Over here at the lab we love us some good ol’ fashioned godless art. We also love us some people with wit and a goddamn-good sense of humor. All of these lovable things have combined in a sticky, colorful mass with duct tape artist, Andy Carmichael. I was lucky enough to meet Andy at last years American Atheist art show and he (and his art) was as awesome in real life as you might hope! He is such a swell fellow that he was kind enough to take the time to answer some of my probing questions about his art, atheism, duct tape and the important role humor can play in sending a message. Enjoy!
What got you interested in doing art that was inspired by atheism?
What got me into atheism?
The simple answer is creationism and evangelical Christianity. I grew up in a semi-religious house, meaning that we went to church fairly regularly, but religion was never a domineering force in my house. Religion was something that was done on Sunday morning, and that was about it. I never was taught that evolution was wrong or that I should take the bible word for word. Topics like homosexuality weren’t topics to be condemned, just avoided at all cost. So it was actually in college that I was first exposed to creationism and evangelical Christianity. I had some dorm friends who were regular attendees of a group called Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. And I started to tag along. I remember the first time someone told me they didn’t think evolution was true. It just boggled my mind. Here was a girl who was smart, who wanted to be an engineer, and yet held this ridiculous idea. It extended into politics as well. I just could never be that comfortable with the conservative God of my friends. With all of that said, I really did try to become/remain Christian in college. I think the more I tried the less it worked. But I did not completely reject the notion of God. I guess when you grow up hearing that “God is Love” without having to confront any of the hypocrisy or the more ridiculous aspects of belief, it’s easy to just accept it as possibility, if not truth. And it’s hard to discard the beliefs of your childhood—I still want to believe Pluto is a planet even though I know better.
It wasn’t really until graduate school when, after long hours spent indoors at a godless institution of learning, I would come outside late at night to find my car windshield covered in Chick tracts. Out of sheer annoyance I decided to actually read them. Once I got over my initial confusion and shock at the absurdity and bad logic presented so adamantly in cartoon form, I pretty much laughed all traces of God out of my life. The absolute nuttery spewing from every page of these tiny booklets is a fucking miracle in and of itself; which would make a compelling argument in favor of God if it weren’t just so impossibly stupid. If you don’t believe me, just read the tracts “Big Daddy” and the “Last Generation.” How can you not love a cartoon which states that the secretive Catholic Illuminati are going to drive around with moped-powered guillotines beheading true Christians? How can you ignore the hilarity of the argument that the Loch Ness Monster is proof that man and dinosaurs lived together? It is impossible to parody, and funnier than anything I could think of, and became an obsession that eventually inspired me to create some cartoon insanity of my own.
Why did you start making duct tape art.
I got into duct tape almost by accident. One Christmas, my wife and I were living in a small apartment, so having a Christmas tree wasn’t that practical. So jokingly I told her that while she was away visiting her family, I was going to make her a Christmas bower (see Vogelkop Bowerbird) because nature knows that the reason for the season has always been fancy decorations and shiny objects. Initially, I was going to make it out of Christmas lights, but that idea failed miserably. Luckily, I saw some colored duct tape at the store. With that and a shower curtain, I made a portrait of the Pastafarian heaven, complete with stripper factory and beer volcano. It was pretty epic. From there, it evolved or devolved, depending on your perspective. Before I knew it I was making pictures of Jesus riding a unicorn fighting a fire-breathing Parasaurolophus, which come to think of it, is actually a logical progression. Also I can’t draw, paint, knit, sculpt, mold, crochet, sew or quilt. So my options are limited.
I am a firm believer that art should not only be atheistically pleasing but also be practically useful. For example, let’s say you’re kayaking across the English Channel and your boat develops a leak. If you have my art work with you, you can quickly make a repair and be on your way. If you just had a Thomas Kinkade with you, all you’d have is buyer’s remorse and a sinking boat. And your immortal soul would be doomed to wander the murky grey waters of the channel forever and ever. That’s right, buy my art work, it just might save your life.
What influences your art?
