The eXTra finGer

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Friday, April 13, 2007

Interview with Joshua Hagler

q)Tell me something about yourself….What’s your background…?

a)I graduated from the University of Arizona with an illustration/graphic design degree because I thought it was practical. Then I moved out to San Francisco to be an illustrator, which isn’t any more practical than any other arty thing you could do. So now I rarely do any commissioned illustration, and focus a lot more on my paintings, which suits me a lot better. I can actually make work about something that matters to me.
From about twelve years old until about twenty-one, I identified as a Born-Again Christian. I grew up in the rural Midwest and later moved to the Phoenix suburbs with my family. I was surrounded with a lot of religion in both places. In college I studied philosophy and religion whenever I could, and changed my mind about a number of things, my faith in particular. Now I make art about Christian Fundamentalism in the United States. In my own way, I’m still searching for some kind of communion or absolution.

q)When growing what was the greatest force pushing you towards art?

a)I’m really not sure. Probably genetics. In my family, it was always said that I was the only artist, and wasn’t that amazing. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve discovered that I had a great, great grandparent who did realistic portraits, which my grandparents hung in their living room when they were discovered. I found out that my grandpa used to draw, and then my grandma showed me some old cartoons she drew, which she’s quick to dismiss, but are quite well drawn. When my cousin was twelve or so, she painted a Bob Ross-esque landscape, which she learned one day in a class. To my knowledge that’s the only painting she’s done, and it looks as professional as anything you might come across in a storefront gallery in Santa Fe or somewhere. No one in my family attributes any artiness to anyone but me, but in fact it’s been pervasive throughout our history. It’s always been there in the background. I just formed a habit out of it.

q)Were you inspired/encouraged by any one person to pursue your craft?

a)I was very fortunate to have been encouraged by a number of people when I was young, from my parents to my teachers. By the time people started telling me I was weird or disturbed, it was too late. It was already habit, and I was old enough to understand that it was easier for people to dismiss something odd than to try to understand it.

q)How would you describe your art to someone who could not see it?

a)I hesitate to do so because no matter how you describe it, the person cannot possibly imagine exactly what you’re trying to describe. If I had to, I might say something like, “I do messy, violent oil paintings of people in situations of unexpected inward conflict based on contemporary religion in America.” But that isn’t really very helpful in forming a picture.

q)Are certains colours,shapes that you’re drawn to?

a)Sure. But it changes all the time. My favourite oil colours at the moment are transparent maroon, brown pink, and ice blue. As far as shapes, I like both sharp edges and curves that happen quickly.

q)What other talent would you like most to have?

a)One of my biggest regrets is that I’m not a musical person. I wish I could play piano like my wife. Also, I love percussion. I do a terrible beat box in the car since our stereo was stolen.

q)What’s your favourite mediums to work in/on?

a)As far as paintings, I prefer oil. In The Boy Who Made Silence, I’ve been working in watercolor and ink. The only medium I find to be yucky is digital painting, which I also sometimes do.

q)What artists influence or have influenced you(these need not be visual artists)and how have they done so?

a)There are so many. But since I’m currently working on paintings for my show at the Mina Dresden Gallery and my comic book series The Boy Who Made Silence, I’ll stick to painters and cartoonists.

Painters—Willem de Kooning, Jenny Saville, Francis Bacon, Cecily Brown, my friends Kim Weinberg ( and Mike Ritch (, my former teacher David Christiana ( Gottfried Helnwein, Courtney Reid, Lucien Freud, Giacometti’s drawings, Egon Schiele, Gunter Brus (performance, video), Basquiat, Henry Darger, Mark Rothko, Gustav Klimt, Edvard Munch, Nathan Oliviera, Frieda Kahlo, Kiki Smith (sculptor, drawer, installations).

Cartoonists—Sam Kieth, David Mack, Dave McKean, Daniel Clowes, Craig Thompson, Art Spiegelman, Chris Ware, Tomer Hanuka, Toby Cypress, Greg Ruth, Kent Williams (who’s probably more of a painter, but I love his comic book art too), Joann Sfar, Gipi, Paul Hornschemeier, Paul Pope and lots more who I’m forgetting.

q)What non-visual art interest you and does this have an impact on your art?

a)All of it. Film, music, stage, fiction, poetry, dance, politics, science, philosophy, religion. . .they all impact my work to various degrees.

q)What do you think about artists using the Internet as a forum for sharing their work?

a)It’s absolutely essential.

q)What is your favourite toy,game or other artefact from your youth(and do you still own it)?

a)I liked action figures in general. I liked to set up the He-Man castle and have action figure fights with my dad. But I don’t own them anymore.

q)Got any new projects planned?

a)If you mean “new” as in I haven’t started working on them, yes, but it’s not time to talk about about it in detail. But to say just a little bit, we just lost our apartment and my studio to arson, and are temporarily staying with friends, while I work in a shared space with artist Micah LeBrun ( The inside of the building is gorgeous in the way that it’s had a complete metamorphosis. The way the light hits the blackened doorways and staircases. . .all this new texture that wasn’t there before. There’s a lot to be explored with the camera and paint.
And scripts. I have scripts.

