Interviews

Pop Culture with Clark Fox

By David Jenison

Revolutionary change epitomized the Sixties in all the art movements, and Clark V. Fox was an active participant. Clark is a highly esteemed artist and curator with a photographic memory for art history. He not only knows a lot about art history but participated in art history as a second-generation Washington Color School artist, leader of the Somnambulist movement and chosen artist at the inaugural PS1 exhibition in New York City. He also helped pioneer the street art movement with the likes of Roger Gastman, Shepard Fairey, Ron English and Steve “ESPO” Powers, and in his support of all things subversive, Clark worked with many over-the-edge visionaries such as Thomas Downing, Herbie Vogel and James Harithas. In high school, he shared an art studio with future filmmaker David Lynch and set designer Jack Fisk, who at the time hung out with local poet Jim Morrison. Clark recalls seeing the Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix in the 1960s and the impact that the Beatles had when they first arrived in the States. He even explains why his favorite Beatle is not John or Paul. In our ongoing interview series with Clark, he talks about his firsthand experiences in the 1960s pop culture scene.

When you went to high school in Alexandria, Virginia, you had an arts studio with David Lynch, and Jim Morrison of The Doors lived down the street. What was that like?

The studio was with David Lynch and Jack Fisk in Old Town Alexandria in a sort of rundown two-story Victorian building. Fisk is married to the actress Sissy Spacek, and he's one of the greatest set designers in film today. Both of those guys were really dynamic even in high school. We were all kinda different artists instead of normal students. We all competed in shopping center competitions. We split the the rent for the studio. I had a  two newspaper routes, and David and Jack worked in a private drug store with Jim Morrison making deliveries. They created this party room that was really wild. They activated the space with lighting and sculptures that gave it a three-dimensional quality. They really knew how to manipulate the space. We were all the same age except they were a class ahead of me. They graduated in '64, and I got out in '65 because of my birthday. We hung out from '62 to '65, and then I hung out with them after high school in Philadelphia.

I remember I told David Lynch that I thought I wanted to be a filmmaker, but I got into the Vietnam War thing, and it cost a lot to do film. I remember telling Lynch and Fisk that painting is cool, but filmmaking is cooler, and then they both ended up being big shots in the motion picture industry. I did work on a project with Jack in Manayunk, Pennsylvania on a music hall that took about two weeks to decorate. Jack invited me out to Los Angeles to do movie sets, but I wanted to stick to art. Plus, I never drove a car and still don't to this day.

It’s funny because Lynch called me up one time and said, "Hey, Clark. We want to go see this movie. You want to come with us?" I said, "What's the movie?" and he said, "The Sound of Music." I said, "I don't know. I'm not big on musicals." He said, "Oh, come on, we'll come pick you up." Lynch and Jack, it was funny, Jack's mother came, so they picked us up, and we went to this movie house in D.C. Then, when the film was over, I'm like, "Oy vey, this film really sucks." David and Jack were talking, and then they go, "Hey, Clark, can we watch this film again?" I had to stay because they had the car. Right, so, "Yeah, okay."

We watched the movie again, and then we had to cross the street. You could drink at age 18 back in those days, so we're sitting in this bar, and Lynch was totally zonked out on this film. We were having this heavy conversation about it and everything. Jack went to Cooper Union, and David went to Boston Museum School for one year, and they really didn't like it so they bought airplane tickets and flew to Austria. They wanted to study with Oskar Kokoschka, that really wild Expressionist painter. He was still alive and still teaching. They got over there and paid to go to the school. Then they went out to look for jobs, and people said, "What, are you guys crazy? This isn't America. You can't get a job here." They didn't have any money. They weren't rich people. Then they were just stuck in Vienna or Salzburg or some place for a while and finally made it back to the United States. It was so weird that a movie would get them so inspired that they wanted to go to Austria.

Did you have any interactions with Jim Morrison back in the day?

Not much. He must've been about three or four years older. I think he got out in '62, but the three of them, they worked at this drugstore, kind of a private drugstore, back when they had mom-and-pop drugstores. It was funny because a number of years before I met Lynch, I used to see him walking around, and he looked like John Lennon with blond hair in those days. He didn't dye his hair yet. He had blond hair. He always wore a tie and stuff like that. He seemed kind of morose.

Well, I see this funny-looking, real pale guy walking around with these little bags, and he was delivering drugs, legal drugs, and then became good friends with those guys. It was pretty funny. A couple of years later, it turned out he was an artist. We all went to the Corcoran [School of Arts and Design]... actually, Jim Morrison went to the Corcoran Arts School on Saturdays for kids. Morrison, I used to see him. He went to a different high school, but he worked at the drugstore, so when I'd go in looking for either David or Jack, a lot of times he would be there by himself. I might say, "Hey, how are you doing? Blah blah blah. Is Jack here or David?" He'd go, "They're not working today." That was pretty much my thing with him. Lynch talked to him.

