I cast that [Challenger] explosion because I thought it was a very unique, amazing explosion. Once I began painting it, people began talking about its relevance, because it says something different when Obama is flying towards it, possibly causing it or stopping it.
To be very honest, I didn't initially know it was the Challenger exploding. My Mom told me. She's a teacher, so to her it was a terrible thing, and she asked me to really consider what I was doing. I told her, "That's perfect." Because to me the painting is about Obama coming to the rescue and shitting these energy projections — either he's going to stop the war, or he causing some trouble of his own.
A few paintings later [in New Fall Lineup] I painted the Twin Towers exploding for a similar reason. I was casting this unique explosion and trying to create a different scenario with it.
SFBG I don't often self-identify in generational terms, but when I was talking about the Challenger explosion with Colter [Jacobsen], he was saying that he had referred to it while teaching a class, and that it wasn't even a memory for many students. Whereas for he and I, there was the teacher element, and also the fact that everyone was watching the Challenger at school that day. So as a disastrous event, it was similar to 9/11 in that the day just stopped.
CR The Challenger explosion has a lot to do with failed promise, doesn't it? There was tremendous hope about what was about to happen, and it all fell apart in one second.
There's an element of comedy that I've kind of borrowed from Richard Pryor. As I watch his stuff, it's more like performance art. What he talked about wasn't funny at all, it was actually horrible. He was an interesting character in that he talked about things that were definitely not right, but did so in a way that everyone would be laughing. Comedy is a way of passing serious information without being worried about the consequences. That makes it kind of a new territory. Dave Chappelle was able to say some unique and terrible things in this fun format.
SFBG It's interesting that you bring up Chappelle, because after he hit his sort of Challenger moment on the pop culture stage and went away, Block Party [a.k.a. Dave Chappelle's Block Party, 2006] came out.
CR That's a beautiful movie.
SFBG It was released during the final stretch of all the jockeying for Academy Awards in Hollywood. All these talking heads were going on about which movies were important, and I remember thinking that Block Party was more important or vital and connected to the world than any of them.
CR/strong> His stuff is always about pointing out differences, and bringing together ideas of social class hierarchy. In a roundabout way, that's what he did [in em>Block Party]. He brought together a lot of high-end artists and gave a free show. It was about giving to the people or the neighborhood. The idea of a barbecue, a barbecue block party, also has an ethnic connotation to it.
SFBG There is a lot of athletic imagery in your art, and I don't want to reduce it to masculinity or sexuality, but I do want to ask about being drawn to those kinds of visuals, or wanting to render them.
Veronica De Jesus does some sports-oriented work that's quite different from yours, but also has a terrific sense of humor. Sports are quite iconic — moments like an Olympic runner tumbling or Zidane's headbutt become part of the collective consciousness. But beyond that, there's an ecstatic, colorful, lively quality to your sports imagery.
CR Sports have always been a part of my life. My mom and dad were very athletic at one time, and they encouraged my brother and me to take part in sports.