Janitor of the Earth /// An Interview with Nick Kuszyk

December 16, 2013

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Where do you live and what’s it like?

I’m in Bushwick,Brooklyn above a big Chinese food manufacturer on a strangely quiet industrial block between an automotive salvage yard and a garbage truck parking lot. It’s a pretty disgusting looking block with wrecked cars and weird industrial food sludge puddles in the gutters sometimes. It reeks in the summer. Most of the surrounding buildings are art studios and photo studios. There’s a big loft warehouse on the end of the block that has punk shows and straight edge shows. When I go out to have a cigarette, the block is usually totally empty which I really appreciate. But I might see a kid with the big ear hole things, or a group of trendy fancy European people, maybe a group of funny angry Chinese guys smoking cigarettes, or big tough garbage men walking to the train after work. Or Kevin Bacon creeping down the street with a gun out, having his picture taken for some TV promo thing. One of the photo studios has raves sometimes and at around 1am the block fills up with futuristic little cars with stickers all over them. There’s a factory across the street where a bunch of South American people work. A few weeks ago they had a huge party. They went all out, it was awesome. The factory windows were blinking crazy colors from the light show inside and they had a super loud sound system blasting whatever that crazy fast salsa sounding music is. It was rad. Everyone was happy and dressed up. It was some kind of family thing so there were kids everywhere just running around playing in the street until two in the morning. It’s a pretty awesome strange reality. And it’s expensive…New York is insane.

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What is your art studio and working environment like? When do you typically clock in?

My studio is tiny. Lately I’ve been thinking that more space would free me to get more done. My paintings are generally small which I guess is a practical response to my reality of a small space. I work best at night usually. Which probably comes from growing up skateboarding and doing graffiti. All my creative outlets were essentially illegal and had to be done after school and at night for the most part. Those patterns might have set some sort of foundation into how my mind works. Sometimes it takes all day for my brain to get lined up right to make things. But my schedule mostly depends on the circumstance. If I have a serious deadline I will work a million hours straight. I’ve gotten better at preventing unhealthy creative binges though.

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When did you start making art? did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
My mom told me a cool story recently. When I was three years old I stole some of my grandmother’s oil paint. I took it outside and smushed it in between the cracks of the bark of a tree in the front yard. I don’t know if I was using a brush or a stick but evidently my mom just watched for a long time and I was completely zoned into it. I was being very intentional and methodical about getting the paint in between the bark a certain way. I have another story. This one I remember. In Kindergarten they gave us a piece of paper that asked what you wanted to be when you grew up and I just scribbled all over it and wrote “I want to draw.” I don’t think I was implementing a life plan, but it still applies to the general weird desire/compulsion that I have to make stuff today. I wish I had the energy to write about all the instances where creative people, creativity, and art itself played a positive role in my life. There are a lot of rad moments that lead me towards actualizing a conscious pursuit of being creative and making a living from my creativity. I’ll save them for my memoir that I’m never going to write.

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Why robots?

I edited this down to a third it’s original length. One of the initial ideas behind the robots was to create a kind of non commercial creative brand/symbol thing that opposed the way mass production has sterilized culture. I was thinking about all that socio-political post-moderny stuff. Limiting my language, making everything by hand. I wanted to crank it out and sell it affordably as an individual and as an alternative to all the numbing corporately mediated garbage put in front of us all the time. But motivations are exponentially more complex than what comes from them and my motivations have evolved and my perspective has evolved a lot since I made the decision to only do the robots. I’ve never really been able to completely answer the “why robots” question. Usually I recoil from considering defining my motivations because there have been many logical conclusions drawn and thrown away over the last 13 years. And many of them conflict with each other. Why do anything really? Especially something that you do consistently for a long time. Relationships change. Rationalizations change. Circumstances change. Maybe It’s a bit more pointed for me at this point because It’s been 13 years of being asked that question by people who see the robots as inherently immature and cartoon in a negative way. Which I agree with essentially. But simplified modes of communication shouldn’t only be used by those who’s goals are to profit and collude. And I definitely rejected a lot of the post modern models as being far too pretentious or convoluted to communicate effectively. Sometimes heavy themes like death and inequality are better communicated with “light” or “common” aesthetics. Also I didn’t intend the robots to be as simple as a kind of pop art, or have a grandiose belief that the robots could become a fully main stream pop cultural device either. Pop art seemed shallow and greedy to me then and I had no desire to merchandise them or market them on a commercial level beyond selling the small “paintings” as themselves. I was rejecting all that stuff. And I had started the robots before the term “street art” was coined and marketed so I definitely had a more localized agenda in the beginning. It’s amazing to see how main stream “street art” has become and how some of the art buying establishment have accepted some people recently. I eventually learned that I was more into creating narratives that can be interpreted to mean different things to different people while addressing emotional stuff or more complex social issues with the the simplified language of the robots. I’ve definitely gone off on some strange psychedelic, magical, philosophical, spirituality tangents with the robots as well. But in regards to my own personal satisfaction with being creative in general I’ve allowed myself to go on longer non-robot tangents in the past few years. It’s good to step away from them and play with other ideas and modes so I don’t feel like I’m stifling myself too much. It doesn’t really seem that crazy for me to utilize the same symbols/characters for this long. Most creative people have a naturally limited vocabulary, some more than others. Graffiti writers write the same name forever. That one guy only painted bottles. Some people paint essentially the same painting their entire careers… This answer is becoming a long winded zig-zagging dissertation so I’ll leave more pontification to my memoir.

