Hooverville Catastrofuck Rant
15 March 2010

Reading Paddy Johnson’s post “This Week in Comments Part Two: Powhida!” and the accompanying comments made me realize why Jade Townsend and I made the drawing the first place.  The art world is a big ‘catastrofuc’k to borrow a term from a Miami NewTimes writer.  Apparently, the dude doesn’t have a problem with a drawing that depicts the art world’s yearly descent on Miami or share the insular criticisms of the insular art world.  Most of the criticism of the drawing reflects right back on the authors who are players in this game.  Really, that’s one of the points of the drawing.  If you engage in the commercial market, you are not an outsider.  Neither Jade, wait remember there was another dude who contributed to the drawing over six months, nor I are outsiders.  We don’t claim to be and have never claimed to be, but every time people ignore Jade, you make him feel like one!  As far as employing a persona for this drawing, I didn’t and I make a couple of different bodies of work.  This can be confusing to people, especially Paddy.  In some drawings, I employ a satirical voice like in “Why You Should Buy Art.”  In other paintings like the LA Weekly painting at Pulse I make work about a fictional version of “William Powhida”.  Why?  Because Eli Broad isn’t going to buy me and put in BCAM so I can meltdown Jeff Koons’ balloon dog.  I get to write fictional satire of the art world.  Then, sometimes, I make things like “Hooverville” or work with other people on art projects like #class.  The outcome of this varied way of working is that you have to pay attention to what kind of art you are looking at.  This might be an unreasonable request, but I don’t really care about making people feel comfortable.  Fuck you!

So, Howard Halle says “The art world is in need of deep reform and has been for a long time. it would be nice of artists really addressed that, mainly I think, by working for themselves first. I don’t see that happening in Powhida’s work.”  I do work for myself, Howard, and I’m trying to exploit my betters’ wealth, power, and fame, and this is the hard part, to call attention to the GIANT, GLARING class disparity in the art world.  The Hooverville drawing isn’t for Howard Halle who calls for reform, but I bet the dude doesn’t have five practical reforms to offer.  (Howard you can prove me wrong and leave them as comments here)  The drawing isn’t just about navel gazing at the art world, but to point out that it’s run buy a plutocracy, and there is giant excess supply of labor ie., artists, who are routinely fucked by the system and too terrified to do anything about it because they are made to feel like they are replaceable. The imbalance of power is repulsive.  Putting aside that Jade and I went  specific to grab people’s attention, the drawing is a satirical representation of our shared experiences going down to Miami and seeing the fucked up hierarchy of the art world reflected through all its’ participants, Paddy included.  Jade and I weren’t comprehensive by any stretch.  The drawing is a semi-autobiographical portrait based on our experiences and limited knowledge of the art world.  We threw in artists we love and want to support and people we can’t stand.  Paddy’s in there because she is a comedian, and resists easy judgments of people like strippers.  We love strippers.  The Brainstormers, Kevin Regan, Andrew Hurst, David Petersen, Daniel Hesidence, Doug McQueen, Navin Norling, and many others are in the drawing because they represent artists we know in the hierarchy of the art world.

For sure we make fun of the wealthy, the famous, and the powerful.  They are part of a star system that is chewing on my fucking leg right now, bleeding out what little integrity I have left, but I’m not rich and celebrity isn’t power.  If you envy this, I’ll trade it right now for some money.  You can have it.  When I was in Miami in December fretting over the Times article that had just come out, Paddy and Hrag demanded I come out and enjoy it.  They, and you, probably think that I am being disingenuous when I say the attention is troubling to me, but I’m not.  The best thing about the Times article was that it wasn’t some vanity profile in Vanity magazine.  It got into the contradictions of ‘pissing on my betters’ to call attention that we labor in a star system that will not benefit most of us, certainly not the scores of art students spat out of the ponzi scheme of academia.  No, you are probably not going to make much money or even land a decent job in a cultural center (aka city) even if you get an MFA.  Howard Halle is right on that score and any sense of entitlement young artists have should be wiped out immediately.

As for the drawing being topical or mattering in ten years, I hope that like Ad Reinhardt’s (thanks for the spell check asshole) cartoons from the 1950’s they will shed light on the conditions of being an artist in the pre and post-boom, late-capitalist, personality driven star system that drives the art world.  I’ve been doing this since 2005.  Take a look at my website.  Before that I made personal narratives that were only as interesting as my own life.  I can’t imagine that MOST of the shit produced in the last decade will matter in ten or twenty years.  I hope that the deer antlers, disco balls, glitter n’ glue, and neo-neo expressionist paintings gets crushed in the trash compactor of history.  I know it will, and likely so will much of my art, but I think that any value it has is more about the sociology and culture of the art world than whether than I can draw well enough for you.  I’m sorry I don’t have another practice where I make big-assed paintings or delve into the spiritual aspects of life, but that’s because I’m an atheist and believe in that crap we call science.  I’m not here to make paintings that make you feel better about your existence on earth.  Go to church.

