Category Interview

‘Baby’s In Black’ – An Interview with Author Arne Bellstorf

Baby's In Black by Arne Bellstorf

Baby’s in Black is a stunning graphic-novel written by the German author and graphic artist Arne Bellstorf. Set against the backdrop of The Beatles early gigs in Hamburg, it tells the tragic true-life story of the romance between the young photographer Astrid Kirchherr and the artist and musician Stuart Sutcliffe. Bellstorf’s book is based on a series of conversations he had with Kirchherr, and the story perfectly captures Kirchherr’s blossoming romance amid the exciting subculture of early 1960’s Hamburg.

It is a story which is told with beautiful restraint and tenderness, and it is easily one of the best graphic-novels that I’ve read in a very long time. I was fascinated to learn more about the book and so I asked Bellstorf a few questions.

Astrid and Stuart from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What are some of the challenges in telling somebody else’s story – particularly one as sensitive as Astrid Kirchherr’s?

Well, it’s a very tragic story, of course, and I normally wouldn’t have wanted to tell a biographical story like that. But after having met Astrid, I recognized that we actually shared a lot and that my approach to tell the story would correspond with her attitude. I was interested in the time, the youth culture in Hamburg and what it was like being young in the early Sixties. Astrid went to the same art school as I did, and I could relate to her life in many ways, despite all the things that were different back then. We both tend to think in pictures, she’s a very visual person, and she basically liked the idea of telling her story in little black and white panels. It was a kind of mutual confidence, I guess. I mean, the character in the book may be still something I invented, and in the end it’s a fictional work. I could only try to capture something of the real Astrid. We talked about what was important to her, aesthetically, and what influenced her – French existentialism, Jean Cocteau, Oscar Wilde, Cool Jazz – and what happened when Rock’n’Roll merged with all these things.

We also spoke about the time she spent with Stuart, the two years until his tragic death, this short but intense relationship, but I wanted to focus on the beginning of it all: Their first encounter, the whole love at first sight thing, the magic physical attraction going on between them. They got engaged after only a month without speaking the same language, and Stuart actually began a new life when he left the Beatles and his family in Liverpool to stay with Astrid in Hamburg. The end of the story is a delicate matter, and we never spoke too much about the time after Stuart’s death. That’s what makes it such an existential tale, it’s absurd ending. You can’t really speak about something that doesn’t make sense. I had to find a way to depict that, and I’m glad that Astrid liked the solution I came up with.

Picture of houses in Hamburg from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

How difficult was it to research? Was it a challenge to recreate 1960’s Hamburg?

Not really. I mean, I wanted to do a book about the Sixties anyway. I live in Hamburg, near Reeperbahn, and most of the places are just right outside my door and I know the area quite well. As far as clothing is concerned, I got a lot of help from Astrid. I also bought a few books with old photographs at second hand bookshops and flea markets, and I got the impression that the Sixties are quite well documented – except for the filthy underground clubs, of course. As for the Kaiserkeller for example I could only rely on what Astrid had told me and the reports that I found in numerous Beatles books.

Panel from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What inspires you?

When I was drawing I’d often listen to early sixties music, girl groups, R’n’B and all those North-American artists that inspired the Beatles. I find almost everything from the Sixties very inspiring, the music, the design, the movies – and I think that’s why I wanted to do this book, it’s the birthplace (and heyday) of pop culture, and you can’t understand youth culture in Europe without going back to the Fifties and Sixties – be it mass phenomenons or small subcultures. When you look at Astrid, the “exis” and their androgynous look, the black clothes, and their romantic, cool attitude, they seem closely related to movements like new romanticism and goth. So when it comes to inspiration, I like to look back at past decades, there’s so much to explore.

Panel from Arne Bellstorf's Baby's in Black

What are you working on at the moment?

I did a lot of commissions recently, working for magazines and newspapers. Then I’m still traveling with Baby’s In Black, the book’s been published in several countries since it’s release in Germany. I do have a few ideas for another book, but the next thing I’ll release is a small collection of one-page comics, hopefully coming out this summer.

Many thanks to Arne for taking the time to answer our questions. Details on where to buy your copy of Baby’s In Black can be found on his website here.