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Looking back on your past work, how do you feel your art has evolved in last decade and where is it now?

With the robots I’ve gone through different phases where different aspects were focused on. The first ones were like Keith Haring inspired cave paintings. The first two years I dealt exclusively with them on a formal level. Then focused on their body language to express movement and emotion. The robots were always silver and the background colors were arbitrary. Then I focused on narratives. Then I focused on color for a while and the narratives became of less importance to me. Then the environments became the focus, and the composition. Then manipulating depth and space with color became a main focus. All while “only drawing robots.” All the elements of the environments were made of robot parts. Basically I spent 8 years to learn how to make a painting that was attempting to be as complex as The Garden of Earthly Delights using just cartoon robots. Trying to combine high levels of compositional and narrative complexity eventually became tiresome. I went through a short phase of formal deconstruction for a while. Now I guess I’m in a kind of simplification phase where the backgrounds/environments are becoming more prominent and geometric. I’m also more open to other tangents outside of the robots and I’ve been dealing with how to balance my creative energy to pursue multiple modes simultaneously and effectively. But the robots still occupy their own space that I get into pretty easily. It’s a nice thing to have. Do people need to know any of these things?

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What is inspiring you these days?

I’m floating in the digital age zone of perpetual stimulation like most people are. Stuff is scrolling past me all the time. I’ve been reading a lot lately too. Art theory, history, criticism, graphic novels, new and old alternative comics. I like listening to podcasts or documentaries while working. Learning is cool. I think the quantity, range, and rate of consumption of inspirational information is so crazy for me right now that it’s hard to pin down what I’m responding to the most. I eat too many cookies.

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Last good film you saw?

An awesome interview with Genesis P. Orridge that I think Tony Oursler did. An hour and a half of one of the most interesting personal histories ever. That was inspiring. But “they” (Genesis refers to herself in plural) also kind of tore me down a little talking about “as soon as any kind of commercial concern enters the creative process, it’s ruined.” I don’t think it’s that simple.

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Can you describe your artistic process a little?

I guess the process depends on the project. If its a big mural that requires crazy logistic solutions then those things need to happen. Like if the wall has a super rough surface I have to figure what will work best for it. Or how big of a lift needs to be rented and how much help I will need to get it done if there is a time limit. I guess the murals demand a more responsive open approach than painting in the studio. And there are budget issues that have to be dealt with. But if you don’t count that stuff as a part of the artistic process, then the decisions I make regarding composition and color or conceptual direction are essentially the same as when making a small painting in the studio. It all depends on the piece’s purpose or intention relative to where I am creatively at the time with my focuses. There’s no set system to how I work. I’m not incredibly ritualistic about it. It helps to have a decently organized space with materials ready so getting started is quicker. Sometimes decisions get made immediately as they need to be made, other times I need to sit and think and it takes time to flush out the next move. Other times decisions and systems are pre-planned. But generally I don’t like to have the entire thing planned or sketched unless it absolutely needs to happen… I’m normal I think.

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Do you have any favorite quotes or mottos?

