If you got here because you are looking for an article on the all-time classic by Billy Idol, I must inform you that you are in for a treat. The 80’s badass himself has become a fan of his art too over the years.
To the untrained eye, bold thought-provoking stencil art, a wall surrounding Donald Trump’s Hollywood star or even a life-sized Academy Award sculpture injecting heroin in downtown LA might sound like another act of gracious youth delinquency. Yet, as we begin to unpack the messages imbued in these pieces, the artistic intention behind them, and the man who made them, this turns out to be just unverified innuendo.
In conversation, the Savant genius recalls a previous life. A previous artistic incarnation. On this side of the pond, as a news journalist doing investigative work for newspapers like the Sun and the Daily Mail, some of them undercover.
“I used to uncover stories about people trafficking or, paedophiles on the run. I was in Bosnia and Kosovo. I was in Haiti during the earthquake, Japan…. I have seen the worst of many cities. What I liked about LA is that people move here by choice. People ask me how I categorise myself, I still think of myself as a journalist, it’s just the medium that has changed. I keep my identity a secret because what I do is illegal, but I want the focus to be on the piece and the message of the piece, not about the artist. That is not what I am. It is who I am.”
Over the line, and in perfect Queen’s English, Plastic Jesus narrates his experience during the turn of the century and the switch in the mentality that accompanied it. There were many working in the publishing realm that witnessed companies exploring undesirable new directions. Internet, Reality TV shows, and really, people’s FOMO ended up being the real catalyst for socially and corporate accepted voyeurism. To suffice people’s thirst for more, the news cycle and its rapid evolution shifted from being about what’s happening in the world, to what people are making happening in the world.
“In the early 2000’s news organisations realised that real news does not sell publications. If you put certain celebrities on the covers of magazines, you would actually sell more copies. Reality TV shows started around that time too. It spawned this new type of celebrity. The famous for being famous kind of celebrity.”
There was another novelty that emerged around that time that made possible, for the first time, for readers to voice their opinion on the publisher’s website. Yes, I am talking about the grandiose invention of the 21st century that ‘The comments section’ was, also the unofficial birthplace of one of Plastic Jesus most known trademark phrases: ‘Stop Making Stupid People Famous’.
“There was a piece on the Huffington Post that was critical of mainstream media, including what I would classify as serious media organisations, of becoming more focused on celebrity. Stop making stupid people famous was a comment that wrote on the piece: If you want better media, we should stop making stupid people famous.” – He proceeds – “Having said that, the stencil is not or was ever meant to criticise celebrities who made millions on their status as celebrities, having not done much. It was intended as a criticism of us, as a society, as a culture. I am not a street artist that is against large corporations. I just think that they could be doing more than they are doing right now.”
Original post, here.
With interconnectivity at the palm of our hands these days, a single post can be re-posted, blogged, tweeted a million times. When you make art that satirises our consumerist society, and the short-termism of the next tweet or appearance of your timeline, there’s a sort of double irony about it. Social media has indeed opened us up a whole new level of exposure and direct interaction and communication with all corners of the world. However, in a world that is swimming in content, if you want to make yourself heard you gotta gang up or hang up. Instead of feeding the polarising machine, or referencing a reference of another one’s reference, Plastic Jesus art passes down a message that is open and subjective to personal interpretation. Sometimes you’re going to get it, sometimes you won’t, but isn’t that what great art does? Start a conversation? Humour is the best way to get people to listen to you or perhaps connect with something that deemed as too complicated or far too-uninteresting, such as politics, to generate engagement, both socially and culturally.
“I had death threats. I had marriage proposals too. I get abuse e-mails every week. When you receive an email from the South China Morning Daily News saying that they want to run a story, I must be doing something right as an artist. You can take criticism very personally as an artist. You exposed yourself, and someone is critical of that. It can hurt. Initially, that used to upset me to a certain degree. Now, when I receive e-mails from people with threats and abuse, I actually enjoy them. If I am pissing somebody off because of my opinion or because of what I believe in, then great. I’m doing something right. A lot of these people that throw me criticism or abuse, what they do not realise is that I am British. We do criticism far better than anybody else.”
