Jun 22, 2011
BM: Tell me a little about your art and what makes it so unique?
Xany: My art is all about transformation and alchemy. I literally take album covers and turn them into gold, so to speak! I “iconicize” rock stars—using the same techniques and materials that the religious icon painters did back in the Renaissance and Byzantine era—by applying real gold and watercolor to the album cover; thus, further transforming the image into an “icon”. When you see the pieces in person they are really quite beautiful. Photographs do not do them justice - if I may say so myself!
BM: What inspires your work?
X: I have always been heavily influenced by music and rock and roll. When I was a kid, my brother had a huge record collection, well into the thousands, and every record was always kept in immaculate order and condition, so I think this idea of records and music…having this almost sacred like status was ingrained in my head from an early age and, without a doubt, inspired me to create the work I’m doing today.
Today, kids don’t have that same sense of reverence towards music that past generations did. Buying an album wasn’t simply a click and a download into your iPod. When I was growing up we had these magical places called “record stores” where you actually had to do some footwork and investigation to find exactly what you were looking for! I may be making a joke but, in all honesty, that sense of magic and anticipation is really lost in this day and age of technology.
BM: I totally agree with you. There was a mom and pop record store a few blocks from my house and I would save up my money and then spend hours in the store before making a purchase.
You have a very unique approach when it comes to your art. Can you tell me a bit about the materials you use?
X: I create my paintings using one of the oldest and most difficult materials to work with, which is 24 carat gold leaf. This technique (that the religious icon painters used) has remained the same since the Renaissance and Byzantine era. It involves carefully applying very thin, delicate sheets of gold to a specific area, which is then antiqued and burnished to achieve its luminescent glow. I also apply thin washes of pure pigment or watercolor on top of the gold to give a variety of effects and dimension to the piece. It is extremely labor intensive and time consuming, but worth the extra effort as nothing can compare to the beauty of real gold.
BM: Did you receive any formal training or is your artistic talent a natural gift?
X: I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts from UCLA, but most of my training was self-taught through many trials and errors! While I have a natural ability when it comes to painting and colors, as an artist you never stop learning or fine tuning your craft. It’s a constant evolving process.
BM: What has being an artist taught you?
X: Never give up! That is my motto! I cannot begin to touch upon the many trials and challenges I have been through in my life that, at many points, I just wanted to give up and throw in the towel and say enough! I have been so poor at times - haven’t had a dime to my name. I have injured my wrist, lost everything and everyone that was dear to me and I still kept on painting. At the end of the day that’s all you have. That is what you are here for. I feel as an artist you are given a gift and the biggest tragedy in life is to not use that gift and share it with the world.
BM: What artists do you admire?
X: So many artists influence me for many different reasons that it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few! What I admire the most in any artist, in any person, is COURAGE. I love Robert Rauschenberg for his commitment and passion for artist’s rights and royalties even when it put him at odds against the art world that he was such a huge part of. I admire Julian Schnabel for the fact that he knows no limits to his creativity. He went from being one of the hugest painters in the eighties to being nominated for an Academy Award for the movie he directed, The Diving Bell And The Butterfly. Warhol was genius in his ability to turn the whole art world upside down by commodifying the process of art making and turning ordinary objects into pieces of art.
BM: You have a pretty good celebrity following. How did they find out about your work?
X: I would say half of it is luck and the other half is perseverance. Opportunities don’t just come knocking at your door. Many times my biggest successes have been because an opportunity presented itself and it was up to me to make it happen and not take “no” as an answer! I‘m also incredibly thankful to my friends who have believed in my work and introduced me to many amazing people who, luckily, like what I’m doing and collect my work.
BM: What has been one of your favorite creations so far?
X: That’s a tough one because each piece has a life of its own…to me they are like children with their own unique quality! But, if I have to choose I’d say one of my absolute favorites is the Aladdin Sane David Bowie cover. It is already an iconic image so it was a challenge to reinterpret it.
BM: Is there one piece that you can’t bear to part with?
X: Twelve years ago I was doing very political paintings based on the Vietnam War and spent three years making my painting, “LBJ Won’t Run.” It’s nearly six feet tall with layers of oil paint and detail. That is my masterpiece. I’ve resisted selling it until I know artists will receive royalties on their work because it’s something I know I will never be able to create again. That was a specific moment in my life that I lived and breathed painting and I don’t know if I will ever have that moment again.
BM: You are currently fighting the cause to grant royalty rights to artist for the resale of their work. How is this coming along and what are some of the obstacles that you are facing?
X: Ten years ago I was doing a lot of different things: I was modeling, acting, playing in bands, as well as painting. Working in all these different creative outlets really got me thinking… if musicians receive royalties for their music and actors receive residuals for their work, why not artists’ too? This certainly isn’t a revolutionary idea. Rauschenberg also came to the same realization when he witnessed his early paintings selling for a huge mark up when he had received next to nothing when he originally sold them. The aftermarket of collectors and auction houses is an industry on to itself - we’re talking millions of dollars that are being exchanged and, more often than not, it’s the artist that receives the short end of the stick in the transaction. In 2006, England and the European Union passed a law that, in effect, gives all artists and their estates a percentage of each work resold to protect the artist and even out the playing field, so to speak. In the United States the only state that has a similar law is California. The battle is in the art world itself - changing a system that has resisted change for a very long time. I hope that by giving publicity to this matter and by using non-traditional outlets, rather than through the gallery system, it will at least open up the discussion and possibility for making real change happen.
BM: How can others help support this cause?
X: Awareness is always the first stepping-stone in making change happen. I think most people and collectors want to help struggling artists and just need to be educated in how they can help. It’s really a matter of artists uniting together and championing this cause. It’s a win-win situation all around if you really stop to think about it.
BM: How do you feel art, fashion, and music influence each other?
X: To me, they all come from the same source and are just different mediums of expressing an idea. Art, music, and fashion all influence each other – you can hear a song that inspires you to create an image or vice-versa. I think David Bowie is genius in the way that he has so fluently combined all three mediums into one creative vision. His “Ziggy Stardust” persona was influenced by the Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto who created many of the costumes Bowie wore during that time period.
BM: Are you still involved with wardrobe styling? If so, what are you doing?
X: I don’t do too much wardrobe styling these days. It’s hard enough figuring out what I’m going to wear on a day-to-day basis - never mind planning out someone else’s outfit. lol!
BM: You have a very exotic look. Have you been featured on any album covers?
X: Thank you! I have been in quite a few music videos but no album covers….yet!
BM: You are also a very stylish gal. If your style had a theme song what would it be?
X: “Lady Stardust” by David Bowie, but “Queen Bitch” just came on so maybe that says something. LOL!
BM: Is your art currently on display anywhere?
X: Right now my reps Spencer Drate and Judith Salavetz are in the process of planning a show for me in New York City. We’re also looking into several possibilities for shows here in Los Angeles, as well as London. I also am very excited about the release of the album cover I painted for the box set of rare Billie Holiday recordings coming out on ESP Disks this fall. It’s my very first album cover of my own design!
BM: Where can people purchase your work?
X: I’m represented by Drate/Salavetz in New York City who handle all my commissions and selling. You can contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org or also go through my website http://www.xanyart.com/ and inquire directly through there. Prints of my pieces are also very reasonably priced on the Art Slant website: www.artslant.com/global/artists/show/37549-xany . I’m also always open to commissions and ideas so don’t be afraid to ask!
Interview by Nikki Neil, Photos Courtesy of Xany