Historic Fiction: Life Inside The Club Kids - by Walt Cassidy/Waltpaper for CANDY Magazine - Winter 2014. by Walt Cassidy

What does it mean to come to New York City 

Illuminated by youth

Dreams untethered from conscience

Vibrant, hungry, invincible

 

The thrill of an urban landscape, throbbing with potential  

Intersections, a kinetic maze of circuitry

Explosions of inspiration, burning one to another

Heat inside the flame

 

Bound together in anticipation of what could be 

Courageous and high

The cityscapes dance 

Weightlessness, suspended animation

 

Seeds burst onto the street and into the night

Colliding with dilemma and confrontation

Bleeding, coagulating

Spawning vines of thought, expression, movement and sound

 

We opened ourselves, in glory

Without hesitation

We burst from our cages

As blossoms would accost the sky

The Club Kids arriving to the opening of Club USA, 1992.  Lila Wolfe, Christopher Comp, Waltpaper and Michael Alig.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

The Club Kids arriving to the opening of Club USA, 1992.  Lila Wolfe, Christopher Comp, Waltpaper and Michael Alig.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

New York City in the 1990‘s was undeniably the center of the universe.  Everything was everything, and everything felt new.  The city felt free and renegade.  From the subways to the police force, people basked in the notion that New York was a special place.  None of the rules of the outside world applied here.  We did things differently.  Like any great city, New York was an idea.  It was a vision of possibilities.  Spontaneity and humor permeated.  You could feel the radiance of the dream.

Every corner was laced with culture.  The streets pulsed with cleverness, and we walked them, as pages of a great history book. There was an effervescent sense of responsibility, in that, if you were gonna contribute something to this fantastic story, you better make it good.  

The story had raged from Jazz and the Harlem Renaissance to the howling Beats of the 1950’s.  The Abstract Expressionists had been brawling at the Cedar Bar and Warhol’s Superstars sped through the Factory.  Poet Punks slummed on the Bowery, while Disco basked in the heat of high gloss.  Paradise Garage...No Wave...The Balls.  There was a tradition of hanging out in New York City.

The nighttime sparked with embers of transgression. The city was gritty.  The streets had edge. There was danger and risk, which demanded you be present, but also liberated you to test the boundaries.  The Mob was around. There were whores, hustlers and drug dealers.  People were selling it from the Meatpacking District to 42nd Street.  

Michael Tron, Julie Jewels and Michael Alig on The Geraldo Show filmed in Times Square, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Michael Tron, Julie Jewels and Michael Alig on The Geraldo Show filmed in Times Square, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Sister Codie Ravioli on Avenue A outside Pyramid , after Wigstock, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Sister Codie Ravioli on Avenue A outside Pyramid , after Wigstock, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Michael Alig at Dirty Mouth Contest at Redzone, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Michael Alig at Dirty Mouth Contest at Redzone, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Michael Alig and James St. James at Dirty Mouth Contest at Redzone, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Michael Alig and James St. James at Dirty Mouth Contest at Redzone, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Connie Girl Performance at Quick, 1990.  Photography by Tina Paul.

Connie Girl Performance at Quick, 1990.  Photography by Tina Paul.

DJ Keoki at Outlaw Party at Market Diner, 1989.  Photography by Tina Paul.

DJ Keoki at Outlaw Party at Market Diner, 1989.  Photography by Tina Paul.

Jojo Americo in the House Of Field Time Ball at Roxy, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Jojo Americo in the House Of Field Time Ball at Roxy, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

I remember walking home one morning from an after hours club that had been held inside an abandoned building across from Tunnel, directly on the Hudson River.  The crack heads, who lived there, would be given a $100, so that we could use the space.  There were candles lit in corners and on broken walls, a makeshift bar, a boom box and a narrow slab of concrete that stretched out onto the water, where we would gather to greet the sun rise. 

During these moments, the whole world glistened and flickered with completeness.  We would sit together as a family, marinated in the evening’s composite of drugs, and exhilarated from dancing all night long.

I always loved the mornings.  The conversations you would have were always so tender and real.  After having chewed down your psyche from hours of clubbing, there was often nothing left but vulnerability.  The soul would reveal itself with purity and innocence.  We shared so much connection in those moments, and everything was bound in a sparkling optimism.

We were the Club Kids.

Desi Monster and Pebbles at Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

Desi Monster and Pebbles at Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1990.  Photograph by Tina Paul.

There were many layers and factions to the Club Kids.  The first wave was spawned in the late 80’s, and laid the foundation that we would come to occupy.  Michael Alig, James St. James, Ernie Glam, Keoki, Julie Jewels, Amanda Lepore, The It Twins, Michael Tronn, Larry Tee, Kenny Kenny and so on.  They were characters culled from the residue of the drug Ecstasy and House music.  

When the second wave came along in the early 90’s, many of these personalities had taken up more administrative positions in the scene.  Michael Alig was the head promotor and creative director for the budding nightlife empire of Peter Gatien.  These were the “mega-clubs”, which began with Limelight, and would grow to include, Palladium, Tunnel and Club USA. 

