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.