Podcast No. 14
Interview with Charles Krafft, Part 1
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Michael Polignano: Welcome to Counter-Currents Radio! I’m your host, Michael Polignano. I’m here with Counter-Currents Editor Greg Johnson, and our guest today is artist Charles Krafft. Charles Krafft is an internationally known, Seattle-based porcelain artist whose work has been collected by museums and individuals around the world. Charlie, welcome to the show.
Charles Krafft: Thank you very much, hello.
Mike: So tell us a little about your background. Where were you born, who are your people, where’d you go to school, that kind of stuff.
Charlie: I was born here in Seattle, in 1947, to a middle-class family. My father was a Boeing engineer, which actually translates as white-collar executive, and my mother was a housewife. I went to school in the public school system until the ninth grade when they pulled me out of a multiracial middle school and put me into a private boys’ prep school. And because I hadn’t started out at that prep school my study skills were not up to snuff, and I only lasted three years at the prep school. They finally asked me to leave the year before I graduated. So I ended up graduating from a Seattle public school and not the fancy private school that my parents had put me in. But that school produced Bill Gates and Paul Allen and some other notables, especially around here.
Greg Johnson: Right. Did you go to college?
Charlie: I ran away from home the day after I got my high school diploma, and went to San Francisco thinking I wanted to be a beatnik poet. There was a West Coast poetry conference going on in Berkeley that I read about, and so I headed for Berkeley, and I hung around the campus there for the two weeks that the conference going on, and sort of audited classes — which meant I hadn’t paid to sit in on them, but I snuck into them or sat outside windows so I could hear the poetry and listen to the dialogue that the poets were having between themselves. At the end of that summer I was remanded back to Seattle by my family, because I was still underage and they had enrolled me in a community college. When I got home in September, I spent one year in the community college and then, as soon as I turned 18, I headed back to San Francisco to resume my career as a beatnik.
Greg: So is it true that Grace slick is a cousin of yours?
Charlie: Yeah. She’s my mother’s brother’s daughter, and she’s named after my mother and her grandmother. And in the course that summer in San Francisco and Berkeley, I got in touch with Grace because my mother had called Grace to say that I was somewhere in the Bay Area and that if I contacted Grace and their husband, they were to put me back in the plane to Seattle. And Jerry slick and Grace — whose maiden name was Wing, which is my middle name — told my mother that if I did contact them they would not put me on the plane back to Seattle, but they would feed me house me if I needed it. Well I didn’t need it. So when I went over to Tiburon to talk to them, they were getting ready to launch a band called “The Great Society,” so there were musical instruments everywhere, and Jerry and his brother Darby were the primary movers behind that band. And we spent the night burning 16 millimeter film in a projector and watching the burn marks expand on a screen in their Tiburon apartment.
Charlie: We also took some gels and put jam in them and squeezed them, so that you had pulsating strawberry jam being projected on the wall. And when I got back to Seattle right after that summer and was in school, I became tangentially involved with a light show company which I ended up being a part up for the next two years. We were doing psychedelic light shows in Seattle, and my light show company got hired by Ed Denson of Takoma Records to go to New York with Country Joe and the Fish for the first Country Joe gig at the Whiskey a Go-Go in New York.
I didn’t go with them. I stayed in Seattle, and then I went back to San Francisco and worked for another light show company, that was started by an underground filmmaker named Scott Bartlett. And I did light shows at a club in the Mission called the Rock Garden, which didn’t go over with the hippies because it was run by a bunch of Italians from North Beach, who were just trying to cash in on the fad at the time. They really didn’t have a sense of community which the hippies had in San Francisco in 1967, which is when I was there and which was when I left and returned to the Northwest and commenced a career as an artist.
Greg: So, when did you decide to become an artist and what kind of artists and art inspired you, if any?
Charlie: I wasn’t sure I wanted to be an artist, I was more into writing. And in those days, the poets the American underground poets were like rock stars. And so there was Allen Ginsberg and the Beats, and I was inspired by them. Of course, having read Kerouac I headed for the Bay Area because I read Big Sur and [Richard] Brautigan’s book, Confederate General from Big Sur, had been just released. There was something going on in San Francisco with writing, so I thought if I went there I would get involved with the writing.
I ended up doing painting too, while I was there, and showing at the Vorpal Gallery down at Fisherman’s Wharf. And so I sort of drifted into the painting, because I could make more money, of course, selling a painting than I could a poem, which you don’t get paid for unless you’re an academic, I guess, unless you’re teaching it. It’s really a rough row to hoe to be a poet without a job, if you understand. And I just realized almost immediately, that if I was going to eat I could probably eat better trying to sell art than trying to get my poetry published.
