We told you last week that our buddy Ryan McGinley has a show at the Alison Jacques Gallery in London right now. Jamie Taete, one of McGinley’s scariest fans, grabbed him at the opening to talk about Gossip Girl and seat belts (and photography – there’s some talk of that as well).
Ryan McGinley: Oh, that’s such a good question. I didn’t even know what Gossip Girl was when I was asked to do it. I mean, I’d heard of it because my friend is really into it and she always mentions it. So I asked her and she was like, “OH MY GOD, YOU HAVE TO DO IT!” But I was away travelling so I just said, “Yeah, sure.” And so they went to my gallery and they got a photograph that they liked and they hung it in, um, whoever’s room that is in the show. And then after it came out, it was INSANE. So many people called me when the show aired. It was awesome because my nieces are obsessed with that show and it scored me major cool points with them. But that’s the only episode I’ve ever seen.
Aw damn, my next question was going to be whether you are a Blair or a Serena, but I guess you can’t answer that, huh?
Yeah, I don’t know. Ha ha.
It’s a shame we don’t have a computer here so I could make you do a Facebook quiz to find out.
I’m more of an Entourage person, really.
What did you think of Jeremy Piven’s sushi overdose?
Jeremy Piven, the guy from Entourage, was pulled out of a play because he ate too much sushi and overdosed on mercury or something.
That’s crazy. But I can see how it could happen. You’re not supposed to eat too much tuna. A friend of mine keeps saying that to me. Because I’ve been eating at this Japanese restaurant in New York city for, like, 12 years, and I eat there about three times a week and she’s like, “Don’t eat too much tuna! Because you can get poisoned by it.”
Yup, it could happen to any one of us. Scary.
So, I just got some orange juice, and it came with ice. It’s weird. In the states, they always give you orange juice without ice. But whenever I’m in London, they give it to me with ice. And sometimes with a sugar packet too. Which is really weird.
Maybe they just assume that because you’re American, natural juice won’t be sweet enough for you.
I don’t know. Maybe. I think maybe it’s a thing in this country. It’s happened to me a bunch of times. Another difference in England is that you’re raised completely differently to us. Like, when you see English kids, they’re so quiet and like, “Yes Mother, no Mother.” But in America, you’re around kids and they’re like “YAAAAAAAARRRGGGHHHHH!” and running around and being crazy. I just made a film with Tilda Swinton a couple of weeks ago and I went for dinner at her house and she was cooking, and her kids were sitting there like, “Mother, what are we having for supper this evening?”
But that’s Tilda Swinton’s kids. I’m not really sure they’re a good representation of British children. I bet she’s one of those mums that doesn’t buy their kids real toys and makes them use those Victorian ones that you buy in museum gift shops where you have to chase a hoop down a dirt path with a stick.
Tilda’s kids are really androgynous looking. They’re these really cute twins. One’s a boy and one’s a girl. Though they kind of look like identical twins because the boy has really long hair.
Do they talk in unison like the twins from The Shining?
So, tell me about the new work.
What do you wanna know about it?
I figured you’d have some kind of stock answer you could give me.
I do. But that would be boring. I don’t want to give it to you.
Damn, I was relying on that. I’m really bad at interviewing people… Soooo, when were they shot?
They were all shot between 2008 and 2009. It took me a long time to work out how to shoot them. I wanted them to all look psychedelic. Like, each one could be an album cover from the late-60s or early-70s.
And were they all shot in the same cave?
No, every one of them is shot in a different cave. So we travelled through something like 38 different states. When we first started I literally had no idea what I was doing. I, like, went into a cave with a flashlight and a lighter. But then it evolved and by the end we were taking colored gels and using spotlights and a lot of them were really dangerous and you’d have to crawl through these little tiny tunnels for hundreds of feet on your stomach while the ceiling is touching your back.
Did anyone freak out?
No, not really. I’d done a lot of explaining beforehand. So everybody knew what they were getting themselves in for and the people that I work with put a lot of trust in me. And I think when people work with me they know they’re gonna be getting themselves into something a little bit crazy.
I love caves because they’re timeless. They haven’t been touched in millions of years.
Do you know the difference between a stalactite and a stalagmite?
Yes I do. A stalactite hangs from the ceiling, and a stalagmite grows toward it.
At school they taught us that you can remember it by thinking of tights on a washing line. Because they hang down. You know, like stalactites.
What about the title of the show, “Moon Milk,” where did that come from?
Moon milk is a crystallized substance that you find in caves. It’s iridescent. When you see it in the cave it glows, and it kind of looks like a fungus. I think it’s made of crystals. I love crystals. I’m really into them. I have them all over my apartment. In fact, I have a really gigantic one that I bought off of Craigslist from a woman in New Jersey. She’d just recently gotten divorced and had been left with this amethyst crystal that’s probably, like, five-feet long and she sold it to me for $200. It’s probably worth about $5,000 though. But she was just like, “I just want it out of here. It was my husband’s and I hate him!” My friends are always making fun of me for having it. When Juergen Teller came over to shoot me for the Marc Jacobs campaign he shot me with the crystal in a bunch of the photos. I think it’s in the newest issue of Butt.
