^ Keith Boadwee pictured in the studio fabricating works for PLAID with A.A. Bronson, Salzburger Kunstverein, Austria, 2015. Photo: Georg Petermichel.
OTP short-forms: Keith Boadwee
An interview with the radical West-Coast painter and performance artist.
HIGH SERIOUSNESS, Muehl's frog and the importance of personal relationships.
“You can walk around squirting sunflowers out of your ass in Boadwee’s universe and the sun will bless the tip of your erect dick all day long. As it should be.” - Nicole Eisenman, 2014.
Keith Boadwee’s work performs a mocking, critical deconstruction of ideas of taste. Since the late 80s, his practice of studio-based performance, and its photographic documentation, has satirised the supercilious attitude of Western Painting. Canonical references and humorous carnal delights abound, as the hegemony of institutional heteronormativity is challenged by a radically “queer” joi de vivre.
His long-term collaborative painting project, CLUB PAINT, marks a stylistic departure. Born out of creative partnerships with friends and old students (Boadwee has previously taught for a number of years at the California College of Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute), these figurative works employ the vocabulary of "Bad" Painting, to similarly disruptive effect.
Raucous and comedic depictions, of immense sexual variety, evoke familiar compositions from art history, whilst foregrounding the fundamental physicality of the ways in which humans relate.
OTP What’s Important to you?
KB How does one even begin to answer a question like this? The obvious answer is EVERYTHING. Everything that makes a life.
Making art, love, healthy sexual expression, friendships, intellectual pursuits. Humor is vital. Having a good laugh. While I think intellectual rigor is important in life, I loathe HIGH SERIOUSNESS.
I think that the two are often seen as inextricable. I absolutely hate the notion that if one is funny then one isn't serious.
I seem to come up against this idea again and again in my travels through the art world. I feel that my work is often diminished and overlooked because it is "jokey".
^Keith Boadwee, Birthing Piece (Chewing), 1989, archival digital inkjet print, courtesy of the artist and Brennan & Griffin.
OTP Congratulations on the most recent CLUB PAINT show at Smallville. I see that you have shown in Switzerland a couple of times before, do you think your work finds a particular affinity with Swiss audiences?
KB I've cultivated a lot of friendships in Switzerland over the last 5 years and have enjoyed exhibiting there. I don't know if my work appeals to the Swiss in particular.
I do know that it's the only place I've been able to consistently sell work, but of course that's about economics. There's a lot of money in Switzerland.
If one has to make rash generalization, then yes, America is more conservative than Europe. Our society was founded by puritans and built on the puritan work ethic.
These things are deeply ingrained in our culture. Again, as a rash generalization, I would say that Europeans are less hung up about sex and the body.
We also don't have the great tradition of art that is deeply embedded in European culture. Americans as a whole are very skeptical about art.
OTP In the press release there’s a mention of the outrage the show would cause anti-speciests. Is this idea relevant to the show in your opinion?
KB I don't really want to answer this. I was opposed to that press release.
^ Keith Boadwee, Frogs Fisting, 2016, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and The Pit LA.
OTP I love the delighting seedy frog that seems to appear a number of times in your recent work - Where did the frog come from?
KB The frog was lifted directly from Otto Muehl, and has become an obsession the last couple of years. The frogs are just surrogates for humans and myself in particular.
My skills for painting the human figure are almost non-existent but I've figured out that for some reason I'm very good at painting frogs.
As I've become more at ease with painting frogs, it's a comfortable trope to return to again and again.
OTP How would you characterise the relationship between humiliation and humour in your work?
KB What John Waters said about my work was that I was willing to embarrass or humiliate myself, and that that was what made my work good or interesting.
As I think about this NOW, I'm not sure how humiliated or embarrassed I am by my work. I do think that it's important to be willing to reveal oneself.
I admire artists who seem to have less limits, who are willing to breach that space between public and private. I wish I was more like that.
I look at some of Sean Lander's early work and it was just so brave. Absolutely no acknowledgment of "private". I admire that.
I would like to have NO delineation between life and art. I have some barriers, largely necessitated by personal relationships.
^ Keith Boadwee, Jasmine Swami, 1993, archival digital inkjet print, courtesy of the artist.
