Hollywood Idol: Javier Peres on His River Phoenix Fan T-Shirts
With a shock of snow-white hair, jutting cheekbones, and thoughtful grey eyes, it's easy to see why River Phoenix
was not only a teen idol but also one of the 90s' most heralded talents. This is exactly how the actor appears in the image that populates Javier Peres' series of paintings One of Ours.
As a gallerist in LA and Berlin, Javier has championed some of the most important artists of recent decades (Dash Snow
, Bruce LaBruce, Terence Koh
), but his recent show in Berlin was the first of his own work.
To mark the occasion, Javier printed T-shirts with his portrait of Phoenix. Made specially for the exhibition, the tees are part of both the gallerist's own fixation with the Hollywood idol and part of the overwhelming fan culture that his death inspired. OC art correspondent Alexandre Stipanovich
interviewed Javier about his exhibition, its subject, and the high points of his own career.
Pick up a Javier Peres T-shirt here
Alexandre Stipanovich: Are the paintings in One of Ours about nostalgia, or a fascination with River Phoenix in particular?
Javier Peres: The paintings stand for a variety of things. For sure they are nostalgic, I was reflecting on a period of my life and how I felt at that time. But they are also about my interest in religious art and the power of icons. River is an icon, a person who I saw as worthy of elevating to the status of a saint––in the religious sense but also in personal terms.
AS: River is the perfect example of someone whose talent and premature death have immortalized him in Hollywood. Is this idea central to the show?
JP: For me, the core of the show is more about my personal journey. I was going through a very difficult period in my life and reflecting on River's tragic death. In hindsight, I see that it was a foreshadowing of what could have happened to me. I was drawing parallels between what I lived through in the 1990s and what I was experiencing in the 2010s. Life was repeating itself somehow, and so I wanted to repeat the same image over and over.
AS: You've called River a saint and a martyr, and in the paintings his bleached hair suggests an otherworldly quality. What makes you portray him in this light?
JP: The paintings are based on a particular publicity image from the late 80s. I always loved that period when bleaching our hair platinum blonde felt like the coolest thing. So it was about showing River as the cool guy that I thought he was, and that anyone who was around at that time would relate to. Portraiture has a way of making people seem eternal, that is part of its beauty. I really wanted to stop time with the paintings because I'd become painfully aware of how it just slips from under our feet.
AS: Why is the show called One of Ours?
JP: All of the works in the show, including the show's title, are based on the Natalie Merchant song "River" from 1993. Natalie's songs always made me very emotional––there was something about the melancholic tone in her voice. In the period leading up to making these paintings, I was doing a lot of crying and struggling to get out of that state. So that lead me to those lyrics.
AS: How did the idea of printed T-shirts come about?
JP: I love fan thirst, and I thought that a "fan" T-shirt based on one of my River paintings would be a cool thing to have. I made some shirts and gave them to a couple of friends, then more friends wanted one. In some ways, I'm more into the thirst than I am into the paintings now.
AS: When you started your first gallery in San Francisco, you quickly caught the attention of Jeffrey Deitch with AVAF (Assume Vivid Astro Focus), and your career snowballed from there. How would you explain your success?
JP: I can't, really. Other than that I was in the right place at the right time, and that I worked really, really hard. Beyond that, those early years with the gallery are a bit foggy. They went by really fast, and I wish I had been more present so I could remember them better. But you know what they say: you can't worry too much about yesterday or tomorrow, you just have to focus on today. At the moment, my focus is on the artists that are currently at the center of my program, like Joe Bradley
, Alex Israel, Dorothy Iannone, Leo Gabin, John Kleckner, Eddie Martinez
, Kandis Williams, Marinella Senatore, and James Franco, to name a few.
AS: When you moved to LA in 2003, you also became the first gallerist to show Terence Koh (asianpunkboy back then). How did you meet him?
JP: I met Terence through Bruce LaBruce. BLaB was a big fan of asianpunkboy.com
and I was also starting to visit the site regularly. At the time, he had only produced a small number of "art" works per se
, but I saw tremendous potential in his vision and offered him a solo show.
