Get ready to discover the most unusual portraits combining pop culture, consumerism products, performatic elements, and over-the-top ideas. Literally. Because David Henry Nobody Jr works until he gets “something transgressive or radical”, he says. 
“I think my brand of anti-brand could be the future”, he says. Until recently, the multidisciplinary artist has sometimes felt left out by some of the art world, but his works are gaining followers by the day now – partly, thanks to social media. It’s precisely through Instagram that he’s been showing his latest massive series, Resemblage, which he’s exhibiting at Contra Gallery in New York City until February 17. Today we speak with him about identity, transcending oneself, and discover where does he get so many weird stuff for his works.
David Henry Nobody Jr is a curious name. I get the David Henry, of course, and the Nobody as well – your artistic practice has usually been linked to identity, the self, etc. But I’m not sure about the Jr. Is there a David Henry Nobody Sr? Why are you ‘Jr’?
Ah! My real name is David Henry Brown Jr, so I just substituted the ‘Brown’ for ‘Nobody’ for this body of work. The nobody comes from my twenty-five-year philosophy of ‘fantastic nobody’, which means fake person or fake celebrity. I was also in a five-artist underground performance collective called the Fantastic Nobodies from 2003 to 2103. So, using Nobody as my last name is a nod to the collective in the same manner that the Ramones retained the last name Ramone (Joey Ramone, Dee Dee Ramone, etc.) even after they broke up and stopped talking. The Jr comes from my Dada, Brown Sr.
In your latest series, Resemblage, you use food, toys, and other consumerist products to reflect on contemporary Western society, from the amount of waste we generate to pop culture and social media. And the self-portraits you take with these sort of masks/face interventions are rather unusual. Could you guide us through your creative process?
I either preconceive and sketch out an idea or just totally improvise until I get something transgressive or radical. I have a lot of props and materials to choose from in my studio, now that I’ve been into this particular body of work for three years and a half. I certainly find weird shit on the street, in the garbage, or I buy fucked up enigmatic props in junk stores. I use chance and found objects.
As far as my specific technique, I pretty much place things on myself and continuously photograph the transformation. I look at the images and my transforming self in the mirror in my studio, usually with music blasting. The sickest creative moves happen when I have thoroughly transformed myself and, then, something more powerful and creative than my ordinary self takes over and completes the work.
How do you end up with a plastic bag full of cereals on your head and pouring milk while almost having no air to breathe?
The cereal piece came on the day of the solar eclipse in 2017. I went down to get a coffee at the peak of the celestial event in my hood in Brooklyn. There, I saw people trying to use cereal boxes as viewing devices to look at the sun. I grabbed a Corn Flakes box off an artist I met and went home and figured out the piece. There was no chance of me not breathing, I work alone and am ultra smart and careful with my methods in terms of safety, although it may not appear that way.
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What’s been the most difficult artwork you’ve made within this series?
Some pieces are surprisingly easy, but others are very hard and I’ll do a few days of takes until I think they’re good – there is quite a bit of engineering behind the works to push them over the edge. I think the larger David Nobody live performances are much more complex/difficult than the studio work for Instagram. Self Portrait As a Buffet Table done live at The Spring Break Art Fair in conjunction with Vice in 2017 was very complex to produce. TransNobody at Transville, curated by Coco Dolle at Catinca Tabacaru Gallery, was complex. My solo project/performance Edible Wardrobe Malfunctions performed at MOCA Tucson in September 2018 took four months to prepare – it involved seventeen locally sourced performers; a very complex piece. It was curated by Ginger Porcella.
And the one you’ve enjoyed the most doing?
I love it all! I have stayed true and free for twenty-seven years as a New York artist and have not compromised my work at all. I have stayed experimental. The current success is welcomed because it’s on my own, hard-fought and struggled for creative terms.
Your artistic practice is hard to classify: performance, video, photography, and I’d even dare to say makeup art and costume-making that act as (sometimes kinetic) sculptures. All at once. What are the pros and cons of working in such a broad way involving so many disciplines?
The current Resemblage body of work made by David Nobody is its own category of artistic practice. I work in character as a writer writes in character. The cross-disciplinary practice leaves a lot of room for creativity. There are too many pros and not many cons, for it suits my nature and curiosity. I do find it’s a bit difficult to try to summarize it all into one-liner – in terms of interviews, etc. The discussion is almost too broad to describe in words.
I set about to push the envelope of what art can be a long time ago. I have contradicted myself over many, many bodies of work and many years. I question the notion of being cohesive as a creative person. Being a one-trick pony is just for the market, and I’ve strongly resisted. I want my retrospective to be more jarring and splintered than Picabia, for example. I think my brand of anti-brand could be the future.
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You’re currently presenting a solo show at Contra Gallery in New York City titled False Smears and Facial Food Fiascos. In it, you mainly present the self-portraits we’ve been talking about. But they’re printed instead of displayed on screens, where we’re used to seeing your work (at least those who follow you on Instagram). And some of them, I’d say need to be seen in movement. How do you feel the format affects the artwork’s reception/understanding? 
It has been great to show all forty prints at 18x18 inches together in one room along with video. I’m very thankful to Contra gallery and the gallerist, Matthew Mcglynn!  I’m not an ‘internet artist’ and I come from physical exhibition as my long-term background. Instagram is currently my medium for a performance, and the live shows and performances are the physical aspect. I’m interested in the grey area where internet reality and actual reality are superimposed upon each other. Also, some of my older comrades are not on Instagram, so it was cool to hear their reactions. It also makes it more clear that I have cool objects for sale.
For the opening, you did a performance appearing dressed as ‘smoke and mirrors’. I assume it has to do with the expression’s meaning – used when someone distorts or invents the truth, or plainly deceives –, which also has to do with your overall body of work.
Yes, I've always wanted to dress as ‘smoke and mirrors’, I think of it as a representation of my artistic philosophy. By turning the self into an illusion, you become a mirror to reality. I wanted to mirror my surroundings at my show. I wanted the visitors to see themselves in the fractured mirror I was wearing.
Your work tackles themes such as identity and the self, which even though have been central to Art History in general, are even more relevant nowadays. How do you feel your artistic practice has evolved in relation to society (its values, habits, globalization, the appearance and consolidation of social media, etc.)?
Well, I have attempted to take on all these changes and use them as creative mediums. There is no doubt that technology is becoming more merged with our deepest nervous systems. I would suggest a strong link in this merge of self and technology to the construct and history of art. We are becoming a pictorial space. I’m always asking questions about what we are as humans and what we might be becoming. I want to use the matrix/system to question itself. The more we become dehumanized, the more savage I will become, the more of an animal.
My work has evolved with everything and there is no doubt that social media has given my ideas a voice. In the past, although I had shows and press, I was often left out of the discussion in the art world. Me and my colleagues felt shut out and landlocked, and this is no longer that case. I enjoy going right around the gatekeepers.
The exhibition False Smears and Facial Food Fiascos by David Henry Nobody Jr is on view until February 17 at Contra Gallery, 122 West 26th Street 5th Floor, New York.
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