Published in Huck magazine, Nov 2014
LA-based artist Neck Face has been living in a barely converted garage off an alleyway in Hollywood for four years. It’s smells a bit, because “homeless people pee right there,” he says, motioning to the ajar garage door that leads to the alley. The walls outside are among the most colourful in the city, every inch of brick and breeze block adorned with works by well-known graffiti artists. Neck Face’s home happens to be sandwiched in between some extraordinarily bad murals, obviously commissioned by commercial interests, and I won’t describe them in the name of preserving what little anonymity he has left. The ugliness of the murals works in his favour, he says. “No one would ever expect me to live inside a bad mural.”
But he does.
The garage is a super cluttered dusty artist space featuring a Murphy bed that he pulls down at night, a desk covered in sketches, and an office chair whose back is decorated with the words HIGHWAY TO HELL and a pentagram. The set-up suits his life perfectly; it’s the perfect venue in which to do three things: drink alcohol, make art, and sleep, in that order. Drinking is definitely high on his list of preferred activities these days. In his own words, “a wasted day is a day not wasted”. His last show, in August, was entirely inspired by boozing. So it’s no surprise that this morning he woke up and started the day by finishing a bottle of vodka.
“It doesn’t matter what kind,” he says. “I had some cheap shit in there. Either way, if it’s in there, I’m gonna drink it and if it’s not, I won’t.” It was peach vodka today. His friend in San Francisco had recommended it because “it tastes just like pussy”. I take a sniff and surmise that the quality of pussy in San Francisco must be high – it smells sweet and delicious. Neck Face opens up a kitchen drawer; it is filled with empty mini liquor bottles. On top, rests a gigantic Ziploc bag filled with chicken bouillon powder. “I cook,” he shrugs, shyly motioning to the plug-in camping stove buried under a pile of dusty papers on the floor.
So he woke up, downed four shots of vodka, and then the bottle was empty. He didn’t mix it with anything, but he chased the shots with two beers. Right now he’s into Miller Lites, because the company reverted to their old vintage can design, and that kind of thing turns him on. “I am influenced by presentation. It doesn’t even have to be booze. It could be a Coke can, for instance, but if it’s the Olympics Coke can, I’ll be like ‘ah, it’s different.’”
But back to alcohol. He doesn’t drink wine. But knows a fair bit about it because his uncle works at a winery in Napa, hub of California wine country. “My uncle brought home a bunch of wines for Christmas, and they were all different labels, but they were all the exact same wine inside. All the same shit, just different labels.” Who knew.
So today, an October Monday in Los Angeles, he drank, and then he worked. Work involved making a storyboard for a little 15 second commercial for the TV network Adult Swim, where you can watch shows like Metalocalypse and Robot Chicken. He is a fan of the channel although he doesn’t actually have cable TV. “Cable is like 80 bucks or some shit,” he points out. This is the first time he’s done stuff with Adult Swim. It was fun. He mocked up the storyboard in pencil on a large piece of sketch paper at his desk. The story features his bat character saying “go!” to two creepy little alien people. In the next frame, the creepy aliens are tying a lady up. She is pregnant and has sticks of dynamite tied to her. Then the aliens set off the dynamite, and a baby flies out of the lady. One of the aliens catches the baby, and the final, unillustrated frame features just three words: “Crowd Goes Wild”.
It reminds me, conceptually, of something that the barbarian heavy metal band GWAR might have come up with. I ask him if he felt sad about the recent passing of GWAR front man Dave Brockie. No, he says, he was not really a big fan. Also he doesn’t really get sad when people die. “You die, you die.” I ask him what he thinks will happen when Neck Face dies. Reincarnation, maybe? “Sometimes I believe in reincarnation, sometimes not. I’d be down though. Hopefully, I get to come back and haunt people as a ghost.” Who would he haunt? “Probably just my friends. ‘Cause I seriously feel like I get fucked with (by dead friends) every once in a while. Things happen.” Like for example his good friend Harold Hunter, the iconic skater and actor who died in 2006. On April 2 this year, the day that would have been Harold’s 40th birthday, Neck Face could have sworn that his old buddy was hanging around.