I’ll end with one last Howard Halle quote, “Working through an idea that maybe nobody understands except you, until they do understand it.”  I’m pretty sure that Howard doesn’t understand the work, not just this drawing, that I’ve been in engaged in.  I know Paddy doesn’t it.  She’s always asking questions, not providing any attempts at analysis.  That’s the problem with being a genius, no one understands me except me, and maybe Jade and Jen sometimes, but they usually just think I’m fucking crazy.  Awesome.  Howard, by your definition, I’m on the right track working for myself.

Now, here’s a big assed version of Hooverville (click on it and prepare to scroll) where you can go look for yourself and friends.  Just don’t miss the fact that you are pretty much fucked one way or another whether you’re in this drawing or not.  That’s the system you have chosen to be participate in like me and Jade.  Remember his name, nobody has a fucking clue what he does! That’s a sign of real genius.

Have a pleasant evening.

Dan Estabrook says:

I once ragged on an earlier artwork of yours for being a bit disingenuous about the star system, but man am I pleased you're getting so much play for what you do. (Still not necessarily my aesthetic cup of tea, but then again, you'd probably hate my work too…) The fact is, you're raising your voice for a lot of us out there and I bet I'm not the only one to appreciate it. You're getting a lot of people suddenly uncomfortable about this funny dance we do to try and get our work out there, and discomfort makes for damn good conversation. Thanks.

Zachary Adam Cohen says:

my evening just turned pleasant. thank you william. and thank you Jade

Mead McLean says:

This drawing actually reminds me of the satirical p.o.v. mode in Peter Brueghel. For example:
This one and This one

Paddy Johnson says:

Just to be clear, the facebook conversation in which I talk about facades isn't about Hooverville specifically, but the work in general. That said, I'm rarely clear on when you're adapting a persona except of course, when it's painfully obvious.

Anonymous says:


mike says:

The white lines straight below #67 on the convention center look cool (I guess something was corrected).

What was the best time in history to try to be an artist?

Evangeline says:

Kurt Cobain comes to mind. Maybe Kurt Cobain meets Woody Allen meets Duchamp. He gave us everything and you fucking want to take it away. But tell us, what comes after the bitching? Do you have a plan and a vision of what a proper art world looks like? Do you just want to raise a red flag or do you want to write the 'art commandments'? If you don't, I will.

Emily says:

Here's an interesting cultural policy manifesto from Poland, which a friend recently sent me: http://wuw2009.pl/aktualnosci.php?lang=eng&page=wydarzenia&id=50&mod=opis

dennishelsel says:

I'm waiting for the coffee table book.
Your free association ramblings with various subsets of information remind me of 2 of my favorite authors- Kurt Vonnegut and Dave Eggers. Keep it up at all costs

Jen Dalton says:

I think what people overlook sometimes in William's drawings in general, which includes this one made with Jade, is that he's attacking himself first and foremost. The way I read his work, everyone depicted is a proxy for a success and celebrity that he despises, fears and craves all at the same time. However, I realize this may not be a comfort to those represented…

twhid says:

Perhaps I missed the explanation, but why take part in a system that you find so objectionable?

I understand that #class is meant as a sort of think tank to consider alternatives. There are alternatives to the art world you criticize. There's the academic art world for instance. There's also a DIY art world of artists who are sometimes thought of as illustrators, but they make livings illustrating periodicals and books, selling affordable prints via the web, licensing, etc.

The drawing is pretty awesome BTW. cya tonight.

William says:


I think the system could work better or differently. I'm also a realist, a satirical one, and I want art to change my life too. I think we can call for change from within, and I don't find it all objectionable. Some of it is awesome and inspiring. Asking why I am taking part in the system is sort of like asking 'why vote?' The system is messy like Democracy, but I prefer it to the politics of academia or justifying everything I do before I even do it in grant land.

See you at #class and thanks.


Zachary Adam Cohen says:

Oh jen, so smart. I haven't ever gotten that from Bill's work at all, even though he has explained it to me about a dozen times. Something about your articulation, or just the fact that its you, made it all clear. That being said, he may be attacking himself first, but he is also nourishing the art world. In Hooverville, sunglass powhida stands at the bread line, ready to serve, to feed. He may very well be stealing, but it looks to me that he's got the literal manna…

that will be $300 an hour for social media psychotherapy

Brian says:

I definitely agree that entering the art world makes an artist feel replaceable. I am used to feeling special because I come from a loving family and a small art school. In those more intimate communities one gets attention from others for producing work but there is a smaller audience. I'm not sure how feasible it is to expect both close attention to be payed to artists and for us all to get widespread exposure but I certainly crave both! At the end of the day I usually feel that I need to change to make my way in this system and I think it might have something to do with being treated like I'm worthless by everyone in the art world. I've seen to many movies about artists where their struggle is a 5 minute sequence before the "make it" Damn this takes longer than 5 minutes!

Brritscoldinhere says:

Beautiful drawing.
thank you
i love you
no! i hate you
I’m drunk
I’m leaving now.
p.s. fuck them. you got a soldier if you ever want one.
– almost starving artist in MD

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