Artist Spotlight: Palm Treat
Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up and how did you find yourself interested in design and sewing? Was there a pivotal moment that you can remember?
Marie: I have been an artist from day one. I found myself walking into Carnegie Hall in New York at the age of 17 for my first show ever. Seeing my work in such a vast space allowed me to think in an expansive way. My parents died when I was in my early 20s. I decided to sell my belongings and move to LA. My journey began there. Befriending Everything is Terrible flipped an important switch.
Jeff: There are two of us, Marie & Jeff. One of us grew up on the Gulf in Florida and the other grew up in the thumb of Michigan. I have been interested in design as long as I can remember, my mother was a graphic designer and some of my earliest memories were watching her do lettering by hand.
There was not one pivotal moment that drew me to design, but I can clearly remember my first serious attempt at art. I was about five and it was a drawing of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles playing electric guitars on a stage with theater lights. I was very impressed with myself at the time. It probably no longer exists but I can still picture what it looked like and it was not very good.People often attribute nostalgia to A E S T H E T I C and Vaporwave. Why do you believe this is such a powerful force for so many people? How do you translate that feeling into your pieces?
Marie: It is crucial in our society to be able to connect. It is a primitive desire and fundamental need. I believe that bringing people together in a community that is visual-based is the most powerful thing. There is room to fill a narrative, a personal narrative that allows people to feel connected yet independent within the Vaporwave community. There are so many people who recall their childhood within Palm Treat’s work. The depressed Sega wizard, the military brat hooked on The Simpsons, the jock who secretly wanted to date Wednesday Addams. I am humbled to find that everyone in the Vaporwave community can embrace these parts of their past and find importance in themselves as individuals. The feelings we invoke within the aesthetic community are rendered by the concept of space and time. The space being the body of work and the great knowledge we have as designers. And the time being an illusion. We are able to manipulate concepts visually, which transcends the audience to a different decade, location and mindset.
Jeff: Electronic media of all forms has always been described has having ghostlike qualities, a spiritual or paranormal presence in the machine. The technical limitations of any media are always embraced once that technology is obsolete (bad VHS tracking, the lo-fi hiss of cassette tapes, scratching vinyl, badly compressed video files from the early days of the internet) because these inherent flaws that seem to come from somewhere else, an electronic plane of existence outside our own.
Now that advertisers have been selling baby boomers' childhoods back to them in the form of Harley Davidson motorcycles and Coca-Cola Classic for 50 years. The generations who have been born into this world of commodified ghosts are becoming more aware and cynical of this type of advertising. Vaporwave culture appropriates this technique of harvesting nostalgic feelings about products and through manipulation emphasizes their ghostly qualities.
My favorite part about all of this is that Vaporwave and aesthetic culture has entered into the public consciousness enough to the point where it is coming full circle. Tripped-out meta nostalgia is being used to sell stuff to millennials, and like every other generation they are already being haunted without realizing it.What inspires you the most about creating your artwork and what kind of image or idea are you ultimately trying to convey to your audience?
Marie: The most inspiring element about our work, for me, is the difference in perspectives between Jeff and I. I am highly emotionally intelligent and connected to everything around me. Jeff is extremely logical and brilliant. He is the ultimate problem solver and extremely precise whereas I am connected to our audience and can feel how art can transform other people’s lives. We are the best team. The message I try to convey is to be gentle, have sense of humor, and celebrate the freedom to be exactly who you are.
Jeff: I like to find obscure interesting designs in old magazines and advertisements and recreate them with different imagery and context. I like to create things where the audience feels like they are in on it.
How do you feel like the cultural and philosophical themes of Vaporwave have influenced your artwork?
Marie: I feel that I have been inspired by every person’s own experience. The cultural and philosophical concepts of Vaporwave are very vast. I want to leave everything open for interpretation. The true philosophy of Vaporwave is allowing the viewer to be the center of attention and part of the piece. It is an emotional connection and up to the recipient to convey their own philosophy.
Jeff: The biggest takeaway I have had from Vaporwave is that it expanded the scope of what material I had previously thought to draw from. It has been interesting to see so many different artists and styles emerge from the depths of the internet.
Do you have a work ritual? Take us through the process of creating your art.
Marie: Some of our thoughts come about as a joke at 2AM while getting drinks. Or in the middle of a boring drive. The way Jeff and I feed off each other is like no other experience. We have been painting together since 2006. A lot of my ideas come about from years of art direction in Grosse Pointe Michigan and Los Angeles California. There is no true formula.
