Wednesday, November 21, 2012

interview #5 - carl smith

The Mr. Becos interview series continues with Carl Smith, a painter, musician and IRS employee living in Texas. Some of Carl's art can be viewed HERE.

Mr. Becos: You're doing a lot of work as a visual artist these days, but you previously gained notoriety as a saxophone wielding free jazz missionary who managed to get banned from many clubs. Tell us a few good stories about getting banned.

Smith: Thanks for your question. There are not too many stories about that. Most places I got my band banned from, the owners were pretty nice about it. I would usually just get a "Don't call us for any more gigs, ever" and they would at least wait till the end of the set to say it. It was weird though, but maybe the music was really that bad? I am not sure. It was very frustrating. It only happened about five times and I could usually find somewhere to play. We are talking about Texas. Folks are not all that up on that creative music stuff here, but I wanted to play so bad, you know?

Mr. Becos: You grew up in Houston. Did you ever meet Bushwick Bill of the Ghetto Boys? Spend any time in the 5th Ward neighborhood that he's always going on and on about?

Smith: I was born in the 4th ward, but never met Bushwick Bill. When I was about five my father moved away from there because he had a car battery stolen from his car about every month. It was nuts and got way worse in the 1980s.  I had friends that would dare me to walk down one block in the 5th ward while they would watch from a car a safe distance away. Those bets won me 20 bucks! You have to be invisible, which is a skill I have perfected. I am street smart, though no one seems to care about that. Most people want to know where I went to college. F*ck college! I was actually a pretty tough kid, though I am rather soft now, I would get in fights! I usually got my ass kicked though.
These are great questions! Do you do this at work?

Mr. Becos: This is my job. I make so much money interviewing street smart invisible men. Did you ever use your skills of invisibility to commit a criminal act?

Smith: Great question. But honestly I have never done anything that exciting. I am way to old to commit crimes.

Mr. Becos: Was it actually you stealing the car batteries so your dad would get you out of the ghetto?

Smith: I was too young for that. And also not very smart.

Mr. Becos: What made you put down the horn and pick up the brush?

Smith: I always wanted to paint as a kid but did not get to for lots of boring, poverty based, etc. reasons. Music has become increasingly more difficult to organize lately and make work with my current job. I can kinda make art whenever, you know? So its a little easier, its also an expensive hobby and I kinda have some bread to get supplies now that I did not have before.

I really got into music when I moved from Houston to Austin, thinking I would make friends better if I played music. I got sucked into creative music. It was actually pretty hip in the mid 1990s and I just thought it was always that way, not realizing it was a trend at the time. I started organizing free jazz bands and put a lot into it without a plan b, which everyone should have by the way. I actually put in too much it seems and got burnt out. Sometimes I get calls for gigs, maybe once every couple of months, but I have not organized my own groups for a while. I have an album that I have not found a home for I finished this year.

Mr. Becos: On one of their live intros Slayer exclaims: "Some say the pen is mightier than the sword, but I say fuck the pen because you can die by the sword!!!" What do you think about this?

Smith: You can die by the fucking pen! One of those old timey ones you dip in the jar. Straight to the neck, and there would be not one shred of glory in it, either. Death by sword though, that’s pretty awesome. Civil war style. These are great questions. Where do you come up with this stuff?

Mr. Becos: You put out a couple of albums in German. Why?

Smith: I was learning German at the time. I wanted to learn at least one other language besides English and German is the easiest. For the albums though, I have no good reason really. Albums are weird, right? I prefer concerts. But felt like I needed to make some. The last album I made was called WittiW, which is not German but some dumb word I made up. I am growing it turns out?

Mr. Becos: My knowledge of art history is poor, but I can see that your paintings seem to belong to a specific branch of the abstract family and be  relatively consistent in some stylistic way. I have three questions.  Who are a couple of your favorite painters? Do you work mostly intuitively or with some end in mind? When I was in junior high school there was a fellow student who painted a piece called "The Man With Radish Hands" using his own blood. Have you ever used non traditional materials such as this?

Smith: I have never used blood, but I have made sculptures, or assemblages, or whatever the fuck they are called, that used a lot of spray foam and spackling paste and shit like that. I would love to see "The Man With Radish Hands"

I am trying to make abstract art. I like this guy: PETER MASLOW and this guy: BRIAN RUTENBERG

I have a pretty specific process with painting. I make a pastel sketch of whatever my idea is and then I execute it with paint on canvas but it changes a lot as it goes on. The best part of the process is when I can trash the sketch and focus on the piece instead of looking back and forth at the paper sketch. I guess it’s intuitive, but it does require a lot of stopping and looking and thinking. And it is often based on a series of ideas I am working on at the time that seem to have a specific development that is usually a variation of an idea. I like to work in a series. I mean like 30 or 40 of a series; as many as possible. That way you increase the odds one of them will work out. So many of them don't.

So much of the decision making process is based on so much baggage, and of course all artists are limited by their limitations. Being aware of those are very important. The fine tuning towards the end is the least fun part.

Painting is really hard, so if there is an emotional component to the painting, if often ruins it if I do not keep it under wraps. I have to be in a very specific place to do it right. What did John Cage say about people playing his music? Some people take it too seriously, some people don't take it serious enough, and some people get it just right. If I am too anxious or stressed it doesn't work. I try not to think about anything besides what I am doing but everyone knows how hard that is, really. Most of the time I get very lost in it and staying totally objective is impossible.

Mr. Becos: Is it true that you have a background a both a professional skateboarder and an IRS agent?

Smith: Never professional, amateur. But I did skate for a long time. I found an old skate video I was in, shortly, if you go HERE and go to time stamp  15:20 I have a short thing in there. Weird.

I have worked for the IRS for 5 years, mostly as a clerk but also as a tax examiner. I currently work in the accounting department of the IRS Austin processing center right now.

Mr. Becos: Maybe this is confidential, but have you ever examined a blatantly dumb tax return?

Smith: Surprisingly not. People screw them up sometimes, but usually try pretty hard to do it right. When people do send in the tax return forms I mean. We would get a lot of toenails, boogers, and sometimes razor blades in the mail from people who just hate the IRS.