Michael, much like an old Hollywood studio head, sought to fill out the identity of this new empire with a series of young new stars.  Christopher Comp, Desi Monster, Pebbles, Astro Erle, Sacred Boy, Sushi, Keda, DJ Whillyem, Jennytalia, Karliin, Kabuki Starshine, Little Keni, Richie Rich, Tobell Von Cartier, Sophia LeMar, and me, Waltpaper.

Enough time had passed, and the Club Kid format began to crystalize and was becoming quite professional, and fairly well recognized. There were events, television appearances, Style Summits, trading cards, tours to other cities, and a magazine, Project X.  

As a young creative person, brought into this circle, everything seemed possible, with endless resources in place to push forward whatever idea you could imagine. 

It all felt so cinematic.

The mega clubs resembled funhouse gladiator arenas.  They were massive spaces with dynamic mazes of rooms, each serving different crowds and functions.   Cages for go-go dancers were suspended high in the air above the heads of club goers, a massive slide would go from one floor to another.  There were neon signs, orbitrons and galleries featuring the work of various artists. 

Rooms were designed by H.R. Giger, Thierry Mugler, Michael Schmidt, Kenny Scharf and Jean Paul Gauthier.  There was a never ending stream of shinning metal, fun fur and corseted chairs illuminated in light.  

You could taste the decadence when you danced mid-air in the swinging go-go cages at Limelight and Palladium, which is where I got my start. The walls and the floors were lined with young sweating bodies, wide eyed and grinding, maneuvering, testing out a wide range of social codes. 

Defiance met triumph. It radiated through the music and into the movements of these polymorphic bodies packed together on the dance floor and cramming to get past the velvet ropes into the hidden spaces of VIP lounges.  

Every trip to the bathroom revealed a network of possibilities.  Some of the most amazing connections could be made in the bathrooms of these mega clubs.  Much like the kitchen in a house, the bathroom was very often the best spot in the club.

At Tunnel, it was not unusual to spend the whole evening in the upstairs bathroom, which came complete with it’s own full bar and dj.  The deep labyrinth of urinals offered voyeuristic cruising and hookup points. 

There were drag queens giving blow jobs to young actors, and assemblies of 3-5 people crammed into the stalls, sharing the evening’s available powders and potions.   The walls and floors were covered in electric blue tiles, which made for a stunning backdrop to impromptu photo shoots and interviews.

Every inch of these club spaces were geared towards exploration.   We were all participating in an ongoing process of chrysalis, bursting through the boundaries of our perceptions.  You couldn’t help but be transformed after spending so much time amidst the cross current of expression that saturated these places.

You may have tried a drug for the first time, or had your first sexual encounter with a man, your best friend or someone from MTV’s The Real World. Maybe you scored a photo shoot, an agent, a part in a music video or tequila commercial. Perhaps you took all your clothes off in the Hot Body Contest while high on E, or opened up to another dimension while dancing to a particular song.  

 

Waltpaper. 1991.  Photograph by Micahel Fazakerley.

Waltpaper. 1991.  Photograph by Micahel Fazakerley.

At Limelight, the stained glass windows sat tucked away, beyond the immediate distraction of the club’s wide range of interiors.   It was always a little bit shocking to be reminded that this decadent arena was, in fact, a church.  Sin and salvation were definitely palpable forces on that dance floor. 

The nights often started with an Outlaw Party at some random location, like the abandoned rail track which is now The Highline, the Post Office, a donut shop or subway station.  After a substantial crowd would gather, the police would come and we would all hustle over to the club for dinner and open bar.

Usually the dinners had an odd twist to them, featuring some washed up television celebrity from a show we had grown up watching, like Three’s Company or the Jeffersons.  The main purpose of these dinners was to get all the working Club Kids, and their friends into the space, so that when the main crowds came through, they wouldn’t arrive to an empty club.

During this meet and greet time slot, someone would hand out muscle relaxers or sometimes there would be mushroom and ecstasy punches served.  The punches were really fun, because it immediately locked a large group of people into a unified trip.   

Additional drug dealers would be there to get people started if there were more specifics that they wanted to pursue.  For street drugs, there was usually a runner who would volunteer to go buy supplies on the Lower East Side, since the street dealers didn’t perch until around 11pm, and by that time the main Club Kids were usually beginning work duty.  

Desi Mondster, 1992.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Desi Mondster, 1992.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Christopher Comp, 1991.  Photography by Michael Fazakerley.

Christopher Comp, 1991.  Photography by Michael Fazakerley.

Pebbles, 1991.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley

Pebbles, 1991.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley

Micahel Alig, 1991.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Micahel Alig, 1991.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Jennytalia, 1992.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Jennytalia, 1992.  Photograph by Michael Fazakerley.

Kabuki Starshine, 1991.  Photography by Michael Fazakerley.

Kabuki Starshine, 1991.  Photography by Michael Fazakerley.

At around midnight the main dance floor would start to fill up, and everyone would fall into their perspective work stations.  If you were a go-go dancer you’d be escorted by security guards to the cages and hoisted into the air, and if you were a host you would direct people to various parts of the club. 

