How to Draw Your Own Door : An Interview with Edie Fake

July 20, 2011 · Print This Article

Edie Fake’s first graphic novel, Gaylord Phoenix (Secret Acres) was eight years in the making. An erotic and sometimes violent psychedelic spirit quest,  the book compiles the adventures of its central birdman who travels far and wide in search of self-knowledge and passion. It’s a two-colored interior, with a rich vocabulary of symbols and innuendo, from magical dwarfs to crystal splinters and tubular genitalia. The drawings are lush and decadent yet they resonate with a kind of personal touch too. When I put the book down I felt like I had been left with a piece of cartoon chalk—what will no doubt come in handy at such times in the future when I find something blocking my path (you know, because cartoon chalk draws doors through walls). This book is liberating and joyous and why not—for shouldn’t life be the same? Pain and vulnerability can lead to insight.
Despite the epic proportions of  this one body of work (and here is a great interview about GP specifically) Fake has worked on other projects as well, participating in performances, working as a tattoo artist and developing an alternative history of Chicago. I wanted to ask Fake more about his work and how it flows together in an effort, I suppose, to explore his underlying and hybrid ideology. In some ways I surprised myself—I asked a lot of questions about tattoos. I’m curious about what tattoos mean in our culture, (perhaps especially because I’m spending the month in Providence and tattoos are really and truly all over the place). How are tattoos different from drawings? And where do those paths cross. Edie Fake seemed like a good person to talk to.
Caroline Picard: What happens to you when a drawing of yours is tattooed on someone’s arm? In other words, does the significance of the drawing change? How would you compare a tattoo with a drawing’s relationship to the world when contextualized by a book/on a page?

Edie Fake: I think a couple of things happen in a couple of different ways. First off, drawing a tattoo for someone is sort of like finding the perfect gift for someone you barely know. Part of a perfect gift is that it is entirely wanted and sort of surprising and I think it also has to have a little personal flair, some indication of who the giver is and why they would choose to give such a thing.  So just the drawing/planning itself is already a lot more collaborative than just thinking about what you’d draw on your own. Then, you start tattooing someone and it’s a whole other thing. It’s a blood ritual and it’s craftsmanship and it’s fun and painful and casual too. I was only tattooing for a couple of years, but when I was working on someone there was this whole new process of understanding each line drawn, and also an understanding of why this tattoo was going to fit the person getting it. I think I was looking at the stuff I was tattooing like it was different sorts of heraldry. The person wearing the tattoo is a huge part of what the drawing becomes, both physically and energetically. That’s the biggest difference throughout the process. With drawings on paper I usually am pushing out a drawing with my own vision,  and then it can have a really singular presentation. Tattoos temper your own version of how things should be with someone else’s ideas and I really love it because it can really push the way you draw into some strange places trying to figure out the common ground where “what someone wants” meets “what you want to give to them.” I’m not tattooing now, but I miss it a lot and I miss the way it pushed my drawings. I’m starting to casually put my feelers out for another apprenticeship here in Chicago.

CP: I’m interested in how you use drawings to empower and embolden ideas you have about fluidity and gender identity–Can you talk a little bit about how the medium enables your philosophy/ies? 

EF: I’m not sure if my thoughts are organized enough to bring up anything worthy of being a philosophy! I do identify as a transsexual and I do think a lot about the expansiveness of language, the importance of self-definition and how that all relates to complicating gender and sexuality. Collapsing and expanding meaning of words and images can work towards a wild and playful vision of sex positivity as well; that’s what I strive for in drawings.

Multiple meanings are critical – I really think that’s what keeps visual, verbal and physical language alive, the way that new interpretations will always be added to the heap. I make a lot of work based on innuendo and word play. Coded meanings and visual decadence can provide a place where drawings can snap into something that complicates gender and implies new systems. For me, it’s impossible to articulate queerness in a direct and definitive way because it doesn’t exist like that – it’s much better pieced together through a drawing with many things happening, the interplay of different codes, sly language tricks, a collision of symbols, because all these things together gets more toward the idea of a border-less, boundless queer gestalt.

CP:  Do you believe in a Utopia? (not necessarily something to implement, but something to work towards?) 

