Where did you move to?
– I just moved to Indianapolis, to be an arts and entertainment writer at The Star. Felt like the right move for me, at this age (30). It’s a bigger newspaper, and one that has a better feel for the Internet as a means of delivery. But I liked the Times-Union. I just figured I should jump and travel while I’m young enough and don’t have kids. From Indy I expect I’ll see Chicago and few other spots, and the city itself here seems just that little bit more urban, artsy, etc.
While writing for the Times Union you wrote several Jacksonville art scene related articles. How was that experience?
– It was interesting. I felt like I was able to get in touch with some characters here and there, and some folks with real talent. Just about every figure I spoke to seemed eager for coverage, although I will admit there were a few that didn’t want to bother at all, which was a shame. For instance, I really enjoy pop surrealism, low brow stuff, and Shawn Thurston seemed like the kinda guy that would make a great profile. But with web overtures and what not, I was never really able to get in touch. Also, a few street artists I wanted to reach were a little resistant. I sort of understand that, because what they’re doing is illegal. But really, are the cops going to track them down and arrest them over a story in the paper that says they like poster-bombing down some deserted alley? I don’t think so. Usually, these guys would say something along the lines of “The art is there for the people in the know. We aren’t in it for the recognition.” Well, OK. But I hope they remember they said that one day, when they decide they want their breakout solo show to get some press coverage.
How did you become interested in the arts?
– I lived with it covering virtually all the wall space of my house as a child. My mum was a bit of a bohemian in her day – at least her friends were. And in high school I was a studio arts and graphics major. I wasn’t very good though. My interest now lies in reading and writing about the arts (but not history or theory – more about individuals). Artists generally seem like such interesting creatures. I prefer reading and writing about them to their actual work. There is work that I love to look at in the gallery, but I wouldn’t want it on my walls. I like reading about artists’ lives and personalities, and how that informs and reflects their work. Art is such a personal thing, it kind of annoys me when artists are obtuse about their motivations, or their life itself. It’s apparently all there, laid out on the canvas – or so they say – yet they’re hesitant to talk about what they were feeling when they created it, except in the most cryptic way. The thing is, most artist statements are such gibberish, it means folks can’t relate. But they can relate to the person. So I always look for the person behind the piece.
What type of artwork do you personally appreciate?
– I love street art. Banksy, of course. I love low brow illustrative stuff too. Jeremy Fish, for instance (although he hates me – it’s a long story). But I will say that the cartoonish art that seems to be surging right now is getting a little dull and repetitive. I also wonder if much of it comes from any place real – if it deserves to stand alongside real fine art. I love Basquiat, and Schnabel, and Sol LeWitt. My favorite artist is Hundertwasser, even if his environmentalism was a little preachy.
Now that you are out of Jacksonville you can be honest. What is your opinion of the city?
– It’s funny. I always bitched about Jax when I was there, but now that I’m gone, I actually miss it. I’m still astounded at how quiet the downtown is. That’s an awful indictment of the place. The only foot traffic you get is the homeless, and people visiting the library or Starbucks. So yeah, downtown is awful. Springfield wishes it was gentrified enough to be great, but it is a long, long way from getting there. San Marco was pretty, but felt slightly stale in some ways. And Riverside, I loved. I loved the streets there, and the little centers at Whiteway, Five Points, Avondale, with Murray Hill not far away. In my final weeks in Jax, I seemed to run into people at shops throughout that part of town, like I was just starting to settle in. I will actually miss it.
What is your opinion of the Jacksonville art scene?
– Can I say this without saying what has been said before? “There’s promise, but a long way to go.” Sound familiar? There are people working hard to get things going there, and I saw some major successes. Joey Marchy’s munny show. Joy’s regular bogda shows, with LABOR. The stuff you guys at jaxCAL are doing is good too. The city probably needs an MFA program somewhere for it all to gel in the right way, but a start is a start.
When did you know you were going to be a writer?
– Well, I was working in PR about five years ago, and I liked the writing part of it. Then I loved it when I started reporting up in New York. But I probably didn’t know I was going to be a writer of sorts until my first big stories ran and I got a little recognition from the public. That was only four years ago. I haven’t been in the game that long. But yeah, it’s nice to know your writing gets through in some way, either by touching someone, or by something as simple as getting them to go to a local event.
Where did you go to school and how was that experience?
– I went to school in Australia. High school was a magnet boys school. I liked it, but I missed out on the fun of the co-ed experience. At university, I studied psychology mostly, and found it to be a mostly anonymous experience. I did studies in PR post-grad, but that was at night while working other jobs, so it wasn’t much fun either. My masters, in communications, was similarly busy. I never really enjoyed studying that much.
What are some of the most interesting memories you have while here in Jacksonville?
– I can think of three, and they’re all related to stories I wrote. One was about a homeless guy with mental health problems who’d been caught on tape pooping on a downtown street. I went in search of him, eventually found him, and maybe found out a little something about mental illness. The second was an investigation into the suicide of artist and JU professor Brad Silverstein, and the anti-depressants that may have caused his death. And the third was tracking down a porn producer in St. Augustine, and speaking with a girl who’d been ripped off by him. All the stuff was eye-opening and interesting.
Is there anything you will miss in Jax?
– Apart from friends, I’ll miss Mojo BBQ, Starlite, walking to the Cool Moose, and the view of the city from the Fuller-Warren.
Who was your favorite local artist?
– No one favorite, but I really liked Dan May before he shipped off to Atlanta. I loved Brittni Wood and Tanya Lee (and you can see the student/teacher relationship by style there, I think). I think Mark Creegan does great work too, and I applaud him for pursuing installation work in a scene that isn’t as receptive as it could be to such stuff. There are others, but those are the ones that come to mind.
Do you have any suggestions on how we can grow our art scene? Anything that you see as an obvious weakness? Or a strength?
– Well, I always thought the $100 art shows they used to do in New York were great. There was a fundraiser for the humane society that did a similar thing – choosing a price limit for sale of the work. The thing is, it might seem like a small idea, but if you can get people buying the work instead of just looking at it, they become collectors, and they become invested in the scene. Forget the financial investment, if they’re buying the work, they’re displaying it, they’re living with it, and they’ll want more. Cheap prices for small works will help grow that base of young collectors, the kids who don’t want to pay $450 for a piece of art. But I really don’t know. I don’t have enough experience. Maybe the city could do more solo shows too. Group shows are great, but they hardly promote individual artists as being necessary and important voices. Collectives are great, but it’s also great to give artists a chance to shine, and to make them stand alone by their work. I was away in Australia when Brittni had her solo show at Jane Grey, but I would have loved to have seen that, because you could tell her work would stand on its own easily. But really, like I said, I don’t know. I would just say keep the openings with the free booze and snacks coming. Everyone loves free grog.