How did I go from this?
Royal Art Lodge, Poster Making, 2007, mixed media on panel, 6×6″
To recap: Last week I was randomly flipping through the book, More Things Like This, a loot bag of art and musings curated by the editors of McSweeney’s, when I stopped dead in my tracks because I recognized myself in one of the paintings. Here’s the story and some of the folks who flocked to it.
The work, by Royal Art Lodge, a hip and now defunct art collective from Winnipeg, shows a little girl writing “FUCK OFF” on a poster board.
Neil Farber and Michael Dumontier, the men of Royal Art Lodge, heard about my brush with serendipity and sat down for a chat about art, life, process, and inspiration. The two continue to work together, exhibiting their art in galleries around the world and garnering praise in publications like The Paris Review. Their book Constructive Abandonment was published by Drawn & Quarterly last spring.
Alison GJ: I was right, you found my photo in a back issue of Elle Canada [I was an editor at the magazine, and, one year, the staff presented the art director with our kid pics and she turned them into a collage for a holiday issue]. The Royal Art Lodge was all guys, so what were you doing looking at Elle Canada, LOL?!
Royal Art Lodge: At the time that painting was made we were three guys [Neil, Michael and Marcel Dzama], but for much of our history we had one female member, Holly Dzama. We often used, and still do use, fashion magazines as reference materials. We paint a lot of women.
AGJ: What drew you to my picture in particular?
ROL: Children are one of our favorite subjects for painting and that is a great photo. It’s possible that we painted some of the other cute kids as well. Michael Dumontier actually painted the image in that one and Neil wrote the caption.
AGJ: Your bios at the Richard Heller Gallery site characterize your paintings as combinations of “innocence with a complicated and often foreboding sense of the absurd.” Can you describe the imaginative leap that took you from my pic to this painting?
ROL: Michael would have painted the picture and set it beside all of our other “unfinished” paintings. I probably never saw the actual photo, so my relationship was just with what Michael had painted. I think the focused expression in the photo is key to making the painting work. She seems careful and sincere.
AGJ: Yup, that sounds like me. What story are you telling in this painting? Little girl writes, “FUCK OFF” ….
ROL: To us, the painting is about language. The plain description of her activity as “Poster Making” is set against the fun image of a little girl carefully making a vulgar sign. It kind of mirrors the comedy of a dry journalist reporting on a funny situation.
AGJ: Did you imagine the girl heading off to a protest or something?
ROL: No, we just imagined her making a poster to hang on her bedroom door.
AGJ: Is there supposed to be a “Network-like” anger bubbling beneath the surface of this work? You know, is your waif as mad as hell and she isn’t going to take it anymore?
ROL: No, we don’t see her that way. In the later Art Lodge works we were painting a lot of women and children. We even had a show called “Women and Children”, so she fits our aesthetic. But we see her as being calm, so maybe she is naive as to the response she will receive from her poster.
AGJ: How did the public react to “Poster Making”? And who owns it now?
ROL: “Poster Making” is one of our most popular paintings. We have retained it in our small private collection. It’s one of only a few paintings that we get repeated offers to buy. We had it made into a print, though.
AGJ: Have you exhibited it?
ROL: It’s been in a few museum shows and it will be included in a show called “A Perfect Day” opening this February in Amsterdam. The show is a spin-off of the McSweeney’s book, Lots of Things Like This.
[my blog post continues beneath this shot, so keep reading!]
To see what Neil and Michael are up to now, go to their blog
Afterword: Two years ago, I used the same kid pic that inspired Neil and Michael in a blog post about recognizing where we belong in this life. I talked about how your interests and obsessions as a child pretty much determine what you should be doing as an adult. The focused little girl in my picture is exactly who I am now. I’m glad I didn’t lose touch with her.
Painting by Michael Dumontier and Neil Farber