Tea Interview with T. Jungle
D: In the splendid "Decay Of
Lying" (1889) Oscar Wilde asserts: "Art
is our spirited protest, our gallant attempt to teach Nature her proper
place...Nothing is more evident than that Nature hates Mind...She [art] is a
veil, rather than a mirror...What Art reveals to us is Nature's lack of design,
her curious crudities, her extraordinary monotony, her absolutely unfinished
Max Beerbohm, a contemporary of Wilde, wrote:
"Artifice is the strength of the world, and in that same mask of paint
and powder, shadowed with vermeil tinct and most trimly pencilled, is woman's
Your thoughts on Decadents' praise of artifice? About nature? The value or insult of makeup (and general enhancement) for women? Does art owe a nod to beauty - or is the mundane or ugly (see Picasso) also fair game for great art (Dostoyevsky's beauty of the Madonna and the beauty of Sodom)?
Whether or not "art reveals nature's lack of design" is questionable as
there is much evidence of "mind" and "design" in nature, that is, if you
include "curious crudities" in a definition of beauty. Though Wilde was
writing in a time when the concerns of aesthetics were of precision and
flawlessness (thus a "veil" and not a mirror). These ideas make me think of
paintings...those intricate mandalas that, from afar, appear to be
seamless tapestry but, up close, contain images of figures in chaos, expressing
all the ecstasy and violence of what it means to be alive.
remember sharing my appreciation of this concept to a friend who gasped,
"Beautiful? I think it's horrifying." Years later I found myself on the
horrified side of that perceptual coin, so, ok: the ancient ones had it right.
I feel most lacking in design is not in the natural, but in the man-made world:
the fact that furniture doesn't fold up into modular cubes with handles and
retractable wheels for easy moving/storage/settling; that you can't get a car
seat that a child can sleep in without her neck kinking at a 45-degree angle;
that toilets have to be scrubbed; that we rely on fossil fuels; that we can't
levitate; that we take for granted the commercial world's inherent license to
assault us on a daily basis; that Phillip Morris gets paid handsomely to pollute
our air molecules; that the Orwellian world predicted is upon us but so covertly
we barely notice.
for human design: that we have to spend so much time shopping for, consuming and
cleaning up after calories; that we can't close our ears the way we can close
our eyes; that we have to sleep to feel sane; that this is no place for the
insane; that newscasters wear way too much lip-liner. This...all of THIS is
is power in design, both on the macro and micro levels. On the macro, we have
the earth. On the micro we have Michael Jackson, to note the extreme. The
popularity of those "Extreme Makeover" shows illustrates just how much power
one can acquire by donning an appealing (though appalling to yet others) façade.
It's just our humanity. We're attracted to shiny things..."bling" as it
were. I've been wanting to do a project called "Better Before" that would
be a collection of makeovers where the subjects look better before
"beautification" in my opinion.
yeah, I believe we are predisposed to the subjectivity of "beauty." Eye of
the beholder and all that. I can see beauty in a blot of tar on a sidewalk; a
lunch box flattened by a bus; in the saggy face of smelly dog; even in my own
moments of misery. Sometimes. When nothing else works.
think what we fear most is not death but discomfort or suffering. Death is just
perceived to be maybe the ultimate form of discomfort. Though being
uncomfortable in one's body comes pretty freaking close. Again, I cite Michael
Jackson. He has become the personification of self-rejection in our society.
Does anyone categorize his transformation as beautiful (by the way I don't
presume that no one does, nor would I condemn them). Does he himself finally see
beauty when he looks in the mirror? I have a two-year-old daughter who picked up
a Michael Jackson CD, pointed to his picture on the cover and said emphatically,
"He's all messed up."
unbearable images of Hurricane Katrina survivors pushed our collective panic
buttons. Seeing so many people in a state of suffering is, on a psychological
level, worse than hearing a death toll because we relegate death to the realm of
the abstract. We saw—and the world saw with us in that ongoing disaster—the
ugly side of this country that is corrupt politics, racism, poverty and (choke)
the forgotten ones. No, we aren't all driving around in shiny SUV's, in
fact, many didn't even have vehicles or a country that cared enough to provide
them while they watched a storm gather to catastrophic proportions. America the
beautiful. But I digress into profound cynicism....
