Tome Volume 1 – Vampirism (Interview)
Interview with the publishers BEN TEMPLESMITH, KASRA GHANBARI, MENTON3 and NICK IDELL (44Flood, from left to right).
artscum.org: First of all, congratulations on the first book in the (hopefully long-lasting) TOME series. An incredible first-born! For reasons well-known to real fans of the horror genre, the theme “Vampirism” has been shamelessly exploited by the mainstream. However, in the book, there are a lot of works that explore the theme in a new and surprising way. Ben, what is the subject matter about for you? Apart from classic, historical aspects, do you see any that are also related to society, or physical/ erotic aspects?
BEN TEMPLESMITH: Vampirism, to me, is all about being a parasite and living off others. Or something taking from you and leaving you lesser, be it a drug addiction or corporate America fleecing the middle class. I certainly tried to steer away from the old romantic stereotypes of vampirism but had to include nods to it in my work… classic Nosferatu is just too great a visual to ignore.
artscum.org: Kasra, what criteria did you have for choosing the artists involved in TOME, or did you just “let it all happen”?
KASRA GHANBARI: The four of us have worked in arts-related fields for some time and in different capacities, so we had a deep base of knowledge and connections that we initially drew from in conceiving 44FLOOD and TOME itself. From there, we wanted to explore some possibilities in the merging of various artforms and see how far we could take it for the first volume of TOME.
The curatorial bias is perspective, looking for artists with unique voices that would only bring something diverse and relevant to the anthology. We ended up in a lot of different spaces: tattoo artists, graffiti artists, clothing designers, gallery represented fine artists, musicians, poets, writers, sculptors, caricaturists, photographers, illustrators, comic book artists, filmmakers.
Essentially, the book’s structure and theme initiate the process of conceptualization, the response from a target wish/want/need list of creators furthers the conversation and possibilities, and then yes…we let it happen as it will, because that’s the strangely informative and truly fun part of it all.
artscum.org: With regard to the density of world-class artists in TOME ONE, I have no concerns regarding future volumes. Are there any plans regarding future volumes, do you already have a theme for the next one?
KASRA GHANBARI: We constantly table and debate possible themes, then see which ones last and how they morph. You then trust that at some point a feeling will arise about which one seems better timed within the context of how we’d like to present TOME over the next many years. As for TOME 2, yes, we do have a theme. It is MELANCHOLIA.
With TOME 2 we’re again dealing with a word and meaning that’s been somewhat corrupted over the years to represent a mere fraction, or even nothing, of its original meaning. Melancholia is not depression. It has much in common with certain alchemical phases, wherein those things that once were important to us are no longer important, an intermediate state where we confront what it is that we want and who it is that we may be moving forward.
Artists are more than familiar with this phase and state of being, having time and again passed through melancholia to a state of natural focus and conviction often simply observed as a creative explosion. With TOME 2, we will ask that all aspects of melancholia be explored. TOME 2-MELANCHOLIA will premiere with a gallery show at Last Rites Gallery in New York opening on September 28 this year, then followed by a Book Release & Signing Party there on October 12.
artscum.org: Art often is a battlefield or laboratory for “difficult” subject matter. Do you think themes such as “religion” or “racism” would ever be conceivable?
KASRA GHANBARI: They already have been. The VAMPIRISM theme of TOME 1 included both, and it’s fairly certain that MELANCHOLIA will, too.
Do I believe that an explicit theme of RACISM or RELIGION is where we intend to take TOME? No, as that strikes me as somewhat crude. But aspects of racism and religion will no doubt prove to be nearly unavoidable in many of the themes on which TOME will seek perspective.
artscum.org: Menton, with regard to the previous question, I am interested in your personal understanding of art: do you believe that anything that can be imagined and is possible to realize can also be dealt with in art, or are there certain taboos that even art shouldn’t touch? By this, I mean not only (self) censorship with regard to violence and porn but e.g. also subject matter that is to be disapproved on principle, such as propaganda or abuse. Can art be a forum where even the worst excrescence can be discussed?
MENTON3: I think that if you’re not discussing those kind of things, then it means it’s not art. I think that to put limitations on what art is or isn’t is the antithesis of art. I don’t think there’s any taboo subject matters or limitations. I think one of the joyful things about art is the lack of limitations.
artscum.org: Many people draw conclusions regarding the mental state of the artist from looking at his or her work. This is a question I’ve asked many artists from the basements of dark and deviant art: What defines your fascination with darkness, with the beauty of ugliness? How much of it is in your character as a human being, or is it just plain fun, a game? Why does the color of a flower change when you know it’s growing on a mass grave?
MENTON3: That’s a pretty multi-fold question. I think a great deal of myself is in the art. I think if one is educated in iconography or symbolica, I’m pretty naked and kind of open and out there, which is really kind of uncomfortable in a lot of ways.
