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Interview with David Hochbaum at Inside ontheinside.info

Interview with David Hochbaum

david-hochbaum.png

Ontheinside.info: So you were born and grew up in New York?
David Hochbaum: Yeah, I grew up right outside here. I first was in Brooklyn in Island Park, then my folks moved upstate like 20 miles north. But my parents split and my pop had a place here at 1st and 1st in the 80’s. And also when I was real young my dad had a business here as well so there was a lot of time spent in Manhattan.

Q: So you were roaming the East Village as a kid?
DH: Yeah, my dad was, he was a party guy and he had all his friends living in this neighborhood, so pretty much when I was that age I was depending on where he was taking me.

Q: Have you notice a change in the East Village over the years?
DH: There’s a good reason why people romanticize it a lot, just cause that’s what happens, but a lot of that is definitely true. You know the reasons why I fell in love with the city was because, just the way I was growing up, it wasn’t like the average kid in the upper middle class neighborhood. Coming around here, there were a lot more, I guess, freaks around. You know, you wouldn’t see a lot of those kind of people in more suburban areas, you know, the punks, the fags, the junkies, they’d be walking around. But it really was sort of a natural environment for them. It wasn’t like, oh, look at the weirdos, It was kind of like being anonymous yet being able to be individualistic compared to the norm. So that’s what I was really turned on about. And now of course it’s very different.

Q: Can you describe how it’s different?
DH: Yeah, I mean, first off I think it just got really popular cause it was so cool, so everybody sort of migrated to the area. And for the most part it became so popular that all the reasons that made it so cool were pushed out because of the real estate, you know people take advantage of that, real estate goes up and then all the artists, musicians, and writers had to move away. And so, it kind of left everybody just walking around, looking around for the things that they got attracted to, but it was just a lot of walking around, looking around, showing off rather than doing. The organic sort of progression of the creative environment forces diluted and got pushed away.

Q: But you didn’t get pushed out?
DH: Yeah I kind of stuck to my guns and don’t want to leave, even though I feel like I’m a lot more of a minority, and lucky enough to still be able to maintain a studio and apartment here because of circumstances and friends who have their cheaper leases, whatever. I like to maintain that sort of energy here too by, you know, periodically throwing events in my space, from art exhibitions from artists internationally and around the U.S. and have a lot of parties here, you know like silk-screen parties, so it’s sort of like an interactive artist environment thing going on. But it’s just a party too at the same time, it’s not like trying to show anything off rather than just like getting people together and having a decent time.

Q: How did your art career develop?
DH: I went to the Museum school in Boston, and I’d say halfway through, by the second year, I had to make a decision, you know, if I was going to pursue art or am I going to try to find a way to find some kind of career, do graphic design or film or something. But I was really gung-ho about it, I just wanted to make art. I was into mixed media, and fine arts and conceptualizing fine art. You know, just working through projects, so I just decided to go full force and take a chance. Cause I knew it was an absolutely ridiculous career move, it’s fickle and it’s tough. But, I moved back to New York in ‘95, back to the East Village and spent about 11 months couch surfing, looking for jobs, not making any art for like a year. And then getting settled and just like starting from scratch like anybody else I think, who moves to New York, no matter where you’re from, here or anywhere else, you move back you’ve got to start from scratch and pay your dues. I went through it you know, painting, pushing my work, peddling stuff, carrying stuff to restaurants, cafes, bars, hanging art anywhere possible, working as much as possible, and doing shows that got me nothing, doing shows that sometimes make a little bit of money but not really making any money off the art, working in bars mostly, bartending for like 10 years now in New York. Still do a couple days a week to guarantee the bills are paid. Over at Hi-Fi.

