Laurence and I talk about the origins of digital art, missing a fateful meeting with Sid Vicious, teaching Andy Warhol to use a computer, starring in Apple's "Think Different" ad, his art and his art cars.
Disclaimer: Unedited AI transcript
You are connected and you are listening to specifically for seniors, the podcast, for those in the remember when generation today's podcast is available everywhere you listen to podcasts and with video at specifically for seniors YouTube channel. Now here's your host, Dr. Larry Barsh
Today on specifically for seniors. It's my distinct pleasure to welcome Lawrence cartel. Lawrence has been called the father of digital art. He created his first artworks on an analog video computer. His work has been displayed at MoMA, the Norton and in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian institution's museum of American history. He's had associations with Debbie, Harry ACE, freely of kiss and Sid vicious of the sex pistols. Lawrence taught Andy Warhol to use his amiga computer. He's created artwork for just Timberlake, Britney Spears, the red hot chili peppers, and famously for absolute vodka. He's created art cars, the first being at Tesla in 2010, and he was the only artist to be featured in the series of think different ads by apple. Welcome to specifically for seniors Lawrence. It's great to have you on, oh,
Laurence Gartel (01:48):
Thank you. Thank you for having me. And I'm gladly finally connected after a disconnect, which happened because my Gmail didn't work. So, you know, this proves that you need to have multiple platforms in order to get your point across. So I'm happy for that,
But AOL good grief.
Laurence Gartel (02:08):
Yeah. So before we even get started in, in doing my research for this, I want to hear the story about Sid vicious party that you missed.
Laurence Gartel (02:24):
Well, okay. So that's the first topic of discussion. So, you know, growing up in New York city in the seventies and eighties was a very, very monumental time. And I do have to say that I missed Woodstock by a year because I was only 14. If I had been 15, I would've been on, in a car on a bus, whatever I would've been there, but I was just a little too short of going being a little too young. And so I went to the high school of music and art in Harlem and music and art was always a synergy and always a connect. So in saying that we used to go to Maxis, Kansas city, CBGBs studio 54 the red parrot the tunnel, you, I could name NA tons of places that were incredible places to go in New York at that time.
Laurence Gartel (03:28):
And this is when the birth of punk rock came in. So I used to go to maxes and CBGs and mud club and and all these bands like the Ramones and the dead boys and the sex pistols of course were always playing and performing at these places. And it was like the beginning. So not like today where the social media and more importantly, attitudes and annoyance in people's holier than th kind of platform that they try to get over on people like the Kardashians I'll say, or something like that. People were just artists, they were just musicians. They had something to say and they wanted to say it. And the people came to see them. And so I used to go to these places all the time and struck up conversations. I was a photographer or a budding photographer, I'll say. And I used to get friendly and I used to talk to all these people and Sid Baders actually the dead boys invited me over to the Chelsea hotel to do a photo shoot with him.
Laurence Gartel (04:50):
And and that was quite interesting. And so I spoke to Sid one night and Sid said to me, listen you know, let's do a photo shoot back at, at the Chelsea. And I said, absolutely. Cause I had been there already before, so it's familiar. And but being the kid that I was, I got up late and I said, oh my God, it's late. I got, I better call the hotel and, you know, tell SI I'm gonna be late. I was always late back then in those days. And there's a message to that by the way, as well. So I called the hotel and nobody had a phone in their room. You had a go through the front desk. So I called the front desk and it sounded like a London gentleman. And I said, can you please tell Sid that I'm going to be late? And he said to me, point blank, don't bother coming. He just slashed Noe to death.
Laurence Gartel (05:58):
And that was in room 135 years later. I actually threw a party in the basement of the Chelsea hotel to honor the fact that I didn't make it to Sid's room. And so that's kind of an interesting thing, an interesting place to start. Why? Because the moral, the story was never be on time, because look, what happened to those poor people in nine 11 that said, oh my God, I gotta get to work. What about the guy that slept late and said, you know what, oh, I'm gonna like go in later on. You know, if he had been on time, he would've been most likely involved in that horror story and that tragedy. So there's something to say about not showing up. So like not showing up at the right time. I could have been stabbed. I could have been dead, I could have been killed. And so I always take it as a good Oman, the same thing, like the big bopper. Right. And and Dion has like, you know, like remorse of never getting on that plane and all his friends did and they all were killed. So he didn't show up. He didn't go and he survived because of it. So there's, there's an interesting story with being late.