Wow, that crystal has the support of Marc Jacobs, Butt and Juergen? That’s a pretty hip crystal. I bet no one is making fun of it now, huh?
Exactly. I was like, “HAH!”
Do you believe in the healing power of crystals, or anything?
I think they have healing powers because they’re so beautiful. Like, the way that animals can heal. I think if something is really amazing to look at, it can heal people.
Like that Robin Williams movie Patch Adams?
Yeah. I actually used to sleep with crystals in my ears. Because I have tinnitus. I thought it might help.
Maybe. I’m not sure.
Anyway, back to the pictures.
Yeah. Naming these pictures was pretty fun. Like, a lot of them have the colour red in them, so I had to think of new and exciting ways of saying “red.” Like, one of them is called “Wes (Scarlett Split)” and another is called “Tracy (Cherry Drizzle)” and I almost called one “Crystal Blue Persuasion.”
Did you take those names from nail polish?
No, I actually didn’t think of that. I did a lot of leafing through the thesaurus.
Isn’t one of the pictures called “Crying”?
Yeah, there’s one called “Hanna (Cry)” and it’s because she was in these cave walls that she had squeezed into, and all of the pictures are long exposures, so the models would have to hold the poses for, like, two or three minutes. And once the shutter opened, a spider crawled right in front of her and she is terrified of spiders so tears just started rolling down her face and you can see it in the picture.
Were there any other weird cave-dwelling creatures?
Yeah, there are these cute little mice with huge eyes that are in most caves. They’re so cute, they look like they should be in a cartoon. I think they’re called Pikachus.
I don’t think they’re called Pikachu. That’s a Pokémon.
Oh. Well maybe that’s where the Pokémon people got the name from. You should google it when you get home.
Did you have to get permits to shoot in the caves?
Nope. These are all “wild caves.” Most people are familiar with what is known as a “show cave.” Which is the kind where you go with your family and pay to get in and walk through on a walk way. We didn’t use those though, because nobody would let us shoot nudes in them. So it would just be us hiking out into the forest and then going into a hole in the ground. Being in a cave is funny because it’s gorgeous out and it’s so sunny and you’re wearing your summer clothes, but then you put on all your winter clothes and go into this hole in the ground that’s blowing cold air at you and you end up in these really magical places and you’re in the dark for, like, 12 hours. So it’s like sensory deprivation and it kind of fucks with your head. These photos were definitely the hardest I’ve ever done. Emotionally and technically.
How were they hard emotionally?
Just being in the dark for, like, 10 to 12 hours a day. I’ve never worked like that before. I’ve always worked where I’ve shot hundreds of rolls a day and there’s running and jumping and falling. This was something completely different. It was, like, so slow and all the cameras were on tripods and every little slight movement makes a difference and you’re not using natural light so you’re making up the color palette from scratch with colored gels and seeing what works well together. Everything is artificial. It’s almost like making an opera.
Is the summer road trip something you plan on continuing?
No, the idea of the road trips was that I was going to do them for five years. That way, if you were to add up all the days I’ve been on the road, it would add up to one year. So this was the last summer. I’m done with those. Which is a shame because I love the road trips. But I don’t want to become one of those artists where people can be like, “Oh, he always does that.” It’s nice to challenge yourself and do something different.
Do you know what you’re doing next?
I’m going to start making some films. The one I just did with Tilda Swinton is premiering in London later this month. Then it will be available to watch online. It’s about insignificant images. That’s how it starts out. Like how everything is an insignificant image. It’s Tilda in a lot of landscapes. It sort of doesn’t make any sense. It’s about the idea of insignificance in art and with imagery.
Are you excited about the opening tonight?
Yeah, I’m hoping it will be pretty bananas.
Didn’t they have to close down the street because, like, 4,000 people turned up to your last opening in New York?
Yeah. All the way from Broadway to Wooster Street got closed off. That’s, like, five streets. It was crazy. I doubt that will happen here though, because I’m not from here.
What kinda stuff do you usually do when you’re in London?
Well, since I got here, I’ve just been installing my show. My favourite place to go here is actually Pret A Manger. It sounds really retarded, but I just love it there. It’s so amazing. That’s my hangout.
Didn’t your van crash on one of your road trips?
Yeah, it flipped. It was really scary. I thought I was dead. I didn’t get hurt, but the air bag went off and I was sleeping when it happened, so when I woke up I was upside down and the sun was shining through the windows and there was all this dust from the airbag and I was like, “Whoa! This is THE light! Am I dead?”
Did anyone get hurt?
Nope, everyone had on their seat belts. I’m a real soccer mum. I make everyone wear their seat belts. I learned that from Larry Clark. We were in a cab together and we started going and he’s like this tough guy. When he talks to you it’s like your dad times ten and he’s all, “PUT ON YOUR FUCKING SEAT BELT!” I never wore a seat belt before that, but I’ve worn it ever since.
So Larry Clark saved your life.