If David Lynch had wanted to remake the Wizard of Oz as a western, C3 would surely be able to lend him some storyboards. A year in the making, part one of C3’s Before the Sun Dies trilogy titled Tempest Horizon, is set to open at Shooting Gallery, San Francisco. Tempest Horizon expands upon the barren landscapes and damaged anti-heroes explored by his previous show In Search of New Land. C3‘s work features a deft blurring of fantastic macabre with pre civil-war era portraits immaculately created in graphite. I was fortunate to be able to check in with C3 for an interview as he finishes the last pieces of the first installment. – Shaun Roberts
Where did you grow up? Did any of your early memories influence the work you’re making today?
Yeah, some of my earliest memories are from the farm in Bristow, Oklahoma. It’s weird because now that I’m older, it feels like I’m coming full circle, going back to where I was born and my earliest memories and really embracing that and being inspired by it.
Did you have any specific memories from that time that stand out?
My father owned a cow farm. We had cows, land and everything. It was crazy growing up there. One time a calf was being born but it was coming out back legs first.
The wrong way.
Yeah, so we called up the vet and he shows up in a tractor, and basically he just tied a chain to the back legs of the calf and had my dad and my grandfather hold the cow. The vet took the chain to the tractor and used the tractor to slowly pull the calf out. It was wild, just watching that was amazing.
You see death on the farm as well, I remember the first time seeing the inside of an animal, we had cats on the farm that would catch gophers, the cats were just tearing it open and eating it, you could see them picking away at all the intestines trying to get meat. It was crazy to watch them, those were the same cats I would pet everyday and to see them eating this animal…it was pretty wild.
When the darker, macabre side of the world begin to interest you?
I think it was after watching the end of Children of the Corn, it was so long ago I don’t remember exactly when this was, but it was the part where the land is coming up and it’s like the devil coming through. I didn’t know what was going on because I was so young, but for about a year I kept thinking about that scene. I didn’t know what movie it was from so I kept trying to describe it to people to find out what movie it was that we were watching. Years later, someone put that movie on again and I finally got a chance to see it from the beginning, when the last scene of the movie came on I was like “This is it! This is the movie!”. I got all excited and I started to seek out movies similar to that, I got obsessed with horror films.
What was it about that particular ending scene in Children of the Corn that sparked this obsession?
I don’t know, it just got at something inside me. I was exciting and thrilling, I just couldn’t get enough. I love horror films.
People tend to say my work feels creepy or horror films are creepy but I don’t think of them that way. I think of it as a mystery, we’re coming into contact with a part of the world we don’t understand. The darker “evil” side has always been more mysterious and interesting. There’s always something tantalizing about it, evil is fun to watch. I remember that when I’m watching horror films, because characters in horror films will do things that you wouldn’t want to do or even think of doing, it satisfies questions about how far people will go.
I admit, good can be pretty boring sometimes.
It’s human nature for us, we obviously can’t live peacefully, we all say we want to, but really deep down I don’t think anyone believes that. Conflict just happens and people seem to want that in order to be entertained. Roman’s used to go to the colosseum to watch people murder each other, everyone has that dark side. I think it’s better now that we can watch that in movies rather than go and witness it. I don’t understand human beings really, I don’t even understand myself, we are a weird species, we contradict ourselves constantly.
Do you think you’re learning more about yourself by making the art?
Yeah, for me it’s therapy, a lot of these pieces have a deeper meaning for me that I don’t really share with too many people. A lot of people think the work comes off as creepy and really dark but it’s because a lot of it is based on my own fears, the very things I’m trying to get out of myself.
I am very afraid of death because I don’t understand death, the idea freaks me out. As I’ve gotten older I’m no longer religious, I just don’t think there’s anything after this and that freaks me out. It’s one of those things that will overwhelm you if you think too much about it and I think about it abnormally more than most people.
Doing the drawings is a way for me to become more accustomed to death and trying to understand it so when it does happen to me I won’t be freaking out.
Did you ever have to go through the death of a family member or a close friend?
Not really, but two of my grandparents are gone…that was rough. As far as I can remember when I was a kid the thought of death would just creep me out. I used to be afraid to go to sleep because I thought God was going to kill me in my sleep.
Why would you think that?
“Pray the lord my soul to keep” you know? I was really religious as a kid and I almost feel like it went too deep into my mind, this idea of a God that could just come down and take me. The thought that if I go to sleep I might not wake up just creeped me out, it just got stuck in my head.
Do you still pray?
No. Only in the sense that you hope for things. I wouldn’t say I pray, I just do a lot of hoping.
You’ve set out to make “Before the Sun Dies” into a trilogy, how did this idea come about?
My last show “In Search of New Land” felt really solid I was happy with it. There was a lot of experimentation with that world and I was seeing what I could do with the ideas from that and expand it. That world is like an ongoing movie in my mind, so I’m kind of finding pieces of the movie and freezing it and saying “ok, that’s what I’ll draw”.
