By Clare Ngai
Photography by Aurelie Graillot
What’s your AMMO?
I’m constantly inspired by just about everything around me. By my environment, media, pop culture, no culture, crisis, love, death, black holes, evil, darkness, beauty, music, literature. I’m filled with ironies and inconsistencies. The little glitches of life. A twenty-first century existentialist, perhaps. My interests are vast; the common denominator is BLACK.
Your latest jewelry collection is called Fleurs du Mal, what’s the concept behind it?
My Fleurs du Mal collection draws direct inspiration from the beautifully dark, decadent, and erotic prose of one of my favorite poets, Charles Baudelaire. I reinterpreted the title he used for his own first volume of poetry, originally published in 1857, for my inaugural Fleurs du Mal collection. My collection has evolved into an ever expanding and ongoing series of work. I consider each one of a kind piece from my Fleurs du Mal collection a sort of poem of its own; one that tells its unique, mysterious, and romantic story from deep within the fragmented and fractured black.
Black, how has its meaning evolved over the years and throughout your artist career?
My love of and interest in the color BLACK existed well before I actually fully understood it. It was definitely an innate obsession. But over time the infinite layers of black have gradually revealed themselves to me. There is the obvious historical significance of the color black in art and fashion which I’m always playing with and referencing. There is the element of void and nothingness, absence and negation. Zero. Zen aesthetics. Zen mind. Dark matter and anti-matter. The concept of black as evil, bad, depression, death; yet it’s also the sophisticated luxury of the beautiful black sports car and the timeless little black dress. Black is always there, just no one talks about it. The color of text and tires and all of these elements compete for space. Like I said my interests are vast, and as I’ve discovered, black really is the common denominator.
On your website you said that you’re self-taught and have had no formal artistic training, how do you think it has affected your art works?
In my opinion ‘self_taught’ is a misnomer. I did write that sentence before I attended the MFA program at Parsons The New School for Design but I left it in; I feel it’s appropriate. I mean what is a ‘taught’ artist. I’ve spent my entire life learning; absorbing information; regardless of the conditions; it’s just semantics. What I express through my work is the total culmination of all I have learned and that process, for me, neither begins with nor ends with ‘formal’ education. I don’t want to get too philosophical here, but ‘self-taught’ is one of those terms I find highly ironic and ridiculous, and thus use quite frequently. The other is ‘painting is dead’[laughs]. Painting has been dying since the first piece was created thousands of years ago deep in the caves of Lascaux. Those paintings were black, actually! It’s just absurd, some of the things people say and think and believe.
You have a long list of influence on your website, can you tell us some of your most recent inspirations?
It’s hard to simplify this answer, but I’ll try. Pierre Soulages, Robert Ryman, Antoni Tapias, Banks Violette, Autechre, early Run DMC, Sonic Youth, Rick Owens, Julius, Basho, Shunryu Suzuki, Charles Baudelaire, Friedrich Neitzsche, William Gibson; stop me now! My inspirations seem to bounce between the scientific, emotional, meditative [yet] music is a major reference for me. Fashion. Literature. The layers and layers of distortion, of meaning… I’m definitely drawn towards the darker part of the human psyche; the absurd.
You have been Marketing Director for multiple record companies as well as an artist, which role is more challenging and why?
Being an artist, definitely. Nothing is more challenging than having an incessant need to create. I liken it to air or food or water. I need to create in order to survive. That’s a pretty heavy statement, but for me it’s true. Yet being an artist is much more than just merely the act of creating… It’s a lifestyle, a commitment, sacrifice, and full-time job but at the end of the day, it’s also a business. I feel a lot of artists miss that point. Maybe it’s my business background or my entrepreneurial spirit, but I’ve always viewed it as such. Running your own business is probably the most challenging job anyone could have. The most fun, too. Ask anyone that does it. Working in the music industry as A&R and Marketing Director was great fun. Difficult, challenging, and highly competitive. It was a great experience and has definitely helped me as an artist but there was only so much energy I could devote to building someone else’s artistic journey. Especially when I had one of my own that needed tending.
You have held many exhibitions in the past, do you have one that you especially like? If so, how is it different from the rest of them?
All of my exhibitions are my absolute favorite at the time they occur. There are two that immediately stand out, though. Last summer’s First AIM Biennial at the Bronx Museum of the Arts is one of them. I was part of the Bronx Museums Artist in the Marketplace program for emerging artists which culminated with a major show at the museum. To see a museum guard stationed in front of my large black composition was pretty wild. I even had to wait for him to look away so I could touch my own work. I’ve gotten pretty good at that; sorry MoMA! The fact that it was my own work was quite surreal. And yes I managed to touch my own work and not get yelled at by the guard. The other show that comes to mind was during New York Fashion Week a few seasons ago. I was asked by designer and friend Sally Lapointe to create all of the jewelry and accessories for her inaugural runway show. To see my blackened work come down the runway was a pretty incredible experience.
It looks like that you’ve only held art shows in New York, would you want to exhibit your art works somewhere else and possibly outside the country?
Absolutely! I would love to and I plan to. I’ve actually shown at the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art and have had a few shows in Washington D.C. but I’m born and raised in Manhattan and there is nothing like showing in your own hometown; it never gets old. I have some things lined up for 2012 that I cannot yet speak of, but I would love to show in China, Japan, Berlin, France; let me know if you know of anyone!
Explain the medium you use.
It’s a bizarre hybrid composite material I’ve pretty much developed and honed over the past few years. Originally I just used the term to describe the plethora of materials and techniques I incorporate into my work, since no material is off limits. Traditional or not, I’m always experimenting. I got tired of explaining everything to everyone all the time but as my work developed, I started to see some recurring materials that I was constantly drawn towards. I feel like a twenty-first century alchemist half the time. Constantly experimenting; nothing is static. I love manipulating materials in bizarre ways. The way they work together, don’t work together, the way I make them work together constantly evolves. Eventually I realized I was actually making my own ‘super material’ and that is what eventually lead to the current definition of the term. In short, the basic components of pbk_g: post_apocalyptic black™ include acrylic polymer emulsion; some new, some recycled; carbon black pigment, japanese Binchotan charcoal, graphite, japanese sumi ink, resin. It’s like Coca-Cola. You know what’s in it, but then you really don’t; right? The actual recipe is locked up somewhere. I make my interns sign a 13 page non-disclosure agreement and even they don’t really know. They just think I’m crazy. I actually recently began the long and tedious process of patenting this material and process. I follow in the footsteps of Yves Klien.
What’s next for you?
I’m just working really hard right now creating new work. Pushing myself and my materials. Always getting better at what I do. I’m preparing for my first major solo show in Manhattan, while continuing to expand and develop my ongoing Fleurs du Mal 2012 collection. More exposure, more black. I don’t make a distinction between my art and jewelry. Art as jewelry. jewelry as art. It’s all just semantics and scale.
For more on Gabriel go to www.gabrieljshuldiner.com.