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Q & A: Chris Duncan

Excerpts from a recent XLR8R interview with Bay area artist and maker of the Hot & Cold 'zine, Chris Duncan.

Click here to read the full Kelpe feature, or download a pdf of XLR8R 116.


XLR8R: Are you still doing Hot and Cold?

Chris Duncan: We are indeed still doing Hot and Cold. For those who don’t know about the project, Hot and Cold started with its first issue being number 10. We have been counting down from 10 since 2002, and are now at number two. Once we hit zero we are done. In the ‘zine, we invite up to 20 artists to contribute images, stickers, prints, CDs, etc. We make them in editions of 150 and build them by hand. The next issue, which is technically our ninth, will be released May 9th at a group show of all the artists involved, at the Luggage Store Gallery in San Francisco.

What was the most difficult thing you ever undertook with Hot and Cold?

In 2005, we were part of an exhibition at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts called The Zine UnBound—Kults, Werewolves and Sarcastic Hippies. We released an issue at the same time, we built and assembled a catalogue for the whole show (which included k48, Trinie Dalton, and essays by Berin Golonu, the curator, and Andrew Scott from Needles andPpens) and made art for the show. After that it took us over a year to put out another issue. We were burnt out.

Where is the most awesome place to be in Oakland?

For eating, it’s Messob Ethiopian food. For a walk, Piedmont Cemetery. Or anywhere with my daughter, as she sees so many things I don’t see. And the Oakland Waterfront, particularly 5th Avenue. My studio is there and so are kayak rentals, a bunch of boathouses, and a lot of folks living off the grid. The fireman training center is there too. That’s pretty cool.

Oftentimes your work shows evidence of the process: stitches, strings hanging, perhaps even ghost lines. Why is it important for you to show this evidence?

At its foundation, the work is all about process. My concepts are process-oriented, so it has always made sense to me to reveal some of it. Not to mention it adds dimension and depth.

What is your favorite tattoo that you have?

I have a series of dots on the palms of my hands signifying my daughter’s birthday.

When does thinking about color come into your work?

Once I have a composition and concept down, color is my top priority.

What is the best show you ever went to?

The Pompidou Centre in Paris has several amazing Victor Brauner pieces. On my first trip to D.C., I saw Nation of Ulysses and Fugazi at Wilson Center. The Alexander Calder show at the SF MoMA, and every time I have ever seen a Rothko piece. Ever.

What turns you off in the art world?

Excessive borrowing in contemporary art.

What is a quality you despise in other people?

Most things that I despise in other folks are things that I see in myself.

What sorts of music are you listening to while you work?

Lately it’s been Antony and the Johnsons, Uncle Tupelo, The Smiths, The Hated, Desmond Decker, Cat Power, Gillian Welch, Animal Collective, Eric B and Rakim, Woody Guthrie, and always Bruce Springsteen. Oh, and my daughter and I have been listening to Elizabeth Mitchell, You Are My Little Bird. That’s pretty beautiful.

Did you ever imagine you would be an artist growing up?

No. I never thought about much of anything in regards to that. I have fallen into everything I have ever done.

Where were the best places to be when you were growing up in New Jersey?

I have really fond memories of my great grandma’s apartment. There was also a roadside food stand that was only open during the summer. They had great french fries. I went there with my mom and my grandpa a lot. It feels good to think about that place. The most awesome place, for many years, was Point Pleasant Beach boardwalk. A lot of growing up happened there.

How did you come to put together your Akashic anthology My First Time?

I was in my senior year at art college and one of my last classes was about, of all things, punk rock and art. The class was lackluster, but it inspired the book. It made me think about how I bonded with new people over the years, and music experience was a huge topic. So… first show, First Time. I collected all of five stories and thought I would get about five more and then make a ‘zine out of them. The project went on a four-year hiatus until my friend Zach Blue at AK Press asked if I wanted to publish a book of the stories with AK. So I dusted the project off and here we are.

What was your best experience working on the book?

Reading the stories for the first time. They are really funny and quirky. It’s nice when folks can let their egos go and write about how silly they were, and at the same time share how moved they were by a moment.

What is the last book you read?

I just reread Touching the Distance by Deborah Curtis, the wife of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. A movie called Control recently came out which was loosely inspired by the book, but the book is heavy, and far better than the movie.

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