THE DEGENERATE ART OF NICK KUSHNER: PROFILE AND INTERVIEW

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN LIP SERVICE WEB MAGAZINE

This month, I’ve got a lovely treat for you fabulous degenerates. I don’t often put my culture cap on when writing these monthly dispatches from the world of sin and debauchery, but the buzz in the creative underbelly of Los Angeles is offering more unexpected pleasures than usual lately. Last weekend, that buzz was all focused on the exhibition of blood artist Nick Kushner at Studio Servitù.

Every so often, Lip Service has the opportunity to be part of celebrating cutting edge artists who put themselves into every aspect of their works. In the case of Nick Kushner, this act of creation is not a mere matter of symbolic dedication, but a literal act of karmic alchemy. Using his own blood as medium, he literally bleeds his art onto the canvas.

I am happy to report that Lip Service sponsored the first solo exhibition of Kusher’s works, ‘Les Crimes De L’Amour’, held this past weekend at Studio Servitù (which is swiftly becoming the home to all things interesting and beautifully twisted in the LA underground). He premiered new, as yet unseen, works, alongside a retrospective of his prior catalogue, set off against a backdrop of sanguine-stained walls and aural pleasure provided by Twiggy Ramirez. Nick even took time out to sign a few works, in his own blood, of course.

Oh  … and Marilyn Manson took over as DJ to world premiere the new album, “Born Villain”

You see, my fine degenerates, when we say it’s going to be an event … we mean it. Please do keep that in mind when I start telling you about 11.11.11 … just sayin’. You can read more about the event and check out photos here in the LS ‘zine.

Just an FYI for you art lovers, Nick’s latest works will be available for view by appointment at Studio Servitù and prints are also available through his site, TheThirdAngelSounded.com.

Nick Kushner and His Art

Fascinated from an early age in the transformative quality of art, Nick Kushner noted the use of the act of creation as a catharsis and expression of growth. Later, as his keen interest in the occult grew, along with a sense of isolation and disconnect with the commonplace world around him, he drew parallels between the hero’s journey and its necessary sacrifices as a catalyst of inner growth and the motivation behind the creation of art. In September of 1998 he used his own blood to create a self-portrait, envisioning himself crucified and bleeding. He says, “It was the first time I’d used the medium and it was a signification that should I be martyred for manifesting my individual Will then so be it.” Over the years since, his use of blood as medium has deepened in significance, an instrument of both his catharsis and the intent which charges his works.

Art, Kushner believes, can also have a profound effect on the viewer, communicating the will and motivation instilled by the artist. This effect is critical, the final half of the process of creation. It brings the affection born in the creation back, full circle, to its creator. Kushner credits this magical aspect of art with making his connection to those he loves most possible, his unique works bringing them together.

With his recent works, Kushner has infused more of his love of Classical ideals. Along with the surreal themes of his early pieces, he adds a greater emphasis on the meticulous delicacy and detail of Renaissance art. The often traditional themes of the Classical period are turned on themselves, given a degenerate and chaotic bent where artist is creator and base desires are ennobled. The effect, as in earlier works like Borgia: The Pope Entering Pandaemonium or more current pieces such as the self-portrait The Immoralist, is stunning. At once dreamy and utterly lifelike, the visuals evoke both the mystically erotic and stark reality of dark obsession. They reflect the evolution of their creator and inspire us to seek cathartic magic in ourself.

To view The Degenerate Art of Nick Kushner, visit his website at TheThirdAngelSounded.com

Expanding his scope beyond the visual, Kushner created the popular website, Nachtkabarett. Dedicated to the occult, it contains his well-researched writings on the esoteric as well as creative and mystical facets of the work of his only living hero, Marilyn Manson. Featured on MTV Germany, the expansive site inspired a book of Kushner’s writings, soon to be released by a notable independent publisher.

