The Believer Interviews Kevin Killian

The Believer Interviews Kevin Killian

An Interview with Kevin Killian

Kevin Killian, photograph courtesy anhintheheart
In a sexier and more exciting world, Kevin Killian would be a household name. For those already living there with his many books—including Shy, Argento Series, Action Kylie, Tweaky Village, and most recently, Tony Greene Era—it would be too easy to say that Kevin Killian is a writer’s writer; because his heartfelt, hilarious, horrific, horny, humanistic texts are an invitation to drastically reconsider what writing can do. Kevin wears a lot of hats: he is a gleefully corrupting patron of queer experimental literature; one of the most exalted reviewers of all-time on; and an inveterate collaborator whose work with visual artists, not to mention his own photography, opens onto ever-more surprising situations. With his wife, the writer Dodie Bellamy, he is the editor of Writers Who Love Too Much, a landmark anthology of New Narrative—an influential movement of sexually explicit, formally experimental prose that he and Dodie helped to forge.I caught up with Kevin in New York, where he was on his way to celebrate the 80th birthday of poet and artist John Giorno, hoping for dish. I wasn’t disappointed. Here’s a taste. —Cam Scott

I. ""Is it all over my face?"

THE BELIEVER: Let’s talk about your latest collection of poems, Tony Greene Era. Many of your books have a proper noun as a muse or interpretive key: Dario Argento, Kylie Minogue. So maybe I would start by asking, who is Tony Greene?

KEVIN KILLIAN: Greene was a LA-based painter who died in 1990, of AIDS. After his death there was a memorial show that traveled to a few places here and there, and a beautiful little book called Exhausted Autumn, in which poets and writers paid tribute to him. But then the world never heard of him again, or only in a rarefied context. Greene had graduated from CalArts with a tiny reputation. But of his cohort were a few artists who went onto great things—Richard Hawkins, Cathy Opie, Judie Bamber, Monica Majoli among them—artists who achieved enough cultural capital to join forces twenty-five years later and say, “Let’s bring Tony’s work back”. When Hawkins was asked to participate in the 2014 Whitney Biennial he said, “I will, if you’ll let me fill a room with Tony Greene’s paintings.” That made people sit up and take notice, as did the shows Opie organized at the Hammer, and Bamber and Majoli did at the MAK Center at L.A.’s Schindler House. I was sent to survey them for Artforum, and also brought in to give a talk at the Iceberg Projects show in Chicago, one which paired Greene’s paintings with works by younger artists inspired by his legend and example. And that talk formed the heart of my book.

BLVR: Were those the over-painted pornographic photographs?KK: So you saw them at the Whitney! Tony would clip pictures from boy magazines and paste them over fabulous baroque or renaissance backdrops, then redecorate them so each surface looked like it was touched with gold leaf. I gather that he had the AIDS diagnosis at a time when it really meant a death sentence, and maybe in one year’s time he was able to complete an enormous number of pictures, 50, 60, 70. I mean, it would take me five years to do one of those works. My figures may be way off, but it was in any case a large amount of work.BLVR: So the time of those works coincides with the time of his illness? KK: Some of them were created before he was diagnosed, perhaps. Seen in bulk they remind one of the richness and grandeur of a generation that we don’t really know what they would have been.
Read the full interview at The Believer Logger