Do What You Love: An Interview with Artist Vicki Berndt

Published on March 30th, 2008 in: Art, Feminism, Interviews, Issues, Music |

Popshifter: Have any other subjects seen the work you’ve done of them and had comments? I would think they would be honored and think it was great.

Vicki Berndt: I know that Courtney Love really liked the Big Eye painting I did of her. That was one of the first Big Eye paintings I did after the Redd Kross one. There was an art show in L.A. about women in punk rock and they asked me if I had any punk rock women paintings. I said, “Oh sure!” And then I had to think, “Which ones can I do?” (laughs) I did the Courtney one and Exene. I had done Debbie Harry already and that’s what they had seen. They had asked, “Do you have any more of these?” So I did the Courtney one. She saw it and said she really liked it and wondered if she ever wanted to use for something, could she? And I said, “Sure, just let me know.” But I never heard back from her.

Hole © Vicki Berndt

Aside from the custom portraits that I do specifically for people—I definitely get to hear their reaction—the ones I do on my own, I don’t always hear back. And I don’t send it to them specifically like, “Hey! Look what I made!” I just do it and put it up there and don’t look for any reaction.

Popshifter: The Tiny Tim painting that you did, “The Coronation of Tiny Tim,” how did you get into him? When did your fascination start?

Vicki Berndt: Again, when I was really young, he was the “pop sensation.” He was on the radio, he was on TV, he was everywhere. And his girlfriend who he married was called “Miss Vicki” so in my seven-year old mind, I was like, “Vicki!” And when I’d hear he was getting married on The Tonight Show, I would say, ‘Vicki!” So that sort of caught my attention.

And then for my birthday I got his first album. I got it and played it over and over and over.

Popshifter: It’s funny that you mention that because my cousin was really into Barry Manilow so I was into him when I was five. I have a picture of myself with the Barry Manilow Live album which is so ridiculous. Did you get into any of the stuff Tiny Tim was into because he was this huge encyclopedia of early American pop music and vaudeville? Or was it solely limited to his music at that time?

Vicki Berndt: Yeah, at that time it was just Tiny Tim. I had no knowledge of 1932 crooning love ballads or anything, that was way beyond my—

Popshifter: (laughs)

Vicki Berndt: But now being older or being a record collector dork, I would go back and look up old versions and listen to them. But no, as a seven year old I wasn’t going to record collector fairs and looking for Rudy Vallee albums.

Popshifter: (laughs) That would be really funny, though. I mean, I wonder if there is anyone [that age] out there who actually has done that. Maybe now, with the Internet and stuff. How did you get the picture of the two of you that’s on your MySpace page? When did that take place?

Vicki Berndt: Again, Jeff McDonald.

Popshifter: (laughs) He’s the gateway.

tiny tim
The Coronation of Tiny Tim
© Vicki Berndt

Vicki Berndt: We’re really good friends and we used to hang out all the time, like ten or 15 years ago. Now everybody’s married and has families, so we don’t hang out all the time like we used to. But I was hanging out one afternoon with Redd Kross—maybe at Dave Nazworthy’s house—and Jeff was like, “You know, Tiny Tim is playing today in Long Beach.” And I said, “Oh my God, really, now, today?” And Jeff said, “Yeah, let’s go!” So we just drove there and luckily I had my camera. So it was like, “Come on, let’s go get our picture with him” and Jeff took my picture standing next to him.

Tiny Tim was amazing to see, too. People think of him as just this novelty/comedy thing with his falsetto, but he can actually really sing. He has this crazy baritone.

Popshifter: That’s exactly what Hanna said about him in her article on his Christmas album. Obviously the Christmas album is really weird, but it’s a weirdness that you appreciate, not just in a mocking way. You do appreciate his vocal range.

Vicki Berndt: I read a book on him, there’s a biography that came out in 1970 or so. He tried for years, he was relentless: he was going to be a famous singer. And he played anywhere, he played in the early folk clubs in Greenwich Village, like where Bob Dylan and all those guys played. It would be the unknown Bob Dylan, and then three folky guys, and then Tiny Tim would get up and sing.

That’s where he came from, which I don’t think a lot of people know. I mean, he’d be up there with Bob Dylan! (laughs) Before either of them were famous. And then just this fluke of singing in a falsetto and he became known for that. I’m sure he didn’t mind; he was like, “They like this? Okay!” But besides that he has that whole old American history thing behind him.

Click to read more from Vicki Berndt on. . .

Tiny Tim
Art as commerce
St. Johnny Thunders
The fanzine approach
Photographing bands
The punk rock aesthetic and what’s next

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