The spaces were so big, that part of the host’s job was to keep the focus and flow moving, this way people could stay engaged, and would not be tempted to leave for fear of missing the next big moment in the evening.   

Maybe there was another open bar, an artist exhibition, a performance, or a celebrity that was on the premises. Through whatever means necessary, you had to make sure that the club you were working at seemed like the most exciting spot in the city, whether it was or not.  Luckily, most nights, it was.

The music would progressively get deeper as the night rolled on.  People would become more intoxicated, and inhibitions would loosen.  Packs of friends would break off to go on their own individual journeys.  Some beautiful young raver boy from New Jersey, who had been watching you dance all night long, would break the distance and approach.  The playing field was in full swing, fluid and vibrating.

Christopher Comp at Outlaw Party at Post Office, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Christopher Comp at Outlaw Party at Post Office, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

 

Just when the energy seemed to be reaching a peak, the DJ would stop the music, and drop into a pocket of complete silence. 

Everything would go dark.... 

All you could hear was your own heart beat, and feel the sweat dripping down your back.  Sometimes you couldn’t even stop moving, and would dance into the silence.

The smoke machines would begin to hiss, filling the cavernous space with billowing clouds of chilled smoke.  

You knew something major was going to happen.  A DJ’s silence always signaled a pinnacle moment, an opportunity to cross over into a deeper exploration of the soul. 

And then the silence would open up with bass... 

boom

boom

boom 

boom...

“I am excited...” (in a preacher’s voice)

White strobes exploded, pulsating onto the thick grey smoke, bouncing from one corner to the next, above and below you.  Disoriented, you lost track of the walls, your friends and even your own body.  

“The House of God...

The House of God....

The House of God...”

“Isn’t that powerful?”

 

Astro Erle at Nocturnal Oddities exhibition at Willow Gallery, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Astro Erle at Nocturnal Oddities exhibition at Willow Gallery, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Waltpaper at the Palladium, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Waltpaper at the Palladium, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Keda, Sacred Boy and Astro Erle at Limelight, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Keda, Sacred Boy and Astro Erle at Limelight, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Sacred Boy at Nocturnal Oddities exhibition at Willow Gallery, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Sacred Boy at Nocturnal Oddities exhibition at Willow Gallery, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Desi Monster at Outlaw Party at Post Office, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Desi Monster at Outlaw Party at Post Office, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Keda and Kabuki, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Keda and Kabuki, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Waltpaper and Desi Monster at Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

Waltpaper and Desi Monster at Disco 2000 at Limelight, 1992.  Photograph by SKID.

I witnessed a beautiful ritual one night on the main dance floor to this song.  A young woman, who was part of our group of friends, had recently lost her boyfriend to a gun shooting.  DJ Keoki played House of God by DHS, and she began to dance.  With an etherial and shamanic style of vogueing, she narrated the tragedy she was amidst, illustrating her course from sorrow to healing. 

We built a protective circle around her, to watch and support as she moved through the sequences of pain and sacrament. In conclusion, the song carried her down onto the floor, where she offered herself in complete surrender.

It was breathtaking.  Not just because she was a beautiful girl, doing an incredibly poignant dance, but because additionally we, as a group of friends, collectively and intuitively fell into place to support her in making peace with her struggle.

I came to understand, in this moment, the value of transcendence and the power and possibility of the dance floor in spiritual terms.  There was so much generosity and sensitivity. 

We all had a telepathic connection to each other through these experiences.  To someone on the outside of this world of nightclubs, they only saw decadence and debauchery.  From the inside, the womb, there were so many tender points of illumination.  

We were a group of children growing up, discovering our voices, our bodies and identities, finding our balance and purpose.  New York City was our mother and we honored her with sound, costume, movement, and ritual. There was purity of intent, and a tremendous faith in what we were doing.  

We each had our unique role within the core group of the Club Kids, and our own personal aspirations, but at that age, our desires were pretty simple.  We wanted to be creative, find meaning in what we were doing, and have our voices heard.  

Jo Reynolds (Jolene) in Hells Kitchen, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Jo Reynolds (Jolene) in Hells Kitchen, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

We also wanted to be fabulous, and to have our picture taken.  

So one of the primary goals, aside from building our personas and having these existential experiences in the clubs, was getting everything filmed, photographed and published.  We wanted to make history, and history doesn’t exist, unless it is documented.

Luckily there were a number of photographers dedicated to capturing our journey.  They were in the trenches with us, night after night.  Time proves that any flash of inspiration, can be easily erased, unless it is recorded, and I am so glad they contributed their energy to capture and participate, with us, in all of the magic.

 

Amanda Lepore, 1994.  Photography by Misa Martin.

Amanda Lepore, 1994.  Photography by Misa Martin.

Lil' Keni in Times Square, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Lil' Keni in Times Square, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Sophia La Mar and Tobell Von Cartier at Tunnel, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Sophia La Mar and Tobell Von Cartier at Tunnel, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Sushi,, 1994. Photograph by Misa Martin.

Sushi,, 1994. Photograph by Misa Martin.

