Waking to a leaky nose and struggling to resist involuntarily shivering as the sun rose over the metal beam of a deep-dish grainer, I realized that this uncomfortable situation could have easily been much worse.
The night before, as I was drunkenly trying to gather my bag and other provisions for an impromptu overnight joyride on a freight train, Sluto, who I had only met a few days prior, suggested that I borrow his sleeping mat for the outing so I wouldn’t freeze sleeping on the raw metal. I assume that besides a sleeping bag, this was the closest thing to a mattress he owned and his innate kindness provoked him to offer it up. I hesitated on his advice due to its bulkiness, but he pressed, expressing its importance. The loan of the mat was undoubtedly a savior in disguise; a simple act of selflessness that has resonated with me long-term.
I haven’t been able to keep up with Sluto’s whereabouts since then. He is a permanent tourist in his own country with no city to call home. Early this year he was as far north as Alaska and just a month ago he was as far south as Atlanta. Through his travels one facet of his life stays consistent, he continuously paints abnormal scenes on the side of North American railcars or in overlooked spots out of view from regular commuters, never repeating the same imagery. And on the rare occasion that he does find a place of solitude to focus and gather his thoughts, he attempts to make work that’s not on other people’s property, which is sort of the excuse for doing this interview all together. Not Even, published by The FlopBox and set to be released at the 2016 Los Angeles Art Book Fair on February 12, is a collection of illustrations, paintings, doodles and anecdotes from Planet Sluto.
Hey, so how long has it been since you officially resided somewhere? Alaska was your last home and a while ago at this point, right?
I lived in Alaska for 3 months this summer (more than anywhere else this year) then made it south to Minnesota for a month or two, living in this music venue, Secret Service (R.I.P.), but it was all sort of transitory, sleeping on a floor in one place, and under some guy’s loft in the other. I haven’t really had “my own space” for almost two years now and it’s starting to drive me mad.
Yeah, I feel like every time we talk you’re in a new city. That can start to be very tiring after a while. How many cities have you been to and stayed in this year?
Ummm, way too many. The last year was really hectic just because I think I finally gave up on any hopes of a normal life. So, Mexico City, Alaska, the Bay Area, Minneapolis, I spent a lot of time in those places, and also a ton of towns in between. A few weeks in a number of southern cities: Houston, Galveston, New Orleans, and a little time up in weed world.
Has riding freight trains been the most frequented means of transportation for you in the last year?
I’ve been riding freight for ten years now, but it’s not my main method. I feel like I take a train when I can, but I’m also flying between jobs a lot, truncated timeframes, so freight travel (aka very slow) isn’t always an option. I probably took 7 train rides and 7 flights this year, and caught a lot of rides in a lot of cars.
You lived in Ukraine for some time. What was that experience like and what did you enjoy the most about living there?
I love Ukraine. The second I arrived in 2012 I remember writing an email to my then girl about how I’d found the place I’d always been searching for. Tall, crumbling cement buildings, huge green spaces and Soviet futurist mosaics. Obviously, there are a million problems in Ukraine, the war of course, but also a country run by Mafia, aforementioned crumbling infrastructure, etc. The people are amazing (my homies in 665 Crew and Coconut Clan), but I guess what I like most of all is the solitude, the escape from my overly social American life. Forced solitude, with no one to talk to, makes you see a lot of things in yourself. I feel two years in absentia was very good for me as a person, in terms of making me less suicidal, but now that I’m back I realize I’m maybe crazier than ever.
So are you saying there’s not an American city that offers what you desire out of a place along with the solitude? I feel like there is plenty.
I liked Ukraine because I worked 24 hours a week and had enough money to eat food and have an apartment, leaving time for writing, reading, drawing and the novelty of being in a very different place. No one speaks English so I didn’t even have the options of friends. Even people who have advanced English as a second language will never understand your American puns or cultural jokes, and it’s so fucking lonely, but that forces you to go really deep inside yourself, and that’s solitude. As for America, you know, most cities are all the same big city now, a CVS-Whole Foods-Googleplex-gangbang and, of course, solitude is available. Look, I mean everyone’s just on their fucking phones all the time or on Netflix. And they won’t pick up their fucking phone anyway. You can have all the alone time you want but it’s forced in a really sad way, because everyone is just inside a shell bubble, and that’s when solitude is transformed back into plain, pathetic loneliness, which is probably the underlying aspect of the whole human condition anyway. I can even feel it happening to me; in normal conversation my mind is slipping away into the Internet, onto other topics, our crippled little spans of attention. I can’t even get mad about it because it is becoming me. Maybe the problem in the end after all these mad years searching for the right place, the right woman, is that I am the real problem, a sickness for which there is no cure in sight.