So that was a great way to get people to know you a little better too back to business for a sec. What is, what's an analog video computer?
Laurence Gartel (07:40):
What is it? Well, basically it has to do with RCH X and voltage control and things that are being translated, utilizing a system. And I guess I didn't send you a of it, of my setup or not. I should have I didn't. If you hang on one second, I will show you stand by, stand by. Okay. So you've reached me in Atlanta today. I'm in my hotel room, I'm here for the toy fair. And because I created the number one selling toy in the world called Shabo. And that's another story, but let me just go to my book, which is called Warhol versus Tel hiphop. It's a three page book produced by the Luca museum in Italy and India is of my analog computer system.
Ah, nice compact pocketable.
Laurence Gartel (08:45):
Yeah. Correct. Your phone can do more than what this system did, but here's the great thing. See this screen right over there. I photograph that using a camera on a tripod and photograph the images in order to capture them because there was no way to save an image at all. The only way was to take a still photo,
Laurence Gartel (09:11):
So you can see the knobs, the buttons, the wires, and they all did something. And there was like this board on the, on the blue side over there, I don't know which is left, which is right. But so you patched in wires and they went to this router and depending on how you manipulated it, it changed an image in gray values. So you were able to alter it. And that's pretty much what a analog system computer did in my other book. My first book in Italy, not my first book, but my book published in Italy called cartel art and technology where here's the thing, different ad spoke of I'm
Yeah. I have another picture of it. We'll show later.
Laurence Gartel (10:03):
Yeah. So in here is early this is really a great book because it's out print and it's outta stock. I can't even sell it to you, but there are early works in here 1978. There's a piece in here 1976. So how many years is that? 40, a long time.
Enough, enough years
Laurence Gartel (10:32):
There its 1976 at the bottom, my friend Kevin at the top. Right. All done on those system. On that system that you just saw
Laurence Gartel (10:43):
Remarkable, right? Yes. Another one. So those were in the early days and like, you know, the story is so big. I'm actually trying to make an encyclopedia out of my, my work and it's gonna be 500 pages, three volumes, 1500 pages. But every day I'm doing something else. And so it's hard to like work on the book. I wish I were, well, I shouldn't say I wish because be careful what you wish for. I was gonna say, I wish I were retired so I can work on it, but I'm not retired. I'm I'm as active today as I was day one hour one. And I have those images, believe it or not day one hour, one, that means the first day that I walked into a computer system, they said, all right, try it out. And I didn't know what I was doing with that, with that system that you saw. And I was just fumbling around, but I took photos off the screen of what I did and I printed them and I have these six by nine prints. I have a dozen of them of my first day, my first hour, which is remarkable. Do they look good?
Laurence Gartel (12:02):
You know, but they are what they are. And that's what makes them very special.
Well, I mean, comparing to photos today.
Laurence Gartel (12:12):
There's quite a, my first computer was an Osborne.
Laurence Gartel (12:17):
Laurence Gartel (12:20):
Sure. Of course an Osborne. Sure. I remember it. Well,
I said to my wife, you can get 15 pages of type on just one disc. Wow.
Laurence Gartel (12:33):
How do you define digital art?
Laurence Gartel (12:38):
Well, first of all, you have to be a digital artist to make art. So it's from the maker, not the, not the you know, and then there was some people that program a computer there was a guy named Harold Cohen who made this drawing machine in the eighties and the, and the machine drew, but he programmed it. So people would say, well, that's not art because like, or if an elephant steps on ink and steps all over a piece of paper and they'd say, look, the elephant made art. Art is something created by man that has a human plan. That is the definition of art art created by man that has a human plan. That is art. Now the quality of that art that's open for interpretation. And so that's how I define it. It's like, how good is it? It's is it good enough for you? Is it good enough for me? Is it good enough for, you know, who's the judge of that? I mean, everybody has a level where they judge art and and they're entitled to their opinion, by the way, just like everyone is about everything else. We live in a pre world or where, you know, I thought we did. And and I think because of that I define it basically as art that was made using a computer, that is what digital art is good, bad or ugly. How so?