EF: I don’t believe in some true, universal, obtainable utopia, or any kind of unified vision for a utopia, at all. However, I have experienced periods in my life I would definitely call “utopic” where I’ve felt amazing energetic kinship to those around me, or even just to myself… I should add, these were not periods that were free of problems or hardships,  but they were times of feeling deeply connected to what I was doing and how I was living. Constantly scheming and trying to help others with their schemes.

I think the world is shitty and hard,  really lovely things always fall apart, pain, violence, heartache and futility reign supreme. Flying in the face of that, a utopia notion in my head can push me forward, and encourage me to try to create good energy and critical work. Utopia as a constant push to conjure up how things could be better, and then the working your ideas into realities.

CP: In some way I was thinking about the utopia question because of the on-line project A Gay Utopia. I was wondering if you could talk a little about that–how did the project get started? What was it like developing work for an on-line and shared context?

EF: Before the Gay Utopia Online Symposium, I felt like the term was floating in the air a lot, especially the air over Chicago. In my experience, it was being used as sort of a rallying cry, to envision working for each other, creating networks, sharing resources, and helping each other build the things we wanted to see in the world. When I went on tour with Lee Relvas in  2006  she delivered this brilliant soapbox speech as part of our performance that culminated with asking the audience “Are you ready for a Gay Utopia?” Well, the answer to that was yes.

I’m unsure of how the Online Symposium started, but that project was the brainchild of Noah Berlatsky and Bert Stabler. It’s a wild grouping of folks that they brought together, and I’m really proud of the work I did for the  project. There’s a wide range of how people approached the work there, and I think I approached it as someone who feels like  “Gay Utopia” is a concept that nourishes me and is integral to how I see the cycles of my life tumble out. The Gay Utopia shares a lot with the Temporary Autonomous Zone and I am really invested in both of those, so I wanted to create  a comic that reflected falling down that rabbit hole. When I settled on a long scroll down drawing, I also decided that the most important thing for me to show in the images was the close combination of destruction and ecstasy, love and fury going hand-in-hand, fueling each other. That’s a big part of my lived experience.

CP: I was thinking about tattooing again, and your description of its gift-quality. It made me think too about how you describe community and connectedness as being somehow central to those moments of utopic experience. In many cultures, it feels like tattoos have ritualistic significance–it’s a sign given at the coming of age, for instance, or after some epic experience. I was wondering if you feel like tattoos have a ritualistic resonance in your experience and what that might be? 

EF: It’s a funny thing- it IS totally a ritual, and there’s this formal setup to it, but when you’re in it, it can seem casual. I guess I should call it “important casual” though – it’s a nice shared energy with tattooee and tattooist totally concentrating on what’s going on. As I was learning, I did tattoos on a lot of friends and I think that certainly had the pleasant effect of getting closer to people in a new way, through this little ritual, that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. It’s very much an act of trust too, which plays into making it powerful.
CP: What do you hope your work, say like Gaylord Phoenix, accomplishes in the public sphere? I’m asking partly because you talk about your drawings as though they reflect a personal process–like, it’s the space where you can really center yourself around an interior landscape. That said, I feel like the book is incredibly welcoming and playful and generous–so it feels like a world where I am invited to participate.  I’m interesting in how that dynamic might play into the way you think about your work. 
EF: Ideally, I make drawings that are about possibilities and potentials. Considering it now, I suppose I’m making objects that try to occupy or push towards a world I’d like to live in. I’m always borrowing energy from powerful scraps of language that roll my way, trying to recognize patterns and kinships and teaming it all up visually. With that in mind, it’s amazing to hear that the drawings can turn around and give out their own little powers. It’s so great when it when it feels like there’s sharing and exchange happening because I definitely hope for something large, lovely and real.

CP: I was also reading that you do some performance work as well–can you talk a little bit about that? And maybe what it is like to physically embody something, (vs. describing it 2-dimensionally).

EF: I do occasionally do performance work. To me it seems much more like conducting a public experiment, whereas displaying a finished drawing is like showing off the answer to a long series of problems. Performances are so dependent on your openness and the openness of the audience and they hinge on both the clarity of your purpose and also your ability to convey that purpose in a non-didactic way. It’s usually a medium I use when I have a cluster of ideas floating around my head. To perform effectively – it is so hard! For me, performing is maybe the hardest, so I try to listen to my heart about it and know when I’ve got something cooking, and if I’m not really feeling it knowing to throw in the towel and forget it, I’ll just do some drawings, which I always have ideas and methods for.

Go here for more glimpses of Edie’s work.