The Philadelphia born, New York-based performance artist, costume designer and sculptor, whose degree in art from the University of Colorado eventually took him to the Big Apple where he hooked up with the club crowd, ultimately creatively partnering with Taylor Mac – and whose work has been likened to a heightened form of Surrealism that excavates the unconscious by injecting stories into his costumes, including constructing a hat out of a gas mask – plumbs his own psychological depths only to discover what makes him love work and life.
What historical art figure would you like to have lunch with and why?
I wish I could have lunch with Alexander McQueen. I was thinking about it. Of course, I’ve been obsessed with him for ages and I wanted to have a romantic relationship with him. I thought he was so interesting and on my flight back from San Francisco, I saw the documentary, and when I got back I was on my iPhone Googling any interview I could find with him, anything where I could hear his voice and see his face as he talked. How amazing it would be to have lunch with him. I wouldn’t ask him questions about his career, we would just be hanging out. He had a real gift and he was lucky enough to have it nurtured at just the right time. The drugs didn’t help. It was unfortunate.
For me, I do not make clothing, I do not make fashion. I don’t like fashion. I make art. I’m an artist and I make costumes, sculptures. Someday I might influence fashion with my art. I think that [McQueen] was a tremendous artist. Unfortunately, his art was being in the fashion industry [which] ended up being toxic. I think he should have been – he was a brilliant conceptualist – he should have been an artistic director or a set designer. If he went that route, I think he’d still be alive. He was doing 14 collections a year. I worked in fashion for 16 years – it’s barely possible – especially at that level. You realize the expectations other people have, you take that on and it becomes personal. You don’t want to disappoint and you don’t want to disappoint yourself. I’m just sad that he was basically the same age as I was 40 – and he killed himself and I never even met him. I knew he came to New York from time to time, and I’m pretty sure I was in the room with him at the same time but I never met him.
What did you purchase with the proceeds from your first sale? My first gig was ages ago, so I was probably paying bills. Sadly.
What words or phrases do you overuse? I say ‘awesome’ a lot. I love the word ‘awesome.’ Oh my god, I have so many words – ‘special.’ ‘Awesome’ and ‘special.’ Those two words I say all the time.
How do you know when a costume is finished? When I run out of time.
When and where were you happiest? I am so happy right now. It has taken me years to get my dream job, my dream situation – I’m 45 years old, I travel, make art and I get paid for it. I am fucking happy I’m in a relationship, which is nurturing – you know what I mean. I have it really good right now. I’m independent. I’m working. I’m not a starving artist, I’m a working artist. I have a fan base. I have people who really love me. I realized my place in the world. I’m a conscious person. There’s so many unconscious people in the world. They’re not aware that anything exists outside of their own little lives. People are so small until they’re not. I’ve never been small, because I’m 6/5”. Well, maybe when I first came out of the oven. I was a C-section. I think my older brother was natural. My younger brother was a C-section. The other way seems painful, too. Oh, honey. I’m a rambler.
What is your most treasured possession? My god. If you could just see where I’m sitting right now. I love all of my objects. But my mother passed in 1996 and I have one of her rings with two flowers. It’s a gold ring and in the center are opals. One of the opals has fallen out. My mother loved jewelry, and it’s a reminder of my mother. It’s a sacred object. I always know where it is. It is by no means the most valuable, but I treasure it. I remember it on her finger. And I have it. Sometimes I’ll wear it on a chain, because I don’t like gloves, nail polish or rings – I’ve got claustrophobia of the hands.
What is your ideal escape destination? My bedroom. Actually, I love to escape. One of my favorite things to do is go to dinner alone. I deal with people a lot and [there’s] all this conversation. Most of my social life revolves around work, because I don’t have time for a social life, so I love to escape to dinner alone and can have my own thoughts. [There are] no conversations but with the waiter, and he doesn’t want anything from me, except what I want to I drink. It’s really that simple. I’ve been to some really beautiful destinations in my life, but I can’t count on that – the one thing I can do is take myself to dinner and have my own thoughts. That’s my escape.
What’s the worst survival job you’ve ever had? I was a busboy and dishwasher at a roadside diner in Idaho. It was absolutely the worst. McDonald’s was my first job. I also worked at Taco Bell, but the absolute worst was a diner and it was awful. I was a teenager in Idaho and it was like a summer job.
What TV series from your youth best describes your approach to life? I was never one for TV, I’ll be honest. I would usually glom on to whatever my mom was watching. If I was pretending to be sick at home I’d watch the Young and the Restless. It’s still one of my favorites – and I loved [the music] Nadia’s Theme. It was written for this Russian girl in the winter Olympics. I also loved Dynasty and Dallas. Okay, and Falcon Crest, while you’re at it.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I would change so many things [even though] I like myself a lot – my current self. But I would change my metabolism. I want it to be impossibly fast, so I would never gain weight.