Kabuki Starshine, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Kabuki Starshine, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Desi Monster at Tunnel, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Desi Monster at Tunnel, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Dj Whillyhem and Waltpaper in the Tunnel bathroom, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Dj Whillyhem and Waltpaper in the Tunnel bathroom, 1993.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

I have worked in collaboration with the five photographers featured here, to uncover a focused glimpse into what the lifestyle was like inside of the Club Kids. 

What moves me most, when I reflect on my relationship with these photographers, is the effortlessness with which we all collaborated back in the day.  I don’t remember anyone ever hesitating at the proposal of a creative project.  

No one nickel and dime’d over money or time.  An idea would present itself, and we just made it happen.  We valued each other’s talents, knew that our creativity served us, and dove into any opportunity that was thrown on the table.  

In the photographs that we have selected here, there is a fantastic joie de vivre.  When people are doing something they love, it caresses the photographic image in a particularly stunning way.  The photographer is in love with their subject, the subject loves what they are doing, and it perfumes the image with an undeniable sweetness.  It is a magic that can not be faked, a purely intuitive gift from the universe. 

At the time, I took it for granted that the city would always offer up these gifts of connection, that we would always be together, all this color and light.  The energy and identity of the city and our community, seemed indestructible.  There was no warning of the cultural bleakness that lie ahead.

There were some rough times to follow.  One tragedy led to another, and the city went into a period of creative hibernation.  Wounded and confused, we each retreated to our own prospective caves to recover and begin charting our courses as individuals.

So here we are.  With some luck and perseverance, we’ve made it through.  

It’s a new time.  There are new agendas and opportunities to attend to as creatives.  The formats in which we communicate and express ourselves have shifted.  Many of the institutions we came to know and love in New York City, have been erased.  Our roles and relationship to the city have changed, along with it’s identity.

As easy as it is to mourn the past, I am much more excited by imagining the future.  There is a wonderful energy pumping through the airwaves, and it’s exciting to be on fertile ground again.  

The Club Kids were never afraid to dive blindly into the next unforeseen adventure, despite whatever disaster may have ensued as a result.  The knowledge I gained from being a part of that scene, was that in order to evolve, we must take risks.  We must learn to fall, and we must learn to pick ourselves back up. It is this energy that I carry with me, every day.  

But for now, just in this moment, I wanted to share some of my reflections with you along with the work of these great photographers.  

This is my love story to New York City and it’s inspired children, the deviant blossoms, who occupy the space “...tween pavement and stars.”

Waltpaper / Walt Cassidy

2014.

Waltpaper at ROXY, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Waltpaper at ROXY, 1994.  Photograph by Misa Martin.

Walt Cassidy is a multimedia artist based in Brooklyn, New York.  Throughout the 1990s, as Waltpaper, he was at the center of the New York City Club Kids, and founded the conceptual hardcore band BOOB (1995-1998). His artwork has been exhibited at MASS MOCA; Paul Kasmin Gallery; Deitch Projects; 303 Gallery; Torrance Art Museum; Watermill Center; Vox Populi; and Galerie Melilli Mancinetti.

 

Tina Paul began documenting nightlife culture during her teens in Miami Beach.  Her subjects include Keith Haring, Larry Levan, The House of Field and Grace Jones, as well as, the Club Kids.  She became the in house photographer for a wide range of venues in New York, such as Paradise Garage, Jackie 60, Squeezebox and Limelight.  Her documentary style of photography is raw, real, and spontaneous.  Her quiet and non invasive technique allowed her an insider’s perspective to events and moments that otherwise, might not have been captured.  There is no distance between subject and photographer in her work.  You can feel the heat and energy from inside the crowd, the immediacy of the front row, the sweat of performance on the edge of the stage, and the dashing excitement of first arriving through the velvet ropes.

 

Michael Fazakerley is a studio photographer, originally from Philadelphia.  He is responsible for shooting some of the most recognizable media portraits of the Club Kids.  For many of us, our first formal photo shoots were done by him.  Before going out to work in the clubs, we would often file into Michael’s studio to be shot against the clean white background, creating images for invitations, advertisements, trading cards and Project X, among other publications.  His extensive archive is full of images that are iconic representations of that time period.  It would not be possible to have a discussion about Club Kids, without referencing his work.  

 

SKID is a collaborative photography partnership between Harvey Ferdschneider and Bill Carney, which started in 1992.  They spent nine months documenting the Club Kids, as part of “The Nightlife Series”.  Their aesthetic goal was to illustrate the dark, rich, non-conformist spirit and atmosphere, achieving a near dreamlike quality in the photographs, yet readily offering the viewer a great deal of factual information.  They captured the renegade spirit of the Outlaw Parties, and events such as the exhibition, Nocturnal Oddities at the Willow Gallery, which featured the Club Kids as live art objects.

