Lars Ulrich on "Obey Your Master: A Tribute to Metallica"Juxtapoz // Tuesday, 03 Apr 2012
The Juxtapoz-sponsored "Obey Your Master: A Tribute to Metallica" group exhibition concluded this month at Exhibit A Gallery in Los Angeles, so we caught up with Metallica's Lars Ulrich to pick his brain about the show, his philosophy on collection, and for a peek at some of the art that integrates Metallica's daily lives around their local headquarters.
Interview and images by Erin Dyer
ED:You’ve put a lot of time into developing a passion and eye for art, so what did you think of the Obey Your Master: A Tribute to Metallica exhibition?
Lars Ulrich: As an art lover and art appreciator it was inspiring and cool to walk around and see these great pieces. The stuff I started out collecting 20 years ago was mostly oil, some canvases, acrylics, that type of stuff—but so much now has become about wood and digital processing, it’s fascinating. To then have all of these paintings be inspired or correlated and titled after songs that I had a part in writing was actually humbling, intimidating, and a little bit of a mind fuck.
I’ve got so much respect for artists, whether it’s writers or actors, painters, dancers; anybody daring enough to throw themselves into the unknown of any kind of artistic endeavors and undertake a creative process, I hugely respect. But to be in a room full of 35 to 40 artists who are all showcasing work that was inspired by songs I wrote was pretty humbling. Okay, this one’s called “Fade to Black” and this one’s called “Whip Lash,” and—whatever this one’s called.
Some of today’s top contemporary visual artists interpreted the band’s performance art, which is a whole different take than having fans just being fans of your work.
Exactly. Obviously between the Shepard Fairey’s and the Lango’s and Clown’s, and even Trujillo’s wife, there’s a very wide range of gifted and talented artists that have come forth. Like I said, as an art lover it was very cool and fascinating, as a musician and as cowriter of most of these songs it was a little trippy being in that space not only with the paintings but being in the space with the artists themselves.
Ultimately what we do is try to deal with being parents and remain kind of a low profile. We don’t walk around and think what affect our music has on people; it’s something we generally shy away from, so when you’re confronted with that directly it’s always a little overwhelming. The two- to three-hours I spent in that space in LA was really pretty amazing.
Was there an artist who stood out for you, or artists you weren’t familiar with beforehand that impressed you?
To be able to stand in front of anyone of your songs and have it visually represented by talented artists, whether it was somebody as well known as Shepard or Clown or Lango, or some people who are slightly under the mainstream radar, the fact that it’s happening in itself is really, really cool. I tried to understand as much of the stories and get into the artists; I had some fascinating conversations with Per Øyvind Haagensen, who painted “The God that Failed,” and Mr Kaves, who did the Brooklyn train for “Ride the Lightning.”
Squindo, who worked with us, I got to talk to Nicola Verlato quite a bit about his interpretation through painting. stories about this guy from Norway, this guy from Italy was really pretty cool, and covered a vast amount of creative space. There were so many different takes, from literal to very abstract. Clown’s piece, for instance, in the middle of the room, its pretty fucking cool when you can stand next to a piece of art and have the creator talk you through it for 10 to 15 minutes. Wouldn’t it be great if you could stand at MOMA and listen to Barney Newman or Jackson Pollok talk about their work, what it means to him? So it was a luxury to meet these guys and hear their story and have them explain their work, their take on a Metallica song and their creative process and endeavor.
As a serious art enthusiast and collector, you have a very personal relationship with traditional visual art. As a creator of a different genre, what about contemporary art do you enjoy most? What does traditional art offer you compared to being a performance artists?
It offers me pleasure, a chance to escape; it offers me a way to connect with an artist. The things that turn me on I was not just looking at but I was connecting with; the person who made it. It’s about connecting—to an artist, an experience, it’s always been a place to go lose myself. The kind of art that I’m most interested in is the stuff that allows me to make things up in my imagination, where I can put the pieces together myself, I don’t like the pieces to be 100 percent carved out wood, if you what I mean. I like an abstract element in there so I can figure it out on my own and put my own spin on it.
Where I’m standing right now in my kitchen I’m looking at eight to 10 paintings. What do they offer me? They offer me different experience. I’m looking at a Carol Apple; whereas if I stand here I get a different view than if I’m looking from over there. I love coming back and getting different things out of paintings, finding a place to lose yourself in it. For many years art was, and still is, a place where I go and feel it’s all my own. Metallica is an experience that’s shared by a lot of people, but what I take away from art, even though it is about connecting to the artist, I still very much have my own take on it that I hold to myself. That’s what I get out of it: it’s a journey about discovering and keeping your eyes open, finding what turns you on.
Anybody that sits there and tries to force an opinion or force a way of looking at something on you doesn’t belong in what art is about, which is about freedom. Especially contemporary art where there are no boundaries or limits. You could argue that looking at renaissance or impressionist art is about this or that, helping the voice of the church or education, showing what some city in France or some church looks like. Now, it’s just expression, and really an emphasis on the word “freedom.” People can really express themselves, whatever they’re thinking, whatever they’re feeling. There’s no boundaries, no rules, no right or wrong, no good or bad, its just you, whatever you are.
So then what’s your philosophy around collecting? I know you spend a lot of time procuring specific pieces and art—and then selling a lot of the work you own.
I think that art is not something you hoard. Even though an artistic experience is personal, expression isn’t something you can own. Like, I don’t own a Basquiat painting. No one does. If anyone did it would be Basquiat himself. What I’m saying is it’s something I’m holding onto for a while, it’s something that I’m part of the lineage in—I got that painting from somebody and now it should be somebody else’s.
It got to a point where I just had so much stuff it became about acquiring, and I needed to release myself from that. I could be turned on by a painting, enjoy it, then set it free, letting others enjoy it. A lot of paintings I’ve had have ended up in museums; to me it’s about this journey with no starting or end point. It sort of goes in and out but in the last couple years I have been into furniture and buying unknown artists’ work. I’ve gone into galleries and acquire paintings that are still wet. The last few years I have spent a lot of time in galleries and picking things up at auctions, exploring the working spaces. To me it’s an experience that continues to morph.
Yes, be supportive of the galleries. They need it. So who are some artists you’re replenishing your collection with? Did you buy anything from the Obey Your Master opening?
I didn’t get a chance to, but when you just told me that it’s still on view I’m making a plan to go down and see it. The things that are hanging on my walls that you probably don’t know are a Danish painter Kehneg Neilson, who does incredibly beautiful abstract canvas pieces. Bary Simons, a young American outsider artist, who come from that wave that almost Basquiat-institutionalized, self-taught artists. I like having those kind of histories on my walls. That’s the kind of net I’ve ended up casting wider and wider.