'm trying to figure out which words go with which picture because they kind of go with any of them. And then I just gotta go for it, pull the trigger on it basically, whip out the glue stick and the tape. Sometimes it's obvious.
What I'm trying to get at is the space between the words and pictures is the stuff that doesn't exist in either the pictures or the words. Does that make sense? I'm trying to take two tangible things, a sentence and an image and make something intangible. By sparking an overall feeling or question that you can't really articulate, you can say a bunch of sentences or ask a bunch of questions that sort of bring you closer to it but don't actually encompass what these things together do.
Hmmm, I like that.
Sometimes, they're just words, sometimes they're big chunks of dialog. For the longest time I had the picture of this guy standing upside down.
Is that Buster Keaton?
Yeah, ha, I could never find the perfect words for this picture cause I loved it so much but then I saw those, little obvious but still so good. The images that I really love are the hardest ones to pick the words for. I want them to be just right, I want to wait for the right ones. Oh, I know what one I'm thinking of, I know what one I'm thinking of, where is it?, yeah yeah, I have this picture from a movie of all these ladies and I thought it was so awesome for so long, and I put on these words "I'm indistinguishable from everyone else." which I thought sort of worked well, because they're all so beautiful and amazing and I think I had passion on my mind that day. It was not at all what I expected, I like that it never ends up how I expect it to, that's part of the fun, it's kind of the perfect hobby for my brain.
How many do you think you have?
A lot, maybe 200? Is that crazy? 3 or 4 journals full. There's so many that stick with me for a really long time and when I think about Newspaperpapers I think of those ones, but then I'll come across one and say "Hey this is cool.", which is great.
Have you thought about doing them for people?
I've given a few to people and I've done a couple as commissions. Yeah, I'd love to, the thing is people have to be really open to what they're going to get because I can't say I'll make you one about this and one about this. I need a bunch of themes to work with and I'll keep the person in mind certainly and hopefully I'll drum up something they like. I would definitely be open to doing it, it really is the best thing for my brain, except I tend to spend way too long on it, I'll be like "Oh shit, it's 4 o'clock in the morning and I have these words everywhere." Packing tape, a glue stick, scissors and a newspaper.
All you need.
All you need.
Interview on 11/14/2015
How do your projects come about?
All of my projects revolve around time and memory, like the last series I worked on was all of the windows I could remember looking at. It was a timeline of place and people and who I was interacting with and to help me remember where I was and how I've moved about and what year it was. And they kind of just happened like that, the way I came upon the window series was from being in Maine and I had this really beautiful window that looked out to the ocean at the place I was staying. I was super appreciative of being there in that place, in that point in time and looking out that window and it had me start thinking of all of the other windows I love and could remember looking out of. It helps you to be present and also helps you pay homage to the past so you can move forward knowing that you've noted that you had been there. There's that one and then also the series of all the boys I've kissed. I like having it be sort of scientific or mathematical too, giving it some kind of structure to paint.
Making it some kind of visual record keeping?
Yea, yea and some days I can just push paint around and try and make something pretty or not think while I'm painting but most of the time the work that I really like and the work I like to talk about comes from something specific. So yea, I give myself homework, something to always think about and take notes on and beat the hell out of so that I know that I've spent enough time with the subject or memory or whatnot.
You mentioned wanting to do a solo residency, is where that is important or is just the fact you can be alone and doing what you want to?
Its just going to a residency or a place, especially by myself or with people I don't know helps me step out of my normal routine and reflect on where I just was. Cause most of the time if I'm here in Brooklyn running around and moving as fast as I can and trying to take advantage of the day I forget to appreciate how cool this place is. But as soon as I remove myself then I can reflect on and understand my past, that's why I like to move around a lot because every time I leave a place.
You can reflect on the last place?
Yea, and it becomes a memory and it becomes a past and that's something I always want to paint. So it's kind of a foolish set up I've had because it almost forces me to live this life of never really having a home or home base I guess, because I always want to be on the move or am only satisfied when I'm leaving always. So that's why I also explore the idea of painting what's present and finding something everyday to appreciate and take a little note on. Because when I do force myself to write everyday even when its the mundane, walked to the laundry spot, this guy said "What's up" to me, and I found an old key on the ground and just like random stuff, then I look back and say "Oh, that was a day I probably would have forgotten if I hadn't written it down."
I feel like even notebooks of yours I've seen it's like that, you'll stop to scribble something down that seems like a minute life detail.
Yeah, I love sometimes someone says something I want to remember or there's a certain song playing in a certain place and I'll write down the song, to remember being there listening to it, or if I'm walking around and I'm like "This is a great day" I'll pick up a leaf off the ground or pull a flower off the branch. It's like a marker or proof of existing in that place and that time. And that's why my sketchbooks are the most important thing to me cause, they're all proof of many days for many years and all proof of little things, and whenever I'm flipping through its super vivid flashbacks of where I was and I like that, cause I've had a lot of nice memories.
It's like mental Polaroids.
