Over the next few weeks, Punknews is running a series called Rad Women who Make Rad Art. The series is a string of interviews with some of the most exciting female visual artists that have connections with music, today. You can check out the previous entries with Nation of Amanda, Kristen Ferrell, and Liz Prince. Today's segment is with the lovely but, also fierce-as-hell, Lora Norton.
Lora Norton is one fiery woman, I will tell you that. The first time I saw her singing for her band, The Chuck Dukowski Sextet, her howl was so scary that I ran and hid in the bathroom for the rest of the set (she also has a beautiful singing voice, too, and the band straight up rocks).
But, on top of that, Norton is a visual artist making art that is trippy, scary, and beautiful. She's got one drawing of a rabbit zapping people's brains. There's another with a green, pregnant woman. I really like the one where a woman's hair is turning into ghosts and snakes.
Click Read More to see features editor John Gentile's interview with Norton.
When you agreed to do the interview, you told me that you didn't consider yourself a "punk rock artist." I think you're pretty punk. But, "punk" is a self-defining term, so if you say you aren't, then you aren't. I'm curious as to why you don't consider yourself punk. Do you feel that the term is limiting or comes with unwanted baggage?
I grew up loving punk music and going to shows. Black Flag was my favorite. My friends and I used to even travel around to see their shows, so it's nice for me that I ended up marrying Chuck Dukowski! I identify with punk, but I prefer the term "counter-culture." If I use the term counter-culture I can include my 88-year-old grandmother!
I don't think my art is very "punk." There is an aesthetic attached to punk, created by geniuses like Vivienne Westwood and Raymond Pettibon, which I love, but my work is different. I don't transform ugliness with my visual art. I am not a nihilist. I don't want to destroy - making something great is too hard. I like beauty, color, contortion and sexuality. Even my physical appearance is not punk. My hair is so long it practically touches the ground.
What got you interested in the visual arts?
I've always loved to draw. I have always loved art and music. I am driven to make the world around me as beautiful and interesting as I can. I believe in the DIY ethos. I try to wear clothes that I've made myself when I perform with my band, The CD6 aka The Chuck Dukowski SEXTET. I love it when people take the time to look unique. I'm lucky that everyone in my family is very artistic, most of them work in the arts in one form or another.
How did you improve your technique? Did you go to formal training?
Drawing is easy for me, but I improve when I practice more. I did not have formal training. Sometimes I find myself buying a book to understand some technical thing like silkscreens or preparing watercolor paper. I'm weird- I don't want to be in a class, I really just want to go in a corner and do my own thing.
A good deal of your art seems to feature people with elongated limbs, necks, or fingers. I wonder if there is an inherent theme to that construct.
I love that imagery. There is a legendary Japanese creature a rokurokubi that is a woman whose neck stretches at night while she is sleeping. When you have that strange perspective in a dream, you could have turned into a rokurokubi, looking out from your freakishly elongated neck!
I am also interested in deformity. My youngest daughter works at The Venice Beach Freakshow, sometimes. Some humans and animals suffer from being different, and that's sad, but there is still a beauty in their uniqueness. Milo, my oldest son, is a contortionist and an acrobat, in addition to being my band's genius guitar player. The way he can transform his body is an inspiration to me. His discipline schools posers the world over! It puts me to shame!
Similarly, I notice a lot of asymmetrical characters in your work. Does that tend to represent a broader message?
I like asymmetrical eyes. I don't know why. I also like extra arms.
Both as a visual artist and as a recording artist, you have investigated the concept of motherhood. Still, this is rare in recorded music, and perhaps in the visual arts. Why is motherhood an important topic to address in visual art?
I was a teenage mother. I have had children for my entire adult life. Though it has been hard at times, I am so grateful to have people I care about more than I care about myself. How weird and beautiful and hardcore is it to grow this slimy little person inside your body? How fierce and unrelenting is my love for them? I wish artists and musicians would address the issues of parenting more because becoming a parent is typically the most conservative-making act in your life. You might have been a crazy rebel, but when you look into that tiny face - it's scary. You wonder 'How am I going to do right by this child?' Most often the answer is, "I'll do what my parents did." Consumer culture has caught on to this moment of insecurity to sell you a bunch of crap. The powers that be play on your fears. It empowers the police state and more.
How do you see music and the visual arts intersecting?
Music and visual arts enhance each other. Raymond Pettibon is one of the best examples. Black Flag wouldn't be as great without him. Black Flag would still be great, but he added something incalculable. I love Black Sabbath but their graphics are mediocre. I'm not a big Grateful Dead person, but they have some of the greatest graphics in the history of music.
Is your art created with a specific meaning or perspective, or is it less calculated and more organic?
Totally organic. Stuff just comes out. If I get too self-conscious‚?¶ ugh, that's the worst.
There is a good deal of conversation about whether it is difficult for women to exist in the music community. Do you think that it is easier, harder, or the same to be a woman in the visual arts? Why?
I often find that I am the only girl in a group of musicians. I don't think about it that much. I love men. Sometimes young girls tell me that I am inspirational which is nice. I love that moment when I'm performing and I go into a scream- people are shocked. I don't look like I can sing like that. Creating visual art is a solitary act. It is fundamentally different to me than playing in a band. I am not in the "art world." I don't really know, but I expect it's pretty fucking sexist.
Have you ever had anyone use your work without authorization? If so, what did you do about it?
I don't worry about it. I guess I would be mad if someone used my work to advertise something stupid.
Have you found the art world to be competitive, supportive, or both? Why?
I hate competition in art and in music. It's destructive and pointless. I actively try to encourage others and find joy in their successes. My husband Chuck is the best at this. He naturally activates and encourages the people around him. It's such a magical and unusual quality.
What do you have in the works?
The CD6 just finished some recording. For the first time, we did it all analog which was cool. The songs have a theme and I hope to do some art to accompany them. Chuck's recent touring with FLAG and all its attendant rock and roll drama has been a distraction for me- but also a joy. I love those guys with all my heart!