The Scary Art Collective Brings Their Art to the People
Words by Blake Gillespie
A fault of artists is their inability to comprehend a recession. Despite being conditioned for poverty, artists on the Second Saturday circuit continue to tag their work with lofty prices, turning a cold and dented shoulder to the slimmed pockets that stroll through the galleries.
Nicolas Caesar does not have the privilege of letting his art remain in his
possession. He’s got bills to pay. Call it low brow, call it tawdry, call it
plebeian, but you can’t call it depreciated, as Caesar and his Scary Art
Collective are selling their art before they can get it out of the boxes.
Chip Conrad, owner of Bodytribe Fitness, was the first to coin the collective. Four years ago, Conrad opened his fitness center to Caesar and his friends to use as an art gallery one Halloween, the only holiday that complements Caesar’s macabre style. “I remember getting this Myspace message asking if I wanted to show my art in a gym,” he said. “I totally thought I was walking into [a situation] of getting raped, but I’m like the girl who can’t say no.” Caesar did not get harmed, physically or emotionally; instead he formed a friendship that led to a love for the Sacramento art scene. It was a love that he described as a refreshing escape from the Bay Area scene.
From there, it became a repetition of faces. At galleries in Midtown or San Francisco, Caesar was showing his work and cheering beers next to the same few people. In this overlapping, Mark Fox, Temple Terkildsen, Cinder, Krissi Sandvik and Caesar began seeking each other out and sharing galleries. The loose organization has an unrecorded number of members, with an East Coast and West Coast branch. “Since we share the same territory, it’s a cross between Thanksgiving and AA,” he said. “We all share our tragic stories and our successes. Every Second Saturday is like meeting up with our second family.”
The art is mostly Gothic and dark, pulling inspiration from horror movies and the morbid subconscious. The artists share a magnetic desire to express their darkest thoughts, creating an organization comprised of your garden-variety goths to the criminally insane. Caesar is a pen pal with convicted serial killer Wayne “Skid” Lo, who is not a member. “Wayne is not officially a member of the Scary Art Collective,” Terkildsen said. “But, he does trade art with Nick.”
“My whole feeling about it is, the guy’s in prison,” Caesar said regarding his lack of concern. Caesar bought a piece of Lo’s art called Flushy the Toilet Monster. All of the proceeds from Lo’s art go to the victims’ families. “I’m gaining the Gilligan’s Island of strange and weird people [in my life],” Caesar said. “Weirdness is attracted to us.”
Living among the proletariat, Caesar is a self-proclaimed artistic anarchist who disregards the traditional rules of gallery art. He markets his work to the collectors and appreciators that keep a 30 pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon in their refrigerators and eat Top Ramen to get by. “I sell to my own demographic,” he said. “[Artists] don’t really understand who collects their art… Artists have to go back to catering to the people.”
Terkildsen said the members of the collective are firm believers in the bartering system. On a slow night, she’ll trade two cases of beer for her art. “I’ve traded a painting for a haircut,” Terkildsen said. Essentially, they sacrifice the pompous satisfaction of selling one great piece at top value for the opportunity to put hundreds of pieces in as many living rooms as possible. Caesar and Terkildsen do not hesitate to call themselves art gypsies.
For Caesar and Terkildsen, the collective is an extension of their daily routines. Terkildsen said she works her shitty part-time job, works on art for four hours at home and then spends the remainder of the night at Caesar’s home drinking the Blue Ribbon and watching campy horror films. With work habits like that, the duo produce more art than they can store in their homes, making the bartering system all the more necessary.
“I’ve actually timed this,” Caesar said. “I can make three pieces to the movie Escape from New York.”
They are unapologetic in their merits. Both artists recognize the critiques that can be made of their leftist perspective, but they seem to revel in the judgment. Caesar said the collective’s strongest attribute is a lack of competitiveness in a cutthroat profession. Before founding Scary Art, he was frustrated with the unwillingness of his contemporaries to share galleries and the snootiness that comes with a saturation of artists. The Scary Art Collective aims to redefine the relationship between artists and galleries by operating outside traditional spaces. The collective has had shows in adult boutiques, tattoo studios, S&M clubs, gyms, coffee shops, bars, horror and comic conventions, warehouses and churches. Caesar likes Sacramento because of its bounty of unique spaces run by down-to-earth people.
Terkildsen described the horror of galleries outside of Midtown, expressing a loathing for curators who proclaimed they could not show her art due to its pricing. “You’re in a fine art gallery with a bunch of fuckheads you’d never talk to and you think, ‘Wow I really can’t stand this,’” she said. “Immediately, I want out and to be doing a show with Nick. I prefer the open flea market of Midtown.”
Ritually our conversation came back to PBR and living a life without the knowledge of which fork is for salads. To the affluent, this might seem like a life devoid of taste, but Caesar and Terklidsen’s art reflects a deep-seated passion for beer and cheap horror films. Read any of his comics and you’ll find black humor applied to boozed-up zombies. They share a distaste for the art critic, or in Caesar’s mind, the pastime of gremlins suffering from insomnia. “It’s a useless occupation,” he said. “For as many pages as an art critic can write, there’s going to be that person that goes into an art gallery and says, ‘You know what? I like skulls’ and buys our art.”
Terkildsen sees no glamour in an artist living off corn tortillas from the dollar store, nor does she have kind words for art critics. She keeps doing art for the feeling that comes from hearing the excitement in a few little girls’ voices at a recycling show. “I was fixing this skeleton inside this sculpture only to hear two little girls [exclaim], ‘Wow, that’s awesome,’” she said imitating their childish wonder. “How do you put a price tag on that reaction?”
Making Caesar and his friends into scapegoats for lowbrow art would only
validate their convictions as monsters of the art form. Growing up, Caesar
sympathized with the plight of the monsters in movies—Dracula’s eternal life,
the Wolf Man’s inability to control his animalistic hunger. He sees the
humanity in these pariahs. It brings to mind Caesar’s drawing of a zombie
ghost feasting on a person’s head with the caption “What?! It’s what I do.”
“I was the oddball,” he said. “I was the weirdo and the freak. As an artist you’re perpetually shit on. It’s right back to the peasants and the pitchforks.” He takes comfort in being the artist who stands out from the landscape paintings, by being the guy next to the canvas bearing a bloody headless image.
On Saturday Oct. 24, 2009, Terkildsen and Caesar had a gallery showing and costume party at Side Show Studios at 5635 Freeport Blvd. Ste. 6.