A few days before I did this interview with Tanner Goldbeck, I had the pleasure of visiting his home/Studio. Tanner lives in downtown LA, in the heart of creativity and chaos. Living on the 10th floor, we stood out on his fire escape and admired the view. To do this interview we decide to meet up at the bar across the street from his house that Friday, we both walked in at the same time and went and grabbed a seat right at the bar, ordering a round of drinks we got comfortable and started our chat.
Tina Ziegler: So let’s start with the basics, where were you born?
Tanner Goldbeck: I was born on the 4th of July in Baltimore, MD, I grew up in the woods about five miles south of the Mason-Dixon line.
TZ: How was your childhood?
TG: Well, I grew up half a redneck, not a whole lot to do but find trouble. Worked many years in the Jacksonville Seven-Eleven on Jarretsville Pike, store #19925a. I grew up going between the beach and the city, and designing t-shirt graphics.
TZ: In Hunt and Gather the artist book, you mentioned in your personal text that your dream as a child was to become an airplane pilot, what happened to that dream?
TG: Ha ha,, yeah, well I am scared of flying. I thought about it, but nahhh… I would have to go to the Military or something, as I only want to fly World War II plains. I guess I am just out of the loop.
TZ: Good reason.. So instead you got into the arts, how did that happen for you?
TG: Always drew. I got A’s in art classes and failed damn near everything else. I went to the Maryland Institute of Art and figured I’d graduate and become some world famous artist. Colleges have a way of fluffing post graduate realities. After some bumps and bruises, I ended up getting a job working for the t-shirt company Big Johnson as a color separator. A few years later I was getting bored. One day I was at lunch reading a magazine and saw a story about a comic school in New Jersey. The Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. I called them up, took a sick day, drove to New Jersey and had an interview.
TZ: So just like that, from a magazine story, you got up and moved?
TG: Yeah,, I packed up and moved to Dover, NJ and went to comic school. I got a scholarship from Dark Horse Comics Company out of luck so that helped the decision.
TZ: So you have always been a big fan of Comics?
TG: No, not really. I loved the art but wanted to draw people, not just comics.
TZ: What happened after Comic school?
TG: Actually, everything kind of changed due to an ad in a Transworld magazine. I was looking through a random issue in NJ and I saw an ad for a job at Powell skateboards in Santa Barbara. So I sent in my Cv, and got the job.
TZ: You must be a big magazine reader, or is it just a coincidence?
TG: Yeah I guess. Two magazines have fucked up my life, (smiling) in a good way of course.
TZ: You packed up again and moved to California?
TG: Yeah, I ended up working for Powell in SB for 7 years. I had a lot of fun. It was a bit surreal to be working on designs for Steve Caballero. The funny thing is, I grew up on Powell Decks but really sucked at skating. Drawing was much easier.
TZ: Steve Caballero? He’s a big name to be working with.
TG: It was a great experience. I started working with Steve Caballero and found out he was really in to cars, so we would sit in my garage and speak about car parts. It was a geek moment in my life. I was in a moment of “wow”.
TZ: While in Santa Barbara the Haley Collective was formed, can you tell me a bit more about that collective.
TG: It was in 2002 when we formed the Haley Collective, we started by doing small, one night events that eventually grew to around 300-400 people a night. I met Joe Shea and Larry Mills, and we worked closely together during that time.
TZ: What was the art scene like during that time in Santa Barbara? As I was just a little one then and out of the scene.
TG: We were feeding off each other but still somewhat on the outside of any SB art scene. Lots of energy but not much going on, so we decided we had to set something up.
TZ: Where did these events go down?TG: It was on Haley Street, one of the shadiest streets in Santa Barbara. It all happened there because Larry lived in the space of an old restaurant. Haley street back then was full of prostitutes, transvestites and drug addicts. That shit was dirty.
TZ: Yeah I remember that street growing up, it was the one you avoided taking. But was it a good experience in the end?
