The Waco Brothers – Cowboy canvas
Yard Dog, a folk art gallery in Austin, Texas, first showed Jon Langford’s art during the South By Southwest music conference in March 1996, and in November featured him in a one-man show. Recently, Langford sat down with Yard Dog owner Randy Franklin in the virtual living room for a cozy chat about the visual complement to Langford’s musical oeuvre.
RF: What’s your artistic background? Did you go to school, receive formal training, etc.?
JL: In high school I thought I was Gauguin but I went to Leeds instead of Tahiti, filled my head with pinko theory and set off in the van with the Mekons. I got a degree in Fine Art at Leeds University, but mostly I was in the bar until punk rock blew my pants off, made my hair grow short and destroyed my artistic ambitions. The 1977 art world = boredom: Join a band!
RF: What’s the deal with the Mekons art? Is it all communal? What album covers have you done?
JL: The idea behind the Mekons and Mekons United specifically was meant to be the antidote to the artist/musician genius thing. We aren’t struck by the muse; the work all comes out of a deep blue pool of collective experience and shared endeavour. We’ve always done all our own artwork; things make more sense when you’re in control of every stage of production. We don’t necessarily all work on the same canvas, but we approach the art like a song or an album. There is no one ultimate creator.
RF: When/where have you had art shows?
JL: The Mekons’ only art show was at the Polk Museum Of Art in Lakeland, Florida, this year. I first showed my stuff at Tony Fitzpatrick’s World Tattoo gallery in 1993 and ’94. This year I had my first solo show at the Eastwick Gallery in Chicago…Yard Dog (Austin), Barristers (New Orleans)…I have my first British show in January in Cwmbran, South Wales; it will tour Scotland and Wales. A Mekons show will be at the Threadwaxing Space on Broadway in New York City next September and then go to Leeds.
RF: Let’s talk about your technique.
JL: I do some copper plate etchings. The paintings usually start with a pencil drawing that’s fleshed out with felt pens and pastels then spray-painted, scratched, battered, licked, etc. I like very permanent, toxic pens and paints so the paintings can take a lot of abuse and I can get out of my tree while I’m doing them.
RF: Here at Yard Dog, we have some of your monoprints. What’s that?
JL: Anything that’s a print and there is just one of them. I’ll sometimes photograph one of my paintings and work on top of that. I like prints because they make the work cheaper so honest workin’ folk can buy it as well as toffs.
RF: Where do you get your ideas?
JL: When I got out of art school I knew loads of reasons why not to make art and few reasons why I should. So I kind of sidestepped the weight of the 20th-century high art debate and looked at the way we wrote songs, and thought about how to use those methods in painting. I decided to make paintings about music as a category-busting device and made the pictures rough, noisy and out-of-tune, like the Mekons. I was fascinated by country and western culture when I first moved to the States in 1992 (and when we toured here with the Mekons and the 3 Johns): the cool civilian uniform, pearl buttons, honky-tonk songs and the sad faded photos on the walls of country bars; the neglect and waste, torn promo-pics of optimistic guys in fantastic shirts staring out through layers of nicotine and dust; the dead and forgotten buried high on barroom walls. There’s some autobiographical stuff about the process of making records: the disappointments, the brute weight of the system, signing contracts, selling your soul to satan — music-industry perversion.