Team Macho: Interview

Team Macho is a Toronto-based “collaborative illustration and fine art effort composed of Lauchie Reid, Chris Buchan, Nicholas Aoki, Jacob Whibley, and Stephen Appleby-Barr.” Their first New York solo show “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” opened this past Saturday, September 19 at Giant Robot in the East Village.  Their paintings and prints of fancy lies and painful jokes are hung above stacks of their book Fancy Action Now: The Art of Team Macho and postcard book Precious Gems. I met up with Lauchie and Chris at the opening for a discussion on the sidewalk in front of GR. Jacob and Nick found their way out a little later.


Brandon Johnson: So, uh, Team Macho is . . .

Lauchie Reid: Five weird dudes who draw together, live together, and are, sort of, inextricably linked. Like . . . a dirty family.

B:  A dirty family. I see. How did you guys meet?

L:  We met at illustration school. At this really suburban art college where we all sort of bonded for a mutual disdain of the coursework, well not the coursework so much as the people and the attitude forced on us. We kind of got together doing that and . . . yeah, that kind of didn’t work so hot for the other people at the school. So, we became something of segregated pariahs. The bond forged in blood is hard to break.

B: So you met each other, hung out, and decided to make work collaboratively?

L: Well, we sort of identified each other as the hard-workers, the people who cared a lot and sort of gravitated towards one another, and we just sort of did our homework together and then we got the idea of trying to work together and it became a thing that felt really comfortable, well it was sort of uncomfortable at first, but it became a thing that was intimidating and fun at the same time.

B: Would consider yourself to be a collaborative . . . collective . . . do you have a way of thinking like that?

L: I’d say . . . I don’t know. Collaborative definitely, collective not necessarily. There’s not a huge mission statement.  But yeah, it’s sort of like a . . .

B: A team.

L:  Yeah, it’s a team. A team effort.

Chris Buchan: We’re a team without a coach.

L: Exactly.

C: But a team that’s all driven to one purpose.

L: A utopian anarchist collective . . . just kidding.

B: The extent of my knowledge of Canadian collective / collaborative groups is the Royal Art Lodge, who have had projects in zingmagazine. So, Team Macho reminded me of that in certain ways, but maybe it’s inevitable as a group of Canadian illustrators . . .

L: There are elements that are probably similar, and it would be an absolute lie to say that some of us aren’t big fans and really enjoy them a lot. I wouldn’t say that our work is necessarily informed by it [The Royal Art Lodge]…

B:  But you’re cognizant . . .

L: Oh yeah, there’s got to be similarity. I mean, they’re from Winnipeg. Their whole thing is this weird Canadiana. It’s amazing stuff, but the intent is very different, the practice is very different, and the content is quite different as well.

B: Would you have any sources of influence that you could identify? Even if it’s not in the realm of fine art, maybe something outside of it?

L: Everything from Greek philosophy to, I don’t know, Impressionist painting. Most of us, if you ask us what kind of art we like, it’s pre-20th century paintings, things like that. We’re pretty classical in our appreciation and understanding of art. Contemporary art, there’s tons of good stuff, but it doesn’t really work its way into our art-making process.

B: Yes, it [Contemporary art] is very pluralistic. Would you say you integrate things as you come across them?

L: Yeah, absolutely. Really we gain a lot of inspiration from each other. That’s where most of our work comes from. It’s aimed at one another with a lot of common reference points that we share, that we can use to make each other laugh, or . . .

B: Yeah, I noticed this humor, it’s a black but colorful humor, that runs through the work.

L: Like a joke that makes you cry a little bit. But I would like to emphasize the point that we’re not just making work for each other and we’re not trying to make people pay attention to our “cool little gang.”  It’s not that at all. We make art for each because that’s why we do it. That might be the jumping off point for why we do it . . .

B: It’s a good enough reason for me.

L: Yeah, it’s to give people insight into our minds, like any artist would do. To share our ideas.

B: Right, but at the same time you’re finding your audience. Trying to identify your audience. It’s kind of nice that you know who’s receiving it. You know that the others are going to look at the work. They’ll have something to say about it probably . . .

L: There’s a like-mindedness that goes through the work that the people who see the work can identify with. Pluralistic is a good word for it because it comes through the minds of several people all the time, so it’s not pedantic, in a way, or didactic I guess, it’s just sort of like . . . here it is.

B: Now I just wanted to talk about this show, because this is what’s going on. This is your first solo show in New York.

L: Yes, indeed.

C: In the United States, as well.

B: That’s pretty exciting. So you’ve mostly shown in Canada?