But, you know, I was surprised that when I first started showing my paintings to people that they said they were dark. I do find beauty in darkness, but I don’t think I really paint darkness. I don’t think I really paint horrifying stuff or dark stuff. I think, typically, people define dark as the interior. I think we look at like popular culture like Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees, you know, very popular horror movies, and I think that those are aspects of the internality that we’re just scared to take a look at. That kind of shit never scared me and it was very, very difficult to scare me with horror movies growing up, it just wasn’t an issue for me. I don’t think I’m obsessed with the beauty of terror or the beauty of ugliness. I produce art to externalize the internal functions to the point where the understanding of myself is a foregone conclusion. That’s the reason that I paint.
And if people find it dark, that doesn’t offend me or upset me, but it was confusing at first. I literally don’t see that, and obviously I’m going to see my work differently than other people see my work. And I’m always interested in how people see it, but I don’t sit around thinking about how to create the darkest, ugliest image and make beauty from it. Not to sound like an old lady who collects cats, but I meditate, I see images, and I do the best I can at painting those images so that I’m able to sit with that painting afterwards and in a sense decode it for myself and have a better understanding of myself.
I do think that there is a lot of beauty and what people call dark or the subconscious or the shadow self. I think a lot of stuff that’s in there are defense mechanisms that help us survive as children or as adults, but as far as the premise of do I think a lotus flower is more beautiful because it’s growing out of muck, I think a lotus flower is beautiful, and I don’t really care what it grows out of. I find the flower itself gorgeous, the story behind the flower gives the flower context, and I think it’s very easy to want to give art context. I think it’s a way we can simplistically understand art and have a quick definition of what it is, but I don’t think art is that simple. I don’t think we can go ‘well, this person grew up badly, so their art’s more beautiful’ or ‘this person grew up with a lot of money, so their art is less significant’. I think if more people just stopped and considered ‘what does the piece say to you?’, ‘what does the piece do for you?’ I think that’s the import thing, not the context or the artist or the context of where you can simplistically look at an image and say what it is.
You know, one of the things that gets really tedious is when people look at your art and say ‘oh you’re like this artist.’ It’s very annoying because you can see a shift in their psyche right there, they’re just trying to figure out a way to identify you and put you in the right aisle at the supermarket and think ‘oh you fit here.’ And I think that does a disservice to art, I think it does a disservice to artists, to do that. You’re trying to make it simple, and sometimes it’s just not that simple, you know. I collect art myself, and I never look at a painting as though I’m a painter. I look at other paintings as though I’m a collector of art and a lover of art, and I never approach it from the standpoint of, you know, ‘how do I easily define this?’ My first question is ‘does it move me?’ and ‘what does it say to me?’ If the first question is yes, it moves me, then I start trying to figure out what it is, but I give the image the benefit of the doubt, not the artist or where it comes from or if it’s dark or if it’s light or sad or happy. Because, being a human being, you’re capable of feeling sad and happy at the exact same moment, and if art was that easy, why would we need to actually paint it? We could just explain it. I think that a lot of that gives a great deal of limitations to art in general.
artscum.org: Ben, I am itching to find out another thing, this time not about TOME but your work for 30 DAYS OF NIGHT – I think it’s every creative’s/artist’s dream that the figments of his/her imagination develop a life of their own and follow its creator’s progress like a disrupted, rudimentary twin. What was it like for you when your drawings all of a sudden were on screen with real faces, looking at you? Any Maker’s fantasies?!
BEN TEMPLESMITH: I didn’t give much thought to it for a very long time. 30 Days of Night was some of my first, rawest work, and I was still on a high that I’d cracked my life’s ambition, to do published comics. The movie stuff didn’t happen for 5 years after the hype of the option died down. It was a far more moving experience to see actors in person with the prosthetics and makeup and my comic pages stuck up in the costume department than seeing it merely on screen. Going down to the set was wonderful, even if it only happened by accident! I keep my ambitions small, tend not to think Hollywood movies are the evolutionary pinnacle of art… I’ll be happy to tell my own stories with my own voice for years to come on printed page… but I’ll sure take some Hollywood money if it comes up again!
artscum.org: Nick, humanity is more and more turning into an egotistical, self-destructive bunch, both with regard to a global perspective, as well as in dealing with each other. What is left of the beauty of cosmic creativity? The spark of perfection? Does humanity still stand a chance, or would it be better to flush it all down the gutter of failed evolution and pass the torch to the next single-cell organism walking upright?
NICK IDELL: I am a firm believer that women are smarter than men, but I also believe that plants are smarter than women. Surrender to the Mother Earth and let her take her rightful place. We have had our chance, and we’ve squandered it. I’ve had wonderful dreams of half-man, half-plant creatures roaming the Earth and taking back what is ours, and that’s why for the next 6 months I will be in my grandfather’s basement working on a plant-man serum that will change this world for the better.
We all have to do our part, am I right?
Interview: jenz dieckmann / firstname.lastname@example.org / ©may 2013