His unorthodox, and perhaps, most ambitious instalment inspired by Agent Orange himself was the ‘Future internment Camp’ earlier this year. The signs were a cross-state art installation that started via social media and only made possible with the help of street art fans. A total of 60 signs were printed and sent out to ten different cities, one of them making their way all the way to the congressional building in DC. There are some of those at the Smithsonian too.
“I have been planning it for about 4-5 weeks. What’s bizarre about this, I was listening to NPR radio, and they were saying that Donald Trump had declared an immediate ban on all Muslims coming to the US. That was the same weekend that we were putting these signs up.” – Plastic Jesus reflects on the complete coincidence, while, reflecting on reality – “To me, it was surprising that in a short space of 6 to 8 months this is where we have come to. We got to a point where internment camps were not that far away from what’s happening in the country: separating children from their parents in Texas at the border now. That is really where we are. “
When you have the president of the United States getting strategic advice from Kanye West, I think we need to be slightly worried. The multi-hyphenate Rapper was also the grand star of one of his famous yearly Hollywood Boulevard installation. Every year, a few days before Oscars, there’s a handmade statue that goes up on Hollywood Boulevard.
The first sculpture focused on hard drug use in Hollywood. Everybody expects cocaine, but heroine shocked the public, and a life-sized statue of an Academy Award injecting heroin on the Boulevard in broad daylight is a powerful statement, without having to say a word. In the wake of the death of Seamore Hoffman has made only more timely conversation to be held. In the wake of the #metoo movement, this year Harvey Weinstein’s golden statue made headlines across the world. This crescendo of global recognition has also got the attention of the Academy Awards staff too.
Link to the original tweet, here.
“I build this statue, and I put it up on Hollywood Blv. Around 12, a woman arrived in a Land Rover discovery, nice new clean car. I was watching from the other side of the road, and she got out of the car started to look at it. She did not look like a street art fan at all. She walked up to it, reached out of the back and try to un-do a fixing screw that held the statue to the base.”- he pauses – “I jumped out of the car, and I asked what she was doing. She said that she worked for the city and that the statue couldn’t be there. That puzzled me. I know a lot of art dealers and street art fans, and it concerned me who she was. As I tweeted out the picture asking who she was and saying that she tried to take the sculpture, someone DM’d me and said that she works at the Media office at the Academy Awards.”
The artist shared that one-day he wishes for them to commission one of his alternative statues, or they can give him the same amount of money not to be in LA around that time. Either way is fine with him. His latest work of art was perhaps, the opportune commentary into America’s most outdated and problematic Amendment: The right to keep and bear firearms, adopted on December 15, 1791.
“When I do I piece you never know how it’s going to be received. With that one, I was concerned that it wouldn’t be understood. Some people were commenting on social media, and from their comment, they believe they were real. That’s such a comment as to where the Us is right now. That Target could be selling bulletproof vests for kids. There are websites where you can buy them – not target or Macy’s or Walmart yet – but there are websites where you can buy bulletproof vests and backpacks for kids.”
The strength of the gun culture and the division that it causes in society is a thoroughly documented one. Those supporting the NRA and the 2nd amendment will not support any form of background checks or gun control or change, yet this year it has seen some unexpected fight back from its younger generations, there is a slight hope for change.
“I think it is going to be a generational thing. I think that’s the only way of getting around to the pro-gun lobby. If you take their guns tomorrow, there will be a civil war number 2 in the US. If you start to implement laws and checks and regulations, and the whole cultural change of the idea of guns, in my life or the lives of those around me, or even children, but it might save the lives of their grandchildren. We are looking into 100-200 years timescale for this change actually to have any effect.”
We leave it to politicians to reign their organised mass of chaos, but when it comes to art, it sure takes much planning to make things appear random. There will be an exhibition with his work happening soon in LA, and some of his work will be on display at the Smithsonian.
As we part terms, Plastic Jesus shares that he is going to start to plot for next years Academy Award statue soon. Considering the endless string of events that went down this year, good and bad, the most onerous task at hand is definitively deciding what the work is going to be.