To read Nick Kushner’s written works, visit Nachtkabarett.com

Interview with Nick Kushner

I had a chance to sit down and ask Nick anything; this is what he had to say.

– What inspired your first use of blood as a medium, back in ’98? How did the idea evolve to become such a major facet of your work?

The motivation behind the use of blood in my art, which is all my own blood, from the beginning was the literal insertion of myself into my works. Where the line between the creator and creation is indivisibly blurred. I choose to approach my art, as well as my life, on the same level as alchemy where the path the magician undertakes is a transformative process. When one devoutly pursues that which is his true will, it’s the journey as opposed to the end result which is the rebirthing process that takes one where he needs to go and the use of my own blood as a medium, though has varied in complexity and volume significantly since I first applied it deliberately to paper when I was 15, was the most personal and symbolic method with which to portray this concept. Using blood, and the pain which is involved with its acquisition, acts as a cathartic process to unleash an inner transformation within oneself.

– The very early works on your site have a greater emphasis on the surreal and modern. When and how did your style begin to shift, involving more Classical ideals into the style and theme?

Dali, in his later career began to explore his own interpretations of classical Christian imagery. Its these classical eras of art that contain themes and subjects that carry with them grandeur and efficacy which much of the art of today seems to deliberately veer in the opposite direction from. It’s not a question of scale, detail or particular subject matter but rather the manner that art is approached – that it’s documentation of a living entity that inspires awe in the viewer, as opposed to being benign and flat. Blood reflects this while I paint as the cells themselves are living but begin to slowly die, darken in pigment and ultimately crystallize into the final vision.

Exploring the inversion of classical themes also carries with it a powerful statement. I decided to “brand” my work as degenerate, not as a gimmick or triviality, but rather as an homage to those artists which have inspired me to create. Artists such as Otto Dix, George Grosz, Hans Bellmer, Salvador Dali and others whose are was works were stolen, confiscated and vandalized by the Nazis, to then be mockingly hung for ridicule in “Entartete Kunst”, of “Degenerate Art” museums as a testament of what the Third Reich deemed as inferior and unacceptable forms of expression. Many of such artists had their lives and careers ruined and I believe this acts a microcosm for the manner by which those who are individuals are singled out and persecuted for refusing to live and think in the limited confines which the societies they lived in had dictated to them. Art is a very tangible thing and throughout history has effected change, or conversely incited outrage, on a scale far exceeding religion or politics. Artists, writers and musicians are the ones who truly change the world and make life exciting and worth living. It’s this lineage that I cut myself open to follow in to continue the cycle – approaching in an almost spiritual manner, which classical imagery most often evokes.

– Your work often employs symbology. Is this a facet of the individual visual theme of a piece, or a deeper ongoing message carried through your body of work?

Each piece carries with it many dimensions and facets which can be explored. The use of blood itself is intended to be symbolic likewise even if the subject matter painted isn’t overladen with metaphors or symbolisms.

Blood is the lifeforce of the individual, both literal and allegorical. Though it admittedly has something of a “shock” value to it, my first usage of the medium was quite far from the that as a goal. But art that is powerful in essence is also shocking, in the same sense that the Dadaists and Surrealists were initially viewed as terrorists in the art world as they represented deconstructed conventions of art and the abrasive subconscious brought to the forefront, which was largely untouched upon so overtly until their arrival, with themes of death, sex and the extreme.

Art should be multi-dimensional though and inspire a myriad of interpretations in the viewer as it’s a reflection of the sincerity of the artist creating it to employ symbology, even if it’s self referential.

– Some artists use the medium to look inward and reveal themselves or their aspirations/fears. Others show the world outside them as they see it or wish it to be. What perspective do you most often expose to the viewer in your work and why?

