Adam Kluger is a New York City-born street artist &
writer. A descendant of British sculptor Jacob Epstein
and student of artist Ion Theodore. Kluger went to the
same school as Jack Kerouac and studied the great
artists throughout Europe before settling back in New
York. One of the leaders of New York’s anti-art
movement, Kluger draws inspiration from diverse
sources including Jean Dubuffet, Marc Chagall,
Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Bob Ross, Eric
Payson and Pablo Picasso.
Interview with Artist & Writer Adam Kluger, February 2016
q: Were you surprised by by all the attention Lisa Levy got recently for her performance art piece?
a: You mean where Lisa sat naked on a toilet in a New York art gallery?
a: Not really surprised. Lisa is a “Facebook friend” so I’m aware of, and admire what she does. We are a voyeuristic culture and watching a woman sit on a toilet naked is a societal taboo, so of course, there are prurient reasons why some might be interested in the piece. That said, as an artist, Lisa was making a number of anti-art statements about the art-world and society. I love performance art and have dabbled in it over the years with some other artist friends. There is a rich American tradition experimenting with performance art to make a statement whether it be the Living Theater or the Acid Tests, even Woodstock.
q: Can you go further on this.
a: Absolutely, anti-art is a philosophy as much as it is a movement really. It can apply to all aspects of life. Fashion, literature even politics.
a: The Beats; Kerouac, Burroughs for example used language to explain America from different viewpoints outside of the status quo. Burroughs provided elegant insight into the lives of junkies while Kerouac fused a love of Jazz, Eastern philosophy and verbal reportage to explain how America was changing as he saw it. Marcel Duchamp and his fellow Dadaists fell upon the idea that what is “art” is really up to the artist and to the individual. Duchamp thought a toilet could be an art object just as Andy Warhol suggested a can of tomato soup or a box of Brillo pads should also be considered “legitimate art.” Andy also glamorized the cult of celebrity.
q: And politics
a: Donald Trump, whom I’ve met and spoken with a couple times loves to perform. When he is wearing his sales hat, he is akin to an entertaining Carnival barker. He knows that he is his art and brand. He knows that his narcissism and outlandish claims are appealing and polarizing and he doesn’t care. He is a consummate performance artist, in that he knows the message that he is putting out there, and that people are fascinated by it. Now, of course, politics are generally stagecraft, and Donald is surprising a lot of folks in the Republican establishment with his success in connecting with Americans voters. Even Sarah Palin’s recent anti-slam endorsing Trump has been parsed with curiosity because it was fervently delivered — almost like a rap soliloquy.
q: So anti-art is about rebelling against the status quo?
a: Sure. As Marlon Brando once said in The Wild One when asked what are you rebelling against… “what have you got?” America is a fascinating society- we express ourselves in so many different ways — how we dress, how we speak, what we do. I love to observe and interpret what’s going on around me with a camera and a paintbrush. Anti-Art has always thrived in New York City. We have so many wonderful artists and characters in the New York scene.
q: Can you name some.
a: Sure. On the lower East Side, Reverend Jen Miller is a local legend. She created a museum out of troll dolls and she was the long-standing host of an anti-slam that protested other poetry slams that awarded points, like Olympic judges do, to the crowd’s favorite performers. The point of the anti-slam was that performance art need not be judged, just simply appreciated. That no art is “better” or more valuable. That the importance of an art object should be left to individuals. But Americans love top 10 lists and we love to keep score. That’s a by-product of our Capitalist system. Another by-product is garbage. We create a ton of it. New York Artist Adrian Kondratowicz’ “Trash Project” transformed colored garbage bags into outdoor sculpture that made a statement about how New York just throws its garbage out on the street. Anti-Art yes? But brilliant too. Photographer and performance artist Eric Payson has just shot a series of psychedelic images inside Starbuck’s coffee shops. Why Starbuck’s? Because, it’s only where most of America goes to fuel up on unleaded caffeine, “hang out” and run their small businesses without having to pay rent. You want to know about the real state of U.S. economy–visit a Starbucks. The real story hiding inside each image is a fascinating aspect to Payson’s anti-art photography.
q: How does this apply to your art.
a: Great question. A writer I respect greatly. A best-selling author on economic theory who is a current White House advisor, recently told me over coffee that what she likes about my art and writing is that it’s not the best art or writing that she has ever seen–but that it makes you feel something. That there is love in it. To me, that analysis was dead-on. My “Dreck” is “mixed media” according to a respected gallery owner who was explaining it to me in “art-world” terms. She thought some of the images were beautiful and that was very nice to hear. To have had over 30 art pieces and over 20 short stories published by literary-arts magazines over the past couple of months has been extremely validating and wonderful and as an artist you can’t really ask for more than to have people “get” your artwork or writing even as it pushes boundaries and breaks rules.”
