Jeff Bowers launched PRISM Index, a mixed media art compilation, from the hills of Appalachia, Ohio—a place where creative-types are regularly bludgeoned with Natty Light cans and chewing tobacco spit. The first installment of the silkscreened, hand-bound publication featured work from the likes of cult filmmaker Trent Harris as well as music from Castanets, Michael Hurley, and Fantastic Magic—Nathan Williams’ first band.
Now it’s time for round two. I caught up with Bowers as he was wrapping up the second installment of his artsy tome, which features work from the likes of Phosphorescent, Julian Lynch, and VICE's Comics Editor Nick Gazin, just to name a few.
VICE: Why call it PRISM Index?
Jeff Bowers: "Prism" kind of encapsulates the compilation. It is an acronym that stands for print, images, sounds, and movies—all the pieces that make up its mixed media nature. Beyond that, it also features a wide spectrum of artists called together in one place.
You’re wrapping up PRISM #2 now. What’s it like?
I made PRSIM #2 almost exclusively on the road. I’ve been traveling for the last two and a half years while on tour promoting PRISM #1. Some of the pieces are like a year old and others are ancient, like the Guitar Slim song I have, which is 60 years old. Everything in PRISM is unreleased or very rare.
Usually bands tour. What’s it like touring in support of an art book?
Awesome, actually. I toured with Ray Raposa from Castanets. He’s a crazy snorer.
You’re originally from Ohio. Why did you decide to leave it for the big city?
In New York, you can just stumble on to something. You’re never going to stumble down someone’s street and find a D.I.Y. house in Athens, Ohio. But that’s also what I love about a place like Athens. When someone does something cool, they change the face of the town because it’s so small.
How do you pick the artists for PRISM?
Randomly. Out of a hat. A lot of them I met through travels and working at the Athens International Film Festival in Ohio and booking them for shows in Ohio.
9th Cat in the White House by Lola Dupre
Is that how you met Michael Hurley?
He’s been one of my favorite musicians for years. I sought him out. He was playing this folk festival in Ohio called the Nelsonville Music Festival, which is near where I was going to school. So, I positioned myself to meet him and slowly befriended him.
So you stalk people?
No. I am a fan. And most of their information is widely accessible. I used Myspace and Facebook. Their websites had their emails on it, so I contacted agents, distributors.
Is that how you got the Kuchar brother to contribute?
Well, I knew that George Kuchar works at the San Francisco Art Institute, so I assumed he would have an email account at the university. I searched and searched but couldn’t find it. I even wrote the film festival I used to work for in Ohio to get in touch with them, but to no avail. There was a documentary being made about them around that time called It Came from Kuchar. I even wrote that film company. Nothing happened.
I was in San Francisco at the time, and my friend said to me, “Have you looked in the phone book?” I hadn’t. But there they were, “George and Mike,” completely listed. I picked up the phone and called them. Turned out they were living like seven blocks from where I was staying, so I walked over there the next day.
What did you guys do?
We went up to his bedroom and sat on the edge of his bed. He’s got these huge illustrations of Tarzan and naked sailors on a boat. Mike told me when he first moved to New York he couldn’t find a job, and the only people who would give him work were these gay porn companies that commissioned him to illustrate posters. He’s also got a fake T-Rex head mounted on his wall, and drawers and drawers of the DVDs he’s made. We sat there and watched everything from his schlock-talkies to weird ethereal elf movies.
What’s this I hear about homos and orange juice?
There is this documentary in PRISM #1 by Jay Rosenblatt. It’s made up of old 8 millimeter found footage of Anita Bryant that he cut up and put together. Anita was an activist, but first she was the spokeswoman of Florida Orange Juice, or something. This law passed in Dade County, where she was living, that said homosexuals could get civil unions. She used her influence to help get it repealed. Then all the gays…
Stopped drinking orange juice?
No, they came out to fight her. A lot of the gays at that time said she brought them out of the closet. Jay’s film is a pieced together documentary about how this spokeswoman for orange juice brought all these gays dudes out of the closet.
So how gay is PRISM? Like full on gerbil-in-the-sphincter gay? Or just got-drunk-at-a-party-in-college-and-wound-up-with-a-dick-in-its-mouth-one-time gay?
That film is not gay. Jay Rosenblatt is not gay. I am not gay. But I really can’t say how gay it is. I can say there is nothing misogynistic or homophobic about PRISM Index.
Naomi Uman - "Removed"
That’s good. PRISM is pretty artsy-fartsy, though. Did you get your ass kicked a lot in Ohio?
I had long hair for part of college and I remember bros cat calling at me until I turned around. They’d feel like shit when they realized I was a guy. People would sometimes just assume I was a gay. They’d state it as fact when they saw me and scream, “You faggot!” They didn’t even bother to ask. It was just befuddling.
What’s the most negative response you’ve gotten about PRISM?
People don’t tell me. It’s like when you go to a film screening and the director is there doing a Q&A. People leave saying it was a great film, regardless of what they really thought. I think people show reverence for anybody who can do something, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. I hope I am putting something together that is good.
I think you are.
Julian Lynch - Untitled
[audio: http://vicerecords.com/download/big blood - song for herb & herb sings tom dooley.mp3]
Big Blood - "Song For Herb & Herb Sings Tom Dooley"