I think each artist can only document and reflect the world in the manner they see and live it, which extends to fears or the idealisms they wish to see manifest. Both are valid and not necessarily separate pursuits but rather that the art is a direct extension of the individual and his experiences within the world – which is why I chose to directly put myself into my art to make this connection more powerful, both to myself as well as the manner it reflected back into the world. Making art a magical act in a sense where it’s imbued with properties which are visible beyond the literal and physical plain as something sacred. The world only exists in each individual’s head so whatever manner it’s made visible is a reflection of the inner self and likewise each piece is an exploration into these inner realms, however benign or cathartic they may be.

– Over the years, how has your study of the occult and esoteric informed the direction of your art?

Studying the occult and esoteric, as well as its practical applications, has led to a deeper understanding and appreciation of exactly what can be achieved through the pursuit of art. Both in terms of imagery and subject matter but also how art itself can be the medium to instigate transformation. That when a concept is painted in a ritualistic manner, even if not done for the sake of achieving a particular gain, each piece documents how the forces & energies that pervade throughout the universe will test the artist’s capabilities to persevere.

In essence, the word ‘occult’ simply means ‘hidden’ or that which is beyond plain sight. Whether they’re intricate symbols or simply knowledge which is held from plain view, the pursuit of the impossible and deeper meanings behind everyday synchronicities and the desire to know everything has been my motivation for most of all I’ve pursued since childhood. This extends to my own art (and the ways that I personally record this) as well as the affinity I’ve had with my heroes such as Marilyn Manson where regardless of what level of comprehension of understanding is held, there are an infinite number dimensions which still remain to be explored and pillaged. Looking at classical imagery and mythology, even the Bible, the manner they’re viewed is that the past was mystical and the gods existed then but not now. The miraculous and beatific visions are no longer possible, and if one claims to have experienced this he’s denigrated as insane. I think that the present is just as mystical as anything which is outlined in ancient texts and that it’s up to the artist to show that the now is the most magical because you’re alive to live it and make it happen for yourself to experience.

– When you’re working on a piece, do you focus on particular words, emotions, or mental images during the process? How do you bridge the gap between physical form with the spiritual/emotional inspirations behind the creative process?

It can vary from piece to piece. I keep lists in sketchbooks of painting concepts I plan to work on in addition to the dozen in my head at any given time. Sometimes this can range from a general  idea or mental visual down to a phrase invented which feels necessary to explore and create the visual to a word that doesn’t yet exist. That is sometimes the title of a piece comes after it’s complete and other times the piece forms after the title is coined beforehand.

One piece which is part of exhibition, ‘God, I Forsake You Because Of Your Silence’, came from a guided meditation session. It was during a period of great uncertainty and personal disarray, after vocalizing everything which was afflicting me at this time there came a point where I was supposed to “listen to the voice of the god within me”. It’s always possible that at the time I may not have been attuned enough to be receptive to an actual response, but the void which I heard instead of an answer to the one time I was humbly beckoning this entity to give me some sort of calm enlivened me to the point of an even more fervent disgust than what I’d been accustomed to. It was from this standpoint which I’d begun this piece, as a visual departure from most all previous in that there was no preconceived vision and rather it was a slow building of these sentiments that flowed into it and formed from the subconscious, and actually began to resemble a particular occult sigil which I was resonating with at the time.

Whenever working devoutly on a piece and when fully immersed within it, particularly when the medium is of such a personal nature, there’s an inherent “channeling” of creative energy that flows through the artist and that when truly inspired (from the root meaning of ‘inspire’ which comes from the spiritual application of being guided by divine forces) that the artist is subconsciously giving existence to the innate qualities within him, that are allowed to take form when they’re acknowledged. It’s why I view art, and he pursuit of it, to be the alchemical path where the artist/magician is changed and transcends through the act of creation – and that if you believe in fate, the existence of “god” or whatever you’d like to reference to the concept as, that each experience is paramount and integral to leading you to the next stage needed to be attained if its part of his true will. Art isn’t simply spiritual because much of the art throughout history has been of religious subject matter, there’s an intrinsic and fourth dimensional link that moves through the artist’s hand when creating, and what he channels of himself into the completed work.

