Kimcrop Sonic Youth bass mistress Kim Gordon has another string to her bow. Trained in the visual arts before being drawn into New York’s art rock scene in the ’80s, she continues to paint and make conceptual art. She’s just entrusted a batch of luminous watercolours to her London agent, Electra, and spoke to MOJO’s Danny Eccleston about the differences between daubing on and rocking out.

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MOJO: You’ve mentioned these watercolours as being reflective of your experience of looking out into a rock audience. Is this how you see us, as these ghostly presences?

KG: Well I’ve always been fascinated with the relationship between performer and audience. It’s not visible but you can feel it. It’s kind of like a shared compliance or illusion that they’re there to see somebody believe in themselves… for them. It’s almost like you’re an extension of them or what they might want to be.

So in the watercolours the faces are only appearing because there is light reflecting on them, and there’s metallic ink as if there was a light show. Sometimes, if there’s light coming from the back, like from a projector or something, there is this kind of glow around the heads of people. Sometimes it can really take you out of what you are doing – especially if the person right in front is looking really bored (laughs).

Well, they are transfixing faces and you really fall into the eyes. It made wonder if this was your perfect audience member: someone intensely connected to what you’re doing?

I guess so. Maybe that’s very narcissistic! I also like the idea that when you see them all together they kind of catch you and you can’t get away from them.

And of course the other thing is they all seem to be girls.

Oh no, they’re not all girls. Sometimes they look like dogs! I love dogs in paintings – playing poker, playing pool… (laughs)

So is this your first exploration in watercolour?

No I mean I’ve always kind of done watercolours or worked with acrylics and tried to make them look like water colours. It’s not my area, really, but I always feel there’s something wrong with something if it’s too easy. Everything else in my life has always been kind of a struggle, so…

For those of us who know you exclusively through Sonic Youth, can you talk us through your art background?

Yeah, well, I went to art school in Toronto for a year and Santa Monica College for a couple of years and then I graduated from Otis [College Of Art & Design] In LA.

So what kind of artist were you when you graduated?

Definitely more of the conceptual kind. I was influenced by writers like Robbe-Grillet, doing minimalist stories that were almost like poems. And then when I was first in New York I was doing some work that was kind of similar to Richard Prince’s – blow-ups and ads from the real estate section of the newspaper. And I was doing some installations that were based on an idea called “Design Office” which was me going into people’s homes and being somewhat of a psychologist and an interior decorator and altering something and writing about it and reprinting it in a magazine.

Did you get a lot of takers for your, er, service?

I talked a lot of friends of mine into doing stuff! I did something for this alternative space in L.A. I had a monogrammed kind of baroque phone cover made for their telephone.

When was that?

Oh, like in the early ’80s. I use to write articles for Art Forum and a couple of other magazines.

So what was your stance as an art critic? What did you champion?

Well I was trying to analyze things in a faux Freudian way - in terms of sexuality. I wrote an article about “The New Passive-Aggressive Male Artist”, and the influence of David Bowie on artists like David Salle. My technique was to come up with an absurd premise and try to prove it! (Laughs) It was toying with the intellectualism of the art world. And I started playing music as an art project. I was investigating the rock band for a project about male bonding, and somehow I just got caught up in it.

What’s your regime in making visual art? Can it be compared to making an album? Like, you build up a number of ideas, then it’s time to hit the studio and get down to production? Or are you making art all of the time?

Well it’s a little of both. It’s good to be able to make it without having a reason to make it. But if you have an idea - that’s the best. Because my time is so divided up I kind of need a reason to do it - to actually get it done.

But with these watercolours, it’s hard to imagine you saying “Oh I want to do something about an audience and the way light falls on them and I think I know how to do that…” It seems to me that you’d have to put the paint on the page before you realised its potential.

Yes, in that sense of being intuitive it’s kind of like making a record. You don’t know exactly what you’re going to do but sometimes you have an idea. Some things are experiments and that’s how they start. You know, a lot of “good ideas” are bad ideas. “Good ideas” often makes really bad art (laughs).

So do you think you paint like a member of Sonic Youth? What links can you perceive between the processes or the ideas? Or do you feel they are independent?

Well, as a musician I’m much more primitive, and I’ve kept it that way. Music is something which I know less about so it’s easier to be free.

So you’re more sophisticated as a visual artist?
I guess so. They each have their benefits. It’s nice to work on something by yourself. You don’t have to ask three other people’s opinion. Democracy and all that – it’s quite frustrating to have that all the time!

Kim Gordon’s watercolours can be purchased from Electra Productions

To see more paintings, click here

Posted by Danny Eccleston at 03:17PM | Categories: Interviews