Tim Biskup is an American artist from Los Angeles–which makes things complicated and easy at the same time since, well, no one is actually from Los Angeles. People are born here, people leave here, and people come here: no one stays forever. He sits in a glass corner of his house, a corner that was recently transformed from playroom to lounge. The view of a pool in the background taunts, but doesn’t invite as it’s cold outside.
“I was born in Santa Monica but I grew up in Woodland Hills as a kid,” he says casually, “and then one day, a car drove through the front of our house.” He laughs nonchalantly, breezing past the car. “We lived on a busy corner in Woodland Hills and that was it for my mom. She was just like, ‘Well, time to move to the country!’”
He and his family moved up to Lake Tahoe when he was fourteen, where he ended up finishing school. “After high school, I went to OTIS to go to art school in LA. I did two years of that and it just was not for me. The art world at that time–this was ‘86 through ‘88–was just way too much thinking and conceptualizing and not enough technical stuff, you know? I wanted to learn to paint and draw and I just felt overwhelmed by all the thinking, the BS that was going on.” He laughs, hypercasually, “I think I was a little lazy, too.”
Thus, the second door closed on Los Angeles: he moved north, to Fresno. “I left and started a record label. I had always been in bands, like in high school, and I started putting out records and ended up owning a record store. I put out a lot of really bizarre, experimental records and some punk rock. It was really all over the place. But, I enjoyed that for a long time and then drawing and printing covers was more interesting than the music at some point.”
Which, yet again, opened the door back to the city. But, this time, things would be a little more consistent. Living room crashing cars and disappointing art school experiences were out of the picture. Cartoon animation was in, though.
“I got rid of the record store and moved to LA and got an animation job. And, at the same time, I was doing graphics for skateboard companies and stuff like that. Visual art got interesting again for me–when I saw Ren and Stimpy and started going to Disneyland again. The things I really liked about art became clear to me.”
Biskup worked at a lot of studios: Klasky-Csupo, Hyperion, Disney, and Spümcø with John K. But, even while working at one place, he was keeping busy at another. “I worked on Bjork’s video [at Spümcø] for a couple of months and stayed on for a long time just doing TV commercials and stuff like that. I always did freelance, so I’d be working full-time at Cartoon Network and be doing freelance for Nickelodeon and Disney and Film Roman or something like that”
And, while working as an animator, he was constantly making art and getting his art out into the world, on his own terms. “I started doing these kind of guerrilla-style live auctions at bars. And I would just get a bunch of friends to take art to this bar and we would invite people and we would get on the microphone and we would auction our work off…I had friends like Mark Ryden, Gary Baseman, Glenn Barr, and all these people who were putting work into these things and it really was the launch pad for my career in the fine art world. And, a lot of other people’s too! There were other artists who were working in animation and illustration that found an audience like that. And now, they’re just artists. It’s awesome. ”
His strong will and drive to create on his own term is what would define him, an element that he finds to be do-it-yourself derived from his punk rock background. “I left art school because I just couldn’t think about my work in the way that people seemed to be telling me I needed to think about my work. I had to do my own thing. I had to learn my own way and so when it came to showing at a gallery: if I couldn’t show at a gallery the way I wanted to, if [showing at a gallery] wasn’t easy, then I would do auctions. And, when I got the opportunity to make toys, I had so many galleries and other artists telling me ‘Don’t do it: they won’t take you seriously.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t care. Maybe I should but I can’t not do the thing that is going in the direction of where my art is going.’ I’ve always been that way: I’ve always made the wrong choice that turned out to be right for me in some way. I think there are more people in Los Angeles that are comfortable with making choices for themselves and not choices based on the trajectory of their career.
“I think Jeffrey Deitch is a perfect example of that. The fact that he chooses artists based on what he likes and what he thinks is cool and not based on what other people think he should be showing. I don’t know him personally, so I don’t know to what extent that is the case, but it seems to me for him to all of a sudden have Barry McGee, front and center, to kind of transform his career? I just saw that as miraculous. At the time, I was just like, ‘Oh my God: this guy is doing something really amazing.’”
