David Buckingham, ‘Zanng!’, 2014. Hand-cut and welded found metal; 96.5 x 127 x 10.1 cm. Image courtesy of Scream, London and the artist.
A conversation with Los Angeles-based artist David Buckingham.
Your medium of choice is found metal, scavenged from vehicles in the Californian desert. What is it about this material (and the process of finding it) that inspires you?
It’s not just vehicles, I’m a metal omnivore with a voracious appetite and I’ll take metal from hay balers, cotton pickers, combines, ancient tractors, etc. -anything with color. There’s an authenticity to the metal that I find appealing and beautiful… after suffering outdoors in the elements for decades, the metal gets a patina that simply can’t be faked. It’s like a close-up photograph of Robert Plant I saw recently: after all those years of touring and living a hard rock&roll lifestyle, his face is elegantly, unapologetically decayed. Every line tells a story. Much like my found metal. Also, my studio is in congested, noisy, polluted downtown Los Angeles, and getting deep into the solitude of the desert, with its wide-open spaces and almost church-like silence, has a therapeutic effect on me. Better than Prozac.
David Buckingham, 'Hendrix Star’, 2014. Hand-cut and welded found metal; 91.4 x 91.4 x 5 cm. Image courtesy of Scream, London and the artist.
Your work has strong links to Pop Art, suggesting homage to such greats as Robert Rauschenberg and Tom Wesselmann. In your opinion, what are the reasons for this movement’s continued relevance today?
I’ll hazard a guess here and say accessibility, the ability of the viewer to relate to the work and to understand, almost intuitively, its references. I mean, who hasn’t been influenced by popular culture, both high and low? I don’t really think of myself as a Pop artist - sure, I’m limning popular culture, but I’m also (maybe subconsciously) trying to subvert it, bend it to my will, put my own admittedly peculiar spin on it. A poet friend once suggested I call my work “Industrial Expressionism”, or InDex for short. I think I like that better.
Much of your practice deals with text. How has your previous career as a writer influenced your artistic output?
I’ve been intrigued by words, slang, and the vernacular for as long as I can remember. In fact, according to my Mom, my very first word was “postmodernism”. Just like hot metal, language can be beaten, twisted, and bent into entirely new constructs. Language is malleable, ever-changing, never stagnant. I like to see what new words have been added to the O.E.D. every year. I lived Down Under for years and was more impressed by Australia’s outrageously inventive slang (e.g., “one-pot screamer”) than the Great Barrier Reef. Right now I’m obsessed with figuring out when The New Yorker first used the word 'fuck’ in print. Weird, right? And I’m still a writer, but instead of doing it with an IBM Selectric typewriter, now I use a plasma cutter.
“Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings”
-Led Zeppelin, Stairway to Heaven
David Buckingham, 'Walk On The Wild Side’, 2014. Hand-cut and welded found metal; 99 x 172.7 x 7.6 cm. Image courtesy of Scream, London and the artist.
I am particularly intrigued by your 'Guns’ series. There is a chilling incongruity in placing replicas of weapons from convicted murderers such as Phil Spector alongside those of popular fictional characters such as Elmer Fudd. It speaks volumes about the culture of firearms in modern America. What is it about this symbol that particularly resonates with you?
According to some, I am a gun-loving, murderous, knuckle-dragging, slack-jawed, mouth-breathing Neanderthal. Others find me a gun-hating, lily-livered, limp-wristed, bleeding-heart, tree-hugging pinko communist traitor… somewhere in between lies the truth. Two things I enjoy about the gun series: they always get a reaction, and they’re a real challenge to make. I’m neither pro-gun nor anti-gun, I just find them to be powerful icons of modern America. That said, I’m absolutely appalled by the rate of gun violence in the United States.
David Buckingham, 'Butch Cassidy’ 2014. Hand-welded found metal; 86.3 x 182.8 x 12.7 cm. Image courtesy of Scream, London and the artist.
What is coming up next for you?
I really have no clue, but I imagine it will involve lengthy solo sojourns in the desert, brutal days and nights in a primitive welding studio, and plenty of sparks/fire/noise/blood/mayhem/creativity. Stay tuned.
'Under the Influence’, Buckingham’s inaugural solo exhibition in the UK, is on view at Scream, 27-28 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8DH until 29 March 2014.