How I Spent My Winter Vacation

Communist propaganda, queer utopias, and a slip and fall

Hi everyone,

Sorry for the absence. To be blunt, I took a nasty fall on the ice last month and fractured my vertebrae, and, well, it sucked. One rural ambulance ride and many weeks avoiding heavy lifting—both physical and mental—later, I now have a chic cyberpunk back-brace and am somewhat back in commission.

Since we last talked, I helped launched a new project to promote and fund emerging Detroit creators with Kickstarter and Design Core Detroit. If you live in the Detroit area, you can now apply for the Detroit Design Incubator, a program powered by Detroit Month of Design to support homegrown creativity. (ICYMI: Detroit is the only U.S. city designated a UNESCO City of Design and was once the “cradle of American modernist design” and a muse to legendary creators such as Eames, Knoll, and Saarinen.)

The program will select six designers, emphasizing empowering women and POC, to meet and develop ideas over four months. The selection committee includes Adrian Tonon (24-Hour Economy Ambassador, City of Detroit), Laura Hughes (MOCAD - Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit), and several leading Detroit-based design professionals, with workshops led by yours truly. Check out and apply here.

What I Wrote

My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love by Dmitri Vrubel. 1990.

Last month for Eye on Design I explored queerness in Communist propaganda posters.

Inspired by The Gay Agenda: Homoeroticism in Communist Propaganda, an online discussion between film historian Bader AlAwadhi, designer Zipeng Zhu, and Angelina Lippert, Chief Curator at the Poster House museum, I researched how, through graphic design, the visual architects of Communism may have either accidentally or intentionally normalized and even idealized queerness:

“So many Communist propaganda posters feature men holding hands, kissing, or clutching each other in a passionate embrace—all to symbolize the great bond between men of different cultural backgrounds unified under Communism. But what if the artists behind these posters were just creating the least-subtle depictions of a gay utopia?”

USSR_China, L. Golovanov, 1958

USSR, Joseph Efimovsky, 1964

We go deep into it, but I’ll let you read our conclusions here.

And for Core77, I wrote about hanging a sun on your windowsill, the speakers giving new life to Britain’s recycled e-bike batteries, and how designer Nelli Kim’s battle with cancer led her to create high-fashion footwear that heals.

Read on
Author Rachel Kushner discusses the beloved family bus she once called home.
Dive into the Punk Planet archives.
The secret early history of queer families.
Preserving the magic of coastal Norway.

The Moroccan city that was once a painter’s paradise.
A voyeuristic peak into NYC’s most eclectic apartments.
A 3D printed pen that can draw real, edible candy.
Chinatown’s most stylish seniors.

Rooted, an exploration of race, justice, and food through the eyes of urban agriculturist Germaine Jenkins as she attempts to save her cooperative farm plot.
Slow Factory’s open-access, equity-centered education for the real world.
Accra’s first skate park.

Arinzechukwu Patrick for The Face

Islands in the Stream
Meeting The Man: James Baldwin in Paris.
Get to know the chaotic energy and intoxicating magic of Eastern European surrealist filmmaker Emir Kusturica.
Artist Naomi Okubo on Japan, fashion and identity.

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Slow Ghost is a newsletter covering creativity now, brought to you by writer and editor Laura Feinstein. Newsletter logo by Tyler Lafreniere.

Going DIY in the Art World (or Any World)

Mrs. gallery co-owners Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere on striking out and finding a community.

Co-owners Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere posing in front of the work of Omari Douglin.

Hi all, sorry it’s been a minute.

In November, my partner and I relocated (temporarily) to a cabin about half-an-hour outside of Hudson. It’s been a wild ride. Other than becoming bog influencers, there has been a lot of winterizing, learning where to buy milk and eggs, what a backup generator is, and just general “moving” going on.

With the events of this week bringing in an air of hopefulness, it felt like an ideal time to release our interview with Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere, the husband-and-wife team behind Maspeth’s Mrs. gallery (full disclosure, Tyler, a talented artist, created our Slow Ghost logo). A True DIY art space thriving in a city that has been absolutely pummeled by gentrification and now faces an uncertain future, Mrs. is “the little gallery that can”—and so much more.

Window installation by Courtney Childress in Dutch Masters, 2018.

The NYC art world, to be crass, runs on money and buzz. Lots of it. But what if you aren’t launching with an abundance of either? Such was the case for Sara Maria Salamone and Tyler Lafreniere, creators of Mrs. gallery in Maspeth, Queens. Opened in 2016 as a passion project for two artists also juggling the care of their young child, pursuing creative work, and simply trying to make a meaningful life structurally and financially possible—a struggle many New Yorkers can relate to—today Mrs. has been transformed into a true success, showing at NADA and Frieze, and with press in The New Yorker, Artforum, and The New York Times. But what does it take to go DIY in an era of instability? Both a lot and a few key elements.