Greg: Right. Tell us about Von Dutch, I understand you were friends with him.
Charlie: Von Dutch — his real name is Kenneth Howard — he was a hot rod pinstriper in Southern California who was really famous when I was a kid, because he had designed those baroque pinstripes that hot-rodders were putting on their cars. His father had been a sign painter and his father had told him he could probably make a living as a sign painter, too. And when Dutch got out of high school he went right into car pinstriping, and he was also a mechanical-minded guy, and he built motorcycles, he built cars, he made knives — really excellent knives — and guns from scratch. He was a powder man on Steve McQueen movies, and an all-around master of the manual arts.
So one day on my family’s first television set, I recall coming home from elementary school, I think it was, and flipping it on. And there was Von Dutch pinstriping character actor Keenan Wynn’s motorcycle in his shop in Calabasas, California. And Von Dutch struck me as a really good-looking guy with a flat-top haircut and a white shirt and dungarees, and his house was filled with art and lamps that he’d made from musical instruments. And we got a little TV tour his pad, and then they showed him in action. And I had been reading custom car magazines to get ideas for models that I was making.
So I knew about Von Dutch when I was about 13 years old, and I reconnected with him later at about the age of 40, because I had remembered what an inspiration he had been to me back when I was almost a preteen. And so I contacted him, I ran him down — he was living up in Santa Paula, California — and I started correspondence with him. And he was on his way out, due to alcoholism. I did get a chance to meet him, finally, after two years of correspondence, two months before he died in 1992 at the age of about 63. And he was pretty much burned out behind his hard living and his alcoholism, that he needed to do what he did. I mean, he couldn’t work without – he was a maintenance alcoholic — so he couldn’t really do what he did without a beer in his hand. And essentially that’s what killed him. His liver just crapped out on him.
He’s a namesake of an international, successful line of leisure wear, but he died before that was launched. So when you see people with Von Dutch clothing on, that is a completely different operation than Dutch himself, who was a bit of a loner and a difficult individual to get along with I’ve heard. And a genius, and an inspiration to a lot of artists in the lowbrow genre which is an art movement that sprung out of populist imagery, that includes movie posters, and pulp magazines, and paperback book covers, custom car lacquer finishes in flame, and pinstriping jobs, and monster art that was popular when we were kids (and we put these decals on our bikes), and comic books, tattooing, circus banners, and just a host of prosaic things that people weren’t paying too much attention to, until this lowbrow movement was launched from the Laguna Art Museum. And I can’t remember what year it was, but they did a Von Dutch, Big Daddy Ed Roth, Robert Williams show that just became super successful and it’s still going on. I mean, it’s inspired a whole generation of artists that have their own galleries in magazines and kind of a rockabilly subculture that goes along with that.
Greg: So do you consider yourself inspired more by lowbrow art than high art?
Charlie: I consider myself as straddling the two, because when I started out as a salon painter I was inspired by the Northwest school, that included Mark Tobey and Morris Graves, Kenneth Callahan, and Guy Anderson. And these guys were serious fine artists. So I modeled my existence in my art, my lifestyle, after them and then later, after getting in touch with Von Dutch, I switched caps, switched berets. I was trying to be rather serious and metaphysical, and then I went kind of ironic lowbrow.
Mike: So what defines the Northwest School?
Charlie: An interest in Asian art and Asian spirituality: Zen Buddhism, the Baha’i faith, the Book of Revelation, I guess. They’ve been called the Northwest mystics.
They were launched as a school in 1953, by Life Magazine. A photographer and a writer came out to Seattle and photographed these guys in their studios, and they became internationally famous for a while. Mark Tobey remained really the most famous of them he was the first American, I believe, to ever to have a show at the Louvre. I think, but don’t quote me on that. And Morris Graves was right after him, as far as the fame goes. And these guys didn’t leave the Northwest. Anderson and Callahan stayed here. Their reputations are monumental in the Pacific Northwest, but no one outside the Northwest really knows about them. But history books usually do include — 20th century Art History books — Mark Toby for sure, and maybe Morris Graves. So those guys inspired me.
Greg: So the art that you’re famous for now is your work in porcelain. When did you get into doing that and how?
