Sunny Buick, contemporary Lowbrow artist, and curator of the Sci Fi Western art exhibit, was able to answer a few questions for us in this interview. — ed, N.E. Lilly
Sunny Buick was born in British Columbia, Canada in a small cabin in the woods. She was then raised in California by a single hippy mother, who always encouraged her creative spirit. Finally arriving in San Francisco at age fifteen, after years and years of constant displacement, she finally felt at home. The next year she decided to become a tattoo artist after meeting some influential misfits. Many years later after finishing college she gained a tattoo apprenticeship with Henry Goldfield and it was in North Beach, not too far from where Lenny Bruce fell out of his hotel window that her career was started. Her work is heavily influenced by tattoo imagery which has become a symbolic language in her work.
Sunny started exposing her paintings around the same time as she started tattooing. She has appeared in several art books like Vicious, Delicious, Abitious about female artists in the lowbrow scene, also in Beatsville put out by Gallery OutrÃ©. In San Francisco she participated in the Mexican community ritual of making Day of the Dead installations, in museums and galleries including the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. In 2003 she organized a massive group art show and catalog called Sci-Fi Western. She’s written for Juxtapoz and several tattoo magazines. She was photographed by the french artists Pierre et Gilles. She currently lives in Paris where she daily finds inspiration and lives out her artistic dreams.
How did you get started in fine art?
I’ve just been artistically inclined my whole life, or since I could hold a pencil, really. I have no formal art training. I took a few classes in college but I have a degree in general studies in creative arts.
What was your first introduction to Space Westerns?
I first started reading Science Fiction in my teens, but I had no idea about Space Westerns until my art show and it wasn’t until talking with Harlan Ellison by phone that I heard this phrase.
How would you define “Space Western”?
I would say that it was a transition of genres. The writers were using familiar formulas in new uncharted territories.
In 2003 you conceived of and curated an exhibition called Sci-Fi Western at the Minna Gallery in San Francisco. What was the inspiration for the Sci-Fi Western exhibition?
I had met this guy, Dave Wolfe, from Minneapolis, who had come out to San Francisco to check out the rock-a-billy scene. He told me he had a band called Sci Fi Western. The name of his band got me thinking of images and I started sighting different movies, TV series, and art that fit into this description.
What criteria did you use when selecting artwork for the exhibition?
I invited people I knew personally and everyone followed the “assignment” to use images from science fiction and western. Since I like the art of everyone I invited I didn’t have to do much editing.
John Clute, co-writer of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, wrote an intro for the exhibition catalog. How was he involved in the art show?
I first tried to contact Forrest J. Ackerman, the man who created the term science fiction. His secretary told me that he would love to help but that he was ill. I next contacted Harlan Ellison, but he didn’t like my artists and was generally grumpy. I’m very lucky to have found John Clute as he was very generous with his time and wrote a great intro to the catalog for the show.
How was the Sci-Fi Western exhibition received by critics?
There was a magazine cover story in Juxtapoz magazine. The show was awarded “best art show to wait in line for” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian. There was a line around the block for hours to get into the show. I think that it was the highest selling show the gallery had ever had.
As for “official” critics, this art movement is still largely underground and ignored by the art establishment as they say it’s merely “illustration”. The movement that I speak of goes by two names, “Lowbrow” or “Pop Surrealism”
Do you think there will be another Sci-Fi Western exhibition in the future?
I wanted to do another show in Paris, but I came up against many obstacles. The show took about a year to organize, so finding the time is always a challenge.
Can you let me in on any exclusive information, unknown insights, or trade secrets?
While making Sci-Fi Western sightings, I started noticing other bands who fit into the genre. There is a Sci-Fi Western band that played at the opening called The Phenomenauts. They wear a uniform that is a cross between John Wayne and Star Trek. They put on a great show with all kinds of gimics, like a bubble machine, a space helmet theramin and a toilet paper launcher. They play rock-a-billy, so they have a special place in my heart. Also there is a hard-rock band called Cowboys and Aliens. Speedbuggy released a CD called Cowboys and Aliens with great artwork. A french band called Cowboys from Outerspace. The original band, Sci Fi Western, that started all my ideas has a myspace page.
What else can we expect to see from you in the near future?
I’m always painting and participating in art shows all over the world. I have a website and in the news section you will always be able to see my newest projects and where I will be appearing. I have a big show coming up in may 2008 at a lowbrow gallery in Miami, Florida, the Harold Golen gallery. I’m a tattoo artist by profession and I will be tattooing all over Europe this summer. I often participate in tattoo conventions in Europe as well, like Milan, London and Paris. I want to write and draw a comic book, but I see that in a distant future. I have an online shop where you can buy prints, postcards and even an autographed copy of the Sci-Fi Western Art Show catalog!
Other works by N.E. Lilly
- Interview with Phil Foglio (Nov 8, 2009)
- 10 Most Influential Space Westerns (Oct 25, 2009)
- Space Western Most Wanted (Jan 25, 2009)
- Interview with John G. Cawelti (Dec 7, 2008)
- Interview with Beth Nelson, 2008 Browncoat Ball Chair (Sep 21, 2008)
- more by N.E. Lilly
- Sci Fi Western Art Exhibition by Sunny Buick (Sep 14, 2008)