Five Questions with Hugh Howey

Five Questions with Hugh Howey

Five Questions with Hugh Howey

Several weeks ago we posted about Wool, a short story by Hugh Howey. Since the posting – and hopefully due to some of you awesome guys and gals – Wool and its Omnibus edition, containing all five Wool stories, have elevated the formerly proclaimed “cult following” into a bonafide hit. One of Hugh’s favorite novels is Ender’s Game, a novel that, when I read at some tender age, changed my life as well. The intricacy of Ender’s Game is not in its brutal military critique and self-reflective xenophobia, but the turmoil of a boy at war with himself and his gifts. In it, a man/woman’s worst enemy is him/herself and their untapped potential.

In many (sometimes similar) ways, Wool turns on introspection rather than a deus ex machina or the Law of Conservation of Detail. Wool refuses to turn on minutiae. The writing is lean yet expansive. The world is huge in Wool yet it is restrained by its tendrils. Maybe this is a beauty in the renaissance of self publishing. Instead of publishers forcing a novel down your throat, brought together to fit the 40k / 80k / 100k word expectations, short stories and novellas can propagate in this new free market. Hugh Howey seems to have benefitted from this growing marketplace.

Readers worldwide are the real beneficiary. All of a sudden they can choose what stories are worth reading, sharing, or worshipping. The modern book critic can’t keep up with our demands. When Wool gained 200 new reviews in under two months and shot into Amazon top 200 in the Kindle store, I can’t say much more than it’s for the people and by the people.

So I asked Hugh five questions.

Alec: Were you born to write or was it a craft you learned? In that regard, what event made you decide to write for a living?

Hugh Howey: I’ve had some people close to me say that I was born to write. I suspect they mean that I’ve been making things up in my head for way too long, or that it’s healthier if I put my imaginary friends on paper rather than talking to them on the street. I remember writing letters to family members when I was younger and having them say that I should write for a living. But it was a true story of a yacht I was captaining that really sparked the urge. I posted this story on SciForums, a site for people to discuss trends in various fields, and the members went nuts. It was the first hint that I might be able to entertain people with my words.

As for when I decided to write for a living, I didn’t really have the luxury to choose when I would do that. I struggled for years, working second jobs, until I was finally making enough to dare go for it as a solitary profession.

A: When and why did you decide to publish independently?

H: I didn’t. Not at first. My debut novel was published by a small house called NorLights Press. When I saw what was involved with promoting and pushing a few books here and there, I decided to give it a try on my own. Nothing against NorLights, they were awesome, and I still consider one of the founders a dear friend. But so much of book promotion relies on the author, so I thought I would see if I could wear all the hats at once.

I’ve loved the experience. Learning to paginate books, to create cover art, to market and publish everything. It suits my workaholic nature. Plus, I get to set the price, give books away, and see all of my sales data. There are a ton of advantages to publishing independently. I’ve also made a lot more money that I probably could have with a traditional press.

A: Wool is more of a novella than a novel. Which form do you prefer and why?

H: I love them both, but I’m starting to lean toward novellas. 30,000 words feels about right to me. That’s a 120 page book, or thereabouts. With that length, I can get rid of the boring middle bits of a book that often keeps readers from finishing a story. I can manage numerous revisions, cut down on errors, and keep the plots nice and tight. And with e-readers, there’s no need to pad a book to justify print costs. I can charge anywhere from a buck to three for a story, and everyone makes out. I love it.

A: 20 years ago, people were predicting flying cars, hoverboards, and stun guns. What is sci fi in the post millenium? Does it even exist?

H: I think science fiction will show up in the post millenium less in the form of gadgets and more in the guise of philosophical leaps. Both have always existed in science fiction. There has been more ethical explorations in the genre than most readers appreciate. Aliens were just as often treated as equals or superiors as the enemy, often providing lessons about human rights. Women have been given stronger roles in some tellings of the future. Star Trek showed an interracial relationship that was far ahead of its time.

Now that we all have smart phones that are more advanced than Captain Kirk’s communicator, the areas of progress that I see will be more along these lines. And there will be steps toward grand issues like immortality that I believe will take people by surprise. It might not be in our lifetimes, but I think within the next 1,000 years, we will see the aging process solved, or perhaps the digitalization of our memories and thought processes. I wish I could live to see some of the great leaps forward that await us.

A: Do you enjoy reading your own work? Or are you of the mindset that “nothing is ever finished?”

