I met Randy Burman on Facebook. Met him in real life a few months after that. Then I left the country fearing for my life, but then I returned, and took a second look at Burman’s work and works-in-progress. Each work reflects the sort of innocent, perverse inner child that lives (thankfully) inside this charming artist. Even though it took Burman 2 years to complete this interview, he is da’ bomb and the shelter. Yes, he has been very busy fighting the Taliban (more on that later) in the U.S.A. He has also been busy working (yes, some people are employed these days). He has also been busy supporting the arts. I see Burman everywhere—scaring and scarring children at gallery openings, closings, parties and even Taco Bell. Seriously. Seriously, Burman is an engaging humane being—kind, wise and funny. He is always ready to start an engaging conversation about art and politics wherever he goes even when no one is in the room. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to interview Mr. Burman, but you may call him Randy Unicorn.
Almost Dorothy: What makes you Randy and why are you a Burman?
Randy Burman: If you’re referring to the UK English term “Randy” as a person who is sexually aroused or horny, yes, I do have a horn, thanks, in no small part to my parental unicorns. As to why I am a Burman, my choices, at the time, were limited, again in no small part to my parental unicorns. I have to admit that all this talk about small parts is making me feel very inadequate. Is that normal? I hope not.
AD: I love unicorns. And corn! On Facebook I noticed a series of serious portraits of American Talibans—the Republicans. Should you really insult the Taliban by calling them Republicans?
RB: I hope history will show that I did my best to insult both the Taliban and Republicans equally. I purposefully chose ‘Taliban Republicans’, as a social experiment to see how Republicans react when their own methodology of using deliberate and calculated language to demagogue their opponents is used against them.
AD: I have no idea what a demagogue is, but it must have something to do with a synagogue. What are you trying to say about American politics?
RB: The GOP’s list of phrases and loaded terms is huge: pro-life, death tax, activist judges, big government, death panels, death tax, energy exploration (in place of oil drilling), government-run health care, government-run health insurance, or government takeover of health care, Ground Zero Mosque, legislate from the bench, tax and spend liberal and many more.
Leading Republicans repeat these phrases in a disciplined manner every chance they get, such as on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, on every news television interview program on which they are invited, in newspaper and online articles, etc. The result is that the messages, which are framed in a manner favorable to Republicans (and often focus group-tested beforehand), are echoed in the mainstream media, and they sink into our subconscious mind, thereby tilting the political battlefield in the Republicans’ favor.
AD: My friends at school talk like that too, and they only watch youtube. What’s your goal for this series?
RB: All sixty portraits will be mounted on one wall of a gallery and in front of the opposite wall, a ceiling-high pile of shoes will be available for visitors to throw at the portraits… a “Preserve the First Amendment Fling”, if you will.
So while the work is ultimately about language and fair play, it’s also an opportunity for patriotic and cathartic participation.
AD: Hot. Any plans for a sex change in the near future?
RB: More likely to see a text change.
AD: What’s your first memory as a child?
RB: My Aunt’s legs walking by as I looked out from underneath my crib.
AD: Ok, that must have been creepy or sexy. What’s the last memory or image you’d like to have on your last day on earth or in space?
AD: You told me once, twice, or three times a lady that you ‘became’ an artist or resumed your career as an artist at 60. Do mean 60th street? Explain. Because I thought we are all born artists.
RB: That’s a good question, and I’m glad you asked. There is a Taoist story of an old farmer who had worked his crops for many years. One day his horse ran away. Upon hearing the news, his neighbors came to visit. “Such bad luck,” they said sympathetically. “Maybe,” the farmer replied. The next morning the horse returned, bringing with it three other wild horses. “How wonderful,” the neighbors exclaimed. “Maybe,” replied the old man. The following day, his son tried to ride one of the untamed horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. The neighbors again came to offer their sympathy on his misfortune. “Maybe,” answered the farmer. The day after, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out. “Maybe,” said the farmer.
AD: What? I’m lost. Anyway, do you think we are all born artists, inherently creative and artistic, and that our creativity is slowly and mercilessly driven out of us by the American education system or even by our misguided parental unicorns? Or, do we become artists?
RB: I don’t believe that everyone is born as an artist. Those who are born as artists, however, have no power to resist expressing themselves. When I first saw the film Close Encounters I related to Roy’s obsession with subliminal and mental images of a mountain-like shape which he began to make models. The obsessiveness was similar to what I experienced as a young artist except for the part about being abducted by aliens. I just don’t think aliens are all that interested in unicorns or messy children.
