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This spring, Paradigm Press published a monograph from Curtis Kulig and Max Blagg, Loud Money. The zine-turned leather-bound book is a dialogue between the artist and poet that mixes drawings, paintings, words, photos, and even old doctor's notes and faxes, providing a window into their friendship and creative process. A visual back-and-forth between Downtown neighbors, Loud Money feels like a snapshot of yesterday's and today's New York art scene, paired perfectly with an energetic essay from artist Jamie Nares.
Kulig is well-known for his “love me” icon, its earnest plea is universally recognized and couldn’t feel more necessary amid the impacts of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. His recent series of paintings in “All Smiles” at Kantor Gallery in Los Angeles speaks to that desire for reconnection and positivity.
Whitewall caught up with Kulig early this summer to hear about the making of Loud Money, “All Smiles,” and what he’s working on next.
WHITEWALL: Walk me through the beginnings of Loud Money? How did you begin this collaboration with Max Blagg?
CURTIS KULIG: I met Max Blagg in 2012 while preparing for a performance piece at the MOMA called the “temple of happiness” for which he wrote the sermon. We've kept in touch and have been bouncing works and ideas off one another ever since.
WW: How did this conversation evolve from a rapid-fire zine set to be released in 2019 to this current, gorgeous, leather-bound iteration?
CK: When Covid hit we put the zine on pause until Theophilus Constantinou from Paradigm Publishing approached us about turning it into an actual book. It went from unorganized pages on their way to Kinkos, to a beautiful, fully-bound book—couldn't have been happier with the result.
WW: In the book, we see imagery of boxing, which we've seen elsewhere in your drawings and sculpture. What does boxing represent for you? What relationship do you have with the sport?
CK: I think my love for boxing must have been influenced by my uncle who was an amateur boxer back in his day. I see it as more of a dance than a sport and for years have fallen in love with the bodily shapes and forms found within the poetic movement of the sport. I love the ambiguity of each position when taken out of context of motion and how the looseness of interpretation allows viewers to decide they want to feel like they're looking at someone falling or getting up, whether someone is in a position of power or defense, struggling or championing.
WW: We love the essay in the back from Jamie Nares. Can you tell us about asking Jamie to write it?
CK: Jamie Nares is someone whose work I've admired for years, and also happens to be a close friend of Max for over 40 years, so that was a really natural, seamless connection.
WW: We get a mix of painting, drawing, photography, and collage in the book. How do you move between these mediums in the studio?
CK: For me, it's less about the mediums and more about what format makes the most sense for the story I'm trying to tell. Primarily, I paint, but often use photography as inspiration, which often leads to drawings, which help me structure my paintings. Collages on occasion happen somewhere in between.
WW: What was the starting point for the "All Smiles" exhibition at Kantor gallery?
CK: The starting point for the "All Smiles" show was the idea to create a series of paintings that would make people feel good, the love me happy faces were that facet.
WW: Your "Love Me" series has seen countless iterations since 2005. What about it keeps you returning?
CK: I think because of the energy it holds. It's an incredibly concise, simple, straight-forward statement which is what makes it so relatable and timeless. It's calling out our most fundamental, basic human need to be loved—despite every other want and desire in all of our lives, at the end of the day it is what connects us all despite all of our differences, is that one, simple need to feel loved.
WW: How do you feel the reception of this body of new work has been impacted by the current moment?
CK: As we all slowly bounce back from the decade-long shitstorm of 2020 and the collective pause and deep reflection it forced on us, I think everyone is hungry to take out a new lease on life. So, I wanted this body of work to play towards that new, recalibrated, lighter mentality and approach to how we'll decide to live our lives moving forward.
WW: What are you working on at the moment?
CK: I recently moved to a new studio in Tribeca where I'm working on a large-scale series of oil paintings that I'll be showing early next year.