Genesis Belanger, Cheap Cookie and a Tall Drink of Water, 2017. Courtesy Mrs.

What made you wanted to start a gallery?

SMS: To be honest, I had gotten to the point where I was tired of people telling me what to do (laughs). I’d worked in so many different realms of the art world, including art fairs, big galleries, little galleries, non-profits, and also as an artist myself—which was never very lucrative. At all. For anyone. But I had also been a director at a gallery on the Lower East Side. It was tough to get my ideas through, even though I was supposed to have a voice in programming. After I left, I took all of the ideas I had generated and began reaching out to other artists I knew and it happened organically.

Your gallery is in an unconventional space—an old-school, two-floor mixed residence/storefront far from any train line. How did you decide on Maspeth?

SMS: We both needed a space. When I left my job, I wanted to do some kind of exhibition space, and Tyler needed a studio. As we were renovating, I realized I was not going back to work for anybody else and that the “weekend project space” we had planned was turning into a full-on contemporary, commercial gallery for emerging art in the middle of Queens. So, there was a moment where we looked at each other and just went “we’re doing it!”

TL: I think the timeline of events played into it too. I’d been looking for a studio for ten months in Greenpoint, where we lived, and could only get a tiny back closet in somebody else’s studio. This was a moment when Sara had moved from a gallery director job to another gallery where she was hired with the expectation that she was going to have a lot of control over the programming. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to be the situation. 

Sarah Palmer, Outs & Ins, 2019-2020. Courtesy of Mrs.

When I wrote my formal letter of resignation at my last job, I thought, “what am I working toward? What is the point of this?” It seemed the only way that I would be able to do what I thought I might be good at, and get a bigger chance at doing, was to do it ourselves. Finding a space with big storefront windows was an ideal situation.

TL: It felt like a sign. You’re asking these questions to the universe and trying to find them through traditional avenues, and working for someone else, and then up on Craigslist comes this space, and it’s perfect? Maybe you should listen to the universe.

Was it hard to get the initial roster of artists to take a chance on a new gallery? 

SMS: We started out with an artist I had just shown on the Lower East Side. We had also been talking with different people within our careers, had been on so many studio visits, and were lucky enough to already know people interested in showing who had a pretty substantial studio practice. But it wasn’t hard to find people to say yes. 

TL: I think the space plays into that a bit. And the seriousness, the commitment, that we both bring to the project. I’d like to think that it set us apart. At least it did during the time we were starting—that we were in a similar vein as other artist-run spaces but newer, not in Manhattan. I think that came through and made it an exciting opportunity to work with us. 

SMS: When we were first starting, we did a couple of shows. Particularly Cake Hole, organized with Doppelganger Projects, with artists from all backgrounds. We had Will Cotton, who is more established, but also Aubrey Leventhal, Caroline Wells Chandler, Jennifer Coates. A mix of creators with history and depth to their work, alongside new, fresh talent. Then we did the “pot show,” Dutch Masters, where we had a breadth of artists, from Fred Tomaselli to Chris Bogia. Looking back, we’ve worked with most of these people throughout our careers or met them through colleagues. It’s been a nice transition to finding the roster that we now work with more independently. Which is great, but it took us four years to do it.

Oona Brangam-Snell, A hole, 2020, Jacquard Woven Cotton with Hand Embroidery.

When Mrs. opened—Sara, you were still bartending, and Tyler, you had just started a job at Adobe—did you both have to just “take a chance”?

SMS: It was and still is a lot of hard work, but I feel like we’re settling in a bit. But we grew so fast. The year we opened, we only had hours on Tues, Wednes, Thurs, and Sat because it fit my bartending schedule. Then Ryan Wilde, our friend, said, “I’ll intern on Fridays!” and gallery sit. Suddenly, we were open Tues-Sat. The third year, we were able to hire help, and now we have a nearly full-time gallery manager. It’s finally starting to feel like it’s a manageable ship to run.

TL: When we started, we didn’t call it a project space. We talked about it with each other almost as a way of pretending that’s what we’re doing, when really what we’re doing is “the other thing”—starting a “real” business.

SMS: I had left a job I felt very passionate about, where I’d known all of the artists—and it was heartbreaking to be the one to tell them the gallery was closing. I feel like everyone gets shit on the art world at some point in their lives. It doesn’t matter how hard you try not to get shit on. I think, after that, I was just “done.” And I didn’t realize I was done until we had white walls and were like, “alright. We’re doing this!” Ultimately, this was the right move. I don’t want to have to do this for somebody else. It’s great to be able to work for yourself.

