Tim Biskup’s dense, character-driven style is inspired by mid-century modern design infused with a healthy dose of punk rock energy. Since the mid-eighties, he has produced a constant stream of limited edition prints, clothing, toys, books and other publications. Long recognised for his complex colour and design theories and a decidedly populist aesthetic, Biskup has amassed a cadre of loyal fans and collectors. Recent years have seen the artist tend towards more complex, personal and conceptual work while maintaining a commitment to visual experimentation. His highly sought after original paintings and sculptures have been shown worldwide, including galleries in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Kyoto and Melbourne.

Matt Edwards talks to the Southern California-based artist about his most recent exhibition, The Artist in You, in which Biskup interrogates his own role in the esoteric world of fine art.

How do you go about creating your art? Walk us through your process…

I sketch a lot. That’s usually how projects start. When I get a vague idea of where I’m going with a particular show that’s when I usually come up with a title. After I have a title I start trying to make finished paintings. Lately I’ve been in this mode of working on paintings until I feel like they are about halfway done. Then I prop them against the wall in a place where I’ll see them a lot. I’ll just let them sink in and at some point I’ll have an idea about where to go with them. I usually take two or three passes at paintings.

Your earlier work from exhibitions like Vapor and Ether seemed to focus more on emotions and creating pieces that are aesthetically pleasing. How has your direction changed for your latest body of work?

Vapor and Ether were almost traumatic in their intensity for me. I was in a very difficult place in my life when I made those shows. It was like bleeding. It was so cathartic to paint like that. I shed a lot of bad energy when I came out of that period. People kept asking me if I was okay and all I could say was that all of those feelings were on the wall now and no longer inside of me. That’s not completely true, but the process was part of me getting better, not just me showing how fucked up I am.

The work you did for The Artist in You seems to question the art world as a whole. Is this a response to critics, museums and mainstream galleries not including ‘low brow’ as a legitimate art movement or simply questioning your own position as an artist in the art world?

I felt like an outsider and that’s definitely where it started. I wrote a section called “Sour Grapes For Rotting Vegetables” very early on in the process and it was just a tirade about the art world intelligencia. It was so brutal and raw. A lot of people responded to it and seemed to feel like that was the key statement of the show, but if you read the whole book there is a revelation where I actually accept that I am more to blame for those feelings and I am actually one of those intellectuals that I was railing against.

I still feel like there are some major prejudices against art that declares itself as visual art and that craftsmanship is still frowned upon by some

, but I am comfortable discussing it with people that feel that way rather than just writing them off as assholes. I learned a lot about how to talk about art in a language that crosses over from that kind of ‘artspeak’ and into layman’s English. I think the same thing is happening with my visual style. I am speaking two different languages at the same time and trying to find a hybrid that is both.

It seems as if there are a large number of successful artists creating work that doesn’t quite fit into the current fine art world and they are all being thrown together into this loose group under the term ‘low brow’ art. Do you believe the pigeon-holing of artists into ‘movements’ is another device that keeps the art intellectuals in control of what is deemed important?

I think it’s important to take responsibility for our places in the art world. I am interested in what we can do to make our work unavoidable to the establishment. Part of that is as simple as making it as good as we possibly can. I also think it’s important that we mature and welcome criticism. There are very few critical voices in the Lowbrow world, but there is a ton of really bad art out there. I hate to say that, because it is fun to have our little love-fest, but I want to see some bad reviews in Juxtapoz and Beautiful Decay. Even if I get called out and they hate my new show, I think it would be good for us overall to take some punches. Anything is better than being ignored and that is what is happening now, for the most part.

Do you feel that in the current fine art world the difference between a work being important or not is based on the quantity of work sold by the artist and the amount each work is sold for?

Is justification of importance directly in relation to price tag?

It’s all about consensus, really. An artist’s work becomes important and valuable because respected collectors, curators, gallerists and critics agree that they are. It is a carefully maintained system that works to distract people from knowing what they like just by looking at it. I can’t say I’m against that system because without it people would not spend the kind of money that they do on art.

I mean, if people were just interested in having good art on their walls they would think for themselves and buy what they like. Lots of people would lose their jobs and we artists would go back to being craftsmen rather than alchemists.

I have always related your work to artists like Gary Baseman and Jeff Soto. Are there any of your contemporaries that have influenced your work, or visa-versa?

I love those guys and I think we came from similar places. Same with Ryden, Camille Rose Garcia, Shag… We all love our art to be pretty and entertaining. I’m constantly inspired by my friends’ work, even if it’s how they market themselves or what kind of furniture they have in their houses.

We tend to feed off of each other’s ideas in a very friendly way.

Lately James Jean has been really inspiring, not just because of what his work looks like, but because he is changing and evolving with such force. He lets his work go wherever it needs to go. Of course Murakami is very inspiring because he thinks so big and has such a great grasp on his strategies.

What does the average day include for Tim Biskup?

It’s pretty chaotic, frankly. I work when I can. I make breakfast, take the kid to school when she stays with me, which is a few days a week, answer emails, sketch, watch a little TV, run a few miles, pick the kid up, make dinner, play ‘go fish’ or something like that, write a little, read, put the kid to sleep and then stay up way too late painting or answering more emails or working on the computer. When my little girl’s not with me I usually go out with friends, drink a bit, DJ at a club, etc. I’m such a total ADD case. I need to have room for chaos in my life. Thank God for my assistants. They keep me in business.

Can we expect more toys in the future, or is this new more surreal body of work less likely to make the jump to figures?

More toys, for sure. Not sure if the conceptual stuff will translate into toys, but I still like making monsters and pretty things.

What do you think is more important: being popular in the public eye or being considered important by intellectuals of the art world? 

Something in the middle would be nice. Mostly, I just want to be relevant to as many people as possible. It makes for better conversations.

Interview by Matt Edwards

Read the rest of issue 13

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