Thursday, February 4, 2010

2004 Interview About the Spunt Years

The original "Who is Spunt?" website, now defunct, featured this informative interview about Jeffrey Scott Holland's Spunt years. We happily reinstate it to the web here:

Interview with JSH conducted by
Sherry Deatrick on April 26, 2004

SRD: How long have you been a painter?
JSH: Well, professionally? Since at least 1984. But I did professional artwork in high school, middle school, and even elementary.
SRD: Well, not counting student art...
JSH: No, I mean professional artwork, like getting paid for it. When I was in like fourth or fifth grade I was commissioned by the school guidance counselor to illustrate a booklet she was publishing. But for those to whom adulthood is a requirement for legitimacy, then yeah, 1984 is when I moved to Atlanta and set up a studio there shortly thereafter.
SRD: What kind of work were you doing then?
JSH: All over the map. A lot of abstracts, but also a lot of urban-decay scenes of alleys and bums and debris.
SRD: How did this work differ from your current styles?
JSH: I wasn't doing as much overtly cartoony stuff in paint then. Keith Haring was a big deal at the time, and I wanted to get as far away from that as possible. Basquiat was also huge at this time, and it was all about words and letters, but I don't care about his words as much as his images. I love Basquiat's work for all the wrong reasons, apparently. My favorite ones of his are the ones with the least writing on them.
SRD: You also have a much thicker, heavier sense of line now.
JSH: Yeah, that's part of the whole, what I call cartoony, thing. Back then I thought it was too graphic to use such heavily defined lines. Didn't seem high-falutin' enough (laughs).
SRD: When did you start painting on 5x7 canvas boards?
JSH: In 1997 I discovered eBay, and saw that a lot of people were selling really primitive, expressionist, experimental art and actually getting bids. I have always held that no matter what your art is like, there is somebody out there who will like it and want it, if only there was a way to connect you and that person. Well, the internet finally brought us all together. The first paintings I did for the eBay crowd were 8x10 boards. "Anubis Visits McDonald's" was the first one. Soon I realized that the smaller 5x7 ones sold even better than the 8x10 ones, and the canvases were cheaper for me anyway, so... woo-hoo!
SRD: How many did you end up doing?
JSH: Going through my records, I've estimated that at least six hundred people bought art from me. The actual number of paintings is far higher, because some people bought several paintings. One guy in Gravel Switch bought a couple dozen.
SRD: What kind of people were Spunt buyers?
JSH: Hard to pigeonhole. Everyone bought for different reasons. Some ended up hanging in coffeehouses. One is hanging in a bank in Georgia. Another ended up in a folk-art museum. One of them ended up being a fridge magnet for Ephemera, Inc. even though I hadn't granted them copyright use. They later commissioned me to do more for them but they only used one of them, the Bukowski one. I later found out that one girl had bought "Nude in Phone Booth" to use as an illustration for some school project, and after it was over, she threw it away!
SRD: threw it away?
JSH: Oh yeah, there were several casualties. Bambina Merriman sent out a mass e-mail to some of my old buyers asking if they could send pics of the works for her records. One person said their "Canned Baby" painting was ruined in a flood. Another said their "Wiener Dog in Space" painting was so disappointing that she trashed it after receiving it.
SRD: Oh, God.
JSH: The funniest one was a guy who bought a portrait I did of the Unabomber. He was outraged when he got it in the mail, and said it was garbage that I "obviously just slapped out in minutes". Another person was very unhappy with their portrait of Jonathan Frid and sent me frothing loony hate mail for quite awhile. She also left me some very libelous bad feedback. I hate the eBay feedback system for the same reason I hate message boards, it just gives clueless assholes an opportunity to post lies about you. And the internet is teeming with clueless assholes.
SRD: How could these people not know what they were getting? Didn't they see the painting in the auction?
JSH: Oh, I guess I should explain.... after I got divorced in 2000 and was homeless for awhile, I no longer had access to a scanner. After that, I sold hundreds of paintings sight unseen. They actually sold better without pictures, because in their minds, people would inevitably fill in the blank with what they wanted to see. But they were warned in each auction that SPUNT's style was extremely raw and primitive folk art. Each auction provided a link to a page where they could see dozens of other pieces to give them an indication of what to expect. And most people were happy with what they got.
SRD: How did you sell on eBay when you were homeless?
JSH: Campus computers. God bless 'em.
SRD: I can't imagine bidding on art that you couldn't see.
JSH: I know, I know... there was almost a conceptual-art feel to the whole thing, as if the whole transaction was a kind of performance art. People loved the mystery of it, it was like buying those "surprise packages" from Johnson-Smith ads in comic books. And if you loved the subject matter, like if you were obsessed with Brett Somers, and you saw a mystery Brett Somers painting offered for twenty bucks, it was worth taking a chance for many people. And many of them were repeat customers who would give me requests. It was fun, and very gratifying.
SRD: Why did you stop?
JSH: Fun's fun, but like Emil Nolde, I couldn't keep doing postcards forever. I was supporting myself solely by my art, which was great, but I wasn't working on getting gallery shows and recognition, and I wasn't working on larger, more ambitious pieces as much. Not that I think there's anything less valid about the Spunt stuff, but there's only so much you can do with seven inches.
SRD: (laughs)
JSH: (Muppet voice) Movin' right along...
SRD: How did you come up with the name "Spunt"?
