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Interview: NYC Collage Artist, Shelton Lindsay
August 15, 2016
It’s hard to pinpoint what year initiated the slasher – model / influencer / artist / designer – but it’s definitely here to stay. Being the ringmaster of your own mini (or in some cases huge and extremely commercial) universe can be the ultimate be-your-own-boss scenario, but you have to be clever to pull it off. You have to be the juggler of all jugglers and the plate spinner rotating the big set.
Meet Shelton Lindsay, self-proclaimed as three parts glitter to one part mermaid. He is turning art, gender and everything in between on its head and when you speak with him, you realise the great potential for tangent. His brain is unlike anyone else’s, pulling thoughts and concepts ubiquitously. It’s as if he’s a hyper-intelligent being who’s come from another world to show us how to be amazing.
Lindsay achieved a Masters Of Research at Goldsmiths University in South London with a focus on Queer Theory and Performance Art before sloughing off the world of academia to become a performer himself. Now residing in New York City, Lindsay is the co-artistic director of the New York Neo-Futurists, a performance collective that he writes for, directs and performs in.
Here comes the next slash. Alongside his work with NYNF and their weekly show Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind, Lindsay is a resident performer at the Brooklyn-based, avant-garde theatrical nightclub, The House Of Yes. Next one: he produces and is the creative director of an international dance party called The Get Down and he’s the host of Pickle Day‘s fundraising efforts.
And it doesn’t stop there. Lindsay works as an independent stylist, prop maker and producer with clients ranging from Davey Wavey to Amanda Palmer, and he’s recently started funneling his creativity into mixed media collage, which is what caught our eye.
We sat down with this idiosyncratic creature to fine out, well, read on…
Hello, Shelton. Wow, how do you manage so many outposts of creativity?
Oh why thank you for thinking that I do! Often I just feel like I’m adrift in a sea of crafting project and glitter. Reality can be overwhelming and I take refuge and comfort in the creative act.
Normally I’m working on a few things at the same time, as I’m fortunate to be rather good at multitasking, a skill that I have been honing for the last year with the New York Neo-Futurists. We produce a weekly show called Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind where we perform thirty plays in sixty minutes. We write much of the material for the show new each week and it’s a creative laboratory I am so pleased to call home.
These quick, conceptual plays run the gambit from personal monologues to experimental dance pieces and it has given me this wonderful stage and audience with which to explore both my artistic truth as well as, as many artistic forms as I can envision. So much of art is just about giving yourself permission to create or do something and the more that one engages with that permission the more that can be produced.
I also find personally that when I try to be too controlling of what I am producing it becomes limited by my own inhibitions. I hunger endless to explore the world and I find that different artistic expressions inevitably begin informing each other and the divisions between traditions begin to disappear.
My dance work is very much informed by my love of photography, my love of modeling comes from my love of costuming, and at the end of the day everything filters back to the idea of expression. How do we express ourselves, how do we realise our desire in the world? I have tried to free myself up from judgment or self-imposed limitations and give into trying, failing, and trying again.
Also I just really enjoy working.
We love your collages. How did you come about making them and how do you make them?
I woke up one morning in early June and admitted to myself that I have always wanted to be a visual artist. I’ve always been terrified of producing traditional art pieces such as paintings, however. For years this fear really kept me from trying to draw anything. But I’m trying this thing where I do the things that scare me and I thought I could perhaps trick myself into learning how to develop into a painter if I started with collage. After all it’s not starting with an empty page, it’s about aggregating images that already inspire me and cutting and splicing them together.
So on June 5th, when I woke up, I opened Photoshop, dragged in a photo of myself shot by Jeff Silverman and decided I was going to make THE ART. So without thinking about it much, I just made something. I awoke the next day with the same hunger and desire to create and over a cup of overly strong coffee I began to make a second piece, which became a third. Which turned into a week, which became two months.
The act of making them involves a delightful interaction between creativity, mistakes and well-worded Google searches. I begin by taking the central image for the collage, normally an image of myself, and erase it down to the ‘frame’ of my body. Most of the images of myself I have styled as well, and beginning a project from the material produced from a collaboration between myself and a photographer helps to quiet those feelings I’m sure all artists have, of worrying that I may be a failure, because I’m starting from a piece of work I’m already proud of.
The act of erasing is also highly meditative and by the time I have finished cutting out my flesh, thoughts normally bubble up, sentiments fused to dreams that I choose to act on. I let the image tell me what it wants to be.
Who is in the collages? Are you trying to make any kind of statement or are they simply an escape to aesthetic beauty?
Mostly myself and the people who inspire me in my life, like Tania Az, this fabulous Haiku artist I know in the city and animals that I love, like jellyfish and owls.
In many ways the images are simply an escape in aesthetic beauty, but beyond the initial moment of delight, I am trying to capture a different sort of world. The world as I see it. Which is a riotous display of light and colour, faggotry and flowers. As we slide further into this digital/techno age the fabric of reality is becoming unhinged. The photograph, which long had an indexical relationship to the ‘real’, has been undermined by our ability to manipulate and create photorealistic images. I’m not interested in hiding the artifice of my collages. In fact, I strive to create these digital/physical hybrids. To me, these collages aim to situate themselves in that liminal space between the digital and the mystical, the real and the augmented.
