I’M INTERESTED IN MAKING WORK THAT MIMICS THE MECHANISM OFTHE INTERNET …I’M TRYING TO MAKE SOMETHING SO COMPLICATEDTHAT IT CAN’T BE UNDERSTOOD, SO TOTAL THAT YOU CAN NEVER ZOOM ALL THE WAY OUT. Parker Ito
Parker Ito, Parker Cheeto, Olivia Calix, Deke McClelland Two, Julia Rob3rts, and [email protected] are all, as far as Los Angeles-based artist Parker Ito is concerned, real names used to make real art. Now known almost exclusively as Parker Ito, the 28-year-old artist is currently working on a series of shows that, collectively, he sees as the second exhibition in a Parker Cheeto trilogy. (The first, “Parker Cheeto: The Net Artist [America Online Made Me Hardcore],” took place at IMO gallery in Copenhagen last year.) He’s also planning an exhibit of his 101 “Parked Domain Girl” paintings (oil canvases based on a stock image of a smiling blond with a backpack); a show of sculptures about computer printers; and a “multichannel installation.” He doesn’t sleep very much, or very well. He doesn’t read. He hates discussing his work. If we hadn’t met in the flesh to do exactly that, I wouldn’t have even been sure that it was Ito speaking—he’s often had friends or assistants conduct interviews over e-mail on his behalf.
In September 2012, Ito had his commercial breakthrough show, “The Agony and the Ecstasy,” at Stadium gallery in New York. The room glinted and flashed with all-surface objects, unbelievable from every angle. Photographing them was a little like Insta-gramming the moon—impossible, but you couldn’t stop wanting to try. I wanted to buy one. This past February, The Agony and the Ecstasy (2012), a wall covering made from vinyl, enamel, and 3M Scotchlite fabric, sold at Sotheby’s for more than $94,000. Suddenly, a Parker Ito fingernail was out of my price range. Critic Jerry Saltz called him a mediocrity.
It should be easy enough to locate Ito’s work in a “post-internet” bubble and leave it there, but once you start looking, you quickly see he’s not too good for that, but too much. Cosmophagy, the word Susan Sontag used to describe “the devouring of the world by consciousness,” comes to mind. His oeuvre is compulsive, insatiable. No starving artist, Ito seems rather more bulimic, as if there’s no bad-for-you image or medium he won’t eventually chew up and spit back out. When I find out he’s a supertaster (meaning he experiences the sense of taste far more intensely than most), the metaphor is complete: Ito explains that the condition makes him unable to eat anything too complex or refined, and that, like his friend Harmony Korine and his idol Jeff Koons, he prefers the salty, bland, overly processed, borderline trashy and “fake.” I met up with him for a few hours in April when he was in New York, and we ate sushi.
PARKER ITO: Is there a Google search result for your hair? I searched your name and hair came up as a suggested thing.
SARAH NICOLE PRICKETT: Probably. I’ve had a lot of different hairstyles. You seem like someone who Googles everyone you meet.
ITO: Yeah, I do.
PRICKETT: What year did you first get a computer? People have different ages, I think. You have your biological age, the age on your birth certificate, and then you have a sexual age, and then a digital age. Maybe you have an emotional age.
ITO: Well, my taste buds are like a 7-year-old’s. [laughs] I remember the internet being a thing, and not having it at my house, and then getting AOL dial-up, and having my parents put a porn filter on the computer. But I can’t remember much in general. My memory’s gotten really bad lately.
PRICKETT: Short term or long term?
ITO: Both. I’m pretty good at remembering what I have to do, though.
PRICKETT: How many things do you have to do every day?
ITO: I don’t know, 10? I don’t write anything down.
PRICKETT: So, you have the memory of a really good waitress.
ITO: Maybe. And I’m good at remembering my ideas, or at least I think I am. I don’t keep a sketchbook.
PRICKETT: Do you remember your dreams?
ITO: When I used to take prescription drugs, I had really vivid dreams and I could remember them. But now I never do.
PRICKETT: What did you take drugs for?
ITO: I have agoraphobia, and it got really severe last year. Do you have it?