A post shared by Mrs. (@____mrs.____)

Is the location ever an issue?

SMS: I was inspired by Kristin Dodge, who now runs September in Hudson and also had a space on the Lower East Side. I loved that she had the balls to say, “fuck it, I can do this from wherever I want.” There was a time when a person had to be in Chelsea, in Manhattan, but Hurricane Sandy totally decimated everything. I also began noticing galleries in LA, London, Berlin, on Instagram. I thought, “alright, I have a photography background, we can definitely do this well enough that we can do online exhibitions.” It was helpful to have that imagery because if we didn’t, I don’t think that people would have come. But it’s still a challenge—you can only get here by bus. It began to feel like more of a destination.

From Dutch Masters. Caroline Wells Chandler, Green Goddess, 2013.

Does it help that your partner co-runs the space? 

TL: I think it helps! I’ve stepped back from the day-to-day stuff that I was more involved in early on. We were both working other jobs. I think it’s bad for people to always assume, “I can do this with no other source of income!” because usually, that’s not the case. 

It’s also inspiring to those who work day jobs and want to do something more.

TL: Yeah! But early on, we were doing everything. Art handling. Shipping. Managing and manning the gallery, painting the walls, figuring out the programming, writing—and also trying to run a business. I think it was, and is, a huge advantage to us to be married and doing this together. We’re partners in all things. I won’t say it “gives us flexibility,” but if we need to do something for the gallery we can work together to figure out how to shift to accommodate because the rest of our lives are also intertwined.

SMS: To me it feels more secure than working with somebody that isn’t my partner. If I get mad at him, I can just get mad. I can express those emotions and call him a name if I need to. You cannot do that to your colleagues. And if you are doing that, DON’T DO THAT. We also work well together, which has been a huge benefit. If there’s something I’m unsure about and need to conference with him, he will have the right answer. Or the right questions. If there’s an artist that we’re unsure about and one person vetos—that’s the answer. 

You manifested the perfect space. What’s your next vision?

SMS: We would love to have a larger space in Maspeth. In 6-10 years, a space in LA. I don’t know what fairs are going to look like in the future, but I’d like to do the smaller ones. We knew early on we wanted to do something different and the growth we’ve been lucky enough to have, in the short time we’ve been open, has owed to that being a driving goal from the get-go. How do we get there without just following the standard model of “start business, go into debt.” Which was just not something we felt comfortable doing. And it’s worked—so far? 

A post shared by Sara Maria Salamone (@salami_mommy)
Image courtesy of Tara Rice Photo.

Oona Brangam-Snell, Snowclones, January 16 - March 13, 2021

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For Freedoms, an artist-led organization amplifying creative civic engagement.

Nomadic traveling art museum Black Cube, which produces projects in spaces like abandoned bus terminals, gold mining towns and chapels.

Slow Factory’s One X One, the world’s first science x fashion incubator, and watch this doc by Christelle de Castro about the program's pilot year. Catch more Christelle in our 2017 interview with Agnes Varda.

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Marilyn Minter Wants You to Vote

"This is the last gasp of the patriarchy, hanging on."

Marilyn Minter, courtesy of the artist.

With the election less than a few days away I have a feeling we’re all just vibrating with anxiety so I’ll keep this short: thank you all for supporting Slow Ghost. This has been a true labor of love. Things are hard right now for everyone, and your kind words mean the literal world.

If you enjoy what I’ve been putting out, and want even more Ghost—or would just like to say “Hey! This is cool!”— I hope you’ll consider becoming a subscriber. Don’t worry: merch is on the way.

Over the last year, I had the privilege of chatting with artist Marilyn Minter several times. The first was in January before Abortion is Normal: An Emergency Art Show, where we discussed reproductive freedoms for The Guardian.

Over spring and summer, we chatted about fascism and democracy, and her work in We Fight to Build a Free World, up now at The Jewish Museum. The show is a survey of a century of protest art, and includes pieces from Kim Gordon, Marcel Dzama, Christine Sun Kim, and Adrian Piper—all of whom I interviewed for this piece. Since I could only include a few quotes, Marilyn was kind enough to let me re-publish her words here.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Opposite Of A Feminist Is An Asshole

Marilyn Minter is a visual artist, activist, and photographer known for fusing the sensual and hyperrealistic, creating imaginary worlds of grit and glamour. She is also a teacher at the School of Visual Arts, a former recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship for Fine Arts, and a total badass. Recently, she worked with the artist-run platform For Freedoms and Kickstarter on a billboard poster for the 50 States initiative—the largest creative collaboration in U.S. history.