Biskup is a man who doesn’t take any shit from anyone and, truly, does what he wants. Like Deitch and McGee and other contemporaries, he is proud to know what he wants and does what he wants. This is something that I believe we can pin on to his punk rock background because, deep down inside, Tim Biskup is a rockstar. A supercool, risktaking, animation inspired, hilarious rockstar–which may or may not have anything to do with Los Angeles, but the city does in fact coddle it.
“I read somewhere, an interview with a gallerist in New York, [where] they were saying, ‘We’re not interested in an artist who wants to be a star. We’re interested in an artist whose work means more to them than their personal fame.’ I thought that’s bullshit because Andy Warhol and Dali and those guys: they were pop stars and they changed the way that people looked at art. They made people want to go to galleries–you know what I mean? There’s this kind of disdain for artists being popular because they’re interesting or attractive or whatever. I think that sucks, I think it’s a drag. Seeing Murakami on the morning news one day, I’m like, ‘Awesome.’ That’s great, that’s what I want. I want there to be artists that are so interesting that they end up on Conan or David Letterman or something. That hasn’t happened yet but I’m really hoping that there is a time when that happens.”
Yet, this goes back to more than just the artist as a personality, but also the artist’s art as entertainment–which seems to be a little unique to Los Angeles. “There’s a new kind of art that’s happening that is a hybrid of conceptual art and aesthetic art, aesthetic beauty. I think when you combine those things you come up with something really interesting. That’s what I think the art world is diving into right now. It’s blossoming in LA more. I think it’s happening all over the world but I think in Los Angeles it’s very, very widely accepted.”
But, what exactly is that? One could attribute this combination to the explosion of the Internet and things being more accessible, but Los Angeles’ close ties to show business seem to be what makes it unique. And, a step ahead in where art is heading. “A lot of the patrons of the arts [in Los Angeles] are people from the movie industry and people from the entertainment world. I think, at least on some level, they have to have some effect when saying, ‘We really like this kind of work.’ Galleries sell this kind of work more easily here then they do in New York. Because, in New York, if you take home a Mark Ryden painting and hang it on your wall, less of your friends are gonna look at it and go, ‘Whoa: that’s awesome!’ than your friends that are gonna go, ‘What is that? That looks like a kid’s illustration.’ You know? It’s just sentimental.
“You get the same complaints that you get from art critics, that this work is ‘too personal…too sentimental…this work just doesn’t have depth.’ I think that a lot of that kind of work really cancels out people’s ability to look deeper into the work because they just see the surface level and they go, ‘Eh, its just entertainment.’
“People go to the street art show at MOCA and they go, ‘Oh, man: such a sell out.’ It’s all just fun and great and everything. But, if you look beyond that and you look to the work in there that is really good and compelling and has deeper levels to it, there’s some really amazing stuff in there.”
And, Biskup is exactly right: he is in a league of contemporary artists that are pushing boundaries and mediums, dipping into the commercial world to win an audience. Moreover, this is something closely linked to Hollywood and the idea of art as entertainment. As everything has become in the twenty first century, your success is based on how many Likes and Followers you have. Biskup embraces that and represents a future in art that is growing here.
And, as far as the city, it doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere–since he now has his own family here. He lived all around the city, but found the perfect spot in La Cañada: a nice, quiet slice of mid-century modern heaven (quite akin to the house in A Single Man). “[I] was looking for a place with a better school district and a little bit more space. And then when I saw this place, it was just like–forget it–that’s it. The rest of my life, that’s what I want. I’ve been in this place for five years and I quit working in animation about…I guess, seven years ago now? Seven or eight years ago. And all I’ve been doing is showing my art all over the world. And you know, DJ-ing as a hobby.”