If you mean “new” as in I have started working on it, then I suppose The Boy Who Made Silence might count. Even though it’s taken several years to get an inch, circumstances have made it difficult to get as far as I would have liked. However, it’s full speed ahead now, and I’m thrilled about that. I will probably be working on it for the next couple years.

q)What advice can you give to other artists to help them improve their chances of survival in this global village we call our home?

a)Get renter’s insurance.

q)Favourite books/authors?

a)Since you ask, Kurt Vonnegut just died yesterday. He was one of my favorite writers in the world. If anyone reading this hasn’t read anything by Vonnegut, it’s imperative that you read Slaughterhouse Five. Then move on to any of his other books.

These other books come immediately to mind.

Everything ever written by Flannery O’Connor
Lord of the Flies—William Golding
Nine Stories—J.D. Salinger
Franny and Zoey-J.D. Salinger
As I Lay Dying—William Faulkner
Bastard Out of Carolina—Dorothy Alison
Brief Interviews with Hideous Men—David Foster Wallace
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close—Jonathon Safron Foer
Wind-Up Bird Chonicle—Haruki Murakami

q)Favourite music?

a)I guess it’s lists today.

I’m going to see Bjork next month, which I’m really excited about. I bought tickets for my wife’s birthday. So that’s on the top of my mind. Actually, I’m pooped out on lists. Lately, I’ve been listening to Bob Dylan, CocoRosie, Miles Davis, PJ Harvey, Damien Rice, and others. They’re favourites for now. Oh yeah, and that song Surabaya Johnny from the musical Happy End that was written Kurt Weil. I love that song, and I’ve been listening to that again after a long time away. I have a character from another script that I haven’t drawn yet whose name is Ahwatukee Johnny, inspired by the song. Ahwatukee is the Phoenix suburb I lived in.

q)What do you fear most?

a)Irrelevance. Meaninglessness.

The Super 7 Store in San Francisco recently rejected The Boy Who Made Silence because, on the back, it mentions that the main character, Nestor Gudfred’s search for his father becomes a search for God. They took issue with the term God, despite the fact that they had positive things to say about the artwork, which is how I assume they judge all the other art books and zines they sell—by artistic merit. They never read it before rejecting it. It’s a bizarre form of bigotry that I don’t understand completely, but it plays into something I see a lot in San Francisco lately.
Places like the Super 7 Store are the arbiters for what’s considered hip. They have their thumb on the pulse of what urban 20-30 year olds find interesting in terms of art and culture, and they also have a role in dictating taste. The implication is that essential questions of meaning are not hip. In contrast, you’ll find a lot of quasi-clever, smart-ass irreverence to the point that what you see coming out of this culture is rehashed, unoriginal, fashionably ironic, meaningless novelty. I don’t mind sounding cranky in order to express my opinion to my full ability.
I fear that I might be spending all my time doing something, which in the end, is meaningless to people around me, while at the same time I fear being the guy in a crowd who doesn’t understand why the latest shoes in the store window are so important. I hate having to pretend that they’re important just to feel like I’m a part of something.

It appears that I might fear rejection also.

And crusading American foreign policy.

And over-enthusiasm. Especially in church.

And groupthink.

And poverty.

And when people touch their fingertips together, which makes my own fingertips feel itchy for a long time afterward. Which is a pretty stupid thing to fear.

q) Your contacts…

a)Can you plug these things?

The Boy Who Made Silence at
official release April 21, pre-ordering available now
Will be promoting it at my booth at the Alternative Press Expo
Concourse Exhibition Hall, San Francisco

“Bring us Rapture” solo show and book release party at Mina Dresden Gallery
opening reception: April 21, 8-11pm


Blogger Uncle Jesse said...

this work is hot! i really like it.

10:59 AM  
Blogger Joshua Hagler | 5 Mined Fields Studio said...

Hey, thanks Uncle Jesse!

5:09 PM  

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