Interview with Raw Thought Artist Grumpy Green About Their Life, Love & Art

 

By Lisa Rein

As we begin the interview, Grumpy’s cat, “Freddie Mercury” knocks over some brushes in water in a water bottle all over a piece of beautiful artwork sitting on the living room table.

“It’s okay,” Grumpy says. “I’ve already scanned it.”

Aha! Great opportunity for me: “Hey if that’s garbage to you now would you please sign it and give it to me?” They promise to sign it and let me take it with me. It’s the creature in black, above, at the beginning of this article.)

Lisa Rein: So tell me about your radio show.

Grumpy Green: It’s on S.P.A.Z. radio.

LR: That’s an Internet Station?

GG: Yeah it’s on SPAZ.org, it’s an anarchist collective and they stream radio from Guadalajara, from Portland, from Amsterdam, and from all over the world. Every broadcast comes from a different location. It’s also available via pirate radio in San Francisco, but not yet in Oakland. (Coming soon.) In San Francisco it’s at 103.5.

LR: Awesome. And this will be your first show this Sunday?

GG: Yes! Our show is called #LiveAmmunition and it’s every Sunday from 2pm to 5pm.

LR: Are your shows recorded if folks miss the live ones?

GG: Yes. The next day, at 8am in the archives. (Link to Sunday, Jan 6, 2019 show)

LR: Great! I will link to it!

GG: It’s me (Grumpy) my other friend Traveiza and our other friend Chi Hai. They are all DJs and really incredible artists, and we all bring a little bit different flavor to club music.

We started recently, just in the underground music scene, playing shows together. And we started tag teaming DJ sets. Like we’ll do back to back and each do two songs. We started doing it just for fun a few months ago and we just all worked so well together. This opportunity came up to do the radio show and we decided to do it altogether, and bring on local queer and trans and really give a platform to the Oakland underground scene, specifically the queer underground scene.

 

LR: Is there an instagram just for the show?

GG: Yes. It’s just the name of our show is “@LiveAmmunition” We also do an advice segment for people that wanna call in.

LR: How did you come up with “Grumpy Green?”

GG: Well my last name is “Green.” And “Grumpy” is something that my ex-partner – I guess my first real relationship – they would always call me “Grumpy,” but as a way to kind of point out when my mental illness was acting up. Because I have Borderline Personality Disorder and I have really intense mood swings, which is why I smoke so much weed, because it really helps me stay like baseline. Otherwise I feel like 50 things a day and I’ll be like crying and then I’ll be like “ha ha ha ha” – just like really crazy. But we would fight a lot, and whenever I’d get upset he would try to be like “da da da, you’re being Grumpy.”

And a while after we broke up and decided I didn’t want to go by my birth name any more, and it started out just for my art. But I don’t go by my birth name ever ever now. Because I feel very dysphoric about it. So it started out as just like a pseudonym for my artwork, but it was sort of a reclamation and acknowledgement of my mood disorder and mental illness, but being like “I’m fucked up, but that is beautiful.”

From “Lucid Dreams”

LR: So let’s talk about your Lucid Dreams project and these art pieces. I believe you said that you are doing digital art on top of photographs? Is that all on the computer?

GG: I do it in Adobe Illustrator. So I’ll set up the photograph. I’ll usually do some sort of set design and then sometimes I’ll do the styling for the photograph. Sometimes makeup. Then I take the photo and pull it into Adobe Illustrator and I’ll draw right on top of it. I don’t have a tablet or anything so I actually do everything with my finger on this laptop touch screen.

LR: How do these creatures coming out of the people come about? You mentioned that the way they look is really influenced by the person in the picture and the vibes that you’re getting from these people that you know.

GG: It’s hard to even explain, because I feel like I draw what comes naturally. But then, when I look at it, I’m like “oh yeah, that’s so them.”

LR: So you just let the process take you wherever it goes, and then later, when you’re looking back, you often realize how well the creatures go with the people?