Yea and so next, what I have been thinking of for my work, especially since I want to be able to survive off my paintings or not have to work a shitty, weird job that takes away from that. I can still do my projects that are really personal and for myself and get me through everyday but to turn painting, my painting as service for others or something that people sort of need more than something extra. And the way I think I can do that and still love what I'm doing and painting is by painting other people's memories. I want to build up a resume of paintings that will turn me into this go to person where if someone is having to sell their childhood home, or sell a grandparents home or someplace special in their life and they want to remember it. And I love hearing other peoples stories and I love asking about other peoples trinkets and why's this on the fireplace or what this picture is or why this page of this book is ripped out and framed. And so, I could help people preserve these places or even memories if people have memories they want to share and have me interpret into paintings. I feel like maybe that way I can always have work to do and I can help other people and I would be happy to do it because I like mixing colors for other people and I like being able to help people with what I like to do. So its slowing gathering. I was thinking, I made this flyer, one you put on a pole, like take this number and go, like a memory map maker, someone tells me their memories and I can make them into maps. So I might start talking about that, I'm just waiting for the right time I guess.
When you painted everyone you went to school with and wrote a blurb of what you remembered about them. That was a project along these lines, extremely personalized where people were getting stoked not only with the connection but also saying things like "Those are my colors!"
That's what I love, I loved doing that because then it's like, I remember someone saying who worked in hospice that the greatest thing we can do for each other as human beings is just acknowledge each others existence. That's why I loved making everyone's colors, I loved my time in school and everybody I could remember and I wanted to be able to basically sign everyone's yearbook, you know? And give everyone a thank you note, and get everyone back together again. So I haven't done a project like that in a while, I think its cause I've been in the same place for so long with the same people, which is great because I love everyone but I love going to new places and just listening.
And connecting to people.
Yeah, it's all interactions. That's all my work is about, interactions with people and places and time. So we'll see.
Got any ideas on where you want to go?
I want to go somewhere slower. I want a balance of being able to wake up kind of completely alone but able to go down to a little town every morning and have a routine of seeing some new people and some regular people every day. I think of Portsmouth NH or some north shore Massachusetts town and just have it be quiet and slow and if I need to interact I can go and just have one downtown that has one coffee shop, one bar and a store where I can get my fix on having a conversation with somebody. But the things that would stand out to me would be so singular that I feel like I would have time to really write about that one person that was sitting in the cafe for a really long time. I dunno, being in New York I'm overwhelmed by how many cool things I see all the time that sometimes I go sit down to pick something to make a painting about and you just can't pick anything because I'm almost immune to how cool everything is. So, I just gotta change my attitude about it I guess, its all just balance.
It sounds like you know what you need.
What do you think it is? Ha, I don't know what I need. I just need to have everything in doses is all. I need to plan something for some future escape. That's why Paris was great, even this whole summer going to the Vineyard for a month and then coming back to Brooklyn for a little and going to Plum Island for a little. I like to travel, its a pain in the ass but I like to go back and forth.
I think compared to the average, sally on the street you travel quite a bit.
Yeah, that's why I shouldn't complain about it. I am lucky.
And as far as making work goes, you've got incredible work ethic. And you're getting to a level where, you know when bands get to that midpoint level where they go " alright, we can survive on this." I think you're there.
Thanks, getting there. I still have to supplement here and there but whatever, I'm really happy that I'm able to keep at it and that I actually have a studio here and I can buy groceries and socks and sweaters, even though I probably shouldn't of bought those sweaters.
I'll be happy to have them this winter. And what else, yeah I just feel really lucky. I got really lucky having a lot of really great people around me from school and residencies and just traveling who reach out to me and include me in things, so that's been helpful. There's just never enough hours in the day that's all, I always feel like I could be doing more. And sometimes I get disappointed, I make a to do list in the morning and then I only get half of it done, but you also have to have time in the day to relax and digest from the hustle bustle. I've been reading, what have I been reading? A Moveable Feast by Hemingway, you ever read that? I've only ever really read his short stories and they're very terse and read between the lines and I love that. They're all strong short words and sentences. But this book reminds me of a journal of his, talking about what he sees and what streets he walks down and how he works. He talks about how he'll wake up and go for a walk and then go home and dedicate time to just getting his shit done, and then he'll finish working but leave a glimmer of something for him to come back to tomorrow so he's excited to return to work. But once he's done for the day he'll find anything and everything to distract him from thinking about work cause he doesn't want to intermix the absorbing of information with "How can I put this in a story?" so he comes back to work excited. So I dunno, I gotta try and split my time, give myself time to just be awake and not being like "What can I do next, what's going to be next, whats going to be next?", cause then you're not even here. You're thinking about whats next, and I'm trying to go further back into the past, so I got a lot of relaxing to do.
I could see how this isn't the easiest city to relax in.
Mmhmm, but, it's really cool because even when I hate it and I leave and then I come back I always go "This is so fucking cool." But like everything you just need to have it in doses.
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Interview from October 23rd, 2015