Interview: Jensen Karp Talks the ‘Crazy 4 Cult’ Book, Celebrity Bidding Wars, and the Worst Cult Movie Ever (It’s Not ‘The Room’!)

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Seven years ago in Los Angeles, Jensen Karp co-founded Gallery 1988 with Katie Cromwell because the latter was working at what Karp calls “a stuffy adult gallery nearby… It was so pompous and judgmental; the owner used to have to convince people to pay $40,000 for a splattering of green paint on a canvas.” He and Cromwell realized that in the art world, there was a major divide between older and younger buyers: “I had a ton of friends who were my age, who were buying something at Bed Bath and Beyond for their walls… There should be somewhere that people my age can go and actually buy art that speaks to them, rather than art that’s forced upon them.”

“The cool thing we learned pretty quickly,” he told me, “was that these young artists, while they used to be influenced by Matisse or Rothko were now influenced by Ren and Stimpy or Quentin Tarantino. We always went by the creed of, If you’re passionate about it, paint it.”

For the past five years, Gallery 1988 has been home to the Crazy 4 Cult show, hosted by Kevin Smith and featuring works inspired by cult films like Clerks but also The Goonies, Pulp Fiction, Rushmore, and movies you may never have heard of. Crazy 4 Cult collects the best pieces from the past four years into a gorgeous coffee-table book that's a surreal trip through the minds of artists who filter the already out-there stuff from their favorite moviemakers through the lens of fandom.

Has there ever been any art that you’ve refused? That might not fit the theme?

Karp: It’s happened, but very rarely. Mostly because we’ve been doing it so long and people understand that this is a tribute and we’re paying honor to the movies and such, they know to paint them in the light we’re asking them to, which is “we’re in love with these films, you should be too, we’re celebrating them.” So nothing’s come up that’s offensive.

Do you have any favorite pieces from the last five years?

Karp: I only have one thing hanging in the house in terms of recently acquired, because it means so much to me. It’s Greg “Craola” Simkins’ [take on] Edward Scissorhands, though it also has elements of The Nightmare Before Christmas to it. When a concept came to my mind—he nailed exactly what I wanted to see. We don’t show fan art, we show artists who are fans. Greg just took his own style and implemented the influence that he had from [Tim] Burton’s films to breathe new life into this property that we think we know.

I also love Sean Clarity’s Data piece from Goonies, where it’s a caricature of Data and all his weapons are going off at one time. I love M.C. Winter’s recent piece from Fight Club; he did a portrait of Helena Bonham Carter that I love.

Are there any pieces that inspired vicious bidding wars?

Karp: All the time. It’s literally happened every year. I remember Pete Wentz wanted this Edward Scissorhands piece that Jonah Hill picked up, and that became a joke between them. Not even just with celebrities—we work in extremely limited-edition, one-of-a-kind stuff, so we don’t really treat it different. If you’re depicted in the show, we let you in much earlier; we figure you deserve it. But everyone else we treat the same, so when people get in there, sometimes it’s a free-for-all.

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