Studio Visit

Andy Dixon Wants to Talk about Art’s Last Taboo: The Price Tag

His paintings are luxury objects about luxury. Yes, you’ll want to buy one.

By: Emily Ramshaw
Photography: Alec Kugler

Take a look at Andy Dixon’s paintings, and it’s clear that while having a lot of fun (the bright pink! the glaring logos! the rambunctious subject matter!), the artist is also clearly making a point. The Vancouver-born-and-bred artist (he splits his time between his hometown and New York and is soon making the move to Los Angeles) started his career, as a teen no less, as a successful punk musician. Now he paints subjects that reflect on the bourgeois lifestyle—lavish interiors, knock-off Chanel and Versace clothing, neon simulacra of Old Masters, polo matches—in washes of bright colors. His raison d’être? To examine the aesthetics of value and what we deem to be expensive, including the luxury objects he’s making himself: his paintings.

We visited Dixon in his Vancouver studio, where he greeted us in a signature pastel suit (a version of which he wears every day), and talked to him about how he landed on a Nike sweatsuit as his painting uniform of choice, why he thinks Gucci’s Alessandro Michele is a genius, and how his patron, Charlotte Dellal, is helping him with his latest project.

“It was a really long and organic transition from music to art. It would be erroneous to say I wasn’t painting before; I was, just casually. It also felt like a hobby, whereas music was the career. That switched. I was always into visual art—even when I was eight, I was drawing comics. Then I got my first guitar when I was 10, and I got into bands. But bands need a visual identity, we needed album covers and stickers and stuff, and since I was the one drawing all the time, they elected me to do that. That continued for 20 years. I did it for other bands, and it snowballed. There’s a tie to the music and arts community. Suddenly I was showing works in the same DIY spaces that I played in. There’s a lot of cross-pollination. One day, my hobby and career switched—and that was a choice, probably about six or seven years ago.”

“Growing up in music, you go to these label lunches and dinner[s], and you realize people are just people. Things become a little less intimidating. You have a bunch of bad reviews, and everything’s still fine.”

“My style developed as slowly as my career in art. In music and visual art, I’ve always been interested in things that are done improperly. I was making punk music and experimental music, and the appeal isn’t that it involves technical prowess, but that it’s about emoting and reinventing thing[s]. That carries through with my aesthetic, too. I’m not interested in photorealism. I like to see a human hand; it makes you feel connected.”

“I don’t personally know the difference between a scarf and a pocket square. As far as I know it’s just a square of fabric… I get them at thrift stores or vintage shops. Often there’s just a bin of random scraps of things that I look through.”

“I’ve always been interested in meta-qualities and breaking down the fourth wall. I like to see my painting career as a painting career about a painting career. Being somebody who didn’t grow up in the art world, the whole thing is fascinatingly bizarre to me. I look at all my motifs as a self-deprecating joke about the fact that I’m making these luxury objects that I can’t afford—the painting itself. The subject matter becomes a reflection of the painting itself, like a Lamborghini. Or a riff on an old Flemish still life. And in that era, those were essentially the same thing as James Franco saying ‘Look at all my shit’ in Spring Breakers—it was, look at we can afford as a country. Many people died getting those oranges over.”

“I had an accidental graphic design career—that’s how I paid my bills for most of my life. I made our album covers, and then other bands hired me. Next thing I know I’m designing movie posters and beer labels for years. It was my plan B. My color pallette just organically grew. You have limited tools if you’re laying out a brochure or liner notes of an album—you only have font orientation and color. I started experimenting with color orientation, and one makes one look even brighter than it normally is. I learned a bunch of color tricks—I never saw myself as a colorist, but I can see it now. It comes quite naturally to me.”

“My schedule is consistently chaotic. I’m a bit of a night owl. I probably get to my studio at one or two in the afternoon, and I’ll paint until eight or nine, and then go out for drinks with friends pretty much every night. I wake up at eleven and do it again. I don’t take days off. If I’m taking a day off, I’ll still be here tidying or something. I can’t remember the last day I didn’t come to the studio. This is more my home than my home.”

“When I’m doing a painting, I have the subject matter and reference material. I don’t draw from my head—if you ask me to paint a leopard without a picture of one in front of me, I could not do it. I riff on my themes and talk to my friends over beers exploring the things that we do—that’s how I create depth and push things even further. I choose my subject matter through critical thinking about my overarching artist statement and different ways to express that. My foundational statement is one that I’ll never deviate from completely in my life. What does expensive look like? The aesthetics of value and money are really interesting to me, especially growing up in the punk community where I just wasn’t interested in that at all. I need to come to terms with that, for better or for worse, this is a capitalist world, and I need to make a living, and art has become that for me.”