From “Lucid Dreams”

GG: I mean I definitely edit them a lot. Some of them come super easy and I’m like “oh, this is exactly what I’m going to do.” And then there’s other ones. Like this one I had to redraw 3 or 4 times, because it just wasn’t exactly the right creature.

And this book is called “Lucid Dreams.”

LR: Oh! You’re making a book? Nice.

GG: Yes. It’s a zine. It’s like a magazine. Or like a photo zine. The foreword is gonna be a love letter to my chosen family, which is all of these people that I have photographed and then drawn over. And so it’s kind of like this interpretation, and then drawing, of their soul and energy and essence to me, in a physical form. And that’s why it’s called “Lucid Dreams” because, with my family, I feel like I’m dreaming a lot because they’re…I don’t know. Queer community is so special. It’s hard for me to articulate.

I think the way that queers hold each other is very unique and very special, and the way that my chosen family and I care for each other, and check in on each other, and make sure that like, people can get to work on time, ya know, and make sure people have eaten. We all hold each other and I think a lot of times families don’t really do that, like real families, biological families. It’s a certain holding of space, because I think we know what it’s like to not have other family too. I mean other people understand that, but I think it’s a very specific thing to lose contact with your family. Maybe because they’re not interested in you anymore because of your transness or queerness. I’ve lost a parent, and lots of other people in my community have lost a parent. I think we are all each others’ parents and we all are each others’ everything, because that’s all we have. This project is really my love letter to my family.

 

LR: And there’s a connection to DMT in there somewhere?

GG: Yes. The characters that I’ve created while working on this project have really reminded me of things that I’ve seen while I was doing DMT. That’s another reason why I called it “Lucid Dreams” – because of the connection between our brains releasing DMT when we are dreaming, and also we release it when we die. I think that, DMT, it’s “The Spirit Molecule” you know? It exists in all of us and it really is magic. I think that all of the creatures and the souls that we meet when we leave this dimension and we traverse into another; they are all valid and active. On this plane we are not able to see everything, but when we take something like DMT we are able to interact with spirits that exist in all planes. So, I think that this is also cool too because it’s like this multi-dimensional representation of these souls that I’ve come to know and love so deeply. It’s like, yeah, what you would look like if you were a cartoon blob I saw when I was in another dimension; in the vast belly of the Universe.

LR: Our cartoon versions.

GG: Yeah. A manifestation of souls.

LR: How long have you been working on this? When will it be complete, do you think?

GG: I want to have 24 photos. Right now I have 8 of them done. Most of it really depends on coordinating with everyone that I want to photograph, because that’s the most important thing. Because it’s not like I can take a picture of whoever and do it to whoever. It’s about the people…

LR: So it’s 24 different people?

GG: Yes. So I just have to coordinate with everyone. Once the photos are shot then I can edit them. I would like the project to be released ideally in late February or early March. I started this project just a week and a half ago. But a lot of these photos were photos that I had previously taken. Before I had this project in mind.

I do a lot of photography, but that’s not really my main focus in my practice. I don’t really focus on photography at all, but I have all these photos that I really love, and so I wanted to do something with them.

LR: So you’ve done all the ones where you already had the photograph?

GG: Yes. I’ve shot four of these eight in the last week and a half. This is the first one that I shot. (Looks at this one with the sunglasses below.)

LR: Where will the book be published?

GG: I want to finish all the photos and do the layout and everything and then start approaching publishers in Oakland. I don’t like to approach people with things until I’m done.

LR: So you’re doing an art installation in the Dazzle Room at our event at the Above DNA Lounge this Friday. I’m so looking forward to it. What other art installations have you done in the past?