Charlie: Well, during the two years when I was trading letters with Von Dutch, I wanted to do a tile portrait of Von Dutch in the “Dutch Delft” style, and I didn’t know how to paint on a ceramic surface. So I enrolled in a hobby crafts class for China painters. And I attended this class for a winter, with these little old ladies who took a big shining to me because I was a “real artist,” and they consider themselves just hobbyists. But they were really adept at what they did, and they taught me a lot about China painting and the history of ceramics. So it happened when I switched from painting on canvas to painting on ceramics. That’s when this happened. And the ceramics took off, and the paintings I don’t think they ever would’ve — they were too provincial, I think, to ever have received as much attention as these ceramics had received, and continue to receive.
Greg: You do great things, I think. Some of your projects are really quite fascinating and really funny and witty. Your porcelain skateboards, your porcelain weapons, your Delft disaster-ware, your Spone series, things like that. Could you tell us a few things about your different projects and various exhibitions you’ve had?
Charlie: The best exhibition that I think I ever had was a show of porcelain weaponry, at the Defense Ministry headquarters of the Republic of Slovenia in Ljubljana. And I collaborated with the Slovenian Army to have a show of these things at the epicenter of their intelligence apparatus. And that was the biggest feather in my beret, to be able to collaborate with an Eastern European Army on an art show. So there’s the Porcelain War Museum project, which was inspired by a visit to Sarajevo that I made with the industrial band Laibach in 1994.
Other projects have included the Spone relic-wares, which are human bone China containers for crematory ash. And I thought this might revolutionize the Funerary arts but it hasn’t really taken off. I did get myself into Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” with this human bone China.
I’ve done some things up with a fellow named Larry Reid, producing art events that included a Dale Chihuly glass-smashing auction, and a séance to get in touch with Morris Graves on the anniversary of his birthday — it’s his centenary, his hundred year birthday — to ask him what direction art was going to be going in. And other kinds of public events that were supposed to be fun, rather than too heavy and too abstract to really get your mind around unless you got a Ph.D. in postmodernism. We wanted to make art entertaining. Larry Reid and I, we started this thing called the Mystic Sons of Morris Graves, Seattle Lodge 93, which is a mock Masonic Lodge. And periodically over the last decade we’ve done these events that we invite the public to, and they usually enjoy what we put on.
Greg: So I understand that you’ve had a fairly long association with Laibach. How did that happen?
Charlie: I was a volunteer program committee chairman for a nonprofit arts space in Seattle called COCA, which is Center on Contemporary Art. And during my tenure as the chairman of the programming committee, I thought because I was noticing the political correctness of the arts funding happening with the federal government NEA grants we were applying for, I wanted to go against the grain and put on a show at COCA that looked fascistic. And I stumbled on a Laibach album cover in a record store that looked very fascistic, and I was kind of perplexed by it. When I turned it over and read what I was holding, it turned out this record was made by a collective in Slovenia called the Neue Slovenische Kunst. And I thought, if they’re an art collective maybe they’ve got some art they would send to Seattle so that we could make an exhibition at COCA of it.
And I did this, and we brought the NSK artists’ Moscow Embassy Project exhibition to Seattle and then flew the band over to do a concert at the Moore Theatre in Seattle. Fights broke out after the concert in Seattle, because the Seattleites were too stupid to understand what they were seeing was an ironic take on totalitarianism, not a skinhead performance.
The Laibach guys were dressed as German submariners, they were wearing black turtleneck sweaters. And, of course, the music was very martial sounding, and the visuals were martial looking. A couple of my friends outside — for some reason this big scrap broke out. I heard later that for some reason they thought Laibach was a fascist band. And I have to say it, that’s not what they are. They’re making a mockery of totalitarianism, by trying to out-totalitarianize the State. They’re holding a mirror up the State, trying to be more of a State than the State is.
Mike: So you had some conversations with them, did you actually get a sense of their views on things? Their political views?
Charlie: While I was at COCA, a residency program flyer came into the office which was offering a collaboration between American artists and Eastern European artists. It was going to be funded by Citizens Exchange Council, which puts Eastern European and Russian artists together with Americans. And vice-versa: they send us over there, and they bring them over here. So I applied for a grant to go to Ljubljana and work on some ceramics for the NSK collective, and that’s where I got immersed in their “Retro Avant-Gardism,” which is a philosophy about what they do that they’ve spent a long time honing.