The only kind of art that is purely about beauty is commercial art which implies that everything is supposed to be beautiful all the time. So when it comes to "fine art," I personally welcome all manner of expression. In fact, I'd like to propose doing away with the word "art" already: it's too loaded and sets up too many lofty expectations. What to say instead? How about "postmodern creative exploration/expression," maybe shortened to PCXX and pronounced "pissex" or it'd just make a slobbery Daffy Duck-esque kind of sound. Or maybe it ought to be with a hard "c" and be "pix." We can have a manifesto that just reads "It's OK to use any materials in any combination that a person desires in the interest of exploring emotional, psychological, spiritual or physical concepts expressed visually or audibly." We'd have some iconic, stylized logo and would gladly sell merch to anyone willing to open his or her wallet for the cause. It'd be fun. And just think: no one would ever have to ponder the question "Is it art?" or righteously proclaim "That's not art!" because, without the word "art" it would become "Is it creative exploration?" or "That's not creative expression!" Of course it is, now get over it.
D: I rarely like to compare artists I
interview with others, but comparison helps unfamiliar audiences relate.
The first associations I made with your illustrations were Raymond
Pettibone and James
Thurber, followed by Edward
Gorey. Pettibone, for readers' sakes, is responsible for
Sonic Youth, Black Flag, Minutemen, and fIREHOSE art, and mischievous, sometimes
obscene compositions usually accompanied by text.
Your fine lines and freer illustrations
are more similar to Thurber's work. Pettibone is thicker, less cartoony, and
more dimensional. Your profiles especially tend to be Thurberesque.
(Is this fair to say?)
When I first saw Pettibone's work, I think my jaw dropped. It spoke to me
because it fell in the realm of fine art and comics in a way I hadn't seen
before. Since I've always been a writer as well as a visual artist and have
long been a fan of underground comics, his represented the perfect fusion. I do
appreciate Thurber as well for similar reasons. If I've been influenced by him
it's on a purely unconscious level. He was a writer and artist, he was also
self-taught and used the quickest possible way to express his perspective of the
world through humor. Gorey haunted me as a kid and I still avoid him. I find his
images to be stylistically attractive yet cold and macabre in his content's
child-like obsessions with primal terror. That's not to say there's no place
for it in the world, just that it's not something I find enriching. Everyone
needs something different at different stages of life. I remember being utterly
enamored of surrealists, especially Magritte and Dorothy Tanning for many years.
I still appreciate them but don't feel as moved an inspired by their work at
this phase of my life.
went to the Small Press Expo last year about this time and met a Chinese comic
artist named Lily Lau Lee Lee whose work has moved, inspired and motivated me to
allow myself to be more outspoken. A lot of comic artists appeal to me for that
reason, from Harvey Pekar to R. Crumb to Julie Doucet to a guy named Joe
Chiapetta who did a series called Silly Daddy but then fell out of my
favor when he found Jesus and started using his art as pulpit. It's like Chick
comics all over again, those little illustrated Christian pamphlets you
used to find in phone booths and subway stations, except those were at least
I try to be honest with my work, and sometimes that leads to imagery that some may deem strange or disturbing. In grad school I was doing elaborate, conceptually-based installations. With drawing, having the immediacy of pen and paper on hand makes it easy for me to efficiently express whatever is happening. That alone allows me to tap and remain in a more, perhaps right-brain, raw organic space that intrigues me. While the first round of these drawings [that make up Logoz, Janice and Energy] were pouring out, a painter friend saw them and asked if I'd heard of Louise Bourgeois, whom I hadn't. When I finally looked her up I was blown away. Her influence became validation to go ahead with what I was doing and she remains among the top three people I'd like to meet (she's now in her late 90s but still an active artist living in New York).
D: Your favorite writer(s) and book(s)?
