GE­OF­FREY LILLEMON

Turn on, tune in, drop art.

Neue Luxury - - Front Page - By Paul Tier­ney

IT’S A FINE WIN­TERS DAY IN CEN­TRAL AM­S­TER­DAM, A CITY SO PRETERNATURALLY HAND­SOME IT SHOULD COME WITH ITS OWN MIR­ROR AND GROOM­ING KIT. TALL MER­CHANT’S HOUSES STAND­ING PROUD IN THE SUN­SHINE, BATHED IN A FLAT­TER­ING LIGHT, HUD­DLE TO­GETHER ON THE BANKS OF ITS FA­MOUS CANALS AND ALL SEEMS WELL IN THIS PIC­TURE-PER­FECT WORLD. OB­SERV­ING THE UR­BAN IDYLL IT’S EASY TO SEE WHY SOME­ONE WOULD MAKE THIS PLACE THEIR HOME. One such émi­gré is the Amer­i­can artist Ge­of­frey Lillemon who moved here six years ago, lured by the city’s easy-go­ing spirit and wel­com­ing bon­homie. “What’s not to like?” he ob­serves, push­ing his bike through nar­row streets, ex­pertly dodg­ing the trams, tourists and other bi­cy­cles, which con­front us at every turn.

When the wind picks up and the tem­per­a­ture drops, we take refuge in the lobby of the mag­nif­i­cent Con­ser­va­to­rium - orig­i­nally a grand clas­si­cal mu­sic col­lege, now ex­pertly ren­o­vated into one of Am­s­ter­dam’s finest ho­tels. The struc­ture, built across a wide city block, is solid 19th cen­tury, but the ad­di­tion of a gi­ant glass atrium brings it beau­ti­fully up to date. It’s this clever jux­ta­po­si­tion of old and new, tra­di­tional and fu­tur­is­tic, that seems fit­ting for our meet­ing. Lillemon, while trained as a con­ven­tional artist and who still oc­ca­sion­ally paints with oil, is bet­ter known for the moder­nity of his dig­i­tal work and has fast be­come a leader in the field. Imag­ine the prin­ci­ples of all great art: form, line, land­scape, fig­u­ra­tion - but ma­nip­u­lated for the in­ter­net gen­er­a­tion.

They call it Net Art – tak­ing old-school medi­ums like paint­ing and draw­ing, then adding a smarter level of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity and an­i­ma­tion to cre­ate dig­i­tal pieces that use the in­ter­net as a gallery. “If peo­ple ask me, I say I’m a trans-me­dia artist and that I do story telling across many dif­fer­ent medi­ums, fo­cus­ing specif­i­cally on char­ac­ters in the dig­i­tal realm.” That’s a lot to put on a busi­ness card. “Yeah! Maybe a dig­i­tal me­dia artist is an eas­ier way to talk about it. Es­sen­tially, strong sto­ry­telling is where I’m at,” he says, a slight Dutch twang in­fil­trat­ing his ac­cent.

Ge­of­frey is an in­ter­est­ing look­ing char­ac­ter. He puts me in mind of James Fox in Ni­co­las Roeg’s 1970 film Per­for­mance. Not the up­tight straight guy at the start of the movie, more the later, louche ver­sion trans­formed by hal­lu­cino­gen­ics and a fate­ful meet­ing with Mick Jag­ger’s Turner. With his grown-out straw­berry blonde hair and round glasses, he comes across as a child of the 1960s (al­though only thirty-three), yet he’s a lat­ter day hip­pie in­fected by an en­thu­si­asm for new ideas and tech­nol­ogy. To call him a mere artist is to un­der­sell him. Along­side mul­ti­ple projects across a whole range of me­dia, he is a Direc­tor, Pro­ducer, and the driv­ing force be­hind a host of ven­tures. It’s a world where fash­ion, mu­sic, video and art col­lide. Where pix­i­la­tion and un­re­al­ity is his pal­ette, and imag­i­na­tion knows no bounds.

Ob­vi­ously the best place to view his work is the in­ter­net it­self, and more specif­i­cally his mind-bend­ing per­sonal web­site. As a show­case, it is un­ri­valled in its ar­chive and breadth. But it’s the sheer au­dac­ity and clout of the visual lan­guage which is most ap­par­ent. Here you’ll find rolling banks of lip­sticks as corkscrews, four-breasted crea­tures adorned with blue nip­ples, gluti­nous pink ear wax, and a mul­ti­tude of frazzed-out frac­tal im­ages all vy­ing for your at­ten­tion - easy on the eye it is not. Click within and you are led into a dark and of­ten dis­turb­ing world. Com­puter-gen­er­ated land­scapes are punc­tured by dig­i­tal laser beams, sex and sex­u­al­ity is lam­pooned, then blended with car­toon hor­ror and eye­balls pop out of skulls as if in some hi-tech ghost train. Noth­ing is ever quite what it seems.