Probably, but I can’t think of them right now. I go through periods when certain words are more prominent or weird voices come out of me. Recently I went through an annoying phase where I would talk in a high pitched kind of Brooklyn old lady’s voice. Nobody liked it. But there’s always a point when it just sort of seeps in and becomes habit. This one was particularly annoying at first because I was bad at it. It was an awkward bad accent. And I had to do it real loud to make it work because old ladies can’t hear and talk loud. It was real weird. But I got better at it and eventually if I did it enough around someone, they would start talking in the voice too. I was working on a mural with my friend Brad and whenever I needed to tell him to do something I would use the voice and say something like “Bradley, could you grab me some of that pretty blue cullah foa me?!” I wasn’t trying to be shitty, the voice had become an involuntary habit. It was horrible and kind of funny but eventually by the middle of the second or maybe third day he was doing the voice too. And he was really good at it. It became ridiculous. Our conversations would slip in and out of this crazy lady voice and people would walk by and think we actually talked like that. Two six foot tall bearded guys thirty feet off the ground on a huge industrial boom lift yapping back and forth like old naggy Brooklyn ladies. “Nicky, could you be a deah and remembah ta fill in that shape right theyah.” “Of coase Bradley sweetie, lemme just adjust my hahness so I can reach it bettah.”

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If you could have any superpower what would it be?

Invisibility with controlling things to be invisible. I could make myself and anything anywhere invisible for as long as I wanted and it wouldn’t take more energy to make bigger things invisible. It would be effortless. I could sneak into a room and use someone’s computer and put invisible cameras in their office. Or make other people invisible with me and we could all sneak in and just all of a sudden be there and say things like “This is our oval office now bitch!” (Please refer to question #14)

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What is your favorite spot in the world right now?

I spent the last few summers in an amazing town in upstate New York. I don’t want to say it’s name because I want to keep it all to myself and not ruin it for the cool people that live there now. I love going to Virginia too. I love the Richmond-Charlottesville-Harrisonburg zone. That’s where I went to college and my family is there. One day I’ll own a house on Afton Mountain.

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Where do you feel at home?

Here in Brooklyn, and Central Virginia.

What are you currently working on?

This interview. Paintings for a group show in January and a show in February, both here in Brooklyn. And a secret mega huge mural project that could happen as soon as next month. I just made a small run of prints with Desert Island Comics that should be revealed to the public soon.

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Do you envision a positive future or do you think we are all fucked? apocalypse theories?

I think America and maybe most of the world should be fighting for a more stable balance of socialism-democracy-capitalism that doesn’t infringe on religious beliefs or force religious beliefs on anyone. A system that benefits everyone positively. Duh. Education and health care should be a primary priority for everyone. The tiny group of wealthy “ruling” classes around the entire world should be prevented from having disproportional influence on policies that have strengthened their stronghold on the worlds resources for selfish gains. The structure of power/resource allocation should be shifted to a far more egalitarian humane system. The Federal Reserve should be owned by the American People. Corporations should have limits on what their CEO’s can earn. Nobody needs to make more then 5 million dollars in one year. Monsanto should be a non profit or destroyed completely. Walmart should be a locally owned cooperative franchise. The prison, energy, insurance, and healthcare industries should be not-for-profit. Energy companies should drastically shift to producing solar and wind energy systems and products. Plastics should be phased out. Nuclear energy should be phased out. Militaries should be renamed “builditaries” and start building not destroying. Investment firms and Savings banks should be separated again. Corporate tax loop holes should be closed. Taxes should go way back up for the wealthy. Lobbying should be strictly regulated. Corporate fraudulence, especially in the financial sector, should be considered as heinous as violent crime and the death penalty should be strictly enforced. These are the things I will make happen when I overthrow the corrupt governments of the world. (i.e. question #10) and become the Janitor of the Earth.

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What is your spirit animal?

A beautiful large white stallion that I met on the side of a grassy mountain in a dream recently. I wept uncontrollably with joy when it stopped to let me embrace it.
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What astrological sign are you? do you relate to it? if yes, how?

Aries, Pisces cusp or something. Charge full steam ahead doubting yourself the entire time.

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Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
Everyone.

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Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Hopefully happy and healthy.

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What would be your last meal before execution

They won’t catch me I’ll be invisible.

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