It’s very postmodern; it’s extremely academic. It really is based on trying to go back in time, “Retro,” to the Avant-Gardes, the Avante-Gardes before World War II; examine what the Avant-Garde artists were doing with the new technologies available to them — which were, they say, co-opted by Capital and Power, and used as propaganda tools in World War II. So if they go back in time to examine these technologies and what happened to them, examine the trauma they created, maybe there’s a way to get Modernism back on the track. That is their idea. Can Modernism be put back on the track to, I would assume, some sort of utopian destination or resolution that resembles Russian Constructivism. They’re very inspired by Malevich.
Greg: So they’re not nationalists of some sort, then?
Charlie: Yes they are. They’re nationalists. This is interesting, because they consider themselves Slovene nationalists. But they say [their] nationalism has been impacted by [their] location at the crossroads of the East and the West. Slovenes speak English, Slovenian; they spoke Serbo-Croatian, Italian, and German. They just grew up with this because of where they are. And so their nationalism looks Catholic, because they’re Catholics. And it also looks a little bit Third Reich-ish (although they’ve distanced themselves from that, now), and a little bit Soviet Russian, and a little bit Western pop. Pop art, if you can imagine. A Mickey Mouse reconfigured as some sort of a military badge, worn by a storm trooper.
Mike: So I understand that the Neue Slovenische Kunst issued their own passports for a period.
Charlie: Yeah, they upped the ante on their collectivism. They’re a collective, that includes the band Laibach; a painters’ group, called IRWIN; a theater called Noordung, Cosmo kinetic Cabinet Noordung; a design business, called New Collectivism; and the philosophy department, the Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy. So, these guys work together, and they decided to up the ante on this collectivism and declare themselves a trans-global borderless State-in-Time. They found a passport company that makes passports for European countries to make one for their State. And anybody can become a citizen of the NSK State-in-Time.
But the NSK collective itself always remains, because they say they’re totalitarian. The same 14 people that started the group in 1990 or something like that, ‘92 or ’89. Laibach was banned in Slovenia, and this collective erupted as a result of them being banned to play their music.
Does this make sense to you? It’s kind of complex.
Greg: Yeah, yeah, . . .
Charlie: There’s lots of books about it that can be purchased, including one called Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK by this PhD in London whose name escapes me now. But it’s all laid out, there’s a movie called Predictions of Fire by Michael Benson that you can request and watch, and that gives you the real rundown on what they’re doing, and why.
So I was inspired by them. I wasn’t political until I went to Slovenia and got involved these guys, and I came back sort of politicized, as far as the imagery and my art went. And of course I’d seen what Sarajevo looked like in 1994, which was the tail end of the war in Yugoslavia. I was absolutely appalled at this siege that having going on for four years, and the infrastructure of the city was completely destroyed. And that inspired my idea of making porcelain guns, because I saw so many Bosnian militia men with AK-47s strapped to their backs marching around the city.
Greg: You said you became political during your time working with Laibach. I understand that you’re thinking has involved in the direction of the European New Right, for lack of a better term. Can you tell us a bit about how that all happened?
Charlie: Well, it turns out that Laibach – they’re nationalists, Slovene nationalists, but they’re also Marxists.
Do you know who Slavoj Žižek is, the Slovenian philosopher?
Charlie: He’s a Marxist. And so these guys have a nostalgia, let’s say, for Yugoslavia as it was when Tito ran it. They call that “self-managing socialism.” So they have this nostalgia for their socialism that they grew up with. They present this New Right, hard-core image, but we can call them on the Left, and we can call them Communists. So after looking into Žižek and realizing that what these guys were actually doing was Communistic and collectivist, I decided that I would not become a slave of their State, and take my art in a different direction. If you want to call it New Right, that’s fine.
I went off to Romania to do some research on the Iron Guard, as a result of a crush I had on a Slovenian woman named Michaela. In Slovenia Michaela is the feminine of Michael, and they name their children Michael and Michaela, after St. Michael. And I remembered that there was a paramilitary organization in Romania called the Legion of the Archangel Michael. As a result of meeting Michaela and sort of falling in love with this Michaela person, I got involved with Romania and the history of the Legion of the Archangel Michael.
I took myself to Romania on two different occasions, and I really enjoyed the people that I met in Romania that were still sort of nationalist, Romanian nationalists. It’s all completely — it’s proscribed, let’s say, it’s demonized. Post-World War II, nationalism in Eastern Europe is totally demonized. But these guys are sort of carrying the torch of Corneliu Codreanu and his idea of autochthony about preserving a culture that has its traditions.
