Interview With Dean Sameshima
by Sasha Bergstrom-Katz
Sasha Bergstrom-Katz: First, can you explain the background of your show, Numbers II (Ode to Johnny Rio)? I know it is in reference to John Rechy’s 1967 novel, Numbers, but what about the novel appealed to you?
Dean Sameshima: Well I liked the idea of this aging man, setting up a certain number of men to “conquer” at a place he once frequented when was much younger. Each had to be a different person and Johnny was the one to get a blowjob only…not give it, nor fuck, etc. I mean the novel is more complicated than that, for instance it deals with issues that gay men TODAY still deal with. “Types”, self-esteem, affirmation, struggle with age, etc…these are things I can definitely relate to myself. Somewhat of an autobiographical nature.
SBK: You’ve worked in a variety of media. What about this body of work called for silk-screening instead of digital prints of John Rechy?
DS: Well I have been working a lot with silk-screening lately and it is still a photographic process. Also few of the images came from the internet (low-res), but we were able to easier adjust it in photo-shop to burn onto the actual screens… Also I have done a body of work called “Figures of Lust Furtively Encountered in the Nights” and all those were printed straight from low-res internet images. The quality was really bad, but that was the part of the concept for that work.
SBK: The show was first exhibited in Berlin and now in Los Angeles. Do you think it may be received differently in LA?
DS: Conceptually I don’t think of it being such an issue
SBK: Will you describe what led you to the exhibition Numbers I (Dean’s previous body of paintings/silkscreens, in the style of follow the number’s drawings) and its connection to Numbers II? What do you think the relationship is between the two? Is the second at all reliant upon the first?
DS: Well again, “Numbers I”, was a sort of going back to the days when men used the various colored handkerchiefs while going out. I love the codification aspect and also remember the days when I was very promiscuous as well. Also the hanky code is not so popular anymore. Especially with the internet now…I liked the idea of men going to a club/bars, which in those days would be loud, and just look at a guys back pocket and already know whether you and they were sexually compatible. So I used these rare, connect the dots pages in 70’s/80’s Drummer magazines as a sort of hint about promiscuity and numbers, like the novel…how many men have you slept with? Can you remember? And the I idea of “connecting”, promiscuity, etc..
SBK: Your work deals with obsession and seriality – have you had this interest since childhood? If so, how did it manifest when you were young?
DS: I don’t think so. I am quite obsessive, but not sure it started in childhood.
SBK: One thing I’m always interested in is process. Where do you start? How much planning do you do for each body of work and how much comes along as you make it? Do you have assistants to help you?
DS: Various avenues. For the “Numbers I” show I was inspired while looking through my large collection of vintage gay publications, I was looking through stacks of Drummer Magazines and recognized this one particular page which read: “CREATE YOUR OWN WORK OF EROTIC ART WITH EROTIC DOTS”. And that got me thinking about how to use this “ready-made” in some way without it being overtly erotic. I was also thinking, of course, of Warhol. So I thought of how to use these images via silk-screen, but how and what colors would I use: the out of date “hanky code”.. So it took a while but then I got going on it with the help of an assistant in LA, Justin Michel.
Other times I read, look at catalogues from the past…sometimes I can just be walking or looking around and something just hits me. Other times I will look at my past work and see how I can elaborate on what I have already done. That’s how I came up with “Numbers II”. The “connection” with the actual novelist…
SBK: About your move to Berlin, what made you move there and how long do you think you will stay? Did it have something to do with Peres Projects being there?
DS: I have been living in LA my whole life, and Javier sensed that I was in a very complacent routine in LA, and he suggested I live here (in Berlin) for 2 months to make work and finalize my first show at the gallery. Well needless to say I really liked it, the lifestyle is much different. I do still get home-sick, but it just all fell into place. I stayed an extra month, found an AMAZING assistant and a fantastic apartment. So I went back to LA for a week and packed up a few things…
SBK: What brought you to the Peres Projects in the first place? How has working with Javier Peres influenced you and how has it changed over the years? How about the other artists? What is your relationship like with them?
DS: It was organic. I had never really heard of Javier Peres as his first gallery was in SF and he only had 2 shows, and Paul Foss emailed us saying Javier and I should hang out when he’s in LA as he thought we would really get along. I had no idea I would show with him. We just had such a great time hanging out, same sick sense of humor and just got along. At one point I was preparing to set a date to show with another gallery in L.A. and Javier said “What do you mean?” and I said “What do you mean, what do I mean?” and well, it didn’t take much convincing as he was not only someone I got along with but strongly believed in him as he does in me. He is like a brother to me now!
The other artists and staff…we all get along. A lot of the time we are like one silly dysfunctional family!