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SubtleTea Interviews - Dee Sunshine 

 

 SubtleTea Interview with Dee Sunshine

 

D: Cripes, you've an impressive resume: sculpture, magazine editing, illustration, graphic design, various visual art, poetry and prose.  Instead of starting with the typical "how did you get into art" question, please just tell us about your demon (what Faulkner called his drive). 

 

Art for art's sake?  Any purpose?  Any moral essence in art?  Your visual art is obviously Dadaistic.  Any words on Dada?

 

I think you are right to call it a demon.  It is very similar to being possessed by a malevolent entity.  When I was younger I was consumed by my desire to be a writer and artist, and, I have to confess, this desire played second fiddle to none.  Only with the passing of years and the gaining of maturity have I realized the nature of this beast, and while he still whispers seductive lies in my ears, I have grown wise to him, and, to a point have subjugated him.  I no longer think of art and writing as the be all and end all.  When I was 30 I had an 'awakening': I hesitate to call it a 'spiritual awakening' because of all the baggage that goes with that concept, but it was spiritual nonetheless; and it made me see there was so much more to life than this scribbling of images and words.  And that was the first time I managed to beat my demon into submission.  As an artist and writer, I am troubled to confess that I don't think art and writing are very important in the greater scheme of things.  I question myself constantly about why I am still consuming my time and energy making the stuff.  Seriously, if I wrote all these questions down (and there are hundreds of them) I think any artist or writer reading them would be left wondering exactly why they are doing what they do.  Ultimately, I make art and I write because I am compelled to do so.  The demon still has a grip on me, I can't deny it.  However, being a wise old daddy of 42, I no longer let the demon dominate me.  

 

Art for art's sake?  What exactly does this mean?  I don't really believe anyone produces art just for the sake of art.  I think this is a flawed and silly idea.  All artists are driven on by their demons, they make art for hundreds of different reasons, but not, I think, just for the sake of art.  Personally, I am driven by the desire to communicate and enlighten (at its purest) and (at its basest) by the desire for the sort of acknowledgement and love I have craved since early childhood.  Any artist, if they were honest, would admit to desires that were self-serving as well as altruistic.  And if they tell you different, they're either an out and out liar or completely deluded.

 

 Any purpose, any moral essence to art?  I think the best that artists and writers can do is to remind people of what they already know.  I used to imagine that artists and writers had more power than that, but I became quickly disabused of that notion round about the time of my degree show, when I got talking to the punters... or rather, got listening: for so many of them wanted to tell me what they thought my art was about... and what surprised me was how few of them got it.  Some of them even read the opposite of what I had intended.  This was a humbling and humiliating experience.

 

 I'd say my collage work owes a lot to Dada, but then again, all collage work does.  But collage is just a small part of my output.  Mostly, I work in pen & ink, charcoal and pastel, and my influences are many and disparate.  I don't think my work slots into any easy category - and I think that is as well, because the only thing that fits in a pigeonhole is a pigeon.  Rather than say such and such artist influenced me, I'd say I've been influenced by the events in my life, and especially by travelling in countries like India and Nepal.

 

 

 

D: One of my favorite painters is Klimt.  I love his erotic focus on women and his colors.  He's much more aesthetically pleasant than Schiele, who tended to make women look ugly.  Klimt seemed to paint females as special erotic objects for the viewer, sometimes sketching them in explicit, intimate nudity before painting clothes, etc.  What do you think of this - and women's depiction in art in general?

 