Autochthony, that’s what I came away from Romania admiring. It’s nationalistic and not globalistic, and I’d guess you’d put me on the Right instead of the Left now. But I consider myself hopefully beyond the paradigm. I don’t know really where I’m headed with what I’m doing, except I don’t like globalism, I don’t like the homogenization of culture. I don’t like postmodern art. I don’t think there’s too much to a lot of it.
Greg: I understand that you actually met members of Corneliu Codreanu’s family. Can you talk a bit about that?
Charlie: Well I went to Bucharest. I got in touch with this group called New Right, “Neue Drepta.” There was a guy there that I looked up named Tudor Ionesco. He introduced me to Corneliu Zelea Codreanu’s youngest brother, Cătălin Codreanu, who was 90 years old when I met him, and married to a painter. They lived in this very humble block apartment, one of those very depressing commie block apartments that Ceauşescu put up when he destroyed a third of Bucharest. Cătălin Codreanu had never met an American before, so he wanted to talk about Ronald Reagan. And I’ll tell you what, I’m no Reaganite, I didn’t like Reagan, and I didn’t really want to talk to him about Reagan . . .
Charlie: . . . that’s who he thought was the great guy in the West at the time. Cowboy Ronald Reagan, with a cowboy hat. When I needed a translator, Tudor was my translator. I made a great movie about this interlude, this meeting with history, actually. And I haven’t done much with that yet. It’s still sitting unedited, in a pile of film that I’ve got here. But someday I’d like to upload it to the Internet.
Greg: Yeah, that would be great to get out there.
Charlie: I need a translator to come in and helping put some dialogue underneath it
Charlie: Subtitles, yeah. Either that or a voiceover. Because he died two years after I met him. They put them in jail in 1945. He was never a member of the Legion of the Archangel Michael, but he was a political liability and he ended up in one of those communist prisons with the other Iron Guardists who languished in these dungeons until an amnesty was declared, in about 1965.
There was a Putsch, and the Romanian Army put the Iron Guard down in 1941. And I went to Romania to find out more about the three days of anarchy during the time that the Romanian Army grabbed power. They were sharing power for a while, and then Marshall Antonescu relieved these legionaries of their civic posts: at the post office and the police departments — all over the country — he said, “It’s over, you guys got to go.” And these legionnaires fought back. They wouldn’t put their weapons down, and fighting broke out in Bucharest.
I was really interested in learning more about that, because I became interested in the case of Archbishop Valerian Trifa, who was the first Nazi war criminal flushed out of the United States. Well he wasn’t a Nazi for beginners, and the case against him was trumped up. I’m still interested in trying to help clear his name, and I’m one document away from proving that everything they said about this man was a load of horse puckey.
Greg: Well that’s really interesting. Can you tell us a bit — just to shift gears a bit — can you tell us about your favorite artists, specifically painters and schools of painting.
Charlie: My two most favorite artists — I’m going to stick with these guys until I die — are Morris Graves and Von Dutch. I wanted to be Morris Graves when I was a young man, and I went off to live in a rural introspective setting and stayed there for a decade, and immersed myself in Tibetan Buddhism and reemerged as an urban lowbrow artist. So those two guys are the biggest inspirations in my life.
The kind of art I like? I like all kinds of art. My current favorite artists are Belgian Conceptualists: Jan Fabre, Panamerenko, and Wim Delvoye. I think there’s a lot of interesting and important art coming out of Belgium right now.
Greg: What about music? What sort of music do you like?
Charlie: I like world beat music mostly, and some of this neo-folk music like Blood Axis, Michael Moynihan’s group. I listen to Laibach, of course. I listen to Rammstein. I just went crazy – I’m late to Black Sabbath. You know everybody was already through their Black Sabbath period when I got excited about Ozzy Osbourne. I could not stop listening to Ozzy for some stupid reason — and [I was] in my 50s – and Rammstein I had heard about, all the guys and Laibach were complaining about Rammstein stealing their shtick, you know, which included the logo the Malevich equidistant black cross. It became Rammstein’s logo, that was Laibach’s logo, and then singing in German — growling in German — was a Laibach trope which Rammstein turned into an arena rock sensation.
So I went through this Rammstein period. I couldn’t get enough of Rammstein, and I’m still sort of in it. With this last album I’m not so keen on them anymore, but I’m going to go to their concert when they come on May 18th. I’m looking forward to that I saw the last one that was done here and I’ll go to the next one.
So neo-folk and world-beat music. Those are my favorites.