q: So you are a ‘rule-breaker’?
a: In Art you have to be. As a great humorist who is internationally well-known once told me, when it comes to writing he approaches every concept fresh and tries to avoid anything that is cliched. Hemingway in explaining his writing style said beyond having a fail-safe bullshit detector that great writers start with one true line. What great advice. Bukowski also offered valuable insight on how to escape the traps of group-think and channel your own ideas. He tried to read the great writers and learn from them but what he discovered was that there are many poseurs out there and bad writers masquerading as “great” writers. To me, great writing is like great music it just works on every level. You know it when you feel something.
q: What kind of music do you like?
a: Not surprisingly, my tastes are eclectic I like jazz and punk, new wave and reggae and ska and being that I’m now 50 years of age I appreciate the Grateful Dead, The Doors, Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Stones — but I also love DEVO and the B-52’s and the Talking Heads–too many to list.
q: You interviewed Jerry Garcia — what was that like.
a: A golden moment in a career full of interesting encounters. Jerry was just a sweetheart. A humble, self-effacing guy with a generous spirit. He had just turned 50 himself so I asked him what he planned to do for the next 100 years of his life and he laughed and said, “I’d like to learn how to play the guitar before I die.”
a: Yep. He had such a wonderful life as an artist- so prolific and beloved. Even today new generations are getting into Dead & Co. which just goes to show you that art that channels a lot of different American traditions, jazz , rock and roll, blue grass that can make you feel something, has a timeless quality.
q: So what you are saying is that John Mayer is interpreting Jerry’s art in the same way that Lisa Levy is channeling Marcel Duchamp?
a: Not exactly, but you’re not far off. America is constantly reinventing itself in all ways so Anti-Art or an anti-establishment philosophy has been expressed before and will continue to be as long as there is an establishment that impinges on the lives of individuals or a social order that preaches conformity. I even saw it in Elementary school when some industrious Horace Mann classmates formed a “Silly Club” and borrowed all the teacher’s pencils to push boundaries and a express anarchy.
q: So Anti-art is childish?
a: Yes, somewhat, in the same way that Buddhist Sunryu Suzuki suggested that one always view the world with a “Beginner’s Mind.” Art is meant to be appreciated because of it’s transformative qualities not because of how much money it will make–same with music and literature. If you strive to create something interesting as an artist and you put it out there for the world to judge–it’s probably better that your inspiration for creating the art in the first place is love and not profit.
q: You’re saying keep it real?
a: Always keep it real.
Q & A with Street Artist Adam Kluger in New York City, 2015
Q: Please describe your painting style.
A: I like to adapt my painting style to the subject matter. I can paint stylistic portraits using a muted palette to express inner turmoil or mix my media and go bold with the color. The subjects I am drawn to are non-sentimental slices of life. Warhol had his Factory-the conveyor belt at Dreck-World operates 24-7. My mixed media approach allows me to channel Picasso, Warhol, New York City, really. I’m creating new “Dreck” all the time– it wants to come out-you’ve got to hear and obey the muse when she calls you.
Q: What exactly is “Dreck”? It’s been described by art insiders as quirky, kitschy–almost anti-art.
A: I’ve heard people say that I’m one of the leaders of some new egalitarian, anti-art movement. I just do what makes my heart sing. My “Dreck” fills my heart with such happiness that I want to share it with others-that’s all really. My process and skill level as an artist is unexceptional-my final output however–my dreck–is resonant. So I respect the results and try to honor that. It’s Dreck–It’s not the most amazing art you have ever seen–but it’s not terrible. It’s Dreck! I’m actually known as “Der Dreckenheimer” or simply “Dreck” by friends in the art world–I think it’s hilarious.
Q: Can you explain the creative process?
A: My painting process is similar to Warhol in that I start off photographing a subject. Then it becomes a multi-step process until I get to the final painting or mixed media image. It’s sort of like pottery when you are making pottery it does not look very impressive. White glop really. Then you take some magic colored powders and manipulate shapes and throw it in the kiln… and what comes out is –Viola! Something colorful, unexpected and wonderful.
Q: What can we expect from you in the future?
A: I’m sure at some point I’ll be speaking with you again at a New York City galley party. Perhaps, we’ll have a nice glass of wine together and discuss the greatest city in the world. I really just let my team handle the business side and focus my energies on the work. They are terrific. Young people are alive. As I celebrate reaching middle age this year–I am excited to create new Dreck for the people of this great city. They come from all over the world really. It’s my job to create art that entertains and engages people. Fortunately, that part comes effortlessly-the inspiration. It is all around us. The execution, however, is quite laborious.
Q: A labor of love?
