Interview and Photography by Sarah J. Edwards
This feature first appeared in the print edition of BLAG Vol.2 Nø 5, 2006. The story contains slight edits for online purposes.
Kim Gordon is not only one of rock’s leading ladies, but a celebrated fashion designer and artist. She has toured the world with her group Sonic Youth and exhibited her art internationally. She ran her own clothing label, modelled for Juergen Teller’s campaign for Marc Jacob and has a legion of fans. Not only that, she’s a good laugh and down-to-earth. Here she breaks down a myth, explains her vast work and tells us about some of the great men in her life.
Can you introduce yourself including: occupation and your most commonly used phrase? “Occupation, musician, art... actually conceptual artist, that’s my occupation. I guess, ‘Just a sec.’ would be my most used phrase because my daughter uses it all the time. I was like, ‘God, that is so annoying, where did she get that? Then I realised that I say it all the time. ‘Just a sec!’"
It’s strange isn’t it, you do end up having a commonly used phrase and don’t really realise – something you attach at the end of a sentence and you don’t notice until other people pick it up. “Yeah, I mean I’ve been trying to adopt Paris Hilton’s most used phrase which seems to be ‘That’s hot!’.”
What do you think is the biggest myth about you? “Um, that I’m mean. [Laughs] That I’m scary to boys.”
Don’t you think that any woman who’s really doing something always seems to be ‘a bit scary’ to boys? “Yeah, maybe, mostly English boys. I think English boys are easily scared! I think it’s something to do with having a Queen image or something in your life.”
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Yes, it probably is, it scared them all. Did you study?
“I went to art school and I studied film. I was really into Courbet and Manet. After I left school, I actually discovered realism and I didn’t really like art history when I was going to school, but I sort of learnt to look at painters from the past. The first book that really turned me onto that was by TJ Clark, he was a Marxist art historian, it showed me how you really can’t look at art without the social context. Something that can seemingly look conservative can actually be radical. “I was really into conceptual art because I thought it was just so radical to take the idea, to get rid of the object and just have the object be words or a walk in the park or [laughs] something.”
Are there any contemporary artists that you really like or appreciate? “Well, I really like Richard Prince, he’s one of the first people I met when I moved to New York and we became friends and I still like his work a lot. Christopher Wool whose work we used on our latest CD. Cameron Jamie, I like his stuff and Raymond Pettibon are the obvious ones you’d think I’d be associated with. Jutta Koether is somebody I collaborated with, I like her stuff a lot.”
Can you talk about your artwork? We wondered if you could tell us about a couple of particular exhibitions that you’ve done, including your work methods and inspiration. “Well, one show I did in New York [was] with my friend Jutta Koether. It was at gallery called Kenny Schachter's Gallery. The gallery was in an odd place, it was in the West Village next to the West Side Highway, right across from this giant Richard Myer glass tower building that was still sort of under construction. So, it was down this little alleyway and the gallery had been designed [with] all this metal mesh on the inside. It kind of reminded us of an 80’s club, so we decided to turn it into a club for six weeks and we hung our own design system on the metal mesh. We used coloured acoustic foam pieces – you can get all kinds of different ones, we had purple wedge, kind alternating with these diamond shaped ones. We alternated that with nylon curtains and we had a video lounge. We had events twice a week, bands played, people read poetry, it was sort of an inside joke that this would be a neighbourhood art club for people moving into the Richard Myer building, like Calvin Klein, Martha Stewart and Nicole Kidman. [laughs] The best part was just seeing people hanging out in the alley around this construction site drinking beer and stuff. Anyway, that was kind of like this conceptual club. “Something I’ve been doing lately are abstract glitter paintings, they’re really thick, they’re deep, like four inches deep, so they’re almost like objects as much as they’re paintings. It’s just like glitter totally piled on.”
Can you pick two songs from your new album, ‘Rather Ripped’ and tell us about them? “The song called ‘Reena’ is partly inspired by this book ‘Reena Spaulings’ which was a collaborative art project, it was a novel written by six people or more. The character is this girl in the art world in New York and it’s about how she kind of stumbles her way up the career ladder so to speak. Bernadette Corporation and some other people contributed. I even wrote something for it, but they started farming out stuff to other people towards the end like, ‘Write something about The Strokes,’, ‘Write something about pink and black.’. It actually reads pretty well considering it was not written by one person. The gallery where I show at is called Reena Spaulings Gallery and it’s a gallery named after this fictional person. Now they’re starting to do work under her name and show at other galleries, so it’s kinda interesting. “There’s a song on the new record called ‘The Neutral’. I was looking around for something to write about [laughs] and we had this Roland Barthes book called ‘The Neutral’ it was about the idea of packaging neutrality, or the idea of what neutral is. Just as a challenge, I thought, ‘I think I want to write a song about this,’ it’s so hard, [laughs] I kind of transposed it to the idea of passive boys, or like passive aggressive guys. So it was just kind of an updated term, like neutral for passive. Or some type of certain way men communicate through non-communication. Through packaging themselves to look a certain way or gestures of unobtainability.”
