Meet the Artist

Kalup Linzy

By

Kalup Linzy
"Introducing Kaye (Romantic Loner) Kaye and Kalup," by Kalup Linzy

The video and performance artist Kalup Linzy has garnered widespread attention for his work that fuses the genres of soul singing, soap opera, music videos, and drag into art that critiques notions of gender, race, and the culture of the art world—while still remaining musically catchy enough to played on a national radio station. Having made headlines thanks to his collaboration with the actor and artist James Franco, during which the two appeared on General Hospital together, Linzy employs the levers of pop culture in a way that Andy Warhol would appreciate. It makes sense, therefore, that his work appears in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's current Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years show. We spoke to Linzy about his work, his indebtedness to Warhol, and how grad school changed his life.

This fall your work is featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's sweeping exhibition Regarding Warhol: Sixty Artists, Fifty Years. Do you consider Andy Warhol to be a major influence on your work? If so, how does he inform you as an artist?

I do consider him a major influence. There are others, but in relation to Warhol, I was told to check out his film work when I was doing a residency at Skowhegan back in 2002. In the beginning, I only knew the Campbell's Soup can work. I'm sure his film work might have been mentioned, but I hadn't seen any of it. When I began, artists like Whitfield Lovell, Fred Wilson, Geoff Hendricks, and others mentioned Warhol. When I returned by to University of South Florida, I asked my mentor, Diane Elmeer, about his films, and she knew all about him. At the time, she was one of the instructors pushing to have more contemporary art taught in our program. At the time, the majority of the course work was traditional. Both are needed.

You're known for performing as a wide variety of different characters—young and old, male and female—in your videos, which combine the conventions of music videos and soap operas with an added emphasis on queer and black identity. Where does the inspiration for each of these personas come from, and how do you connect with each of the roles?

I am inspired by many people, from Eddie Murphy to Paul Gauguin. I grew up knowing and watching Murphy, but learned about Gauguin in college. I will give a few examples of where my characters come from. Taiwan arose from my feelings about my own sexuality and the conflicts I have. He was a soul singer referencing Billie Holiday, Gauguin, and Sylvester in the beginning to give him a voice. Katonya was intended to explore the anxieties I was feeling as an artist. KK Queen was a take on my nickname, "KK," but also to reference the "queen" in pop and subcultures. She runs a music and art survey company. But the overall tone is of a satire that pays tribute to soap opera, which has also had a major influence on my work.

You recently killed off a longtime persona, Taiwan, that you had used in your collaborations with the actor and artist James Franco, and for your recent "Warhol Cabaret" performance at the Met you appeared as your newest character, the Artist Kaye. Can you talk a little about the demise of Taiwan and the birth of Kaye?

Yes. I actually was already planning to phase Taiwan out when James Franco and I started collaborating. I discussed Taiwan with the General Hospital team, but when I was given the opportunity to name my character on the show I told Franco it would be great if Kalup or Linzy was in it. They came up with Kalup Ishmael, who was a version of me and my work combined. I felt if I appeared as one of the previous characters I could not be in and out of drag, because that meant I would have to be Kalup Linzy. I didn't want to play myself—I wanted a character on the show too. Kaye was born after I decided to kill off Taiwan. I was feeling Taiwan was in my way, blocking me from getting to the next place or space I needed to be in. Last October, a collector of mine, George Haddad, commissioned me to create a music video for his band. During the shoot, I loved the look and that's when Kaye really began to emerge. Also, Taiwan wasn't specific to my collaboration with James Franco. I just sent Franco five tracks earlier this week to use in his new film Francophrenia.

Your 2006 video Conversations wit de Churen V: As da Art World Might Turn, which lampoons both the serial, daytime soap-opera as well as the art world, is on display in the Met show alongside Warhol's Lonesome Cowboys, itself a parody of the Western movie genre. How important is satire for you as a tool in your art, and what do you use it to accomplish?

I love satire, and I love what I satirize. Yes, satire can be used as political propaganda to demoralize and dehumanize, but that's not what I'm doing. I am role-playing, satirizing, and paying tribute at the same time to the genre of the soap opera. I also want to keep people coming back to my work. Those who enjoy it and follow it know there is always another episode around the corner.

The atmosphere of your videos has a strong low-tech, DIY production quality. What made you decide to stay with this aesthetic as opposed to using the more polished appearance of contemporary soap operas?

I always felt my video work should feel like my hands are on it. Like a painting or sculpture. Not being too polished gives it that feel and doesn't erase the traces of my process.

You recently joined the Elizabeth Dee Gallery in New York. What projects do you have in the works for the coming year?

I have consigned editions of my previous video work to her. For the project in the spring, we plan to install Taiwan's Memorial, which was presented at the Whitney Art Party with Kreemart, and show a version of the film Introducing the character of Kaye (Romantic Loner). All the work hasn't been finalized, but the show will feature Taiwan and Kaye.

What made you want to become an artist?

I am an artist. There wasn't a moment I wanted to become one, but I did decide to pursue art as a career when I was in the college, way back in the nineties.

What was your first significant art experience?

Grad school.

How has your work changed over the course of your career?

I keep experimenting and I am always open to experimenting. I feel like I am more seasoned and a little more confident than I use to be.

How do you get your creative juices flowing?

Music, movies, exercising.

Where do you look for inspiration?

Music, films, television, history, and other places.

What do you hope other people get out of your art?

A connection to the heart and spirit of it.

What's your favorite thing you've ever made?

I love All My Churen, Keys to Our Heart, and Melody Set Me Free.

What would you be doing if you weren't an artist?

Writing for TV and films.

What is indispensable in your studio?

My camera and my laptop.

What do you collect yourself?

People to appear in my work. Other than that, I don't have the mindset to collect art. I have too much of my own that I would like to find another place for.

Is there any other art-historical period that you wish you could have lived through?

In most I would been a slave. I love what came out of the Italian Renaissance and Romanticism.

Do you think that it's okay to break the law for the sake of art?

I wouldn't. But when I feel strongly or passionate about something... I would more likely go there than not.

Who is your favorite living artist?

I have a few. Cindy Sherman, Lyle Ashton Harris, John Waters....

Who is your favorite historical artist?

I love historical paintings in general.

What is your favorite place to see art?

In a museum.

What artwork or art destination would you most like to see?

I do want to see Edvard Munch's Scream at MoMA.

What book has had the biggest impact on your work, or life?

The Black Male Body.

What artist or artists do you think should enjoy greater recognition?

Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz.

If you could get any artist to do your portrait, who would you choose?

Chuck Close.

What is an artist's responsibility in society?

Staying true to your vision even if others are resistant. We reflect things back that are wanted and unwanted

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