As part of the Jewish Museum’s We Fight to Build a Free World exhibition curated by Jonathan Horowitz, on view now, you can catch her poster, Cunt (2020), in all its luminous glory.

Image courtesy of Marilyn Minter.

Can you tell me more about your piece in
We Fight To Build A Free World?

You mean “Cunt”? (Laughs.) Well, it’s trying to reclaim the word. The idea that if we’re going to be called cunts I’m going to shove it down your throat. I took it from queer theory, the idea of owning and reclaiming, and did a whole series called “My Cuntry Tis of Thee.” It’s friends and collaborators, writing on steam, on glass, with phrases like “No Cuntry for Old Men” or “Cuntroversy.”

It’s very powerful.

Do you know what the opposite of a feminist is?

The only thing I can think of at the moment is Donald Trump.

I think the opposite of a feminist is an asshole. That’s how I look at it. I think you gotta be an asshole to be against feminism. When Jonathan asked me to be a part of We Fight to Build a Free World, I just thought, “this [show] is for cunts”.

You’ve worked with Jonathan Horowitz before.

Yes, we’ve been working together since 2016, two weeks after Trump took office, and right off the Women’s March. We were in a collective together, HALT, that folded into Downtown for Democracy. It was a guerrilla action group for eight months—we did the Trump plaques wheat-pasted all over the city, a protest factory at Deitch Projects. Jonathan also worked with me on the Anger Management show at the Brooklyn Museum. And we’ve been marching together, literally marching, for years. We did a lot of work for 2018 and the election. He’s a beautiful letter writer. I’m just a propagandist. I could do slogans, that’s all I’m good at (laughs).

Well, I would definitely consider you more! For many young feminists, you’ve become a driving force in the political art landscape.

Thank you! I don’t consider myself at all a political artist. I consider myself an artist who happens to be far left-leaning. And very concerned about it. I don’t even think I’m that far left anymore. I used to be, but now I vote strategically. You’ve gotta win to turn left—the stakes are too big!

Marilyn Minter, from the Abortion Is Normal group show.

Collectively, many are realizing we haven't "come as far" as we thought.

Two steps forward, one step back. That's how we make progress. And with Obama—we thought we were on the right path. After eight years, it felt like it made sense that Hillary would win. But what we saw was just pure misogyny. It's all so clear cut now.

With the country in its current state, both politically and with the pandemic, it's hard to know where to put your attention and efforts. How can we not go crazy?

Just keep talking about it. That's my experience. I tell everybody: if they want to do anything, join Swing Left. I do all kinds of things for Swing Left. There really are things you can do! Just be a volunteer. Because if you do something, you'll feel a thousand times better. I do it for myself. And you're a writer, so you have a massive voice.

Well, with the state of media, it's getting harder to tell meaningful stories.

There will always be this little corner that you can be proud of. There's always a place. You just need to find that place. I'm an old lady, that's why I can say all this! I would just look for that corner. You can always find like-minded people, and then you don't feel so bad, even if you're in the minority. If you have just a few people you can just vent to, you'll be okay.

Especially in the creative community.

Artists are empathetic. You can always count on artists to make something that is poignant. They are deeply touched by injustice. They are interpreters of the times we live in, and you can count on them. There might be some that aren't, but I've never met one!

In We Fight to Build a Free World, art's power to inspire empathy and action is given a broader historical context. It just feels so prescient.

It's true! Jonathan's show couldn't be more timely. It's more important than ever that we get out the vote and vote in such big numbers that this monster has to leave immediately. I've never seen democracy this fragile. It's like every generation seems to have to learned nothing and we have to relearn all the lessons of history. Nothing has changed in war and peace and justice and serenity since the beginning of time.

I don’t want you to lose the rights that I fought for. This is the last gasp of the patriarchy, hanging on. I always wondered, “during the fascism of the early 20th-century—how could people support it?” And now I see it’s a fear of losing something you never had to begin with. I’m hoping we can keep it from happening this time because we have so much more information. Thank god for Jonathan and artists like him.

It feels like the right moment to find new ways of engaging with politics.

Eckhart Tolle has said that this pandemic is historical. It’s going to change everything. And the art world is going to change as well. We don’t know what’s going to happen. The recession that’s coming won’t hit the 1 percent the way it will hit the workers. The stores, the restaurants. It’s not an equal opportunity destroyer. I’m frequently in Soho, and it’s just one empty storefront after another. But once we have a vaccine, I’m hoping young people can move to New York City again, like I did in 1976. That young artists can come here, and there will be a whole new world. Right before the pandemic, Manhattan was the city of the very rich. Now, rents are coming down like crazy. It’s a new birth.

Do you think it’ll affect what we need out of art?

