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An Interview with Skinner


The first time I encountered Skinner's work was when I was a gallery host at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History's exhibit for the 30th anniversary of the Screaming Hand. I was overtaken by the passion of his contribution to the exhibit. I did meet him briefly that night. He was quite humble, admiring the other paintings and making self-deprecating comments. Amidst the chaos of the opening reception, however, it was hard to really carry a conversation. But my curiosity about his art did not cease, and I tracked him down for an interview years after the exhibit.


It may come as a surprise to some readers that I would consider myself a fan of Skinner's, as his dark and macabre imagery is a departure from my usual sunshine-and-kitty-cats visuals. But, in the words of Walt Whitman, I am large, I contain multitudes! There's something about the coarseness of his art that I find profoundly touching. I think what I really respond to is Skinner's vulnerability and sincerity. His work conveys a scope of human emotion. It’s pure, it’s thoroughgoing. It has a painful sort of beauty. I may not be able to fully grasp the cultural references Skinner makes, but I can relate to that feeling. That’s something you can appreciate whether you listen to metal or bubblegum pop.


During the interview, Skinner was wholly unpretentious and never questioned why I would want to interview him. I didn’t have to prove myself. He answered my questions more frankly than I was used to. He stated everything so ordinarily that it wasn’t until I transcribed the interview that I realized the wisdom he had imparted.


Who are your inspirations right now?

You know what's weird? I used to have a clearer understanding of what my inspirations were. Then I started following all these artists on Instagram and now it's like just a swirling tornado of inspirations. But I would say like, I mean, the old school ones that I always loved, Bernie Wrightson, Jack Kirby, Lucille Ball, RuPaul. I like RuPaul's Drag Race, that's inspiring to me. Miss Vanjie, I like Miss Vanjie. Philippe Druillet, Moebius. There's a lot of cool female artists on Instagram. There's this girl I met recently, her name is smelly.elle on Instagram, who's really great. Just anybody who's just really doing their thing and not giving a shit, y'know? Just feeling free. Whoever that is, that's my inspiration I guess.


What work are you most proud of?

Anything where I got better along the way. Or anything where I learned something about myself as I was doing it, y'know? And usually that means doing something I'm super uncomfortable with. So, anything I'm uncomfortable doing, where I learn and I grow, that's what I'm proud of.


Can you think of an example of that?

Yeah, like I just finished a movie. I filmed a movie in Atlanta. It's my first legitimate acting situation. I thought I did a good job. It was sort of uncomfortable but it was also really rewarding and fun because I just didn't doubt what I was doing the whole time. It was amazing. It was the best. Because you never know. It could suck, you know? There's always that chance it could be terrible and you just want to be small and hide in a corner with the shadows like a cockroach or something, I don't know.


What's the best compliment you've ever been given?

You know, I can't really think of any specific thing. Anything validating when I'm doing something risky, y'know? I hosted this metal show and it was very hard to navigate because I didn't have any jokes planned. I was just improving the whole time and it was really fun. But I think any time that somebody sees what you're doing and understands it, and they say that. The best compliment I'll ever get is when I feel like somebody can really see me for what my intentions are. The good thing is it only takes one person to do that. It's kind of nice to feel understood by someone's comment. It may be lost on everyone else, but that one person saw what I was trying to do. It doesn't even have to be a compliment, even if somebody just acknowledges what I do.


What advice would you give to your younger self?

Fucking relax. Try to get on some anti-anxiety medication. It's not as serious as you think it is. Just relax. It's not worth freaking out over. Because I would just freak out all the time, like "What is life? What is this shit?"


What's something you thought was cool when you were younger that you no longer think is cool?

I used to love metal that has overt masculine tendencies and screaming when I was young and angry. But now I'm like, Jesus Christ, someone shut these fuckers up, y'know? Why are they screaming? They sound like babies screaming through a distortion pedal. I live in Oakland which is a beautifully diverse city. Heteronormative tendencies that people have that just keep them in a safe place of cultural and emotional familiarity is boring to me now. I love seeing people expand and grow into the amazing performative people that they are, if their queer, trans, gender fluid, or just experimenting with what identity means and who they are. I think that's really cool. That's something I was never used to that I became a big fan of, those people who go one these journeys with themselves.


What's been the most transformative experience of your life?

Trying to develop self love. It's so hard. It's crushing. But that's probably the most transformative thing, realizing that it's actually my job to not continue the self-neglect that my parents showed me, and trying to learn how to self-accept. It's transformative, it's ultra difficult, and it's a process that I don't know will end. Life is a long, horrible, miserable ride but it can be super fun and interesting and beautiful if you allow it to be, y'know?


Can you think of an anecdote that describes your journey with self love?

I had this epiphany a couple of weeks ago. I went to see my therapist and I was talking about how it's so difficult to get away from the narrative that we develop when we're growing up. If you have parents that are too busy or too fucked up to really give you what you need, you'll grow up with this kind of emotional, spiritual wound of not having enough connection to people. So, you'll be convinced your whole life that you're not worth that. So I realized it's not necessarily me but it is the narrative in my mind that you're not worthy of love. But whenever you allow that narrative to play out inside your mind over and over again, you're allowing your mind to abuse you. You're just doing violence to yourself, your emotional state, if you continue to give power to this narrative that you don't deserve love. It's just something that is weird, because everyone is carrying these bizarre narratives inside themselves, if they're good, if they're bad. I think we all think we're secretly the only ones with that going on. But I think that self love comes from effort, knowing what your flaws are and putting in a little bit of work to change those things and to accept you're not perfect along the way. It's hard. Easier said than done.