JOHN WATERS has been dubbed ‘The Pope of Trash’ by William S. Burroughs. Best known for his many outrageous movies, he debuted his first film, Mondo Trasho, in 1969. Since then he has also written books, launched an art career and infiltrated the world of television. All of his work uses dark humor to illuminate absurd social taboos and make his own subversive pleasures palatable to a pop audience–often through surprise and cutting wit. By toying with and dismantling conservative media of all kinds, while reveling in his own obsessions,Waters gleefully exemplifies the eternal spirit of the prankster. Interview by V.Vale
V: I thought you were the first person in the world to exhibit a painting of people inside an airline that’s crashing–
JW: All the pictures are mostly taken off the TV screen, and that one was called ‘Buckle Up.’ It was just hideous different shots of the worst things that can happen during an airplane crash. You know, my work is sold in editions, and that was an edition of eight, and what’s amazing is: many flight attendants bought them, which I find really great! I thought, ‘I wouldn’t want to check through security with that art piece . . . it ends in a ball of fire!’ And it has images of pilots freaking out and people shaking in the seat . . . every bit of fear you could have in an airplane crash.
V: It’s true, you wouldn’t want to tempt fate by carrying that one on a plane–
JW: No. And 9/11 brought a big halt to the sales of that piece. But it’s back to normal now– flight attendants are buying them again!
V: Yes, I realize that in this year, 2006, I’ve thought about 9/11 the least.
JW: I have a piece in my new art show called ‘9/11’ and it’s just the two titles, ‘Dr. Doolittle 2’ and ‘A Knightly Quest’ because those are the movies that were scheduled to play on the planes that smashed into the building. That is very frightening: those banal movies . . . they never even got to see them because the planes were hijacked before the movies got shown . . . which is better, because imagine if that were the last thing you saw?!
V: That’s so funny–
JW: It’s not funny, really . . . it’s actually the terrible banality of those two titles . . . movies that were pretty forgotten–they weren’t hated or loved; no one even remembers they came out, almost, except the people who made them. So when you see the piece you think, ‘What’s that?’ There are no possible references until you realize that, ‘Well, that’s what was on the planes up there.’ So it is trying to find some kind of ‘show business’ news, and even the most horrible unshow business kind of moments.
I’ve always said that my work in art galleries is about the terrible depression normal people must feel every day when they wake up and realize they’re not in show business! Somebody said, ‘That’s the snottiest thing you’ve ever said!’ I said, ‘I don’t mean that to be snotty–I think it’s just true.’ There is a certain depression when they look in the mirror and realize that there are no paparazzi out front…