I, I hate being told what I should like.
Laurence Gartel (14:14):
Yeah. Well, that's up to you.
I hate reading the little cards in a museum. Mm. Because I don't want to curate his opinion of what the art is.
Laurence Gartel (14:27):
Because I'm the one looking at it.
Laurence Gartel (14:30):
I would totally agree with you, except that sometimes the didactic on the wall will give you more information than you had before in order for you to judge it, not to say, this is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And I gotta tell you a really interesting thing being that you brought that issue up. I, I took a photograph. It's actually on my Facebook of the sky going into Georgia. And I was thinking of Ray Charles when I was taking the photograph. And then I looked more carefully at it and, and the sky and, and I have it set up. So it takes a full frame on the, on the phone. And it's a fantastic image. It's huge. And I look at the sky and it looks like a mark Rothko painting, and I'm thinking to myself, why is mark Rothko worth 40 million, as opposed to the photograph that I just took?
Laurence Gartel (15:31):
So that's a question that I'm gonna leave somebody else to answer, not myself. However, you know mark Rothko died a tragic death of committing suicide and his paintings got darker and darker and he was a very religious man by the way. And so, you know it's, it's again, it's, it's up to the viewer to put a value on what art is and the value of that art. If you think it's worth 40 million and you have it it'd be my guest. I, I, I, you know, I don't know if I would buy a Rothko if I had 40 million, to be honest with you, I might buy something else.
One of mine,
Laurence Gartel (16:22):
Okay. I'll talk to you after the podcast. When, when did you start getting interested in art?
Laurence Gartel (16:33):
Well, I, I have formal art school training. I started at the age of nine. I went to the PE school of art in downtown 70, 73rd street in Broadway in the old Annia hotel. And but I've since changed my story. I now say I got interested in art in my mother's womb by drawing with my own fluid, with my unfinished finger as to what I was doing. And I think I was always an artist. I was born an artist.
Interesting. You, you started a new form of art.
Laurence Gartel (17:25):
When you went to a museum to show your work, was it accepted?
Laurence Gartel (17:33):
Absolutely positively. A hundred percent not. And, and because people didn't know what it was and nobody wants to bet on something that is new and unique. And I was once interviewed by I believe his name was Oloff of the NYU gray gallery. And this is because in 19, I forgot what year it was 88, I think. He said, well, digital art has no value and it really has no future. And that was when I was commissioned to do the cover of Forbes. It was the first digital art Forbes ever used. Now, when you think about it, because of the printing industry, absolutely. Everything is now digital art. And I was working with a film festival. It was called the future film festival of bologna in Italy. They commissioned me to do their announcement in 2000. It was the second cover or second image that they asked me to do.
Laurence Gartel (18:48):
The first one was somebody local and Italian. And the second one was they went directly to me. And the idea about that was because their festival was digital and it was a digital festival with using technology in order to make things. And she just made an announcement cause we keep in touch and she actually just had a retro exhibit of all the past 20 years worth of art for that festival. And she just wrote, we can't call it this anymore. It is a 360 degree festival because all of filmmaking is now digital. Everyone uses technology. You can't say that one film doesn't, everyone uses it. So it went from nothing to something in a span of 20 years. It is everywhere used for everything digital art in the world for every single person to use how you use it, that's up to you.
Okay. Let's because I don't think many people know your work that well, at
Laurence Gartel (20:05):
In my sphere.
Laurence Gartel (20:09):
No, I don't think anyone really, you know, I, I will tell you, I've met a few people along the way that said Mytel, you changed my life. I was directionless. I saw your book written by Nam, June pike called Lawrence cartel, a cybernetic romance that was in 1989. You changed my life because I, I, when I saw that book and I said, I have hope I have a future. I can do something. And this has gone on for the last 40 years. So there is always people that don't know that haven't seen it, or maybe they saw it and they didn't know what it is for that matter.
Well, I'm sure they let's look at a couple of pictures.
