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Josh Gosfield is a New York-based artist who has worked in art direction, carpentry, painting, illustration, and photography. He has had several one-man shows in LA and New York and is now working on a bunch of connected projects examining and building the idea of celebrity. Please check out joshgosfield.com and saints.blog.com

And we jump right in...

Brett: So about how long have you been working in the art world? And what were you doing before?

Josh: For probably 25 years. Well the first thing I did when I left high school is I lived on farms for a couple years. Then I was a carpenter...and now that I think about it, I’ve been doing visual arts for like 30 years…I moved out to California to be a cartoonist, and I had a daily cartoon strip out there, and a weekly cartoon strip, and I did a bunch of editorial cartoons for a couple newspapers. And this newspaper that I was doing cartoons for, the managing editor position came up, and I’ve just always liked doing different things so I just thought “what the hell? I’m just gunna go for it.”…One of my functions was to lay out the front page, and I didn’t know anything about typography. I didn’t know italic, Roman, bold, and in laying out the pages for this thing, I was like, “oh my god, here’s typography,” and I got so interested that I became an art director…
As I was art directing I hated it. I had this very particular vision of this wooden office with a big circular table and there were gunna be all these people in there and anybody could have any creative idea and somebody would say, “hey, what if we put this on the cover?!” and they’d rip the whole magazine apart, but it was like so unbelievably corporate. I had to wear a tie, suck up to the powers-that-be…and one of my functions as an art director was hiring illustrators, and I just thought, “god, these guys have it made.” I was doing the whole fine art thing at the time, too, like in the early East Village days, sorta like in the mid-1980s. I was having a lot of shows there. Initially what I did was I just started showing my paintings as illustration…and sort of slowly faded out of the art direction world…changed my style a lot, tried a lot of different things. At some point I started to develop a very installation-like style in which I was doing a lot of constructions of things.

Brett: But still with painting and illustrations?

Josh: Ya...I ended up getting this gig of doing windows for Barney’s…and the Christmas windows, they were just wild, it was like avant-garde art…And people would make pilgrimages there…It was just great, because I would have things that were motorized, video things, and just the windows just utterly hodgekapodgeka filled with millions of things…and through that I started doing art direction for music videos and that was just another job I just hated…
Other things that I’ve done, uhm…I dunno. I just got into photography. Well my illustration career went so far, ya know? I did covers for TIME, Newsweek, The New Yorker. When I first moved here I met some illustrators, like older guys, and they were so bitter, because their career had topped out, and then the young art directors that came didn’t necessarily respect them as much or possibly didn’t know who they were, and I just thought, “ya know what, I can’t handle that. I’d rather just dash my career and start doing something else.”…because of my painting background I was less interested in sorta capturing the, ya know, the “decisive moment,” as ya know Cartier-Bresson would say…and more into sorta constructing images out of possibly several photographs, but seaming them in such a way that they were plausible as some sort of form of hyper-reality, rather than something that was obviously Photoshopped…more interested in designing something than shooting 3,000 frames of the same thing and then searching through all of them.

Brett: And what about what you’re working on now? Where are the ideas coming from?

Josh: Well…the genesis of that was…I was out in Joshua Tree National Park…and they have all these fantastic rounded stone formations kinda creating these little mini-mesas. And they were just so cool looking, and I was thinking, “what could you photograph on these things?” and suddenly it hit me…if you scattered a few guys on them it could be an album cover for a ‘60s psychedelic band.

Brett: it seems like a very Pink Floyd album cover.

Josh: Ya, ya. Well one of the huge influences for me is vernacular art…a gigantic influence for me is Hispanic folk art…so this album cover idea really appealed to me and…the first one I was gunna do was gunna be this folk musician…and then the more I thought about it the more I thought, “well, screw doing all the different album covers, I’m actually gunna make this one celebrity and I’m gunna create an entire story behind her, but it’s all gunna be told through the media-driven ephemera.”…For me it’s such a great thing because I can be the paparazzi shooter from the 1960s; I could be the art director circa 1968 for some French pop artist…
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Brett: Is there a particular field of art that you feel that you are an artist of or do you like to just float among them? Do you separate them? Did you do your illustration and then the painting and now it’s photography, or are you constantly sorta doing a lot of them?

Josh: Where I enjoy being most is at the bottom of the learning curve. I love tackling something I’ve never done before because you’re just learning at such an exponential rate…it’s just incredible how much your brain is soaking up…I’ve done a lot of painting and my painting tends to be really raw, and I would paint on really weird surfaces a lot of times to actually make the painting harder for me. Sometimes I’d say, “ok, I’m gunna paint this on cardboard,” or “I’m gunna paint it on a piece of unprimed wood,” just to throw my craft off. But when I don’t know about something, I’m working so hard to develop my craft and develop all the necessary chops to sorta create what it is I wanna create, but once I get there I sorta wanna make it that much more difficult to do…
In terms of how all these different things interrelate, I guess I can say on this last project it’s really great because I’m sort of the design, the illustration, and the photography. In a celebrity’s life they’re going to be portrayed by so many different artists and photographers and designers…so I have to sorta put on all of these different hats and come at them from different angles and different motivations.
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Brett: Do you have any art philosophy or mantra or anything like that?...

Josh: I’m so much from the “just do it” school. I’m so not like an artist statement kind of guy…And for me it’s almost like being a plumber; I just go at it and do it. It’s the mission behind it, the mission statement, the artist statement. For me it’s relatively unconscious, ya know? I mean, it’s very thought out in its specifics, but it’s more of like a vision that is the essence of it rather than some philosophical or intellectual construct that I come up with first and then go out to create that. Which is part of the reason I think so much art is so bad now. Like it’s semi-conceptual and semi—I don’t even know how to describe it—but so much of it seems like there’s so much initial sort of some construct put on it that takes away its freedom to be something.

Brett: Like the art isn’t a natural-

Josh: Well it’s dead…Because somebody came up with some clever idea for something, and they set out to create it, and its imprisoned within the confines of some concept, and I just don’t know how much art can really be created out of it. This isn’t really the same kind of example, but if you look at someone like Lichtenstein, who, many of his early cartoon paintings are so brilliant, and I just think he sorta ghettoized himself. Everything had to be dots basically. It was like the law of diminishing returns. He just started running out of concepts that would sort of fit into that format. Warhol was almost the opposite. Not the opposite because he, too, was repetitive in certain ways, but he certainly was thinking about stuff and changing himself around. And I respect people like Warhol or Picasso who are really attempting to stretch themselves and move into different arenas.

Brett: But like…Warhol where he’s sort of creating new formats to display his new ideas…

Josh: Ya…there’s just a lot of joyous improvisation. Maybe not improvisation, because when you get down to doing it there can be a lot of effort being put into it, but in terms of how he’s going to get from point A to point Z there was just a lot of interesting creative thought into how that might be done…Philip Guston is sort of a hero of mine. I don’t even particularly like his early work…he had sorta like three distinctive careers. One was like early on: had some interesting figurative work with some interesting themes. Then he had this middle abstract expressionist period which was just terrible. And then he had this third period where he was quite late in age…but they are very goofy kinda cartoony but extremely heavily painted; things with eye balls and Ku Klux Klan heads, smoking, and shoes…but here was a guy who just sorta kept at it for decades until he finally hit upon something at quite a late age that was really brilliant.

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