Charlie Boots on his artistic process, Internet romances and why logos inspire him

Charlie Boots, "Sugar Skull."
Charlie Boots, "Sugar Skull."

Editor's note: Artist Charlie Boots is part of the inaugural pair of PAIR residents at Denver's Powerhaüs Studio. As part of his residency, he and his fashion-designing counterpart will be reporting from the real world via Show and Tell, as they learn the ropes from studio mentors Mona Lucero, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy and Jimmy Sellars. Boots's next post follows. And incidentally, applications are now being accepted for the second PAIR residency; visit the website for details.

See also: - Charlie Boots on light-rail adventures, being a poor artist and why he is like Jesus - The world according Charlie Boots: An art-scene newbie on what it takes to get noticed - 100 Colorado Creatives: Charlie Boots

As an artist, I am accustomed to questions about why I do what I do.

"What does this mean?" and "How do you come up with this stuff?" When I'm being honest, I respond with the answer, "It means whatever you want it to mean, and I come up with it randomly. Does that matter? Do you like it?"

Sometimes I feel like giving my responses a little more weight, and I can definitely play up the art theory stuff. I'm pretty good at it.

I can take the shoe off your foot and go into an hour-long diatribe about its significance as an object that has shed its identity by being removed from a context in which its utility situates it as being opposed to an object of contemplation and... by doing so, simultaneously challenges historical notations about what constitutes an art object as opposed to a mass-produced good.

Did you get all that? Don't worry if you didn't. It was all bullshit.

That is not to say that my work is meaningless, however. That's not the case at all. What I'm getting at is, I don't make works intended to be the visual equivalents to 900-page essays.

There are times when I sing the lyrics to "Don't Lose Touch" by Against Me! before I paint:

"SOS texted from a cell phone. Please tell me I'm not the only one Who thinks we're taking ourselves too seriously. Just a little too enamored with inflated self-purpose. Talk is cheap. And it doesn't mean much. Don't lose touch."

No. You shouldn't require a philosophy degree to "get" my work. I used to study philosophy as a major, so I should know. Really, the beautiful thing about painting is that diverse, sometimes contradictory, sometimes meaningless or, more often, subtle sources can be drawn upon to create a visually cohesive image. When the question of meaning comes up, the number of interpretations should be unlimited.

"Bazooka," Oil on Linen.
"Bazooka," Oil on Linen.

But still, a friend may point out, "There has to be some starting point for an idea!" That never really happens to me. When I think of the Bazooka Bubble Gum logo under a skull blowing a bubble with a fetus in it, you should know that the idea was given to me, complete, in my mind, without any added effort.

It literally just pops in there, I see the image, then I draw it out and refine it.

I think this happens because I have an over-active mind. I don't mean this as "I'm sooooo smart." I mean, I was diagnosed with ADD as a kid (just like everyone else). My mind just goes. I don't think about paintings, but I do analyze day-to-day events in extreme detail. I think these day-to-day events are the basis of what ultimately creates my work.

So! I've decided to give you a glimpse into my process -- should you be interested. What follows are a series of... events (?) or meditations (?) or dreams (?) that inspire my work.


Continue reading for more from Charlie Boots.   1) I don't know which part was more unusual: that I was hanging out with Devendra Banhart or that I had no pants on. Devendra, a frequenter of my iTunes playlists, didn't seem entertained by my pantlessness, and I must say it was hardly an ideal situation for me. And while it may seem fortunate that this whole scene took place in a pants store, I'm certain you can relate to my dismay at being unable to find pants I could actually afford. I think the cheapest pair I could find was $90. I saw it as extortion.

What was annoying was when I actually found a pair of pants I was willing to invest in, Devendra gave me this look that said, "You are trying faaaaaaaar too hard to seem cool." Embarrassed, I returned the pants to the rack and remained in my boxers.

If you can tell me the proper interpretation of the dream, I'd be glad to hear it. I'm pretty sure it's not about social anxiety, as most pantless dreams are. I love to be out in society. I especially love to be out in society without any pants on.

No. I know that's not the meaning.

I'm pretty sure that Devendra Banhart is the key here. If you know anything about this musician, you are probably aware that this guy has style. I don't mean that as, "He knows how to dress well." I mean, his music, his appearance and his general demeanor are in line like a Buddhist monk's chakras. I think I'm jealous of him. I'm pretty sure this is because of his style, but there is a slim chance that it's actually because he dated Natalie Portman.

And then there are the pants. I'm not just pantless, but I am also surrounded by pants that are far too expensive. It's like that poem about dying of dehydration while at sea. "Water, water, everywhere but not a drop to drink." The pants tease me.

I don't think this is a financial anxiety dream. I haven't lost anything recently. I'm lucky to have been broke with consistency throughout my "career" as an adult. It's not like I've been demoted.

After thinking about this for a few days, I have settled on the meaning. Pants are too expensive to let Devendra Banhart dictate which you should wear.

2) Right now, I am on the light rail. I am surrounded by three girls from a country in the Middle East. I have no way of determining which country.

One girl is wearing a sweatsuit, a flat-billed cap tilted slightly up and to the right. She has Beats headphones hanging around her neck and a short haircut. I find her attractive but I avert my eyes because I've been trained to believe that looking at people is a bad thing. The girl to my left is wearing a shawl with a floral print that I feel like staring at. Again, I avert my eyes. The girl directly in front of me is wearing a much less interesting (to me) shawl.

