An Interview with Wade Beesley

Copy of WB
Wade Beesley
interview originally posted in January, 2006

Wade was one of the first members of Austin’s art community I met when I moved here in 2002.  Wade has made an indelible mark in Austin’s art scene.  Wade owned and operated Mojo’s Daily Grind for ten years.  While serving coffee and beer, Wade was personally responsible for its monthly exhibition schedule, performances, DJs, and starting its celebrated TV Smashes.  The coffee shop took on a life of its own and became a celebrated stomping ground for the disenfranchised and creative elements that didn’t have any other place to go.  Annual TV Smashes took place, along with a free wall for graffiti and ample room by the bar for the posting of political and social activist tracts.

Wade is now embarking on a new endeavor, turning his east side home into an occasional art gallery feeding off the spirit of Mojo’s and the creative vibe inherent in Austin.

We met at Lovejoy’s Happy Hour to talk about art and his recent show ‘CAUTION: POLICE STATE’ at his new east side stomping grounds: Gallery Dv8.  Below are his answers to my five questions:

1. Many of the shows you’ve put together, performances, and your own work have revolved around politics and carried heavy social content.  Hollywood actors speak about social issues, and get hit hard by the right wing and mocked; how do visual artists fare and how vital is the connection between art and politics?
I think there has to be a connection between art and politics.  At this point, there is no dissension allowed, people aren’t allowed to speak against the administration without repercussions. So, visual artists, being pretty much small creatures in our society, aren’t being pinpointed by the media and aren’t being hit as hard as other politicians or journalists. However, Hollywood celebrities are big time, public figures, so they do see some fall out, from their actions. I’m proud and glad they’re speaking out. Most dissension today is coming from the arts- Hollywood, musicians, comedians, visual artists, and performance artists. These are the only people allowed to speak. Art throughout the ages has been a comment on society. So, I think it’s absolutely necessary that art and politics connect. Like the “Police State” show I’m doing on the 25th, yeah, I’m hoping it’ll be a big art show, but unless the Department of Homeland Security sees the flyer, it’s not going to reach national press or reach a point where people will retaliate against me or the people showing there. We just aren’t big enough.

Are artists the last social critics?
Yes. Unless you make your comment with some sort of satire or visual beauty, you aren’t allowed to say what you feel against the establishment. Comedians do a good job “Jon Stewart” is allowed to have The Daily Show and it does well, Bill Maher too. You know, a lot of hip hop and DJs these days are talking about revolution, they’re talking about change.  So it’s not just visual artists, its artists in a broad sense, and they are the last ones who are able to speak out against what’s happening.

2. With the drastic split between the right and the left, the art world and the rest of the world, is putting together a show of political art preaching to the choir?
Politics is part of the “Police State” show, but it’s more social commentary in a broad realm: the patriarchy, misogyny, racism, not just George Bush, the war in Iraq, nor his neglect for the people of America. So maybe some people in the choir can learn something. But I don’t know what it’s going to take to break through the paradigm of the people who aren’t in the choir. Hell, everyone I hang out with knows what’s up with Bush and his cronies, and so do the people in the show, and probably the people coming to the show. They already feel this way, so I guess I am preaching to the choir a lot of the time. I really don’t know how many minds can be changed, minds are near impossible to change anyway.

3. What about street art, emphasis at Mojo’s, stickers, graffiti, art escape the bounds of the art world?
It’s like advertising, it’s like a billboard, but it’s not selling anything. It is art for art’s sake. Why should I look at a blank, grey wall when I could look at a mural someone put up? There’s no reward or compensation, it’ll just be up for a while, so its only purpose is the creation. Graffiti artists realize it’s temporary, it could be gone the next day, or the next week, but they create any way. They just want to paint, they aren’t looking to sell it, get into a gallery or whatever. It’s a different level than the traditional art world. The subculture of subculture.

4. How important are alternatives to artists – alternative spaces, venues, alternative press, the internet, and online publications?  Do you think with the ability for an artist to access all this, should be in the artists hands?
Well, if the alternatives are important, artists need to step up and take advantage of them. It’s really rare to find an artist that can do that in and of himself. Artists are good at creating, but most are not good at marketing themselves. I know some people firsthand that do market themselves, and get their stuff out there, but they’re still struggling. Alternatives are a good thing, and it’s a break away from the norm, but the problem with alternatives is that it’s hard to get the consumer to shift his ideal of art away from that norm. It has to change to where these events can be lucrative. Alternative spaces give artists more exposure and shift things away from the sterile gallery environment, but we need to figure out how to get the people at these parties to purchase. In NY right now, there’s a guy who has a gallery in a stoop, it’s just a doorway. He has an artist do a piece in there, once a month or so, and it’s a gallery. People are also taking vacant buildings and putting art in them.  It’s what I’ve done in the past too. I used to get vacant buildings downtown and throw art parties.  I did it twice during SXSW.  Its getting art out of the box of the gallery, which is something I’m trying to do with Gallery Dv8, something alternative, where the gallery owner doesn’t have to worry about covering his overhead by selling the art to a high end market. They can just throw an art party and show the work and not have to treat the artists as a commodity.

5. You’ve done a movie, performances, and sculpture; how comfortable are you moving from one medium to another and where does your inspiration come from?
I’ve never been trained as an artist, so I don’t consider myself an artist in any one realm. Basically, I come up with an idea and work from that premise however it needs to develop. I don’t think, “I want to sculpt” or “I want to do a performance.” The concept just comes to me, and I decide what I need to do to have it make sense or to affect properly.  A lot of what I’ve been doing recently has been a play on words, a conceptual sculpture that makes the viewer rethink a common phrase or thought. I have a whole series in my head that I want to do–I’ve done a few of them, but they’re real tedious, so I need shows or events to motivate me to produce them. I guess the biggest art piece I’ve done was Mojo’s. It was the largest creation of my life so far. It wasn’t an art piece in a traditional sense, but it took a lot of creative energy and just like a painting, I had to let the “art” happen and not try to control it too much. I think that is one thing that makes a great artist, is the ability to let things happen as they do, and just morph your process accordingly. Mojo’s and good art are like a living organism that you allow, with some coaxing, to become the best it can be.