– In general, how do you think the creative process transforms the creator? How has the creative process spurred further growth in your personal life and vice-versa?

My own theory of art is approaching the pursuit as an alchemist would pursue his spiritual journey for his own soul’s advancement, done through the work which he devotes the entirety of his being to. As part of this transformation process, the greatest motivation behind virtually all works of art, music and literature which are considered to be sacred by society today (aside from love and greed) has been catharsis. That is, taking an experience which is tortuous and devastating but instead of allowing it to overcome you, the artist assimilates it and uses it to his advantage by expressing it within his art to subdue the affliction which threatens to destroy him.

Be it from destitution, isolation or emotional abuse and neglect from someone you’re in love with, that infliction will force a schism and ultimatum ; either let it destroy you or else (literally) create your own world using your art. Enduring this forces a change and growth by using the negative energy which has been thrust upon you. It’s a matter of the choice to live and fight which determines whether you allow it to overwhelm you or whether you direct it and use it as a force to create with.

The ability to evolve and undergo transformation or advancement is the only non-physiological attribute which humans possess that differentiates us from the animals. Many choose to throw this advantage away and forsake it. Artists are some of the few people who embrace and pursue this as a virtue rather than an inconvenience.

– Compared with the past, artists today have almost infinite freedom of expression. With no limitations, do you think art, in general, has suffered a lack of subtlety aimed at shock value or has it successfully picked up the challenge to express and evoke the unspoken parts of our nature?

I think the evolution of art has changed drastically by the manner by which artists of today (as in the time period post-Nineteenth Century) are no longer bound by the confines of viewing art as a “trade”. That is, artists are able to create out of their own volition, unhindered by the demands of patron commissions alone, which is why most art up to this point revolved predominantly from the standpoint of religious iconography. As society began to evolve and grant the individual free will we saw surrealism, dada and the most progressive expressions of the creative human mind which have ever been recorded. In this current day and age where the ability for those to create “art” is augmented by technology, as well as the immediate exposure/accolades of online social networking it makes it difficult in one sense to stand apart from one’s peers. But this works as a potent reverse motivation that with the inundation of art and imagery it forces the artist to hone his/her own inner vision in a manner which sets the artist apart from the herd. I don’t believe that subtly is a detriment but rather if the vision behind it can speak for itself as a timeless example of personal expression of the individual. If those who choose to create imagery which is appealing to solely their friends of social demographic it inherently limits the capabilities of the imagination to be liberation to create something that no one has ever seen before – rather than an inundation of extreme imagery which only desensitizes the viewers and makes the extremity meaningless in this pursuit.

– Speaking of the unspoken, what shocks you?

Because of the potency and meaning behind it, if the usage of blood as a medium shocks then it does accomplish a certain purpose by the nature of what it represents as well as to differentiate by context of the majority of benign “art”.  A favorite quote of mine in this regard comes from Marilyn Manson in that, “you have to be provocative to even be an artist [otherwise] what’s the point? If you don’t get someone’s attention you’re not doing anything that’s interesting.” Shock and disgust are very conducive methods to garner a reaction and incite the viewer into paying attention, which is important as art which isn’t seen can’t effect any change. However without anything beneath the surface there’s equally no point as without vision and inspiration it isn’t “art” to begin with. A crime scene or sex act isn’t “found art” ; it is simply what it is. If art truly has a vision with power and efficacy behind its creation, this can be shocking in itself and move the viewer. Most of those artists whom I admire didn’t create  incendiary works for the sake of being shocking but rather when art is progressive and truly making a bold statement which doesn’t fit within the limitations of the viewer’s acceptance then it’s a work which is shocking by virtue of how unique its vision and execution is.

