With a knack for pushing boundaries musically via punk pioneer-band X, Exene Cervenka has been also channeling her immense creativity via a series of rich, complex collages. Having recently shown with Celestial Ash: Assemblages from Los Angeles at the Craft and Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, as well as being involved in a series of other group and solo shows, Exene merges art and music this December with a performance at Art Basel Miami. We caught up with the art-world icon in an exclusive interview, where we learn about the value in having multiple artistic pursuits.
Tanja M. Laden: How would you describe your visual art?
Exene Cervenka: I call them collages, because that’s what they really are. It’s a great art form with many great artists, like Joseph Cornell. He’s amazing. I really love it when men make sweet, fragile art. I think it’s the best quality a man can have. It’s a noble art form; it’s quite up there, in my mind, with all the other arts. So I’m happy that’s the one I gravitated towards, and one that I’m good at, because I can’t photograph anything; I can’t paint with oils, acrylics, or watercolors; and I can’t draw.
TML: How long have you been making collages?
EC: Since my 20s, probably. But then I just started exhibiting things, really, in the ’90s, and then I got really busy in 2004.
TML: How is writing songs similar to making collages, and how is it different for you?
EC: They are like collages, because you’re starting with a live recording of guitar and vocals, and then you’re adding elements and pasting it up until it’s pretty. And it’s the same thing with art: you start with the central idea, and then you keep adding elements until it’s beautiful. And hopefully, everybody who looks at it comes away with something that they feel personally connected to. Like, it’s about them, or it’s about their world, or it’s about our world. Even if it’s just a collage of a bird or a song about a bird, you know? Somehow, there’s got to be something that touches everybody. I know that’s impossible, but it’s my goal.
Exene Cervenka, “First Communion,” 2009 Mixed media on canvas panel. (Copyright, 2007-2009 YARD DOG, INC.)
TML: Do you see your artwork as an escape from your music?
EC: No. I’m really lucky. I have a couple of things that I can go back and forth between. I never get bored that way. If I don’t feel like writing songs, then I can make some art, and if I don’t feel like making art, I can sit down with the guitar. One would get boring, probably, after a while. I think two are good. Two artistic pursuits per person, please. We should all do two, and that way, it would be a better world.
TML: Given that you have inspired so many, are there any contemporary artists who inspire you?
EC: There’s an artist who lives in New York; her name is EV Day. She’s a amazing woman, and an amazing artist. She does all these installations that have great content, great humor, and the best thing about them is that she makes these constructions based on an idea she has, and all these people read all these meanings into them: all these profound, intellectual, women-versus-men, Utopian stuff and past/present/future analyses. And she might just say, “Well, I liked it ’cause it was blue,” you know? She does all her own physical labor to build these installations, too, which is really neat. So she’s like an art hero of mine.
TML: Any plans for an art show, to go along with the release of your solo album, Somewhere Gone?
EC: I don’t do group shows very often, I usually just do my own show, but my last two shows have been group shows. One was Celestial Ash, which was with three other people, and then my last show after that was with another artist whom I really love: Wayne White. Both of those things were so much fun, that I’d really like to pair up with other artists and not just do solo shows.
Exene Cervenka, “THESP,” 2009 Mixed media on canvas panel; 12 x 9; 17 x 14 with frame (Copyright, 2007-2009 YARD DOG, INC.)
TML: Have you ever thought of writing your memoirs?
EC: Unfortunately, Exene didn’t keep any diaries. She only wrote songs and poems. And she doesn’t remember anything. She drank so much and had such a good time that she doesn’t remember it! What I’m trying to do is put together some kind of scrapbook, you know, that’s like old drawings, old writing, new stuff, pictures, old pictures, pictures I took on tour, and just put a scrapbook together.
TML: So you’re not just limited to two modes of expression.
EC: No, you’re right. Everyone should have three!