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Interview

Interview met Lee Ranaldo (2)

Interview (Engels) met Lee Ranaldo (1956), New York, VS, June 18

Interview naar aanleiding van het tijdschrift d’ACADEMIE 5
= Lee’s visie op kunsteducatie
(ter bevordering van het Deeltijds Kunstonderwijs – verkrijgbaar in alle academies voor beeldende kunst in Vlaanderen)



A
brief introduction to the New York artist, Lee Ranaldo:
An
art student back in 1976, became a member of the legendary no wave/noise band
Sonic Youth in 1981. He played the guitar. Together with Thurston Moore, Kim
Gordon and Steve Shelley he traveled around for thirty years. They conquered
the world with their concerts, without making compromises. Their creative and
challenging music inspired a whole new generation of musicians.
HILDE: Since
the beginning ‘images’ have always been very important for your music (or the
music of Sonic Youth) – take the album cover artwork for example. If one would
look closer into the album covers of the Sonic Youth back catalogue, one could
find a lot of important artists: Gerhard Richter (Daydream Nation), Raymond Pettibon
(Goo), Richard Prince (Sonic Nurse), Jeff Wall (The destroyed Room) and Mike
Kelley (Dirty). What was the relation between the images and the music?
LEE: We always wanted to find a
visual corollary of the music. We didn’t want to be simple and put our faces on
the cover, as is the norm. We thought that space – a 12” square image, back in
those days, which was substantial – could be used more interestingly. Album
covers through the years have always sought a relationship with the music
within. As our influences were often from other genres outside music –
especially visual art – so that’s where our eyes looked for inspiration.
The
mighty Sonic Youth broke up, does that mean you have more time for your visual
art? Because you also tour with your band Lee Ranaldo and the Dust. And what is
the link between your music and visual art now?
LEE: I’ve always kept up a bit of
visual activity, but in the last decade I’ve tried to devote more time to it. I
really do love making images. Lately I’ve found a couple subjects – records and
roads – that have intrigued me consistently enough that I’ve been a little more
active in pursuing them. My other visual outlet is Instagram – it’s the one
social media form that has really grabbed me. I’m often obsessing over little
60-sec films for my feed!
Art,
music and literature were around since you were a boy. Was culture in general a
wandering spirit in the house then?  Were
your parents creative in some sort of way? Did you go to museums with your
parents?
LEE: Aside from
records of all sorts that were around the house – Italian songs, big band,
later pop and rock music – there was very little in the way of culture in my
upbringing in regards to visual art or literature. My mom played classical
piano, so there was always a piano and someone making music in the house. She
was also a seamstress and there is a definite creative process there as well. I
learned how to sew at an early age.
In
Belgium, from 6 years on, children can go to ’the part-time art school’. It
means: every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday, they can follow art classes.
Almost every village offers a wide variety of educational possibilities in
visual art, music, theater, …  It’s not a
private initiative, it’s covered by the government. Have the kids in the USA
(or New York) the same amount of possibilities?
LEE: Yes we have after-school art
classes and weekend classes and things like that in the US too! I dabbled in
those classes but didn’t really get serious about working in visual art until I
went to University and saw other students devoting their time to it.
In
Belgium, a 16 year old can go to the ‘high school art school’, or he/she can
choose a regular high school education and choose for part-time classes in the
evening art school. (about twelve hours a week)
Is
that comparable to New York?
LEE: Well, for instance, our younger
son, who is 16 and a junior in high school, attends a specialized high school
for music and art in New York City – once known as the “Fame” school (the
school the movie is based on), it’s a place where children get both a
traditional high school education and also study either visual arts, music,
drama, theatre, etc. A very special environment for some kids!
The
majority here chooses to go to Art Academy once they’re 18, where they choose the
‘free arts’. Afterwards, after four years of study, when they have their
degree. 70% of the students are picking up a one year education ’teaching in
arts’. It’s quite a heavy program. What about art students in New York? What
are their possibilities? Are they as the cliché says: most become waiters and
waitresses?
LEE: Yes, haha, most become waiters
or something like that, to earn money while pursuing their craft. That’s true
for any cultural workers-to-be – I guess you can train to teach art and then
teach right out of school, but for those wanting to MAKE art – literature,
cinema, whatever – it’s normal to do some other work to support oneself. But
these days art schools are churning out artists at a phenomenal rate –
“professionally trained” artists by the thousands, who are all trying to make
their way in the world, and get someone to notice their work.





Since
your 20-ties, you were making drawings of the passing landscapes, on the
dashboard of a friend’s van. This later became your well-known Lost Highway series. Do you have a main
goal, a reason (big or small) for drawing these landscapes? Do you want to tell
a story or pass along a message? Because they stay, till today, an inexhaustible
inspiration source.
LEE: I’m looking for some basic,
inherent forms and also looking for a reason to put marks on papers. It’s as
simple as that. For many years I kept written journals on the road, and some of
these writings were turned into books along the way. These days I’m more
keeping a visual journal of the many highways I find myself on. There is a zen
quality to the work – the road is moving, changing – always different yet
always the same. I’m hoping the forms I see in the landscape can be translated
into something visceral on the page. It keeps me engaged on the many long
drives that are part of every musician’s life. And the road imagery – in
stories and song – is so full of metaphor.
How
does your white sheet come alive? You compared it with a free music concert, as
pure improvisatory creations. I think it’s pure concentration…
LEE: The drawings usually start with
a few quick gestures. In the best moments I am keyed up like an athlete before
a race, focused and able in 10 or 20 seconds to catch the structure of the
landscape in front of me, before it shifts. So the drawings usually start with
a burst of energy and fast marking. After that it’s a process of responding to
and refining what’s on the page, and grabbing new information from the
landscape as we round the next turn and it’s shifted in front of us. For awhile
I was trying to make the drawings ‘more precise’ and now I’m trying to make
them sloppier, more messy, to see what might happen.







