How rock and roll bleeds into his artwork and why old school rockers are behind his latest project with Preteen Gallery
There's long been a comfortable partnership between music and visual arts, from Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground up through Lady Gaga and Jeff Koons. But when you're thinking about the intersection of the two mediums, iconic Australian rockers AC/DC might not immediately come to mind. Although for Venezuelan-born Abdul Vas, whose work often traffics in the stereotypically masculine – cowboys, baseball, guns, and roosters – perhaps the quintessential cock rockers as muse make perfect sense. Vas, who's had his work shown throughout Europe and America, and was chosen for the Beijing Biennial in 2009, has seen rock and roll – and “Rock and Roll” – work its way into his visual art for years, with AC/DC being a particular point of focus. His latest piece is a flight case made to resemble the one the band used in their Razor's Edge tour in 1990. The 40 piece limited edition case, sold through Preteen Gallery, comes complete with stickers, a rubber stamp, t-shirts, books, interviews and more. Vas explained a little more about the role music has played in his life and art.
What was the impetus to start making artwork based on AC/DC? Was there a specific moment when you were inspired?
Abdul Vas: The onset of my chronic obsession with AC/DC came rather early; I was around 6 years old. As a teenager I started tagging AC/DC’s logo out in the streets. Around that time I realized AC/DC were to me a source of a rather ungraspable force, a kind of libidinal pulsation that would drive me in a way or another for the rest of my life.
My mother gave me a book of the Blow Up Your Video tour that I still keep with me. The imagery and photographs contained in this book had a immense impact on me; they seemed so full of energy and exuded a manic euphoria that captivated me as much as my experience of their live sets on television.
When I was 18 years old I began to make drawings, paintings, fanzines inspired by AC/DC in an attempt to fuse rock and roll music and visual art. What I’m interested the most about AC/DC, among other musicians and bands such as Muddy Waters or The Rolling Stones is the ageless nature of their oeuvre on all sensory levels. It always sounds and looks so current. This is to me what makes them Great, perhaps the greatest. I might be caught up in the past but, to be honest, what really makes my dick hard is AC/DC; they’re perpetually on the heights of a demonic orgasm.
What does it mean to make art inspired by a band anyway? Is it more about their visual persona and aesthetic, or is there a way of translating their sound into a visual form?
Abdul Vas: When I talk about AC/DC I also talk about this energy driving me through all kinds of experiences of mine, it’s like the fuel for my consciousness, the solid base on which my work stands on. I think if what you do doesn’t have a true spiritual source from your own experience of becoming it easily turns into something disposable: it’s not sincere. AC/DC’s influence on my life and work cannot be reducible to the visual and of course it is not any kind of exercise in ironic imagery appropriation or whatever. The output might be aesthetic but to me it’s a matter of the experience of cosmic singularities; the material output is really secondary.
I don’t go to my studio thinking “OK, so now I’m going to make some art.” That to me doesn’t make any sense. Going to the studio to me is like locking myself up to record an album, but not at all the kind of studio lock-up we’re all familiar with. It’s more about an arrangement of spiritual revelations and a systematic way to communicate them rather than building up something that’d please critical taste or even my own taste. This is how I work or I might as well say this is how I listen to AC/DC. I’m not locked up with Mike Fraser producing a killer rock record but my psycho-sexual rock and roll reverie inevitably sets all these things flowing. More than a translation of an auditory input into a visual output, it is about the becoming of psycho-sexual (and hence, spiritual) vibrations through my physical body, a sort of summoning.
”The audience for this project is quite diverse, there are contemporary art collectors who love my work in general but there is a lot of interest from hardcore AC/DC fans who, of course, know about my work and my devotion for AC/DC.” – Abdul Vas
When was the first time you saw them? The most memorable time?
Abdul Vas: I had just turned 11 years old and my first concert was AC/DC in Sacramento, California in 1990. This was during The Razor’s Edge tour on which the flight case piece is inspired by. Seeing the greatest rock band of all time at that young age has a meaning to me I just cannot put into words. My interest for Brian Johnson is very special; I’m also a total Malcolm Young fan. Anyway, all of AC/DC’s band members have been and are the fucking lords. My fixation on Brian’s persona has to do with the way he channels raw rock and roll energy; his presence on stage can be devastating. If you watch clips from The Razor’s Edge tour you hear the intro in which Malcolm and Cliff go “aaah thunder, aaah thunder, aaah thunder!” and in the midst of this exhilarating mantra you hear a THUNDER! And then comes Brian Johnson; you’re hooked up, hypnotized, under a spell until the end of the concert. Well, none if this is news: AC/DC are the shit!
Who do you think is the audience for this specific project? Art collectors, or hardcore fans of the band?
Abdul Vas: You’d think otherwise but the audience for this project is quite diverse, there are contemporary art collectors who love my work in general but there is a lot of interest from hardcore AC/DC fans who, of course, know about my work and my devotion for AC/DC and rock and roll; people who invest a lot in all kinds of AC/DC-related objects: magazines, photos, limited edition records, etc. Then, there are also rock and roll enthusiasts who collect all kinds of memorabilia of different bands.