I used to be a big fan of Schiele, Chaim Soutine, Otto Dix, Georg Gross and Edvard Munch, all of whom could be accused of misogyny, for the way they depicted women.  I don't think that such an accusation would necessarily be fair.  It would be more accurate to describe these painters as misanthropists.  They were never kind to anyone in their paintings.  Schiele may have made women look like ugly, bruised bits of meat, but he didn't just single out women for this treatment.  Have a look at his self-portraits, and you will see a man in the throes of self-loathing.  Personally, Schiele's work still resonates for me more than Klimt's.  I can't help but be drawn to the raw energy of his work, even if it is ugly.  I was never a huge fan of Klimt's.  I like his pattern-making and think he would have made a talented fabric designer, but I never felt easy with the mix of these essentially 2-D designs with figures that were given three dimensions.  I also felt the patterns tended to overwhelm the paintings.  When it comes to painting erotic females I think Modigliani was the master.  I've always felt with Modigliani a sense of worship at the altar of womanhood.  Although his work is 'erotic', I wouldn't say his women were objects, they are more subjects.  Hell, they are goddesses, you know?  If I was a woman, even a feminist, I'd find it hard to level the 'woman as object' accusation at Modigliani.  When it comes to modern art, I deplore those sort of accusations anyway.  The artist objectifies everything, not just women.  As soon as you touch canvas with paintbrush you are turning a subject into an object.  In modern art though (and by modern, I mean art that is freed from the restraints of the old patronage system) the artist pours something of his or her soul into the painting, be their soul beautiful or rotten, so the subject as object is infused with a subjectivity that elevates the artwork above being a mere object, if you see what I mean.

 

 

D: I prefer idealized portrayal of humans in paintings and photographs.  I consider naturalism, to the point of using the mundane or blemished as subject, to be low - although I like some of Courbet's realistic nudes.  (Sometimes Rembrandt's subject tend to look like Rembrandt.  Yuck.)  What are your views on idealism, realism, naturalism, etc., in art?  Is there low and high art?

 

On a spiritual level, I appreciate idealized art, as it is aspirational and inspirational, but on a visceral level, I love art that is ugly, raw and on edge.  The sheer energy of negativity can be awesome to behold.  The trouble with idealized art is its tendency to be grand or bland.  I think it takes a consummate master to idealize in an interesting way.  I'd say Chagall was one such master, Gaugin too.  Generally, when I think of idealized art, I think of Botticelli or Renoir or someone of that ilk; and at the same time, I think of chocolate boxes.  The bad boys of art are like the bad boys of rock 'n' roll.  I mean, give me The Sex Pistols and Nirvana any day over the likes of Abba and Kylie Minogue, you know?  As for high art and low art, I don't make those sort of distinctions, unless you are talking about the sort of artists who work in advertising.  These people are the lowest of the low.  They are the spawn of Satan.  As the mighty Bill Hicks once said: 'If you work in advertising or marketing, kill yourself.  No seriously, I'm not joking.  Kill yourselves!"

 

 

 

D: I detest Picasso's middle to late work, especially Cubism.  I also find Pollock to be overrated and horrible.  On one hand, I dig Surrealist art (from Dali to Delvaux), but extreme Abstract Expressionism seems foolish to me.  Intuitive accident is a flimsy basis for art.  It seems antithetical to art, actually: lacking metaphysical purpose and integrity.  Thoughts?

 

I think Picasso was mightily over-rated.  Sure, he was a brilliant draftsman and his early work was powerful, but he wasn't the innovator that he's made out to be.  I think he jumped on every bloody bandwagon going, and he picked up a lot of the credit because of his technical expertise.  Once the market men got their hooks into Picasso they weren't going to let go and see the value of their investments diminish, so, it didn't matter what Picasso produced, it was always hailed as brilliant.  The guy was an art factory, knocking out up to three paintings a day.  I don't know about you, but something that requires so little effort has little value to me.  You know what I think about Picasso's middle period, it was kind of soul-less.  As for his later work, the senile ravings of an embittered old man: ugly, without the redemption of any real intensity.  As for Jackson Pollock, an alcoholic who had a happy accident with a paint pot and carried on in that vein until his premature death.  I've nothing good to say about Abstract Expressionism.  Conspiracy Theorists reckon the CIA were behind the rise of Abstract Expressionism.  Certainly, the powers that be would prefer art to mean fuck all, and since the rise of Abstract Expressionism art has generally meant fuck all.  One day, in the hopefully not too distant future, people are going to look back on the latter part of the 20th Century and see indeed that the emperor wasn't just naked, but was waving his dick in our faces and laughing all the way to the bank.  And as for this latest wave of conceptless conceptual Brit Art, I think God was trying to say something when Charles Saachis warehouse burned down.  Sorry, pickled sheep just don't do it for me, you know?  As for Tracy Emin's unmade bed, the day it ends up in a landfill site I will personally send a prayer of thanks to the almighty. 

 

 

 

D: Are you familiar with Aubrey Beardsley?  If so, anything to say about his work - particularly his somewhat diabolical, Decadent subjectivity?  (I do like his less devilish work, by the way.)