OTP You exhibited in Marcia Tucker / Marcia Tanner’s divisive Bad Girls show at the New Museum. How relevant does that exhibition feel to you today?
KB I was in the Marcia-Tucker-curated half of the exhibition that was at The New Museum in New York. Marcia Tanner's half of the show was in Los Angeles; I was not included (and I was living and working in LA at the time).
I honestly don't remember much about that show. It was a long time ago. It was a big show with lots of artists. I was one of 2 or 3 men in the show so I suppose that was a somewhat novel curatorial idea at the time, putting gay men in a feminist show.
I have had almost zero institutional support so the thing I remember most about that show was that someone actually put me in a museum show. That's 25 years ago and I've not exhibited in a museum since!
OTP Performativity seems to play an important role in your work and I am led to believe you have had a close relationship with the theatre in the past. Did you act?
KB I was never an actor. I studied theatre for 3 years at university before I switched to art. There was a break in between.
I moved to New York and worked at a place called Theatre for the New City doing technical stuff. I did some acting at university and figured out quickly that I was bad at it.
I did a lot of different jobs in theatre during the 5 years that I was very engaged with it. I built sets, did lighting, box office and stage management among other things. In some of my very early photo works, you can see that there are some rudimentary stage "sets" and costumes that are perhaps informed by my early engagement with theatre.
I studied with Paul McCarthy and Chris Burden so, obviously, I was heavily immersed in performance during my 3 year stint when I switched to studying art at UCLA.
^ Keith Boadwee, Old Glory, 2017, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Smallville Espace d’art contemporain.
OTP I have read that you grew up in Mississippi near to a military base. Does the base feature heavily in your memory of those years?
KB I was born in Mississippi and grew up in Louisiana though it wasn't near a military base. I was raised by Southern Baptists. Now they're called "evangelical Christians". I grew up in the 60s and 70s in a very small town. All I ever knew was that I wanted to get out.
I was a weird kid who didn't fit in with all the farmers and rednecks. I'd like to say that I was a tormented kid who cried alone in my room while reading poetry and listening to Joni Mitchell, but it wouldn't be true.
The "queer" thing that I really connected with was glam, which was at its zenith when I was a teen. Bowie, Mercury, and Marc Bolan were heroes. I never thought of them as "gay" or "queer" because there was no context to even know what that was.
NO INTERNET and gay activism was in its infancy (and non existent in rural Louisiana). I was pretty tough and loud mouthed and didn't really take any shit.
The US culture wars hadn't started yet, thank goodness! They were still a few years away. I was fortunate to have the right kind of constitution to able to cope in that environment.
I came out in my small town in 1979, just after finishing school and leaving for university (which was in another small town about 5 miles away).
There were about 10 punk kids at my first college and I was one of them. Punk was a real outlet for "otherness" and creativity. I quickly met other gay people at my first university and dived right in!
^ Keith Boadwee, Blue Squirts, 1996, archival digital inkjet print, courtesy of the artist.
OTP Are there any artists you are particularly excited about at the moment that you would recommend the reader looks up?
KB Things I've seen/been thinking of recently:
Nicole Eisenman (one of the few huge commercial stars who makes work that has a great variety of ideas and form and is politically and ideologically challenging).
A.A. Bronson and General Idea (the depth of that catalogue is incredible and the new AIDS paintings are a revelation),
^ Keith Boadwee, Bad Weekend, 2018, oil on canvas, courtesy of the artist and Smallville Espace d’art contemporain.
OTP What do you like to do when you’re not in the studio?
KB Take care of my husband, nurture friendships, travel, read, look at art, exercise, cook, garden, take care of my house, listen to music, think.
But artists are always working. The studio time is the "literal" labor but the work is constant. Everything combined is what builds the art practice.
Ideas are always being mulled over, gestated and regenerating at all times. The notion that life and art are one and the same is fundamental to modernism and conceptualism.
I am no different in this regard than all other serious artists of the last century.
OTP Where’s the best place to go on a date in Emeryville?
KB Out for Pizza. But only really good Pizza. You can get a decent pie around here (Americans call Pizza pie).