PRICKETT: No, I don’t, but I think agoraphobia seems like a perfectly sane response to the absolute disgustingness of the world at times.
ITO: I see the world as a pretty positive place. With agoraphobia, I’m only in fear of fear. Like, I’m afraid of having a panic attack, and panic attacks usually happen in public places, so I’m afraid of public places. I had a panic attack on an airplane last year. They were about to take off, and I was like, “I need to get the fuck off the plane, I’m having a panic—” And they were like, “Oh my God, do you need a stretcher?” And I was like, “No, just let me off the fucking plane.” After that I went on Xanax. A lot of Xanax. I was also on an antidepressant and a mood stabilizer. I was a fucking zombie. It was a really dark time in my life.
PRICKETT: Were you making art?
ITO: That was the only thing I could do. The only time I felt normal was when I was making stuff.
PRICKETT: Did it change the art you made in any perceivable way?
MY ASSISTANTS LIKE MAKING THINGS, BUT THEY DON’T WANT TO PUT UP WITH ALL THE BULLSHIT OF BEING AN ARTIST. Parker Ito
ITO: No, I don’t think so. Well, that was right around the time that my assistants started becoming very heavily involved, because I had left California to get away from my family. [laughs] I grew up in Orange County, and my family lives in Long Beach, and at the time, I was living with my dad. My parents were—are—going through a divorce, and I was right in the middle of everything. I flipped out, and I came to New York to live here for a month. It was the worst place to fucking go, but I was under the impression that being around my family was what was stressing me out, so I came here, and then I called and e-mailed my assistants and had them work remotely for a month. In May I flew back to Los Angeles for a show, and I hadn’t even seen the work; I hadn’t touched it. I just showed up for the opening, and there were 20 paintings that I had made.
PRICKETT: How many assistants do you have?
ITO: About five. I have a very different relationship with my assistants than most artists. Most artists say, “My assistants made this, but the ideas are all mine.” But sometimes my assistants come up with ideas for stuff to make, and I just say, “Okay, we’ll make it.”
PRICKETT: If your assistants make something for you, are their names on it?
ITO: Well, I don’t sign my work, so nobody would sign anything.
PRICKETT: Are they well-paid?
ITO: Twenty-five dollars an hour.
PRICKETT: That’s good. Do you remember that New York Times Magazine piece written by an assistant for Jeff Koons who made the Cracked Egg painting and got paid 14 dollars an hour?
ITO: Whoa. That’s shitty.
PRICKETT: I’m shocked that none of your assistants ask you for a percentage of sales. But I think I just don’t know how the world works.
ITO: My assistants like making things, but they don’t want to put up with all the bullshit of being an artist. And I try to be a really cool boss. For my two main assistants, who have been with me longer than anyone else, I bought monogrammed velvet slippers. I bought them the Jackson Pollock Crocs. I’m getting berets made for them, and they have sweatsuits printed with some paintings we did.
PRICKETT: Were you ever someone’s assistant?
ITO: No, I’d be a fucking horrible assistant. I can’t really do anything. [laughs]
PRICKETT: Were you a good student?
ITO: In art school, yes, I was a very good student. In high school, no. And before art school, at this junior college in Orange County, I was kicked out. I was put on academic probation because I failed this math class twice. I just never showed up.
PRICKETT: I bet everyone thinks they know what your adolescence was like because they watched The O.C. growing up.
ITO: Oh, yeah. But I watched Degrassi [The Next Generation].
PRICKETT: So you were an original fan of Drake?
ITO: Yeah. Jimmy.
PRICKETT: I saw that one of your shows was titled “Nothing Was the Same (John Boehner Ramesses III).” I’m Canadian, and I find it so funny, a famous rapper being from Canada. It’s incongruous. Drake is so drastically uncool. His record label, OVO, has a blogspot page.
ITO: I’m into that. My girlfriend is in Canada now.
PRICKETT: What’s her name?
ITO: Liv Barrett. She’s also my gallerist now. We live together in Hollywood. I don’t know what you know about Hollywood, but that’s where I live. So it’s all super-fucking-eccentric rich people with giant cowboy hats, and then bums shitting on trees.