Art’s a language. It’s an interpretation of our reality. It’s a metaphor for what we’re experiencing. It’s satisfying because it creates a clear visual picture of some messy thoughts in that ocean of our brain. It makes something simple that’s very complicated. John Baldessari once said, “great art is clear thinking about mixed feelings.” And that’s what we get out of art, and that’s not going to change. It’s what the creative process is all about.

I hope we will be able to sustain this momentum, especially in terms of real social equality and justice.

It’s so much better when you have parity. I love what’s happening with institutions reaching for some balance. So many have been marginalized for so long. And the BLM movement now has a ton of allies. That’s what gets things to move. The future is so clear. I just want to make it a transition without a civil war. We gotta learn our lessons before we let them take over. History is not going to be kind to these people.

Courtesy of

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Slow Ghost is a newsletter covering the next wave in culture, brought to you by writer Laura Feinstein. Slow Ghost logo by Tyler Lafreniere.

Pivoting To Witchcraft With Meredith Graves

The rockstar sorceress on tarot, Witchstarter, and conjuring your own magic(k)

Image via Captured Tracks

Meredith Graves is magic. The writer, musician, former host of MTV News, and current Director of Music at Kickstarter, known for shredding stage as the blazing front person of Perfect Pussy, has a side gig: witch spectacular and boss manifest-er.

When COVID silenced the global live music scene, devastating its community and economy, Graves co-spearheaded the Lights On campaign to keep beloved nightlife staples like Greenpoint’s St. Vitus from falling on hard times. She also turned her righteous powers toward nurturing Witchstarter: the home for all things occult on Kickstarter.

“If you’re conjuring a creative idea to physical form, there’s nowhere else to be, but here with us, the fine coven at Witchstarter,” Graves wrote last October. As she sees it, whether viewed as good, bad, or “the grey in-between where most of us kick it,” the witch has always been a symbol for union with the numinous and divine—for harnessing creativity, magic, and personal empowerment. And if we ever needed to conjure some positive news, it’s certainly now.

Waking The Witch
Meredith Graves on invoking the spirit of creativity.

When did you fall in 🖤 with tarot and the occult?

I’ve always done this. Coming from where I’m from, growing up in the way that I did, living in the hills of the Adirondacks and interested in folklore and mythology, doing theater and tv—magic, all of it, in all its forms—I’ve been in it since I was born. But tarot, specifically, started with my first deck, around age 12 or 13. My high school sweetheart’s mom was a career reader in Alexandria Bay, so I began to get more familiar with it, and then reading around age 17, right when I first went to college. So that would be…almost 200 years now? Ha. So, 15-20 years that I’ve been, in some way, dedicated to the tarot. I’ve gone through a couple of phases where I’ve re-approached the deck—which is the whole point, right? The cards don’t change, but all of a sudden, you go, “wait, I’ve been looking at this all wrong!”

Do you ever feel like the cards see you better than you see yourself? 

It’s not really like that. The cards don’t actually have fixed meanings, which is what a lot of people posit— “what do the cards see if they don’t see me better than myself, because that must mean that I x?” You have to start from the mindset of, “do I believe these cards have meanings or not?” And then, if these cards do have meanings, why are they seeing me better than I know myself?

We consider cards not so much archetypes as maybe…placeholders? A language of verbs, signs, signals that can’t be spoken or written or read, necessarily. That takes it from, “the cards see me better than I see myself” to “you stare into the void, and the void stares back.” The second is how I see the cards. And that’s how I read tarot, and that’s how I teach tarot. As popular as tarot is getting, I sometimes wonder why people don’t occasionally set the cards on fire and go, “ahhhh!!!” and just, like, run away.

Radon, from Uusi’s Materia Prima deck

What made you want to teach tarot?

That’s the hardest question I could get asked because I don’t think I do. Whether I want to teach it or not doesn’t feel like a choice at this point. I am in love with the cards. I’m in love with knowing that there aren’t knowable meanings, but knowing that there’s finite stuff that we can identify within these cards. What they look like, what’s on them, the history up to a point. That we can actually say, “what’s the earliest date that I can look at and see what has remained consistent?” It’s a series of omissions, and that’s what I think is interesting about the tarot.

So it’s an evolving process.

Yes, exactly. I’ve been walking around for a few years with this idea— “look at all this theory that we’re practicing, but how much can we really know?” The most popular tarot decks, the ones from which we all derive meanings, are only about 100 years old!

So in the end, it’s not “What made me want to teach tarot?” That never entered my mind. But I found myself explaining the cards so many times, desperate to piece this together as someone who loves the cards and wants to use them very effectively. It’s as if you’ve been reading the wrong manual for years and years. And the easiest way to misuse anything is to tell people there’s a moral edict behind it. So it has felt more like, “I have this information that deserves to be better known and better elucidated.”