Can you tell us about your interest in fashion, what kind of designers you like?
“Yeah, I like fashion. It’s like a visual outlet for me, it’s a lazy way to be visual! I don’t know, I like it, I love Topshop.” I think it’s a really exciting time at the moment, because it’s almost like anything can be fashionable. “Right.” You can have your own identity and still be cool, rather than having your own identity and being the picked on strange person.
“Yeah, I mean, I’m a little sick actually of fashion at the moment. (Laughs) I’m not sick of buying clothes, I mean high fashion, I’m a little sick of it. I would almost rather go to Topshop or H&M or something. Although, I say that, but don’t leave me in a Vanessa Bruno store for more than five minutes! I mean people have good seasons and bad seasons, but you know I like Mayle this designer in New York, Jane Mayle. Marc Jacobs’ stuff, I like his stuff I, he goes for classic things in a way, even if it’s classic feminine. I like things that are kind of filmic, I like some avant guarde stuff but I don’t want to feel like a beatnick at the same time. I don’t know, it’s one thing, ‘dressing like a beatnick is in!’”
And X Girl, are you one of the first musicians to create a label? “Aw, I guess so. I mean when Daisy and I – my partner, started doing it there weren’t a lot of downtown designers. There was Daryl K. We used to go to Daryl K, we used to go to APC and then we would go to vintage shops and look for bootcut cord jeans in hard to find colours. Like white or something. Or perfect fitting 70’s T-shirts. So, when we got offered to do X Girl our idea was just to make things that we liked. We didn’t want it to be expensive, but it was kind frustrating, you know the budgets were always so small. It’s a frustrating business because you try and get the right fit and then it goes into production and it comes out totally different. “I just decided I’d rather put my energy into visual art and now there are so many designers. I mean, I might design if someone asked me to do some things for their store but, it’s like, ‘Why?’ You know it’s just so much.” Yes, especially with people like H&M out there. It’s so hard to make a mark and they’re so fast. “Yeah, so fast. Well, the best thing is, if there is a classic thing that someone made that they’re not making, help them bring it back or something.”
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Can you tell us about some of the men in your life, including; first impression, a funny story or encounter of them... Beastie Boys “I first met them when they were 14 or something, they were just so cute! I guess I know Mike D more than I know the others. I mean Adrock is just so charming, adorable and sweet. Mike is really fun to talk to. We used to talk about fashion with him, me and Daisy. It’s always fun to encounter guys who talk to you like a girl in a sense. You know what I mean, some of the chatty types? Stephen Malkamus is another he’s kind of chatty in that way.”
Richard Prince “Richard, he’s a funny guy. I first met Richard when I was working at this gallery, I was supposed to be the secretary, although I didn’t know how to type, I was terrible! I sort of knew Larry Gagosian (one of the gallery owners) from LA, I used to frame pictures for him and he did schlock art. He used to make massive pieces in this really bad schlock art business - like mass produced prints. We put them in metal frames. Anyway, so I was working there and Richard brought, his photos and they were of watch ads and they were in these metal frames. I was like, ‘You’ve got to come up with something better than these metal frames!’ and was sort of giving him a hard time, but I really liked them and I really related to his work, because it was work that I was sort of interested in doing, things with ads. We just kind of started hanging out, we were just friends. He’s had a really interesting career, he’s always stayed true to himself with his twisted sort of conceptual ideas and it’s amazing. It’s great that he’s doing so well.”
Jean-Michael Basquiat “I didn’t know him at all. Jean-Michael, I would see him around, he would come into the Xerox shop where I worked and occasionally I would Xerox stuff for his art, but that’s about it.”
Iggy Pop “Iggy, I got to sing with him in Australia. I think actually we played in England once and he came and sang on stage with us – that was a long time ago. We did the Big Day Out that he was on, he’s amazing. I mean he’s such a great lyricist. I saw this interview with him once and he was talking about how he used to hang out at the Doughnut shop and listen to the way kids talked to get ideas for lyrics. I saw him on another talkshow where he referred to himself as a nerd, which is totally the opposite. They were talking about him being a punk – maybe it was Tom Snyder – or that the guy said you’re cool, ‘What does it feel like to be so cool?’ and he said, ‘Well actually I really think of myself as a nerd.’ He’s such a good singer beyond anything else, I really like his singing style – even like a crooner – his crooning.”
Marc Jacobs “Well, Marc is somebody who we met when we were doing the ‘Sugar Kane’ video that Nick Egan directed. He knew Marc and the idea was that a model would be walking on a runway and she would be taking her clothes off as the other girls were just walking back and fourth. It turned out we asked Chloe Sevigny – we sort of knew her, she was an intern at Sassy and someone recommended her. I guess Nick asked Marc if he would donate his clothes and it was just coincidental that he’d done a grunge collection that year. He was so generous, ‘Yeah, you can use the clothes.’ He invited his fashion world friends to come, and models, I don’t know where they got the models from. He was amazing, he was so generous and ever since that we’ve been friends. When we were doing X Girl he was always very encouraging.”