GG: I’ve done art installations in the past with this artist’s collective called SPAZ. They just did an event at the Omni Commons in the basement last weekend. They have commissioned me a few times to do installations at their parties and I have this Jeep that’s outside. It’s this super colorful all painted Jeep. I pulled it in to a few parties and once we had like, a lounge, coming out of the jeep. And I made this chair – it’s sold now, but I can show you a photo. It’s made of like 300 stuffed animals and I cut off the heads off of the stuff animals and reupholstered this chair with all of the heads that I stitched together (below).

A picture of a sofa chair made of the heads of 300 stuffed animals.

I also have an installation that I curated in August of last year. And I also just got back from Colombia where I did an art residency.

The Art Residency was at this place called El Parche in Bogota, and I was helping with this festival called Bogota Kuir Festival. It’s a queer music festival and they had a lot of people from Mexico City, Peru, the US, it’s an international festival. There were DJs, performance artists, drag artists, and vogue houses.

GG: So the residency was through El Parche and they host a lot of the artists that perform at this festival – the Bogota Kuir Festival. So I was there helping with the Festival and doing an installation for the closing party as well as a performance piece where I spray painted myself on stage. It was really cool. And then I made this curtain out of umbrella tops; all the tops of all these kids umbrellas and I stitched them together and made this really big beautiful curtain that hung between these two pillars.

By Grumpy Green – As Displayed at the Bogota Kuir Festival, 2018

I did a clown mural all along this wall. And I made this TV thing that had like a light in it, with a  crochet blanket that I made, there on the floor. (See below two photographs.)

 

 

GG: And these are just like some paintings (above).

So, when I do stuff digitally, I first draw it by hand, and then I pull it into Photoshop and I just edit the color. But I drew this by hand. It doesn’t have any adjustment along the lines.

This was in the installation. Let me find the photo of it. I made this chair out of beer bottles.

 

LR: So where do you get your ideas? Like this creature with the bugs around him (below). Do you kind of carry these creatures around with you in your head? Or is it a spontaneous thing that happens that makes you want to draw it at that time?

GG: I think when I draw, I try to make it pretty organic.

Because, I think for me, art has always been a very good form of therapy or release. Where I don’t really like to put parameters on myself I guess.

I like to create art and just start creating, and then like half way through be like “ok, so this is what I’m making.” And I like to let my brain tell me what I’m doing versus the other way around.

LR: You’re just letting it flow out of you? That kinda thing?

GG: Yeah. A lot of times with pieces I’ll do – like with that one with the bugs and stuff, I did the chest and then I was like “I’m gonna do a bug over here” and then I did part of the head, and the opposite eye – but not all of it’s finished.

And then it all pieces together randomly. Ya know?

LR: Is that over a day? Or a couple of days? How long does it take you to make one of that one, for instance?

GG: 3 hours.

LR: 3 hours? Okay that’s fast!

GG: Yes. It’s usually, when I work on something, I just work on it and knock it out. That painting up there (below). I did two nights ago, and I did it in like 3 1/2 hours.

LR: You were going to tell me about another art show you had mentioned earlier.

GG: Oh yeah! I had curated an art show in August, called “Are you comfortable?” And it was 18 different queer artists on August 18th, and we were all making these immersive interactive installations around the theme of comfort, and queer comfort, and “does queer comfort exist” and “where can queer and trans bodies find comfort under late capitalism?”

LR: So what did queer comfort mean to you?

GG: Well, I was just making this type of alter space, where you have to step in and set intention and say a prayer, because I think there’s comfort in sacred spaces and family and creating space. And it was my show too. My installation could have been deeper, but I was also helping the 17 other artists coordinate.

I had to make a floor plan of this space, we were doing it at this venue that was called “The Trash Palace,” in East Oakland, which was actually recently shut down and now it’s just owned by a bunch of burners. And it’s really sad because it was an all trans artist and musician warehouse. And it was really… I don’t know. It was a really special and important space. But the day before this art show, the Fire Department came for a surprise inspection, and forced their way in, and almost red tagged the building, and we all had to move out.

