Interview: #GoVote Artist Gwen AP

Gwen AP kicked off HeadCount's #GoVote campaign with the first two pieces of art in the series. She really set the bar high. She's a painter who not only works in the studio but also brings her art to the field, painting "live" at music events like Disco Biscuits shows. Here, she tells HeadCount about the motivation behind her artwork, the love she shares with HeadCount for Hunter S. Thompson, and the responsibility voters have in their communities.

HeadCount: Please tell us a little about yourself and your work.

Gwen AP: I always feel a little weird talking about myself, but I’ll give you the basics: I’m 28 years old, married, 1.5 children. The .5 represents a large white boxer named M.E.M.P.H.I.S. who at four years old is larger and more high-maintenance lately than my six year old. And if you don’t know what M.E.M.P.H.I.S. stands for, you’ll either laugh or be completely offended when I tell you. I tell my husband that having a “Gwen” is kind of like having a dog, but instead of getting hair everywhere, I get paint everywhere. I paint all day, every day. I just can’t help it. Painting is how I process the world, everything I feel and experience goes through me and out my brush. My work has evolved as I’ve evolved. When I was younger I drew constantly, pen drawings were always my favorite. In college I discovered acrylic paints, and never put them down. I spent five years working on a Hunter S. Thompson painting I started on the shores of Oswego, and later gifted it to a friend at my wedding. I realized my love for spray paint about four years ago; around the same time I started live painting and vending at festivals. Recently I’ve been taking oil painting classes so I can add that skillset to my tool box. I like growing and changing. I like exploring new areas and challenging myself, in life and in art. I hope that my work will always evolve as I evolve. But no matter how I change over time, music remains a constant part of what drives me. It lights my fire. My art is best when influenced by music.

Gwen on Stage 12-28-2011We first met you when doing live art for a Disco Biscuits show. How is doing live art different from studio work?

When I am in the studio I am focused. I usually have a goal in mind and am intent on achieving that goal, with little distraction. I can do things in a very precise and purposeful way. When I live paint all that goes out the window. I can’t have a goal in mind, I have to be open to influences from all aspects of a live environment; the music, the crowd, the lights, the vibration of the stage. I have to be willing to put myself out there, and absorb the experience; let it change me, affect my work. I’m influenced by my surroundings, and when I’m in the studio, it’s a fairly controlled environment. But take me to a festival, and my art becomes raw, uninhibited, influenced by a set of circumstances and outside factors that just aren’t possible in the studio. I love to feel the pulse of the crowd, or suddenly change from purple to red mid-stroke because the tempo got faster, and the beat dropped. My art is something I feel in my soul, and when I do it live, around music, and people, I feel all of that too. My live painting becomes a reflection of that experience; that place, that time and set of circumstances that happen once in a lifetime.

What music most inspires you?

The music that inspires me most is music that makes me feel connected, as if it just understands me. Whether it’s the beat that speaks to me, or I feel a connection to a particular artist, lyric, something that hits home and lets you know this artist understands. The kind of music that feels like it was made just for you. It touches a sensitive part of you a few layers deep and lets you know you’re not alone. For me, the Disco Biscuits are most inspiring. They tell a story in a way that hits home and is very relatable. I started listening to them at a time in my life where I really needed to feel that connection. I craved a sense of belonging that I never had with my family when I was growing up. I come from a broken family, to say the least, and art and music were always my way to escape. I grew up listening to pop music, Eminem, Metallica, and later I found the Disco Biscuits. Their songs were different, and around their shows I felt a sense of community. I’ve had some really great inspiration since then come from live painting with other bands like Brothers Past, The Manhattan Project and Conspirator as well. I love getting to know the people behind the music, where it comes from, why. I am incredibly inspired by other artists convicted to their craft, and I love the energy I get when I’m able to really interact with not only another person, but their art as well. It hits a deeper level.

I see that you list Hunter S. Thompson as an inspiration. Then you have something in common with HeadCount. His quote about Deadheads not voting in Florida in 2000 was one of the first rallying cries for HeadCount. What about him and his writings do you connect with most?

I feel like I connect with Thompson in a lot of ways. I discovered him at the beginning of college when I was starting to really discover who I am, who I am to become, and what my mark on this world will be. One of the many things I really appreciate and was drawn to about him were his radical ideas. For instance, his “Freak Power” tactic to register new voters in an attempt to win the election as sheriff of Aspen in 1970. He saw a population of people being influenced by the government who didn’t have a say and couldn’t do anything other than comply or rebel. He wanted to give them another option. It seems to me that he was incredibly passionate about this country of ours, with all its flaws, he recognized them and still saw potential. I like that he didn’t mask the flaws, he was a tribute to the very things that many laws are made to protect us against, but his passion and drive are awe inspiring. Some of his words hit home in a way that nothing else I’ve ever read does. My very favorite quote, and my motto for quite sometime now has been this “Who is the happier man, he who has braved the storm of life and lived, or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed?” As scary as life can be, I want to live it. I want to give it my all, take in all the good, all the bad, and give it hell the best way I know how. Thompson understood that.

Can you tell us a little about your #GoVote artwork?

As with most of my art, I wanted to give it a voice. I wanted it to be a little loud, and feel like something you would see at a show or a festival. I chose symbols that are relatable to me and represent an image of this country that I would want to vote for. Freedom of music, a community of people helping one another, the good stuff. I always sneak a little of myself in a painting, a splatter here, some abstract motion there, a red and white striped Where’s Waldo shirt for fun, or some round Lennon sunglasses because I’m terribly obsessed with them lately. Bright colors and high contrast are also staples of my work.

Why did you get behind HeadCount and this initiative?

I think the answer to this question goes back to my Thompson-esque morals. I don’t like to follow the rules, merely because they are the rules. I challenge people, I ask questions, I’m not complacent, I like to know why, and I like to forge my own path. But when it comes to government I feel paralyzed. It’s this huge giant looming over us, not all the time, but every once in a while you have to just bend over and take it when they tell you to. Well, that doesn’t seem right, but like most people I try to ignore the unpleasant. I don’t watch much of the news, and it’s usually depressing to keep up with current events. However, I do think it’s important to vote, to have a voice, and to be aware enough to formulate an educated opinion. I believe that if enough people stand together we can make a real difference. Then somewhere along the line I realized that no matter how many people stand with me, I have to stand for myself. I have to look myself in the mirror before I go to bed every night and I want to be proud of who I am. So I always try and give before I take, I treat others as I would want to be treated. With my actions and my words I make it count, for me. I registered to vote with HeadCount in college at a Disco Biscuits show in NYC. Now I vote as much as possible. I worked with a journalist for HeadCount named Greg Sarafan on a piece he was doing about my live painting adventures a few years back. He did a great write up, and I donated the proceeds from a live painting collaboration with The Manhattan Project and Conspirator. My art is what I have that I can use to give back in this world. Every once in a while I make it a point to donate a painting, my time, something to put good into the community that I’m a part of. I think it’s important to recognize we are all on this planet together. The more we tend to our world and make it a point to help take care of one another, the better off we will all be. To me, organizations like HeadCount represent that kind of initiative.