Like we said earlier, the most shocking part about last night’s shock-tastic episode of Work of Art was the two artists who were given the boot.
We chatted with performance artist Nao earlier about butting heads with the judges and the enigmatic live sculpture that ultimately got her the ax. The work that resulted in John Parot’s elimination, however, was more or less on the opposite end of the spectrum. For his shock art, Parot chose to meditate on a friend whose unique ability to self-pleasure has rendered him a social recluse. The cartoonish illustration (surrounded by a list of auto-fellatio instructions) didn’t sit well with the judges. We asked Parot why.
You expressed some initial concerns over this challenge. You said, “I’m not really into making shocking artwork. Being gay, people are always noticing what you do anyway, so I don’t want any unnecessary attention by doing shocking things.” Where does that sentiment come from?
Well, my subject matter with my art is gay culture and its effect on straight society. So when I’m asked to make something shocking and Andres Serrano is like, “Make some good shit!” I was kind of thinking, “Oh God! I don’t want to do a shocking piece of artwork!” I mean, nothing is shocking in this day and age and I think we all kind of failed. I thought maybe I could take a cliché shocking image and make it more poignant and make it humorous to give it more depth instead of it being this random shocking act. I wanted to give it more layers and more interest. That’s why I chose the subject I did. I called it a modern Narcissus. I was referring to the Greek myth and what that would look like today. I thought I did an okay job, and I was kind of shocked at the outcome. I thought my piece was multidimensional. The judges didn’t agree and that’s fine, but I felt like I’ve been making artwork for so long and making something specifically shocking was a challenge a real artist wouldn’t do.
You don’t wake up in the morning and say, “I’m going to make something that’s going to shock the world today!” It’s an unnatural request. I make artwork to let people inside of my world and my brain, what I’m thinking, how I react to things in the world. It’s like a window to my personality. My piece kind of touched that. Yeah, it’s shocking. But whatever. Nothing’s shocking, at least not in my world. I’ve seen people O.D. in clubs — is that shocking? Well, it happens every week in the gay culture. And you’re dealing with a primarily over-45 judges panel. Andres Serrano, I think, is in his 50s; Jerry’s old; Jeanne Rohatyn is an older woman … and they’re all straight! I found it extremely challenging to deal with this cast of older judges who really don’t know my culture of being gay. I had my work cut out for me at this point — I don’t know what a 50-year-old man or woman finds shocking anymore, you know? That’s kind of what I was thinking about.
Earlier: Jerry Saltz’s Work of Art Recap: Awkward
You said the idea was based on a true story and that one of your friends actually trained himself to be able to do this. How did your friend feel about his cameo?
I explained the whole piece to the judges and that was seriously edited out. But this piece is about a friend I knew who was able to do the act, yes, and then was so into doing the act that we never saw him. He kind of faded away from our group of friends and this self-satisfying act was kind of his demise. And now no one really knows where he is. He sort of disappeared and that was sad. And I thought of a modern-day Narcissus — instead of staring himself in a lake forever and ever he’s forever self-satisfying to the point where he lost all contact with his friends and family. We tried to be like, “Hey! We’re having a party, you should come!” And he would say, “No, I’m staying home … ” That sort of thing. So that shocked me — that he gave up his friends and family and completely withdrew from society over his ability to self-satisfy!
I know! To me, that’s shocking. Unfortunately, I don’t think the judges got it. It’s this trivial shocking act, but I thought I could give it a more poignant message. The words around the image tell you how to get in the position but the last steps are like, “Your family and friends,” and step five is “Slowly Disappear.” It was kind of my ode to mythology and trying to make it new. I was really excited about the story and excited about telling this to the judges. It’s not something I would do in my normal art-making practice. Like I said before, I don’t wake up and go to the studio and want to make something shocking for my viewer. I do want to put them into my world and show them my reaction to the things that happen in my culture. That’s a lot more exciting. My goal is not to shock my audience.
Well, on that note, how do you feel about Serrano’s work? Do you enjoy it? Is it something that shocks you?
I just turned 40 this year, so I was very into art in the eighties. I was just coming onto the scene and going to art school, and I actually saw him speak at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Andres Serrano is an artist and I find artists fascinating. I get Piss Christ; I get the KKK; I get the “Shit Show.” I have a lot of photographer friends, and I’ve seen a lot of his shows, and I’ve read a lot of commentary about his work. There are some shots that I like, and there are some shots that I don’t like. He’s not one of my favorite artists, but I’m definitely aware of what he does in the art world. As a person, we didn’t really connect on the show. But I’m a fabulous gay guy. And if he was flirting with China Chow, what can you do?