 

I like Beardsley's work for the most part.  He wouldn't get into my top ten, but he might just make the top 100.  I don't think I have anything really enlightening to say about him.

 

 

 

D: Your favorite author(s) and book(s) and why.

 

My favourite books are the ones that feel like they were written just for me to read.  They are the books that resonate deep in some part of my soul.  The writers that have spoken to me the most are Alasdair Gray, Iain Banks, Hermann Hesse, Richard Brautigan, Kahlil Gibran, William Burroughs, Kurt Vonnegut Jnr, Tom Robbins, Gabrial Garcia Marquez, Milan Kundera, Isabel Allende, Ian MacEwan & Franz Kafka. 

 

 

D: Your favorite films?

 

Brazil, 12 Monkeys, Betty Blue, Fight Club, Requiem For A Dream, Yellow Submarine, City Of Lost Children, Amelie, Morvern Callar, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, Hotel New Hampshire, Baraka, The Sweet Hereafter, Beautiful Girls, American Beauty, Bowling For Columbine & Human Traffic.

 

 

You're So Special 

© Dee Rimbaud

 

D:  I'm quite fixated on mortality and how the human foreknowledge of it plays with our worldviews, art, and mental health.   Anthony Burgess wrote: "Am I happy?  Probably not.  Having passed the prescribed biblical age limit, I have to think of death, and I do not like the thought...But rage against the dying of the light is only human, especially when there are things still to be done..."

 

Your thoughts on these words and mortality?

 

 

I think the fear of death (at least in Western society) is the result of two equal but opposite influences: atheism and Christianity.  The atheist view is that there is nothing but this life, and therefore it ought to be tenaciously clung onto, and the Christian view is that there is an afterlife, but it might not be that pleasant because The Big Guy who runs the show is kinda mad, bad and dangerous, and if you don't suck up to him just right it's lakes of brimstone and gnashing of teeth for you.  Death, from either perspective doesn't look like much of a pleasant option, even if it is inevitable.  We fear death so much that we've even invented machines to keep people alive when their bodies can no longer do the job.  Currently, DNA scientists are desperately trying unravel the mysteries of the aging gene, and there's a whole pile of research being done on cryogenics.  Fuck, but aren't we all terrified of 'the dying of the light'.  No point in raging about it: I say, accept it!  You might be able to escape taxes even, but you'll never escape death.  Likewise, you will never escape the signposts on the road to death.  You can spend tens of thousands on nips and tucks, but you'll NEVER look the way you did when you were 25.  Look at someone like Cher, fuck, but she spooks me right out, she looks like a shop mannequin that's come to life, like something out of a horror movie.  I want to shake people like that.  Get over it, you're old, and soon you're going to die!  I admire Brigit Bardot for having the dignity to just get old. She might be a total misanthrope and a fascist, but at least she's escaped from the fascism of youth-idolatry.  Oscar Wilde was totally right when he said: 'youth is wasted on the young'.  For a brief moment in our lives, for about five years, ten at the max (if you're lucky), we look kinda perfect, at our best.  The acne's gone, and the wrinkles are yet to make an appearance.  It's an exhilarating time, but it's also time when we are still kind of half-baked.  I listen to folk in their twenties talking, and for the most part I feel a huge yawn coming on, if not an actual compulsion to become a vile, patronizing bastard.  Why do we idolize twenty-somethings?  It certainly ain't coz of their intellectual depth and breadth, that's for fucking sure!  We idolise them because they are (visually at least) as far removed from death as anyone could be.  Most of them are in rude health.  They're generally slim, blemish free, hirsute and have their own teeth.  They bask in the sunshine of possibility, believing the world could well be their oyster.  Such willful ignorance only adds to their transient beauty.  It's our fear of death that elevates these half-baked nobodies to the top of the plinth.  I say, kick them off!  Put them back where they belong, back down on the bottom rung.  Old people are the real heroes.  Those who have fought through the battle that is life and survived, those who carry the scars and the wrinkles, those are the people whose stories should be listened to.   Those are the people that actually have something worthwhile to say!

 

In our arse-over-tit society we listen to the incessant bleating of the young and turn a deaf ear to the old, whereas in so-called primitive societies the old are venerated.  There's a lot to be said for being primitive.

