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work of art

Work of Art Exit Interview: Episode Eight

Last night’s challenge on Bravo’s Work of Art didn’t exactly bring out the best in our six remaining artist-testants, who were paired up and charged with making works that embodied opposing ideas or forces.

Ultimately, it was fry cook/photographer Mark Velasquez who got the boot after he and teammate Peregrine Honig got a bit too didactic with their heaven-hell motif (not to mention personal — the piece was inspired by the stomach rupture that nearly killed Velasquez when he was 18). Velasquez took the morning off to chat with us from Santa Maria, California, where he continues to make art and, of course, flip eggs.

You and Peregrine haven’t always seen eye to eye. Were you nervous when you were paired with her for this challenge?
Yeah. Mainly, I knew she wasn’t handling the pressure all that well at that time and it’s really hard to work in a team, especially when it’s just a pair, when the other person is really kind of skiddish and afraid. She was a bit defensive and it was hard to deal with. So that makes you have to compromise more if you want to be considered a team player.

Were you happy with the image you produced?
Overall, I think I did the best I could. I had applied a lot more things to the image. With my stomach I can’t eat popcorn; I can’t eat nuts; I can’t eat certain things. And I took photos of all that and tried to collage it. But the concept of heaven in my mind is absence — less is more. In heaven I would think there are less things to worry about and have fears of instead belaboring it with tons of things. The best way I could [communicate that] was to make it very light and simple and have the light behind the scar coming out. Of course the judges didn’t see it that way, but that’s fine.

Had you ever made work about this scar/surgery/brush-with-death experience?
Oh yeah. I had done that when I was 18 or so. So not only did I never really see it as hell, I just saw it as something that I had definitely gotten over. When I woke up from surgery the doctors were very afraid to talk to me about it because they thought I was going to lose my mind. And I just said, "Well, what’s it going to take for me to get better?" Okay — let’s do this thing! Why sit there and freak out about it? The fact that Peregrine would say, “Oh my God! I see that as hell … ” I went through it and I don’t see it as hell, so that says a lot more about her than it does about me. Again, I agreed to do it and I take full responsibility for being a part of it. And the image I ended up with, I thought, was pretty nice.

Was there another specific image you had wanted to make?
I posted an image on my Facebook page of the image I wanted to make. And I’m really proud of it. But at the same time, I don’t think the judges would have liked that one either because it’s too literal. It’s a nude woman from behind ascending into heaven in a very tasteful way. I think it’s a really good, pretty, beautiful image and I used one of my favorite models in town, a young 18-year-old girl who’s got two years left to live and is dying of Lyme disease.

Read Jerry Saltz's recap here.

Did you feel that, throughout your time on the show, you got to communicate who you really are as an artist?
People really have too high a mind for the show’s challenges. I hear a lot from the established art world who say, “Oh man! Gosh! You guys really should have done better!” When really you have twelve hours, no resources, no outside stimuli whatsoever. You’re basically doing homework assignments. And you’re doing homework assignments for four people whose criteria kind of changes every week. So you never really know what you’re doing. I tried to make work that fit each challenge, but was true to myself. Whether that’s successful or not, it’s just four people’s opinions on the planet. So again, I’m going to sleep fine thinking that Jerry Saltz doesn’t like my work. That’s fine. The pieces that I was most proud of got very little acclaim or no notice at all. But this wasn’t my target audience. My target audience is people who are welders and blue-collar workers but are well-rounded and educated enough to be able to get things. The common man is much smarter than the art world gives him credit for.

Did you feel like you learned anything from the crits with the judges?
In their eyes, the work that I was presenting was a little too safe or a little too contrived. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to make a lot of the work that I normally make. Usually, the critiques I get in my daily work is “too over-the-top,” “too crazy,” or “too shocking.” Yet all of a sudden I get there and I’m the safe quiet guy. I’m like, What? How is that possible? But without access to models, without access to the things that I’m used to, of course it’s going to be a little bit of a challenge. Ryan takes nine months to make an oil painting and then the critique is saying that the painting isn’t finished … What do you want from us? It’s telling that there’s no real artist as a constant judge on the panel. They’re all critics and gallery people. It would be really interesting to have someone on the judging panel that has worked in the studio, someone that has had to deal with critics being judgmental for absolutely no reason. I think that would have been much more interesting to see.

China Chow got super-emotional when she had to eliminate you — real live tears, even. Did that come as a shock?
I was very touched. I’m a sensitive guy, and China — for as much as she’s shown on TV for being a fashionista and cold and deliberate, which she has to be for the show — our experience with her behind the camera, she was very goofy and funny and silly and full of life. I think that’s why I was emotional in my exit confessional interview. To see someone like that who, you know, she dated Keanu Reeves for Christ’s sake! And she’s crying over me? That’s pretty kick-ass.

You’re from a small town on the West Coast. What were your impressions of the New York art world?
I went to art school in Seattle and I was represented by a gallery in Seattle. The Seattle art world isn’t the same as the New York art world, but it’s big enough that I learned pretty quickly about the car salesmanship of the art world. [Being on the show] reminded me of things I had forgotten — or chosen to forget — in my experience of being represented by a gallery. I do come from a small town and I am, essentially, one generation away from field workers, but at the same time I’ve lived in that world also. So I’m not naïve; I’m not blind to how it works. But it still shocks me to see so much of that stuff is still sort of cliquish and high school-ish. And a few of the younger contestants on the show were so obsessed with being in a gallery where, in my experience, I learned that being in a gallery means nothing. You make no money from it because the gallery’s making money from it. Just like a band wanting to be signed to a record label — you don’t wake up a millionaire one day.

So what’s next?
I still flip burgers — I took the morning off from making egg sandwiches so I could talk to you. But I leave in the afternoon. I’m still able to go and take photos. I’m working on a new ironic bikini calendar. Not erotic, ironic. I just published my first photo book that seems to be getting a decent response. I’m also working on a bimonthly magazine. I’m busier than I’ve ever been! That’s not to say that I’m making all kinds of money at it, but the goal of any artist is to make enough money to keep making art. And as long as I can do that, I consider myself a success.

Read Jerry Saltz's recap here.