Ian Larson is a Sexed Up Mess
Ian Larson’s work is like a super sexed-up Jean DuBuffet at Sodom and Gomorrah. His gloppy characters writhe in horrifying ecstasy on an island of skulls or ravage each other, amidst crucifixes and priests. The pull out each others eyes and bite heads off birds, like a scene from that movie Event Horizon- the violent and sexual chaos which ensues when a spaceship and crew are launched into a negative vortex.
Larson’s paintings are crude and Art Brut like. His usage of wax to build up surfaces and actual human hair only illustrate the grotesque even more. His scrawls appear as childlike- but controlled, not only because of the mature content but because Larson has the capability of showing skill and deliberation in the mess of wax and paint.
His giant (400 in. x 140 in.) piece, “Pity Of The Fucksakes; A Block Party In The Company Of Thomas Magneuson” is an incredible collage of monsters, penises, words, figures and sculpture, the kind of piece that you look at again and again and find new meaning in each time. We chatted with Ian to find out more about the master behind the madness.
Lori Zimmer: Give me a glimpse into the mind of Ian Larson. What inspires the dark and twisted world you have created in your work?
Ian Larson: My interests lie in extreme subcultures and groups whom emphasize the pleasure, brutality and ridiculousness of the human animal. There’s just such a vast amount of information, ideas and events that provide inspiration for my work; a lot of music, literature and philosophy, occult and ritual acts, religious practices, pornography, Grimm’s fairytales, black metal, whisky, beer, Scandinavian folklore and American redneck/white trash culture is definitely a huge inspiration. There’s definitely this “hillbilly-witchcraft” element to my work and of course sex and sexuality fuel the mythos and act as a catalyst for the demonic activity I create. But all of this is involved in how I develop and exemplify the actions of my degenerates, outcasts, hermits and insane characters in a world that revolves around and embraces them. I think it is necessary to have this imagery that condemns morality and presents a voyeuristic point of view into actions of pure instinct and unjustified violent activity driven by desire and the preservation of raw nature, unbounded by the cultural rules with which we live in. The importance and unyielding aspect of death and mortality woven with humor, chaos and childlike abandon that stimulates and gives value, is implicit to our existence.
LZ: Not only do you paint, but you also write. As descriptive and dark as your painting I might add. Is this something you do to accompany your visual art, or is it part of the brainstorming process?
IL: I am constantly writing wherever I am. Most of my visual art comes from these writings, not as a whole but taken from some idea or piece of the writing and morphing it into this narrative or developing the characters which the writing involves. I don’t do sketches for paintings or sculptures, I draw for that act of drawing and the drawing is the piece of art, when I paint it is the same. Certain writings stand out as works on their own for me so I find them not so much as an accompaniment to the art but an extension of the visual practice. It’s sometimes nice to have that break in the visual image making and focus on visual language. A lot of the writings I turn into sound or performance/video pieces which again become it’s own piece of art.
IL: My process is never really allowed to become stagnant. I enjoy the isolation of the studio and developing the atmosphere to fit my mood for the day. When I am working it is always on multiple pieces. My attention span is quite short and my anxiety level is quite high so this doesn’t allow for me to focus on one work at a time. It’s also why I love working in various mediums from painting to sculpture to performance, sound and written prose as well as different scale and size work. I almost see my actions in the studio as performance in its own right, sifting from piece to piece, dancing, walking, and crawling through the debris in order to get to these works of various sizes and substance. There’s a lot of staring involved in the breaks between the manic times, other times things become quite controlled and precise. Lately I have found myself talking to the work a bit more than usual, maybe I am trying to explain myself to them or explain their purpose in this fucked up world which I’m putting them in (haha).
LZ: Your media is much the same. How do you build up your canvases like that?
IL: I feel this gluttonous desire towards oil paint. I love the scent of oil paint, the texture, the mess and it’s stubbornness. It lives as you work with it and moves when you want it to and when you don’t, it shrinks and wrinkles, shines and yet for me it still isn’t enough, I desire more than the two dimensional act of painting with it. So I often create moulds and carve out forms in polyurethane foam, which become an extension of the canvas and then I begin painting and sculpting in oils. I use my hands a lot, a lot right out of the tube, mixing or whipping the paint, lots of knives, I use very cheap brushes which I rarely clean and often they harden and become tools for gouging through the paint. Oil paint, polyurethane foam and human hair (almost always my own) and wax medium have become my staple material for painting. The paint gets to be very expensive but nothing gets wasted or thrown out, paintings that do not work out become a palette to help develop the other paintings. Paint on the floor, dried chunks it’s often like physically digging through the detritus of regurgitated thoughts and ideas to develop exciting and poignant images. When I am sculpting it’s a little more no-holds-barred material wise and really about whatever is required to get the imagery I desire.
LZ: The mega collector Charles Saatchi picked you as one of 20 up and coming graduates in 2007. I realize Saatchi’s collection is ridiculously vast. Has this changed your career at all?
IL: I’m not sure how true that is about him selecting 20 artists coming out of UK colleges in 2007. I read that in an article at the time and then it ended up in a press release for another exhibition I was in. But I was selected and exhibited in a group show of recent UK graduates in 2007, which was put on by the Saatchi Gallery and the online endeavor, which he launched that year. The show was good and offered a lot of other opportunities and brought a lot of new viewers to my work. Other than that nothing changed, I continued working as usual. My email inbox became more full. But I spent five years permanently in London doing my Masters and working/exhibiting and it’s all a bit different now that I have recently returned to the States because the accolades or acknowledgement which my work was/has had in the has not translated yet back to America so it’s almost fresh and new to me which is nice and agonizing at the same time.
LZ: You just completed an artist residency in Denmark! Do tell/
IL: Yes I recently finished a two-month residency and exhibition in Denmark at Solyst Artist In Residence Center (SAIR) and prior to that I did a three-month residency in Los Angeles at Raid Projects. They were both fantastic and beneficial. They provided time and different environments to pursue new work, which I think is important for any artist. In fact in early 2011 I will be relocating to Los Angeles on a more permanent basis. This past year has been spent with a lot of traveling and creating in various places so it will be nice to have a constant location to work in for some time, although I will hope to travel as much as I am offered to so…
LZ: Lastly, I always must know from contemporary artists, who are YOUR favorite artists?
IL: So much…Francis Bacon, Goya, Bosch, Paul McCarthy, Balthus, James Ensor, The Vienna Actionists, Ed Keinholz, Daniel Richter, Frank Auerbach, Anselm Keifer, Antonin Artaud, R Crumb, Marquis De Sade, Georges Bataille, William Burroughs, Burzum, Darkthrone and a lot more visual and non-visual entities.