Jeff Raphael on collage, art teachers and thrift-store books

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Jeff Raphael was once the drummer of early San Francisco punk band The Nuns. Along with The Avengers, that band opened the infamous last show that the Sex Pistols in its first run played at Winterland in February 1978. Since then, Raphael has gone on to play with several of the luminaries of the punk and post-punk world, including Johnny Thunders and The Sleepers. All the while, Raphael had been making art and honing his distinctive collage aesthetic -- but it wasn't until Raphael moved to Boulder and got some encouragement from curators at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art that he shared his work with the public and had his first art show.

This Friday, June 6, Raphael will be displaying his work at 802 Gallery for First Friday. In advance of that show, Westword sat down with the erudite and well-read artist and musician to talk about why he does collage art, how he has taken advantage of the current state of the de-evaluation of books to benefit his rich cache of source materia, and how cultivating the imagination should be the primary goal of art teachers. See also: Lexis Krieg conquers collage and gets brave about painting

Westword:When did you start making art of your own?

Jeff Raphael: I've been making art my whole life. I tried drawing and painting when I was a kid and as soon as I went to school, teachers fucked my head up.... Most decent artists actually have a model or something that they draw or paint from. I always thought most artists just painted from their imagination, so that always frustrated me because if I wanted to draw or paint something I could never figure out how to do it properly.

Most art teachers are shit anyway. They never teach you the most important thing, which is your imagination. They never teach you to do stuff. They always just tell you to draw something that you have no way of knowing how to do and you feel frustrated and can't do it. I have a cousin who teaches art, and the first thing he teaches you is that art isn't about making an exact replica of what you're looking at. You can take a photo of that. So when I would try to do something in art classes, the teacher would tell me the opposite as in, "It doesn't look like that. It doesn't look like that glass." And it was like, "Well, you're an idiot and that's not what art is about."

That's why collage is so much easier. I don't have the patience and the ability to be able to draw the images that I want to use. It just takes too long to learn to draw a Christ figure or a skull or anything really well. It takes forever to learn to paint and draw. It took me forever to learn to be a decent drummer and that's in a band and you have four other people. But drawing endlessly over and over again, it's frustrating. Whenever I painted, the thing is you spend days, weeks, months on a painting and you can never actualize what you have in your head. You envision this great painting, but it's never what I had imagined and I gave up. You have to be really dedicated to be a good painter.

The physical thing of doing it every day, like a writer. If you want to be a good writer you have to write every day. But there's only one way to spell a word but there's a million ways of drawing something. You can spell accurately easily, but to draw a human figure or anything accurately or in a representation you want, that's a lot fucking harder. Continue reading for the rest of the Q&A with Jeff Raphael. Your work is mostly collage?

It's all pretty much collage. I paint a background first and do a collage over it. I do have some original paintings ,but I have a small one here that's a painting of Antonin Artaud. I don't use digital at all. I cut everything out and I rearrange it to create another image. It's not random. A lot of collage is random images and some text and it's dislocated. My collages, I try to make them so they don't look like a collage. I'm re-appropriating different images and making something that if I could paint I would paint this, but since I don't have the ability to paint I make new images from the appropriated images.

What sources do you prefer for acquiring images?

I go to thrift stores and I buy art books. I buy books on photojournalism, anatomy, religious books, art books. It's pretty much sacrilege. I cut up some really fucking beautiful books. I haven't cut up any Dali books or any Picasso but I've cut up just about anyone else. What's great now is that because of computers nobody buys books; it's disgusting how cheap the art books are because nobody wants them. If people want an image, they go online. I like books and have never read a book on one of those portable pad things. A book you don't have to plug in and if you lose it it's not like $300 or whatever those things cost. A paperback, I love something you can stick in your back pocket.

When I lived in Boulder, I went to all the thrift stores and bought all these great books. I've been going around here, too. Now I have such a store of images I just work from that. I just start off with one image and try to find images that are opposites. Images that don't fit together or I'll use black and white and one color image. Sometimes I'll use something unbelievably grotesque with something beautiful. My signature stuff is juxtaposition -- ugly and beautiful or violent and peaceful. Nothing very complex or heavy. But I think what I do is for my own amusement. I make stuff that I would want to put on my walls.

For more information or to view Raphael's work, visit the Spanish Fly Art Facebook page.

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