October 17, 2013
BY SIMONE BROWN – Sun-Gazette Correspondent, Williamsport Sun-Gazette
World-renowned artist and composer Mark Kostabi is displaying his work for the rest of October in Williamsport, PA, at 33 East, 33 E. Third St. The event is presented by the Converge Gallery, who helped hang 11 original canvases created by Kostabi.
From Rome, Kostabi answered questions via email regarding his vast body of work, major accomplishments and personal feelings about art.
SIMONE BROWN: Initially, what attracted you to begin creating art?
MARK KOSTABI: I was in the daze of my early childhood and the pencil and paper appeared. I had a connection. I drew well and my shapers encouraged me: my parents, friends, fellow students and elementary school teachers.
SB: What medium of art did you first begin in?
MK: Crying, then laughing, as a baby conceptual artist. Staining my diapers was my first painting. Eventually I found a pencil in my hand and I started drawing monsters. Then robots, then computers much like today.
SB: How did your art begin to take off internationally?
MK: Internationally it started in 1984 when promoters and trend searchers from Japan were signing up any hot young artist in New York. I fit that description.
By the early ’90s I’d done at least 50 one-person shows in Japan. In the mid-’80s museums from Spain and other European countries mounted East Village group shows. I was part of that scene. Then in the early ’90s Italy began embracing my work intensely and continues to this day. Now that I live there around eight months every year my relationship with Italy is much more intense.
SB: In 1982,what prompted your move to New York City? Were you familiar with the art scene there prior to moving?
MK: Yes. It was common knowledge for us art students in California that New York was the place to be. I was very ambitious, probably because of a combination of the encouragement from my Estonian immigrant parents who wanted the American dream for their kids and also because I felt like an outsider in elementary school.
My ambition caused me to move to New York as soon as possible. I wanted fame and fortune.
SB: How did you get started creating the album covers for bands like Guns ‘N Roses?
MK: I [had] already made the painting that my brother Paul Kostabi named “Use Your Illusion.” In 1990 I showed it in Beverly Hills at the Hanson Gallery. Axl Rose walked in and bought it. Them he asked me if he could use it on the Guns ‘N Roses album cover and if he could use my title because he was writing songs about illusions. I negotiated through his manager and we made a nice deal.
SB: Have you created album covers or art for other musicians?
MK: I’ve done covers for The Ramones, Youth Gone Mad, Psychotica, Glint, Jimmy Scott, my own albums and several others.
SB: What prompted you to found Kostabi World?
MK: I was already getting a lot of press as “the artist who doesn’t paint his own paintings” in 1986 and 1987.
My studio was becoming a bit of a circus, or theme park, and I wanted to capitalize on the momentum, so I thought I should name my studio to get more press. Inspired by Disney, the options were Kostabi Land and Kostabi World. World sounded bigger so I went with Kostabi World.
SB: What type of advice do you offer to aspiring artists in your column, “Ask Mark Kostabi” on Artnet.com?
MK: Well, to be fair to me, it’s better to go to the archives at artnet.com and actually look. But to give a general guideline, the six rules on how to become a rich and famous artist are: 1. Make great art, 2. Live in New York, 3. Circulate. 4. Be professional. 5. Have a story and 6. Get other people to work for you. I have two new rules: 7. Believe in yourself and 8. Don’t forget your friends.
SB: From media art to music, what inspired you to begin performing music as a soloist?
MK: My mother was a piano teacher. I’ve played piano since around age 12. I started composing because it was easier for me and more fun than reading music and playing other people’s stuff. To this day I mostly play my own compositions, except for a few songs by people who I collaborate with, like Ornette Coleman and Tony Esposito.
SB: How would you describe the musical compositions that you have put out?
MK: Hauntingly melodic. Lots of minor chords and frequent minor ninth chords. I don’t want to sound like Kanye West and say I’m a genius or anything, but I’m one of the relatively few musicians in the world who can write an original melody.
There are millions of technically better musicians than me. I’m actually determined to become technically impressive as a pianist but at the moment I’m no Pollini or Horowitz. I can however write original melodies and it’s easy for me. Sometimes my technical shortcomings actually lead to original melodies. Edward Hopper was not considered a great painter technically. He was stiff and borderline naive.
But he was a great artist. Who knows; had he been a better technician, like Rubens or Ingres for example, would he have been as good an artist? My motto is: flaws are opportunities.
SB: Through all the numerous pieces of art you have created over the years, do you have a personal favorite piece?
MK: I don’t love them all but I love at least 19,000 of my 20,000 paintings. No favorite, but the 1979 portrait I did of my dad is the one I’d be least likely to part with. Unless it was to a major museum who promised to keep it on prominent display.
But many other paintings of mine are more historically important in the art discourse like my paintings in the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim. The portrait of my dad has personal value. It’s also “technically impressive.”
SB: For many people, art is a personal feeling that has different meanings to each individual. For someone with as vast and as great a portfolio as you, what does art mean to you?
MK: Art means freedom, happiness, fun, adventure and a pretty good way to impress girls. But I’m banking on my music career to get the endless stream of beautiful girlfriends.
SB: How do you think art has transformed since you first began getting involved in the scene?
MK: It’s harder to find what you truly love. In the 80s it was easy. It was easy to know everyone in the art world. To know every gallery and to list which artists showed in every gallery. That’s totally impossible now. Unless you sell ads for an art magazine and it’s your job to know.
Now the art world is so vast it’s like going to a mega flea market hunting for that special gem. It’s hard to focus, but it’s still great. I love Chelsea. I can afford to live basically anywhere in the world and I chose to have my studio in Chelsea and my apartment in Chelsea (and another one in Rome, Italy.) I love being surrounded by all the art galleries and the “artivity.”
SB: Lastly, what do you feel is in store for you personally? Will you continue to show and create art?
MK: Clearly yes. It’s what I love doing. Plus it pays the bills. I love the business side of art too. It’s like a science. Koons and Hirst are the masters of the business side but I am definitely arriving in my own way.
Actually I got all that press first for openly sharing that I have a lot of assistants executing my work. Then they got the same press, along with Murakami. Andy Warhol and Robert Longo did it before me. I was third. That makes me no better though. Koons and Hirst are way more successful with money and fame than me. But I draw better.