If you go by many books of meaning produced today, most are derived from systems of correspondences drawn and written out and then explained by a series of dudes that existed between 1890 and 1910. Those works are about a hundred years old, and before that, most of that writing didn’t exist. If it did, it was in bits and pieces. Prior to the late 1700s, we didn’t think of tarot as more than a card game. Now, people are using the tarot for all sorts of things. So, I’m also happy that this modern thought is happening. Tarot isn’t about saying, “here’s what you have to do or learn”— it’s a mass undoing. Just sit and look at the cards. I don’t want you to tell me what the cards mean; if the card is purple, yell “purple”! It very quickly becomes apparent to people that you do not even need to have looked at a tarot book to elucidate meaning, especially in multi-card phrases.

What is Witchstarter?

Witchstarter includes everything that has to do with the occult: it’s albums, it’s films, it’s memoirs, it’s zines, it’s implements made by ceremonial magicians of a specific caliber that I could not even aspire to be in my life, running Kickstarter campaigns, making high-magical ritual tools. It’s the most beautiful tarot deck you’ve ever seen. As we see it, the creative act itself is quite magical and, if anything, is the intermediary manifestation tool that allows you to bring creative projects to life. Kickstarter allows you to make things happen that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and physically make things exist—Poof!—that wouldn’t have been able to exist any other way. 

How does witchcraft fit with your day job?

When I came to Kickstarter, many thought they had a sense of who I was because I was in bands. Now, people know me as a witch. Since I started Witchstarter, people will come up to me at work, when we went into work, and say, “I want to do this, but I don’t know what all the cards mean!” And I’ll go, “ME EITHER!” But then we play around. And that’s it. Witchstarter can encompass everyone and everything at the company, to a certain extend. People realize that the technical aspects of their job are magical—from coding to creating the most gloriously produced newsletter. Ultimately, Witchstarter is a rotating gallery of the best occult items that comes to Kickstarter— a curated gallery of our best magical efforts.

There's this great quote about [British Occultist] Dion Fortune from her biographer Alan Richardson: “She had no time for fripperies, little interest in the sensual possibilities of the material world, and no hobbies or interests beyond the sphere of Magic.” I read that and thought word, that's it: “I kept my job, I kept my normal life, and beyond that, I have one hobby and interest, and it's the study of magic, so that's what I did.” This is normal for magicians or people who are occult-based in nature. It's just a person with a passion or a hobby. Why is it weird when it's magic?

Botanica by Beehive Books, launched via Witchstarter

What advice would you give to witchcraft newbies?

Research. I would advise people that it’s a great idea, but the first thing you should know is that looking for magical books, or occult books, is a lot like looking for books books. I advise people to understand the taxonomy. For example, are you interested in the history of journalism and magic? Maybe you should do a deep dive into Jack Parsons blowing himself up.

But also, be inclusive: when we choose to write magic out of women’s histories, we choose to perpetuate much worse cultural practices. Much of great women’s contributions to magic—like the work of artist and occultist Cameron—received no credit. And women magicians continue to have no credence due to things like archives. It’s very difficult to find information about the female alchemist.

What would you say to someone who feels that haven’t learned “enough” to explore the tarot?

I try to walk people through an understanding that these cards have existed for centuries and centuries longer than any book of meanings has been around. Start to look at them as functions rather than archetypes, and understand that people have been using them since the beginning of time to put sentences and stories together. To jog the brain and come up with different answers for things. 

Any person can pick up any deck of cards, and I will have them reading in about 30 seconds. I start by throwing them up on the screen. If it were up to me, I would have the whole world firmly understanding that you never need to have touched a deck of cards or even know what tarot is, provided you can pick it up, and tell me what it looks like.

People are so much more capable than they think. You don’t need permission to do this shit. Nobody has ever had permission. So, just go and do it.  

Pagan Otherworlds Tarot by Uusi via Witchstarter

Podcast: Listen to Meredith on how artists, conjurers and creators can thrive/stay sane during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Plan Your Vote initiative: a library of free, downloadable images created by and featuring artworks by Julie Mehretu, Marilyn Minter, and Xylor Jane.

Islands in the stream:

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Slow Ghost is a newsletter covering the next wave in culture, brought to you by writer Laura FeinsteinSlow Ghost logo by Tyler Lafreniere

Raymond Pettibon Appreciates Your Black Flag Tributes

When work takes on a life of its own.

Raymond Pettibon and Marcel Dzama: “Pussy gonna change the world,” Illegitimate President, David Zwirner.

This has been a hot, fiery season.

