John Waters | Artists’ Chronicles: 2020

John Waters considers himself to be a writer first and foremost. He is best known for his satirical, often raunchy movies and considers his artwork to be an extension of his writing. As a visual artist, John Waters expresses himself with sculpture, photography, and installations that demonstrate his wit and sense of humor. He frequently incorporates popular culture into his work. In his forty-plus year career, the Baltimore-based artist’s work is laced with themes and motifs that entice and illicit reactions from the viewer. Race, sex, gender, consumerism, and religion are frequent topics of this successful multi-disciplinary creative force.

In this video, the renowned artist, film director, writer, actor, and journalist discusses his 2011 exhibition at the Arthur Roger Gallery titled “Catholic Sin.”

Using an insider’s bag of tricks and trade lingo, Waters celebrates the excess of the movie industry. Word and image play permeate Waters’ work, and the movie industry and its various sleights of hand are a common target. Always ambitious and playful, some of the works are condensed narratives or “little movies” as Waters calls them. Waters wickedly juxtaposes images from films and television that he captured by photographing his television set as they play. His approach originated with a desire to retrieve stills from his own movies and developed into an appreciation for the overlooked and misrecalled.

Included in the exhibition is “Rear Projection,” which is a movie term for the process whereby a foreground action is combined with a background scene filmed earlier to give the impression the actors are on location when they are, in fact, working inside a studio. In John Waters’ work, this artificial and outdated visual effect is embraced and taken to extremes.

Waters has said, “I’m concerned that people don’t remember movies; they remember stills that they’ve seen over and over in books so I try to photograph things in movies that you are never supposed to see. Really, it’s about writing and editing. I think up each of these pieces and then I have to go find the images that make a new narrative which many times is the opposite of or has nothing to do with what the director really began with.”

John Waters was born in 1946 in Baltimore, MD, where he continues to live and work. In 2018 the Baltimore Museum of Art had a major retrospective of John’s work. Exhibitions include the Swiss Institute, New York, NY, (2009) the Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, MO (2008), the Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (1999), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (2004), The Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, PA, and the Orange County Museum of Art, Newport Beach, CA (2004-2006). His filmography includes Pink Flamingos (1972), Desperate Living (1977), Polyester (1981), Hairspray (1988), and Pecker (1998). His works are in the collections of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the New Museum in New York, among others.