Greg: Well, what you do is both painting and sculpture. Tell me who are your favorite sculptors.
Charlie: Hmm, let’s see. Sculpture, that’s a hard one to pinpoint. I would say Wim Delvoye, the Belgian, he makes sculptures. There’s some sculptors around the Pacific Northwest that are friends of mine one of them is Ed Nordin who does nature, birds primarily, in bronze. Michael Leavitt and I are collaborating now on something called the pitchfork pals teapots, and he’s a good sculptor; he’s a young guy who’s really facile, and he can do anything in his sleep in the way of capturing a human form, or a face, or an object. He’s just really gifted and in that way.
So Michael Leavitt my collaborator. Ed Nordin is a great guy I grew up with. And as far as the avant-garde, blue-chip stuff, Wim Delvoye from Brussels.
Mike: You’ve traveled pretty widely in India. What drew you there? And what religious beliefs and spiritual practices do you follow, if any?
Charlie: I was a hippie after — what do you call someone who comes after – I missed Beatniks
Greg: You were a late Beatnik.
Charlie: Yeah, I was what you might call a post-Beatnik, and then a Hippie. I got interested in Tibetan Buddhism as a result of being a Hippie. Because we had a really great department at the University of Washington, the Far-Eastern Department. We brought the first Tibetan refugees out of Tibet and planted them in the middle of Seattle, so I grew up with Tibetan lamas wandering around the University District doing their mantras in those gorgeous robes of theirs, maroon and gold. So I had seen Tibetans and I knew a little bit about Tibet. I had read everything that this fake guru named Tuesday Lobsang Rampa wrote about Tibet. He wrote a novel called The Third Eye, that was strangely popular in the 60s with kids, along with Carlos Castaneda and those Yaqui Indian tales — everything bogus, of course — but had a spiritual message.
I ended up going to India and running into Baba Ram Dass and first in New Delhi and then in Nanital, which is a hill station up north. And then I met Neemkaroli Baba who was a big inspiration for Bana Ram Dasss and Krishna Dass, the bhajanf — do you know about bhajanfs? They’re Indian devotional songs? They’re repetition, call and response songs, yoga music.
This guy named Neemkaroli Baba inspired a lot of Western musicians to take up East Indian sitting and music playing. Jai Uttal, Krishna Das, are two disciples of Neemkaroli Baba.
Oh, Bhagavan Dass, he’s the handsome surfer that lead Richard Alpert to Neemkaroli Baba. And all that had just become kind of legendary. So I went off to Rishikesh and studied yoga at the yoga vedanta Forest Academy, which was an ashram started by Swami Shivananda. And I enrolled in a course for Westerners there that lasted for two months and they taught me Hatha yoga and Raja yoga, and I practiced that kind of assiduously for let’s say two years, and then it fell by the wayside, and I’m not a Yogi. I don’t have any spiritual practices anymore, to tell you the truth. I’m still curious about Asian spirituality and I love to hear stories about saints and yogis and lamas, you know? It’s a romantic kind of thing that I enjoy.
I’m just a huge, fat pig! [Laughs]
Charlie: I eat meat, and I don’t pray, and I don’t sing . . . It’s just terrible! [Laughs] I should do something with myself, but I’m a couch potato!
Mike: So, were you a believer for a while?
Charlie: Oh, god yeah. I was on the path! I wanted to be a Bodhisattva! Get enlightened, and then enlighten everybody else.
Greg: Did you find that you had an aesthetic attraction to Tibetan Buddhism as opposed to say Zen? Does it vibrate more with your aesthetic sensibilities, or . . .?
Charlie: Yeah, because it had more demons in it. [Laughs]
Charlie: There’s more skeletons dancing around and there’s a lot of sorcery and tantra involved. Zen was sort of a little bit to clean for me I guess. Although I really like Alan Watts of course. I listened to him on KPFA, and I was a radio engineer in Seattle and we used to do Alan Watts up here, and God I loved Alan Watts. And then I love the idea of him being down in a houseboat on Sausalito with him having a salon just everybody coming and going and being the host of this party that just went on and on and on.
Greg: I love Alan Watts, and I love Rammstein. I’ve written about both of them at Counter-Currents. You know the aim of Counter-Currents is to provide a forum and create a network that fosters a North American new right were trying to promote ethnic consciousness and pride among European Americans and the ultimate goal is we like to see a white homeland emerge in North America, and we think that artists are a really important part of that meta-political project, and in the last century, in the first half of the last century especially, we have some of the greatest artists who were in tune with broadly New Right ideas. You had people like Salvador Dalí and Arno Breker, and in literature you had Nobel laureates like Yeats and Knut Hamson, Ezra Pound, D’Annunzio, D. H. Lawrence, and all these other people.