JSH: It was basically just a nonsense word, or so I thought. I later found out that Spunt is actually a not-uncommon surname. But it originally came from one late night at WRFL [Lexington radio station where Holland was a DJ for many years] and Matt Dacey came in and said "Dude. I've got Mad Magazine's fax number. Let's do something drastic". So we started an assembly line - there were four of us, I believe - and we all started drawing really juvenile absurdist comics as fast as possible, drawing the next one while the previous one was being sent through the fax. We kept this breakneck pace up for at least 15 minutes until apparently Mad's fax machine ran out of paper, or exploded, or something. Anyway, the name I gave to the whole thing was "Spunt Comics", which meant nothing, it was just a random act of glossolalia.
SRD: Now it can be told.
JSH: Yeah, I hope Nick Meglin doesn't read this!
SRD: I used to think SPUNT was an acronym for something...
JSH: No, I just used to alternate it with being in all-caps to lower case for some reason. I just liked the look of it in all caps. Kind of like how the band KISS is in all caps, even though it doesn't stand for anything.
SRD: It doesn't stand for "Knights In Satan's Service"?
JSH: Or "Kids, It's Soupy Sales?"
SRD: Did you sign any paintings with the Spunt name?
JSH: No. They were all signed "Jeffrey Scott Holland", usually with a copyright notice and a link to my website. The auctions always stated that SPUNT's identity was an established artist who chose to use this nom de brush for eBay. I was the subject of a rather ludicrous column in a San Francisco newspaper, which questioned why anyone would want to use a pseudonym and hinted that the whole idea was unethical. To this day I can't decipher the loopy logic of that article. Artists and writers have used pseudonyms since the dawn of time, and this guy's acting like he's never heard of such a thing. But hey, there's no such thing as bad press.
SRD: Did the Spunt sales ultimately improve your fine art career?
JSH: Let me just emphasize again, I think the Spunt works are fine art, I don't differentiate between outsider art and fine art... I know you're with me on this, I just want to clarify this point for the folks at home reading this. But yeah, many of my Spunt customers are still patrons of my stuff to this day.
SRD: Who else was doing eBay outsider art at the same time as Spunt?
JSH: Populuxe was a nice guy who did fun paintings, and also would modify dollhouses and make them hilariously creepy. My friend Todd Dockery did quite well selling his intensely crosshatched rapidograph drawings. There was a girl named Slomo who I adored...she was a really good artist and I wouldn't be surprised if she's enjoying some art-world success under her real name now... she also bought a Diamanda Galas painting from me. But Swingomatic was the king. He was shameless, he'd do really quickie tossed-off sketch-paintings of every member of the cast of "Survivor", "Big Brother", any hugely popular show. And they sold like hotcakes, of course. Some of his stuff was great though, very reminiscent of Mark Mothersbaugh.
SRD: What about the guy you told me about once who painted over other
people's paintings?
JSH: Eddie Breen, yeah. Ugh. I like his stuff okay but he's destroying works of art. He takes "funny" and "campy" paintings he finds in thrift stores, and paints his own shit into the paintings, usually obscuring 80 percent of the original painting, so why not just do your own damn painting anyway? In virtually every instance, I like the original painting better than what he did to it. I can't believe more people aren't outraged. I love cheesy old thrift store paintings, and you never know which are actually valuable. I cringe at the thought of Breen finding a rare Henry Faulkner painting and thinking "oh, this is just a tacky old picture of a vase by some old nobody, I'll paint nuns and aliens and skulls all over it".
SRD: (groans)
JSH: yeah.
SRD: What was your favorite Spunt painting?
JSH: ummm...hard to say........ "Lux Interior with Rubber Chicken" was a nice one... I did a painting of Slim Gaillard for Slim Gaillard's daughter, which was a supreme honor. I got a request to do a painting of the band 16 Horsepower, which I gave a weatherbeaten aged effect by basically hacking at it with an x-acto knife and several coats of varnish mixed with dirt. This was maybe the first of the dirt paintings, and the x-acto technique is one I still use today, on pieces like "Nude and Phonograph".
SRD: Any you wish you hadn't done?
JSH: Well.... I love all my children for their own special reasons (laughs), but the aforementioned "Wiener Dog in Space" was probably not my finest hour. I remember doing a Flat Duo Jets painting that was also a bit substandard. As I recall, it was done in ball-point pen and watercolor, and the two kept smearing each other.
SRD: How would you respond to criticisms that your paintings are just the same old pop-culture-based retreads of Pop Art?
JSH: Well, I don't think Pop Culture is a dirty word. I like movies and comic books and rock stars and will continue to paint things that I like. And there's no connection whatsoever between Pop Art and what I do. There's a cold sneer implicit in Warhol, Lichtenstein, and all those guys, a lack of warmth about the subject they're portraying. I didn't paint Webb Pierce because it's kitschy and clever and
postmodern to do so, I did it because I love Webb Pierce. Also, I try to treat my subjects with a certain measure of old-school austerity, even when it's a very minimalist cartoony sketch. Where artists like Basquiat, Robert Williams, and Joe Coleman try to cram as much imagery into one canvas as possible, I content myself with selecting ONE subject and devoting an entire painting to it.
SRD: A laser beam simplicity.
JSH: Yes, a laser beam trying to cut through my own bullshit (laughs).
It's not easy.
SRD: What artists do you admire most?
JSH: Bernard Buffet. Billy Childish. Georges Rouault. Picasso.
SRD: Any abstract artists?
JSH: Pollock. Willi Baumeister. Zao Wou-Ki. Yves Tanguy and Kay Sage.
SRD: Anything else about Spunt we haven't covered?
JSH: Nothing I can think of at the moment. I think we've devoted more words to the subject than anyone will possibly want to read!
SRD: Will you ever sell paintings as Spunt again?
JSH: I seriously doubt it.

(Photo: JSH, Richmond, KY, 2004.)