Feel like you’re holding your breath? I’d go into poetics, but I think Alexandria Symonds of the Times put it best:

“2020 really feels like, on the one hand, you're constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop but on the other hand, you know the room you're in is already filled with shoes, each of which you previously thought was ‘the other shoe,’ and you're buried up to your neck in shoes.”

Right now, we are surrounded by an embarrassment of shoes.

So, I’ll spare the cliched “low hum of summer’s anxiety giving way to the busy of fall” spiel and simply say that if you’re feeling off-kilter, or trying to find your footing, you’re not alone.

I’d like to take a humble moment to thank you for continuing to support Slow Ghost as it travels to your inbox each month. And to new readers, your eyeballs mean the world.

A Quiet Moment with Raymond Pettibon

image © Raymond Pettibon. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

Raymond Pettibon is perhaps the only living artist whose work has appeared both in the Getty and tattooed on thousands of hardcore music fans. Rising to prominence in the early 1980s SoCa punk scene for his black-and-white zines, album art and ephemera for SST Records, including the now-iconic Black Flag bars logo, he later gained fine art acclaim for his works-on-paper drawing from American pop-culture, philosophy, politics, and the anxieties of the modern era. From his New York studio, Pettibon continues to build worlds that are colorful, energizing, and humorously sardonic. He also sketches the most fantastical, undulating waves—giving us life during quaran-times.

How are you “doing”? How is life right now?

Fair to middling. New York is pretty shut down for the most part. I haven’t really left the place for any extent for the last…it’s been a number of months now. I’ve been trying to do work when I can and it’s not a huge difference to me, as much as it is to many people, I suppose. The kind of art I make is— it’s almost a self-quarantine anyway, in a sense. 

So the world is catching up to your process?

I don’t know about that (laughs). If it’s voluntary, fine, but if it’s not, that’s unfortunate. In September, I have a show at the Regen Projects, that’s the main one I’m working on. 

You recently did a skate and surf collaboration. Is this a different process than your gallery work?

Yeah, there isn’t really much separation when it comes down to it, as far as the work itself.

What are you most excited about right now?

That’s hard to answer, because I don’t get overly excited about anything nowadays, I guess. That’s more of an inner condition probably. Or a personality. A “sensibility.”

What’s your process like when you go into the studio? 

Well, there’s not so much a separation between the studio and the rest of my life and day. I can be anywhere when I’m writing. But probably my most productive times are done in transit, whether it’s on the train, or car or plane.

So just bringing a pad and pen?

Yeah, it’s something to do in that situation anyway. It’s good to have something to do.

Given that so much of your work is political, and we’re in this insane political moment, does the news influence your studio practice?

Not really. I’ve done a few shows that are more political, pointedly, but I don’t shy away from politics any more than I do anything else. So, the work is inclusive of anything, potentially, and I don’t know — things are so crazy that, if anything, it leaves me numb. And, what can we say, really? Or write? Or draw?

image © Raymond Pettibon. Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner

So much of your work is about the exhilaration of the surf and these larger-than-life Pacific waves. Do you miss the West Coast?

I’m overlooking the East River and Brooklyn Bridge here. It is a different experience. I’ve spent most of my life near the beach, in one way or another, and...I do miss it. It’s been a while though. I’ve been here, what, 10 years or more? 

I think that makes you a New Yorker? Do you think you might ever move back?

It wasn’t my choice in the first place, and whether I go back or not— it’s contingent on factors I don’t have much control over. But New York has its good points.

I took a road trip recently and noticed two companies had, well, counterfeited? Paid homage? To your work. Primarily your earlier work. What’s it like to come across these tributes in the wild?

Well, I want to know about that. I mean, I don’t keep up with that. You mean to bootleg something? To counterfeit and put it up as my work? Or to do a parody of it? Like that Sonic Youth album cover where there’s a plethora of parodies of it? Which, I’m all for! But I don’t fully sign on work, that’s not my role. I wouldn’t want it to be. 

One was for a bike shop in Williamsburg and the other was for a hardcore band. I can’t imagine how surreal it must be to have created something that now has a life of its own?

Yeah, that doesn’t bother me at all. That’s not something I would look askance at. For one thing, I never got a cent from SST or Black Flag, not one cent. So, to worry about the economics of that doesn’t make any sense. And it did assume a life of its own — from tattoos and whatever. It’s fine with me. I’ve never had any problem with any of that. I wouldn’t say [I see it] day to day, but no, it’s not an issue with me. 

Do you think your early work still fuels you?

I don’t see it as removed from what I do now. There’s no cut-off point. It was all done the same way. It wasn’t for commercial reasons. They were drawings. And, of course, this evolved, but it’s evolutionary. Where do you draw the line on the early work and the later work? I don’t know if that’s possible, really. But then, I’ve been doing it for so long. And I’ve probably purposefully stayed away from having an individual style. But, of course, that’s unavoidable, whether you want it or not. But I don’t like to do the same thing over and over. 