I used to read a lot more fiction than I do now. My most beloved poet is e.e.
cummings whose collected works is the one book I'd take if I had to choose one
and only one book to have.
not big on fiction because I find myself lost in the writer's devices;
resisting being led. Though I don't get this feeling when I read poetry or
good illustrated autobiographical stories (aka comics and, more recently called
sequential art). There's something about the visual and the verbal together
that breaks through my resistance. There's also something more honest and
experimental in this type of story-telling that attracts me. I'm talking about
stuff like Clumsy
by Jeffrey Brown, the work of Iranian rebel Marjane Satrapi, and other
stuff in the Drawn and Quarterly line like Adrian Tomaine's Optic Nerve and Chester Brown's Yummy
also read a lot of books on spirituality and engage in (gulp) personal
growth work. I guess I've had/have some baggage to work off...maybe you
can tell? The latest that resonated deeply was a Buddhist text called The
Places that Scare You by Pema Chodron.
D: I'll show you four quite related
quotes from my archives and just let you react to them.
2. Dietrich Von Hildebrand wrote: "Moral good and evil are such elementary realities that even when some philosopher or psychologist tries to deny them, he is faced with them again as soon as he quits his desk and comes again into an existential contact with reality."
Uh huh. Don't mean to be glib, but this is pretty much what I was ranting
about with the beauty stuff. There are two sides to the coin on every level of
3. Graham Greene wrote: "To admit that there are no finalities is to put the spirit out of business; to say that finalities are a matter of personal assertion is to make the spirit's business insignificant."
With all due respect, I find it presumptuous of Greene to claim knowledge on the
business of spirit. He is speaking of a picture larger than most humans can see.
I do not believe the spirit's work is limited and that's what his quote
4. John Galt in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged said: "By refusing to say 'It is,' you are refusing to say 'I am'...When a man declares: 'Who am I to know?' - he is declaring: 'Who am I to live?'"
T: I would agree these are the words of a person who does not feel his power and must take on some sort of false modesty in order to keep it concealed.
D: While I can bask in
Surrealism/Abstractionism, I can also instantly snap into nausea and outrage at
a surrealist/abstract (or other type of) piece that crosses an indefinite
line. Such a culprit presents incomprehensible images or sloppy blotches
or mere geometry or pure randomness. Hawks are indistinguishable from
I consider such work to be a rip-off, a cop-out, a cruel assault on beauty, humanity, and often art itself. It makes me feel "dirty," stained by its sickness. Neo-Plasticist Theo Van Doesburg is one of my favorite examples of such a culprit. His Card Players, in particular: no cardplayers, no players, no humans, not even dogs playing cards - just geometry. An artist (or poseur) tends to expose his/her esteem for humanity and existence through an art piece. In much "modern art" Man is abstracted into nonsense, raw material, building blocks, utilized energy, Veblenite efficiency pods. Consider Picasso's portrayal (betrayal) of humans as haphazard debris or squashed/cut-and-pasted cartoons. Van Doesburg prevents genuine participation in his work and leaves no room for Person, metaphor or analogy, life or love.
May I have a veblemite efficiency pod now, please? I don't consider
Picasso's work to be a betrayal of humans; I consider it merely one perception
of many. To judge one person's perception is an exercise in futility because
we can never be inside another person; in their exact and specific
consciousness. I believe we misunderstand the animal and mammal world because we
presume everything worth anything revolves around brain size. Given our present
limited understanding of consciousness, we can't properly and truly assess
what a whale or even a flea experiences and how it processes its world, except
in the most superficial of ways.
so back to Picasso...he was seen as an abstract artist, but when you really
think about it, cubism is actually a form of realism. Try this: put a book on a
desk and read it. As you stare at the page, and without moving your eyes,
observe what's in your peripheral vision. It's probably not linear and might
even have a broken up feeling to it. What about when you're riding in a car
with your head against the passenger window and reflections from other cars
happening in the glass and behind your glasses and it's cut by the rearview
mirror and in double due to the fact that you're leaning on your arm and one
eye is slightly obscured by a sleeve. This is common stuff we do every day and
it is not linear. It's reality, naturally (even commonly) chopped up in
for our friend R. Mutt, Mr. Duchamp, who I have the greatest admiration for, he
was doing what much conceptual art does and that is playing with context. He
questioned the act of creating "beautiful" objects so that beautiful people
could put on their beautiful clothes and go and mutually celebrate all of their
collective beauty. Of course, this was just one piece/concept among many,
including his elaborate Bride Stripped Bare piece which led to his abandonment of art
altogether in favor of, interestingly enough, chess!