TG: It was great, we were all looking to have a good time and we got good experience working together. There was a lot to learn about organizing shows and getting practical experience in how to set them up.
TZ: The Haley collective just had a show at SCION space in LA, titled Travel and Document, how did that show go and is the collective still active?
TG: Joe Shea got the connection for the Scion Show, we only had a month to plan it, but it was an opportunity you can’t say no to. So we got it together in 4 weeks, it was hard to fill a 4500 sq.ft space so I grabbed as many car hoods as possible. As a collective we don’t work that much together any more, The Scion show was a special event, Joe Shea wanted to bring us together again.
TZ: Now you have landed in Downtown LA, why the change?
TG: I came down to LA for the art. I basically looked at a map and decided to drive downtown. Its Joe Shea’s fault I am in DTN. HA!
TZ: How do you see you’re self fitting in to the art scene?
TG: I don’t feel like I fit into any one scene completely. I guess I don’t seem to have one specific area of concentration. My biggest problem now is trying to focus. I don’t feel bad about it though, I am thinking internationally. It takes time to really establish things, number one: who you really are as an artist and number two: paying attention to the art market.
TZ: Can you describe some of your influences or inspirations?
TG: I grew up with a heavy art history background. When I was a kid I wanted to copy all these famous paintings, I wanted to cut them up and alter them. Just to change it.
I am a big fan of art museums and going through art slides.
TZ: Your favorite artists?
TG: Too many.. Right this minute... some old masters, some current illustrators... hard to say.. I’m always into John Singer Sargent and Alphonse Mucha. Phil Hale, Norman Rockwell, JC Leyendecker... been staring at this guy Jason Alexander’s work. Good stuff...
TZ: How do you combine these historical references with your modern way of thinking and painting?
TG: Way back in the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, paintings were all about messages and creating grand symbolic social gestures. Paintings served a more important role in society. Artist were hired to portray power and control, every piece of a painting had meaning. The citizens weren’t all that literate back then, paintings had to tell a story through an image. Its not quite like it used to be, regarding what you see today in Juxtapoz.
To me, a large part of my art is about skill level and technique. I want to mix the skill with an over exposed energy… creating a type of “mind fuck”
TZ: Can you describe your style or your recognizable imagery?
TG: I don’t really think I have a style, but people say they recognize my work.
TZ: Well I know I do, when I see one of your pieces I know instantly it’s yours.
TG: Whys that?
TZ: Because of your ghostly figures floating in the center of the piece, unfinished backgrounds, transparent layers of soft colors, contrasting darks and the elements of fire, water, wind and light. I see those and I know it’s a Racecar 13 piece.
TG: Yeah, I don’t paint backgrounds. I do like to work with religion and icons and symbols. I was raised Catholic, . I went to church for 26 years so the religious thing really fascinates me.
TZ: Do your works get criticized for being too controversial?
TG: Little black kid angels with no arms and feet, crosses and religious figures, they might have the tendency to be called controversial, and even racist or sexist. I am not any of those. My work is more themed based, and I try to cater to a deeper through process, with graphic images on the surface.
TZ: What does style mean to you?
TG: The more you can vary and change elements within your style, the better shot you have at longevity. The more you know about art the more you can carry it in to your own style. People can take art and process it any which way they like. People often tell me things about my work I hadn’t though of. I like that. I like the fact that someone looked long enough to form any opinion and tell me about it. Nobody is going to see it the same way you see it.
TZ: So style is all about interpretation?
TG: Yeah, it can be. I love interpretation. I like abstract thought but with a specific visual of focus, the two don’t always mix well together but for me some days are better than others…
TZ: How do you feel about the contemporary art scene that is flourishing right now in LA?