“With a painting, I decide on my subject matter, and I decide on a background color. Each piece has one color—some artists prime their canvas and paint it white, but I use a color as a primer, and that color generally becomes thematic. You can see it in the cracks. Depending on the subject matter, I grid it out to make sure I’m slightly in scale. It’s a way to make sure it still looks like it’s filled with mistakes—the ear might be too big—but general composition will stay consistent.”

“I wouldn’t say I’m a sneakerhead, I just went into Stadium Goods in New York. It was freezing the weekend I was there, and we were walking around Soho, and went to Opening Ceremony. It was so cold, we just ducked into Stadium Goods. I had no interest in buying shoes, but that color combination is just too good, I had to get it. The peach and the pink? I didn’t buy them, but I was with my assistant and a few other people, and when we left, they all commented on how they were shocked that I didn’t buy them—that they were made for me and in my color palette. So I went back and bought them the next day. They were right.”

“I don’t like to make paintings too small. I use acrylic paints and oil pastel.”

“My clothing paintings are based on eBay listings. They’re images I find on eBay of people selling things. It’s the language of luxury. As far as I know, Chanel never made a jacket like that either, so this is clearly a knockoff, but it’s become its own thing. We all know that bomber jacket. Alessandro Michele, one of his most recent runway show[s], he’s bootlegged the Gucci bootlegs, which is genius—it relates to my work because in their own perfection, it creates its own value. To depict a masterwork painting or a pattern on a dress improperly, I’m removing what we would assume is the value of that thing—it’s immaculately made, it’s perfect. I’m removing that, but I’m adding my own value because it’s made by my hand. That’s the Duchamp theory—I say it has value, so it does.”

“I wear a suit every day. I got one tailored in New York. I also just get them on the Internet. In my dream world, I have a closet of the exact same silhouette in every single color possible. The male silhouette is pretty much nailed down—I don’t think it’s going to get any better.”

“There’s a motif I’m working within. If anything, I can’t make my paintings fast enough for the ideas that I have. I think that the motif of money and luxury is an endless source. A new series I just started—I showed my first work in New York at Volta—is I’m now painting my patrons’ homes. This is an interior of Charlotte Olympia’s house, actually. She bought a painting, and this is her living room with my painting in it. I’m not only making a duplicate of my own painting, but it’s also about the lifestyle of the patron. With every artist in history, there were a few people that kept them alive. There was that Russian guy that bought every Matisse painting ever—without him, Matisse wouldn’t have lived. Artists owe a lot more to patrons than they want to talk about, and I want to flip that. I want to make it about the sale. I also like the process of working with the patron—I need several different photos. They have a hand in producing the painting.”

“There’s that piece of a Persian rug, a thing that’s perceived as a luxury object. I painted one and didn’t grid it out or anything, so it’s crooked and sloppy. And now my gallery and I are working on turning it into an actual rug. It’s improperly made and everything about it is wrong, but that’s what gives it its value.”

“The cord [I use as a tie] I found. I think it’s the robe for a graduation hat. It’s got these tassels on it, and I have it in a few different colors. I’m trying to get more into neckwear. It’s another way to maintain the same silhouette and add something to it.”

“My painting outfit is pretty new. Before I tried some sweatpants. I work on the floor, so I need maneuverability. It can’t be stiff; it has to be loose. In the summer, it’s just shorts and a t-shirt. I’ve tried a lot of different things, but I’ve landed pretty comfortable on this [Nike sweat suit]. I can see why people get into sportswear and then just never wear anything else. It’s so comfortable. Sportswear makes sense for what I do—I need to contort my body in different ways. The Basquiat thing of painting in a suit is pretty cool—I’d like to graduate to that eventually, but I’m not quite there yet.”

“I do have delusions of grandeur. I do want to be an important artist. I think I have a lot to say, and I think I’m doing things that no one’s really done before—I don’t think anyone’s really done an interior painting of their patrons’ homes; I don’t think anyone’s done this meta-luxury thing. In modern art, one of the last taboos is the price tag. No one wants to talk about the fact that the whole thing is a luxury system. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying to highlight it. It’s not a moral statement at all, it’s just funny more than anything.”

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