My other usual examples are Twombley's
infantile scribblings and Marcel Duchamp's cruel mockery. Twombley's work is as self-damning as Kandinsky's, but Duchamp is
more cleverly assaulting. Duchamp's Nude
Descending A Stairway is a blasphemy of femininity and nudity's
fascinating grace. (Compare Descending
with an Ingres, a
Bazille, a Klimt, Whistler,
Mucha, or even Renoir.) I consider such dissolution or butchery of the
human body to be symptomatic of a low self-esteem for humanity, seen starkly in
the sadomasochism of Bosch and the body loathing of Francis Bacon.
Take Duchamp's famous upside-down urinal
piece (Urinol De Porcelana Branca)
that is simply signed "R. Mutt". This was one of his "Readymades": randomly selected
or given objects made into Duchamp's "art" by a simple signature of
some sort. Art critic Helen Molesworth, a big fan of the piece,
observed that "if a man pees in the Fountain
his urine will drip on him."
Remember what I wrote earlier about feeling dirty and stained? Well, here
it is: celebrated.
This must cause Vermeer to spin in his grave. It implies - if not outright proclaims - that art is as absurd as human existence and the aim of artists is to out-ugly each other. Folks like Duchamp revel in undoing, revolting against beauty and meaning. It's no more worthy than Ernst's "child's play" method: spinning and swinging suspended cans of paint poked with holes over a canvas. I'm not surprised that a yet-unsung Pollack witnessed that and was inspired to do his overrated "drip" work. Ayn Rand wrote: "[D]isintegration is the preface of death to the human mind. Disintegration is the keynote and goal of modern art - the disintegration of man's conceptual faculty, and the retrogression of an adult mind to the state of a mewling infant." [Note (2011): the opinions of the interviewer have since changed more in favor of the artists he criticized.]
T: Twombly. What can I say? He's one of my top 10 favorite artists for the
emotion he creates out of those "infantile scribblings." Kids' drawings
come from a magical and organic place that most adults can never again tap, no
matter how many re-birthing sessions they do. Here is another case of
relativity...what I perceive as rich, soothing emotional landscapes, you
perceive to be nonsense. I'm not saying there isn't art that I perceive as
nonsense, but the way I frame it is that it just doesn't appeal to me. I think
of stuff like new age airbrushed rainbows and dolphins. I'll take rainbows and
dolphins any day in their natural context, but start applying them to objects in
colorful paint and, forget it.
why does art—I mean PCXX—have to be some commentary on humanity when there
are so many other subjects worthy of consideration and contemplation? Reminds me
of Bob Dylan hating being appointed the "Spokesman of a generation."
According to him, he was just telling stories with music. Some of our stories
require—no, demand—"retrogression...to the state of a mewling infant."
Reductio ad absurdum and cannibalism of the very miracle of art in humanity, sacrifices Mankind to cosmic anonymity and chance, reduces human perception and conceptualization to ooze or disordered things. It doubts perception, genuine knowability, and therefore existence itself. Or it fosters symbolic despair, as in Holbein's painting of a decomposing Christ.
Modern art doubts only one-dimensional perception and I say go ahead and doubt
it because it's a lie anyway. But that's not a new thought. Such was the
thinking of all political rebellions, and that's what art rebellions often
boil down to, such as with the Da-da-ists at the turn of the century. Just think
of the Armory show in 1913 where even Cezanne and Matisse were considered
shocking and disgraceful. Off the charts of comprehension at that time were none
other than the likes of Picasso and Duchamp. I mean seriously, that's nearly a
full century ago.
Based on my study of some of the major cats in the Suprematist/Futurist/Cubist/Abstract Expressionist/Dada/related
fields, much of it (aside from some Andre Breton) intentionally confuses
or repudiates subject, thought, and sense - and I harken to what Koestler
said: "We cannot unthink unless we
D: I'll honestly say that I enjoy a lot of
your work. My least favorite are your Installation and digital pieces, so
I focus mostly on your more coherent pieces in your books Logoz
and Janice. My long love of
comics has perhaps predisposed me to your illustrations.