High school was weird. It was a depressing time in a way until the Beatles happened. People were stuck in these high schools in the sticks of Virginia. A lot of Jim Morrison's Lizard King stuff was all written in high school. He ended up doing it later, turning it into art and music afterwards. He actually went to film school. He was studying film down in Florida.

You say the Beatles changed everything. How so?

Oh, man, before the Beatles, they had doo-wop, these groups like The Orioles and stuff like that. Rock 'n roll was hillbilly. Then the Beatles turned it into art. The only Beatle I liked was Ringo.

You don't usually hear that.

I beg your pardon?

You don't usually hear that. Most people like Paul or John.

I know. The second one I would've like would've been George. He was probably super talented, but after John got with Yoko Ono, I started to think he did his best music with Yoko. That's pretty harsh, but it’s funny. The first Beatles show in the United States was at the Washington Colesium right near the railroad station. I didn’t go, but David Lynch did, and I think it was a real turning point for him.

I was a Rolling Stones guy. I first saw them in 1966. I was coming more into the blues. I liked the black blues stuff. Now everything's at everybody's fingertips, but back then, you had to either know people or you heard about some of these people, but you didn't know what records to buy. You know what I'm saying? Money was like... in 1970, I had an apartment in New York for 70 bucks a month, and 70 bucks a month was hard to come up with. Musically, I was stunted. They just had these AM radio stations, and it was really hard to get hold of blues stuff. Then the Rolling Stones, somehow I'd gotten a hold of it, were doing that and opened it up a little more.

I got to admit, I never was able to really go buy any blues records or stuff. I was always more into jazz. As soon as rock 'n roll really got rolling in '64 or '63, I started going that way. I like classical music because that’s all my parents let us listen to in the house. I was retarded back then. Retarded was probably good in another way, but it's really completely different. Now you can find everything.

What is one of your favorite music memories?

One of the greatest things was that somebody told me about Jimi Hendrix. He said, "Oh, man, this guy's playing in town. You've got to go see him." He was down in D.C. in the summer of '69 just before Woodstock. It was around the time of Monterey Pop. I went to this kooky club called the Ambassador. It was this old movie theater run by wacky hippies. It cost $2.50 to get in.

Jimi Hendrix had been on the Monkees tour. He was opening for the Monkees. Can you imagine that? He was so grossed out that he bailed, and he ended up in D.C. These crazy hippies had this club and somebody goes, "Let me call these dudes up." He played four nights at this club on Columbia Road and 18th Street. It was a movie house. It was the old... I'm trying to think what they call that club. Anyway, it was so screwy. Everybody was stoned in there but me. I was about 10 feet away from Jimi Hendrix and The Experience. I went to three nights of the shows. You could stay for the second show. He was playing two shows. It cost $2.50, the same for both shows. I was so burned out from the electricity that he generated that I couldn't make it the fourth night. That was my greatest rock 'n roll story. Hendrix, he was at his peak at that time. It is the number one show I've ever seen.

That's amazing.

Yeah. He'd worked with the Isley Brothers and stuff, and he had all that syncopated movements and everything. Jimi Hendrix, when he did his shows, it was just like a fucking magic act. Did you ever go to Magic Castle in LA?

Yes.

Did you see any of the card tricks and stuff? How I'm comparing Jimi Hendrix is that I had a girlfriend that worked there so I could get in for free and hang out and go see the shows over and over again. I don't play cards, but I'd go to these card shows. This guy, every time, it was like, find some attractive girl and go, "Oh, would you help me? Here, pick a card." At the end of the act, it was always the three of clubs. Everytime.

I'd hang out with the guy in between sets. He was an older guy, this sad man, just getting rough because the fingers stuff is like... some of these card tricks take years to perfect. He told me a few things about how to look for the cards, how the card disappeared and where it showed up and stuff like that. You watched a show over and over again, and it was the same exact thing every time they did the show. Jimi Hendrix's act was the same thing. Although it looks so spontaneous, it was almost like a wild acrobat. He did his acrobatics and stuff like that. He could do it over and over again and make it look so fresh every time. It was unbelievable.

The last time I saw Jimi Hendrix was in this place where I basically needed binoculars to see him. I only liked to go to little small clubs to see bands. The crowd went nuts, but it was nothing compared to him in a small club. That one, it was an outdoor place, and there were bolts of lightning. At the end of the show, bolts of lightning were hitting around the stage, not close enough to hit anybody, but you could see the lightning bolts, which was pretty wild. He's still generating electricity.

The weird thing is that my stupid brain can't remember anything, and then I'll be with people and they'll mention somebody and then I come up with some outrageous story like, "Oh, yeah, I hung out with that guy.” It’s really crazy. I just painted a lot of the time and, and I thought I had a boring life, but it turns out it wasn't so boring at all.

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD.

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