Yes, I was reading about Whitney Houston and her tragic death from cocaine overdose and passing out in a hotel bath. I found that story bizarrely attractive, but the public really loves Whitney for a lot of the positive things she did like take a stand against South Africa apartheid and supporting Mandela when he was in prison. It takes balls to take an unpopular view once you have made it as a major star. The other thing I realized as I researched the topic is that there are stars and 1000s of nameless people that die each year, so the attraction of covering the large crime bosses and pop culture around it became the calling in the painting.
Why did you do base your painting on Scarface?
Scarface was one of my favorite movies as it captures an immigrant’s dream to make it big in a new country and scaling up the drug latter only to fall completely. It also captures well this pop culture fascination with drugs.
What do you think about gun control?
Interesting question. I know as soon as I finished the painting an artist asked me, “is this about Sandy Hook shooting and gun control?” In a way it is as we are living in that moment of considering banning automatic weapons, but really its a larger question of what are we doing about illegal drugs and why are they illegal.
Are you suggesting that we make hard drugs legal?
Well, if you look to the 1800s to early 1900s, we did have legal hard drugs. You could stroll down to your local opium den to have a puff and pass out for hours. You could mail order your needles and drugs from Sears. Additionally, you could by a coke with cocaine in the recipe. Hence the reference in the painting.
Nowadays, if you look to Holland, they have had success in having coffee shops for soft drugs like hash or marijuana and drug usage has fallen. This seems like a safer route to tax and regulate these drugs while prosecuting crime resulting from users rather than having massive ongoing drug wars that come from its illegal status and still users robbing others to buy drugs.
If you look at Mexico, there have been 60,000 people killed in 5 years… that is truly a sad event, which had nothing to do with drug overdose.
Who is the figure in the background repeated?
Pablo Escobar is the figure repeated in the background. He is the real version of Scarface. He rose as a local thug in his teens to controlling most of the cocaine trade out of Columbia by his late 20s. By his 30s he has amassed $3 billion in wealth and was listed on Forb’s 227 richest men in the world. By 43, he had made enemies with the whole of Columbia and was shot down by the police. He had had 1000s assassinated, 10 judges killed, the Supreme Court blown up with tanks, an airliner blown up midair and half a government building blown up. The crazy thing was he was the best philanthropist in the country giving out toys, food, building schools and sports stadium to have the poor as his look-outs that today they still celebrate his birthday in parades. This is despite having killed 1000s of people mostly in government.
Is there a connection from movies to real violence?
Hard to say. I definitely see that celebrities are all shot in movies shooting others casually like they’re getting coffee. For example in Rambo III there are 132 people killed by Rambo. In Terminator, 34 people die. In Halloween III, there are 23 deaths. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre III, there are 11 deaths. So yes, Hollywood loves to kill people without a thought.
There is a chicken and egg problem. Are people drawn to these movies because of the death count or are the movies pushing the limits of death impacting people to kill others. I still say the responsibility is with the viewer not to go kill people based on a film. For sane people, I think they can clearly differentiate this difference. The mentally instable may be influenced by these types of movies.
Maybe the solution is to give an X rating on 3+ murders in a film and be less worried about naked breasts in films as well.
Why did you dramatically change your style?
I was ready to try something new in my work. I have plenty of abstracts already, so I was ready to try something new. I was really inspired also from watching the development of Mr. Brainwash to a major artist after only 6 months (seemingly). He obviously learned a lot filming and bombing with various graffiti artists as well.