PRICKETT: That’s amazing.
ITO: It’s a weird place.
PRICKETT: It is a weird place. L.A. is so heartless and disparate to me.
ITO: Yeah, there’s no center. I like living in L.A. a lot.
PRICKETT: You drive a car, I guess.
ITO: All the time. I drive a ’98 Honda Civic. It’s a piece of shit. I’ll go to an event with a collector and there’s valet parking, and they’re in a Rolls-Royce or something, and I’m behind them in a shitty Honda full of garbage.
PRICKETT: Do you remember the first time you thought you wanted to be an artist?
ITO: Yeah. [laughs]
PRICKETT: Was it when you were watching Degrassi?
ITO: It was a little before that. I was really into skateboarding for a long time. Then I realized that I probably wasn’t going to become a professional skateboarder. I’ve only wanted to have two jobs: a professional skateboarder and an artist. I’ve actually come back to skateboarding through art. I don’t know if you know who Rob Dyrdek is. He had a show called Rob & Big that was on MTV, and now he has a show called Ridiculousness, and he’s a pro skateboarder, and he’s collecting art now. He collects my work. Through Insta-gram, I became friends with Steve Berra, who runs the Berrics, the skate place and website. It’s one of the most influential things in skateboarding right now. And Steve said he wanted to give me a pro model, like a pro board.
PRICKETT: I guess if you have a pro board, you’re a pro skateboarder.
ITO: Technically, yeah. It’s like an honorary degree. But, yeah, I read a book on Basquiat when I was 18 or 19, and I decided I wanted to be an artist.
PRICKETT: You dress well. That’s a Basquiat thing. He wore, like, Commes des Garçons suits.
ITO: Yeah, yeah, and he painted in them.
PRICKETT: He painted in them?!
ITO: All I wanted my whole life was to buy whatever I wanted.
PRICKETT: Did you grow up with money?
ITO: Fuck, no. I’m from a super-middle-class family.
PRICKETT: Define middle class. What did your parents do?
ITO: My dad works for an oil company. My mom was a hairdresser, and now she does X-rays, mammograms, stuff like that. I worked in the oil fields before I became an artist. It’s a big paranoia of mine that people think I’m from money because I’m from Orange County. I spend a lot of money on clothes now, and I go to all these fucking parties for art.
PRICKETT: Well, and you’re successful, and it’s getting harder and harder to go to school and become a successful artist if you don’t have money to start with.
ITO: That’s the other thing. A lot of artists are just rich kids. But, no, I’m in a lot of debt from school. A lot of debt.
PRICKETT: How much?
ITO: Probably 60, 70 grand. I don’t really know, to be honest. When I was in school, I got them to give me a bunch of extra money so I could buy computer software, and then I downloaded all the software for free and used the money to go shopping online.
PRICKETT: What did you buy?
ITO: Just tons of clothes.
PRICKETT: The shirt you’re wearing now, the print has the Montreal Canadiens logo on it. Did you do that on purpose because I’m Canadian?
ITO: Oh, no. It’s vintage Nicole Miller from the ’90s. I collect shirts with all-over prints, and this one seems to be Canadian-themed. It would be funny if I did it on purpose.
PRICKETT: Do you collect any other things?
ITO: I have a lot of books, I guess.
PRICKETT: What kinds of books?
ITO: Art books, books with big pictures in them. I read comics a little bit. I like Dash Shaw and Paul Pope. In my work I use a lot of images from a comic Geof Darrow did with Frank Miller called Hard Boiled. There’s an image from it on my website.
PRICKETT: Who wrote the text on your website?
ITO: Glass Popcorn. He’s a rapper who lives in Tempe, Arizona. I think he’s 17, but he got popular on the internet when he was maybe 14. His favorite artists are me and Harmony Korine. That sounds weirdly egotistical.
PRICKETT: It’s not. I loved Spring Breakers  more than anything, because it was all surfaces, and everything was reflective and refracted, and you could read that movie so many ways, and [Korine] wouldn’t argue with you about any of them. He’d never admit to having an opinion on his own work, although he did say it was the first real movie he’d made.
