How did you get into drawing professionally?
I didn't study art or go to art school. I learned pretty much on my own and I was pretty much in the dark. I didn't have friends showing me what to do or someone to understudy at all. So it was trial and error basically. I have nothing against going to art school whatsoever. My lack of that is probably still evident, but mine is a kind of style or technique that doesn't need to play off a great skill or virtuosity. I try to make do with whatever strengths I may have, which isn't always drawing or painting. It's a style that derives from comic books, cartoons, or drawing from wherever you want to start or end. I don't want to be downplaying drawing, because I really can't get by without it, but my school was economics and my interest was literature more than visual arts, and that's still the case.
When did you begin to consider yourself an artist?
From the start, going back to 78 or 77, I considered it art as much as anything else. The distinctions between museums, galleries, books, fanzines, high, low, comics, cartoons, commercial art, fine art are not there for any useful purposes, especially when they're enforced for marking one's turf or keeping people out. Entry from above, below, the sides, whatever. My art found its own place. It wasn't something I was pushing for one way or another, because I'm not a great promoter or self-publicist. Beyond making art I've always just kinda put my hands up and let things fall where they are. Let the marketplace, the viewers, or the institutions of art decide.
Do you feel like when you started combining text and drawings you were doing something quite unique?
It wasn't in the character of the times as far as making art goes, but also no. It's not something that I can take credit for much at all because there were precedents: for me, Goya, or Blake, and editorial political cartoons. When I first started, art was not welcoming to the literary at all in general, but that's a sweeping statement that I'm making knowing well that there are exceptions, not just the people I mentioned.
Do you mostly just work on pieces for exhibitions, or do you ever draw for the sake of drawing?
Well there isn't a separation between the two. Except for if there's a show that is approaching. Then I'll have to finish works where otherwise I just kinda go onto something else. Finishing the work is not my favourite part of it. Not that I dislike drawing, but when you already have something thought out and it's just a matter of finishing it, it's not my favourite part. Other than that, I just draw anything and whatever I have finished will be for the show, unless there's some kind of concept involved in it.
Do you still produce drawings as frequently as you used to?
Lately I get interrupted a lot with different things. I'm trying to catch up. Also they take a lot longer than they used to because they're fairly complicated. Probably too much so. For a number of reasons. It's kind of a shame when drawings and paintings are laboured incessantly. Some of the collages I do especially are just too much. Maybe it's something I should remedy.
Where's your favourite place that your art has taken you to?
LA is not bad. There's a lot of things that aren't ideal about it. Every place has its advantages and disadvantages. I don't know if there's a perfect place. One thing about LA, and New York, and the US in general is it just becomes so much of a police state. It kinda creeps up upon people and they don't recognise it, but if you go other places it becomes more obvious in comparison. I just like to be able to work first of all. Beyond that, I dunno. There's a lot of places I haven't been.
When you exhibit how often do you end up travelling to the place?
It depends on if it's a solo show or a group show. It's fine to go places, but it's not usually called for or expected. My work travels especially well. Nowadays some art you can send anywhere. There are, I imagine, cost considerations, but it's not so much a problem with me. I'd just as well have my art work unframed and do things at the last minute because my priorities aren't always to finish.
Do you feel like there's different attitudes towards your work internationally?
I haven't noticed that to any degree where I could say that there's a major difference. The art world is very international and globalised. Wherever you have the show that's how it's set up. I'm sure there's exceptions, but I tend to go to some of the same places and not much else, like New York, London, or Berlin. It's more of a gallery situation. It's not exactly to say that those are the hot-spots, like in radio where your single takes off some place and you wanna get there and hit it and then it's a local hit and it may spread from there or whatever. Those places are very concentrated in the art world as hubs or centres. If you had a show in most larger cities, Glasgow for instance, you might see a lot of the same people that you would in London, or Germany, or France. It's not much of a local thing; it's much the same. Even with artists to a large extent: they tend to be a socialised into the art world by means of the same schools or equivalents. Teaching can be pretty much equivalent in one place or another. One's local knowledge or culture or habitat that one grew up with, if anything, isn't that important. This isn't meaning to be negative or cynical about it or exposing it, but everywhere where you're likely to have a museum that shows art that is international people are likely to be pretty much the same.
Do the images you've made that have become iconic, like Black Flag covers, or the Sonic Youth cover, feel exceptional to you personally?
I think it had a lot to do, definitely much more to do, with the bands than the cover art, because Black Flag and Sonic Youth were/are great bands. A lot of people either know me from that stuff exclusively, or that was where they saw my art first. I still do covers if I'm asked and can get around to it at all, but they're likely to be for more obscure garage bands like the kid next door or something. I appreciate it. It's humbling for sure, but those drawings weren't done for record covers. There's no reason why that should be the form to put it in. Ordinarily you'd have an art director and you'd try to configure whatever you're doing to their expectations or their ideas. Back then you didn't have, like major labels do, an art department: freelance, or commercial, or salaried. Usually anyone around could be good enough for you. Someone from school or whoever. It's just as likely that somebody in the band could do them. That's the context of how those were done. I was making art and I was there. It's like division of labour. I can't play guitar or drums or anything. Back then, especially with the art, you'd just put something together. That's not a bad way to do things either.
Would it be right to say you don't draw things for a specific purpose? Like you just draw all day and then somebody asks you if they can have something and you give them something?
Well in those cases I was likely to have a number of drawings that they could choose from. It's definitely not the case that I ever had the power to decide what was going to go on any of the records, or flyers probably for that matter. I don't have anything against being commissioned or commercial art as some kind of moral issue or criminal act. But it's something that doesn't work with me. It's something that I don't really have any control over. If I was to dig ditches or do office work or anything, I could follow orders no problem, but with my art, when people get between what I'm doing and what I should be doing it's just contrary to the reason I do it in the first place. The few times it's been the case that I've been cajoled or coerced into doing someone else's idea, I don't think anyone has been happy with the result. There's plenty of illustrators or commercial artists you could go to to do that sort of thing. It's not because I see myself as above it or like it's beneath my station. It's more like what happens is I try to meet the expectations of the boss, the patron, just out of good manners, and I try too hard and it just freezes up into something that's too stiff and awkward. Just very forced, because it is forced in that circumstances. When I make art I don't think of who it's being pitched for or the audience at all. It's a psychological state of mind. It's not something I have any conscious power over. Really it shouldn't be much of an issue anyway, and it usually isn't because I'm rarely in that situation. There's no reason why I should be.