Exhibition review and QandA at the Horse Hospital, London
Airstrip One An exhibit of Degenerate Visual Goldsteinism by State Enemy Frank Kozik
It's a long way from Austin, Texas, where Frank Kozik first started designing posters and handbills for the local band scene in the early eighties but, despite showings of his works occurring in all parts of the world, Airstrip One marks esteemed underground poster artist Frank Kozik's first ever UK exhibition turning London's Last Chance Saloon into a little world of Frank Kozik.
Kozik designs can be spotted everywhere you look on the shop floor. On T-shirts, Zippo lighters, ashtrays, lamps plus the inevitable onslaught of magazine articles, books, postcards and stickers sporting Kozik's deviant images. Everything's Kozik, here. Frank Kozik is a one man industry and he's literally taken over the store.
Above the rails of t-shirts hangs Kozik's trademark Smokin' Bunny, full colour fine art pieces including Devil's Waiting and some smaller pieces of original art too. This is the reason we're here, to see first hand Kozik's near legendary poster art that has announced shows for everyone from Sonic Youth, EAR to the Beastie Boys. His full colour silkscreened designs have been used on posters for literally hundreds of US underground rock shows. For some bands a Kozik designed image is considered the pinnacle of their career.
What's so good about a Kozik image? Its probably his use of the popular image be it an American icon or a childhood character that the kind Mr Kozik juxtaposes with perverse and humorous images to reveal hidden meanings. It's as if Frank Kozik has had a peak at the underbelly of the USA only to find it's in full-on, day-glo colour. This is deviant American in vibrant technicolour.
Downstairs in the gallery area the main body of work can be found featuring a selection of work culled form his rather extensive catalogue. There's an amputee kid promoting the Melvins, a battered, bruised and bandaged bunny announcing a Sub Pop get together, a conquered Statue of Liberty for Japanese noise-rock monsters Zeni Geva. Charlie Manson stares menacingly from Love American Style (a template Kozik has used previously for other such US icons as Richard Nixon). Hell, he's even got a cigar-puffin', gun tottin' Winston Churchill in to promote this UK exhibition. Perhaps the finest piece on display though is Total War, featuring a triptych of bunnies under the banner of LOVE. And in true Manson fashion the centre bunny is brandishing an X on its forehead.
To fit in the entire Kozik oeuvre you'd probably need an aircraft hanger but the Last Chance Saloon had the foresight to install some boards displaying around 180 Kozik designs on postcards.
Most recently Frank's been designing for major label skate punks the Offspring but a few years back Frank Kozik was involved in an advertising campaign for Nike. And before you cry sell out Frank Kozik took his fat fee and ploughed it straight into a record label, Man's Ruin. A label which initially specialised in little 7-inch vinyl singles. However business sense and self-survival forced them into producing CDs. Rather than forego producing vinyl Man's Ruin simply switched to the more economical 10-inch. Sleeve designs for Man's Ruin signings now act as Kozik's main artistic outlet. This allows Kozik to indulge and experiment with his ideas, something he encourages bands on his label to do. In fact Man's Ruin quite often acts as an outlet for the more wayward excursions of those major players who find themselves on Franks' label for a special one-off release. At present Man's Ruin have produced somewhere in the region of 200 releases. A selection of these releases are for sale at the Last Chance Saloon.
Frank Kozik is a modest man and has stated that he is not an artist, preferring to regard himself as a craftsman. Irrespective of how he regards himself we at Compulsion hold his work in high esteem and have some of his images adorning our walls at home. If you can't visit the Last Chance Saloon and you're unsure of his work take a look at recent CD designs for the Offspring, get hold of his compendium book Mans Ruin, The Posters & Art of Frank Kozik or check out his site.
Airstrip One runs until the end of December 1999.
On Saturday 25th September Frank Kozik made a public appearance at the Chamber of Pop Culture, London, where a pop promo he had directed was shown together with a rare screening of the film, Vanishing Point - Kozik's selection for the night. What follows is a heavily edited version (minus the fanboy and car questions) of the responses to the questions posed to Frank Kozik that night, starting with a question on White culture.
