Daniel "Attaboy" Seifert found himself painting mushrooms this past year, but surprisingly, his inspiration was not psychedelics. The artist, author and co-founder of Hi-Fructose magazine started shrooming—in the artistic sense that is—after the 2016 election. Attaboy painted a new series on wood with colorful images of mushrooms, skulls and other materials that he felt symbolized themes like mortality and rebirth. The California-based artist, who recently featured new works at his Grow in the Dark show in Los Angeles, spoke with PRØHBTD about the new pieces.
You've said the 2016 presidential election inspired many of your latest works. To what extent did the build up to election day inspire you compared to the eventual outcome?
It wasn't these works specifically, but the inundation of sour news and powerlessness over our electoral system led to a feeling of hopelessness. I wanted to do something and not let that nasty fuck-face steal my sense of humor and my hope. So I started painting mushrooms on cardboard and planting them in our town, then L.A., then sending them to be planted in Portland, in museums, in stores, in Ohio, everywhere. I made more than 125. The idea was to take back our thought-o-sphere a bit, to remind people that there still are unexpected pieces of joy in the corner of your eye, so don't fucking keep them closed!
One day I painted one cluster of shrooms on a piece of wood. That led to the recent Grow in the Dark series at Corey Helford Gallery. The paintings grew organically, turning into more sculpture than painting.
I was building paintings and drawing with a saw in the garage, covered in dust. Once, I was working on one of the larger pieces, and it dropped—shattering into dozens of pieces, just a few days before the show. For some reason I was calm and viewed it as an opportunity to revisit each piece, to add new detail now that everything was unassembled. That was not like me. I think something has changed.
Mushrooms are a motif that appears in many of your works. To what extent, if any, did psychedelic experiences help shape your worldview and expand your artistic vision?
Mushrooms have been appearing in my subconscious for my entire life. My grandmother had a ceramics studio where she would teach classes, and they had tons of mushroom molds.
Her kitchen walls were covered with mushrooms she painted, and she had a mushroom garden on the side of the house made of sparkly colors. I remember painting them once, making a real mess of things, and for the first time, getting yelled at by my sweet grandmother. Since I was small, I’ve spent countless hours trying to paint, hating every minute of it immensely.
But after the election, I started listening to Bob Ross to lull me to sleep. I figured his soothing voice was better than the news cycle. Not soon after, I was painting and actually loving it, after 40 years!
That harsh critic in my head was gone. I was laughing, painting, and building. It was like I caught a strange wave.
As for psychedelic mushroom experiences: I've had none, actually. Although a few years ago, when my sleeping was at its worst, I would see giant crystalline spiders that were dropping from the ceiling when I was about to go to sleep or mid-REM. I'd reach out and say, "Hi, Mr. Spider. You sure are big!" and scare my wife. I guess these visions are called "hypnopompic" hallucinations.
Mushrooms grow from the decay of dead matter. How does grasping this concept help inform your view on life as expressed through your artwork?
Mushrooms are dangerous, beautiful, diverse, edible, tasty, poisonous, phallic and magical. Many think they originated as spores on another planet; some believe as part of the big bang, others from alien life. Their network of life is under the surface of our planet and branches out, helping or feeding on plant life. Some grow through insects and animals. They grow on feces. They pop up overnight. To me, they give hope that some of the worst shit can facilitate the most colorful magic, sometimes overnight. Feed on the garbage of life and convert it into poison, joy, or poisonous joy.
Cannabis is another plant with a non-traditional story: It might help save or improve your life if it doesn't land you jail. Does cannabis ever play a visual or inspirational role in your art?
Funny, I've never had an alcoholic drink, taken drugs or drank a cup of coffee. But my guess is that I'd be healthier if I did. I have a very addictive personality. And as a former performer, I can be like a crack addict on Japanese candy. I spent a lot of time in bars. It's also where I met my wife! Anyone who knows me really well knows I’m a pretty manic person. I thrive on these ideas like an addict and often awake to strange "ideas" that plague me until they are complete. While doing this show, I did way too many things at once, so much so that I had chest pains and caused an enlarged heart. The "Cage" piece is evidence of that, which, of course, is no way to work or be.
In what ways does wood provide the ideal canvas for your images, and what types of wood to you prefer to use?
Squares and rectangles drive me nuts when painting. I've always been fond of toys, sculptures, reliefs and looking at things from different vantage points. I draw fast and furious, with a big pen or big marker. I want things to be dynamic and have life. I like using a saw as an eraser, cutting pieces off then moving them around.
Some final works started as spare parts from other things but combined together. Sometimes it's like they "speak" to each other, or at least respond to each other.
It's been a few weeks since I've made a piece, and just [saying] this makes me excited again. Thank you. You will be the one they blame!
Searching the name "Daniel Seifert" results in old news stories related to the Chicago mob. Has this ever resulted in some strange misunderstandings?
No, it hasn't, although I think he ran a plastics factory. (Wink.) Most delivery people ask me if I'm related to George Seifert, a famous football coach, but I'm not.
You co-founded Hi-Fructose magazine. What important goals have you been able to reach with the magazine, and what are the more immediate goals you hope to reach in 2018?
When I think about it, the very existence of Hi-Fructose is a strange fever dream. When Annie and I started it in 2005, we didn't imagine that it would go where it went. In a way, our ignorance turned out to be a blessing! Or on some days, a curse. I think Hi-Fructose reframed the art world in a new way to a certain segment of people, by mixing artists from all different spheres in one place in a unique way. I'm proud of us for that.
HF is published by artists, so we're not pushing marketing agendas on folks, either, and I think that the readers can sense and appreciate that. The advertisers who are drawn to us get that as well.
After nearly 13 years, it still presents relevant, interesting articles in print and online, and often with a sense of humor or wonder. The writing has continued to evolve and get more and more interesting. There's nothing like the smell and feel of print. Many artists received their first print coverage in our mag, which is fantastic. We never thought that the touring exhibition Turn the Page: The First Ten Years of Hi-Fructose—which closed late last year—would happen, and it included exhibitions at the Virginia MOCA, Akron Art Museum and The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. It was interesting to see people's reactions to the art; people who didn't live in large cities. Some attendees were openly emotional and visited numerous times. The Virginia MOCA did a great job putting the thing together. We had our differences, but the result was pretty fantastic and, for us, a bit surreal. I just wish some of our family members, who were strong supporters of what we were doing when we began, could have seen it.
Finally, if you were to create a new piece that characterized the GOP Tax Bill that just passed, what would it entail?
I’m working on a decomposing tank piece that seems to fit that pretty well, but don't tell anybody.
David Jenison (firstname.lastname@example.org) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Photo credit: Timothy Norris.