An Interview with Cover Artist Angelo Madsen Minax
Finding a cover artist for a literary magazine is an art unto itself. Every issue, Foglifter reviews the content, style and aesthetic of our band of fabulous new contributors, and then seeks art that speaks to the current cadre of assembled writers. This go-round, we found the performative empathy of multimedia artist Madsen Minax.
1. What is dominating your studio right now?
Hard drives. And receipts.
2. How is your latest project coming along? Better yet, what is it?
I am usually working on about four different projects, so I’ll pick one to talk about! For the last 4 years, I’ve been working on a film with my family of origin to consider cross-relational issues of addiction, incarceration, queerness, and ruralness. That said, it’s really a film about trying to understand how humans can connect to each other beyond and through all of their trauma. The project is called North By Current.
3. Why have you moved in this direction with your work? What provoked the choice?
I don’t know how much of a choice it was. The way I move through things best is to integrate them into work, this goes for relationship building too. Want to be my friend? Work on a project with me. Haha. I needed a venue to engage creatively with my family of origin and this project creates that, while also facilitating many other processes for us, and hopefully contributing to larger conversations too.
4. What do you believe is your role as an artist in this cultural climate? (I know, this question is overplayed, but I love the different answers I get from artists!) I think assuming you have a role to play is a slippery slope to thinking that you’re more important then you are (or maybe I’ve been hanging out with my mom too much?).
My role as an artist is the same as my role as a human: to practice being kind and patient and generous to myself and others. I don’t do it very well most of the time. That’s why it’s hard as hell.
5. What’s going on with queer/trans art? Do you see an emerging aesthetic? Is it too multiplicitous to be determined in any general way? You can muse on this question however you’d like.
Queer/Trans art is not a genre or an aesthetic. Neither is black art, nor crip art, nor any other identity or position an artist comes from, in my humble opinion. I know lots of people feel differently about this, and I’m known to feel differently about it from time to time. There are trends that emerge in any field of study or practice, art included, subcultural art included. One minute we’re all obsessed with queer futurity, then next week it’s all queer temporality. I don’t really know. I try to stick with the things that are close to home for inspiration, and not get sucked out too far into queer/trans theory land—stay grounded in the things that have always compelled me: landscape, place, love, intimacy, sex, kinship, spirituality, etc.
6. Your work has a quietness to it, despite possessing a social justice vantage. What experience(s) thus far has/have contributed most to your development of this approach, as an artist/person? What would you say are your most prominent influences on your studio practice, currently?
Currently and for the last five years I would say that landscape is in the forefront of my mind. Place cannot be understood separate from people or history, in the same way that “issues” cannot be understood in a vacuum. They are relational and compounding and interlinked and individual and systemic. How these issues, or problems are positioned makes all the difference. For us to experience empathy, we need to have some sort of emotional entry point. I think being a musician and songwriter has really driven my process in other media. Music has a gutteralness that is undeniable. I want my projects to make people feel something, and I want to feel something about them. I think the quietness is part of cultivating a feeling—a sense of something about to happen. You can’t preach justice. You just have to embed it in everything you do and make.
7. What are the obstacles you’re facing in the creation of your current work? Any demons? Anything perhaps less ominous than demons? What prevents you from creating, if you will?
My current long-format project is all-consuming, intellectually and emotionally. It’s challenging to make time for the work, because it’s not something you can dabble in and out of. If I’m going to go down the emotional rabbit hole, I need a solid 6+ hours to dedicate to it, preferably somewhere between 8–12. If I can’t get all of that time in one chunk, which is difficult these days, I tend to procrastinate. That is a new demon for me. I’ve never been a procrastinator before now!
8. Do you think we’re making any progress in the art world for POC, queer, trans, and intersectional voices? And if so, how would you assess that progress? (I know this is a big question, so feel free to answer however you like.)
I don’t know how to assess progress, and think it’s probably better assessed by people more knowledgeable of the histories of these movements than me—it takes more than being part of them to be able to speak to and/or for them. I do know that I recently changed my name for the second time in my life and it was so much easier than the first time (2006), I couldn’t believe it. Primarily in how people responded to my decision. There was a very consistent tone of, “Well, you just want to be called what you want to be called.” Which of course is obvious, but you can’t expect simple rationality from most humans. So there is movement here. Whether it’s forward or backward or side to side is hard to tell sometimes. And there is always a trade. Always.
9. What artists are proving to be influential to you, at this time?
Right now I am having an awesome time watching my peers fly high—artists that I feel like I came of age with that are now having their years of work recognized in really meaningful ways feels awesome. I’m thinking about Leidy Churchman’s epic Art Forum essay this month, or Edie Fake’s new work, and there are a lot of doc film world people that I’m really excited about right now, especially in seeing how their work has evolved over the last 10 years—Penny Lane, Sam Green, Matt Wolf. Troy Mitchie and Sarah Mihara Creagen are some 2-D powerhouses in my book.
10. How about folks outside of art who inspire you currently? Why?
My old music days buddies still towing the line there inspire me. I’m thinking of Annah Anti-Palindrome, Brenna Sahatjian, EMA, and ways they have consistently moved their work forward. My “non artist” friends inspire me constantly and I love that in my close circle, I’m kind of the only artist. It’s care-givers, pre-school teachers, therapists, dommes, librarians, poets, musicians, non-profit workers, sex workers, it’s a good mix. It’s good for keeping your feet on the ground.
11. Share with us a queer/trans artist that we may not have heard of that would be worth looking for.
Well I gave you ten names in question 9. But here’s one more: Macon Reed. And you should probably follow David the Robot and Rio Sophia on Instagram too.
12. Let’s change gears. You are more than only an artist. When you aren’t in the studio, what are you doing?
This may be the first time I’ve ever openly confessed to this in an interview. But when I’m not in the studio I’m at the gym. I’m really into CrossFit and love my gym in Vermont. And it offers me a space to be present with my body where I am working with my body and sharing an experience with my body that is about celebrating what my body can do instead of hating it for what it isn’t. And lezbe real, I like goals.
13. Are you currently in love (whatever that means to you)? What does that do to you?
I have so much love I don’t know what to do with it all! I have eight nieces and nephews, and a bio family who has worked their asses off to be where they are, I have deep love within my friendships. The kind where you can not talk about anything for hours and spoon and eat ice cream. Maybe TMI.
14. When are you next coming to see us in the Bay?
I’m researching a new film project this December. I can’t talk about it just yet, but it’s going to be amazing.
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