I'll admit it: When I look at an artist's work, I imagine what the artist I'm meeting is like. Most of the time, the artist matches the work. But with David Meanix, that isn't the case at all. I was expecting someone dark and brooding. Instead I met someone charming, funny, enthusiastic, ambitious, and talented. (Bonus points to Mr. Meanix for giving us one hell of a photo shoot. The man can work some pink pumps.)
Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons
Phillip M. Miner: Your work is so original. Could you let me and the readers know more about your process?
David Meanix: I photograph my subject inch by inch, then take the prints of those images and apply them to the original subject. Tearing the edges just came to me as I tried to shape the photos onto my subject as quickly as possible. I only want to use the angle of that inch of skin in the center of each photo. I tear off what I don't need.
A lot of people see my work as destroyed images -- people torn and destroyed. I thought about this, and I see them many ways at once. There's creation within destruction. You have to destroy old ways to create new ones. Am I living or dying? Are my fears real of imagined?
For me, the genesis of my work is dance. Life is one big dance of creation, step by step, into each present moment. It's a series of changing directions and adjustments, often in a peaceful flow -- if you let it be.
Miner: And for you, each image in your sculptures represents an adjustment?
Meanix: Totally. My life has been about adjustments, dancing between realities. I grew up in Pennsyltucky. [Laughs.] Downingtown/West Chester, Pa. Suburbia. I was raised Catholic and such a goodie two-shoes, willingly brainwashed, Jesus-loving kid. All I saw was the love he preached and was in total denial of the repression. Then puberty and reality hit, uh, hard. [Laughs.]
I was super-happy-go-lucky and expressive, to a point, while at the same time super-distraught [about my sexuality] on the inside, fearing eternal damnation, family excommunication, ever-growing/unending shame, and the hateful society. I'm lucky I had/have a very loving, huggy, funny, sarcastic family. I wasn't sure how much I could trust them to still love me if the truth came out, though, so I managed to cultivate a circle of queer friends and allies.
Miner: Was dance/movement important to you growing up?
Meanix: I won school dance contests and the talent show twice! In ninth grade I flashdanced to "Maniac"! I was determined to win after my English teacher, one of the judges, called me a "faggot" in front of the whole class the day after auditions. I wore the off-shoulder sweatshirt, leg warmers, did the fast feet, the diving-forward roll. I even mimed the water splashing on me from above, to a scream of applause.
Miner: That's amazing. Were you out to your classmates?
Meanix: I was outed later in high school, after being crushed by a super-cute classmate that stopped talking to me once he was clued in to my affections via rumor mill. That was the beginning of downward-spiral, total-depression times.
Most of my family still didn't know, and after trying to get through my first year of college [in Pennsylvania] utterly depressed and scared, I broke down and was hospitalized for almost a month, suicidal thoughts and everything. I was outed to them by my sister, who called them one by one, announcing I'm gay, suicidal and hospitalized. Not cute. I still regret I didn't plan it better. I'd much rather have thrown a "David's gay, everybody!" dance party.
Portrait by Daniel Jack Lyons
Miner: Where did you go from there?
Meanix: San Francisco! I transferred colleges and moved to queer utopia. I totally embraced getting my freak on. Imagine San Francisco during the '90s, before the dot-com explosion. You could do anything you wanted, and everything was about multiculturalism and identity politics. It was so politically correct; all of the inclusion was really freeing. After a while I began to realize I was living in a politically correct bubble. Even I can't live in a nonreality that long. [Laughs.]
Miner: Then L.A.?
Meanix: Yes, I was there for 10 years; it was such an adventure. I started to show my work there. In San Francisco my work was so open-diary personal and autobiographical. You have to get through that shit to get to the good stuff -- hopefully. [Laughs.]
Miner: I can imagine. Do you consider yourself a queer artist or an artist who is queer?
Meanix: If you're queer and an artist, of course you're a queer artist, but I'm an artist first. First you're an artist. Well, first you're a person. Then you're creative. And then maybe you're queer -- which helps you to be more creative. [Laughs.]
Miner: Because of my queerness, I became adept at creating new versions of myself to conform to society, and I see that in your work. Was that what it was like for you?
Meanix: I realized I was gay in kindergarten and realized I had to hide certain pieces of myself to survive. Like, I constantly monitored how I behaved in straight environments. I've always talked and acted differently among straight men. I don't know if I'm fixated on it or if it's a survival mechanism, but it's how I learned I had to protect myself. Now I'm showing all the pieces!
I didn't realize that until after I began doing photoscupture. When I think about my work, I see all of the different aspects of myself and how I shuffle them around equally. Really, my work is about tearing through all the bullshit and being yourself.
Miner: I like that. What's this I hear about a dancing robot thing happening?
Meanix: I've spent enough time with photosculpture that I know how lifelike it is and how it looks like it could start breathing. I needed to figure out a way to make it move. I decided to do something modern and futuristic, so, yeah, dancing robots. I thought, "Let's bring it to life internally and humanize the fuck out of it."
The project was accepted by NYFA [New York Foundation of the Arts]. So I had to start looking for the money for this project. (NYFA doesn't give me any money; they just manage it.) Robots are not cheap. They're at least half a million dollars for a life-size, dancing robot that's customized for an art project. My greatest fear is that I get it done and the robot is out of date by the next month.
Miner: Luckily, there aren't many artbots around, so I think you'll be OK.
Meanix: [Laughs.] Right! I don't want only gallery shows for this; I want to bring the robot around to elementary schools. When I was a kid in Pennsyltucky, the assemblies that came to elementary school were lifesavers; it's the only time I was exposed to anything artistic or queer. I want to return the favor.
Miner: Tell me more about the robot.
Meanix: There'd be robotic machinery, but the photosculpture "skin" surface layers would be different and removable. I want the first model to be a woman, probably an African-American woman. I'll put one skin on, and the robot would do a dance, and then put another skin on and have the dance completely change. The dances would be each model's dance. If you [Phil] were a skin, the robot would dance like you. Then a David suit would go on and dance like me. Everyone's dance is unique, but essentially we're all the same on the inside.
Check out some images of David's work (NSFW):
To learn more about David's dancing robot, visit SpinsTheDancingRobot.com.