“Whether I apply chromatic composition, an eclectic palette or color desaturation with my mixed media methods, makes less of a difference, than if the art object resonates with the viewer. It’s totally hit or miss and that’s what makes it so exciting to me,” says Kluger. “I adapt my painting style to the subject matter– and New York City has no shortage of fascinating subjects.”
What is Dreck?
“What is Dreck? It’s kitschy, it’s quirky… it’s Dreck! … to me, all my subjects have a dramatic arc, a back-story, a heroic or tragic quality… but ultimately it’s up to the viewer to imbue their Dreck (artwork) with a particular meaning. It’s almost Jungian in a way. I believe that art is singular to the individual the same way dreams are. I am drawn to non-sentimental slices of life,” says the artist who is often seen roaming city streets with a camera,” but life in New York City– by its very nature — is full of irony, drama, beauty and danger.”
*Please contact: art publicist Bernadette Marciniak at email@example.com to inquire about PRE-ORDERING,I Like Pancakes Too! — Kluger’s forthcoming (2016),limited-edition, signed, hard-cover, picture-book, (created with help from 8 year old son Robbie) about New York City, a broken heart and a friendly coffee-shop!
To request Dreck’s Art Catalog and or to inquire about Commissioned Art Work, please contact: Dreck’s publicist, Bernadette Marciniak, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Q & A with Street Artist Adam Kluger, January 2016 in NYC
Q: Happy New Year!
A: Yes hopefully, it will be one. With life the glass is either half full or half empty. The art I created from 2015 has been very well received by various art and literary magazines and for that I am very grateful. Yet, when I write or sketch or paint it is not with the thought of acceptance or with hopes of any sort of acclaim that I pursue such activities. I do it because it has to be done. The spark, the muse is there and while it favors me I must respond to its siren call. I know that I am not the most talented painter or the most skilled writer–but I do these things because I must. So, yes, to have dozens of pieces of my art and over a dozen of my short stories enthusiastically accepted for publication by various art magazines over the span of a few months does feel like a miracle of sorts. It’s very humbling.
Q: What are some of the names of these Art & Literature Magazines?
A: Well it’s not the New Yorker or the Kenyon Review yet, but I’ve been extremely honored to see my stories and artwork published in Story Shack, a cool art-lit outlet in Munich, Outsider based in Chicago, Meat for Tea outside of Boston, Some terrific British-based outlets like Literally Stories, Jotters United as well as fantastic magazines like Turk’s Head Review, Empty Sink Publishing, Smokebox, Winamop, Spelk, No Extra Words, Former People, Flash Frontier, Third Wednesday, Zombie Logic, and Literary Juice; which was kind enough to feature my painting, Drowning In Flame: A Tribute to Charles Bukowski, as their November cover. Quite an honor. These editors have really honored me with their words and support and what they are doing is so important for society. We must have free artistic voices that are allowed to flourish in a forum without fear of censorship or reprisal. Art and literature are so essential if we are to survive. Our souls and spirits must be able to find communion with art, literature and music if we are ever to find our better angels. We must embrace our collective humanity and value love and commitment to all cultures to survive the forces of modernity and the constant challenges facing our world.
Q: Your oil painting of Charles Bukowski has been published by a number of magazines. What is it about Bukowski?
A: Great American writer. He deserves the attention he gets because his prose is clean like Hemingway even though his subject matter is considered dirty by some. I never get tired of reading Bukowski, Fante, Hemingway, Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Melville.
Q: Why do you feel that the Art-Lit Magazines have suddenly taken notice of your work?
A: Great question. I’d like to think that I am providing the Art-Lit Magazines with something of value. Something that is unique but that resonates with something quite familiar. Regardless of why they seem to like it, from a utilitarian perspective, I am providing them with diverse content that fits their needs as editors. I’m just really glad they seem to get it. The internet has changed the dynamic in the art-world and in the world of publishing. While the galleries and brick and mortar spaces will always provide a function in the selling and showing of art… the internet has provided artists and writers with new options beyond kow-towing to literary agents or gallery owners. Self publishing is becoming much more common-place and accepted as individuals are embracing a more entrepreneurial view of the world. People have been given new freedom because of the change in the economy. There is a greater sense of independence and inter-dependence out there. It’s a millennial revolution of sorts. Tech-savvy young people have embraced mobile technology and social media and appropriated the means to communicate, market and sell their own creativity. It’s really something amazing to see. We can’t all be Mark Zuckerberg or Marissa Mayer but each of us can now create and promote our own businesses, our own art and literature, and we can develop our brands while do it. Each person is essentially their own brand. They are no longer faceless cogs in a machine or corporation. In order to survive, Americans have embraced technology. It is why you see people looking in their smart-phones as they walk down the street, eat in restaurants or travel on subways. I saw a clever painting by Mark Kostabi, on Facebook of course, where a couple is having sex while looking at their IPhones. Brilliant.