L: Canada, Toronto. We’ve shown in Amsterdam. We’ve participated in shows in the United States, in other Giant Robot locations. We’ve been in group shows here and other places like France, Berlin. It was an opportunity for us to swoop down and investigate your neat-o city.

B: Pretty neat-o in my opinion.

L: I like it.

B: For some of you, this is the first time you’ve ever been to New York.

L: Most of us.

B: Wow, that’s kind of amazing in a way, but I suppose not necessarily.

L: I can imagine why people in New York are like “You’ve never been to New York?”

B: Yeah, I suppose being here you sort of forget about other cities. New York is very self-centered.

L: What, you’ve never been to Toronto?

B: I have been to Toronto, actually.

L: Oh, well never mind then [laughs].

B: [Laughs] Take it back.

L: I will. I retract my statement.

B: Let this be stricken from the record. So this show, did it have a concept behind organization?

C: Like a theme?

L: You know what, two months ago, we didn’t even have a show in New York. It was very short notice. They [Giant Robot] had a spot to fill. They called us up and we said, “Well, absolutely we’ll take it. We can’t say no to this.”  That’s why the show is called “Long Time Listener, First Time Caller” because we’ve been paying attention to Giant Robot. It’s been a big thing in our lives for years and years, so this was our first chance to participate directly and we wanted to create a nice overview of what we do and the different incarnations that our work has taken over the past five years.

B: The curatorial thought behind it is like it’s a mini retrospective?

L: Yeah, retrospective slash primer maybe. We’re sort of like “Here’s the bread, a cross-section of what we’ve done, check it out and see how the work has changed.”

B: An introduction of Team Macho for New York.

C: Yeah. Here’s some new work, there’s some old favorites.

L: Some of the work. It’s caught on pretty well. We’ve gotten good responses via the internet and things and people are like [in a weird voice] “I LOVE THAT”.

B: I like your website.

L: Yeah, our intern designed it.

B: Oh, so you have interns. Like you have it on your website and people write you . . .

L: No, no. I guess it’s because they’re forced to intern for their illustration programs. So, we’re getting the status as the guys who are fun to intern for because we’re like “Hey, you wanna make a puzzle?” Because we’re not exactly the most professional of operations. We just kind of hang out and help them. Teach them whatever they want to know. They’re welcome to come and work at our studio. They’re more just like a buddy to come hang out, and if we need help lifting something. An extra set of hands.

Jacob Whibley: Actually, our last intern decided to move into the building with some of his friends. So, it’s like a weird little . . .

B: Ex-intern situation?

L: Yeah, we primed him and pushed him out. Like some sort of little mutant.

B: Team Macho, the next generation. So, one thing that came up earlier was that I first came across your work through my roommate who has a painting of yours of a basketball player breaking his ankle, or something and he was telling me a little bit about what was behind that painting. If you could re-iterate . . .

L: That painting is an emulation of my favorite illustrator. He went by the name Frank Netter. He was a doctor. He did thousands of oil paintings of medical illustrations that are like the WORST things you’ve ever seen.

B: So, it’s like Doctor-Horror paintings?

L: It’s just so ’70s and really pumped out. It’s like, “Alright, this guys got a fever, he’s sweating, I’ve got to make a sweat face.” So these people will have these big lumps of sweat on their faces. So, he’s like “Oh, now I need another one of that guy.”

B: He was doing it for medical purposes?

L: Yeah, straight-faced medical journals. He’s considered like the God of Medical Illustration . . .

C: Anthologies of his work, just documenting it . . .

L: From an art-practitioner’s point of view, he’s like horribly under skilled, but from a medical perspective he’s God.

B: But from your perspective, he’s . . .

L: From my perspective he’s kind of a weird genius.

C: He’s the Henry Darger of the medical world.

B: That’s the new Outsider art. Medical art.

L: We’re dreaming of curating a collection of his works, because I imagine it’s in an old vault somewhere at a pharmaceutical company.

B: So that painting came from . . . you copied one of his paintings?

L: Yeah, it came from a study of trying to understand that guy’s process and like, understand what could drive someone to do something like that.

C: There was also the mutant hand.

B: Where did you find his work?

L: There were a pile of his journals on top of a parking meter and we were like  “YES SIR!” because the top one was like mutations and retardations in children and we were like “OHHH!”

B: It was just there?

C: Yeah, on this busy street in Toronto. Like [musical voice] do-da-do. Oh, yoink!

B: That was the source for that painting. Do any of the paintings in this show have a similar story?

L: No, that was like four or five years ago. That was just a project I was doing on my own and when were given our very first show, I was like “Yeah, I’ll throw in a couple”. It was probably copyright violation, but . . .