Do you consider your illustration work to be Expressionist, if it must be labelled? Are you trying to communicate anything in particular in your strange pieces? Do titles precede or come after image creation? Other reactions to my blather?
Thanks for your honesty. I think what you're gleaning in the work is an
authenticity that you are referring to as expressionism. Yes, they're loose
and often clumsy to the extreme (my dad, an artist in his own right and a great
lover of realism, reacted to my books with "Hm. And you say you drew these
recently?") Here I must quote a great academic philosopher and astrologer,
Caroline Casey: "The situation is so dire we can't afford the luxury of
realism." That sums up my feelings of how I approach my work.
The realism in art we are most often exposed to is a kind of false reality. I'm taking about all those lovely reclining nudes and produce-centric still-lives. I think "realism" needs to be redefined to mean diverse, surprising, unpredictable, like reality actually is. I think that's why I'm such a modernist and postmodernist, because it allows for a greater palette of unusual textures, juxtapositions and unexpected surprises.
D: At the risk of having my foot shoved into my mouth after all my opining, who are your favorite visual artists and what are some of your favorite works? Have you or will you ever do any paintings?
I applaud you for your stimulating questions and for daring to take on someone
whose views differ even vastly at times.
was a time many years ago that I lived in an art deco studio apartment in the
theater district/Tenderloin of San Francisco and heavily got into painting. I
was reading a lot of Henry Miller, adoring various surrealists as mentioned, and
hanging out with Oakland artists Mary
Lovelace O'Neal and Patricio Toro Moreno. I was in my early 20s and
they were in their 50s. They had a vast shared studio in which they threw paint
on 6-foot canvasses, wrote on the walls, smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, and
drank espresso and rum from paper cups. I craved the romanticism of their era,
as if nothing quite that fun was going on in my own generation. Or course that
was the 80s when there was tons of money for the arts and actually a lot
happening but just not as endearing to me. After a lot of experiments and years
since then I actually think I would like to get a work space and try painting
D: Your official website bio says: "Her biggest indulgence: a stupidly expensive M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago." I suspect that this implies a cynical opinion of "higher education" that I share. Your explanation for the bio line? Thoughts on "higher ed?"
I guess The School of the Art Institute of Chicago is a bit of a chip on my
shoulder (laugh) that I should probably get over. I believe it is over-priced
education. I would never dis the entire institution, however, because I had some
over-the-top fantastic advisors, like Ellen Rothenberg, and had the opportunity
to explore many mediums. When I say "stupidly expensive," what comes to mind
is memories of eating homemade microwaved burritos for days—no years—on end.
I'd just paid off my undergrad degree with 10 years of hard labor in the work
force, and got myself back into debt when I was accepted, and accepted with
little support from the school. That said, I do believe in higher education only
because most people aren't motivated enough to educate themselves. Being
impoverished and attending the Art Institute of Chicago forced me into some of
my most visionary states and introduced me to life-long friends.
of the dearest people of my life, a prolific painter named Tom
X, lived the modernist canon, except with a twist in that he saw the
absurdity and humor beneath the surface of it all. He taught an art class called
The Drive Through School of Art that was "30 years of art training in ten
classes." He helped many of us to see
better and by that I mean notice more.
It was like he had his perceptions "on" at all times and, with the
enthusiasm of a kid riding a bike for the first time. I often felt that I truly
did learn more in his class than I did in three years at the art institute,
though I explored a hellava lot more there.
D: What else do you do aside from your art? Teach? Professionally design?
T: I presently teach art and design at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and maintain a graphic design client base in Los Angeles where I lived for the past six years. I've only been in Pittsburgh for four months so am still adjusting and seeking out the arts community. I grew up here so it's familiar and comfortable on many levels, both good and bad. Quite a few of my students are exactly where I was when I took off from this town on the day of college graduation. Namely miserable. I find myself bemused at it because, while I remember being there, I'm so much more grounded in this stage of having come full circle.