 

Misa Martin photographed NYC nightlife from 1992-2008.  Her style is marked by a close collaboration with her subjects.  Big saturated colors, trailing lights and a sensitivity to theatrical makeup earned her much respect and adoration from the people she documented, which included not only the Club Kids, but also burlesque performers, drag queens, actors, and many notable figures from the fetish community.  Misa had a wonderful mobility, and was always side by side with us, whether it be on the street, in taxis, or on the dance floor.  In pursuing her subjects, she also captured the dynamic backdrop of the city itself.  The thrill of movement and pulse is ever-present in her images.

 

PORTRAIT Q+A with Photographer Leandro Justen by Walt Cassidy

Walt Cassidy in his studio in Prospect Park

PORTRAIT Q+A WITH WALT CASSIDY

Leandro JustenOctober 7, 2015

Wearing worn-out blue jeans and a white t-shirt, Walt Cassidy greets me at the door of his Prospect Park studio for our photo shoot.  A hallway leads us to a living room filled with photographs by Kenneth Anger.  His own artworks, including a large brass sculpture, hang across the room to the right.  To the left stands a small meditation altar. The room is filled with the earthy scent of sage, the herb Cassidy uses to cleanse his apartment before daily meditations.

Standing at 6’3” and 220 lbs., Cassidy’s physique is impressive - arms covered with tattoos, bicep muscles bulging under his tee. With a closer look, his tattoos reveal to be not just ink on the skin, but rather like words in a diary - story-telling imagery intrinsically weaving together life and art in an expression of “chrysalis”, of evolution and transcendence. But unlike his toughness of flesh, Cassidy possesses a gentle disposition, and jokes that he feels like the "Rocky Balboa of the art world".  He is streetwise and seasoned, as evident by his biography, but is thoughtful and soft-spoken as we engage in conversation about his latest projects. 

Cassidy’s transformation as person and artist is extraordinary, as a simple Google search will show.  During the ‘90s, he reigned as Waltpaper in New York City’s underground scene, an androgynous Club Kid who became known for complex style creations and over-the-top antics.   Cassidy refers to the ‘90s as an exploratory period in his life, a time when self-expression was encouraged and creativity made it all possible. Although Cassidy is proud of that time in his life, he doesn’t dwell in the heyday of the Club Kids.  Much like his art, he’s in constant evolution, transforming experiences into sought-after objects that communicate universal themes of violence, love, and healing. 

In this Portrait Q+A, the artist talks about his Missouri upbringing, his life as Club Kid Waltpaper, and his recent collaboration with Derek Lam. 

  LJ: You have several tattoos on your body, the giant spider spanning across your ribs is quite impressive.  Is the artwork inked on your body a diary entry like many of your art pieces?  WC: Yes, very much so.  I come from a long line of sailors in my family, all of whom were tattooed.  My tattoos, like my artwork, I see as utilitarian.  Each one represents a particular stage in my evolution.   My father used to fly spy planes for the US Navy, and had his social security number tattooed on each one of his limbs.  If ever he were to be blown up, they would be able to identify him.  He also had one of his lovers names with a decorative pattern, but the name had been cut out.  A slice was taken out and the flesh had been stitched back together creating a scar line.  I suppose that was early tattoo removal, you had to cut it out if you wanted it off you.  All very functional, “lived in” tattoos.   I like seeing the residue of life’s fumbles, which is what tattooing represents to me. I never approached it from a design perspective, or as an art form.  I just did it intuitively, because things happened that I didn’t want to forget.  LJ: When looking at you now, at the tattoos on your body, and the incredible photos of you as gender-bending Club Kid Waltpaper, it’s incredible to see the transformation you’ve undergone over the years. You have spoken of chrysalis as recurring theme in your art work. Tell me about this process of creation and transformation that is so present in your artwork.  WC: I was raised agnostic, with a strong focus on Darwin and the principles of evolution.  I lived alone on a farm with my father in Missouri.  It was there that I learned about transformation and the cycles of life through raising livestock, riding in rodeos, and growing crops.  For example, I used to be so moved, as a kid, when they would light the fields on fire, known as controlled burning.  The purpose was to clear away all the tangles of brush and create grazing fields for the livestock.  After the flash of the blaze, the firetrucks would come and hose down the fields with water.  In the morning, the wet blackened landscape looked like it was made of velvet.  About a week or so later, these tiny slivers of the brightest green grass would emerge, penetrating the dark silhouette of the previous landscape with new life. This ritual, along with others, reinforced in my psyche the necessity for rejuvenation.  Change and evolution are things I have always moved to initiate, cultivate and harvest in my life and my work. My artwork is inherently paradoxical and allegorical, two concepts that point to this notion of chrysalis.  Metaphoric obstacles and their subsequent means of escape are consciously built into the work, allowing a sense of evolution to breathe within the ongoing narrative that I am seeking to illustrate.  This breath sustains the current of hope that runs through the work.  So there is often a balancing act playing out between dark and light, or chaos and order. There is an undercurrent of violence in my work, but I utilize the decorative aspects to code much of it. Transformation and illumination, or any form of growth, is always somewhat informed by the notion of violence.  But I tend to whisper my violence.  It’s never horrific, demanding, or loud. 

 

LJ: You have several tattoos on your body, the giant spider spanning across your ribs is quite impressive.  Is the artwork inked on your body a diary entry like many of your art pieces? 