“The in­ter­est­ing thing abut the work I do, is I get much more of a pos­i­tive re­sponse from women,” he laughs, “and I don’t know why. One girl came up to me re­cently and said that all of the char­ac­ters that I’ve been do­ing re­cently, which are highly sex­ual – long nip­ples, wild and in­tense – are what her girl friends love but her guy friends are kind of grossed out by.” No won­der Mi­ley Cyrus is a fan. (More of her later)

In the mean­time, it seems es­sen­tial to get a lit­tle back story. What could pos­si­bly lead a boy to such visual ex­tremes? Born in Texas and raised in North Dakota, he talks af­fec­tion­ately about an ec­cen­tric grand­mother who owned a sec­ond-hand book­store, and his mother, who, by all ac­counts, was “a bit schizoid.”

“The law was a lit­tle bit more loose back then,” he ex­plains, sip­ping on a per­fect cap­puc­cino. “At the age of eleven, we were rid­ing mo­tor­cy­cles with­out hel­mets and swing­ing from ropes over dan­ger­ous rivers. My cousins were a bit red neck, but then red necks are the best peo­ple to hang out with when you’re a kid.”

Sum­mers were spent at Car­toon Camp – or­gan­ised re­treats where this bud­ding artist learned to draw and an­i­mate. “I’ve al­ways been at­tracted to draw­ing and car­toons. I was draw­ing all the time back then, and in a sense I’ve been try­ing to get back to where I was as a child. I lost some of that, which we all do – we lose our child­hood in­no­cence. It’s be­cause you start to have hes­i­ta­tion, and you know what is good, and what works and what doesn’t. You lose the hon­esty of draw­ing with­out think­ing about it.”

He lights up rem­i­nisc­ing about these for­ma­tive years, watch­ing Scooby Doo, Max Fleis­cher car­toons and plun­der­ing books from his grand­mother’s store, “I didn’t want to read Gone With the Wind at that age,” he says. “I was into Al Jaf­fee and the MAD magazines. I was al­ways drawn to the ab­surd side of things, like Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead. I loved the ab­sur­dity of those things - they were al­ways full of booger and poop! What I’m work­ing on now is a re­flec­tion of that be­cause it’s pri­mar­ily about char­ac­ters. I think about what a char­ac­ter would do if they stubbed their toe, or if it was cloudy out­side,

much more so than if it was an ab­stract com­po­si­tion that didn’t have a name or a per­son­al­ity. I think a lot of that comes from watch­ing car­toons. Car­toons have much more ex­treme ges­tures.”

Af­ter a stint at Den­ver Uni­ver­sity, Lillemon moved to Char­lotte, North Carolina, where he worked for a start-up de­sign firm. “Of course they went bank­rupt in the ‘dot.com crash’, but it paid for me to go to Europe and I felt self-di­rected to cul­ture my­self a lit­tle bit.” Re­turn­ing to the States, he ended up at the Min­neapo­lis Col­lege of Art and De­sign, study­ing il­lus­tra­tion, de­sign and con­tem­po­rary paint­ing, and it was here that he first started toy­ing with the idea of Net Art. “I had never heard of that term,” he ad­mits, “but this idea of tak­ing the paint­ings I was mak­ing and an­i­mat­ing them in Flash be­came my thing. Es­sen­tially I was putting things up on­line be­cause I liked them, but then peo­ple started re­spond­ing re­ally strongly be­cause it was au­dio and visual, and it looped, and it was run­ning in real time at forty to fifty frames a sec­ond, so it al­ready had a strange look to it. I started to re­alise that the In­ter­net was an art gallery, and as a viewer you could have a one on one ex­pe­ri­ence with the art­work as it was in­tended. You’re not look­ing at a paint­ing in a book, you’re look­ing at the art that is made for this for­mat.”