D: You have three illustrations books out
currently: Logoz, Janice, and Energy.
One of my favorite pieces in Energy is
the obscure human figure making its way over huge blocks of ice floating on
water. You seem to deal with isolation and/or social anxiety a lot.
More importantly, key figures seem to be preoccupied with a vivid interior world
or mental burgeoning or burden, maybe to the point of solipsism.
On the page opposite the ice-treking
figure, a human, eyes closed, has crystal/diamond structures on or emerging from
her forehead, perhaps as imagination, wish, or premonition. Another piece
shows a female figure traveling a non-descript path. She carries
a massive net of parcels (or rocks?)on her back and leaves dainty footprints
behind. Another human seems trapped in a mousehole. Another female
wears an eyeless mask. Finally, a female rests contentedly on a chair,
eyes closed, cat on her arm, while sparkles or stars rise from her raised and
open right hand. The cat seems to be reaching for the emanation.
(This is my favorite piece in the book.)
These images are pure autobiographical studies...self-portraits of inner
journeys I've found myself taking. I don't consider these depictions to be
the only reality, just an attempt to shed light on some aspect of one person's
psyche. I try to give form to my emotional and psychological landscapes as
honestly as possible and, at times, it leads to an uncomfortable, though
authentic reality. I consider these studies of one being, riddled with
"issues" that may or may not be shared by other beings.
mentioned, I've done a lot of "growth" work in many modalities over the
past couple of decades, from hypnosis to emotional release body work, to cranio
sacral therapy, yoga, meditation and traditional therapy. I've had a vivid
dream life since childhood. Hey, I spent 14 of my adult years living in both
Northern and Southern California. I quickly learned how the journey into self
can become shamanic, even to the point of psychedelic at times.
the course of all this, I stumbled upon a guy named Ken Carey who wrote a book
about the shift in human consciousness that we're now supposedly undergoing. I
was fascinated with his terminology such as "energy without will" and felt
the urge to create symbols for these concepts. Others are my own concepts, given
symbolic form. As a side note, I teach logo design, so frequently have symbols
on the brain.
The cat-on-arm image was a moment of victory, having peeled away enough of a particular layer that I was able to rest for a moment in the bliss (the sparkling residue) of a thing resolved. Animals are tapped into those invisible energies as part of their very nature, I believe, and my 16-year-old cat Chicken is among them. She seemed to celebrate with me in that moment of satisfied repose.
D: Tell us about your "Collisions" photographic work: juxtaposed objects on tables or floors, all of them taking place in a domestic setting. Overall, I get a sense of "narrative" in your Collisions. Tell us about them. Why the name?
T: I consider these a document of my life through objects. I was simply interested in how objects in an average day collide...random sculptural constructions that emanate purely from living, and that tell stories through their own seeming chaos. I never pre-arranged these collisions; that was key. The rule was to only photograph them as they occurred naturally. I've been doing this for years, but the advent of digital gave me the freedom to go crazy with it.
D: I consider a military draft to violate
the fundamental right to life (the delta of all other rights) and therefore to
be unconstitutional. The horseshit about only deserving rights if you
defend them and the State's ultimate authority over lives between
a certain age (and gender) obscures the point of government: to
protect/preserve rights - not to take them away.
I think the military has done a fabulous job of branding itself. In this case I
would agree with you and Heinlein. In fact, on a recent PBS documentary on the
Viet Nam war, a conscientious objector of the time said by not going he was
doing his patriotic duty as an American. I'd never heard it phrased so
astutely. Choosing to fight for one's country and choosing not
to are truly both patriotic acts in the strict definition of it. And yet the
military packages patriotism as only for those who choose to risk death, rather
than preserve life, for the cause.
D: Terese, your work caught my eye and impressed me right away, despite some fundamental divergence in art appreciation. Your books are certainly worth exploring and I encourage folks to visit your splendid website. Of course, I wish you blessings on your path.
Thank you for your comments and for asking such thoughtful questions.
Closing words for readers/fans?
T: Fear not the ugly, for it may be the map towards depth, that most precious inner beauty. Long live PCXX!
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