I didn’t receive encouragement from my old world parochial school teachers. In fact, they frowned on my creative expression, presumably because I was making graven images. Their admonishment, I believe, set the course for my anti-establishment predilection.
AD: I was just abducted by aliens. They’re cool. Proudest moment ever:
RB: During my second year in college, a large 8’ square painting I entered in the Baltimore Museum of Art’s Maryland Regional Painting Competition was selected to be in the show. My proudest moment had to be taking my Dad to (his first trip there) to see his son’s work hanging in the museum. Walking up those steps I knew the sense of pride was swelling his heart to match those enormous cement lions flanking us on either side.
AD: Wow, almost made me cry. Saddest moment ever:
RB: When at the birth of my grandson, Orion Marvelous Burman, we found out that he was born with multiple birth defects. He spent most of his young life in a hospital and passed away before his first birthday. I had never experienced such excruciating and overwhelming sadness. I learned more about unconditional love than I ever imagined possible.
AD: Made me cry. Someone told me that after 40 we pretty much stop dreaming. I’ve got a year or two or thirty-two to go. Is this true? If not, what are you (re)dreaming about these days?
RB: That’s just plain silly. The dreaming bus stops at 40th Street not at 40 years of age. I have done the math though, and It is true, that if you’re 38 now, you most likely will be 40 in two years.
In my dreams, time, place and people display amazing fluidity, so that people I presently know may be cast in a situation in the past in a place unrelated to either. The plot, if it can be called that, usually has to do with me being in some intense untenable situation where my only escape is to wake up. My waking state is very similar, except I have to go to sleep to escape. This is very monotonous. I used to dream of flying a lot. I would just be able to will myself to do so, and I enjoyed flying back and forth low over the bay between Miami and Miami Beach. In my dreams I was a 100% convinced I had mastered the skill of flying.
AD: Tell us about your process when it comes to your installations verses your paintings. Or is the creative process the same?
RB: It really is all over the map. Sometimes I have ideas that I sketch in one of my notebooks that later I’ll build or at least use as a reference point. Other times, I just immerse myself in what’s around me and construct a work (or several) using the materials on hand. And still other times, I’ll begin a work with one intention and as I progress the focus of what I’m doing changes, as in the case of the Taliban Republicans. While the basic concept remains unchanged, showing displeasure by throwing (originally turd-shaped bean bags and later shoes) at pictures of Republicans, I was simply going to do a Google search for existing pictures of the Republicans I wanted to include, enlarge and adhere to the boards. A confluence of things happened, mostly that I found an old set of acrylic paints and decided to test painting one portrait. I enjoyed the painting process so much I decided it would be a great exercise to paint all 60 individual portraits. Now that I’ve painted almost 30, I have a genuine sense of connectedness and elation when I’m sketching the charcoal under drawing and in the painterly modeling of the personages. For the most part, I’ve always thought about my own art in conceptual terms (even my very first painting had the unfinished sentence, “This is the last day on Ear…” with the paint brush glued to the painting). Yet, painting these portraits has convinced me that I could be quite satisfied if all I ever did was paint.
Having said that, I realize that would be a discipline I’d find hard to comply with. I simply have too many conceptual ideas. I think what’s going to happen is a convergence of processes, very much like the Taliban Republicans, where I get to create the conceptual and integrate the painting.
AD: What’s your favorite juice?
RB: Do you mean Jews?
Jew cocktail recipe:
2 parts Fran Lebowitz
1 part Leonard Nimoy
1 part Peter Falk
1 part Woody Allen
1 part Houdini
pinch of J.D. Salinger
smidgen of Alfred Stieglitz
Serve in martini glass at room temperature
Garnish with Sarah Silverman
AD: No, I meant juice. Three artists you’d like to wipe off the map or kick out of the Metropolitan Museum?
RB: That’s a trick question isn’t it? You know there’s an expression about something that has nothing to do with this question. Since I don’t remember it, is it really important? Also, even though I may know what I like, is it art?
AD: Even bullshit is art if it dents one’s i(dent)ity in some fashion. Even fashion is art but only if it doesn’t fit. Final words. (You may use a curse word.):
RB: Look ma, no hands. I dare you to pull the trigger. You’ve done this before, right? I feel kind of strange strapped to this big spinning wheel, what are all those knives for? Which cord do I pull? This is safe, right? The End. EXIT. Death. Goodbye. $%&#.
AD: One more word, what would you like to accomplish in the next six months?
RB: Complete and exhibit the Taliban Republicans.