Before I ever met Darin Klein I used to see him: this cute-hot, friendly-looking, tall skinny guy with eyeliner and tattoos who'd show up and have fun at Q-Tip (Queers Together in Punkness) events back when the Epicenter by 16th and Valencia still existed. Then, as years went by, I'd hear about him: one friend would talk about something Darin had made for her, another about an event Darin put together. Sometime around 2000, Darin threw a one-night show of book arts at New College, and that's when I knew for sure he did awesome things. Others definitely agree, because some people who took part in that largely buck-for-a-book party have gone on to sell works for hundreds or thousands of dollars (or sell thousands of works).
(Friendly Skies by Young Chung, from Darin Klein's book/box compilation Exes Editions: Relationships I've been in usually ended with a break-up).
Now that I've had a few chances to hang out with him, I can say for sure that I admire the damn funny, unpretentious, and whip smart Darin Klein. No one has better stories about mistaking Gwen Stefani for a drag queen or attempting to give Kenneth Anger customer service. He lives in LA now, so I recently emailed him about some of his video curating and book projects, including his most recent compilation, the staple-bound penis art collection Thing.
Guardian: Why Thing? What beyond a love for it sparked your interest in cock art at this moment in time?
Darin Klein: My enthusiasm for the subject matter was the springboard for action. I was seeing more depictions of male genitalia in contemporary art and that made me happy. I wanted to provide a platform for artists already dealing with those images and the myriad ideas behind what it means to expose the penis. A dialogue concerning the phallic in art and culture as representational of dominance, oppression and power has long existed. Now it’s time to talk about the real thing and explore other associations the actual penis can have.
(Untitled photo by Amir Nikravan, from Darin Klein's compilation book Thing: New Penis Art from America).
G: How do you see a project like this in relation to more typical male images from mainstream media to the strictures of gay porn?
DK: Frontal nudity in mainstream movies is always a thrill, and scandalous videos of movie stars getting it on titillate me to a certain extent. Those images are so fleeting though, and I end up wanting something more still. Pornography is said to be a pretty lucrative industry, though the imagery can be overwhelmingly artless. The images in Thing are less about sexuality; few actually portray sexual acts. I made a conscious effort to invite artists with a wide variety of perspectives concerning the penis. Race, sexual orientation, trans and women's issues are all addressed. In gay porn, the penis has a fairly limited scope of ideas surrounding it. In Thing, the penis serves as a kind as a kind of bridge to take you somewhere else.
G: I recognize a nice cock on braille by Colter Jacobsen. Tell me a bit about some of the artists involved and their images. There's a three-pronged image early on that someone you and I know described as "tweeker dick." That one's hot, and maybe unsettling.
DK: Colter [Jacobsen] provides assisted living for a blind individual. I love the idea of an image of masturbation executed on braille. His image in Thing is from a larger body of drawings that all depict naked men wearing watches and he spent one hour working on each piece.
When I got the so-called three-pronged image by NY artist Sam Gordon it evoked in me a kind of 'which one should I choose?' feeling mixed with 'why wasn't I invited to that party?'.
Every artist in the book is noteworthy, and I could talk about why I love every single piece I got from them. Several of the artists I have never met. Others I see on a regular basis. LA's merited writer and visual artist Christopher Russell did the back cover photos (a double-sided fold out with two extremely disparate images - one aggressively sexual and one all sweet and cozy). Josh Simmons from Chicago edits and produces an amazing zine entitled All About Fuckin' that is a relentless mix of comixxx and hand-altered snapshots of hot naked punks in sexual positions with cartoon characters. Poet and artists' book creator Marina Eckler of Colorado Springs contributed a drawing of 'lace cum' in which tiny penises ejaculate an intricate design in the shape of a crocheted doily - and below that the text 'BOYFRIEND MATERIAL'. I even included an unauthorized reproduction of a photo spread from Clothesdick - the International Magazine About Clothed Men (my favorite magazine from 1976-77) because the magazine embodies a celebratory attitude concerning the penis that I admire.