Jeff: There is no exact formula, but generally I start with and idea or a suggestion. I then find whatever I need to either hand draw and or create the piece digitally. Some things come together quickly from inception and others are a slow burn of concentration. I also have a mental checklist I go through that is based on the ideas of my former friend and mentor Ray Frost Fleming (RIP) that breaks down different aspects of a composition.Who are some of your favorite artists, business people, creatives or intellectuals?
Marie: I get my inspiration to keep moving from, “Do something. Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” -Ted Turner. I have adhered to that for over a decade. It’s important to be a strong leader and an even stronger follower. I get most of my inspiration from music, honestly. Believe it or not, I’m not big on other visual artists. Jeff is an encyclopedia on just about every artist who has ever lived. My creative heroes are musicians/ intellectuals such as Wolf Eyes, Caroliner Rainbow, Sun City Girls, Henry Flynt, Robert Wyatt, and Nick Curry (Momus).
Jeff: I started keeping a list of people. One of my favorite people is Robert Oppenheimer because he took the idea of an atomic bomb from a bunch of formulas on paper to a gigantic hole in the desert hotter than the surface of the sun (https://youtu.be/lb13ynu3Iac). I like how people like Frank Zappa and Steve Jobs were so crazy dedicated to what they were trying to do. Also everything Marshall McLuhan ever said is mind blowing.What has been the highlight of your artistic career so far?
Marie: I’ve been an actress on Mad Men in Los Angeles, had a show at Carnegie Hall in New York, Had a show at the Diane Von Furstenberg Studio in New York, Art Director on each of the coasts, KRS-One has bought our work, Jens Hoffmann has bought our work, and working for myself for years now. I hope these are small potatoes in 5 years, but to accomplish these things before 30 speaks volumes. I want to do as much as I can to make my parents proud on the other side.
Jeff: Nothing particularly stands out, I've been lucky to be a part of a lot of really cool projects and events. I can think of a few crappy moments. Someone once lost a finger. Another show, a water pipe broke in the winter minutes before the opening as people started to arrive. I spent the evening mopping a freezing gallery while telling everyone who showed up that the show was canceled. More than a few shows where the police showed up to question everyone involved.
Please tell us something about yourself that we may not know that influences your work.
Marie: Running! I am an avid runner and feel extremely creative and energized afterward.
Jeff: I have a siamese cat named Dingus who sits on my desk most of the day watching me and sleeping. I frequently ask his opinion on works in progress and make decisions based on his reaction.What are your plans for the future and direction of your work? How do you see yourself growing as an artist?
Marie: Our work has changed so much, you wouldn’t believe it. From Simpsonwave to nihilist comedy, we have grown to do just about everything. This is why we will never be a one trick pony and will not brand ourselves as one entity of work. The most important thing is growing with Jeff as an artist. We have so much fun.
Jeff: We have a lot of plans for our work going in a lot of different directions, we are constantly reconciling what we think is cool versus what people want. Palm Treat was never imagined as having anything to do with Vaporwave when we started it a few years ago. I see myself growing as continuing to uncover more sources of inspiration and ideas to work with. I'm not sure what projects that might lead to because I haven't found them yet.
Do you have any advice for aspiring artists?
Marie: Holy shit yes. Guys, girls, get off your high horse... but don’t accept failure. Be a strong business person. Be confident, firm, and kind all at the same time. If you aren’t type A, make that a goal in your journey to personal growth. Art is communication. If you can’t shake hands with the who’s-who and the well to do’s you’re going to run into a dead end. Put yourself out there, take yourself seriously, be sure of who you are. Don’t go to grad school, don’t waste time partying, and find meaning in something bigger than yourself. Don’t take shit from anyone but be polite about it. Most of all… those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. Fuck 99% of every professor you’ve ever had. If you want to be an artist, don’t go into fine art. No collector will save you from your parent’s basement. Look at art as a skill that will support you financially (indefinitely) in the future.
Jeff: One of the most important things I have observed in the most successful artists is to take your work seriously but not yourself seriously or you will only hear criticism as a personal attack and that will make it much harder to benefit from other people's ideas.
The other advice I have is a sports analogy involving the NBA Championship 1995-96 Chicago Bulls told to me by a trumpet teacher. In summary, it was that Scottie Pippen wasn't very naturally talented but he had an incredible work ethic and that's why he was an all star. Dennis Rodman couldn't be bothered to show up to practice and had no discipline, but had all of the natural talent anyone could ever hope for and that’s what made him an all star. But Air Jordan's are still the most popular shoes 14 years after he retired because Michael Jordan had the natural ability and worked harder than anyone.
I guess the idea isn't to be Michael Jordan, but it's that you have to work quite hard and be very honest with yourself or you will ultimately find yourself on the wrong side of the counter at Starbuck's.
Marie: Jeff nailed this one.
Jeff: Everyone needs to calm down about pretty much everything.