Hahah. Dahm. Well then, do you know where your wanderlust will take you next?
By the time anyone reads this article I’ll be in New York. I’m getting a job, an apartment. I want a few months at least to settle down; calm my rattling guts and I love New York, but I don’t think I’ll cut it there in the long run. I’m probably too lazy, you know? You really gotta bust your ass to work there and if you stay too long your head goes up your ass. The longer I run, I feel there’s some big old bag of dope and a needle calling my name, because the world isn’t enough, or I’m not enough for the world. So we’ll see. I’ve been thinking a lot about China, too. Learning Mandarin and Chinese art man, there’s so much cool shit going on there.
So you meet someone who has never seen your work before and they ask what kind of work you make. How do you describe it to them?
I guess its graffiti art? I am stuck doing letters, writing my name in my paintings, maybe because I started painting 15 years ago, before the “street art revolution,” and for the old timers, street art was and always will be abhorrent. That being said, just painting graffiti letters got very boring for me sometime in 2006. So since about 2008 I’ve been struggling to make a style of image-based, symbol-laden graffiti that is appealing to civilians and letter-based graffiti writers alike, a sort of synthesis. More simply, I want my Mom to like my graffiti. But about graffiti: I like the medium and that no one is paying me anything, so I can do whatever I want. I like being outside, in the world, exploring, walking down old railroad tracks, and I like my paintings, sometimes the really bad ones, because I know when some civilian sees it they are going to scratch their head. I want other people to think, to maybe just see how I see. You know, The Horror
Is it just a routine habit at this point or do you still get excited about the act of painting or is it something else that continues to motivate you?
I wish I knew. Why do I force myself to go out in the 4 degree snowy night after all these years to stand next to a boxcar and draw a cat on it? I am a pathological human, creativity wise. If you take away the paint and walls, I will write a novel, poems, short stories or draw tattoo flash. When I stop making, death’s head rears up in front of me. Not literally, but I believe that is what it really is, this restless feeling inside that keeps me running, drawing, writing. I mean, I taught myself Russian, basically as a diversion. It is really just one of the symptoms of this unnamable thing, the sickness unto death?
I feel like your relatively slept on and it might be purposeful on your behalf. Haha. You don’t have a website or put yourself out there much. Is this intentional?
This is an ancient topic I’ve become recently very interested in. Purposeful obscurantism – like ancient Christians had these ideas that the path to truth should be littered with garbage and the path to hell should be clean. Like you hide the nice and pretty things, in a modern sense, the interesting things so that only “cool” people can find them. I guess that’s a sort of elitism. I know it sounds stupid, but in 2016, with all the world’s music and art available at a flash, I’m embarrassed to even have an Instagram, but I want someone to at least see all this work I’m doing? Fuck, thinking about it, maybe I should delete it soon, but of course at the same time, you want people to see your art, to hear your songs. I feel a lot of artists are wrestling with that in 2016, or maybe I’m just a total moron and I should be out there on Big Cartel, eBay, Pinterest, hashtagging and whatever!
The drawings in the Not Even zine are exceptionally clever and humorous. I especially like the watermelon cat, as I’m fond of felines. Do you have a process for cultivating these bizarre images or is it spontaneous?
The images usually come to me in bits and pieces. Sometimes I will read a phrase, or rather, misread a phrase, “The city of crocodiles” or something and then the image swims around in my head and attaches to other images, a bird, a briefcase, and sometimes a proper juxtaposition appears. Or in other drawings, I think of something funny, like a flasher, flashing children (funny, because it is something like a cardboard archetype of 1980’s vice), and then I think of how to make that thing comical, and add other characters. Making a strange event, and giving unexpected reactions, contrasting phrases, pop music, it all flows together, water through the sluice. Then I paint it and ¾ of the time it’s dumb, but sometimes there appears this surreal image that is at once total nonsense and also very visually pleasing. Really, I don’t know how it works, and know that if I’ve thought about it I’ve probably ruined it. Oops!
Not Even will be released at the LA Art Book Fair on February 12, 2016 and will be available online soon after if it doesn’t sell out.
*Interview and portrait by Austin McManus