WC: Yes, very much so.  I come from a long line of sailors in my family, all of whom were tattooed.  My tattoos, like my artwork, I see as utilitarian.  Each one represents a particular stage in my evolution.  

My father used to fly spy planes for the US Navy, and had his social security number tattooed on each one of his limbs.  If ever he were to be blown up, they would be able to identify him.  He also had one of his lovers names with a decorative pattern, but the name had been cut out.  A slice was taken out and the flesh had been stitched back together creating a scar line.  I suppose that was early tattoo removal, you had to cut it out if you wanted it off you.  All very functional, “lived in” tattoos.  

I like seeing the residue of life’s fumbles, which is what tattooing represents to me. I never approached it from a design perspective, or as an art form.  I just did it intuitively, because things happened that I didn’t want to forget. 

LJ: When looking at you now, at the tattoos on your body, and the incredible photos of you as gender-bending Club Kid Waltpaper, it’s incredible to see the transformation you’ve undergone over the years. You have spoken of chrysalis as recurring theme in your art work. Tell me about this process of creation and transformation that is so present in your artwork. 

WC: I was raised agnostic, with a strong focus on Darwin and the principles of evolution.  I lived alone on a farm with my father in Missouri.  It was there that I learned about transformation and the cycles of life through raising livestock, riding in rodeos, and growing crops. 

For example, I used to be so moved, as a kid, when they would light the fields on fire, known as controlled burning.  The purpose was to clear away all the tangles of brush and create grazing fields for the livestock.  After the flash of the blaze, the firetrucks would come and hose down the fields with water.  In the morning, the wet blackened landscape looked like it was made of velvet.  About a week or so later, these tiny slivers of the brightest green grass would emerge, penetrating the dark silhouette of the previous landscape with new life.

This ritual, along with others, reinforced in my psyche the necessity for rejuvenation.  Change and evolution are things I have always moved to initiate, cultivate and harvest in my life and my work.

My artwork is inherently paradoxical and allegorical, two concepts that point to this notion of chrysalis.  Metaphoric obstacles and their subsequent means of escape are consciously built into the work, allowing a sense of evolution to breathe within the ongoing narrative that I am seeking to illustrate.  This breath sustains the current of hope that runs through the work.  So there is often a balancing act playing out between dark and light, or chaos and order.

There is an undercurrent of violence in my work, but I utilize the decorative aspects to code much of it. Transformation and illumination, or any form of growth, is always somewhat informed by the notion of violence.  But I tend to whisper my violence.  It’s never horrific, demanding, or loud. 

  LJ: From the androgynous Waltpaper of the 90s to the muscular man you are now, was that transitional time in your life difficult to navigate?  WC: There was a lot of trial and error, and it took about ten years for the dust to settle. I established myself as Waltpaper from 19 - 25 years old.  I was embraced by the nightlife scene that was thriving in New York City during the 90’s, and I felt very protected and inspired by that system.  When it was attacked by the city government and destroyed, I was left a bit traumatized, confused, and completely unsheltered.   Physically my body and face began to change after 25.  The androgynous creature that had emerged effortlessly before, started to become a mask.  I was becoming a caricature of myself, which didn’t sit well with me.  I had studied the Warhol Superstars quite a bit, because The Club Kids were always being compared to them.  I saw that many of them, if they survived, where quite bitter, and seemed to remain stuck in the past, the 5-10 year window of their young adult lives. They appeared to be addicted to their own stories of who they were.  I didn’t want to follow in that path. I developed an interest in athleticism and the gym while I was involved with the hardcore band BOOB, in order to remain fit for performing.  I was also recovering from many years of heavy drug use. I grew out my beard for the first time, and most people were appalled.   It was before the explosion of the bear scene and “the hipster” hadn’t yet been cloned as an identity.  Beards were not at all a part of the vernacular in the late 90’s.  So it’s interesting to see it so widely embraced as an aesthetic today. I became more sexually explorative at this time, too.  Having come into puberty during the early days of the AIDS crisis, it took me a while to really feel comfortable exploring sex, outside of having the occasional boyfriend.  By the late 90’s, there was a lot more awareness about transmission, and new treatments for HIV were developing.  So that combined with my age, and changing physicality, offered me some comfort in moving around sexually. These were all proponents in my identity progression, and each dimension offered up it’s own set of challenges that needed to be overcome in order for me to fully mature as a man. LJ: The 90s was a thriving, vibrant period in history for queer art and culture in NYC. How do you see queer culture in NYC now? Has it lost the spontaneous, subversive energy of the 90s?  WC: I stay away from negating the present moment and over romanticizing the past. People get so addicted to nostalgia.  I try to practice some restraint with all of that, as it becomes a very slippery slope.  At the same time, I adore history and have a great respect for it. Today’s New York feels much more mainstream, and is about being commercial and accessible, therefore we have become more compartmentalized, self referential, sterile and streamlined.  We are a profile culture.  It’s all about packaging and selling.  There is not much ambiguity, very few blurry lines, and there is a lot of appropriation.  Perhaps this is due to the accessibility of information and references through the internet.  At times, I feel things can get ‘over-sharpened’, metaphorically speaking, and they require some softening.  Artists and creatives will always respond to whatever cards are on the table and try to utilize them within the production of their work.  There will always be leaders and followers in every decade.  This is true now, as it was in the 90’s. The term queer feels really dated to me, especially as the spectrum has become more refined in reflecting the varying dimensions of gender identity and sexuality.  I realize that ‘queer’ is a blanket term, but beyond it’s casual use, it seems that the identity of queer is a subscription to a retrogressive system that cannot really be accurately applied to the contemporary dynamic, without over simplifying to the point of offense.  The notion of ‘queerness’ seems to be dependent on a structure within society of mainstream vs. alternative, and that doesn’t really exist anymore.  Transparency and accessibility of information surrounding cultural gesture seems to render this traditional binary structure as mute.  It’s really a whole new game, and the 90’s feel just as distant as Ancient Rome to me.