What is your most treasured memory? There are so many, but ‘treasured’ is the key word here. I’m gonna say, because it’s been on my mind – the very first time my parents took me to see a ballet. For my 10thbirthday they took me to see The Nutcracker. That’s what I wanted for my birthday, and that was the very first time in my life that I knew what I wanted to do. I’d never seen a ballet before or any kind of theater and it was so magical. The Nutcracker is magical anyway. I realized that’s what I wanted to do – I wanted to be a dancer – I wanted the music, the costumes, the magic – and there were kids on that stage. I was so far away from it.
It was magical and very depressing at the same time because I knew I didn’t come from that kind of position. I wasn’t a rich kid and had zero access to any of that. I realized my position early. Like people who have and people who have not. I came from a working class background. I don’t know that I was ready to start working towards that. But I finally saw it and I knew it was out there – and I knew it had nothing to do with anything I was doing, but I held onto that perfect picture and both of those light and dark emotions surrounding that picture. Sometimes I forget about that story, but that’s a very treasured memory and it reminds me of how hard I’ve worked to get where I am.
What makes you smile? A dirty joke.
What makes you cry? A sad song. There are very emotional moments of Taylor [Mac’s] show where I still cry. For sure, a lot goes into that – it’s about resonance, and it’s about – all of a sudden you’re like, I’ve been on this weird high and it’s slowing down, oh, wait – consider this and there’s this sad kind of moment or a beautiful moment. Crying isn’t necessarily sad, it’s an emotional release for being really happy or sad or like being overwhelmed. Crying isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
What is your go-to drink when you toast to an opening? I love a good Manhattan. I like it dirty with extra cherries. I like it on the sweet side. I cannot tell a lie. We’re in a good season in Manhattan now. I love a good glass of wine, too. I’m a real wino and I like a good red.
After an all-nighter, what’s your breakfast of champions? Water with lemon – a fresh lemon. I try to have it anyway. An all-nighter usually fucks up your system. You’re not very hungry during the course of an all-nighter. There’s an art to pulling an all-nighter, and eating is a death sentence because it makes you tired. I drink Red Bull. It’s s not great for you, but it gives me those few extra hours and I’m just not tired. Sometimes there’s that weird hump between 3 and 4 am and I need that Red Bull, because I’ve pushed myself to exhaustion.
Who – or what – inspires you? Everyone – everything. Music inspires me. I use the word ‘resonate’ a lot. I think it’s very important. I think people forget about that word. If you really like a song, it resonates with you. A song is like a puzzle piece and fits right in there perfectly. I have so many songs that I love. I am a rock and roll fan. I don’t like rap, hip hop – there’s some country I like. I don’t like a lot of modern street music. It’s abrasive and it sounds cheap to me. I love jazz, I love R and B. I love a good groove. Music in general inspires me – when I’m feeling it. Music is magic – it comes out of nowhere. We have these instruments and voices come out – all of these things align and we call it music. I love making music. I also write songs and I sing.
What’s your best quality? My consciousness.
What’s your biggest flaw? My stubbornness. I don’t let things go immediately when I should. It takes me a while to let things go and I realize it about myself. Sometimes, for example, I’ll have an idea for a costume and I’ll keep working on it, but it doesn’t work. I waste time when I should have just let it go. I’m about to start working and I’m like – I have more experience now than ever, of course – I have these ideas and I’m determined to make them work. We’ll see, we’ll see. I’m going to be stubborn about it.
What is your current state of mind? I’m pretty happy now, but I have a lot of anxiety, because of deadlines. But it’s a combination of deadlines and wanting to – people keep asking me – how do you keep upping yourself, outdoing yourself? I don’t know, I just do it. You keep learning. I take chances. I don’t play it safe in any area of my life. I’m always somewhere on the edge of having an argument, offending someone, overdoing it. I’m overdoing it when I’m too tired and I can’t go on. I’m always on the edge of failure. I’m always playing on some kind of an edge, but I feel that’s how we learn. If you do the same thing – take the road always travelled – you never really know unless you try.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? Surviving is my greatest achievement. I’ve had some pretty dark days, particularly early in my teenage years. I didn’t have one person – no family, no friends – that I could confide in, so I’m really lucky that I survived. And the fact that I took chances. I’m constantly taking chances in order to live – to experience life. I’m proud that I’m just still alive.
If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what would it be? A tree. I love the idea of a tree because it ends up seeing so much. They last forever. I would love to be a maple tree. First of all, I love maple syrup, and secondly I get to have a drag moment in the fall. And maple trees get the most color – they get the reds, oranges and yellows and green.
Machine Dazzle and his ravishing work will be on full view at CAP UCLA’s Royce Hall Dec. 14-15 during Taylor Mac‘s Holiday Sauce show. For tickets click here.
Follow the artist at Instagram and on Facebook.
Cover photo: Machine Dazzle by Little Fang Photography