Furthermore they are also a conversation on the status of the body. I’m entirely over the artifice of this two-gender system which forces people to confine the dimensions of their life and identify within an arbitrary and oppressive framework. The body, especially the body of the queer person has become such a locus for social and governmental observation that I delight in presenting myself as everything between man and woman, human and mermaid, mermaid and centaur and actively working to create a complex composite of who I am. Identity should never be contained within a binary system, for we are all complex and contain multitudes.
I hope that imagining and presenting myself without boundaries and self-judgment help other people to do so as well.
You’ve collaborated with an array of really interesting photographers. How do you meet them and decide what direction you want to go in?
Oh I really love many of the photographers I have had the pleasure of shooting with, many of them have become close friends and I’m so grateful they are in my life. It all really began with Brett Lindel and David Meanix, whom I met camping in the woods, many moons ago. They shot me for a campy coffee table book that we worked on called ‘COVERS MAGAZINE: BECAUSE WHO NEEDS CONTENT’ which was a spiral bound book comprised entirely of mock magazine covers. They taught me to relax in front of the camera and always wear glitter.
That photo shoot led to a few more shoots with Brett and those images served as introductions for photographers such as Ron Amato and Krys Fox.
Normally with any photographer the direction we want to go in is a lovely mixture between accident and intention. Normally I show up at the studio with a backpack stuffed full of costumes and outfits and then spend as long as I can throwing different pieces of fabric on myself and experimenting with making odd faces for the camera while they tell me what to do.
I’m really enjoying learning more about how to model or be shot and I’m so thankful for the work I have been able to do with them.
How long does it take you to make a collage?
Oh the process can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. These days the project often begins in front of the camera, such as when I work with Steven Chu. We get together and explore poses and objects with GIFs or collages as the intended final product. The goal at the moment for these works is to develop a database of images, textures and landscapes that inspire me and then begin weaving them into a thirty-minute, short, animated film. Until I feel I am ready to undertake that project I am just going to continue creating more and more images. I imagine it will take me the better part of six months to amass enough content to begin producing the show that I am imagining and crafting in my mind.
Do your pieces live solely in the digital sphere?
Currently I share everything I make via my Facebook and Instagram accounts. However I have recently had some interest about a gallery show and I am looking at imagining ways to display the pieces both in a more traditional print format and in a way that honours their digital identity. Images are also available for purchase as unique prints and I am currently working on adapting some of them to fabric for both shirts and leggings. You can always email me if you have any questions or are interested in being transformed into a collage yourself.
Does your work always come out as you imagine, or are there happy mistakes that make for a final masterpiece?
Oh so many of them are bizarre mistakes that I then work with and tweak and explore in this endless parade towards conceptualizing a new world. I read this book The Queer Art of Failure by Jack Halberstam years ago and it has actually served as a very inspiring text for me to explore my relationship to failure and desire, specifically inside an artistic context. Nothing looks as I imagine because it’s a co-created process between the photographer, the machine and myself. I see it as synergy of talent and intention that births something unique and unimaginable.
Do you have a favorite piece?
Yes I have two. For a static image I think Happy Pride is perhaps my favourite as it combines my love of flowers and a simple replicated body. For the GIFs I think it’s Mermaid (below). I love it because I was sitting on a roof with my friend Eric and he mentioned that I should begin making cartoons. I had never entertained the idea of doing that, or even thought that I could. However the next day I just sat down and made this much to my own surprise. Both of them remind me that many of the limitations we have are self-imposed.
Finally, we’ve heard you have a nickname, Professor Cupcake. What’s the story there?
Ohhhhhhhhhh…you know sometimes life just takes you on an adventure. It began years ago when I was at Burning Man, writhing around in a mixture of my own sweat and playa dust at a monkey-chanting workshop. A woman there said I was sweet as a cupcake and the name sort of stuck.
As I aged it became a name I adopted and began to perform under. The ‘Professor’ part came when I began teaching preschool to adults as part of this experimental, quasi-art-therapy-inspired performance art piece with some friends, called Preschool Mastermind. I ended up giving some interviews to various media outlets from The Today Show to Business Insider about it and I found there was this delightful subversion in asking them to call me Professor Cupcake.
The ethos of play and freeform creation is very close to my heart as is the academy and though I may not be an actual professor by any stretch of the imagination, I do love the name.
What do you have upcoming?
Oh gosh…let’s see…I’m also always looking for new collaborators and to try new things artistically, so send me a message if you are interested in working on a project together.
Finally, this world is hurting. It needs more beauty and less bombs. It needs more love and less loss. Take refuge in art for the old narratives no longer serve us. Come; let us re-write the world together.
You can follow Shelton on Instagram here, and did we tell you that you can also catch him on HBO’s upcoming series High Maintenance?
Words by Courtney Blackman