Col­lab­o­ra­tions fol­lowed, work was con­ceived and ex­e­cuted un­der a va­ri­ety of names, and tech­nol­ogy such as im­mer­sive 3D oc­u­lar gog­gles brought life and at­ten­tion to his work. Not that at­ten­tion was hard to come by. It takes ei­ther a vivid imag­i­na­tion or hard drugs to pro­duce the ab­surd, of­ten ter­ri­fy­ing im­ages that make up his oeu­vre. Where this evolves from is any­one’s guess. Had he ever worked on acid? “Yeah, I have” he ad­mits, “al­though I don’t think I was able to do it. I tried. And then I opened up an email and read some­thing and got thrown off course! I find that world in­ter­est­ing though: magic mush­rooms, DMT and ayahuasca. There’s ob­vi­ously some­thing about the ‘other di­men­sion’ that fu­els my imag­i­na­tion.”

It’s this ly­ser­gic vi­su­al­i­sa­tion, based on hu­man shape and form, that’s led him to the world of fash­ion. To date, he has col­lab­o­rated with the de­sign­ers Bern­hard Will­helm and Iris van Her­pen, cre­at­ing films, tex­tures and pat­terns that have con­trib­uted to their col­lec­tions.

“I work with Bern­hard on the pat­tern de­sign, and I can do tex­tile de­sign be­cause the work is so tex­tile heavy any­way so I un­der­stand how to work with that. As far as work­ing with fash­ion clients and col­lab­o­rat­ing with dig­i­tal art, the two things aren’t com­pet­ing with each other. It’s more like, this is what I do and this is what the de­signer does, and you com­bine them and it emerges quite nicely. So I re­ally see those projects as col­lab­o­ra­tions. They deal with the cloth­ing and I deal with how to make a mood out of the piece.”

In a much more com­mer­cial way, per­haps Lillemon’s most no­table col­lab­o­ra­tion has been with the afore­men­tioned Mi­ley Cyrus. The vi­su­als he cre­ated for her 2014 Bangerz tour – the singer’s head trans­planted on to the body of a plucked chicken, his trade­mark goo­gly eyes, a plethora of eggs, both hard boiled and fried - are both puerile and en­gag­ing.

“I worked with a video direc­tor called Diane Martell who re­ally un­der­stands how to ma­nip­u­late pop cul­ture. I was mak­ing new worlds and new im­agery and dif­fer­ent kinds of sto­ry­telling in a sense, and she reached out to me. We bal­ance each other. I know how to work with new kinds of art, and she un­der­stands how pop works.”

And Mi­ley? “We be­came good friends with her. She’s so nice - a re­ally nice, beau­ti­ful per­son. She has very good en­ergy! It was a beau­ti­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion.”

Next year prom­ises more re­mark­ably odd ven­tures. As well as mar­ket­ing his own wine “in crazy bot­tles with eyes and lips”, and pro­duc­ing a range of socks and scarves “I like the idea of brand­ing my­self,” Lillemon is part of a big group show at the Mu­seum of the Im­age in Breda. “I’m do­ing a vir­tual re­al­ity in­stal­la­tion called The Nail Pol­ish In­ferno. It’s a strip club where one of my reg­u­lar char­ac­ters work. To view it, you have to wear Ocu­lus Rift gog­gles and see a dig­i­tal ver­sion of the en­vi­ron­ment you’re phys­i­cally in, but then every­thing is chaotic with re­ally in­tense tex­tures and multi-coloured strip­pers. There’s a bar in there, and two sharks that have com­mit­ted sui­cide hang­ing from the ceil­ing. There’s a fish fuck­ing this four-breasted woman on a bed. It’s…well, it’s quite some­thing.”

Quite. The way he de­scribes it, the whole ex­pe­ri­ence is “in­tense, over­whelm­ing and dif­fi­cult to com­pute”, and it’s ob­vi­ous his art­works are per­haps too dark for the main­stream. But, and this is the point, they do fuel a much needed debate about what con­sti­tutes good taste.

“What is good taste?” he says, as we leave the ho­tel and wan­der through the streets of Am­s­ter­dam’s fash­ion district. Drift­ing past the win­dows of the world’s big­gest lux­ury brands, it’s hard to know the an­swer. One thing is for sure; his dig­i­tal pop ven­tures are bring­ing art to a new gen­er­a­tion - kids raised on hor­ror, Poke­mon, com­puter games and in­ter­net porn. Who cares about taste when there are young minds to be in­flu­enced?

“Dig­i­tal is so cold and life­less you al­ways have to hit it with ex­tremes. You have to in­ten­tion­ally make it wrong.”

All works by Ge­of­frey Lillemon.

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