Art

Kim Gordon on Finding Her Voice as an Artist

From Sonic Youth co-founder and feminist icon, to visual artist, Kim Gordon is a creative voice that shows no signs of staying quiet. Listen up!

Kim Gordon is a visual artist and a founding member of the post-punk experimental rock band Sonic Youth. With music that, for many, defined a generation, Gordon was the ultimate bad-ass and continues to be known for speaking her mind.

In addition to her music, for the past 30 years, Gordon has worked consistently across disciplines and distinct cultural fields: art, design, writing (for ZG, Real Life, Artforum, etc.), fashion (for X-Girl), and film/video (both an actress and director). A New York native, Gordon studied at the Otis Art Institute in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and continues to work on her art today.

Here she sits down with fellow visual artist Davina Semo to discuss her practice, her feelings regarding her fame, and why art has the power to make you feel good.

Courtesy Charles Peterson

Davina Semo I was reading the press release for your upcoming show and began wondering about this idea of presenting oneself as an artist. Is this something you've identified with over time, given that you’re also a well-known musician?

Kim Gordon I kind of try to really not think about having a public persona so much. I don't think people walk around thinking that way. I don't know. My persona, it's not a big public persona, but it's kind of hard to escape nonetheless.

So, I guess, the best thing is just to kind of play with it. There’s also a fine line between wanting to do work that doesn't just function on that level of celebrity a la Warhol, because, although he was a big influence I think that's sort of a trap.

 

DS How would you describe your studio practice?

KG I'm an erratic worker. I am always trying to make more of a schedule, but it's hard unless I have a show or a deadline. I need that to guide me in what I'm gonna make. And then sometimes I'll work on music stuff.

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An installation view of Design Office, The City Is a Garden; 2015
Kim Gordon, #ResistResist, 2017, acrylic on canvas, courtesy the artist and 303 Gallery

DS I was listening to your single, “Murdered Out” and began reflecting upon how it's very visual in its language—in terms of the lyrics themselves and how the sounds wash over the listener. And then I started thinking about your text paintings, such as Pussy Galore. It's hard to avoid feeling an emotional or psychological overlap between the pain or power that your voice carries in the song, and then the visual associations with a work like Pussy Galore. Do you consciously think about translating the vibe of your songs like “Murdered out” into your paintings?

KG I don't usually, consciously think about it in that way. But, when I wrote that song I was actually using blacks in my pieces, doing stuff on mirrors with black spray paint and some of the lyrics came out of that process.

DS Switching gears for a moment: I went back and watched your performance of Aneurism at Nirvana's induction into the Hall of Fame. Having just finished reading your memoir, I was thinking about how you described seeing the men in Sonic Youth during your last shows. That time seems to reflect an interesting moment where women in music were coming up against and challenging gendered stereotypes.

KG I don't really think about it much anymore. I mean, I think all women just want to be seen as people. But, obviously, no matter what your gender, or how you identify, it’s definitely your experience. I think that whatever you get power from—whether it's the exhilaration of playing music or making art—that you connect with what makes you feel good in your body. And the key to that is to not be self-conscious—you have to really own it. I hate to use the term own it, but I think you should feel comfortable with the power of your sexuality and don't feel guilty about it.

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Kim Gordon, The Pitch, 2018, variable dimensions, courtesy Reena Spaulings Fine Art, L.A.; installation view, “Design Office: The City Is A Garden,” 2015, courtesy 303 Gallery

DS You mention in your book that John Chamberlain is one of your favorite artists, as well as Gordon Matta Clark building cut works. I was thinking about this sort of aggression that comes through in a lot of your music. And I was wondering if you've ever thought about making things that are more material than what you've done so far?

KG Yeah, sure, definitely. I would like to work my way more into that. So I like sculpture a lot actually, and I feel like ... I like Claire Lights sculpture a lot. I think she's a really interesting artist.

 

DS How do you think about titles for your paintings?

KG I'm actually just bad with titles. Pitch one, pitch two, pitch three.

 

DS Do you think of your music or art as having a hierarchy in terms of self-expression?

KG There's just different forms of expression, different ways of representing.

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From left: Kim Grodon, Pussy Galore, 2017, acrylic on canvas, courtesy 303 Gallery; installation view, “Design Office: The City Is A Garden,” 2015, courtesy 303 Gallery

DS I wonder if you feel like in relation to music, the art world feels more or less free in a way?

KG Yeah, the art world to me is really hard, but in a different way than the music world.

 

DS Do you feel like making art is performative even though it's not necessarily in front of an audience? As a viewer of your work it does seem like a lot of it comes out of an action or an active mood.

KG Yeah, especially if the paintings are gestural.

 

DS You can very outspoken—are you interested in politics? Do you read the news a lot?

KG I’m Rachel Maddow obsessed. I have to watch MSNBC at 6:00 PM kind of thing. And, yeah, I read The New York Times and the Washington Post, and the New Yorker, when I can.

 

DS Do you see crossovers between your practice as artists and a musician?

KG I mean, there's a crossover in that I do a lot of art that's informative in a certain way and that remains in the painting. To me, art making is more like a better chess game, not to make glib Duchamp references, but it's just more cerebral. And making music is more visceral.

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