It was always fine arts. If you’re talking about the flyers and the covers, it wasn’t that punks were my audience. They weren’t. This was, how many years later? 40 years later? There’s probably more interest in the 70s and 80s punk now by some much younger people then there’s ever been. For whatever reason. But at the time that wasn’t the case.  

Left: Raymond Pettibon, No title (Homo Americanus), 2015. Courtesy: The artist and David Zwirner, Berlin. Right: Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Let's give a . . .), 2006. Courtesy: Hauser & Wirth

You started out in economics. Did that highly-ordered thinking inspire your style?

I got my degree in economics, but by that time I was involved in other things. But it does influence my work, sometimes. There’s an economic way of thinking, you can put it that way. But it’s neither a science nor a religion. 

Do you ever find yourself going back to it?

I was completely estranged from it for a while. But when I was at the Getty Institute for a fellowship, I was surrounded by scholars, conservators, critics, art historians — and then they had one economist from Duke and me. They knew that I had somewhat of an economics background at some point, in some way. So, that was the first time I went back to it. The fellowship. And that was a crash course. Since then, I do keep up with it, somewhat. For whatever reasons. Not for any fortunate or practical reasons, just out of curiosity. My background as it affects my work practices is more from literature though. Fiction, for the most part, poetry, letters.

Installation view of Marcel Dzama and Raymond Pettibon’s Let Us Compare Mythologies at David Zwirner London

So it wasn’t such a direct inspiration.

I work more from between the lines. It can come from many different sources. Sometimes it’s borrowed or rewritten as I read it. Obvious notes and writings that I’m sure I’ll never live long enough to exhaust. But for the last couple of years or so I haven’t been working so much from my notes. It’s been on the spot. 

If you don’t mind me asking, what’s your process?

I have no problem with it. I’m for transparency if anyone’s interested, but probably not, on my working method. I mean, I could explain in detail. I don’t know if anyone would mind that, but I don’t know if there’s any reason for that. It’s like a magician sharing his secrets. There’s a pro and con to that. I’m not against revealing anything. But to who

Raymond Pettibon, No Title (Green Picasso), 2019. David Zwirner

When you pick up a pen, do you have any idea where it’s going to go?

It depends. Sometimes, there’s a number of motifs that come up, pop up, every now and then. Sometimes I do the drawing first, sometimes I have an idea, or notes, and it starts there. I like to keep the tension between both. I’ve been at this a long time, and I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block on the visual part of it.

Do you have anything planned for the near future?

Mid-September for the L.A. show at Regen Projects, but beyond that, I don’t even know my schedule. I don’t like working with deadlines, but sometimes it’s necessary. But I haven’t been working as much as I usually do in the last couple of years.

Thanks for chatting with us during this bizarre time.

I hope this is useful to anyone. In a way, I’m always surprised anyone has any interest in my work, and I truly appreciate it when they do. I’m not working in a vacuum. I am grateful to have any audience at all.

[This interview has been edited for length and clarity]

Installation view; Frenchette, David Zwirner, Paris, 2019.

Raymond Pettibon
Pacific Ocean Pop
September 12 – October 31, 2020
Regen Projects

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Support: Super Fund for Beirut, a multi-year fundraising plan in support of grassroots and independent NGOs on the ground in Beirut. Jacob Blake's GoFundMe. The Milwaukee Freedom Fund. Fund Enough of Trump: a campaign by Carrie Mae Weems, Ed Ruscha, LaToya Ruby Frazier, and Christine Sun Kim (among others) in collaboration with People for the American Way.

Check out: MoMA Design Store’s righteous Design Innovations for Women pop-up. Miya Ando’s “Xanax for the Eyes, Zen for the Soul.” Tear through Orange Crush: The Journal of Art & Wrestling at Printed Matter. Draw your humiliation in comics with Gina Wynbrandt. Artists Band Together, featuring Hank Willis Thomas, Rirkrit Tiravanija, and Barbara Kruger (among others) in partnership with eBay. The Asia Society Triennial x Mina Cheon’s new digital initiative: Eat Chocopie Together, which invites anyone, anywhere, to “extend love and peace by sharing virtual Chocopie.”

Islands in the Stream: 92nd Street Y’s 10-part series of never-before-released interviews with American fashion icons. Jenny Hval at National Sawdust. Oliver Sachs: His Own Life at Film Forum.

Slow Ghost is a newsletter covering the next wave in culture, brought to you by writer Laura FeinsteinSlow Ghost logo by Tyler Lafreniere.

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