H: Nothing is ever finished. I wish I had the time to go back and revise everything I’ve ever written, because it all becomes rubbish with the passing of time. On the other hand, I do find that I enjoy what I’m writing while I’m writing it. As I make my six or seven passes through a work, I start to think that it isn’t all that horrid. And by the last pass, I find myself impressed that this came out of my noggin. That’s the beauty of the writing and revising process: You end up with a product that’s smarter and better than you are. There’s no way you could produce it in a single sitting, but over a bunch of laborious weeks, you craft a bit of drivel you aren’t upset to call your own.

An Interview with Keene Kopper

An Interview with Keene Kopper

Keene Kopper Floating Landscapes

Keene Kopper Floating Landscapes

Below is an interview with Keene Kopper. I’m a big fan of his work, which lies somewhere between art and architecture. When I sent him a few questions, I was surprised by his answers, including how influential music has been for him. I will also be trying to work “mistake cul-de-sac” into conversations this holiday season, giving him full credit.

Who are you and what do you do?
The first part of that question is funny. When someone does something debatably stupid, I find my self sometimes saying sarcastically out loud: “Who are you?” Its more of a personal joke, but anyway… I consider my self an environmental artist or environmental architect, but I think that when most people hear the word “environment” it makes them think of the ecological environment, which is definitely a canvas for me too. When I refer to the environment though, I am referring to our direct context composed of a space/non-space or volume of space, sound, smell, touch, light, temperature, taste (good or bad) — really anything that sets the scene for a person to have a whole body and mind experience. Those are my tools and the type of content that I express with that set of tools typically revolves around the exploration of the ego itself, or sometimes the exploration of the ego in various contexts, like in politics, relationships or my personal evolution. I find astrology and Buddhism to be a big source of inspiration and I enjoy seeking out and experimenting with overlapping points of theory or belief between the two.”

Keene Kopper Floating Landscapes

How did you get interested in architecture/art/design?
I think early on because of my father’s involvement in the music industry, I was surrounded by a lot of really open minded creative types. Music is a really important part of my life, I find a lot of inspiration in it, whether its the lyrics of a Talking Heads or Jim O’Rourke song, or the monotonous tones of La Monte Young or noise of The Hafler Trio or Zoviet France.

In school I actually started off in mechanical engineering but switched my major to architecture because I found that I wanted a job that allowed me to be more expressive. It was a BFA with a concentration in architecture, which was a good balance of a fine arts degree and an architectural design degree. After working at Kohn Pedersen Fox for four years, I got really tired of working in such an intensely corporate environment, and in some ways, I felt that it was really killing my ability to design spontaneously. At that point I didn’t have a lot of free time after work because I was working so much, but in the time that I did have, I made small oil paintings, kinetic wood sculptures, and installations or “party pavilions” for friend’s birthday parties on my rooftop in Brooklyn. I’d say that was when I started to realize that I needed to move further away from engineering towards art, which is really where I am right now.

What projects are you currently working on?
Currently, I’m working on a dance piece for a Pecha Kucha presentation with Brittney Everett under our collaborative pseudonym WNFG. We’re collaborating on the slide images, costume design and choreography. I’m also about to sign a commercial lease on a 2000 square foot, 17 foot tall old concrete manufacturing building space in New Orleans where I’m going to be building out 6-8 artist studios/residencies and gallery. I’m hoping to have that up and running at least partially, in the next few months.

I just thought of this project recently that I’m really excited about executing, but have not found a gallery or funding for it yet: I’m going to ask 6-8 people to grow all of their body hair out for 1 year. In a gallery, there will be 4’x8’ tall pieces of plexi mounted to the wall (as place holders for future images). At the opening there will be just these places holders on the wall and the performers dressed in street clothes, hopefully mingling with guests. At a predetermined, precise time, the 6 or 8 performers will, seemingly spontaneously, stand in front of their respective place-holder-on-the-wall and strip bare naked. Then I’m going to take a pair of sheers and cut compositions out of all of their hair, from head to toe. I’ll take photos and replace the place holders.

The most important thing I have going on right now is my MFA grad school applications, due in January.

Interview with Keene Kopper

What do you appreciate the most about well-designed spaces?
The kinds of spaces that I appreciate are usually what most people might call minimalist, but I consider minimalism to be more about conveying an idea succinctly, rather than just having a minimal form, geometric, organic or what have you. I feel the same way about art; I really don’t like architecture or art that tries to address too many concepts or issues, or on the other hand work that is just an exercise in a particular style or gestural language, void of any conceptual agenda. I’m not totally against things just being beautiful for the sake of being beautiful, but there is a limit in my immediate surroundings to things that are just nice to look at, there has to be a functionality to the object/architecture and that functionality can be to fulfill an architectural program or the art can serve the purpose of conveying an idea, hopefully one at a time. Executing a design or a piece of art is like writing an essay, essays are to address one idea at a time succinctly.