TG: Generally art is so fucked up, it’s so wrong its perfect. There isn’t anyone I don’t like, I get sensitive when people copy other artists too long, especially this trend with the little girls with big eyes. If as an artist you start imitating someone else, you’re fine for awhile, but soon you have to grow into your own identity. That is part of what I like about graffiti. People pulling images from all walks of life. Coping styles, mimicing and experimenting to find a voices. Always blows me away to see new shit. Vaughn Bode rules! Sometimes it does all comes down to the SPF.
TZ: The what? SPF?
TG: The Stupid People factor.. its a nasty little theory about short attention spans that came out of the years of T-shirt trench warfare. You only ever really get 2 seconds to grab someone’s attention. People who are fans or dedicated to the cause aren’t part of the formula. Its for the browers. For the roaming types that scan the mags or scoot through the galleries on the way to dinner... The half interested masses that need to be stopped, made to clear their minds and focus on whater you have hung on the wall. You have 2 seconds to entertain them, peak
their interest and stick in the back of their mind. Doesn’t mean they’ll like your piece, but they might remember you down the road. In my opinion, the worst response is no response at all.
TZ: So do people critique you a lot?
TG: People sometimes say, “You don’t look like you would paint that kind of thing.” And I just answer with,"what am I supposed to paint?” Joe Shea is always telling me what to do, but I never listen to him. Ha haa..that’s the way it is.
TZ: Do you have any limitations with your art?
TG: I always wanted to do a painting of my Social Security number, but in the end I didn’t have the guts to do it. Every time someone thinks they don’t have limitations then think of that, painting your S.S number.., then people realize they do have limitations. Art is a personal challenge. I want to remain totally optimistic. Art will always be a challenge for me, I need to always take shots at new things.
TZ: Favorite size to work?
TG: I love to work big, really big. One of the pieces I did for the Scion Show was so big, I had to cut it in two to have it fit in my elevator.
( Taking a break We go to grab some pizza from across the street and have some more beers, ending the night I decide to ask Tanner a few more questions, in our blurred state of laughter.)
TZ: So backtracking a bit, where did the name Racecar 13 come from?
TG: Is must have been in the late 80’s, early 90’s. I got dumped and felt sorry for myself, so I went to the Green Turtle in Ocean City Maryland.( A bar) I went to go pee in the bathroom and there was the word racecar written on the toilet, I went back 3 nights in a row and pissed on that same word, Racecar. Later I wrote the word Racecar on one of my pieces as I just had it in my memory from pissing on it so many times. So it stuck, I started using it more and more. It’s a Palindrome, same from back to front. So that’s pretty cool.
TZ: But why the 13?
TG: Because I couldn’t get the Racecar.com, so I added the 13 to it. (www.racecar13.com )Also because Joe Shea has a 9 in his name, so we both have numbers now. I have been using Racecar for about 20 years now.
TZ: So let’s rap this interview up, what are you working on now?
TG: I just finished the piece for the I am 8 Bit show. But I never seem to get as much time as I want to paint, For the past two years I’ve pretty much had two fulltime jobs. Free time was a fantasy. I got laid off from West Coast Choppers in January so thats opened up some time. I still work freelance most of my week as an illustrator for Icon Moto sports, which is kinda nuts. I have all these crazy helmets but no bike. I do a lot of monsters, skulls and dragon graphics for the helmets, jackets and accessories.
I seem to get a variety of side jobs, i’m a dedicated old car junkie and I can’t stop messing with cameras. It all comes back to that horrible lack of focus.... getting better though.
TZ: What are your future plans?
TG: I want to paint more, do more shows and in about 5 years I want to know what I am doing with my life. I like to paint what I want to paint and that’s that.
TZ: Any last words?
TG: God Bless America,,, all good speeches have that right?
Thank you so much Tanner for sitting down and having our chat, I really enjoyed it and I hope all the readers to do!
See more of the art from Tanner Goldbeck:
Tanner's Web page : www. racecar13.com
Tanner's Myspace: www. myspace.com/tannergoldbeck