March 2023

Kitsch and Camp with Travis Boyer

Ahead of his first solo exhibition in Los Angeles, Travis Boyer chats with LA based actor Jason Greene, aka Freckle to talk about Christina Applegate, exquisite cumrags, and reconciling kitsch and camp with the eternal.

Travis: I like how we look slightly related.

Freckle: I thought that, too. When you showed me the picture with the cashmere, I was like, ‘Oh, I'm wearing a green cashmere.’
    Travis: Yeah. Coast to coast.

Yes. Nice to see you, Travis. How are you today?
    I'm doing pretty good.

I love your work. Do you feel that when you're making visual art that there's something you’re seeing, whether it's in your imagination or your dreams and that you’re painting your dreams into reality?
    In part, yeah. As you know I paint on velvet, they're painted with dyes. In general, whatever's the next best idea, whether it's an individual move on a painting, or an idea for a painting, or an idea for a group of paintings, it's like an election cycle that's always going on. Whatever's the idea I'm most convinced as a good idea, then I go in and try to execute that as best I can and then get the fuck away. Sometimes I find, especially if a painting's going well, or I like what's happened, you can get really carried away with it, then you screw it up and you're like, ‘Oh, well, now what are you gonna do, Travis?’

When I see your work it clearly is a shedding. It seems that something is coming right out of you. And the velvet, can you tell me about that process?
    Yeah, I paint on silk velvet. It's often white to begin with, although not always. One way to think about it is that you're painting with a brush, but then the surface is also a brush. The surface is kind of malleable and a short pile, but it's also a brush. You know this hairdo in the nineties, where you would make the bangs really flat [in the front,] and then the top would be really poofy? That's kind of how my paintings work. There's color that you're adding, with the dye and everything like that, but there's also the surface treatment where it's either being mashed down to make that slick, shiny, smart part or fluffed up to be more dull or expansive or squishy.

Many of us are familiar with your mushrooms. Where does this collection take us from the mushroom series of work?
    First of all, thank you to mushrooms. It was kind of an unlock when I started painting the mushrooms because I realized that [the surface of] velvet painting had a similar exciting texture and tension that mushrooms have. What I appreciated from painting mushrooms is that in trying to paint something more figurative it allowed more ways of manipulating the surface and painting the way that I do. In the summer, I started telling people I'm gonna do a show about the days of the week. Mushroom is Monday. It's a starting place. Then I created a set of rules and questions for what would come after. This show is a culmination of that experiment.

I love that, that's so real.
    Yeah, even with these new topics that I painted for this show, something that I do try to do is reconcile this kitsch & camp that's maybe just inherent to painting on velvet and to my work and to my way of drawing, and these mysteries of nature and metaphysical ideas. You're sort of reconciling those two things with each other and, you know, voila.

I love that you said kitsch & camp because when I think of velvet, I immediately think of the late seventies, Burt Reynolds lying on a bear skin rug on velvet. If you were to educate me as a novice, what do you mean by kitsch or camp?
    I'll start on answering that question with a similar showbiz reference I remember as a kid seeing Christina Applegate on Married with Children and she had this crushed red velvet bodysuit. And the way she looked in contrast to this humdrum family interior where the show took place and watching her descend [down] the stairs, and the way that crushed velvet bodysuit looked. It was very on trend at the time, but I thought it looked really compelling and beautiful. When my paintings are very successful, they do the same thing. In contrast to the room, in contrast to the world around them, they have a little bit of that 16-year-old, Christina Applegate in a bodysuit vibe.

Oh my God, you're tickling my soul. That is such a perfect image. Can you speak to some of the technique and technical aspects of working on silk?
    It's a strange protein dye, and there's not just one company that makes it, and it's harder and harder to find. If you were to visit my studio, I have literally hundreds of different little, minuscule ounce bottles of different types of silk dye, and something unique about them is that they don't correspond to the traditional color wheel or the mineral-based colors that we're used to thinking of and using. A lot of them were originally for craft kits and things like that so the colors have funny names. They'll be called Geranium, or Mouse Brown, or Peacock. Then when you sit down to mix and combine them the chromatic spectrum is a little bit different than what we're used to seeing in a painting.