Exploration is good for the notebook, I just don’t think its an economical use of time to be building a massive sculpture when you don’t already have a strong agenda -conceptual or formal- set up already. Some people might be turned off by that and think that that sounds really limiting creatively, but for me, intense forethought and journaling is more free and open to the birth of new ideas than just setting off on the course to build stuff that could get caught in a mistake cul-de-sac. Like most people, I don’t have a lot of time or money, so ending up with an art-object-in-a-cul-de-sac is really a huge waste of resources.

That all being said, that is the lens I use to look through when I’m looking at art/architecture/design; I appreciate good composition, gestural and formal economy (both a collaborative result of material economy), thought provocation and succinctness.

Interview with Keene Kopper

Which architects/artists/designers are seriously overrated or underrated?
I dont think that Hafler Trio is underrated, but few people know him outside his genre. Those who know his work and philosophy have respect for him. He is a really talented musician and music producer who uses contrast compositioning beautifully to evoke basic, instinctual feelings. I think Frank Gehry is overrated. MVRDV is one of my all time favorites, maybe a little underrated and I think they get a lot of respect, but not like OMA, which I have some respect for and wouldn’t consider Rem Koolhaus overrated; there is some really great job-specific design happening there. I read this interview this summer with Urs Fischer that turned me off a little bit, but otherwise I find his work succinctly provocative.

When do you do your best work?
I do my best, most authentic work when I breathe in and out and am not being interrupted by egos, those of others or my own.

An interview with Travis Millard, one of L.A.’s best illustrators

An Interview With Travis Millard

Over on Los Angeles, I’m Yours today, we have a really great interview with Echo-Park-by-way-of-Olathe-Kansas artist Travis Millard. Travis is a super relaxed and cool guy who creates these trippy, sometimes grimey characters. It was really cool seeing where these all come from and seeing his space, which he shares with artist/girlfriend Mel Kadel. It includes tons of his work (zines, drawings, paintings, drafts, etc.) scattered about and sheds light into the creation and inspiration for many of his pieces. His story is also this ridiculously “classic American” story of a guy who grew up in the Midwest, wanted to become an artist, and moved to the big city to become an artist while busting his balls to get there. It’s super inspirational.

Travis was really great to speak with so definitely check it out. You can read the full story here.


Interview with Roger Gastman on Los Angeles, I’m Yours

Interview with Roger Gastman on Los Angeles, I'm Yours

Kyle posted his interview with Roger Gastman over on Los Angeles, I’m Yours that I think some of you will really enjoy. You may know Roger already, he helped curate the Art in the Streets exhibit at the MoCA with Jeffrey Deitch and Aaron Rose. He’s also well known for his graffiti skills and he even has a book out called The History of American Graffiti. He even has a collection of serial killer art, it’s fantastic!

Click here to read the interview.


Los Angeles, I’m Yours: Feature Interview with Tim Biskup

Feature Interview with Tim Biksup on Los Angeles, I'm Yours

A lot of the content you’ll find on Los Angeles, I’m Yours is quite fitting for this audience, which is something we did on purpose. I’ll be sharing links from LAIY in what I’m calling “mini-posts”, enough information to see what we’re doing with a low commitment. The first big piece I wanted to share is our interview and photo set with our buddy Tim Biskup. We delve into the mind of this creative weirdo and get a look at his and the spaces he creates in. The photos are beautiful and the interview is pretty funny, I think you’ll enjoy it. We plan on launching these feature interviews once a week, and the roster we have lined up is pretty incredible.

Click here to read the interview with Tim Biskup.

Q & A With Dieter Rams

Q&A with Dieter Rams - Photo by Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Dieter Rams was recently in New York for the 50th anniversary of his 606 Universal Shelving System, which he designed for Vitsoe when he was 28. In honor of the anniversary, Vitsoe threw a 50th birthday party for the shelving and he also sat down with The New York Times for a short interview, here are my two favorite parts:

What’s an average day for you?
I am not an early bird. I go to bed normally between midnight and 1 o’clock, so it is understandable that I cannot be an early bird. I wake up around 9 o’clock. Even when I was with Braun, and I was responsible for a lot of people, if they had meetings, I had to be there at 8 or the latest 9. But if there were no meetings, I always tried not to start before 9 o’clock.

