"IT’S LIVING THAT’S A PICKLE." AN INTERVIEW WITH JOAKIM DRESCHER
Graphic art exploring the terrifying and hilarious depths of existential absurdity.
Words: Macon Holt
Artist Link: joakimdrescher.com
Danish artist, illustrator, and writer Joakim Drescher is a maker of art books and graphic novels that explore the terrifying and hilarious depths of existential absurdity.
His book Boudoir Scenes makes visible the anxieties of the unconscious, as well as those fantasies that may be deeply desired but from which the waking mind would recoil. In the pulpy comic, Detective Camus, Drescher has produced a playful fan fiction that sees the existentialist philosopher cast as kind of James Bond figure taking on communist China. In his latest work, Motel Universe a full-color graphic novel, Drescher tries his hand at sci-fi, exploring themes of dystopian oppression and the loss of identity in a universe of perverse sexuality and body horror. In this world, we find anatomically horrific aliens and people with genitals for faces, but there are also cartoon dog people.
Drescher has taken a circuitous route to being a Copenhagen based artist. Born in Denmark, he spent his youth traveling the world with his artist parents and siblings, living in the United States, Mexico, Indonesia before settling in New Zealand. After graduating from high school, Drescher moved to China for a time before studying fine art at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam.
On a formal level, Drescher’s work could be said to straddle the formal division between graphic art and illustration. He aligns his practice more with that of outsider artists such as Martin Ramirez, Henry Darger, and Adolf Wolfli. Though one of his most important influences was, according to his own account, living with his parents, whose work exposed him to and got him comfortable with the weird from an early age.
Using what he himself describes as the stone age techniques of drawing and watercolors, Drescher has carved out a distinct aesthetic in which the style is inseparably entangled with the substance. His work has the appearance of something that started off innocently enough on the back of a napkin but through some unknown drive ended up creating a universe that is at once joyous and terrifying. Blacklisted caught up with Drescher to learn more about his work.
There is, of course, a long history of incredibly arty comic books, but what drew you to this form?
Yes, RAW magazine would be the first thing to spring to mind as something that impressed me and sucked me in—what Art Spiegelman termed CoMix (the mixing of pictures and words to tell a story). I’m not entirely sure how I got involved with working within the genre—for the most part, I’ve been making art-books and things with fractured or no narrative structure. So, I would say that I never consciously intended on becoming a graphic novelist and still don’t see myself as one entirely—feel a bit like I’ve snuck in the back door and don’t know how long I’ll be paying a visit. (to this particular art form). It has its obvious attractions though. Mainly in that, It’s a simple setup—you don’t need much besides a notebook and a pen and the rest comes down to your experience and skill with the tools in front of you. In this way, I suppose it’s similar to being a writer, comedian or a traveling minstrel.
You have said in previous interviews that you like to keep your process as stripped back as possible, even making your panel arrangement with a photocopier. How do you think this has helped (or hindered) you in getting out what you are trying to express?
Yup, I like working with simple tools as I find my hands can work faster and I don’t like sitting in front of a screen more than I have to. Each to his or her own though. I also like the human touch (human flaws) you get from working with say watercolor. Computers are too clean. No accidents, no mistakes.
One thing that it seems like the comic books form lets you develop is recurring characters such as Detective Camus. What made you want to make the existentialist philosopher into a sleuth exploring these psychosexual hellscapes?
Hah, “psychosexual hellscapes”..? I made it to impress a girl, sort of. It’s also a nod to one of my favorite writers and a blatant rip off of James Bond.
Your work seems to be very much about those great themes in art; sex and death. But your take on these seems to be very different from the normative way of approaching these themes, even in the art world. What drew to the world of paranormal bondage and sexual damnation?
People often remark on the “kinky” content of my work… I’m not into whips and chains/ Venus in furs- I’m a pussycat, honest. That said, humans are strange, and sex seems to be a direct outlet for the expression of our idiosyncrasies. For me, that’s what’s interesting about the erotic, how peoples weirdness manifests physically through sex. A good movie about this is Czech animator Jan Svankmejers “conspirators of pleasure.” Look it up. You won’t be disappointed. Death? What to say… the sun is shining outside… if it was anything like before birth, nothing to worry about, it’s living that’s a pickle.
Your most recent book, Motel Universe, seems to be one of your most ambitious projects to date with over 100 full-color pages. What’s going on in this book? How has this project caused you to develop as an artist?
Yes, learning by doing, for sure. It’s my biggest book yet—took me around eight months in total, from conception to birth. It’s also my first sci-fi: it tells the story of the struggle of a slave race who are poached for their skin by the rich and powerful in a macabre jungle safari. The setting is a universe called ‘motel universe,’ owned by tycoon B. Flump (who resembles the current president of U.S.A)… basically, an entire universe which caters to tasteless hedonism—casinos, hookers—Las Vegas on an intergalactic scale. It was interesting to work in the sci-fi genre, although it generally seems to be looked down upon as a lower literary form (as if comics aren’t already in low enough esteem in the fine art discourse). It is also the perfect vehicle for commenting on ‘real life’ but from a safe distance. Oh, and I love Vonnegut.
Your work seems to be quite different to a lot of the contemporary art practiced in Denmark today, are there any artists in the scene today who you think we should be paying attention to?
Uh huh. If you mean the art scene gravitating around the art academy. A lot of my friends are conceptual/performance based artists (I went to school at an art school with a strong leaning towards the minimalist and conceptual processes in art), and no, I don’t fit into that milieu artistically…never did. If we’re talking about people who make CoMix or narrative graphic work in a non-white cube setting –- there are a lot of Danes working in this field: Michael Rytz, Peter Larsen, Zven Balslev, Rikke Villadsen, Halfdan Pisket, Tue Sprogø …Too many to mention, actually. Sadly in Denmark, it hasn’t taken off to the great degree that it has in places like Belgium, Holland, France, Germany and the U.S.A, where the term “graphic novel” is recognized for being capable of encompassing the full spectrum of human experience—not just Donald duck, or marvel.
Off the top of my head some stores who carry this type of weird and wonderful thing and who are worth checking out : Boekie woekie (AMSTERDAM), RE:surgo (BERLIN) Le monte –en-l’air (PARIS) Desert island comics (NYC), Domino books(NYC), Insula music (CPH), CMYK KLD (CPH).
What projects are you working on at the moment? What is next from Joakim Drescher?
mmm..at the moment I’ve been working on a bunch of music, writing songs, collaborating with others my music can be heard on my Soundcloud page. On the visual front, I’m about halfway done with Motel Universe 2. It’s a full-color affair like the first one, so a lot of work. What can I say? I’m a sucker for punishment.