Artweek LA February 2011

Robbie Conal – Guerllia Godfather


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LA artist Robbie Conal is considered by many a key patriarch of LA’s guerilla artworld. Having influenced everyone from Shephard Fairey to Banksy. Conal and his volunteer guerrilla street postering army have perpetrated their “art attacks,” in major cities around the U.S., skewering politicians, bureaucrats, televangelists and others for more than twenty five years.

Asked about the mainstreaming of lowbrow and its alignment to commercial compromise, Conal isn’t phased about the genre’s longevity or relevance, “If you don't mind me spitting consciousness here—everything's political! It ain't irrelevant, it's business!

Low Brow's bubbling up from, a bittersweet, narcotic effluvia of real peeps-under-pressure sweat flops and pheremones. How do you monetize great graf pieced, say, on the shit-stained walls of a piss stanking tunnel downtown? Like, something for a fan or collector to pay for and walk away with?

On all things entrepreneurial, Conal says his favorite development in the blurring of the cultural economy is the fact Hurley and Quicksilver are opening their own fine art galleries, something he describes as “a form of synergy with their street-skate-surf-hip-hop fashion lines, causing the art establishment to feel it's butt is being bitten to death by ducks -undermined and mined .

Who influenced you as a blossoming artist ?

I was raised by Siamese cats and union organizers on the upper west side of Manhattan, playing stickball, rooting for the Dodgers and reading comix: I dug Walt Kelly's, "Pogo," Al Capp's kamikaze socialist "Shmoos (a "Lil Abner" side trip)," Herriman's, "Krazy Kat" and, by my shorty reckoning, my contemporary

doppelganger, "Felix the Cat."

My parents thought the major museums in Manhattan were day-care centers for me. "Guernica" was my buddy. My girlfriend was the 70 ton, granite Sphinx of the Female Pharaoh Hatshepsut Dynasty 18.anding (OK, sitting) date, every Friday after school. My posse: Goya, Daumier, James Ensor,Mr. Vincent Van Gogh, El Lissitsky, Jose Guadalupe Posada, the great revolutionary Mexican muralists, Orozco, Siquieros and Diego Rivera and, of course, the NY School Abstract Expressionists and Francis Bacon.

Much later, I tried my best to hang with "The Hairy Who," out of Chicago and H.C. Westerman--even later: John Heartfield and George Grosz.I moved to San Francisco (by myself) in 1963-- I was an "O.H."— an Original Hippie ensconced in a storefront on Frederick & Stanyan in the Haight from winter, '63--fall, '67. The "Summer of Love" marked the beginning of the end of the sub culture as we knew and loved it. It was a delicate matrix, as difficult to navigate (once discovered by pop culture mongers and monetizers) as driving a flower. Altamont was its gruesome death rattle.

Hey, anyone who went to Altamont didn't know shit about Hip. No offense.

After grad school at Stanford with Big Frank Lobdell and Bigger Nate Oliveira, Leon Golub was my art dad, Nancy Spero my art mom. I couldn't have asked for better.

Apart from sub genres, how will graffiti maintain relevance and evolve in future ?

The future of graffiti depends on our society's core values. I f we continue to value guns and ammunition more than, say, public education and universal health care, graffiti will flourish angrily on the streets forever, which won't be very long. You know, poverty is a crime.

Who do you like nowadays? (in terms of artists)

I like my wife, Deborah Ross, a movie title designer with perfect design pitch. (Yes, that can be annoying, but helpful...cause she's always right--and the nicest person in the world. Ditto.) And I like our cats, Smilla and Bodhisattva. Oh, painters, sculptors, them? Lucien Freud. Barbara Kruger, of course, Tim Hawkinson, Mr. Pettibon, I presume, the working man's ceramic sculptor and avatar, Ken Price, the R. Crumb who swung with"Mr. Natural", "Whiteman" and "Angelfood McSpade," all at the same time. (Not so easy, Ese! ( Dramamine—taken prophylactically— is the key to a pleasant Crumby trip.). I like Banksy and Sue Coe.

Is the cultural divide between Europe and the US finally bridged in terms of the former’s ability to embrace and understand street art and its imagery ? Was it any issue in earlier times ?

I'd frame that question bass awkards: Is the US finally able to embrace and understand street art and bridge the cultural divide? The short answer: NO.

//How do you balance gallery shows and street art – you have a team that help you with the street projects – correct ?

I don't "have" a team. But I'm always honestly totally amazed by how many wonderful peeps are willing to volunteer their time and effort to participate in a little late night "urban beautification," whenever bad shit happens to good people. (And/or the streets get too dull with commercial signage; and/or our precious smog gets tainted by self referential canned corn—"Thuffering Thucottash!"—or filthy with brainless paper hanging, not that I'm the sanitation czar or anything---I just go for pretty in pink.)

I come from the art world. I went to art school all my life. Oh, I'm street enough (or was—I'm old), but I've always made art for a different kind of viewing as well—like, for hanging out with, chatting it up, having a relationship. I try to tell people that spending some time with a work of art in a gallery or a museum is like meeting a new person in a clean, well-lighted (hopefully) place---or, if you go that way, in a dark, un-lighted place. Have (or two). a drinkiepoo (or two) together. Share a moment (or two). Ask it some insightful questions, (like, "Where did you grow up?" "Did you go to public or private school?""Do you like cats?")--get to know each other. In other words: Step into smoke...

//What is the best city in the world to live in and create art

I'm with Ozomatli on this one: "I want to tell you a little something about LA..... I LOVE IT!"



Written by Craig Stephens

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