harmony korine's new art show is an ode to vhs tapes
'BLOCKBUSTER' is inspired by the dusty video rental store next door to Korine's favorite Taco Bell. But it's not about nostalgia, he tells i-D. He just hopes it makes you feel good.
Images courtesy of Gagosian
It is a gloomy September evening in New York City and a queue is forming in front of the Gagosian gallery on the Upper East Side. Socialites in cocktail dresses and film students are all angling to get a moment, a photo, an autograph from Harmony Korine, who arrives suitably late to the opening of his new show BLOCKBUSTER. The level of fandom is telling; the writer and director of glitchy arthouse like Gummo and Trash Humpers has since moved onto another plane of fame. It may have been the success of his 2012 pop culture gangbang Spring Breakers. Next he is taking a stab at comedy with The Beach Bum, starring Matthew McConaughey as Moondog, a washed-up poet with a zero-fucks-given sense of style and a penchant for marijuana partying it up in Florida. The script could almost be a page from Harmony’s journal as he currently splits his time between being with his family in Nashville and living like a modern-day Hemingway in Miami.
Ever since he made a name for himself in the 90s with the script for Larry Clark’s Kids, Korine has been honing his craft as a storyteller, constructing a universe and an aesthetic distinctly his own. His movies have taken audiences on surreal trips to the underbelly of American life. He has dreamed up indelible characters, all with a certain car crash allure, burdened by fate and bad decision making, yet determined to keep going. These more disturbing depictions of youth culture reflected Harmony’s personal struggles with depression and drug abuse. But while the bad boy of American cinema has long since grown up — or at least turned over a new leaf — his movies, his paintings, and his reality are all still connected. They stem from the same wacky mind, which at present seems immersed in the lightness of being.
BLOCKBUSTER inhabits that space as well. It is a series of colorful paintings on discarded VHS tapes and a clear departure from the spellbinding abstractions of sounds and hallucinations that the artist used to make. The ghosts from his past are still there, but they are tellingly contained in boxes. He has turned the gritty and the forlorn into something meaningful. And that is still the ambition behind everything he does: to find beauty in reality, however grim or irreverent it may be.
i-D caught up with Korine to talk about art imitating life, reaching nirvana, and his undying love of Taco Bell.
You’ve been very productive as an artist in the past few years. Why the focus on art and not movies?
I enjoy making art more these days. I also go fishing a lot. In Key Largo I bought a boat and it has an electronic poker machine on it. I put a painting easel next to the machine and I usually go back and forth between them all day. I get a case of Mountain Dew and sail around the key. It’s a nice daily routine.
BLOCKBUSTER seems more straightforward than previous work. A conscious choice?
No, not really. I usually only eat Taco Bell for breakfast and lunch and the Taco Bell I go to is next door to a video rental store. I would gawk into the window every day. I loved the way the VHS covers looked, like one giant installation. Nobody was ever inside and the layers of dust on the covers gave it a beautiful faded white haze. It made me want to paint over them. I liked the idea of what’s inside the box and how I could transform the narrative.
That is how you work as a director as well, no? Letting the visuals drive the narrative, changing scripts, and pushing actors to improvise?
Yes, it is. I also drink Mexican water.
Sounds intoxicating. What took you so long to release another movie?
I am slow. I enjoy life. Making movies is a pain in the ass. I live in Florida. I try and make something new every day, but I also admire people who lack ambition. It’s a defiant act, to lack ambition. It’s also a good style of life. I know a guy who just drinks beer and drifts in a row boat all day. He passes out a lot, but when he wakes up he's stoked.
Did he inspire Moondog? How did you come up with The Beach Bum?
Mostly hanging out in Key West and watching people get lit all day.
Your movies often leave viewers feeling uneasy. Are you setting out to do the same with this one?
No, I hope they feel good after.
You always have your finger on the pulse of the zeitgeist. How do you stay up to date with what’s happening?
I just get hyped by what the kids are doing. I always pay attention.
What else are you working on at the moment?
Mostly paintings. I’ve been eating Fruity Pebbles. It’s got me feeling good. Every day I go to Taco Bell and order the same thing, the Cheesy Gordita Crunch On weekends for variation I’ll switch it up and order the Triple Double Crunch Wrap’ I listen to City Morgue and Vybz Kartel while I eat. After that I might write a poem and zone out. This is the future.
As a multidisciplinary artist is there anything you would still like to try out?
I have tried pretty much everything. I would say opera, but I don't like opera.
Do you ever feel nostalgic about the past?
No, I don't care. I like the future. In the future I can eat Cocoa Puffs and smoke stogies all day. I can jet ski with a diamond thief. Time is arbitrary now. The internet has leveled it. That’s why I walk towards the light.
"BLOCKBUSTER" is on view at Gagosian (976 Madison Avenue, New York) until October 20, 2018. "The Beach Bum’"is expected in theateRs on March 22, 2019.