“This girl that I was hooking up with like a while ago, I hadn’t heard from her in a long time and then she hit me up out of nowhere. I was at the bar and I was like ‘why did this girl hit me up, I haven’t talked to her in so long?’ I ended up hooking up with her, it was so random. She came out of nowhere. Then I was like ‘Harold hooked it up! It’s him!’”
So it was like a birthday present from Harold, on his birthday?
Exactly, says Neck Face.
Back when Neck Face and Harold lived in New York, Harold used to big up Neck Face for being one of the only kids he knew that didn’t drink. True story: Neck Face was completely sober until after his 21st birthday. That’s because when he was growing up, drinking was something that dumb jocks did.
“I was so anti jock, because I was a skateboarder, so whatever, I just avoided it.” His avoidance ended in Australia, land of professional drinkers. He saw how Antipodeans liked to party down, and it inspired him. “I got there and I was hanging out with these people who were exactly like me. And they were having such a good time, I thought maybe this isn’t just for jocks. I said fuck it, I’m gonna try it.” That night he had three or four drinks and went out around the town. “I was climbing on stuff and writing on everything and having the best time ever.” He never looked back. Has his passion for alcohol ever disrupted other aspects of his life, I wonder? “Not yet,” he says.
He takes a sip from his can of Miller Lite.
“A lot of people think of drinking as a bad thing. Which it is. Sometimes. But I wanted to convey that I get something out of it. I am not just there, like, waking up in the morning and drinking booze and doing nothing else. Something comes out of it. I took a negative and turned it into a positive and got work done.” Most of the pieces that were in the show were conceptualized at his favourite bar, around the corner, a place called Black on Santa Monica Boulevard. He shows me bar napkins covered in ideas for pieces, all doodled while propping up the bar at Black. But he’s in no hurry to do another drinking inspired show. Been there, done that. “I am trying to think of a different way to approach this whole thing,” he says.
Sitting in his garage for four or five months straight, drawing every day and every night, in that cycle for ten years as a working artist, has lead him to the next evolution of Neck Face. From being someone known for creating 2D pieces, he’s now thrilled to be getting his hands dirty with plasma cutters and welding equipment. “I like working with metal because it’s, like, just raw. It’s straight union worker-type shit. You can get burned. Cut. You can go blind. Its more risky and not a lot of people use it. It’s different way to express yourself.”
Working with metal fits with his general lifestyle, anyway, in that he is a huge fan of heavy metal music. He’s super excited to be seeing one of his favourite bands, King Diamond, on Halloween. “That’s another reason I like to work with metal. You can’t be working on some metal shit and be listening to some Neil Young. Or Beatles. You gotta be listening to some metal shit.”
His phone pings, a pretty little chime that is not very metal. A text from a lady friend. They are going to dinner tonight. “This is the first normal date for us,” he explains. “She said ‘let’s do something nice’, and I said ‘let’s go to dinner’.”
As he speaks, the song “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds wafts from a ghetto blaster. The song was famously featured in John Hughes’ movieThe Breakfast Club. “I like the Brat Pack,” says Neck face. “My favorite one in that film was the moody Goth chicks. I like Goth chicks. Actually I like all kinds. But people always ask if I like big boobs or big butts, and I am like ‘no boobs and no butt’. Because those are the girls that no one is going after.”
Aw. Isn’t that kind of romantic?
“I guess so,” he says. “I don’t care if you are big or small. As long as you are cool up here, in your head, I am fine.”
Ah. He must be a sapiosexual, then. Someone who is turned on by someone’s mind.
“Sapiosexual? Sick! I am going to write that down,” he says, scribbling.
What if the girl he is going out with tonight ends up being The One, I ask him. What if they fall in love? And what if she wants them to move into a nice pretty clean house together, away from the homeless pee pee, the Freddy Krueger posters and serial killer memorabilia. Well, that’s too bad, says Neck Face. “Even if I had all the money in the world, I would be living in a place like this. Love it, or leave.” Then he downs a shot of golden liquor from a boot-shaped glass.