This Is What It Takes To Be An Artist In New York City

Photo courtesy of Jen Catron & Paul Outlaw.

Meet Jen Catron and Paul Outlaw

Choosing to pursue art is, as many will tell you, not the wisest of decisions. The world is a vicious one, brutal to break into, and riddled with egos as big as mountains. For some, though, there isn't a choice. The creative bug bit them years ago and making something—be it writing, painting, performing, photographing, sculpting—is not only a means of expression, but personal survival. (This humble author, like many of his peers here in New York, knows this too well.)

Of course, creating and making in a city as big and challenging as New York is no easy feat. Jennifer Catron and Paul Outlaw, two artists and partners in life and creative crime, have worked their way up through the Big Apple's scene. Their work flirts with many mediums; their message is one of reflection but asked in a way that is both tongue-in-cheek and sincere. For them, art was never not an option. Small town upbringings and minds too curious for their own good got them to where they are today. It's a journey that's as romantic as you can probably imagine, but they're the first to tell you it hasn't been easy. 

With their latest show opening up today, at Tribeca's Postmasters Gallery, we caught up with the artists to chat art, risk-taking, emotional intelligence, and how the youth are the driving force behind, well, everything.

Photo courtesy of Jen Catron & Paul Outlaw.

How did you get into art?
Jennifer Catron: I grew up out in the middle of nowhere, and there just wasn’t much around. I feel like I was always just doing these crazy things out in the woods. I had pet raccoons I was training. I was making dwellings everywhere. As I got older, I started to realize that what I was doing was art.
Paul Outlaw: You’ve been performing all your life.
JC: Right! I have been. So, you know, I went to college and started taking art classes and it just kind of went from there.

Can you remember the first time you understood what art meant?
PO: It takes so long to really understand artwork. It’s a lifelong process, I think.
JC: Yeah, we still don’t understand. I mean, we do, but we’re constantly learning more about what art is and what its function is. It’s constantly changing, too.
PO: There are certain realizations along the educational path. Like, I know I had a couple art history professors that really turned me onto what contemporary art was, and how that’s different from romantic style paintings, and classical art—
JC: For me, the real realization of what art could be today came from going to London and going to the Saatchi Sensation show. That was important for me, just to actually see contemporary art. It really struck me, and it seemed almost transcendent. That seems a little cheesy, but there was that moment of like, “Oh, I can apply this to my life.”
PO: Similarly, for me, it would be coming to New York and seeing contemporary artwork at the galleries and the museums as like a teenager. I’m from a small Alabama town. You don’t get the kind of exposure New York gets there or probably most of the country. Seeing artwork made in New York is so different than what you’re taught, especially in Alabama. A whole new world opened up, and realizing that we’re actually good at it helped us down the track.

What were you exposed to then?
PO: Initially, it was the Picassos, the van Goghs—
JC: Monets...
PO: Monets, which were different from traditional paintings. They were especially radical for their time. But that really got me exposed, really got me interested in pursuing these things because they were so different from a photo-realism painting or classical painting.

Is there a certain experience, professor, or lesson that you learned that has stuck with you throughout your career?
PO: Something that has really stuck with me has been a professor in my undergrad studies that said you should imitate everyone that you respect, everyone that you admire to a certain point, just to learn from them, and learn what they’ve done. After that, it’s much more important to be yourself and to go with what it is that makes you put yourself in the artwork and continue forward in that regard, instead of copying other people. Uniqueness is so important in this field. It’s about going against the grain and not doing what everyone tells you to; trying different things, and believing in them, and presenting them as if they were the next big thing—like this is the change, this is the push.
JC: For me it was during grad school, and I had this crazy idea where I wanted to taxidermy a hundred mice and hang them from ceiling. I was really overthinking it. I couldn’t figure out why I wanted to do it. I felt like I needed a really good reason to, and the teacher, the artist in residence was just like, “Just do it.” That really stuck with me. Realizing that some of the inclinations you’re having are meaningful, and just running with it. And then, as you progress, sometimes, in retrospect, it makes more sense why you are doing what you’re doing, and you can pull it all together.

There’s a huge risk in pursuing art as a career, in general.
JC: Oh, yeah. It’s not a smart decision. [Laughs.]

How did you convince yourself art was the career you wanted?
JC: It was a big struggle for me because I can be rather sensible at times. Art is not smart financially. It’s very very fulfilling, but not financially smart. For me, I kept on going back and forth on what to do, and art was too important to me. I just had to do it.
PO: I think, for certain people in the world, there’s not really a choice. There’s no way we couldn’t pursue what we are doing. The alternatives were so distasteful—working in an office, or being a doctor, or things that do make money. Reading law books—things like that are just so out of my element. I could imagine doing them, but the fulfillment and satisfaction would just not be there. It would be totally lackluster. This is what provides us the most excitement; this is why we do everything else we do, in order to make our artwork, to show our artwork, to share our artwork with people. That’s the greatest satisfaction I think both of us get in life.
JC: Yes. I live for that.
PO: It’s definitely our driving motivation.

Photo courtesy of Jen Catron & Paul Outlaw.

What do you think is more important: intellectual intelligence or emotional intelligence?
JC: Oh, you have to have both.
PO: That’s a fun comparison, though.
JC: We both use both elements in our art, but that’s not to say that, for other people, they can use a variation.
PO: A well-rounded intelligence is ideal, obviously. You want emotional intelligence and academic intelligence.
JC: But you have to know when to turn them on and off. You have to be able to look at your work and have an intellectual framework for it, and discuss the philosophical underpinnings, and then you kind of have to just forget all of that at the same time whenever you’re making things. So, throw it all away, and just really go for it and take some risks and not really think about it. So, you know, for us, it’s been kind of a lifelong challenge to try to balance those two elements—to be able to go and discuss the framework for what we’re thinking of, and then also to be able just to do it.

