Alon Paul on 365 days of Madonna and creating art out of his obsession
Artist Alon Paul says he hopes that if Madonna ever sees his new show Muse:365, she'll be equal parts flattered and terrified. This time in 2011, Paul quit drinking and created a piece of art of or inspired by the Material Girl every day for the entire year, and he'll display them all at a grand opening Wednesday night at the Art Salon. See the 365 versions of the diva, pick up a commemorative T-shirt and graphic novel created by Paul, and be sure to practice your vogue. We caught up with Paul in advance of creating the very last piece for the show (live models painted in the pop star's likeness) about turning his lifelong obsession into art.
Westword: What made you want to complete this project?
Alon Paul: Basically, I grew up very poor in the finest trailer parks in Nebraska and Wyoming, and didn't really have anybody to look up to. And suddenly this character Madonna came along who was colorful and seemed like she was completely on top of her game, and she didn't take shit from anybody, and so from a very young age, probably around seven, I've just constantly followed her and basically looked to her for guidance and how to be a good person and all that kind of good stuff. So then years later, once I got out into the real world as an adult, I just continually made the wrong decisions. Over the last couple of years it's just been a situation where I wanted to fix it and I didn't know how, and I was just down on myself, and so a few years back I attempted to do this project, and I made it about halfway through. But because I was more interested in partying and not really taking care of things, I didn't finish it. So this last August 16, which is Madonna's birthday, I woke up that morning and told myself, "Are you gonna do this? Are you gonna do something with yourself?" And that morning I decided that I was gonna complete it, and every day for a year, I was going to devote myself to doing a piece of artwork, either of or inspired by Madonna. And along with that, I said no drinking for a year, no drinking until it's all finished, because I knew that would sort of make me lose focus. And now we're a year later and it's almost finished.
How has your life changed in the past year?
I realized how much money I actually make, first of all. I have gotten into amazing shape, which is something that anybody who looks at Madonna is like, if there's one thing they can say nice about her, it's that she's in amazing shape. I have realized sort of the people in my life that actually cared and were backing me as opposed to trying to constantly be the popular kid. I have always felt like the slutty cheerleader who's trying to fit in with all the popular kids, and I've just realized that it's not about trying to fit into groups, it's about trying to be yourself, and ultimately people flock to you. I've just focused on being myself regardless of whether it's the normal thing to do or the most popular thing to do, and it's done wonders for my self-esteem, for getting up in the morning. I'm so excited to get up and go out and do things, because I'm doing it to make myself happy instead of a bunch of other people.
What is your artistic background?
My mom, she had me when she was seventeen, and like I said before, there wasn't a whole lot of guidance there. It was a kid raising a kid, but the one thing that she was able to do is, she's an amazing artist. Because she had me so young, she had to get married because of it and all this other stuff. She still did her artwork, but she didn't ever really let it help her when she very well could have. And from a very young age, she didn't have anything that she could give me financially, but she started teaching me how to draw as soon as I could hold a pencil, basically. So all through growing up, I always drew, I painted, what have you. After I bypassed what my mother was able to teach me, then I became self-taught. I always was somewhere where there wasn't an art school and I didn't understand how college worked, so I didn't know that you could go to college somewhere and then transfer to another. I just thought, we're broke, so I have to go to school at one of these three or four different places, and they don't offer an art program, so I'm not going to do it, because I was in Nebraska and Wyoming. So I bypassed college, which I don't regret, but I feel like it could have taken me where I wanted to go faster.
But other than that, I mean, off and on through my twenties, I did commissioned work and it was always portraits of people. Not a whole lot, to be honest. I don't have a large background. This is the first thing that I've ever done. A few years back I was in a show of a large group of artists, it was called Madonna Factory, so I displayed, like, four pieces there. It sort of got my feet wet, but it was so long ago I think it's about ten years ago now. But, yeah, I think this is going to be the first thing that I do that gets my name out there to a very large demographic of people and not just my friends who know I can draw. I had to make it big because I waited a really long time to do it, so in my head I was just like, I have to do something so large and so out there that people will have to come and see it even though there's been no mention of me before.
My first response is, why not? I think she embodies everything to me that a person can accomplish. I think we make way too many excuses for ourselves and we talk a lot, but we don't really follow through. Madonna, she does what she wants and doesn't pay attention to the fact that it might not be something that everybody's going to take to at first. And I think ultimately to be revolutionary, you have to expect to be unpopular sometimes. If somebody tells me my hair looks bad or I'm looking a little chunky, I can really take it to heart and it can ruin weeks of my life, whereas Madonna's been doing this for thirty years and very rarely do people say nice things about what she does. But she's stuck through it. It seems like everything that people thought was scandalous or thought were awful things that she was doing at one point in time, now it's the norm and nobody really looks at it in a bad way. I guess she's just shown me that if you do what makes you happy and if you've got something to say and you say it regardless of what the reaction's going to be, that ultimately you can change people's lives.
Almost every moment in my life is defined by what Madonna album was out, by a Madonna movie, by something that she performed, you know what I mean? It's sort of a timeline, and growing up I moved 21 times before I was a sophomore in high school. So quite honestly, the timeline of my life during that period of time is all based on what Madonna thing came out. That's how I can remember what happened, because it was so chaotic. Everybody's got their crazy, and, ultimately, Madonna is my crazy. I'm very happy that mine's a positive one. I want people who walk in to sort of feel overwhelmed by it and to really look at it and be like, oh, my God, and to see her through all the different perspectives that I see her through. I want this show to be something that if Madonna does happen to hear about it and happens to be able to see it, I want her to be equal parts flattered and terrified.
Even sometimes I think about it and I'm like, this is kind of sick, Alon. Why can't you get this out of your head? I won't be crawling over her gates trying to get in her house or anything like that, but it's definitely something that's always there.
Muse:365 opens tomorrow, August 15, with a reception at the Art Salon, 2219 East 21st Avenue, from 7 to 10 p.m. The event is free and open to the public, but bring cash for raffle tickets and a chance to win older pieces of Alon Paul's art, as well as purchase the graphic novel and T-shirt. There will be an after-party complete with Madonna decor and videos at Rockbar following the show. For more information, visit www.alonicaink.com.
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