Now the closest thing to that today is the neo-folk music scene. We want to do our part to encourage more of a new nationalistic artistic and literary scene. So, Charlie, as an artist, do you have some ideas about how we might be able to promote that?
Charlie: You know, I don’t know, other than using the graphics that are being developed for this neo-folk scene as decorations on your website and bring people’s attention to the visual side of that music production, because they’re doing some nice things with graphics there.
I can’t remember this Swedish artist who moved to Iceland because he was a nationalist. Do you know I’m talking about? He does these post-apocalyptic oil paintings that are really haunting.
Greg: Are you thinking of Odd Nerdrum?
Charlie: Yeah, I am. I’m thinking of Odd Nerdrum.
Greg: I think he’s one of the greatest painters since Rembrandt, myself. I’ve never gotten in touch with him though.
Charlie: You might want to write about him at your website.
Greg: Yeah. We want to encourage as much art criticism and discussion as possible, and we’re publishing Kerry Bolton’s essays on various artists of the right. We hope that if we hold these people up as exemplars we can create a tradition where people might want to imitate them.
Charlie: What about this, you know, René Guénon – it’s called Traditionalism, or Radical Traditionalism. You know about that?
Greg: Oh yeah, we’re very big on that.
Charlie: Aren’t there artists that fit into that kind of category?
Greg: I can’t really think of anybody except for Julius Evola, who was a Dadaist.
Charlie: Right, he was. He was a painter – you know, I’ve seen his paintings; they’re not that great.
Charlie: God bless him. I mean, he was there.
Greg: Well he was a much better writer than he was a painter. And he found his forte with his books.
You know, people sometimes describe Laibach’s work – and they describe your own work – as “post-modern,” which I guess is their way of saying they really hope you’re being ironic rather than serious. What’s your view of post-modernism?
Charlie: Well I think a lot of this postmodernism is kind of an academic exercise in futility, to tell the truth. I feel the same way about “language poetry” and critical theory. I don’t understand it; it doesn’t make any sense to me. So when I start to see us postmodern language being bandied about in these academic magazines I would thumb through at the newsstand, I didn’t know what they were talking about. And the more I look into it, the less I’m inspired by it. I think it’s fraudulent, to tell you the truth! [Laughs]
It doesn’t have to be that complex and negative and mysterious. I mean, come on! Why do we need all this? Why can’t we just get the message from looking at something? Why do we have to get a Ph.D. to understand it? This seems ridiculous to me.
Greg: I got a Ph.D. in philosophy and—
Charlie: Well, that’s philosophy; we’re talking about art. I don’t want to have to have a Ph.D. to go into an art gallery or museum and appreciate what I’m seeing.
Greg: Right. But I was going to say: I a Ph.D. in philosophy, but I write criticism. I write movie criticism, I write art criticism, things like that. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to understand art, and you certainly don’t have to the Ph.D. to understand the things that I write about art, and I just don’t get the necessity of using this hermetic ugly jargon that comes out of postmodernism. It doesn’t add anything to my understanding of what’s beautiful or funny or interesting in the world.
Charlie: Well it also undermines the notion of meaning of everything. Nobody has any kind of trust anymore in what is being said or being created, because according to the postmodern critical-theorists it amounts to nothing. It’s a big zero, right?
Charlie: The language itself, it doesn’t mean what it says. And so if you can’t trust the language, how can you trust the visual arts and music comes out it? That’s what I think. I mean I’m going, “postmodern, wait a minute, I don’t trust this.”
So, “post-modern” – is that the end of history? I’m not quite sure I even know what postmodern means.
Mike: It seems like a rejection of all the old principles. Like the Golden Mean and symmetry, and things that people have traditionally found pleasing, they try and go counter to.
Charlie: Well don’t you think this comes out of French existentialism? What do you think? I track it back to existentialism. Post-war, you know, France and Sartre and everybody. And these post-modern philosophers, the French ones.
They sort of just wrecked everything, as far as I’m concerned. They just came in and they just wrecked it. They just tore it all down. So what am I? I’m some sort of a . . . A nostalgia for beauty, I guess. And craftsmanship. I really like good craftsmanship.