A man steps on the light rail and I can't hear what he says to them as he steps past because of my headphones, but the reaction of the girls tells me he told the one with the Beats that she has an...erhem...agreeable appearance. They begin talking to each other in a language I can't understand. I interpret from their body language that they are saying, "What. The hell. Was that?" "Was that guy for real?" "I mean...eww."

They then become silent. One of the girls gestures to me subtly, and another shakes her head slightly. I have enough skill with body language that these gestures are extremely noticeable to me. I have no idea why I am of any interest to them, but I really don't think too much of it until they all start texting. All three of them, simultaneously typing away on their cell phones. I have enough experience to know this is what people do when they want to talk about someone in the room without his/her noticing.

Of course, if they are talking about me, why don't they not just speak in their own language? I'm a white American. They have to know there is next to no chance I can understand them.

We reach the Englewood station and they all exit the light rail. And throughout the course of this experience, the girls and I share no words. We share no glances.

3) I have the tendency to periodically check the abandoned MySpace account of my online crush. Remember when MySpace was cool? I was on it, just like every high-schooler at the time. I met (met?) this girl there who was the first female I've met with similar interests. I was into Ska back then. She was a Ska fanatic. She would frequently change the color of her hair from blue to green to black to etc., something I always wanted to do but never had the courage. We began messaging each other and she would call me her twin.

I was in love. Digital love.

Her name was Sammy, and I have completely forgotten her last name. She lived in Ohio or Idaho or some state that had an "O" in it. I still remember her Facebook name. "Ragamuffin." I loved her for taking on a self-effacing name. I was called "The Self-Typing Typewriter."

I heard of Clap Your Hands Say Yeah through her.

I never told her I was in love.

I like to pretend that it is not creepy to check her MySpace and try to figure out her last name so I can friend her on Facebook, if she has a profile there, every year or so. My excuse is that, since I actually know her (know?), it's not creepy at all. But that's a lie and I know it. Because I don't know her.

More than anything, doing this makes it unlikely that I could ever meet her in a normal way. Let's say we do bump into each other tomorrow, no matter how unlikely this is. Here is how I see it going:

Me: "Oh... hi there." Her: "Hello. My name is Sam." Me: "I know." Her: "You know? How?" Me: "Umm... This might seem strange but you and I were friends on MySpace about six years ago and I just so happen to remember you." Her: "Really? What's your name?" Me: "Do you remember somebody who went by the name 'The Self-Typing Typewriter'?" Her: "Not really." Me: "Oh... Well... Um... Hey! Do you want to go get a coffee or something? I mean, just as a side note. If you want to." Her: "I have to go, actually." Me: "I love you." Her: "I have a Taser."

And so, I don't really know what I expect by checking her MySpace. I think I check with the same strange fascination as that people looking for life on other planets. It's the idea that, behind the pixels of stars shining through the monitor of my sky, there might be an organism somewhat like me walking and breathing and doing all sorts of things that, albeit so subtle, testify to the reality of her existence. And even though I can never experience this existence except through a screen, the screen is enough. It gives me faith that there is life on other planets.

If you've ever fallen in love with a fictional character, you know what I'm talking about.

Continue reading for more from Charlie Boots.  

A little experiment with two of my Kit-Kat wrappers.
A little experiment with two of my Kit-Kat wrappers.

4)I won't deny that my logo collection grants me a self-conscious quirkiness. I know it's abnormal. Not in the insane, spelling "red rum" on the wall with your own feces kind of way, but it's still abnormal. I think it's abnormal because the things that logos are printed on are things people usually throw away without hesitation. A candy wrapper. A cereal box. The sticker from the front of a shampoo bottle. People tend to see these things as having no value. They're trash. And yet I collect them.

I don't do this for the glamor of being different. I'd do this because I grew up in Colorado Springs, a giant suburb. The only "art" I was exposed to was in my family's encyclopedia. I would flip through it, searching for paintings. I didn't do this because I had an intuitive sense of beauty. I was no child prodigy. I did this because so many of the paintings were of naked women. I was just a pervy little kid who liked to look at women anywhere I could.

I'm pretty sure that breasts got me into art.


What you have to understand is that Chick-Fil-A and Wal-Mart are the cultural institutions in Colorado Springs. People don't interact in that city. It's like they are constantly surviving some small apocalypse. And Colorado Springs's...shall we say issues...are pretty well known. I'd say that about 50 percent of the time, when I tell people that I'm from Colorado Springs, they wince as if a needle had just been run across their private parts.

Yeah. That face you just made. That's the look I get.

Moving to Denver created a weird feeling of cultural jealousy. My professor and friend, Carlos Fresquez, introduced me to the strong Latino culture of Denver. Because of him, I was able to help produce a mural on the side of Su Teatro. It was a good feeling, getting to contribute something to the community. But the thing is, I am ultimately not of Latino culture. I can't claim it as my own.

This produced the question: what is my culture as a native of Colorado Springs? I didn't want to inherit so many things from that city, but even Colorado Springs produces a culture, no matter how much it tries not to.

This is when I stopped hating the Springs.

I realized that these things define my culture:

-Nintendo -Cartoon Network -High fructose corn syrup -Jesus -Coca-Cola -M&M'S -Power Rangers -Spider Man -Pokémon -Digimon -Microwaved-vegetables -Disney -AOL -Water guns -Sonic the Hedgehog -'90s pop radio -'80s pop radio -'70s pop radio -Warheads (the candy) -NORAD -Intersections -Supermarkets -Baseball

While I wasn't around paintings as a child, I was around plenty of logos. And that's why I collect them. They are literally the products of my culture.

- Charlie Boots, July 15, 2013

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