Q: Is modern technology part of the reason for this growing anti-art movement in the art-world?
A: Without doubt, technology, economic uncertainty and independent spirit all are at play in this growing anti-art movement that seems to have gripped the NYC art-world.
Q: What does anti-art mean to you?
A: As you know, the term anti-art can be traced as far back as to Marcel Duchamp and to the various artists who are described as Dadaists. It’s really a rejection of societal tropes and the bogus subculture that surrounds artists that exists purely for the pursuit of profit. We see it in music and fashion as well. In order to turn art into a sale-able commodity you need to be able to affix to it a value. Why is an artist like Cy Twombly able to get millions of dollars for three colored splotches and some writing on a canvas? Well, that is all about the creating of brand value for an artist. It sells for that amount because it can be re-sold eventually for ten times that. And that is all about branding. There is nothing intrinsic within those splotches worth millions of dollars but with some fancy marketing and financial projections, the dream becomes reality. That is, if the dream is about making profit. Same with autographs that sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ultimately what is being sold and marketed is a sense of immortality. Inspiration…and profit, of course. Anti-art, to me, is about stripping away the artifice surrounding art objects and the disingenuous subculture that seeks to exploit the work simply for the sake of profit and return art to it’s place as a way to inspire individuals directly. That primary aesthetic interaction. One that creates a sense of joy or catharsis. Regardless of an art object’s supposed value. It’s why I refer to myself as a “street” artist. I reject the elitist gallery system because I want my art to be enjoyed by everybody. Art, as philosopher Immanuel Kant once posited, should not be regulated by any sort of objective standard of beauty or value. Art by it’s nature is subjective. Almost Jungian in it’s ability to impact individuals differently. That, to me is the essence of the anti-art argument. If people in the art-world want to label me as one of the leaders of a growing Anti-Art movement, that’s fine. I don’t go in for labels- that’s why I don’t sign my artwork on the front like other artists do. Again, to me, it’s all about the sacred importance of art and about respecting it’s true value to society and individuals.
Q: you seem to be inspired and influenced by an eclectic mix of artists.
A: Quite true but who isn’t, really. Picasso, Dubuffet, Van Gogh, Chagall, Seurat… it’s such a long list really–It’s hard not to feel a sense of awe. From a very early age we were constantly exposed to New York’s great museums and cultural offerings. As a teenager, I studied art with Ion Theodore who was a sculptor and philosopher. I learned to appreciate the creative process and the beauty of the female form at his art cottage. Later on, I backpacked through Europe and came face to face with unbelievable art and that left an indelible impression on me. I’m a big supporter of New York artists too. Hugh MacLeod, Howie Keck, Peter Zonis are just a few artists I like. Eric Payson, while almost legendary in New York underground art circles for his brilliant photography and cult of personality, still operates under the establishment radar–creating some of the edgiest photography around. When people discover what he’s been up to–he’s going to blow up. I met Bob Ross (The Host of The Joy Of Painting), years ago and he took the time to chat with me and show me his painting technique up close. That was instructive. Super-nice guy but he was all business too. Those happy little trees he was painting did some decent business for him. I liked the freedom and confidence he had with his artwork. There was a lot of joy in his work and if Julia Child is to be canonized in cooking circles–Bob Ross deserves a little love and respect too for empowering his viewers to discover the magic that can be found –at any age– in making art.
Q: What about Jacob Epstein, the famed British sculptor? How are you two related.
A: Through my mom’s side of the family. On my dad’s side we have all the writers. Yeah, it’s pretty cool to be related by blood to such a well-known artist like Jacob Epstein who was so popular in his day that he was commissioned to create a marble tribute to Oscar Wilde at his gravesite in Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris. Same place where Jim Morrison is buried.
Q: What should we expect to see from Adam Kluger in 2016?
A: I imagine that I will be getting out and about a bit more to mingle with other artists to enjoy NYC and it’s amazing energy and to re-channel that into the work. I love to write and create new art that celebrates this amazing city. The Muse is all around us and she needs to be embraced often with appreciation, love and our hearts. I hope to publish a collection of short stories, a children’s picture-book, that I created with my son, featuring some of my artwork and also continue to submit new works to art-lit magazines. My wonderful art publicist Bernadette Marciniak — email@example.com handles all the business and commission request stuff. I focus on family, friends, working hard and being creative and thankful every day. Being an “anti-artist” frees me up to experiment with mixed media and a variety of mediums and not to worry whatsoever about anything more than embracing my instincts while I endeavor to create new work that resonates.