The title [of your show] is MTWTFSS and references one painting for each day of the week. What other days of the week items or series do you have nostalgia around?
    I guess, if I have to address the word nostalgia, I would say I always really liked this thing where Big Bird would interpret the alphabet as one word. And he would say ‘abcdef-’ like, what could this word mean? Looking at the whole alphabet as one word. I always really liked that.

What does it mean to show your work in Los Angeles?
    Something I notice about LA is that people are more apt to ask for your astrological sign. It’s like this social drive to cut to the metaphysical chase. In some ways, my paintings do the same thing; there is an invitation to get weird.

  I know that collecting, eBay, and research are a big part of your life. Can you tell us things that you are obsessing over?
    Right now, right this minute? Gimme one second. I'm gonna check my eBay watch list. You know how on Seinfeld Elaine worked at J. Peterman?

    It seemed fictional but, in fact, it was a real company. I am really into looking at J. Peterman clothes. I’m following some Gaetano Peche items. One really interesting place to look for things is Ukrainian eBay. It's a way of sending money, and surprisingly, the things show up over here. I like this brand called McKenzie Childs that's kind of goofy and nineties and has these sort of checkered patterns in them. I'm also really into these jardinieres. I'm not sure if I'm actually going to buy one. They're these plant stands that are way over the top, like an art nouveau ceramic plant stand that's often painted really bonkers.

I wonder if you would like this plant stand I have right now.
[Freckle shows off a plant stand in the corner of their living room.]
   Oh, that's exactly what I'm talking about!

Baby, we are so on the same page.

It's wild. How does being a summer regular of Fire Island speak to your work? Tell me all the juice.
    I first came to Fire Island on an artists residency, and I'd been living in New York for a long time but always assumed that [Fire Island] wasn't for me or no one had ever invited me, so when I went on that residency–-it's called FIAR, Fire Island Artist Residency–-it was just beginning. The house was really small and when everyone's studio spaces got divvied up from what was already available in the house–the lesbian couple that was doing all this audio visual stuff, they got all the space that had plugs. The guy who was doing drawings got the dining room table. So I was left with the backyard. Something that you never have in [an artist studio] is a clothes line and a washer dryer and this crazy amount of space and a hose. My work was able to scale up in a way that I didn't expect through that residency by working on the ground outside. A lot of times when you're working with wet medium you're waiting for things to dry at different speeds, but if you're out there in the sunshine, it's happening much quicker. You can move through things quicker, you can use gravity in different ways. Also, have you ever done this thing called exquisite corpse? It's a drawing thing or can even be a poem where you write or draw just part of something, and then fold it and give it to the next person and make this amalgamation.

Yes, of course. I never knew that was the title.
   I had started an exquisite corpse on velvet, but it was an exquisite cumrag. Essentially you could use this cumrag in whatever way you interpret that and then fold it over to cover your mark or expression or whatever, and it had a rainbow tote bag, and you bring it to the next person. Suffice to say after a while it was kind of gross. This is not a story I was expecting to tell. We had this washer dryer back there, and there was this very inexpensive, off-brand laundry soap, and I had poured it over the exquisite cumrag but the power had gone out. So, it sat on it for a really long time before it was finally washed, and somehow the interaction, the depth of field between the stains on the velvet cumrag, and this kind of lavender color from the color-boost bleaching component of the soap, especially in the sun, it was one of the most beautiful things I'd ever seen.

I’m so entranced by you and your work and what you find funny, for lack of a better word, what tickles you, and how you like to share your funny bone with us.
    I'm glad that you brought up funniness. I do really like having some amount of levity both in the work and in the discourse around it. One thing that I observe when people interact with my artwork is that people are often able to project a lot of their own experiences and ideas about the world, and about nature, and about time in a generally positive and affirming way. Rather than presenting a very hard and fast defined set of topics for painting, one thing I really like is that, in some ways, they’re sort of stand-ins for your experience. ‘What does this bring up for you?’

Absolutely. I find the work to be very evocative. I am moved by my own stimulations and what I receive and perceive on top of what I imagine you are trying to convey.
   That's tight. I think that jardiniere reveal was really hot.