Monday 22 July 2013

Arts Of Darkness: Nick Kushner

“I think it's important to make every day and every action something magical and ritualistic, rather than make the distinction between something that's meaningful and that the remainder of time is spent immersed in the trivial.”

Many artists insert a little piece of their soul into their work. But there are a few who go a step further. One such artist is Nick Kushner who has made waves in recent years due to his preferred medium... blood.

photo-realistic depictions as well as occult symbols and abstract imagery, he has crafted a unique and macabre presence in the art world. Kushner likens his intensely personalised artistic medium to alchemy, and it is a process that has been an integral part of his life.

“Creating art has always been my identity since an early age that I'd been pursuant of regardless of my peers and surroundings. When I made the conscious decision to become 'an artist' proper it was at a point in my life when I had just begun to crystalize my identity and found it to be very different than that my peers at the time. Creating art had become the necessity to create my own world to live in when the the outside world became less desirable and seemed to be contrary to any depth of anything which I wished pursuing. To stand alone and create out of one's own fervent momentum isn't easy to do but if you have the belief that nothing is a coincidence and that circumstances happen for a reason to lead you on a dynamic life path toward a goal, you find that the adversity encountered becomes more of a litmus test of determination rather than an opposing force hell-bent for the destruction of your dreams.”

Surreal in its essence and "unsafe" by mainstream moral standards, Kushner's style is steeped in the traditions of the Dada and Surrealist movements of early 20th century Europe that were subsequently expurgated by the Nazis. It's a comparison that Kushner readily identifies with.

“I sometimes refer to my work as 'Needles & Razors Surrealism'. I also sometimes refer to my style and work as 'Degenerate Art' as an homage to the artists I admire the most whose works were confiscated, vandalized and banned by the Nazi Party in the 1930's, deemed as 'degenerate art', or 'entartete kunst', which were hung for ridicule in public exhibitions as examples of perverse models of expression. The term and that era of history is one which I closely identified with as painting with an unconventional medium, portraying subject matter which can often be considered controversial, choosing to stand alone and refuse to self-censor based upon what the current society an artist lives in deems to be acceptable and "safe" forms of expression as well as the refusal to follow trends is what resonated with me about those artists whom I admire the most, such as Hans Bellmer and Otto Dix, that from an early age is a tradition and spirit of unwavering freedom of expression is one that I wish to carry on for what they endured in giving their work to history.”

For Kushner, the use of blood in his art has taken on both literal and metaphorical significance. Scarring his body and creating new images from his own life force. As such, the process is as much a philosophical one for him as it is technical.

“I was fifteen when I first conceived integrating blood into my work. The premise behind its unconventional use as an art medium began as a method of, literally, inserting myself into my work. Like the pursuit of alchemy where the adept undergoes a path of purifying base elements into gold, as a microcosm of his own soul's purification, the use of blood for me has always acted as a catalytic mechanism for personal transformation. Where transmuting oneself wholly into one's work is a transformative process. Each piece become a living entity, painted with a living portion of myself, and as each piece develops and enters the physical world it has as much influence upon the creator as much as I am creating it. Every piece is a crystallization, or externalization, of a portion of myself where the gradual death of the cells of mine it's painted with acts as a microcosm for rebirth and transformation.”

Though the practicalities of working with a medium such as blood, rather than a traditional one, like paint has meant that Kushner had had to adapt to a very different way of constructing his paintings. Which serves to further heighten the ritualistic nature of his style.

“Blood is a sometimes volatile medium which behaves differently than more conventional art mediums. It decays and changes composition over time. It varies in hue, viscosity and texture as to whether it's painted directly from a fresh wound or whether it's used from a pre-dawn supply. The painting and application itself can sometimes be likened to sculpting and moulding in the manner that it's blended. It's a slow and gradual building of layers to achieve tones, textures and gradients. Elements that often appear to be chaotic and crimes of passion are most often-times developed gradually with much forethought and building necessary to achieve the effect. The color also changes throughout work on a piece which, again, can be compared to the metaphorical death and rebirth/transformation as the cells themselves slowly fade and die throughout the building of the piece.”

Thematically Kushner's works feature combinations of abstract, sexual, pop-cultural and especially esoteric imagery, reflecting his personal pursuit of occult studies.

