An interview with Skot Olsen
by Scott Heflon
You now live in Florida — and we’ll get back to that later — but you grew up in New England, right?
Yeah, I grew up in Connecticut. Most of the people on my Father’s side of the family are artists, so I was exposed to art at a young age. I wasn’t raised very religiously, despite what many think due to my anti-religious artwork. I actually had a very nice childhood, nothing traumatic really.
Whereabouts in Connecticut did you live?
Southwest corner, in a nice, little picturesque town. Lots of hills and stone walls and forests and big, old houses and really cool cemeteries…
Are you an outdoorsy kinda guy?
Yeah, I still do a lot of camping with my wife.
Nature doesn’t play a very major role in you artwork though…
Not really. I draw the woods a lot. And the ocean. But no real nature themes…
Mostly gods and religion. What’s up with that?
(In a pretty good Jerry Seinfeld voice) “What is up with religion?” I read a lot of books about history, especially the Middle Ages, when I was young. I came across more and more about the Crusades and the Inquisition and the witch hunts, and I started realizing how horrible and violent Christianity was. I’d never really paid it that much attention until my late teens, but when I started to examine it more, I realized what a terrible package of bullshit it all is. Not to mention how many people have bought into it, much less the unspeakable things that have been done because of it. It outraged me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. That’s how awful I think Christianity is.
Are you against all organized religion or just Christianity?
I think most religions are pretty ridiculous, but Christianity is probably the more harmful.
Interesting that the most gruesome of your paintings are actually historically accurate.
That’s exactly it.
I hear you’ve gotten in some trouble.
Yeah, kinda. People have made comments and written letters, because that’s what people like that do. I did a comic strip for a paper in Sacramento, I forget the name of it, and the strip was about trans-sub-intonation or whatever – the thing where you eat the bread that’s supposed to be the body of Christ, and it turns into the body of Christ. Basically, the strip showed what would happen if you ate the bread, then vomited into a test tube and we cloned Jesus so everyone could have their very own Jesus. It caused a big protest outside the building.
[The FedEx guy knocks and chaos ensues as Skot tries to juggle the phone, accept and sign for the package, all while making polite small talk and holding back a rather large-sounding dog. We discuss how immune we’ve become to that “made it” feeling in Bowfinger with Steve Martin, and how we’re friendly with all the delivery people because they see us in our boxers and sleep-spiked hair, and Skot adds “with my big strap-on and zippered mask.” I laugh politely, and he quietly arches an eyebrow as if to ask, “What?”]
When did you move from Connecticut to Florida?
After art school, I was the art director for this crappy little special effects company, and they owed me a couple thousand dollars. I couldn’t pay my rent, so my fiancee – now my wife – and I bailed to Florida where my family had moved when I was in art school.
Do you have brothers and sisters?
No, I was an only child. (ominously) Well, eventually I was an only child. That’s an old joke…
I’m not an only child – yet – so I don’t know the jokes…
I’m in the club. I get the newsletter. Now I pick on my wife like she’s my sister. Which is kind of disturbing if you think about it…
Does sex ever find its way into your artwork?
Not in a good way. Usually it comes across in a form of guilt. Not that I see it that way, but that’s the way religion depicts sex. They always make sex out to be something bad, something to be ashamed of.
So your ideas of sex aren’t represented?
No, not really. I’m a sexually healthy individual. With varied and bizarre tastes.
So what would you consider to be the predominant themes in your work?
Religion, isolation, old age…
What’s your fascination with old age?
Well, old people have a lot more texture… And I’m fascinated with the idea of having so many memories and seeing so many things change… And living everyday with the knowledge that you’re at the end of your life and that something is going to kill you soon. Someday soon they’ll be able to download your memories and store you until you’re put into another vessel. I think that’ll happen in our lifetime. I have a friend, a tattoo artist, who just did two German neurologists, and they think it’ll happen within 25 years. They’ve already been able to send impressions to another mind, like black dots on screen, so they’re pretty sure they’ll be able to “cure” blindness in the next few years. You’ll wear glasses that are cameras and the images will be sent digitally to your brain. Now they have nano tubes that are made of carbon fiber…
A bit of an interest in science, I guess?
Thing about science is that it’s ever-changing, unlike religions that are rigid and proven wrong and will fade away.
But in a day and age — and in your case, a state — where a huge number of people voted for Bush to be the President of the most powerful (and arrogant) country in the free world, I think you’re expecting “the masses” to be a lot brighter than they really are.
I marvel daily at the stupidity of people.
You’re in the arts, I’m straddling the arts and the media, and I’d guess everyone both of us knows is pretty sharp, thoughtful, and expressive, and yet Bush won and every “man on the street” interview shows a huge segment of our population to be so dimwitted I’m surprised they remember to breathe…
You live in Boston, so there are a lot of college kids, and I live in a wealthy area, even though I myself am not wealthy, but practically everyone else is semi-retarded hillbillies.
Natives, I believe they’re called. I often think of that scene in Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder is comforting the sheriff, saying not to expect much from the townspeople because they’re simple folk, the salt of the Earth, you know, morons.
I love that movie. Hillbillies want to be called salt of the Earth, but it ain’t gonna happen. And it’s not like I’m so smart or some kind of genius because I’m really not – I’m kind of a dummy – but even a cavemen like me can see that there’s no God.