 

 

D: In your poem "Arc Of Descent" (from Dropping Ecstasy With The Angels) you write of an alluring, beautiful female celebrity: "But at twenty three, already she fears/The arc of descent: the magnetic touch/Of inevitable gravity..." 

 

Those words sum up my own obsession in poetry and prose: the fall of beauty and the 100% victory of age.  (Klimt's The Three Ages Of Woman  is a quite pertinent.)  This ties in with the previous mortality question.  How do you cope with age?

 

 Personally, continuing on from before, I am not plagued by the concerns of atheists or Christians.  I reject both their world views.  I believe in life, and I see death as something of an illusion.  The casting off of this body is like the casting off of clothes.  'Death' is a doorway between two disparate forms of existence.  What lies on the other side of the door?  Nobody knows for sure, but I am willing to speculate that whatever it is, it will be no worse than what is on this side, and may indeed be better.  I am not frightened of going there, and I can say that now with some authority, for I had a preview of my mortality three years ago, when I nearly died of a brain hemorrhage. 

          

As I am not frightened of dying I am also not frightened of aging.  I like aging, in the same way as a tree must.  I grow taller, stronger, rounder.  That is, my mind does, my soul does, my spirit does.  Of course, my body is gradually degenerating.  I have to accept that.  I'd be lying if I said I preferred my body the way it is now, compared to the way it was twenty years ago.  But what good is a 22 year old body if it is lumbered with a 22 year old mind? 

          

As far as I'm concerned the benefits of aging outweigh the disadvantages.  Sure, the body is gradually sliding into decrepitude, but it's possible to slow that process by eating healthily, exercising and reducing the amount of toxins you take in.  Little by little, I am making these adjustments.  I eat better food, I go swimming regularly, I've cut down my consumption of drugs and alcohol, and I try to quit smoking at least once a year.  My intention is that I will be fit enough to climb Ben Nevis when I'm sixty. 

          

If I have any regrets about the shortness of my allotted span on Earth it is that I'll never be able to do all the things I hoped to do.  I would need to live about a thousand years for that.  The belief that I'll have a thousand years and more when I get through the door that is death is some compensation.  Of course, I am aware - as an ex-atheist - that there may be nothing on the other side of that door, that the idea of the continuance of life, may just be denial and vanity.  In that case there will be no 'me' to be disappointed.

 

 

D: William Somerset Maugham wrote in The Moon And Sixpence: "...the writer should seek his reward in the pleasure of his work and in release from the burden of his thought; and, indifferent to aught else, care nothing for praise or censure, failure or success."  And later in the same book: "'I wonder if I could write on a desert island, with the certainty that no eyes but mine would ever see what I had written.'"

 

Is writing (and making art in general) intrinsically worthy?  Should an artist be satisfied with just his/her own knowledge of his/her art?  Or is art's worth/power contingent on society - on other witnesses,  an audience?

 

 I've always thought that the desert island analogy as a test of the intrinsic worth of making art or writing is fundamentally flawed, because there is always the hope that the body of your writing and art will be found at some point in the future.  A better test would be this.  Would you write and draw if everything you created were instantly burned upon completion.  Imagine you are on the desert island, and every time you finish a piece, a blind man grabs it and chucks it on a fire.  Would you be able to create under those circumstances?  I'm not sure I would.  I think I would concentrate on playing the guitar and violin, and I would do so even if the blind man were deaf too.  Of all the art forms, I think music has the potential to be the most pure, the most delightful, because it can be transient.  Although there are record companies that will turn music into a product for capital gain and thus sully music's purity, music can and does exist without being marketed.  Art can always become a product.  Even performance art!  Poor old Joseph Beuys would probably be horrified if he knew that some of the objects he used in his performance pieces are in a glass case in an art gallery and are now worth God knows how many thousands of pounds.  Fortunately for him, he's dead and he will never have to suffer the indignity of knowing that some bits of felt he once used are now worth more than your average home.  I loathe the moneymen and women out there.  They spoil everything by putting a price on it.  In my utopia, everyone would receive a living wage and would do whatever they want to contribute to society.  Artists could make art freely and give it away freely.  But don't get me started on my particular vision of utopia, because it is so wildly different from what we've got in place today you would think it just a crazy dream (even if I believe it could work). 

