K.K. Hi, Ethan! Thank you so much for answering some questions for me. First of all, tell me a bit about yourself. What do you feel is important for our readers to know?
E.T. Kai! I’m so excited to be doing this, the pleasure is all mine!
Let’s see… I’m a twenty-three year old visual artist. I graduated from film school last year, and I spent the majority of the pandemic making art. I love creating stories about haunted people, and mysterious places and things. For some reason I sweat when it’s cold outside. I genuinely enjoy the taste of Vegemite. I’m terrible at good-byes. I’m on the Taurus-Gemini cusp, which I recently learned is a thing…
K.K. What materials do you use in your work, how did you come to use these materials?
E.T. I often use pastels, they’re just so incredibly expressive and lend a piece such texture and personality. I just picked them up at Blick one day, really. I wish there was a deeper story here, but…
K.K. As a native to Los Angeles, I feel that your work definitely plays with tropes that involve the city. I love that! When I saw these images together, I felt a story coming together that is about lust, money, the city, and something more ominous I could not quite put my finger on. Perhaps the color scheme lends to my feeling of lurking evil. Can you speak to the ominous and brooding aura in your work, and in what ways it connects to the myths of Los Angeles?
E.T. “Lurking evil,” I love that. And I think that so aptly describes the atmosphere in Los Angeles. There's this strange charge in the air here, and I think it’s because L.A.’s history has long been seeped in what you could define as “evil.” There’s the rise of spiritualists and the occult in the twenties, L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons trying to raise demons in Pasadena in the fifties, the Manson Family committing ritualistic murders in the late sixties, Richard Ramirez doing the same a bit more than a decade later, and so on and so on. And that’s just off the top of my head!
I think those events have shifted into myths over the course of their relative existences, and have left that charge in the air — that feeling that underneath all the glitz and glamor, there’s an unyielding darkness. A darkness that often takes shape in bloody lust, greed, hunger for fame and recognition, hatred and drastic physical change of self. If you’re not seeing it when you’re walking down the street, you’re definitely seeing it in movies about L.A., like Mulholland Drive, Chinatown, Sunset Boulevard, or Lost Highway. So I try to invoke that feeling or charge in my work, as I think you can’t truthfully and successfully depict Los Angeles without it.
K.K. So, it seems like you really consider the history and myths of Los Angeles in your work?
E.T. I’ve lived here as long as I can remember, so the knowledge, myths and history are always spinning in my head. I think I channel them by listening to music as I work — I have a playlist that reminds me of L.A. It bounces back and forth between Mazzy Star, Les Baxter, Joni Mitchell, Alexandre Desplat, the Doors, and so on… so I’m passively considering L.A. as I create a piece. I’m invoking it. But I’m not explicitly telling its history; I’m not going to the library and doing any research, you know?
K.K. Another thing I really love about your work is your lethal portrayal of the feminine. In “Helen of Troy,” we see a beautiful, yet sharp spine, with a single glowing red eye staring back at us. The woman is inviting, but deadly, it seems. By contrast, the men in your work seem stern, often looking at their female counterparts. In “ City of Night,” for instance, the man appears to have an almost normal eye color, and in “White Head” he has no eyes at all. What role does gender play in your work? What do you want viewers to take away?
E.T. I love your perspective on these pieces! At the risk of sounding completely pretentious, I rely on my intuition when I make art. If it feels right, I go for it — meaning I rarely go in with a plan, let alone an intention for viewers. Though, if I think about it, I do hope there’s a fluidity present and obvious in my pieces when considering gender. In “Celebrity Skin,” I see what could be considered femininity in the positioning of the subject. There’s a sense of delicacy, submission, elegance, tenderness; there’s an extreme power and confidence balanced with intense vulnerability — yet the body obviously belongs to a man. So I’d hope a viewer could come away, then, wondering if perhaps those traits could actually be masculine. Or, better yet, if maybe ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ are a bit too restrictive, and becoming less relevant when looking at both art and the world around us.
K.K. That is really astute. I enjoy the way you complicate our visions. What do you think a more nuanced way to think about your art would be?
E.T. I really wouldn’t want to dictate how someone should consume my work. Someone can think of it as frivolous Instagram nonsense, someone can see it as complex. Maybe it’s neither, maybe it’s a bit of both. I think that’s the fun of art — we define it by the way it’s perceived, so we can never quite tie it down to absolutes.
K.K. So, to end things on a light note, what activities, art, or literature have you been enjoying these days?
E.T. I check Susie Cave’s blog on thevampireswife.com nearly everyday. I’m a little obsessive about it. She posts poetry, music, art and photos, all of which have a unifying theme I can’t quite put my finger on. I’ve also been very into Liang Fu, this artist on Instagram who makes these ghostly crystalline paintings, they’re amazing. Also Tali Lennox, who paints glossy, mysterious women.
Although I want to live in a fairy tale, I really don’t love reading fiction. I love biographies, and just finished one on Egon Schiele — I’m on the hunt for another now. Vanderpump Rules and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia also have my heart. Balance is key.
Drawn to the dark, mystical underbelly of Los Angeles’s rich history and culture, Ethan Tague channels his fascination with his strange home city into equally strange pieces of art. Currently working on Nightbirds, a portrait series connecting the ghostly patrons of an underground L.A. bar scene to local mythologies, the recent film school graduate also writes and directs short films, with his directorial debut I Wanted to be a Poet Not a Mother winning multiple awards and screenings at festivals across the US and Europe.