Search and Destroy Toy: The Garry-Lewis James Osterberg Interview – Nelson Henricks
Nelson Henricks: Garry-Lewis, you seem to have experienced what could only be described as a meteoric rise to fame. Your recent show at Paul Petro Gallery in Toronto seems to have sealed your reputation as Canada’s premier canine artist. Can you fill me in about what you’ve been up to since I saw you last — your career up until now, and how the Petro show came about?
Garry-Lewis James Osterberg: Hey, Nelson. Long time no see. I’ve been in group shows at Paul’s off and on for a few years now, and the solo exhibition just fell into place. In summer 2009, I debuted the beginning of the Iggy Pop series at Naco Gallery in Toronto, in a group show called Daddy that was curated by Patrick DeCoste. The work underlined the fact that Iggy is the father of punk. I am huge fan of Iggy Pop — I am constantly mistaken for him. I work intuitively and channel him when I make my sculptures. That’s how the exhibition I’m Worth a Million in Prizes came about, and the Iggy is Dog video where I dance with Iggy.
NH: Let’s talk about the Petro show a bit. You presented a series of stuffed toys that had been ripped open, distressed, ruptured. The white fluffy stuffing comes billowing out in places where the plush skin has been torn, forming what looks like great clouds of smoke or spilled guts. What strikes me about these sculptures is that they are at once violent and ethereal. We can read them in the tradition of expressionism, but they also feel very cool and intellectual. Can you talk about your process a bit? Do you see these works as expressionistic and cathartic, or are they more of a conceptual critique of commodity culture?
GLJO: I didn’t get neutered until I was three years old, so I’ve always had a lot of pent-up energy. My process is definitely cathartic and expressionistic. I often start by gorging myself on chicken or beef and asparagus. Then I put on Raw Power or Fun House — something LOUD — and I shake and dance and tease and get all worked up… and then I GO. I’m an exhibitionist so it helps if there are people around watching the action. I lose myself completely in the process, going into a protein-induced trance that can last for the length of a song, sometimes longer, depending on the quality of the meal and the size and twee appeal of the sculpture material. To get to the core of meaning I need to destroy the meaning. I like to be dangerous, sexual, aggressive — unpredictable. I transform and transfigure. Afterwards, it is not unusual to discover that I have verbally and physically abused myself or others — exposed myself, turned my studio upside down, clawed at the door, barked until the neighbours complain, shed my fur, ripped into the carpet, pissed on myself — you get the picture. Sometimes a sculpture is finished in one act. Sometimes it takes months before I’m satisfied with it. And sometimes I have gone too far and the work is totally shredded and has to be trashed.
NH: It’s refreshing to talk to an artist who is revitalizing modernist tropes such as self-expression. The work feels brutal in its unfiltered honesty. The attack on pop culture icons – I’m thinking of the Pokémon piece here – seems linked to pop art, but filtered through the violence and aggression of punk. But the violence of punk is also very post-modern: the anarchic readiness to deconstruct status quo values and dominant ideologies. Greil Marcus made convincing arguments linking punk to Guy Debord and the French Situationists, and of course, Iggy and the Stooges were really ahead of everyone, even the New York Dolls and The Ramones came later. The titles of your works are borrowed from Iggy Pop songs, and James Osterberg was Iggy’s name before he was Iggy. What’s your connection to him and his music?
GLJO: Like David Bowie, I’m into reinvention. I was once Chico from Dollard-des-Ormeaux, but then I got thrown in jail. I did my time and then I moved to Montreal and became Garry. I moved to New York and took on the last name of one of my favorite artists: the anti-painter Peter Lloyd Lewis from the UK. And then I began exhibiting my early sculptures. When I got to Toronto, I added Iggy’s real name to the mix as a way of acknowledging his influence on my life and my work.
NH: I love the Iggy is Dog video where you appear with Iggy. It’s so energetic and alive, and it really communicates a lot about your work and process. How did that come about? Do you think of it as collaboration or a mash-up? And does Iggy know about it?
GLJO: I haven’t been in contact with him, but I would love to send him a sculpture — as a thank you for his intense contributions to music and art. I am moved by early rock and roll androgyny and the fearlessness that went with it. Little Richard’s eyebrows, Elvis and his mascara, Bowie and his miming, Carol Pope’s shoulder pads, Iggy’s fluidity of movement — it’s like Iggy is made entirely of elastic bands. Oh, I could watch him perform for days. You gotta feel me!
I aspire to this fluidity and have tried to capture his intensity in the Iggy is Dog video. I think Iggy would get a kick out of it. I would love to collaborate with him. We could make I’m Only Five Foot One – I won’t grow anymore! My philosophy is “you can only ask”. If he says “no” then I go to the grave knowing I tried.
NH: It certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. Maybe you could contact him through Peaches. She’s a Toronto musician and she did a duet with him a few years back. Plus I’ve heard that Iggy is very knowledgeable about art and culture. Someone was quizzing him about Canada in an interview and he mentioned Jeff Wall. And you are totally right about Iggy as a performer, that clip from the Cincinnati show is amazing. I remember seeing him on the Zombie Birdhouse tour in 1982. He was playing in a small venue, maybe just a couple hundred people, but he was riveting: one of those performers who can immediately captivate an audience. At a certain point he pissed off the band. The drummer kicked over his kit and walked off stage, and the bass player and the guitar player followed. But Iggy went on without them, singing I Wanna Be Your Dog a cappella. So how about it, Garry? Do you want to be Iggy’s dog?