I love that he defies the idea that the older you get, the earlier you get up. I also liked that he acknowledges mass production and beating a dead horse, but there are some good reasons why it works.

Are you still trying to improve other things?
Most of the things are done already — you can’t make it better. Look at chairs: there are enough chairs. There are bad chairs, some good ones, mostly bad ones. But there are, even with a chair, possibilities to make it more comfortable or, from the economic point, you can make it cheaper, save some material or you can try new materials.

To read the rest of the interview, click here.

Found through YMFY


Diane Von Furstenberg and Chuck Close: A Meeting of The Minds

Diane Von Furstenberg and Chuck Close
Diane Von Furstenberg and Chuck Close

Recently, Harper’s Bazaar caught up with Diane von Furstenberg and Chuck Close while the artist was taking photos of her for the Pace Gallery’s Diane von Furstenberg: Journey of a Dress. Von Furstenberg and Close were supposed to meet ages ago, but due to a skiing accident, von Furstenberg was badly injured. Her nose and cheeks blue and swollen, the shoot was much delayed until recently. And, while these two minds met, they talked about aging, beauty, and their histories in art.

The article is fascinating, candid, and really a wonderful look into two of the most brilliant artists of our time. The article reminds me of what a personality von Furstenberg is, her joie de vivre overflowing out of every word. This little snippet from her was a personal favorite, when speaking to Close about plastic surgery and its philosophical implications:

To erase is the horrible thing, because if you erase things in your face, you basically erase souvenirs, you basically erase memory, you basically erase pieces of you that made you. And it’s the layers of your life that give you character.

Such true words and quite refreshing from someone in the “Looks Are Paramount” world of fashion. I also feel that that can be applicable to any art form, be it fashion design or photography or painting or writing or graphic design. The article is a wonderful read and one of those rare instances where two modern icons meet up, make art, and chat. It’s like that show Iconoclasts, minus all the cheese.

To read the article, please follow this link.


Grain & Gram with Blair Sligar

Blair Sligar Interview

You’ve gotta hand it to the guys over at Grain & Gram, they’ve definitely found an interesting way of presenting interesting people. I posted about them back in July if you remember, and since that time they’ve made a few more features that are definitely worth your time. The newest episode with furniture maker Blair Sligar is more of the same great quality photos and an insightful interview that gives you a look into a man who makes bare wood into pieces of art.


Takashi Murakami in Interview Magazine

I’ve been thinking a lot about Takashi Murakami and his work lately. There’s something about his work and his approach to art and commerce that I find really intriguing. The fact that he can ride the line between high end art and mass produced goods is also amazing as few artists can achieve such success.

In this months issue of Interview magazine he sits down with Alison Gingeras and talks about the way he works, his sense of curation and control and how he’s nothing like Andy Warhol.

MURAKAMI: It’s true that I pick up many ideas from different Japanese things. The way I formed my studio and how I organize things actually came out of the model of the Japanese animation studio and the manga industry. The manga industry is gigantic in Japan. There are so many layers to the business, like making a video, making a spin-off game, cards . . .

GINGERAS: And figurines and printed matter . . .

MURAKAMI: Yes, everything. It’s kind of like creating something like the Star Wars franchise. A single big hit for a manga studio means tons of money. One can gross more than a movie. The Japanese invented this industry. I’ve been immersed in manga since I was a kid. I grew up with this culture. So I started to think about how to compare manga to contemporary art. The contemporary art industry did not yet exist in Japan when I was starting out. Contemporary art and manga—what is the same about them? Nothing, right? The manga industry has a lot of talented people, but contemporary art works on more of a solitary model. No one embarks on collaboration in contemporary art in order to make money. But in the manga world, everyone is invested in collaboration. The most important point is that the manga industry constantly encourages new creations and creators.

GINGERAS: Like passing the creative baton?

MURAKAMI: Yeah. Manga culture grows and educates these artists. So I learned from that experience. Manga uses Japanese traditional structures in how to teach the student and to transmit a very direct message. You learn from the teacher by watching from behind his back. The whole teacher-master thing is part of Asian culture, I think. So I guess I agree with you in that respect.