ITO: Harmony Korine is my good friend. He’s a real artist. My girlfriend and him had a conversation in Miami, and if I remember correctly—I was pretty fucked up at the time—he said he made Spring Breakers because he was interested in the way the light in Miami looked at particular times. It wasn’t about script or storytelling; it was about lighting.
PRICKETT: Lighting is everything. I won’t go to places with bad lighting. Partly it’s vanity, but it’s also that I seek certain times of the light. Sometimes in my apartment, at sunset, the whole window will burn orange, and it’s just my favorite—it’s ecstasy. So I think that’s a perfect reason to make a film. What do you feel is your primary reason to make art?
ITO: That I want to make this shit. I want to see this thing made. The work I’m making now is a continuation of my earlier work, which includes art I made under different names, art I made in collaboration with Body by Body [a collaboration between artists Cameron Soren and Melissa Sachs], a bunch of websites I made, a bunch of video work. But people only know the reflective paintings or the dot paintings because those are at auction. Right now, I’m building an exhibition that can’t be contained by a gallery. It’s planned to take place in the fall in L.A. in a warehouse where I’ll just work for months.
PARTLY IT’S A REACTION TO HOW FUCKING BORING ART IS IN A WHITE GALLERY. I’M REALLY TRYING TO DESTROY THAT. Parker Ito
ITO: Yes, and the exhibition will be constantly changing. It’s built of over 100 works. It’s one work, in a way, but with all these pieces. Here are some photos of things I’m working on. [shows photos on his iPhone] This is a film I’m doing with this animated Western Exterminator mascot. This is him dancing to the “Bound 2” music video. That’s one part of a larger video piece. Then I made all these still-life paintings of rainbow roses, which are my signature flower.
PRICKETT: The ones that aren’t real.
ITO: They are real, but they’re man-made.
PRICKETT: Yes, I’m glad you said that. They’re not natural, or organic, is what I meant. I really thrive on artificiality. I need glamour and realness, but I don’t need anything to be natural, so the rainbow roses really appeal to me. The other things you’ve showed me seem tackier. It’s hard to believe all this work is made by the same person, and I’m wondering if you’re resisting the need to have a signature, to be branded in a certain way, to be recognizable. Someday people will wear Google Glass to galleries and look at a work, and Glass will say who the artist is, based on the composition or the material or even a subject, a leitmotif that can be recognized. Most artists could be recognized by a computer. But when I Google Image you, what comes up is quite random. It seems like certain things in your work are there just to throw people off. Maybe this is a bad reading.
ITO: No, it’s close. I’m interested in making work that mimics the mechanism of the internet. In The Agony and the Ecstasy, I wanted to show the effect of the internet on traditional art objects, and how that affects the way we document and experience artwork. So it was about distribution through a network. Now I’m interested in embodying it. I want to be an internet for a network, right? And a network is something constantly shifting and never stable. So to do that, I can’t really have a signature style or be bound to a medium. It’s very hard because there’s a style that emerges anyway, or maybe it’s more a feeling than a style.
PRICKETT: It’s hard to not be yourself.
ITO: Because if I wasn’t me, I wouldn’t be me. That’s a tweet I made once. [laughs]
PRICKETT: Do you Google yourself?
ITO: Every day. There’s been a lot of shitty stuff written about me lately because of where I am in the market. Nobody is actually talking about what my work is doing, the content of the work. They only talk about the cost. But I’m trying to make a network; I’m trying to make something so complicated that it can’t be understood, so total that you can never zoom all the way out. Last year I went to the Sistine Chapel. In the Sistine Chapel, even a fucking doorknob is the most elaborate thing.
PRICKETT: You’re trying to make the Sistine Chapel.