Greg: We went to this big Picasso exhibit here in San Francisco last year, and I went from room to room, and I don’t dislike modern art as such. But I came away with the overall impression that . . . The reason why I didn’t like [Picasso] . . . They had Cubist paintings by Picasso and Cubist things by Braque on the same wall. Practically the same color schemes and things like that. And I looked at the Braque, and I looked at the Picasso, and I said, “Picasso is just a sloppy artist. He’s sloppy about drawing. He’s sloppy about the basic underlying craft elements that have to go into good art.” And I just got so tired of the ugliness of what he would paint, but beyond that it just offended me that his technique seemed so very sloppy, very unadroit. And so I went away thinking, “I don’t dislike modernism, but I would like it well-done.” And you can really see whether it’s being done well or badly.
Charlie: Well there are those genres in modernism. And I’ve discovered that the people that are the big names in those genres are usually my least favorite artists that paint that way. So it’s interesting about Eastern European artists, because not many Eastern European modernists ever got their names exposed to Westerners, you know. So my friends in the Irwin group got a grant from the German government to go and unearth the history of modernism in Eastern Europe, and it includes numbers of artists that we’ve never heard of that are better than the ones that we see who have those giant coffee table books for sale in all the museum stores and bookstores.
I’ve never even heard of some of these people and they’re just patently better painters and better sculptors than the people that I’m used to seeing who are being celebrated as the pinnacle of modernism.
I can’t rattle off a lot of names because these people are unspellable and unpronounceable to me. I don’t speak any language except English, but, Christ, they’re really adroit and overlooked just because of their location. They got infected by modernism and they went to paint modernistically, and they did a better job than everybody in Paris at the time.
I found the same thing in Belgium. I went to the Belgian impressionist museum. I had never heard of any of these Belgian impressionists and post-impressionists. And I spent three hours in that place just marveling at their skill. It was wonderful. I just had a great art experience in Belgium. And everybody goes to Paris to have one! They should be going to Belgium! [Laughs]
Greg: [Laughs] One of the fascinating things about artists like Filippo Marinetti and Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis and others in the first half of the 20th century is the energy and the seriousness that they put into forming movements and promulgating manifestos. If you were going to found an artistic school or a movement, or just give a name to the kind of work that you do, what would you call it? What would the principles be? What are the goals?
Charlie: Well, I haven’t worked out the principles, and I haven’t worked out the goals, but I really like the name National Futurist, which isn’t mine; it belongs to Constantin von Hoffmeister. And I just think that would be an umbrella term that I could probably live with. And it’s totally unoriginal, but I just like the ring of it. And I haven’t come up with anything better. I’ve been racking my brain for a couple of years trying to think of a name of a good movement, and I haven’t been able to do anything better than National Futurism, and I don’t agree with Hoffmeister on some of his principles, but for some reason I just like the ring of that name.
Greg: Well, what we’ll do, is you and I can join his movement . . .
Greg: And we’ll vote him out, two to one.
Charlie: Well, can you vote? I mean, really. We’ll just have to kill him, I think. [Laughs]
Greg: [Laughing] Okay, okay.
Greg: Do you have a website?
Charlie: No, not really. I’ve got this really lame, dated – it’s lame because it’s dated, it’s not state of the art – CharlesKrafft.com, you can go there, but you’re not going to be very impressed with it. I haven’t kept it up. I kept the name, CharlesKrafft.com, but the website I need some help with that from somebody that knows a lot more about computers than I do.
Can I say something about my artwork? If people that are listening to this want to see it, just put my name into Google and punch “image search,” and then a couple of pages of all these images of what I’ve done will appear, and then you can follow those leads to the places that have published that picture. And it will lead you to galleries and blogs and other kinds of things. But for an overview of what I do the best thing is just to run my name through a Google image search.
Greg: That’s a great idea. Who needs a website?
Mike: You might try looking in—there’s a blog, a photo blog called Tumblr.
Charlie: Yeah, you know I’m on Flickr, I’ve got some stuff archived on Flickr but I couldn’t give you the website URL because it’s a string of numbers and letters I haven’t memorized.
Greg: Well, it’ll come up with the Google Image Search too.
Charles Krafft on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/search/?q=charles+krafft
Charles Krafft on Tumblr: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/charles-krafft
Mike: Our interview with Charles Krafft will conclude in our Counter-Currents Radio podcast. For images of Charles Krafft’s work up to 2002, see the book Charles Krafft’s Villa Delirium, by Mike McGee and Larry Reid.
For Part Two, click here
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