(Colter Jacobsen drawing from Thing: New Penis Art from America).
G: Years ago, you put on a book art show in SF that had a lot of great work by people who are selling stuff for a lot of money now. This is just one of your compilation-type book projects since, and they've all been great -- unpredictable in terms of content and form. Can you talk a bit about some of the others and what they've included?
DK: Don't be afraid to drop names! Those artists include Sarah Cain, Jo Jackson, Chris Johanson and Will Yackulic. It's always great to work with artists in the beginning stages of their careers. They are enthusiastic and ready for action and you never know where they might end up. Curating book shows is exciting because artists who have never made a book can bring a freshness to that medium.
As an editor of collaborative productions, I am usually starting with material I already have on hand. For instance, I wrote short prose pieces about everyone I had been involved in a serious relationship
with. I needed a vehicle for those pieces so I put together Exes Editions: Relationships I have been in usually ended with a break-up. It was 100 boxes all containing the same set of signed and numbered
editions of all kinds of things relating to break-ups (zines, photos, sculptures, music CDs, etc) by 26 authors and artists. Celebrity-Themed Fanzine and Peace also came from a need to place work I'd done on those themes in a suitable context.
My publications tend to be objects in themselves, I experiment with size, materials and binding techniques that operate on a separate but complimentary level to the contents. I have produced over 60 solo and
collaborative titles, none of them quite resembling any other.
(Noel Black's contribution to Darin Klein's book To & From)
G: We both share a love for Boyd McDonald. What do you think the culture of the moment could learn from him and from his writings and editing for Straight to Hell?
DK: Boyd McDonald implemented a fantastically liberating mix of politics, sex and humor. Writing about sex between men as published in Straight to Hell is as raw, varied and visceral as it gets. That magazine transcends the catagories of literature, pornography and erotica. Billy Miller continues the tradition, publishing STH sporadically (the most recent issue featuring a cover photo by the talented Paul Mpagi Sepuya, who also contributed to Thing).
(Cover of an issue of Straight to Hell)
G: You once curated a one-night screening of video work that I thought was great. Anyone else who you are loving in that medium or others for that matter?
DK: I thank Margaret Tedesco who got me the gig organizing that video program for SF's New Langton Arts. It was my first foray into the medium and it really opened my eyes. Since then I have gone on to curate video programs for the prog:ME digital media festival in Rio de Janiero as well as the Silverlake Film Festival Shorts series in LA. Along the way I discovered and became extremely excited by the emotional impact of the work of Cathy Begien, a regular contributor to SF's Edinburgh Castle Film Night. Kelly Sears in LA is doing mindbendingly fun and creepy digital animation. Tonight I Googled Trulee Grace Hall, looking for contact info. I saw her hilarious video at "Supersonic", an exhibition featuring a selection of this year's Southern California art school graduates.
In other mediums the artists who inspire me include: everyone in Thing; Edie Fake (LA), Sy Loady (SF) and Ben Snakepit (Austin, TX) who are making some of the best minicomics ever; modern mystic Sam Gordon (NY)
who makes paintings, installations and recently a video documenting a years' worth of other peoples' art; Amir Nikravan (Pasadena) who has yet to exhibit publicly his detailed oil paintings that balance precariously between sexual liberation and dysfunction; and Matty Lee, who, when he sent the manuscript of his memoir, 35 Cents (out on Suspect Thoughts Press) to Ira Silverberg several years ago, was allegedly told, "I already have a JT Leroy" - I guess the two main differences would be that Matty is real, and his story is really good.
(from Crucial Crystal, a short video by Kelly Sears)
G: What are your plans for the future?
DK: I just put together a group of artists who incorporate film and video projection with live performance. The artists in this program - Lucas Michael, Lawrence Rengert, New Energy Encounter Group, F-stop Serenade, Kelly Sears and Ryan Heffington - blow my mind. Art can be very entertaining if you let it. When I find a venue for this program, watch out!