Five and A Half Questions: Thaddeus Strode

Discussing influences, a near drowning at Todos, and “space noise” with the impulse-expressionist artist.

Light / Dark

In TSJ 25.2 we examine the work of L.A.-based artist Thaddeus Strode—tracking him from his Dog Town roots, to a fascination with the high/low juxtaposition of comic books and fine art, to ultimately his current approach and style. Semi-frequent TSJ contributor Alex Weinstein wrote and pitched the piece, which turned out to be an informed and incisive profile that’s part art theory and part bio.

Like his subject, Alex is also a painter and sculptor with surf acumen and an interest in oceanic themes. We first ran across him a few years back when we assembled a feature on his own work and learned that he double-majored at Brown in fine art and creative writing. Guessing that he might make a good arts reporter, we’ve pressganged him into a few pieces since and found that he’s the type of double-threat writer who can clearly unpack esoteric practices, works, and instincts precisely because of his own artistic theories and talents.

In the piece below, Alex runs Strode through an informal Q&A to dig a little extra out of his subject, artist to artist, surfer to surfer. We’ve also snapped a short film onto the bottom of the interview, shot and cut by Tyler Haft and Brendan Calder of Vague Studio, which highlights Alex’s operation—another layer for the latent art geek in you. Hope you enjoy.

AW: We talked a bit about Robert Irwin and his effect on you. But are there other people out there who have had an impact on you and your work?

TS: As far as artists, I’d say Mike Kelly, Martin Kippenberger, Franz West, Robert Morris, Robert Gober, Cady Noland, Kenneth Anger, Lee Bontecou. I assume you meant artists. But I can also think of other people besides artists: Andy Kaufman, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Iggy Pop, Neil Young, Amy Schumer, John Waters. All these people convey a notion of freedom—the ability to do what you want to do, kind of a middle finger to the status quo. Some other people who’ve influence me: Dr. Ed Wortz, who was a psychotherapist, an art collector, a scientist, a Bodhisattva. He led Zen meditation groups that I used to attend. He worked for JPL laboratories, developed things for NASA and the space program. When Ed was working with JPL, he got hooked up with Robert Irwin and James Turrell for the Art and Technology show that happened in the 1970s at LACMA. The three of them worked together and became friends. No actual artwork came out of those discussions, but the connection influenced all three of them, and their futures I believe. It’s important to have people around you—friends, other colleagues, artists, writers, musicians—to help you think about how you make your work and how you think about your work. A big thing tank.

AW: Why are so many surfers and skateboarders artists, and vice versa?

TS: I think that also ties into a freedom aspect. Not to say that other sports or activities also don’t bring out freedom. But I think surfing and skateboarding are really strong in that arena. They’re a relatively solo activity and require a lot of interior thought dynamics and physical demands. Not to get too trippy, but it’s all about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and where you go with it. I think surfing and skateboarding are total creative processes. And they’re organic processes. You’re given this object and then you have to do something with it. You have to transcend what it’s made of and for. Expand on its base. See how far it can go. Just like making art. How far can you go? What constitutes art making? What doesn’t? Is there a difference? What constitutes skateboarding? What constitutes surfing? Invention. I mean from the beginning of skateboarding, kids were taking their home-built wooden scooters and breaking off the top part to make it a skateboard. Or putting metal roller-skate wheels on planks of wood. What do you with your tools? Push them beyond their limits. Think outside the box.

I think surfing and skateboarding are total creative processes. And they’re organic processes. You’re given this object and then you have to do something with it. You have to transcend what it’s made of and for. Expand on its base. See how far it can go. Just like making art.

AW: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen so far this year?

TS: I don’t think I’ve seen anything weird this year. Wish I had.

AW: Who are what are you listening to these days?

TS: I’m doing a show soon in Europe. And aspects of the show are about space exploration. So I’m listening to sounds, and outers-space recordings of just, basically, space noise.  It’s really interesting. It’s also really meditative to listen to it if you want to zone out. Otherwise, right now, I’m listening to a lot of stoner metal. Doom/sludge metal. I’m listening to all the Sleep albums right now. And similar bands in that genre, such as Belzebong, Electric Wizard, Dopethrone. I fucking love good music to draw by. Also, Pink Floyd, the new David Bowie album, The KVB, Jeff the Brotherhood, Kurt Stenzel’s “Jodorowsky’s Dune,” Michael Rault, Alex G, etcetera.

AW: Worst experience surfing?

TS: It’s hard to say. It might have been going to Todo Santos in Baja with artist /surfer Chris Wilder. I’ve never been a great surfer by any means. I’m kind of a point-and-shoot guy. We took a boat out from Ensenada and the waves were big and thick and with dense, cold water. And once you’re out there, it’s just Kraken territory. But that was also actually really kind of interesting and exciting. There was a whale breaching about 200 yards away from the lineup. Anyway, long story short, I got caught inside at one point and I got pounded by about five waves. Held me under deep. Literally I thought I was going to pass out. Can’t make it to the surface. Gonna have to pull me out. I’m dead. See ya. I’m a good swimmer but I thought that was it. I eventually popped up and I was done for the day. But actually saying it was the worst? It was also kind of an amazing experience, and a beautiful one, too.

AW: Best?

TS: I generally just say all of them. Even the bad days are good. The ocean is a great studio. You get in your head. And you get out of your head.