B: I think in painting you’re in the clear as long as it’s not a person with an iconic image, like Elvis or someone like that who copyright their image.

L: And he’s dead and stuff.

C: You really cleaned those things up. Made them look a lot nicer than they did.

L: It was an excuse to learn how to paint like a terrible painter. Like, what were you thinking when you were doing this?  “Neat. Brown plus white equals skin.” The pallor on his patients . . . the guy had no understanding of what looks good. It was all what works for him.

B: But he’s this huge icon for the medical industry.

L: Yeah, I didn’t know it at the time. I thought he was some weird guy. But apparently he’s revered.

B: When was he working?

L: He died in 2000 or something, but we worked for 50 years, so he was in the last half of the 20th century. Pretty amazing stuff. Look it up.

B: An unknown master.

L: Nothing since that has really been appropriated. We got away from doing that because it’s not really worth it. I’d rather do things on my own.

B: The content of these paintings, drawings, and illustrations are from your own vocabulary?

L: Yeah, they’ll come from a book we’re listening to. We listen to books-on-tape at our studio all the time.

B: And you come up with images . . .

L: Yeah, there’s a painting here called “Legacy of the Force” because as we were working on a show we were listening to all the Star Wars novels, so we started incorporating elements of Star Wars.

B: You’re making visual motifs from these books-on-tape.

L: Exactly, that’s the diaristic element of what we do. So much of it is day-by-day transcripts of what went on with us. It’s what we did that day or what’s going on that week. Our latest obsessions.

B: You’re all sitting in the studio . . .

Jacob Whibley: And we enter into a dialogue that eventually reaches some sort of logical conclusion. Like, “You know what? That would look good as something. Let’s make it”

B: How often are you in the studio then? Do you keep hours?

L: Everyday.

C: Seven days a week.

L: It’s rare not to see all of us in the studio in a day.

C: It’s also rare to have all five of us in the studio at the same time.

L: We come and go.

B: So, that’s in Toronto. What part of Toronto?

All: [enthusiastically] The Nox!

B: The Nox?

L: We’re the only ones who call it the Nox. It doesn’t really have a name.

C: It’s a pretty rotten neighborhood.

L: Toronto is a pretty neighborhoody town, but for some reason the ten square blocks around our studio is just nameless.

B: That’s very Beckettsian.

L: Yeah, that’s why we call it the Nox. It’s pretty decrepit and bland.

C: In ten years it will be up-and-coming.

B: Is there any Beckett on book on tape?

L: We’ll probably pick some up now.

B: That would be really great to listen to. The prose is so dense and repetitive.

L: Books on tape are great because you can sort of tune them out and come back to them.

B: And if not, that’s a good project for someone to do. Make a book on tape of Beckett.

L: Oh, I’m sure there’s a lot. There’s a free project online where you can just sign up and read a book.

B: Do you know the name?

L: Can’t remember. I’ll email you. They’re terrible. They’re really bad, almost unlistenable.

B: Do you guys plan on sticking around Toronto?

L: I think so. Toronto is a good place.

B: What’s so good about Toronto?

C: It’s a lot like New York. But cheaper.

L: Cheaper. Scaled down. Not as friendly, oddly enough.

B: Really?

L: I find New Yorkers to be extremely friendly.

C: On the street, maybe, but not in the stores.

B: There are definitely some unfriendly ones.

J: Yeah, Toronto. We’re going to stay there for now, because it has everything we need.

B: I’m not saying you have to leave.

C: It is a common practice for artists to re-locate.

L: Where we work strongly influences what we do.

Nicholas Aoki: We’d have to establish another hub.

L: Plus it’s hard to move five dudes and spouses, fiancés, and stuff so we kind of . . . live there.

B: What do you do outside of Team Macho?

L: Two of us teach at the Ontario College of Art and Design, one TAs, Jacob works in graphic design, and . . .

C: I wash dishes.

L: He washes dishes. We all have solo things that we do that are not part of Team Macho. We’ve all had solo shows at some point. You know, we’re not too precious about Team Macho. We just like doing it because it’s weird and fun. Gives you a good excuse to try out all kinds of stuff.

B: Brings friends together.

J: It helps you become less self-involved.

L: We’re thinking of expanding our practice out into . . .

C: Performance art?

L: . . . just anything. And naming it the Star-Surfer Magic Corporation. So that’s a possibility.

The exhibition runs through October 14th at Giant Robot, 437 E 9th St, btw 1st Ave and Ave A.  Visit their website, for more.

-Brandon Johnson, September 2009