Everyone is telling me to write out a narrative but I don’t want to give it all away. I like the idea of a person finding these images and not fully making sense of it. I may know what’s going on for me, but for that person it could be totally different. That’s why I like David Lynch so much too, he’s a huge inspiration. When I watch his movies, he doesn’t give things away, he just wants you to watch it and then come out of it feeling however you feel.
It’s more about the emotional experience of the work, each piece is supposed to have some sort of emotional impact, not necessarily a literal narrative one.
But I will say that part one of the trilogy is titled “Tempest Horizon”, it’s the beginning of the storm.
It’s inspired a lot by how people used to worship the sun, I wanted to go back to that instead of people worshipping God or Satan or something like that, I wanted it to be about the sun and people worshipping the universe. The sun is actually more of a symbol about hope. There are those with hope and those who just want to do away with it and maintain control.
I’ve always been curious about what your process is when searching for source material for your work, where do you look?
Well, I try to go to antique stores when I go home as well as vintage shops because usually they’ll have old photographs. I’ve found old prop guns, cowboy hats…but I just went into this store and I asked the guy if he had any old photos for sale and the guy said he had these boxes in the back that he hadn’t even gone through. So I spent about two and a half hours there looking through every single photo, there must have been hundreds and hundreds of photos. I just picked out a pile and then the guy charged me like nothing for them compared to what you get charged here for.
I also found this sequel to “The Wizard of Oz”, it’s old and it’s a gorgeous book. It’s got all the old illustrations in it and everything. It smells great too, it smells like an old book.
That’s inspired your work in a large way too hasn’t it?
I definitely think so, since it’s a mixture of mythology, fairy tale, dream and nightmare.
What was your first Wizard of Oz experience?
I was really into the movie. I’ve always thought Judy Garland was just gorgeous, when she sang “Somewhere over the Rainbow” it was just an amazing moment. Yeah, that was another movie I saw as a kid that just blew my mind, I think that’s what got me into art too, just the idea that people could make something that amazing. People made that! It got to a point that my dad got mad at me for wanting to watch Wizard of Oz on TV every year it aired, I liked thinking that I was watching it when everyone else was watching it too. He’d get upset saying “you seen this movie a hundred times, why do you want to watch it again?”
What’s your favorite Wizard of Oz character?
Definitely the Scarecrow.
I like the fact that in The Wizard of Oz there are all these men missing body parts, one guy is missing his heart, another one is missing his mind…they’re like broken men and still they band together to save this girl from a witch.
You thought Wizard of Oz was part nightmare?
I mean, I thought that movie was cool but I also found it scary. I think it’s a really scary movie.
All of it. And the way they did the make up, something about it is really creepy and I think that’s what draws me to it too. It’s this fairy tale but that movie has something dark hanging over it. The munchkins creep me out, the way they sing, the way they move. I think back then everyone overacted a little and I found that to be kind of creepy too. That’s another reason why I like David Lynch, he gets people to act bad on purpose in a lot of his movies, the acting is not right and that makes everything uneasy.
I didn’t find the witch scary though, it was all the nice parts that were scary.
So you’re making your own Land of Oz?
In a sense, I definitely use The Wizard of Oz as inspiration, it’s a framework to help start a piece. My world is just a little bit darker and more of a Western. I like the idea of a desolate landscape and people just kind of roaming without much other life around. This series feels like the beginning of some of those Westerns where they’ll show landscape shots, or small details like pieces of furniture…
Sort of like establishing shots to the opening of a film to set the tone and mood…
Yeah, I was trying to make the work feel as if you found some old camera and saw all the things it had documented from that world.
You’re walking the border between reality and fantasy.
Yeah, trying. I think some of them are obviously more surreal, but all my sources are from the real world. I’m taking images from the real world and changing them to make the world seem more interesting than it is. To make the world seem less mundane.
You draw yourself as a masked character in your pieces, how did that come about?
Well it started off when I found the mask at a Halloween store. I play this character that is cursed to live forever but he can still feel the pain of living, he can still be injured, he can feel pain, he just can’t die. It’s a reflection of myself in this world, I’m really afraid of dying so my character is wishing he was dead.
And he’s just out there roaming the land?
Yeah it’s just a way for me to deal with death, it makes me ask myself whether I would rather live and then die or live forever? I tell myself that living forever would be horrible, I’d have to exist for so long watching so much happen but nothing would ever end, I can’t imagine how exhausting that would be.
You mentioned that a lot of characters in your work are starting to undergo a transformation.
I can’t really say where they’re going because I don’t want to give that away yet, but it’s the idea that they started as one thing and they’re going to become another. A lot of it has to do with where I’m at in my life I think, and the mood I’m in when I do a certain piece. I don’t really have any rules, I just try to do it intuitively. I’ll draw some people where they’re dead in one piece, then they’ll be alive in another one..
But they’re not always the same after they come back.
Just like in life; everything changes.
C3’s Before the Sun Dies – Part 1: Tempest Horizon opens November 12, 2001 at Shooting Gallery, 839 Larkin St (@Geary), San Francisco, CA.