Laurence Gartel (20:56):
Hmm. So that's very interesting. And that's very telling, because I'm talking to you from Atlanta right now, and this was for the Coca-Cola Atlanta Olympics in 1996. And they commissioned me to do artwork for their marketing and promotion and merchandising of Coca-Cola in 1996. So what's interesting about this is that there were not art directors, but there were seven attorneys that looked at the work and had to yay or nay the imagery that I created. So this image is very complex. Why? Because the pictures behind the abstraction okay. Was created on those analog system, computers that you showed earlier, and they were taken off the screen with Polaroid, SX, seventies, imagine photographing a screen with a Polaroid camera. You had an instant result. So that background comes from a piece that is comprised of I think I would have to edit up how many high by how many wide, but there's probably 200 Polaroid photographs in the background of that. Coca-Cola and the whole idea was that when you it's experience and that's what the artwork conveyed.
Okay. Let's look at something.
Laurence Gartel (22:42):
Okay. So this is now of the Fort Lauderdale international film festival. And again, you know, my medium is time. I use time as an element in my work and funny enough that, that marque is from the gateway theater on sunrise Boulevard. And I was just there and I saw a top gun of all things that in that of and reservoir was in there of were for awards that year in that particular. So, yeah, that's what that was. Ah, so I make art cars and this was I called this car, the love car. It's a 1956 Cadillac sedan Deville. And there are angels all over the car. And we had to replace, I think the backseat at one point. And they found the card from the governor of Tennessee and his daughter actually dated Elvis. So they started to make up a story. How El Elvis actually kissed his daughter in the back seat.
Is, is that a wrap or is it painted on the car?
Laurence Gartel (24:12):
No, I don't paint. I've been digital since 1975. So that is a digital image printed to vinyl and adhered to the car using heat. I've done 65 cars in my career.
Wow. This one, the next one has an interesting story.
Laurence Gartel (24:35):
Ah, absolute cartel. Yeah, you were, yeah. You were,
You were asked at one time why the vodka bottle was out of focus.
Laurence Gartel (24:45):
Yes, that's right. So yeah, the simple part of the story is that's another Polaroid. That's my famous Polaroid called MOS ocean, which was shown at the museum of modern art in 1982. I was 25 years old and MoMA showed this work and I said, you know what, it's my best work. I'm going to appropriate myself. And I took that image and I twirled it around and so on. And so the bottles out of focus and, and people would say to me like, did you show this absolute? I said, well, I had to have in order to get approval, you know, and the reason why it's on the back 3 million magazines from 1991 to 2000 art art form, Sotheby's wired, New York magazine the list goes on and they said, yeah, but it's outta focus. I said, well, if you drinking a vodka, yes, the bottle will go outta focus. And the wobbliness of the background is gonna be how you feel so absolute applauded this image and said, this is like one of our greatest images ever created for the campaign. And it actually was.
That is so interesting from an artistic point of view because many people, it's just the sharpness of the image. I see a lot of that in photography as well. If you have a photograph judged in a camera club, mm-hmm, <affirmative> it's not sharp. This hair isn't distinct. Well, I didn't want it to be, and you get graded down. Interesting.
Laurence Gartel (26:49):
Well, I broken rules my entire life, Larry from the time that I ran away from summer camp, swim time to go to the general store and another town, and then I'd come back and I'd be selling cans of Coca-Cola and and all sorts of cupcakes and so on. And I had a little black market going on and, and they never, they never caught me. I, I actually paid someone off to take the rap. So you know art is all about breaking the rules. That is exactly what art is. If you ever wanna go anywhere in life, you have to break some rules. I'm not saying break laws. I just,
Laurence Gartel (27:41):
Just rules. So I say that because this picture evokes a lot of that. So what's going on in this picture. It's a photograph that has been painted on. I used a 3d software program. I edited that green hand that is somewhat trans Lucent and it's Coney island. And my famous picture called Coney island baby, which was my first image of a series. I said, oh, I'm gonna make a whole series of, of images like this. And I couldn't make a sister image. So I made a cousin and I have a cousin series, and this is called clown cousin. So this is the first image, and this is 50 by 60 inches, tall as a physical object. It's large. And it's a very compelling piece. A lot of people think that's Judy Garland, which it isn't, but it does look reminiscent. I've heard this like a million times and there's little stars in her eyes instead of the, the pupil there. You can like take a, if you, you know, zoom in, you could see that in the eyes are stars.
Here's the picture we were talking about the think different ad.