ITO: The sensory experience of it, yes. I’m not trying to make something that is canonized or is spiritual, but I want it to be something you can only feel, you can’t explain. That means everything in the exhibition is super-intricate. I’m obsessed with the tiniest details. For example, I’m making paintings, but the paintings have three faces, the aluminum stretcher bars are painted, and they hang from chains that are powder-coated in a million different colors. I’m making bronze sculptures, I’m making ceramics, I’m making beach towels, I’m making flower vases, I’m making wall coverings, I’m painting walls. I’d like to go to Texas soon to look at one of three machines in America that can cut marble because I’m trying to make marble sculptures. I’m just making a lot of shit. Partly it’s a reaction to how fucking boring art is in a white gallery. I’m really trying to destroy that, I think. Here’s one of the paintings. [shows an unfinished two-sided painting featuring the Western Exterminator mascot and splotches of garish paint]
PRICKETT: It looks like deviantART.
ITO: I fuck with deviantART really hardcore.
PRICKETT: [laughs] What’s the famous saying? “Never fear being vulgar, just boring?” I believe that.
ITO: A lot of people associate me with net art and post-net art, and a lot of my friends are in that world, but I’m also making a very big break from it.
PRICKETT: I don’t see you as part of that. I think most of that stuff is horrible and boring.
ITO: Do you like any of it?
PRICKETT: I like Petra Cortright.
ITO: Petra’s my studiomate.
PRICKETT: Really? I think her work is beautiful, and I respond to beauty in a very basic way. I like Jeanette Hayes. She’s superficial, Warholian, all of that. But she is technically talented and has a real grasp of art history, which sets her apart from a lot of her friends. It’s, like, tampon sculptures? Get fucking real. Some of these young artists are like … It’s like Zoolander out there.
ITO: I feel you. I hate to be a negative or cynical person, but I hate a lot of art right now.
PRICKETT: I miss knowing nothing about art right now. My art world used to be just, like, getting obsessed with Ana Mendieta and reading everything about her or going to look for Cy Twombly drawings at museums.
ITO: I really like Cy Twombly.
PRICKETT: I’m obsessed with Cy Twombly.
ITO: He’s my favorite artist.
PRICKETT: I have a Cy Twombly tattoo on my back.
ITO: Whoa. Let me see? Or is it very hidden?
PRICKETT: You’ll recognize it. Almost no one does. [pulls down T-shirt over shoulder] Can you see it?
ITO: No …
PRICKETT: Other side? I always forget. You know Wilder Shores of Love ? It’s the scrawl from the top of that painting, but done in black instead of red.
ITO: I saw a little bit of it. Anyway, the only new art I’m really interested in right now is made by Body by Body. And I like Jana Euler’s paintings. The exhibition that I’m making is like Sigmar Polke, late Picabia, Jason Rhoades, and Jeff Koons. That’s how I would describe it.
PRICKETT: Jeff Koons—there’s a tricky one.
ITO: I love Jeff Koons. [laughs] First off, all that work he made in the late ’80s was super-radical for that time. Nobody wanted to touch the kinds of things he was dealing with.
PRICKETT: Like the “Made in Heaven” series.
ITO: I have a picture that I took of my dick in the “Made in Heaven” catalog. Secondly, people are always like, “Oh, Jeff Koons, he’s got all these people making work for him, he’s a factory.” But do you know how hard it is to make art like that? With the amount of production that goes into it, and to communicate what you want through all that process? It’s like making a painting with a really long brush.
PRICKETT: Sure, but you’ll forgive me for aligning my political sympathies with the factory workers he employs.
ITO: The politics of it are a separate issue. I respect the kind of scale he works at and the kind of control he maintains because, at the end of the day, I believe Jeff Koons only cares about making art.
PRICKETT: What does that redeem for you? I personally don’t care if you care about making art or not.
ITO: So if you found out some artist made this thing because they thought it would sell, you’d be totally okay with that?
PRICKETT: No. But I want the person making art to care about how it makes people feel or see. Brad Troemel cares that what he makes is recognized as art, but he doesn’t care how people feel when they see it.
ITO: Jeff Koons does. Do you want some gum?
PRICKETT: Yeah, thanks. Do you smoke cigarettes?
ITO: No, I don’t.
PRICKETT: You look very healthy.
ITO: It’s a trick.
SARAH NICOLE PRICKETT IS A NEW YORK-BASED WRITER. SHE IS THE FOUNDING EDITOR OF ADULT MAGAZINE AND A CONTRIBUTING EDITOR AT THE NEW INQUIRY.