Do stupid people find their way into your paintings?
In some of my earlier stuff. Like It’s not the Heat, It’s the Stupidity. But that, again, is anti-religion. Because those are the stupidest people of all.
How is Florida for religious expression?
Up north, it’s probably restrictive, but where I live, it’s pretty progressive. South Florida is cool. It’s a pretty hip area… But I have to say, some of the nicest, most decent people I’ve met are from the deep South. Far and away, the cops in Louisiana, Tennessee… I’ve never been harassed by a Southern cop. And I have really long hair and big earrings, so you’d think I’d get hassled, but not at all. I’ve never been told to get a haircut down here, and I’ve been harassed by plenty of cops in New York and Connecticut, the Northeast… I’ll never live there again, though I do like to visit because it’s got character. But the people and the weather are very cold. It’s beautiful down here… I have all my doors and windows open, and I’m standing out in the sun as I talk to you. I’m growing mangos on my back porch. And I’m growing papyrus, for real… Papyrus is the plant the Egyptians used to make paper. It grew on the Nile.
Mangos and Papyrus… Two words that don’t come up often in casual conversation. Like Platypus.
The only poisonous mammal… I don’t draw your modern, super animals like your flying squirrel or the electric eel… That’s a Simpsons‘ thing. I have every episode on tape since ’94 and most of them before that.
[The tape rolls on as we discuss Battlebots, Spaghetti Westerns, The Iron Chef, and all the “great” cultural contributions a zillion cable stations make.]
Do you listen to music when you work?
All the time. Though I have spent whole days in silence. I usually listen to classical music, but lately I’ve been listening to a lot of lounge. And I really like Dead Can Dance. I dig anything with techno beats and Asian music dubbed in. Anything on Six Degree Records. I look at the back of the records and I can’t tell which is the song and which is the band name… It’s all just crazy symbols.
We’re so American…
My wife and I went to Copenhagen a couple years ago, and they’re way more modernized than we are, way more advanced. They have jet packs already. Jet packs! You know why we don’t have jet packs? In the First Crusades, the fuckin’ Christians burned all the libraries in the Middle East and we lost a few thousand years of learning.
Tell me more about your area of Florida.
It’s nice. Miami Beach is like the Riviera… It’s a pretty wild place.
Violent, too, from what I hear…
No more than any place else… People say that Miami is violent, and they’re right, but Miami and Miami Beach are two different cities. Miami is inland and produces nothing. It’s my least favorite city in the United States. It functions merely to keep itself alive and exports nothing. It rots from the inside out. It’s a giant residential area, mostly Cubans, South Americans, rednecks, and old people. There’s nothing to do, and no reason to ever go there. The first language is Spanish, and not that I’m a crazy racist, but that blows my mind… My parents went into a store in Miami to buy furniture, and there wasn’t a person in the store that spoke English at all. So they had to leave. That’s just bizarre. But Miami Beach isn’t like that at all.
You’re actually in the Everglades… Isn’t that basically being a stones-throw away from a shitload of alligators?
Yes, I actually am a stones-throw away from a shitload of alligators. It’s a giant wetlands that goes on for 150 miles or so. I love it out there. People let all kinds of stuff out there… A friend of mine let a lemur go out there. It was prowling his neighborhood, raping the local cats, and now it’s in the Everglades. Something probably ate it because it wasn’t used to dodging hundreds of alligators.
So things that can climb trees are the ones that live…
But there aren’t many trees… Well, there are Cypress forests like the ones you see in Scooby Doo with the Spanish moss hanging off – ya know, like in Porky’s? – but the Everglades are really just giant stretches of open wetland with little patches of short trees about 15 to 20 feet tall. And the whole thing’s skirted by Cypress forest, like the Georgia swamps and the Louisiana swamps. I’ve been out there and seen trees tipped over and leaning on other trees, and there are alligators in the trees. Pretty cool…
Do they ever wander around your neighborhood?
A saw one in my backyard, but just that once. They come in through the canals. There’s a canal in pretty much everyone’s backyard. But they have trucks that’ll come around and take them back to the Everglades. Most of the neighborhoods have highways around them, and the canals have blockages to keep them out, but there are some parks I can’t let my dog swim in. But they have signs everywhere. But worse than the alligators are the water moccasins. Alligators aren’t dangerous really, I’m way more afraid of water moccasins. Those things’ll kill you. And we have pygmy rattlesnakes. A woman got bitten in the plant section of K-mart not so long ago. Lots of cool insects too. And armadillos. But they aren’t indigenous to Florida, they only came here a hundred years ago. But they populate so well, they’re everywhere now. They can carry leprosy. Only mammal that can do that.
Are those the things with the hard shells? Couldn’t you roll your car if you hit one?
No, you squash them. There’re squashed armadillos all over the place. They’re about the size of a possum or a raccoon. I stop and pick up turtles in the road and take them to the nearest lake or canal. There’re millions of lakes here. And I swear, Fort Lauderdale has more canals than Venice. You can pretty much get from my house to the ocean on a boat, and I live inland about 20 minutes by the highway. Lots of long, straight, bright highways too. And theme parks.