Q&A: The Sucklord on Graffiti, His Work of Art Failures, and Why He's Like Darth Vader
Earlier this year, New York magazine's culture blog, Vulture, asked Work of Art co-producer Sarah Jessica Parker, after this season's shooting had started, if she foresaw any breakout characters. She laughed. "Um, I suspect there might be one."
The one is Sucklord, who went from the designer-toy world's biggest jerkbag to a defensively blunt antagonist to a softer, genuine, teary-eyed art-builder, all in the course of six episodes. Evidence of his real-world rise has already started to trickle into his day-to-day: he's selling more work online, his brand-identity is through the roof, he's been recognized publicly, (at a recent visit to the art-supply store, the manager "backwards to help me find something they didn't even have because he knew who I was") and even sold work to someone who'd stopped him on the street.
Last night, the Sucklord was eliminated from the show. (He responded by making a self-mocking Jerk of Art Morgan Phillips action figure.) We spoke with him this morning, via BRAVO monitored phonecall, about the street-art challenge that did him in, what he has in common with Simone de Pury, and how his Work of Art arc related to Star Wars.
How are you feeling this morning?
Not bad. I was dreading this day for a long time and it's not how I expected, thankfully.
What did you expect?
I thought it would be an abject disgrace. I thought failing at street art would've completely destroyed my credibility and my reputation and all my friendships and everything. And failing at the show in such an obvious way would've destroyed me. But apparently, people like to root for the underdog.
You known people in the street/graffiti world. But had you ever messed around with tagging as a kid or done any pieces on the street before?
No, I haven't. It never interested me. I'm too risk-adverse. There's so many reasons why I never wanted to write graffiti: a) the hours suck, I'm not trying to be up at four o'clock in the morning, running from cops and other graffiti crews that want to kill me; b) the risk of your artwork being destroyed almost immediately after it's being put on the wall, is not encouraging. Also, you don't make any money. I've always been more inclined to sell my artwork. It's easier to do that when it's in a nice, clean package, in a PayPal store.
But I do have mad respect for street art and graffiti. It does inform my work. But it's daunting. And plus, that wall [on the show] was ridiculous. My work is three-inches tall. To try to translate it into something 16-feet tall? I wasn't prepared.
What effect has the show had on your life since it started airing?
It's been nothing but positive. It's just gotten my profile up pretty high. The word "Sucklord" is now part of the American vocabulary, and it's associated with me. And that's always a plus. If anything, it was a genius branding exercise. It got me inspired to do more television. At the end of the day, no matter what artwork I created on the show, is pretty mediocre by my own standards.
But my performance on the show was quite good. There's something to be said about that.
A lot of people say, "Artists shouldn't do reality TV, it debases the art world, blah blah blah." I would argue that if Andy Warhol was alive today, he'd be all over reality TV. It's just another venue, and it gets out to so many more people.
What did you think of Michelle's comparison that Simone de Pury is "like the Sucklord with an ascot--and class"?
I'll take that. The Sucklord's not as weird and alien as people thought at the beginning. He's in everybody. The Sucklord, in a lot of ways, is in everyman. He acts out things that other people might have the better judgment to keep to themselves. If Simone was inspired to tag up China's titties because of me, I feel like I did something great.
Which Star Wars character would you compare your Work of Art character to and why?
That's a tough question. I would have to say Darth Vader. I went in with all this bravado--there was a reputation, or an expectation, or a projection image of unlikeability, or just villainy that went ahead of me--and created expectations. I went in there not giving a fuck. And throughout the evolution of the show, I became softer; I started to become more compassionate, and eventually, I shed my mask. And that was the end of me. That's sort of the same story arc that Darth Vader went through. He was a villain who became a good guy and died, but was redeemed in some way. And I think that's what happened to me.
It's so complicated. The problem for me is that I have this armor, this created personality called the Sucklord who makes all the artwork--and that's where all the great artwork comes from. But unfortunately got caught up in there, and the guy inside the Sucklord suffered--or went through--a psychedelic ego death. He shed that persona and became this beautiful person named Morgan Phillips. But unfortunately, Morgan Phillips SUCKS as an artist. That was my downfall.
I fucked up. In the movies, that always works for the protagonist. All those Vince Vaughn movies. Or even Han Solo, where he starts out as a dick, but he's sort of having trouble in life, and then he realizes how to become a nice guy, and suddenly he wins. But that only happens in the movies and I was making TV. And on TV, the bad guy wins by staying bad. And I should've realized that. And I didn't.
How would you describe the process of filming this show to someone who's never had the experience?
I would say that it's like being in jail. Or being at camp. Or being part of some weird utopian experiment gone wrong. It's very strange. You are cut off from everything that you draw your strength and inspiration from. You only have the people around you to reach out to--and you become friends with them. That's when you start getting into trouble because you start getting influenced. You start losing your moorings. I forgot what I was about: I started just getting into the other people and trying to do new things, which was another mistake. I forgot. I didn't realize how badly I was fucking up, until it was all over.
When I was making that street-art piece, I never once asked myself, Would I be able to put a Suckadelic brand on this when it's done? The answer's no. That was not a piece of Suckadelic artwork in any way, shape, or form. And the fact that I forgot to ask myself that really tells me how far gone I was.
You were on the cover of the Village Voice. How did you feel about that?
I thought it was great. It was an excellent piece of writing. The person who wrote it should win a Pulitzer.