Finding Success Through Collaboration, an Interview with Adam Krueger
Adam Krueger is the poster-boy of a New York prodigy artist; as a child, he was a photorealist portrait painter, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Jerry Saltz mentors him, his artworks have been shown at the city’s most important blue-chip galleries (Deitch Projects, Marlborough Gallery, and last month, Barbara Gladstone Gallery), flirting with the fashion world he has collaborated with famous models who have worn his wearable artworks, and he has been known to throw wild parties in his studio in Bushwick… He has even made it to the silver screen. Well, kind of. The main character of “Art Machine,” a film from 2012, was basically based on him and featured his artworks. Krueger is often seen wearing a hat and a leather jacket with tattoos peeking out of his collar, so he definitely looks the part.
How was he able to accumulate this star-studded level of success? Like most artists, behind the cool façade lie decades of hard work and dedication. For Krueger, art is about inciting emotion in the viewer and to achieve this he is constantly challenging himself as he dynamically merges and crosses between drawing, painting, tattooing, and sculpting. “I imagine the piece of art I want to see on a gallery wall, one that would stop me in my tracks and give me that powerful jolt,” he says about his process.
Next week a selection of his prints will be available through ATO Gallery at Superfine! LA. We took some time to talk to the multi-media artist about his life, art, the hustle – in short, his success.
In your practice, what is the difference between painting and tattooing?
After painting for 30 plus years, I am very comfortable with painting to the point where I can get bored. But tattooing is much more adrenaline boosting, like sculpting from a marble block, as there is no erasing. The canvas is not flat, it lives and moves with every breath and I need to anticipate unexpected twitches in order to pull back. When painting, I am alone, calm, in my zone, the pressure is low because I can play, fuck up, alter, erase or paint over and no one will ever know.
Previous: Adam Krueger. Above: Liz Harlin wearing the Petri Dress created by Adam Krueger and Sonia Agostino. Photographed by Adam Krueger.
This breathing living canvas is evoked when your wearables are in action. Tell me about the infamous Petri-Dress, a wearable artwork that incorporates tattooing.
The Petri Dress is part of an ongoing collaboration with Tableaux Vivants that I have been extremely lucky to be a part of. Created by Sonia Agostino, Tableaux Vivants is primarily a fashion design company specializing in handcrafted latex. Sonia and I were introduced at the closing of my last solo show at Kin+Gold Gallery in the Lower East Side, where we came up with the idea of collaborating on pieces of wearable art. Around that time, I visited a friend’s science lab where she was dissecting flies in Petri dishes, on a clear, similar version of silicone called Sylgard. I asked for some sample Petri dishes to test if the Sylgard would hold the tattoo ink in the same way it does with dyed silicone – which I had been experimenting for some time. Thankfully it worked, and that was the birth of the Petri Dress.
A Star is Born.
Ha. Yes, I created 44 tattooed Petri dishes and gave them to Sonia. At first glance, they may come off as random thoughts and imagery, as if stuck in a three-day mushroom trip but are in fact a collection of my influences. Sonia actualized a vision that I didn’t think was possible. We have shown this dress on a male model dressed in full drag, on famous female models, mannequins, and also by opening it up to hang on the wall while still connected. The latter allowed the viewer to see both the front and back dishes simultaneously, butterflied to look like a Siamese twin.
Adam Krueger’s work in the group exhibition “Conduit” at ATO Gallery‘s Pop-Up Exhibition in New York, 2018.
Cool. Let’s back up a bit. How did this all begin?
I was born and raised in the cornfields of Illinois, in the quaint town of Elburn, about 40 miles west of Chicago. Upon making the decision to dedicate my life to art, I packed up for Providence to obtain my BFA from the Rhode Island School of Design. Those four years were the most crucial to my current studio practice. It was very cutthroat, which forced me to build passion and adopt patience, interdisciplinary methods, and a strong dedication to see things through.
Then you moved to New York?
No, craving some cultural inspiration, I took the opportunity to study outside of RISD for a semester in the heart of Florence, Italy. I undertook these studies with the purpose of analyzing and replicating master paintings. Realizing I can’t beat the perfection of what has already been accomplished by the masters, I took a sharp turn and became obsessed with the odd and the different ways to mash up what realistic painting could be.
I returned to Providence to finish my BFA, and then made the pivotal move to NYC to attain my Master’s Degree at School of Visual Arts. Here, I had access to some of the top minds in the art world, and couldn’t have dreamt for better brains to pick. While attending SVA, I was fortunate enough to be selected by Jerry Saltz as one of his thesis students. Having his knowledge of the contemporary art world at my fingertips, and the ability to bounce ideas off of him for a full year was enormously valuable. During this time, I was also given the opportunity to hold studio visits and have personal critiques by some of my favorite contemporaries including Marilyn Minter, Dana Schutz, and Matthew Ronay, to name a few.
Tell me about a typical day in your life.
I wake up and I find a way to use my creativity and the skills I have acquired over the years to make money. I go to sleep and repeat. My days and weeks vary from making my personal art to collaborating with other artists, tattooing to set and fashion design, art directing to commission portrait painting. It’s a hustle.
Joseph Cross and Jessica Szohr in “Art Machine” (2012).
Your artwork was featured in the “Art Machine,” starring Jessica Szohr and Joseph Cross. The film, which premiered in 2012, portrayed a young artist in Brooklyn’s urban art scene. How did it feel to see your work on the silver screen?