 

LJ: From the androgynous Waltpaper of the 90s to the muscular man you are now, was that transitional time in your life difficult to navigate? 

WC: There was a lot of trial and error, and it took about ten years for the dust to settle. I established myself as Waltpaper from 19 - 25 years old.  I was embraced by the nightlife scene that was thriving in New York City during the 90’s, and I felt very protected and inspired by that system.  When it was attacked by the city government and destroyed, I was left a bit traumatized, confused, and completely unsheltered.  

Physically my body and face began to change after 25.  The androgynous creature that had emerged effortlessly before, started to become a mask.  I was becoming a caricature of myself, which didn’t sit well with me.  I had studied the Warhol Superstars quite a bit, because The Club Kids were always being compared to them.  I saw that many of them, if they survived, where quite bitter, and seemed to remain stuck in the past, the 5-10 year window of their young adult lives. They appeared to be addicted to their own stories of who they were.  I didn’t want to follow in that path.

I developed an interest in athleticism and the gym while I was involved with the hardcore band BOOB, in order to remain fit for performing.  I was also recovering from many years of heavy drug use. I grew out my beard for the first time, and most people were appalled.   It was before the explosion of the bear scene and “the hipster” hadn’t yet been cloned as an identity.  Beards were not at all a part of the vernacular in the late 90’s.  So it’s interesting to see it so widely embraced as an aesthetic today.

I became more sexually explorative at this time, too.  Having come into puberty during the early days of the AIDS crisis, it took me a while to really feel comfortable exploring sex, outside of having the occasional boyfriend.  By the late 90’s, there was a lot more awareness about transmission, and new treatments for HIV were developing.  So that combined with my age, and changing physicality, offered me some comfort in moving around sexually.

These were all proponents in my identity progression, and each dimension offered up it’s own set of challenges that needed to be overcome in order for me to fully mature as a man.

LJ: The 90s was a thriving, vibrant period in history for queer art and culture in NYC. How do you see queer culture in NYC now? Has it lost the spontaneous, subversive energy of the 90s? 

WC: I stay away from negating the present moment and over romanticizing the past. People get so addicted to nostalgia.  I try to practice some restraint with all of that, as it becomes a very slippery slope.  At the same time, I adore history and have a great respect for it.

Today’s New York feels much more mainstream, and is about being commercial and accessible, therefore we have become more compartmentalized, self referential, sterile and streamlined.  We are a profile culture.  It’s all about packaging and selling.  There is not much ambiguity, very few blurry lines, and there is a lot of appropriation.  Perhaps this is due to the accessibility of information and references through the internet.  At times, I feel things can get ‘over-sharpened’, metaphorically speaking, and they require some softening. 

Artists and creatives will always respond to whatever cards are on the table and try to utilize them within the production of their work.  There will always be leaders and followers in every decade.  This is true now, as it was in the 90’s.

The term queer feels really dated to me, especially as the spectrum has become more refined in reflecting the varying dimensions of gender identity and sexuality.  I realize that ‘queer’ is a blanket term, but beyond it’s casual use, it seems that the identity of queer is a subscription to a retrogressive system that cannot really be accurately applied to the contemporary dynamic, without over simplifying to the point of offense. 

The notion of ‘queerness’ seems to be dependent on a structure within society of mainstream vs. alternative, and that doesn’t really exist anymore.  Transparency and accessibility of information surrounding cultural gesture seems to render this traditional binary structure as mute.  It’s really a whole new game, and the 90’s feel just as distant as Ancient Rome to me.