“The word 'occult' simply means 'hidden' and has a multitude of various connotations and paths. The pursuit of delving deeper is something that I've always felt innately inclined to in anything I've ever pursued; to study the minutia of details in music, books or movies that I've been drawn to. To know the hidden meanings and every element of symbolism in any pursuit. Nothing is every one dimensional to me, or at least not in anything I've been drawn to. Approaching art from an alchemical standpoint, even before I knew and understood that that's what I'd been doing before learning the terminology has been a part of my identification of the occult within my work. Symbolism and occult imagery has a wordless poetry to it which transcends time and language to create art which isn't limited by the era it's produced in. Powerful imagery likewise is what is inherent in all great works of art and when a painting is endowed with a myriad of influences/meanings it's something that can be felt, in addition to being seen, by the viewer and becomes a timeless fourth dimensional creation.”

In 2011, Kushner held a successful exhibition in Los Angeles, featuring a star-studded guest-list that caught the attention of mainstream media. Attended by some famous admirers, the exhibition ultimately became a surreal experience for the artist, and one that he is quite rightly proud of.

“'Les Crimes De L'Amour' in Los Angeles was my first solo exhibition and was the culmination of the previous 5-7 years of my body of work up to that point. The show was titled after a play by de Sade, 'The Crimes of Love', as reflective of the theme of the show as well as blood being a lurid medium of expression, crimes against convention. As well as being evocative of the passion involved with working with such a personal medium and the often-times subconscious splashing onto the composition in the fervor of creation.
The exhibition was sponsored by Monster Energy Drink, Jade Absinthe, Evil Wine and Lip Service and DJed by Twiggy Ramirez. Manson himself also attended and bought a painting and gave the world première public performance of the then unreleased album 'Born Villain'. Having your heroes attend and actually contribute to something YOU create, after admiring their art for your entire life is something beyond surreal in itself. The exhibition ranked as #4 on LA Weekly's 'Top 10 Badass Events of 2011'.”

Kushner also took part in the group exhibition 'The Stars Are Maligned' with Anthony Silva and magician Rudy Coby. A show in which each artist incorporated the other into their work, solidifying their long-standing mutual relationships.

“The three of us have all been best friends for years and have been working on artistic collaborations for just as long so having a collaborative public show was the next logical union. Anthony is a photographer and videographer, Rudy is a magician so the entire physical world is his art medium and my works are more transitional painting/fine art so each of us represented our own respective creative mediums and came together in one unified show. Anthony made a short film of my work which was projected during my solo show and took still shots of my painting process which he exhibited during the show. I had a painting of Rudy Coby which was in the show as well, and Rudy was responsible for all of us coming together. Each third of us represented the other two with the art we presented at the show which is what we've been doing for each other for the past several years.”

Recently, Kushner's painting 'Maldoror' has also featured on the sleeve of the Russian reprint of the surrealist novel 'Les Chants de Maldoror' by Isidore Lucien Ducasse.

“It was always a dream of mine to one day have my painting of Maldoror as the cover piece to an edition of the novel as it's always been an important book to me. I have an octopus tattoo which is an homage to one of the central verses within it. The particular edition was an artist collective illustration of the novel which a bilingual friend of mine was kind enough to mediate and put me in contact with the publishing company for contributing my work to the cover. I also designed the front, back, spine, and painted the title of the novel in Cyrillic with my blood.”

In addition to his artistic pursuits, Kushner also runs the expansive website The Nachtkabarett, which explores the inspirations and influences behind Marilyn Manson in great depth. He reflects on his motivation for starting the site and what are your plans for its future.

“Nachtkabarett first began as ten years ago as the paths and studies I was undertaking in the occult began to overlap with my interest in Marilyn Manson. Music is never just music, it always acts a gateway for me to new concepts and ideas. Manson had always been a catalyst for new thought forms and concepts which he evoked within his art. As I had begun to study and pursue the occult more in-depth I had begun to discover, not intentionally at first, the same symbolism and imagery which for example would appear with Manson's album artwork. Eventually the findings became more and more expansive until the next logical conclusion would be to put these findings into a website. But to do so scholarly, with citations, as critical research out of respect for Manson as well as the subject manner. Many of the correlations about Manson's imagery which have in later years become "common knowledge" and have found their way into Wikipedia without the courtesy of a link credit, sometimes outright copy+paste from my site, were original findings that were first published on my site. I hope to one day be able to publish this as a book, with new writings and findings I have which have never been published but there are several hangups currently making doing so impractical at least at the present moment that I hope will eventually present solutions to make publication possible.”