Following, again, in the standpoint of an alchemical approach to art and creation, putting all of oneself into a piece of art has the power to effect not only the creator but also those who view it, particularly if they happen to be receptive to it. I’ve always considered my works to be like children to me, and just as one raises a literal physical child and endows it with knowledge and experience and sets it out unto the world as its own independent entity, a work of art is similar in that it embodies all the residual energy, pain and inspiration that an artist endows it with throughout the creation process. Similarly to the way a powerful song or movie and be “felt” and drive one to anguish, ecstasy or tears. Blood for me has always been the most potent method to charge a piece with this residual emotion and the way that it effects the viewer has the ability to find those who are able to resonate on the same level as you. Again, unleashing a work of art into the world like a child and seeing who that child befriends and comes home with to play. It’s this approach that I’ve met everyone in my life today whom I love and am friends with and who have taken me to where I’ve needed to go. The fact of the medium being blood has the ability to amplify the reaction within the viewer. As can be expected, I’ve had those who have taken the use of blood to enhance their resonance to a piece and likewise those who have admired a piece up until the point of learning the medium involved. Either way it’s a powerful reaction which is most important above all.

– If there is one piece of work, already existing or not, you’d like to be remembered for, what would it be?

Overall, I would like to be remembered as an artist, not unlike those I admire and revere, who created with outright fearlessness of being misunderstood or ostracized for what they believe and have the innate desire to create. For taking a symbolic medium (unbeknownst to me at the time that any other artist had employed in their work) and evolving it to a level which those who can see the pain, efficacy or isolation reflected in each work can resonate with. It’s beyond meaningful that I’ve reached a point in my life, pursuit and career that I can consider those who I’m in absolute awe of their talents as actual peers and the surreal feeling that something I create or pursue and can return the favor and reinspire them in a similar manner which they’ve motivated me to never abate from my path.

If I were to pick a literal favorite work of mine as my legacy it would be my portraits of Marilyn Manson and Rudy Coby which are premiered in my exhibition as well as my painting of Maldoror – named for the malign protagonist in the eponymously named book which is considered to be the first ever surrealist novel.

– What new works (and possible surprises) can we expect to see at your solo exhibition?

Aside from the full bar stocked with Jade Absinthe, Evil Wine and Monster Energy Drink, the exhibition will be premiering seven out of the nine brand new works completed since the beginning of 2011 – most of which were produced deliberately for 9.10.11. It’s an art exhibition but it’s much more than simply paintings hung on blank walls.

The show compromises 15 original works as well as several installations throughout the space which are complimental to the works they accompany. Additionally one of my best friends, Anthony Silva, who co-wrote and co-produced Marilyn Manson’s trailer for the film Phantasmagoria, assembled a video montage of original motion and still shots he took of me between New York and LA while I worked – both painting and collecting my medium, which will be on loop throughout the evening. Circa midnight there will be a live blood signing for those who choose to purchase prints exclusively available for the evening. Not as a shock tactic but rather a method of gifting art which is so personal to me to those which it resonates with. And of course, TWIGGY RAMIREZ as DJ for the evening.

– Any other places, beside the sites listed, our readers can see more of your work?

Check out my work, where it’s possible to purchase prints, postcard, posters, and more at TheThirdAngelSounded.com. And also check out my site Nachtkabarett.com which is forthcoming in book form about the occult & esoteric symbolism behind the art of Marilyn Manson, which is also the home of the Official Marilyn Manson messageboard.

– What’s next?

A few prospective shows are lined up but namely for LA fans, keep your schedule cleared for 11.11.11. I can’t give away too many details but it will be an even more exclusive (and theatrical) event & collaboration that should not be missed. The stars are maligned for this one.

– Anything else you’d like to add?

Always a huge Lip Service fan and patron so it’s really an honor to be featured, as well as to be sponsored by. Would be happy to strip down and cut up for the next catalogue shoot any time.

Thanks again to Nick, for taking the time to come out and play with us.

See you next month with another vice-filled account of the goings-on in the sexy underbelly of LA.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.