I live in America and it's kinda true that white man has no culture. The majority of people in the USA are so-white and the overwhelming trend now, which is fuelled by companies, is to make people long after non-White culture. But they always fuck-up so it comes out kinda strange. There was no integrated culture till World War 2 and the 1950s. The first generation of neighbourhood kids was coming to adulthood and they were somehow embarassed of their past and totally went the other way trying to be bland and as uniformed as possible. And now ever since the 1960s there's been this frantic need to reestablish a culture but the basic idea is that European culture is evil somehow as its caused all these woes. So we're looking at every other culture except white culture. It's very, very strange. It's not really like that as you're average white kid who is into black culture doesn't have any black or Mexican friends. He can't even go to those areas.
What about Americans that come from England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland?
That's where white trash comes from. Country music is basically Celtic music. Rednecks are basically the closest to a pristine North American culture that actually existed. There is a sort of white subculture but it's really racist and backwards.
Have you been in bands?
I tried that a long time ago and I was totally useless. Yeah it was a punk scene, a nice college town of about 6 clubs, a couple of thousand people in the club scene at the time. I wasn't admitted so I wanted to do something. So I started making posters for bands. That's how I got started.
Scratch Acid, Jesus Lizard, Killdozer. In Texas you must have been around that whole scene...
I know all those bands because they all came out of Austin. It was really cool.
Ever see the Pig Boys?
Wow! I hate you.
Many, many, many, times. Those Pigboys shows werer really weird because there singer was a total queen and would make these insane costumes like a Nurse costume. And a lot of the fringe gay community would come to those shows. They weren't like punk rock shows they were just total freak shows. All the really freaky people would come to those shows so they were really interesting.
How did you start the label, Man's Ruin?
I had a label (Rise) back in Texas and I had this partner who said I'd take care of all the money (laughs) and he squandered all the money. So I went out to San Francisco and after about a year I was like distracted and I wasn't going to many shows. I was getting older. That year a lot of the posters were for bigger bands in other cities. And I thought 'what am I doing?.' I'm not really listening to the music anymore so I had some money in the bank. And I thought all these guys in bands can't put out what they want, I have all this money and I can print the sleeves. The first year it was all singles. Just to stop being bored but then the label became important. As time goes on the label it's become more interesting. I'm more involved with people. There's less pressure to perform. I screw up a lot more and try a lot of experimental stuff. With the posters a lot of people expect it to look like the last one. With the label I can do different things. And unlike the posters, the label actually makes money.
How do you choose bands for the label?
People send me tapes. So every Friday I sit down and listen to all the demos. I really like the heavy stuff, and she's really into the punk stuff. If we both really like something we put it out. That's our only prerogative. I like this, she likes it. Cool, we put it out.
And you stick to the vinyl format?
I actually like to have a record player. I think it sounds better. It's really hard to make vinyl in America. There's only three places that make vinyl, and there like really old guys. It's really expensive. No one has made a vinyl pressing plant for at least 40 years. Once in a while you find one in Mexico but no-ones made the equipment since the fifties.So there's no way you can begin to make a pressing plant unless you buy some old piece of shit and try to fix it up.
In your work there are a lot of Satanic references. Do you have a preferred religion?
Uh, probably to be totally serious with you I believe in physical reality. I believe in science. Your dead, so there is no God. We're just a thing made up of atoms and chemicals. Whatever the proper term for that is - existentialsit, nihilist or whatever.
Were you born a Catholic?
Yeah, Roman Catholic.
Is Satanism a reaction to that?
Well with all the Satan stuff I'm making fun of all the people I know who take Satansim way too seriously. How big a loser are you to be a Satanist. In Satansim, Jesus and God are real so it's automatically ludicrous.
Man's Ruin, The Posters and Art of Frank Kozik features 98 full colour pages with a running Kozik commentary. It is priced at $28.00 inc ppd and is published by Last Gasp Publications, 777 Florida Street, San Francisco, CA 94110. Contact: www.lastgasp.com
Ode To Joy, Posters, Prints and other Works by Frank Kozik has just been published by Last Gasp. It features 96 pages and has a cover price of $29.95. Sorry no more details at the moment.
Visit the Frank Kozik site: www.mansruin.com
Visit the Last Chance Saloon site: www.lastchancesaloon.org