Working on “Art Machine” was one of the highlights of my career so far. Until that point, I had always worked alone in my studio to create, and it was very exciting to work with, and experience the collaborative effort it takes to bring a film into existence. At the same time, I don’t think I have ever been so exhausted. I was set every day during the filming to answer questions from the director and actors and to have my arm be filmed creating parts of paintings that I made to fit the script.
Could you relate to the character?
For the most part, I was the main character, and it became pretty eerie to watch at times. Besides the whole collaborative process, the best thing I obtained from that movie was a very dear friend, Joseph Cross. He portrayed the overly stressed, self-destructive, young artist who wasn’t quite ready for adulting in this ‘get your shit together and stop feeling sorry for yourself’ real art world.
Yes, we filmed “Art Machine” in the old home of “House of Yes.” The interior had a very hands-on approach to the build-out and decor but exhaled community creativeness. There were aerial silks draped from rafters on the ceiling, with something that resembled a mini stage for performances, as well as built out studios for art making and living. But, that concept of Bushwick is long gone. It is still an amazing art community but extremely awoken.
Felix Cadieu styled by Mona Liza Studios. Photographed by Anna Garbowska.
You helped design Refinery 29’s event “Editorial Night” part of “29 Rooms” produced by Mona Liza Studios and co-hosted by Patricia Fields (love her!). How is it working in the overlapping spaces of art, design, fashion, and, dare I say, Instagram mania?
I have valued every moment of working and collaborating with the fashion world. It is so non-stressful for me because it has never been my focus, therefore I have no paranoia or expectations, and it gives me the full reign to play. Sonia from Tableaux Vivants has made this possible, and without her, this could have been a moment of failing BIG. Together, we were able to come up with numerous thought-provoking wearable artworks.
Sketch and installation by Adam Krueger and Sonia Agostino.
What did you present there?
At Mona Liza Studios we showed a version of the original debut of our partnership, which took place at The National Arts Club for their Dali Ball: ‘Take Out, Stay Home, Lockdown’. We showed four wearable artworks/concepts. The main show was a woman on a triangular wooden pedestal, which housed three pairs of exposed moving human legs through red curtains. The woman, who was on top adorned a black latex body suit, while also wearing a zipped-up dominatrix blinding mask made of tattooed latex depicting different take out menus, which was our first collaboration. The other three moments/costumes each had their own set and a specific visual voice. One was the Petri-dress, worn by the talented model Felix Cadieu. Another model wore a latex kimono which depicted an oil painting of that model, cut out and glued to the back of the piece. She also wore a headpiece that looked like dripping raw eggs made of plaster cast nipples and adorned with eyelashes and piercings. The fourth model wore one of my painting/sculpture hybrids consisting of oil painted plaid suspenders, oil painted large men’s tighty-whities, and a box of saltine crackers within the undies, made of tattooed silicone. This model was also accessorized with a clipper ship hat with dyed undies as sails, as well as fishnets with sewn on handmade silicone saltine crackers.
Live sculptures, amazing. This is becoming more and more popular at parties and it’s great to hear that you and Sonia are pushing the envelope.
It’s a blast being able to let loose and have fun working with such brilliant stars in the fashion world. In the aftermath of those two performances, there was much interest in our creations, after many brilliant photographers took their artistic licenses and adapted our given subject matter and made their own vivid works of photographic art. We received many ‘tags’ and ‘followers’ on Instagram, which was great exposure, but I am still yet to be won over by this social media false reality.
…it did disgust me when a super blue chip gallery told me I don’t have enough Instagram followers for them to show me.
Social Media can be deceiving. I think we often overlook how monetized the platform is, not realizing that many pay for visibility and that influencers get paid for promotions and sometimes have dedicated teams to help them form partnerships and deliver content.
What I like about Instagram is the idea of the mainstream population now celebrating imagery. Obviously, half the content is hollow, attention seeking selfies void of any real depth. However, at the same time, Instagram has given a platform for real image-makers to be discovered.
Instagram has given artists a lot of agency.
Yes, but it did disgust me when a super blue chip gallery told me I don’t have enough Instagram followers for them to show me. This was despite the current director at that gallery having shown my work at a different blue-chip gallery years ago when Instagram was not used as the measurement of an artist’s importance. As a traditionalist with a very (intentionally) limited use of technology, it was a little hard to swallow.
What does your studio look like?
Our home/painting/tattooing studio in Bushwick is energetic – controlled chaos. at the moment it looks like an oddly curated gallery of my artwork with a touch of George Michael and a festive flair, because Bambi, my girlfriend, and I just hosted a George Michael gingerbread, corn on the cob Christmas party. I keep my own artwork on the walls for studio visits but still, find moments where we can showcase other artists we are fond of.
I look forward to my invite next year! What’s next?
Currently, I have been so booked for tattoo appointments that I have not been able to start my next painting series, but that is glorious to me. Most people living in Bushwick, can’t afford one of my paintings or sculptures. But neighborhood art-lovers will gladly spend $200-$1000 on a new tattoo. So, I gladly make my mark when and where I can.
A selection of Adam Krueger’s limited edition prints will be available through ATO Gallery at Superfine! Art Fair LA, February 14-17th at Magic Box, 1933 South Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90007. Reserve your tickets here.
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Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is editor-in-chief and founder of Cultbytes. She mediates art through writing, curating, and lecturing. Her latest books are Assuming Asymmetries: Conversations on Curating Public Art Projects of the 1980s and 1990s and Curating Beyond the Mainstream. Send your inquiries, tips, and pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org.