I don’t have that much of an art background. The last art class I took was in eighth grade, and I got a pitty ‘D’. So I can’t say I’ve been too influenced by one school of art or another, or by one artist or another. Probably my two greatest influences have been comics/graphic novels and dollar store catholic holograms of happy peaceful lambs that turn in to Jesus’ bloody crucified body. Two of my biggest influences I would say have been Gary Larson’s Farside and Transmetropolitan. Larson’s ability to combine science and humor is unmatched. I dare anyone to walk into a science building without finding at least one Farside cartoon. And I also just love the man’s humor. I like the idea that it’s not the fact that two cows own a home that’s the punch line to the comic, but they fact that they don’t have opposable thumbs and can answer the telephone. Transmetropolitian by Warren Ellis has been a big influence on my story telling, especially, volume 0. That volume is a bunch of side stories, usually just one picture and a few sentences. It’s the details in the background that carry the stories and the emotion. So I try to make at least the main parts of my work as detailed as I can, even if it means cutting each of the scales on the dinosaurs out one by one. For comics and cartoons, the story and title are just as important as the actual picture, and the same goes for my artwork. I usually spend more time on getting the story exactly right than I do working on the duck tape part of the picture itself. Probably my most obvious influence is Christianity and religion itself. I grew up Lutheran, and any art we had was plain and somber. Jesus always wore the same brown robe with white undergarments. He always had the same empty solemn expression. Then I discovered dollar store catholic art. Everything was bright and colorful and made no sense. What is not to like about a kid Jesus dressed up as a 13th century Spanish pilgrim? Or Saint Barbara and her crown of bricks. I grew up with boring, humble Jesus, but Catholics have Super Jesus with a flaming laser heart that shoots people in the face with love and mercy. I know a lot of Catholics hated growing up Catholic, but given the choice simply based on my materialistic and greedy nature, I would choose Catholicism in a heartbeat. And I try to reflect that by making my artwork just as bright and colorful. Also I want to thank my wife. She helps a lot with refining the ideas and proof-reading the stories.
Do you think humor plays an important role in communicating ideas? If so why?
I am mocking some of the most deeply held and cherished beliefs of others, so the least I can do is make them laugh.
Humor is really the best, if not really the only way, to address religion. Religions use fear to keep the faithful in line. While some religions claim that it’s all about love and peace, if you look at the nuts and bolts of that faith it is all about avoiding the wrath of God. Take gay marriage for example. Evangelical Christians claim that “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, yada yada yada..” and, yet all of their arguments about why we should not allow same-sex marriage can be boiled down to, “God will be angry and He will hurt us.” This type of argument has even flowed into subjects that religion shouldn’t have any influence. Don’t believe in Global warming or you’ll insult God. If you don’t lower that top marginal tax rate, you’ll make Jesus cry. And when Jesus cries, New Orleans gets destroyed by hurricanes. So once one side of the debate begins to use fear as a primary tool, maintaining a civilized, rational discussion is useless. It does not matter to a person how many inconsistencies there are in the timeline of Jesus’s life if that person is afraid that merely questioning the bible will lead you straight to hell. The physics behind global warming becomes irrelevant when someone thinks his or her immortal soul is on the line. No rational argument can adequately refute that, just like no amount of water can put out an imaginary fire.
That is where humor comes in. It allows you to refute irrational ideas without accidentally showing those ideas any undeserved respect. Humor lets people understand that they don’t need to be afraid. Once people are not fearful, they start questioning. And that is all I can ask for.
What projects do you have in the works?
The piece I’m working on right now is “Eve and Lilith,” where God makes woman first, but rather than eating the apple they trick God, Jesus and Satan into eating it instead because Eve and Lilith were creeped out by how God was always watching them and finally had enough. I have more ideas than time to work on them. Like a false advertisement for “Blood of the Lamb Landry detergent– “Now with 50% more quilt,” Jesus, the pope and various saints running a bikini car wash, Noah being attacked by penguins. Squid Christ. Sasquatch Jesus in the Garden. The Lord on the run from the zombies he created. I also want to try to write a longer set of stories in which comments by wingnuts are true. For instance, a gay couple who marries causes a heterosexual man to fall in love with a box turtle; Islamic fundamentalists and liberals are one in the same, or that the government is controlled by global warming alarmists. With that said, I am willing to do commission work.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us, Andy and keep on makin’ art!
Psssssst: Hey you…cool person reading this post… yeah YOU. Be sure to click through on the images of Andy’s art for some inspired explanations of each piece and be sure to check out all his other sticky creations too!