GLJO: I’ll lay right down in my favourite place…
NH: Ha ha ha! Oh Garry, you are such a naughty little doggie! Maybe Iggy will read this and get in touch with you…
GLJO: Can you imagine me being Iggy’s dog? Wow. I already have the perfect outfit, too: bare chest with my silver PVC trousers, my pink rhinestone cat collar and leash, black eyeliner and painted claws! A true pomosexual tart I am! Let me tell you, people go crazy when I wear that outfit.
NH: Anyway, what’s coming up for you now? Do you have any shows or projects in the works?
GLJO: I have a group show coming up at the Tom Thomson Gallery in June 2010 (curated by Kim Fullerton). I’m working on some new video stuff — I just did a short piece with the Velvet Underground and I’m acting in a video with the amazing artist Jenn E Norton this month. I am experimenting in the studio with a new sculpture technique that I call open up and bleed. I’ll let you know how that goes.
When Elvis was at his most beautiful, the ‘68 Comeback Special for NBC – just 9 years before he OD’ed (which I state as everyone loves to focus on “Fat Elvis” but that was just the last 3 years of his life) — he sang “Trying to Get to You”:
Of that performance, Greil Marcus said: “If there ever was a music that bleeds, this is it.” I’m trying to get to that place. I’m singing: lalala lala lala la.
And I’m singing: Then tell me who let that fucking door half open?
To learn more about Garry-Lewis James Osterberg visit him at:
#1 Gimme Danger ©Shari Hatt (2009)
#2 Garry-Lewis James Osterberg with Exploding Bee #1 (2007) Photo: Shari Hatt
#3 Brown Bear #1 (2006) ©Garry-Lewis James Osterberg – Private Collection
Photo: Shari Hatt
#4 Nightclubbing (2009) ©Garry-Lewis James Osterberg – Collection of Ken Moffatt
Photo: Shari Hatt
#5 Raw Power (2009) ©Garry-Lewis James Osterberg – Collection of Kim Fullerton
Photo: Shari Hatt
#6 Iggy is Dog (2009) ©Garry-Lewis James Osterberg – Edited by Craig Masterman
Garry-Lewis James Osterberg creates sculptural works that exude an air of spontaneity and expressivity. Although formally complex, his works remain sensitive and intimate befitting the artist’s personal sense of scale. GLJO’s unique approach to artmaking suggests an almost ghoulish admixture of Alberto Giacometti with Jeff Koons.
- Christopher Eamon, NYC, 2009
Garry-Lewis James Osterberg should really be looked at as a multi-media artist. When his contributions to the worlds of theatre, music and contemporary art are accessed together we realize that what we’re witnessing is the emergence of a true renaissance dog.
- Noam Gonick, Winnipeg, 2009
Garry-Lewis James Osterberg – in his work and his iconic image — is richly resonant — running back and forth as he does between charm and critique, covering all points between, and raising meaningful issues left, right and centre. GLJO is an artist who connects with the public without being stupid — high quality content with popular appeal — while pursuing a successful innovative artistic process of social engagement.
- Myra Davies, Vancouver, 2009
Nelson Henricks was born in Bow Island, Alberta and is a graduate of the Alberta College of Art (1986). He moved to Montréal in 1991, where he received a BFA from Concordia University (1994). Henricks lives and works in Montréal, where he has taught at Concordia University (1995 – present), McGill University (2001- 2003) and Université du Québec à Montréal (1999, 2003). He has also taught at the University of Toronto (2003). A musician, writer, curator and artist, Henricks is best known for his videotapes, which have been exhibited worldwide. A focus on his video work was presented at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as part of the Video Viewpoints series (2000). His writings have been published in Fuse, Public, Coil magazines, and in the anthologies “So, To Speak” (Editions Artexte, 1999), “Lux” (YYZ Press, 2000) and “Caught in the Act” (YYZ Press, 2004). With Steve Reinke, Henricks coedited an anthology of artist’s video scripts entitled “By the Skin of Their Tongues” (YYZ Press, 1997). Henricks was the recipient of the Bell Canada Award in Video Art (2002) and the Board of Govenors’ Alumni Award of Excellence from the Alberta College of Art and Design (2005).
Garry-Lewis James Osterberg is a soft sculpture artist and carpet dancer from Quebec. Formerly “Chico”, GLJO was rescued from the Montreal SPCA in 2004 after a tumultuous upbringing. He has been creating art ever since. GLJO is neutered and weighs in at 5 pounds wet. Incredibly, in March 2007, he spent 2.5 days running around alone and naked in downtown Toronto – surviving the mean streets of Queen and Spadina. He managed to parlay this incredible journey into his first solo exhibition: I’m Worth A Million In Prizes. GLJO considers himself the re-embodiment of Iggy Pop. He is constantly mistaken for Iggy.
Comments from old site:
Submitted by Anonymous on Thu, 12/02/2010 – 18:58.
…garry punched me in the face when i tried to kiss him…wtf?
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 04/08/2010 – 21:07.
Garry, first we take Manhattan then we take Berlin.
Love from a German admirer
Submitted by mjb (not verified) on Mon, 03/01/2010 – 19:36.
It’s about time you were recognized for the brilliant beast you are
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/01/2010 – 16:43.
LOVE YOU Garry!
This had me in stitches . . . a fucking brilliant interview!