The Essentials: 

Intravenous Magazine: How do you typically approach creating a new piece and do you have any particular creative rituals? 
Nick Kushner: I think it's important to make every day and every action something magical and ritualistic, rather than make the distinction between something that's meaningful and that the remainder of time is spent immersed in the trivial. All of the artists, writers and performers whom I admire make no distinction between their art and their day to day lives which is something important in order to stay immersed within a creative mindset, even if the task at hand is something that isn't necessarily integral to one's art. To maintain a creative atmosphere and workspace it is important to surround yourself with images and themes which are inspiring and augment/prolong the creative state whether it's past works of your own or else objects and images of works that remind you of your base creative self and what inspired you from the beginning. Each new piece is its own entity and to immerse yourself in imagery and surroundings that are evocative of what inspired the piece is something integral and ritualistic in it of itself. 

IVM: What tools and techniques do you use day to day? 
NK: I approach my work similar to water color treatment of the medium. I also use predominantly only fine brushes, even for large broad areas as this is most conducive to the blending techniques I use as well as conducive to the intricacy of detail. 

IVM: Which artists have been your biggest inspirations and/or continue to inspire you and why? 
NK: Some of my biggest inspirations are actual artists / fine artist but are performers, authors and philosophers. I think it's important to surround yourself with the words and teachings of those who are smarter than you, because that's exactly what they all did in order to get to the state they've become. Salvador Dali, Timothy Leary, Marilyn Manson, Hans Bellmer are some of my biggest inspirations and heroes, as each as diverse as they maybe all have the common theme of not being afraid to compromise their art or beliefs based on the societies they lived in, or limited themselves to accommodate their audiences. Each chose to live their respective art and philosophies and in turn adopted the same alchemical pursuit of transformation through a dynamic life path of full immersion within their works.

IVM: Which piece of art did you find the most challenging to create and why? 
NK: Each piece presents their own challenges as each piece represents an externalization or a wordless concept or emotion which is made into something finite to overcome that aspect of oneself. My self portrait 'The Immoralist' was challenging in its own rite in that at the time it was on the cusp of needing to undergo a new stage of evolution within myself, something which is continually important to undergo as to not encounter stagnation. Approaching the creation of the piece as something more ritualistic I painted an idealized portrait of myself in order that through its creation I might grow and become that change. Similar to a visualization or attainment chart that one wishes to project themselves into. Some pieces are done out of the simple joy of inspiration, other pieces are done with very specific intent and have many levels of psychic energy endowed into them.

IVM: Which piece or pieces are you most proud of and why? 
NK: A few new pieces of mine which I'm looking forward to unveiling at my next exhibition are some which I'm currently most proud of that have probably the most intricate esoteric as well as technical detail I've portrayed to date. In terms of pieces which are currently public I would say I'm most proud of 'Maldoror'. Both as subject matter reference as well as it being one of the first pieces which I've approached as an all-blood medium portrayal.

IVM: Do you have any exhibitions/art book plans for the future? 
NK: Currently I am working with 212 Productions to produce a Mexico City exhibition and I am also in discussion about a couple prospective Los Angeles exhibitions now that I've made the city my new home.  

IVM: If someone is new to you and your art, how do you feel they typically react to it?
NK: I've had few people react negatively to my work. Some people have presumed that my use of blood is for incendiary value alone until they bother speaking with me and nine times out of ten they quickly change their attitude about it. Regardless of what medium a work of art is painted in it's the content and forethought motivation behind the piece which is most important and that should be able to stand alone regardless of what medium a work is created in. Most reactions to my work has been an increased interest after learning what medium the work is created in.

To see more of Nick Kushner's work and to keep up-to-date with his exhibitions and publications, please visit his official website The Third Angel Sounded. To read Kushner's writing, please visit The Nachtkabarett.

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