Do What You Love: An Interview with Artist Vicki Berndt

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

Popshifter: You have a lot of quasi-religious candles on your site which I think is so cool because when I first got into Redd Kross, which was 15 years ago, I actually had Xeroxed the Third Eye cover and made candles.

Vicki Berndt: Oh wow!

Popshifter: When I saw that you had the candles on your website, I was like, “Oh my God, she has candles like the ones I did from her art!” So I just thought that was so insane. And you have so many good ones, like Salvador Dali, Johnny Thunders. So how did that start? Was that something that you did for yourself that other people saw and liked, like with the Redd Kross Third Eye album?

Vicki Berndt: When I was first making paintings just for myself. . . you know, I was a photographer for a long time and was getting really burned out on that. So I thought, “I want to make some paintings.” And you know, I could put them in my living room; these are people that I really like. The first one I made was Lucille Ball, dressed like the Virgin Mary where her Sacred Heart is like the I Love Lucy heart. And that was just a painting I made and I put it up in my house. It’s almost like, “This is my religious figurehead. That’s my saint.” And that comes from just being an ultra-fan, probably the same thing that would lead you to make Redd Kross: The Candle. “I love them, they’re my gods, I’m gonna make some candles!”

st johnny
St. Johnny candles
© Vicki Berndt

And I started making paintings. I made a few more religious-looking paintings; you know, I made Billie Holliday and Johnny Thunders. And then it struck me: “Wow, these would look great on candles.” So I went to the grocery story and bought a few religious candles, took the labels off, and Xeroxed my paintings and stuck them on the candles. Same way, like homemade. And I gave them to people and made a few and sold them. It didn’t come as a whole concept, like, “I’m going to make these religious-looking candles.” It almost kind of came as an afterthought to the paintings.

But now when I make those religious-looking paintings, I always think ahead and wonder, “Am I going to make a candle of this one?” But the paintings came first, and then the candles.

Popshifter: It almost seems like it would be perfect for a shrine to a band.

Vicki Berndt: Oh yeah!

Popshifter: I definitely had all the Redd Kross candles and the Redd Kross pictures and everything all on a little shelf. I remember reading I’m With The Band when Pamela Des Barres talked about her Beach Boys shrine. I remember thinking, “I do that!”

Vicki Berndt: (laughs) Yeah!

Popshifter: I mean, if somebody doesn’t have that same ultra fandom, they’d probably be like, “What the heck is that about?” But people that are big fans, they totally get it; they totally understand.

miss pamela
Miss Pamela

Vicki Berndt: I think it’s like a small group of people that get it, but when they do get it, they really get it. If I talk to them or meet them, then I’m like, “Oh, I’m so glad to meet you because you’re like me!” My artwork doesn’t fit in with the majority of the “art school background person”; it’s more like a music background person or a fan background person. It doesn’t have to be music specifically, but often it is. That’s more my. . . those are my people; not the highbrow, museum, art school. . . or most galleries.

I have stuff in galleries, and some of them are like (adopts confused tone of voice), “Why are the eyes so big? What’s wrong?”

Popshifter: (laughs)

Vicki Berndt: And then you have to go, “Okay, well, there’s this lady called Margaret Keane. Have you seen a Keane picture?

(confused tone) “Uhhh. . . no.” Or, “Is that Prince?”

Popshifter: (laughs)

Vicki Berndt: “No, that’s Johnny Thunders.” “Oh, it’s not Prince?” “No.” “Why is he uh, wearing that robe?” And then it’s just like (laughs), “Oh my God, you are not my people!”

This leads me to relate to Vicki the story of my Adam Ant costume from the 90s: I spent three months making it and when I wore it (in Santa Barbara, CA) no one got it and one person asked if I was Prince. Years later, I wore it again, this time in New Orleans, and everyone got it. Lesson learned? People in New Orleans are cooler.

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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