 

 

 

D: Please tell us about The Book Of Hopes And Dreams project.

 

 I have always been an idealist, and I always will be an idealist.  The Book Of Hopes And Dreams is born of optimism, even in the face of evidence to the contrary.  This anthology, for which I am seeking submissions until 30th June 2005 deadline (full submission guidelines at www.thunderburst.co.uk ), is a challenge to all writers to produce work of credible optimism.  That is, I am looking for work that is uplifting, transcendent, inspirational and aspirational, but, at the same time, grounded in reality.  The purpose of this is to help spread the message of the power of hopes and dreams, to be a seditious whisper that excites the senses.  I'm challenging writers to stand against the prevailing tide of cynicism, ennui and despair and come up with something that scintillates and motivates.  Thought has energy, and energy has power.  If we can change our thinking, then, eventually, we can change our actions.  The world we live in could be a significantly better place, but first we must believe in this possibility, and this is where writers come in.  They can help spread the message of positive thought.  This is the first aim of The Book Of Hopes And Dreams.

The second aim, a more tangible one, is to raise money for Spirit Aid's medical aid operations in Afghanistan.  Spirit Aid, a Scottish charity, headed by the actor and director David Hayman, is a humanitarian relief organization dedicated to alleviating the suffering of children and young people whose lives have been devastated by war, poverty, genocide, ethnic cleansing and all forms of abuse.  It is a small scale operation run by volunteers, with very small overheads, so virtually all monies raised go directly to their projects.  Profits from The Book Of Hopes And Dreams will be specifically earmarked for their medical aid operations in Afghanistan.  I chose this cause after finding out that there are regions of Afghanistan where there has been little or no medical aid in the last 25 years, ever since the Soviet Invasion.  Afghanistan has had the double misfortune of being on the receiving end of the military might of both the Russians and the Americans, and the ordinary people of Afghanistan have also had to deal with the tyranny of the Taliban and the ongoing feuds between rival warlord factions.  It takes a huge imaginative leap to be able to conceive of how difficult life must be for the ordinary, innocent folk of Afghanistan, caught in the crossfire and subject to the machinations of political superpowers and petty warlords who value this land's strategic importance, but not the lives of the people who live in it. 

 

 

 

D: I consider your various artwork quite creative and worthy.  Keep up the magic.  I wish you blessings on your path.

 

Any closing words for readers/fans?

 

I'd like to mention my other altruistic project, The AA Independent Press Guide.  This is a free resource for artists and writers.  A detailed guide to over 2,000 literary magazines, publishers and internet zines.  This guide is published on my website: www.thunderburst.co.uk.

          

I'd also like to mention my non-altruistic projects.  As an artist and writer, I am highly dependent on selling my own stuff to make a living.  Truth be told, I earn significantly less than your average factory worker and at 42 am still struggling to make ends meet.  I'm okay with this, for the most part, as writing and making art is a privilege, but it also requires me to hype myself wherever I can, which I really don't like doing.  So here comes the hype....

 

I've got original art works for sale, prices starting as low as $50 (see 'Artwork For Sale' on my website).  I also offer my services as an illustrator/ graphic designer (you can also view my portfolio online).  And I've got three books to sell.  My novel, Stealing Heaven From The Lips Of God, and my 2nd poetry collection, Dropping Ecstasy With The Angels, are available from Bluechrome Publishing: www.bluechrome.co.uk (who accept pounds sterling, euros and American dollar payments via Worldpay and ship to anywhere in the world).  You can also buy signed copies of my first poetry collection, 'The Bad Seed' and back issues of Acid Angel at:

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/dee.rimbaud/publicationmainpage.html.

 

Finally, I just want to say thanks for reading this far.  I hope you got something positive from this, and that you are inspired to do something positive.  If each one of us attempted to do just one small positive thing every day the world would be a significantly better place.  Long journeys begin with just one step.

 


 

Dee Ribaud's novel, Stealing Heaven From The Lips Of God, is available for order from all UK bookstores, price 8.99.  Outside the UK it can be ordered direct from the publisher at www.bluechrome.co.uk or from UK Amazon at www.amazon.co.uk.

 

 

VISIT HIS SITE: www.thunderburst.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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