Kalup Linzy On Life, Art and Soap Operas
By Elizabeth Hazard
Photographs courtesy Kalup Linzy
Kaulp Linzy is an artist who can be compared to few others. His artistry is unique, expansive and thought provoking. Whether he is creating music or his popular Soap Opera-based narratives, he is constantly exploring cultural issues through his craft. The artist typically uses video or live performances as his medium, exploring sexuality, race, gender, stereotypes and cultural identities, often while dressed in drag.
His work has been shown at The Whitney, the MoMa, The Studio Museum in Harlem and he has won numerous grants, awards and recognitions. He has also collaborated with many well-known artists, designers and celebrities, including Natasha Lyonne, Lidya Kebede, Nate Lowman and Michael Stipe.
A self-proclaimed Soap Opera fan, a stint on General Hospital with the actor James Franco seemed to bring everything full circle for the artist, who was raised by his grandmother and aunt in Stuckey, Fla.
His most recent video project, KQueens Soul and their Lullabies is now on view at Vanity Projects in New York City and Miami until May 3. We caught up with the Florida native about his work, pursuits and life.
Your work is so versatile and unique. From writing, acting, songs, art, you are clearly multitalented. In your own words, how would you describe what you do?
I write, direct, and perform narratives. I am constantly mining identities through the use of spoken words, dialogue, voice, gestures, videos, film, photography, music, live performance, and 2D collage.
When and how did you discover your talents, and when did you know that this was what you would pursue as a career and passion?
In high school I was encouraged to nurture my talent. People responded in a way that made me believe something was there. In graduate school, my writing, film/video making, acting, and singing began to merge as performance art.
You explore some important cultural issues in your work, like gender, race and sexuality, to name a few. Do you feel that as an artist, there is a responsibility to address these social issues?
Artists should explore whatever they feel is their conviction. Most of this comes from experience and/or empathy. If artists ignore that, it is unfortunate. Most communities need artists to reflect experiences through visuals and sounds. I feel inspired when I see other expressions around myself other than my own.
Is there one piece of work that you’re most proud of?
I love the majority of what I have created, but Iam very happy I created Conversations Wit De Churen II: All My Churen (2003), Lollypop (2006), Keys To Our Heart (2008), and Melody Set Me Free (the series) (2012). These were moments when I felt I was stretching myself or hitting on something my audience seemed to be excited about.
So, it’s clear that Soap Operas were a big inspiration from a young age for your work. What do you think of the present state of the Soap Opera industry? There are so few left on television these days.
There are a few Soap Operas on, but the concept of the Soap Opera keeps reinventing itself. Daytime Soap Operas took a ratings dip in the nineties with the OJ Simpson trial, which co-starred Robert Kardashian, so to speak. The soaps never recovered from being pre-empted everyday and back then we didn't have DVRS and the internet was not what it is today. The new version of the Soap Opera is reality shows like Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
As artists, criticism and praise are all part of rolling with the punches of the job. Can you remember a time when your work was met with skepticism or critique? How did that affect you?
My work was questioned from the beginning. Some people are not into the idea of theSoap Opera being explored by a performance artist. And when I began collaborating with James Franco, someone said I became a drag queen or it was too commercial. Or they claimed “you're just an actor now.”
However, exploring the Soap Opera and appearing on General Hospital were life-defining moments. That space is where my dreams become reality and where I feel the most inspired. Some comments have brushed me the wrong way, but I have learned to stay in my heart and do what I feel will create a happier and productive experience in my life.
Can you tell us what you’re working on now?
In April/May, I'm doing a residency at a nonprofit in Tampa, FL called Tempus Projects. On May 3-4, I am presenting a performance at the Soho House in Miami entitled Soul Said To The Heart "To Be Continued". I'm also collaborating with James Franco on a comedy short series, in which we will both co-star. We plan to shoot it this summer in NYC.
If you weren’t pursuing your art, what do you think you’d be doing career-wise?
I have no other passion outside of pursuing my art and things related.
Your work has appeared in so many renowned institutions all over the country. Is there one place that you still dream of to see your work in?
I would love to see my work in the Tate Modern.
Kalup Linzy will be at the Soho Beach House on May 3 and 4 reprising his Romantic Loner role for a two-night performance exploring modern family roles and romantic entanglements. Members only, 8 pm.