Laurence Gartel (29:04):
Yes. So Steve jobs commissioned this, I was working, you know, before Steve jobs ever touched a computer. And so this was really rather interesting because I'm the only, like at the time this was in 1997, but Steve started that company in the late seventies. And I was working in the mid seventies and I got to use the first apple two computer and felt that, you know, if anyone's gonna have an ad like golden, my ear, Jackie Robinson, Jim Henson, Gandhi, Picasso, and myself are some of the luminaries who have had this thing, different ad. And you know, clearly it is, is good poetic justice for me working even better now because it's a very crowded room of people trying to do digital art. This guy was the first
And the famous Tesla,
Laurence Gartel (30:09):
The Tesla car, this car I was commissioned to create this car to launch Tesla in 2010. And I did it during art. Bozel Miami beach at the nightclub down in Miami called Nicky beach. And I drove this car around and it went viral to 25,000 websites at the time people were taking photos of it. And art basil was kind of like getting started few years prior. And this car was everywhere and it made such an incredible impact. And they asked me, you know, to make an art car because they said, well, electric car, electric artist. It's the perfect combination. And I didn't know how to do it, but I figured it out. And you know, if you do the same thing over and over again, you're gonna get the same result. You gotta like, try to do things out of the box, like the ads you have to think different. And so this was thinking very, very different.
Okay. Let's see if we can get us back to full size. Yep.
Laurence Gartel (31:23):
You taught Andy Warhol how to use a computer.
Laurence Gartel (31:29):
Yeah, that was in 1985. And I had met him at studio 54 and he said, listen, I've got this commission to do Debbie Harry's album cover. And they very much wanted Commodore that is to assist him in making it and he should make it on a computer. And the thing about that of course, was I was a kid. I didn't have the notoriety. I didn't have the the cache and everything to be the featured artist, but I certainly could have helped him. And that's what I did. And so, because I did that he, and he never touched a computer ever again. I mean, this was not his, you know belly w this was not his expertise. So I showed him how to use deluxe paint and photon paint. And he tried to work a little bit with a mouse, whatever put down was that amazing,
Amazing is right. Who, who were, who were your idols in the artwork?
Laurence Gartel (32:49):
Well, you know, I have a great story. My mother always took me to the Guggenheim museum all the time. And I looked at the work of Miro and CLE and Ken DSKY and my mother would go, isn't that beautiful work? And I was like, it's all mom, you know, my work is better. And she would gimme whack across the, what you're at the museum Guggenheim museum, the greatest artist here. So you, I grew up going to, to the metropolitan museum and seeing really wonderful works my whole life. I mean, I've been looking at art my whole life and it was inspiring. And more than that, my parents we lived in the Bronx at the time on the grand Concourse and I facing Joyce KMA park of all things and the courthouse and in our huge apartment with a drop down living room they had a table with a marble slab and on that table with books, from the met of Monet mane, which I still have by the way. And van go and Picasso, and I would look at these books and they just took my breath away. I'm talking about a nine year old and they took my breath away. And I said, I'm gonna be as great as these guys. And I knew in my heart of hearts, Larry, that that was an, almost an impossibility. That was the toughest hardest. And I'm just a kid thinking this, but I set that out to be my goal. And that's what I did. That's the truth.
Let me ask you a question that may be a little bit hard to answer. What goes on in your head when you're creating a piece of art. Do, do you preplan these, or do you just start working and see what happens?
Laurence Gartel (35:08):
It depends what really like, like my next project is I am making, I've gotten a commission to do somebody's boat. It's my first boat that I've ever done. So the guy says you know, do I have a say, or what is, I said, yeah, of course you do. I'm gonna, you know, but I have to tell you, every object has an alter ego. It will tell me what it wants to be. It will tell me it will be, that will be directing me. And he actually went to the university of Southern California, USC, and, you know, as many filmmakers that went there and so on. And so I said, oh, do you want some cheerleaders in there? You know? And he goes, I'd like a few cheerleaders if you don't mind. So like the cheerleader, a concept to me had to turn into a mermaid, you know, so I made her a mermaid with the USC and then like, you know, he said, you know, it really doesn't belong there.