Q: How did you develop your multi-media art? What role did New York play in that, if at all?
DH: I sort of started discovering the media while I was at school. First I wanted to make films. Film was too expensive and time consuming so I went back to photography which I was playing around with a little bit. But it was boring as far as the process. I really enjoyed the darkroom but it’s very precise. And I like getting my hands dirty. So I started exploring more things like sculpture and painting, drawing. I love that sort of organic raw quality from that, where photography’s kind of, pretty, what you see is what you get. So I started mixing, not being able to afford frames I’d find wood in the trash and start just framing my own stuff out like that. You know, not being able to photograph everything I’d want I’d paint in things, eliminate things, start really, you know, messing with the media a lot and getting turned on by a lot of other artist I looked at like Mike and Doug Starn, Rauschenberg, Anselm Kiefer, Werner Herzog or Alejandro Jodorowsky, and you know, getting inspired by that approach and working through it.

I don’t know how much New York City played a part in sort of directing how and what my media was. Definitely the raw, urban quality of the city helps a lot, the energy. It’s kind of like, very layered, very multi-layered, textural, and chaotic. New York’s great for found objects, New York’s great for the fact that anything you need or want to use you can find, you can get any material you want pretty quick and easy. It’s easy to expose yourself on many levels, as basic as you know, showing in cafes and bars, or if you want to hound down galleries you can get there, walk over there and start just pounding on people’s doors and there are a lot of eyes to look at what you’re doing. As long as you keep and maintain, that energy’s there pushing you a lot, there’s a lot of pressure in the city.

Q: What would you tell a young artist coming to the city?
DH: Expect a transition. Expect maybe a lull in productivity, but that doesn’t mean that you know, you really lose anything cause you can’t really tame the city, a lot of people try to conquer the city, the idea of, oh I’m going to conquer New York—New York’s not to be conquered. New York is to be, I think, adapted to and taken into your psyche and the way that you do things. That’s fine, that’s why you come here. It’s a great city for that. To exploit that, be able to use that.

Q: You’re a big fan of collaboration right?
DH: I’m a big fan, first of all, of acknowledging my inspirations, a lot of artists tend to find their whatever, their technique or their kitschy thing, the thing that they keep on doing, and sort of hold on that. It’s become very romanticized, the idea of the artist in the studio alone and blah blah blah, don’t want to share their contacts or whatever hookups they can have with other people or their ideas, they’re afraid of being ripped off. I don’t think it’s really possible to not be inspired by someone or something that gets into your work. And I think to emulate something is a lot more admirable than to disregard and not acknowledge your inspirations. There’s, I think, fear of being unoriginal and that’s something you have to work through as you work as an artist and you start to—as long as you’re really working from your heart it’s going to come through. And if it looks like something that someone else is doing that’s natural, there’s this, you know, a common social unconsciousness that everyone’s sort of on. Especially if you’re in a city like this where a lot of people are getting fed the same kind of vibe. You’re bound to pick up the same thing other people are picking up and it’s going to come through in the work. But if you have your own voice then you really don’t have anything to worry about, it’s just going to happen.

Q: What are your inspirations?
DH: I’m constantly inspired cause I’m surrounded by some pretty amazing and talented people. I’d say my most immediate inspirations are my peers and the people I work with in my collaborative group, The Goldmine Shithouse, and they’re the artists Travis Lindquist and Colin Burns, cause they motivate me and push me in not so much like an academic way, like if you were in school being pushed by professors or whatever. They motivate me from their passion and their ideas, they teach me a lot about painting, and printmaking, things they do in their work that eventually gets mixed into my work and vice versa you know it happens to them as well. Plus a lot of the other artists I hang around with, the models I work with, cause all my work, the majority of the work I do… I shoot all the photos and they’re all from people I know, they’re either friends or friends of friends or people who’ve contacted me, you know, sort of given themselves up to me. And I depend a lot on them to capture the image and I also work with other photographers in the studio to help me with lighting, so things are not always consistent 100%, you know I like things to vary and change, and working with other artists I learn. And you know we learn from each other, and we push each other and we support each other a lot. I think that creates a nice strong sort of community of artists. And anybody takes another step up a level, we’re always there to pull them up in any way we can. If this works for so-and-so, doesn’t work for me, but I know you can get a hookup from this, I’m gonna call this guy up and be like, hey you should check this out, or we’ve got something going on, I got an event going on, ok I can pull people in on it.

Interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher for http://ontheinside.info

See David Hochbaum’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/david-hochbaum.

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