I
personally really like your relief rolls
of scratched vinyls
… and also your relief constellation drawings you need to print. You must do those in an
atelier. That is a completely different thing – a different kind of  concentration – than your on the road
drawings …
LEE: Working on the drypoint record
prints – collectively called Black Noise
– has been a way for me to keep up a printmaking practice that began in my university
days. I love the process of printmaking so much. To do this work requires
access to an atelier or ‘shop’ with the presses, acid baths, etc. to do this
work. I’ve gone for long periods of time without access to such places, but
I’ve sought them out when I have been able, and have done residences in print
shops in Paris and Nice, France and Halifax, Nova Scotia. Lately I’ve found a
print shop in New York City where I’ve been making my latest prints. The
markings are jagged and gestural, scratched into old vinyl records of varying
sizes, thereby ‘drypoint’ – without need of acid or chemicals to process what
is usually a metal plate in the Intaglio process. I’m making small editions of
these prints, usually no more than 10 in an edition, and experimenting with the
inking process as well.




views museum ’t schippershof , Menen + galerie Jan Dhaese, Gent

From
the calm of a piece of drawing to the noise and restlessness of the guitar and
rock ‘n’ roll, it seems there is a huge gap of dynamics between those two
activities. Also: music, except composing, is a social collaborative given. How
do you feel about this paradox. What is the big difference (if there is one for
you) between a pencil and a guitar?
The
link with music/rock ‘n’ roll is felt everywhere, is that a conscious decision
or can you simply not hide the true nature of the artist?
LEE: Whether is visual realm,
literary, filmic or music, the idea is to access some area of creativity in
one’s self and make it manifest. The sensibility is the same – mine – whether I
have an electric guitar and an amplifier, or a drawing in front of me, whether
a new music ensemble playing my composition or a short film on Instagram, the
sensibility on display is mine. The thought process – the creative process – is
mine.
There
were two parallel exhibitions last winter in Belgium, I went to both of them.
You had a major retrospective in the museum of Menen, curated by Jan van
Woensel, the other show was at the Jan Dhaese gallery in Ghent. The raw noise
and rock ‘n’ roll is reflected in your work … How was it to see forty years of
your own visual art in one exhibition in Menen? 40 years of memories … Did you
see a common thread? A recurring universal theme throughout your work over those
years? And of course, everybody could see you love the guitar. (wink)
LEE: It was great to have both shows
almost simultaneously. One showing the work I’ve been doing over the last year
or so – at Jan Dhaese Galerie – with the records and the roads, and the other
in Menen where I could see for the first time works from many different periods
– stretching back 30 years to my early days working in New York City. It was
very interesting to see all of these things together. I put much more of my
energy over this period into music than I did into visual art, but I still
managed to come up with some things that I was happy to see again, on exhibit.
No
LEE-exhibition without written texts on a mural. Do you see them as something
complementary to the artworks, do they stand alone or as an extra message?
(Social/political for example)
LEE: The texts bind everything
together – they bring the visual art in line with literary tendencies and with
song lyrics and therefore the music activity. I like seeing the words, visuals
and sounds all interacting and informing each other.



Next
to the exhibitions, there was a successful ‘Lee Ranaldo noise event’. You even
organized a ‘musical procession’?
LEE: 
The ‘procession’ was the recreation of a work from 2006 called Shibuya Displacement. A ‘sound walk’
taking the sound environment of one location – in this case the platform sounds
of the Shibuya Prefecture train station in Tokyo, Japan, and transporting it to
a new location. We did march through the streets in Menen and across the border
into France at one point, displacing the local sound environment with a new
one, from another location. A sort of science fiction experiment! It also made
for a nice afternoon parade with a very nice group of people!
Meantime,
at the gallery, we saw work from the last months, with the original title (cough) New works. Some weren’t even dry. Was it another feeling being
surrounded by new work? Did you see your own progression from the last years?
LEE: The new works in the show felt
in some ways quite transitional to me. The roads and records and rock portraits
all came together around the same time, and I’m pushing already further ahead
with all these subjects. I think the evolution over the coming year or two will
be very interesting.
Your
wife, Leah Singer, is also a visual artist, specialised in films. Are you
stimulating each other? Is she your hardest critic?
You
follow the fresh artblood that undoubtedly runs in New York/USA?
LEE: New York is a very creative and
inspiring place to be. There is always some new stimulus. Yes, Leah often sees
my work and offers her opinion first, and of course we continue to work
together on performances as well.
Which
American artists should we discover?
LEE: Haha – you’ll have to find them
for yourself!

Hilde Van Canneyt




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