So, basically, at the last minute we went and did this art show at the Bandstand at Lake Merritt on August 18th, 2018. So we had my friend Chance doing an installation where they were cooking lard. Because, to them, they were thinking of comfort in terms of food. And they asked a bunch of different people “what is comfort food to you?” and the common denominator in everything was fat.

So they had beautiful bread that they had made, and then they made butter that they boiled down and they made cream, and they had like chicharones, and they had all these beautiful different arrays of fat. And they had a frilly collar and they did this performance piece cooking on burners for everyone. And my friend Zelda spray painted her car at the Bandstand and then she had a circus tent in which she was selling her hand painted Tarot decks and giving readings.

LR: Is that hers over there that I saw on the table?

GG: Yes that’s hers. She hand drew every one and then this is a copy. She made 20 copies but she gave these to me. She’s also featured in the Lucid Dreams zine.

And then we also had my friend Guerrilla, who took these photos with their partner, Adonis, and they have a project together where they call themselves “the ones,” and they took these photos on a construction site and did this whole piece about gentrification and how, especially in light of us literally losing a trans-based space to the City of Oakland so it can be bought out and like rich white men can have it.

That’s what happened to our space. The Fire Department kicked us out so they could flip our building and make room for the thousands of bodies that Visit Oakland has advertised space for.

Grumpy Green, May 2018 – Shot by The London Vagabond – Part of “a series of performances about paradigms between capitalism, the meat industry, and the sexualization of women’s bodies”

LR: How long was that space there before they kicked people out?

GG: It was there for four years. They did their whole art piece about the gentrification of Oakland and how Visit Oakland advertises us as this beautiful diverse artist space and profits off of queer bodies and queer lives but then takes away our housing, in the blink of an eye, to bring in more techies, to bring in more white rich bodies that can bring the system more money. So I think that was a really cool take too on the whole theme of comfort, like how can we be comfortable if we don’t have a place to live?

Grumpy Green prepares for their radio show on SPAZ.org.

GG: It was just like really cool for our whole community to come together at that moment. We still had 100 people at the Lake Merritt Bandstand, all to see this art show after we had lost our space and had to move everything – and had sent out the address so last minute. It felt like a real moment of solidarity.

LR: That sounds really beautiful. And that brings up a subject that’s dear to my heart: How do you think we might make it so the community has more of a say about new business coming to Oakland?

GG: Oh I think people just have to go to City Council meetings. I think people have to call their representatives. I think people have to get involved. But I think a lot of people don’t really have the ability to do that, and so it’s really important for the people within the community that do have more resources and allies, do the work; and go to the city council, and do all the things. And hold space for the people who are just able to work and just get by for the moment. Until things can change.

LR: Have you gone to City Council meetings?

GG: No, I haven’t. To be honest I’m not very politically active. I have a lot of opinions but I feel like a lot of the activism or the work that I do is more within communities or more interpersonal interactions. Especially through parties and events and community building. I think those are things that I really focus on, and put my efforts there.

LR: Yes! People have to know that they are not alone, and that people care.

GG: That’s why we have to care about each other.

LR: You’re kind of fostering togetherness, and empowering people to go out and do stuff. It’s deep.

GG: If people have an opinion and they want to change things, then they should get involved. Cause that’s all we can do.

 

 

LR: So in closing, something I always ask is, what’s the most important message you would like to get out to the world right now about anything?

GG: I think that we all control our own destiny, and that, at any moment in time, if we decide that we don’t want to be doing something anymore and we want to make a change, we can do that. The human mind is so powerful. In this lifetime, we can really be everything that we want to be, and I think it’s just important to take advantage of every moment, and remember that each connection is a gift, and to just be present, and be grateful, and take advantage of your time.

See Grumpy’s art installation at Raw Thought, January 11 at the DNA Lounge, in the Psychedelic Chill Room- 10pm-2am – TICKETS  

Follow Grumpy at @Grumpylilshit on Instagram.

 

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