Bay area artist Lily Black has lived more lives than your average. Although Lily refrains from calling himself an “artist”, he certainly has been creating things for profit for a long time. From selling props to costume stores at the young age of 12, to making record art for heavy metal bands like Autopsy, assembling H&R Block offices, doing graphic design, and being a slave for Sony, Lily would preferably do just about anything if he can do it with his hands, especially if it involves a paint brush or a pencil. Growing up in the East Bay and eventually transplanting into living in the downtown area of San Francisco from the burbs, Lily soon became familiar with the environment around him and thrived off it’s sometimes bleak existence and thus it became a type of fuel to inspire a portion of his creative process.
Purchase prints from the show through this link or find out more about Lily Black’s work in our interview below:
1AM: Did you start out drawing?
LB: My Art history background is art brut or outsider art which is the 3 C’s – children, criminals, crazies, so I’m self taught, pretty much anyone who hasn’t received formal art training. But oh yeah, you kind of have to. My father moved his office and bought way too much stationery and there were boxes and boxes of unused stationery for free and when I was growing up, any amount of trouble or restriction I was in did not include art supplies. It was like food, water, clothing, art supplies. And drawing is the lingua franca of the arts. If you can’t draw you’re going to have a hard time. Basically, I can teach a dog how to draw but I cannot teach a dog how to stop drawing.
1AM: How did this current body of work all start? What was it’s inspiration?
LB: The long Moleskine Japanese notebook is 5 inches by 3.75 inches and all the pages hold pout into one long page. I made it for a girl, which is a really good way to do stuff. It’s in the paradigm of art that is in the realm you’d have to call obsessive creepy stalker art. But we were already dating so it’s slightly different. So it’s more dating creepy stalker art. Some of the content in there include her name and date and ~love~ But we both like urban decay and in America it’s called Detroit and in Japan it’s called Haikyo which means melancholic and beautiful ruins. So I have industrial sites, love hotels which have been abandoned and open to the elements of animals, Haikyo Japanese culture in general is subtly tucked in there. We also both like science fiction a lot so I made a world that we both would like and enjoy. Making a world where there is atmosphere, architecture and population and which in this case is zero, and an aesthetic to convey this is warm grey scales which makes it appear to go beyond the edge. That’s what turns me on and that’s what I wanted to portray.
1AM: Essentially it’s like a visual love letter..
LB: Yeah well words get worn out and the audience can bring new things to the language over time but we bring more new things to a drawing each time and a drawing is true. That’s why there are no people and there are no characters otherwise you would say ‘I’m like that or I’m not like that’. They exist in this world this way thus that is what this world is like but I wanted to have the least amount of symbol in this work. So truly I wanted to make more of an image than a sign.
1AM: Is the concept of urban decay a consistent conceptual idea you bring to your work in general?
LB: Its conceptual. There’s conceptual thought but I like to lack intention. I like accidents. The thing behind the thing, the thing between the two things, the back of the shopping mall, parking lots at night when there’s nobody there, when you see the mini trash cans at night that are different colors, that is what I like, things that have been left to their own devices. Nature has come back as it does. Water and time wreak havoc and urban decay is in other words has more meaning than the monuments we build for display. The decay is more frightening and post urban decay says more
1AM: If there was one thing you wanted the viewer to take away from this body of work being displayed what would it be?
LB: One thing to take away would be – pretty, attractive, aesthetic, that’s much much easier to say.
1AM:How long did it take you to complete these drawings?
LB: 8 months, which is not as bad as it sounds.
1AM: What is your artistic process starting from cognition to actual physical work?
LB: I’ll give you a couple highlights. One being the key ingredient in what I do is ambiguity and that’s is that it could be one thing or it could be another so it could be both things. It’s one large black/white area. Mutually exclusive properties held simultaneously.
I spend a huge amount of time acquiring technical skill and doing research. Google images on my phone constantly and sending them over to my email. On the other hand a portion of my brain is just wandering around, day dreaming, having no specific direction. The time I spend doing nothing is just as important as the time I spend doing something specific. So I can’t emphasize one or another. Just being ready and mindful of that. I always have a pen ready near me and a pen next to that pen. I look at everything..like even IKEA catalogs.
1AM: What’s your relationship with technology and being an artist?
LB: Technology..it’s useful and I use it to Google image but I’d rather continue learning about pens than relearning to use the latest stylist and tablet.
1AM: What’s the last documentary you watched?
LB: *Looks at assistant.* Should I do it? I’ll do it.. The toy box killer, look it up
1AM: Where are you from originally?
LB: The Bay Area. I am from Pleasant Hill – which is financially, culturally and socially between Concord and Walnut Creek.
1AM: Would you say you were influenced by living in suburbia?
LB: Oh absolutely. In suburbia which now that I’m gone I can understand the attraction of uniformity, soul crushing monotony, and the ambiguity but the world I lived in, did not have the imagery I needed to stay alive so I took what was available to me and cut it up and glued it together in a different pattern, stitched it up, glued it together, taught myself screen printing and taught myself how to make things. But what was available to me at 7Eleven was not enough.
1AM: What advice would you give younger artists?
LB: Uplifting advice first – pursuing art is worth it. It’s worth it and that doesn’t mean you’ll do a good drawing ever or make any money or be appreciated for what you do but to look at things enough to reproduce them is worth it and your mind is broaden and you’ll have a richer sense of the world. That’s the good news. The bad news is the horrible news and that is, the exalted vision of seeing the world makes it taste bitter. The world doesn’t come with meaning but you can add it. What you bring to the world with your big ol honkin’ art brain is addictive and you’ll need to plan wisely as an artist because you need to get over the ‘shame train’ of taking the bus or buying clothes once every who knows how long, you’re going to have to cut your hair short because you won’t get it cut for awhile, or buy a 50lb bag of rice and draw a happy face on it, ya know? Make friends and get accustom to your lot in life because it’ll be crappy. Society, most western cultures, is at time where we’re at this “spaghetti method” of throwing everything up in the air and seeing what happens. For years you were told what to paint –portraits, landscapes- but now who knows. So the bad news is – you’re not going to win, the good news is – it’s a fight worth fighting.
1AM: What do you do when you’re not making art?
LB: Horizontal dancing haha – I’m on fetlife. I do theater. I just make things, that’s it.
1:AM – Is Lily your birth name?
LB: – My given name is not Lily. It’s really just a fairly typical north European name. So when I started doing drag I use to clean up real good and one year for Halloween I designed a goth girl costume, went to a club, needed a name, and Lily was the name that kept coming up through different situations and pop culture references so it just stuck.
1AM: What’s next for you?
LB: I’m recreating the tarot card deck, which consists of 78 different cards. I’m working with a special lady friend called Crow. Some are concepts, stories, allegories, it’s also really hard. I’ve done all the easy things so now I want something to work on that I can work on for a long time. I want to start a project that will conservatively take 4 years. So this will keep me busy for a while.
1AM: Any last final words for our readers?
LB: Yeah, if you want to get it down in one sentence – Less actually is more.