Nic Walker doesn't look like the monster that art critics, this one included, have made him out to be. Pensively twirling locks of black hair, the 25-year-old artist projects a sensitivity that belies the gonzo reputation he cemented in March 2001, when he infamously dumped a rotting deer carcass at Everett Station and proclaimed it high art.
Last week, as Walker and I headed into Muu-Muu's for a succession of double Scotches, it was clear we needed to clear the air's lingering stench before we talked about his current work.
WW: A lot of people pigeonhole you as "that weirdo who did the dead-deer thing."
Nic Walker: I feel flattered to be pigeonholed at all. I think it's funny people are still thinking about it.
You took some serious critical hits. I, for one, called the installation "nihilistic venison" and "pseudo-art" and said it was exactly what the Portland art scene didn't need.
Good. That's what you thought. I don't understand why people hold it against somebody that they have a thought. Everybody thinks bad things about other people. Everybody's an asshole to some extent; critics just write it down.
Did you kill it yourself?
No. My friend Travis came across the carcass way the fuck out in Beaverton. We went out there and wrapped it up in plastic--we vomited twice, it was full of maggots--and were going to take it home on the TriMet. But instead we stashed it 20 feet from the road and picked it up later. I didn't know what it meant as art, but it started me thinking about how we never smell death in this country. When our relatives die, we fill them up with embalming fluid and put them in boxes. That's a damn shame. If we smelled death more often, it might make us live better.
Your new show's very different. Where did you get the idea for Bargain Basement Used Cars?
I'd been looking through these used-car magazines and got the idea to copy the pictures, blow them up to 8-by-16 feet, and then trace every one of the dots from the newsprint onto panels.
Sort of Warholish....
I can see how you'd think of it as Pop, but I was going for something more timeless, which is why I did them in black and white.
Is this work an evolution for you?
In a way. I got here in 2000 with $3,000 in my pocket, and within three months, I'd blown it drinking. I painted on found objects and canvas from a tent maker,doing what I call "radio paintings" and selling them on the streets on First Thursdays. People started commissioning me to do stuff. It was like they were ordering a sandwich. Somebody wanted me to paint pears and apples really big. So I did. For a whole year I whored myself out, drinking myself stupid, doing drugs. Then I did the deer.
A "fuck you" to the establishment?
To being a commodity.
What direction is your art taking?
I want to do more performance pieces. At the Haze opening, I'm doing this thing where I have a rifle over my leg, and a prostitute shaves my face with a straight razor. She hands me a glass of whiskey, walks across the room and puts an apple on her head. There's a drumroll, the lights dim, then I aim the rifle and shoot the apple off.
Yes. provided I can get a gun permit in time.
runs from Jan. 10 to Feb. 2 at St. Johns' Haze Gallery, 6635 N Baltimore Ave., Suite 211, 283-6863.