It was a really exciting time––Terence's first show, The Whole Family
(2003) was the first show I produced for my new LA space. It was also a huge personal and critical success, although it left a lot of people confused. After all, the main work in the exhibition was the gallery basement, which was filled with hundreds of pounds of a mysterious white powder. I really love thinking about that period in my life, thank you for asking that question.
AS: Did you meet Carol and Humberto on the West Coast?
JP: I think we met in NYC, in the early years of my gallery, and they started OC at around the same time. I loved the aesthetic of the store and the brands they were showcasing. The concept of bringing in designers from different places was really exciting, and the fact that we came from the West Coast also gave us an instant connection. Over the years, any trip to NYC has meant a trip to OC to stock up on cool shit, and when the LA store opened, that became my new shopping destination.
AS: After LA, you moved to Berlin to open a new space. Why did you move around so much, and what keeps you in Berlin now?
JP: I think I have some sort of gypsy instinct. Moving around in those days seemed like the most natural thing to me. Today, that is less the case; I don't travel all that much outside of Europe and I try to stay in Berlin as much as possible. I love Berlin, I think of it as my home because I really enjoy living here and because the culture excites me. Of course, it would be nice if the winter wasn't so damn cold!
AS: Your catalog includes some of New York's most significant contemporary artists, even though you haven't spent much time living in the city.
JP: While I like visiting New York, it has never been a place I considered living in. I've taken a lot of inspiration from the city though, similar to the way that many of the artists I have worked with do. When I think of New York, the first thing that pops into my mind is Fame
and the High School of Performing Arts. I used to love that program and what it stood for. But, from what I understand, by the time I made my first trip to New York, that place didn't really exist anymore.
Eventually I did find this amazing New York. And it was populated by some really incredible people, many of whom I got to work with via Peres Projects, and many others who I hung out with over the years. So who knows, maybe some day I will find myself in New York again. But for now, Berlin is home.
AS: Let's talk about the artists you represent there. How did you meet Bruce LaBruce? You've said that he will be one of today's most remembered artists. Why?
JP: I was a huge Bruce LaBruce fan from the first time I saw one of his movies, Hustler White
. Some years later, when I decided to start my gallery, Bruce was the first artist I wanted to work with, so I contacted him via his website. To my surprise, he wrote back. Bruce has always made works that are important to him; he doesn't compromise his artistic vision. Artists that manage to do that, especially for an extended period of time, are always the ones who are remembered.
AS: How did you start showing Dash Snow's work?
JP: We first met in Miami. It was the first year of the NADA art fair in 2003, where I was exhibiting, and I met him and Dan Colen
at the same time. They were inseparable. I can still picture the two of them––what they were wearing, what they said, and how they moved. They were among the most exciting people I had met, and from the get-go we partied hard. From there, we got closer and closer and we remained so up until the time of his passing. Dash wanted me to show his work from early on, but it took some time before we made it happen.
We discussed a bunch of different ideas and projects we wanted to do, including publishing some of his zines and a catalog of all his Polaroids—which we did in 2008, with the book Polaroids
. I still have a stack of Dash's Polaroids somewhere in a box with private correspondence I received from him over the years. Dash loved to write letters to the people he was close to, and at times they would also include zines and collages.
At some point along the way, Contemporary Fine Arts (CFA) in Berlin asked to show Dash, but he didn't want to do it because he wanted to show with me. I knew that showing with CFA would be a huge boost to his career, so I offered to show him in Los Angeles and to be his main gallery if he showed with CFA. He agreed and it was a win-win situation. The period leading up to both shows—we scheduled them pretty much back to back—was one of the most productive and prolific times of his career. He made hundreds of collages, even more photos, and various sculptures and installations. It was during this time that he also made his first film, Untitled (Penis Envy)
, 2007, which he shot entirely at my Chinatown gallery in LA
. It was a really exciting time, and a period of my life that I will always remember very fondly.
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