  LJ:  Your jewelry work has been profiled at Vogue Magazine and you have recently designed pieces for Derek Lam's SS16 collection. What does it mean for you to have validation from the fashion world? Was this something you aspired or did it come as as surprise? WC: I did not have any fashion agenda in making the jewelry.  It started as an art project and as a way for me to test materials that could potentially be translated into sculptural form.  I've also enjoyed using the jewelry pieces in my portrait photography and love the connection to the flesh.  It adds another layer within the portraits.  Cross pollinating media is commonplace in my work.  Additionally, I wanted to make the jewelry for my collectors and friends.  I realized many people in my circles couldn't accommodate a sculpture, drawing or photo, but would be able to access my work through smaller more affordable jewelry pieces.  So, I continued to walk down that path. And then Vogue called.  They loved and understood everything that I was doing, and were in full support. They appreciated the authenticity of the work, which was incredibly refreshing for me.  I haven't had much mentorship on my creative journey.  For the most part, I have been a tribe of one.  I am not a part of any scene or clique of people, so it was invigorating to have someone as powerful as Vogue come along and give me their stamp of approval.  I have developed some wonderful friendships at Vogue and they continue to support and guide me on this road into fashion that I had not planned on going down.  It's exciting. My collaboration with Derek Lam evolved from my connection to Vogue, and I found his energy and understanding of where I am coming from as an artist to be in line with my experience at Vogue.  He was willing to let me do my thing, but also gently guided me into some new territory.  His team is so balanced, the energy is so good at his studio, and everything just flowed naturally.  As a collaboration, we achieved a nice combination of contrast and compliment.  LJ: What's next for you?  WC: This whole experience has forced me to raise the ceiling for myself and to think outside of the very tight "artworld" box.  I have completely restructured and re-conceptualized my studio as an autonomous business.  Everything operates in direct relationship to the studio, including all sales.  I am finding in today's world, collectors want direct contact with the artist.  It's a very intimate relationship between artist and collector. Our energy is intertwined via the shared connection through objects, and I greatly respect the purity and tenderness of that connection.  I have learned to be more mindful of how this energy exchange is facilitated, and maintain a bit more control than I have in the past. In terms of what's next, I have been approached by a couple international brands about doing collaborations, so we will see how those play out. My primary interest is in expanding my materials and production and building teams around my ideas.  Having worked on my own, almost as an outsider artist, for so long, I am keenly interested in collaborating with larger companies and utilizing their resources to translate and launch my ideas.  I see my work manifesting in a wide range of materials such as glass, stone, leather and precious metals.  I am extremely interested in furniture and dealing with spaces that are lived in.  So that could take me down many roads.   I have so much that I want to do.  It's turning into a very broad journey.  For many years I have felt a bit like a caged animal. Now is perhaps the moment when the animal turns on his captor.  The hunter gets captured by the game.  

 

LJ:  Your jewelry work has been profiled at Vogue Magazine and you have recently designed pieces for Derek Lam's SS16 collection. What does it mean for you to have validation from the fashion world? Was this something you aspired or did it come as as surprise?

WC: I did not have any fashion agenda in making the jewelry.  It started as an art project and as a way for me to test materials that could potentially be translated into sculptural form.  I've also enjoyed using the jewelry pieces in my portrait photography and love the connection to the flesh.  It adds another layer within the portraits.  Cross pollinating media is commonplace in my work. 

Additionally, I wanted to make the jewelry for my collectors and friends.  I realized many people in my circles couldn't accommodate a sculpture, drawing or photo, but would be able to access my work through smaller more affordable jewelry pieces.  So, I continued to walk down that path.

And then Vogue called.  They loved and understood everything that I was doing, and were in full support. They appreciated the authenticity of the work, which was incredibly refreshing for me.  I haven't had much mentorship on my creative journey.  For the most part, I have been a tribe of one.  I am not a part of any scene or clique of people, so it was invigorating to have someone as powerful as Vogue come along and give me their stamp of approval.  I have developed some wonderful friendships at Vogue and they continue to support and guide me on this road into fashion that I had not planned on going down.  It's exciting.

My collaboration with Derek Lam evolved from my connection to Vogue, and I found his energy and understanding of where I am coming from as an artist to be in line with my experience at Vogue.  He was willing to let me do my thing, but also gently guided me into some new territory.  His team is so balanced, the energy is so good at his studio, and everything just flowed naturally.  As a collaboration, we achieved a nice combination of contrast and compliment. 

LJ: What's next for you? 

WC: This whole experience has forced me to raise the ceiling for myself and to think outside of the very tight "artworld" box.  I have completely restructured and re-conceptualized my studio as an autonomous business.  Everything operates in direct relationship to the studio, including all sales.  I am finding in today's world, collectors want direct contact with the artist.  It's a very intimate relationship between artist and collector. Our energy is intertwined via the shared connection through objects, and I greatly respect the purity and tenderness of that connection.  I have learned to be more mindful of how this energy exchange is facilitated, and maintain a bit more control than I have in the past.

In terms of what's next, I have been approached by a couple international brands about doing collaborations, so we will see how those play out. My primary interest is in expanding my materials and production and building teams around my ideas.  Having worked on my own, almost as an outsider artist, for so long, I am keenly interested in collaborating with larger companies and utilizing their resources to translate and launch my ideas.  I see my work manifesting in a wide range of materials such as glass, stone, leather and precious metals.  I am extremely interested in furniture and dealing with spaces that are lived in.  So that could take me down many roads.  

I have so much that I want to do.  It's turning into a very broad journey.  For many years I have felt a bit like a caged animal. Now is perhaps the moment when the animal turns on his captor.  The hunter gets captured by the game.