Laurence Gartel (36:09):
And I said, well, I, I think you're right. So, you know, that sort of like how the process kind of goes and things like that, which is a commission work, you know? So people usually let me do my thing, but at the same time, the project itself has a directive that I can't say I'm working out sketches or this sort, it doesn't, you know, like with the computer, I'll say that if you make a mistake, you can erase it. Although I have to be honest and say, I've never made a mistake. <Laugh> what I do. What I do always gets put down and I don't erase it, but it would be interesting to make a piece and then erase it. I mean, that's, that's a whole nother, that's a whole new concept because you know that baky forget. Baky I, I'm talking about Robert Rauschenberg erasing a DeCooning in 1955, was it 55 or 59?
Laurence Gartel (37:15):
I mean, that is a real story. How he got him a piece and he erased it, that, that that's like the greatest story of all time in art history. You know, so era a piece is rather an interesting sort of concept in the digital age. I've not, I've not tried that, but I think it would be rather interesting as an idea, but, you know, my latest thing. So moving forward to like present time is that during COVID I created something which is rather interesting. And I, and I have a couple of examples here. This is called Shabo shape shifting box. And what it does is you can make all sorts of shapes. This is digital art in three dimensions is what this is. And it's in every Barnes and noble in the United States.
It's also on,
Laurence Gartel (38:14):
It's also on Amazon. It's the number one selling toy puzzle on Amazon today. And here's a real sneak preview. This is not out yet. These are new brand new cubes, but one cube actually can go into another. So the more you you have, the more you can make, and we say, collect and connect, the shapes can connect together. It's, it's really quite a, an amazing thing. Digital art, digital art in three dimensions done in a new and unique way that's never been done before. That is what I try to do every single time. It's the top myself, and to reach back folk. Cause if you think about T steam painting, you know, I listen, I, I, I think his work is magnificent. I admired it. I, I said to myself, when I was younger, how am I ever gonna be that perfect because T steam painting is painted perfectly. How can I do that? And I said to myself, Lawrence, you'll never be that perfect. You can't do that. You have to do something else. And so you know, that's the evolution of digital art for me. And I'm still trying to come up with new ideas and new situations and scenarios where the digital art is transformed. I like the idea of transforming things. So,
So think different really applies to you
Laurence Gartel (39:53):
Say that to every day. So two weeks ago, I just launched a very exclusive clothing line in Paris menswear. And so it got an amazing reception and we're working onion now, which will be ready. This is of course, fashion always is like a year, 18 months out into the future. And you know, so we'll be seeing it in some, like for instance, for this of Sered Ritz Carlton and in Helsinki and, and other places around the world that people can find exclusive clothing and resorts. That's really a target audience for that. So
That's, this has been great.
Laurence Gartel (40:56):
I'm glad. Thank you so much for having me.
What else would you like to say? No question. Just
Laurence Gartel (41:05):
Go ahead. Can I say, what can I say enjoy your life? Because it goes by so fast. I can't believe it. I, I, I think you have to enjoy every minute, every moment, do things that make you happy, try to make other people happy. That's tougher than anything else is trying to make other people happy. You know, I don't know why, but that seems to be a very difficult task to do so I have a personal trainer that I'm working with for the last year on like losing weight, diet, and exercise and that sort so very profound to, and you, the pilot of a plane that has one passenger, make sure it flies well, isn't that just, I, I, I, you know, it's just
Laurence Gartel (42:03):
Yes, I would say so. I invited you to my upcoming exhibition at the box gallery at eight 11 Bevere road in west Palm beach on September 3rd and your, your audience, I guess they're more than welcome to come via, I guess I should they should say Larry sent me meaning you. And that'll be a very interesting show because that exhibit is called cartel media blitz Palm beach, and it is all about promotion of art, the posters that I've created, the books covers that I've done magazine articles. It's not about seeing new work or things that you could again, judge, you know, like you said this is not about judging. This is about promotion of of an artist's work. And it'll be very interesting to see how people respond to that. But everything's for sale, of course. <Laugh>
Oh yeah, just by the way,
Laurence Gartel (43:11):
By the way. That's the way
Lawrence. Thanks for coming on.
Laurence Gartel (43:17):
My pleasure. Thank you for having me.
It's been great. It's been a pleasure meeting you.
Laurence Gartel (43:23):
Thank you so much.
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