Can you speak to your dynamic together?
PO: We don’t recommend collaboration. It’s something that we’ve been doing for a long time now. I think we’ve been collaborating for six or seven years, almost exclusively. Our independent practices have become almost not existent.
JC: And it wasn’t intentional by any means. We would be discussing all these things and someone would have an idea and the next person would just expand upon it to the point where the ideas became inseparable. We couldn’t figure out whose idea it was anymore, because of the building process that happened.
PO: Long-term collaborations are not the norm—in any creative field. I think, creatively, people have such large egos that they’re incredibly hard to work together, but we just happened to click with each other. All of our ideas are very much on the same page. We’re only improving each other’s ideas.
JC: But I do think collaborations are becoming more of a thing, though. There's a community.
PO: It takes the right people to do it, otherwise it would be disastrous.
JC: And we have different skillsets, too—
PO: That complement each other.
JC: It’s motivation, too. You know, if you’re working alone, it’s really hard to motivate yourself to finish something. Then, when you’re working with someone else, it’s like you have to do it or else you'll let them down.

Photo courtesy of Jen Catron & Paul Outlaw.

What would you say is the pulse of the New York art scene right now? Is it bustling? Is it too saturated?
JC: I think it’s really in flux right now. It’s really changing.
PO: It’s at an odd point right now.
JC: It’s really interesting to us. There’s Chelsea, where it’s becoming kind of museum-like. You have mega galleries that are kind of taking over Chelsea, and a lot of the galleries, that are a little more experimental, are unsure of their place there. And you have the Lower East Side, which is showing younger artists. There’s Brooklyn, which is an artist-run space. That’s very much compartmentalizing. That’s a generalization.
PO: The heartbeat of the art world is the young people.
JC: Yes.
PO: It always has been. It probably always will be. It’s the youth that pumps in new blood and new life and a new experimental nature.
JC: It’s turning around the market. The market’s very saturated right now with a certain type of artist that people are buying off the market and reselling them.
PO: The young people don’t have to live up to those expectations. Maybe they’re not selling, or maybe they don’t care about selling. That’s what gives them the freedom to produce things that are outrageous, completely out of context, and beautiful in so many ways. It’s the freedom of youth that makes the art world move. Right now, it’s not so much in Chelsea anymore like it used to be.
JC: They’re youthful. We’ll let them explain themselves more than us. It’s really exciting to be a part of right now. There’s a distaste from the younger people of the market-driven art world, and because of that, it’s really making some leaps and bounds, you know, the art world’s really changing.

What would you say to someone who is either in college or thinking of pursuing art within the academic field, or even just art in general? What are some words of encouragement?
JC: If you can’t live without doing it, then you know you just have to pursue it. It’s tough; it’s not easy, but if it’s something that you love, then it’s one of the most fulfilling things you could ever do. Our lives are just full and exciting.
PO: And don’t make excuses not to do it. You just have to do it, and if it’s something that you love, and something that you feel the desire to produce and express, you have to do it—no matter what it takes. It takes time and money and energy. That’s what you devote to it.
JC: If you have to work a day job and in the evening make your art, so be it.
PO: Because guess what? We still are. We’re still working day jobs.
JC: Well, kind of, but yeah.
PO: Expression is such an important part of your—
JC: Life. Everyone’s life.
PO: Your total persona. Your person. Expression is such a huge part of it that you can’t deny it.
JC: Well it’s an important part of the culture.
PO: It can’t be denied. You have to nurture it.

Photos by Jesse Grant/Getty Images for WE Day, Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

He also thought Lana Del Rey telling him he would be guillotined was a compliment, so we don't think he understands women

In a new memoir called Then It Fell Apart, singer Moby alleged he had a relationship with actress Natalie Portman when he was 33 and she was 20. But, in a new interview with Harper's Bazaar, Portman set the record straight, saying that his description of their relationship is false and contains other factual errors, that makes his behavior seem even grosser than it already did.

Not only did Portman say that the two didn't date, but that he also misrepresented her age. "I was surprised to hear that he characterized the very short time that I knew him as dating because my recollection is a much older man being creepy with me when I just had graduated high school," she said. "He said I was 20; I definitely wasn't. I was a teenager. I had just turned 18."

She says that they met when she went to one of his shows: "He said, 'let's be friends'. He was on tour and I was working, shooting a film, so we only hung out a handful of times before I realized that this was an older man who was interested in me in a way that felt inappropriate."

Portman also stated that she was not contacted to fact check this information, noting that "it almost feels deliberate." "That he used this story to sell his book was very disturbing to me. It wasn't the case," she said. "There are many factual errors and inventions. I would have liked him or his publisher to reach out to fact check."

Another part of his memoir describes a conversation with Lana Del Rey, in which she joked about how wealthy he was. "You're a rich WASP from Connecticut and you live in a five-level penthouse. You're 'The Man.' As in, 'stick it to The Man.' As in the person they guillotine in the revolution." His response: "I didn't know if she was insulting me but I decided to take it as a compliment." This only further proves that Moby doesn't understand women at all, which may explain how he took a couple of hangouts with Portman to mean that they were dating.

Moby has since responded to Portman's statement in an equally creepy Instagram post with a photo of him shirtless with the actress, calling the interview a "gossip piece." "We did, in fact, date. And after briefly dating in 1999 we remained friends for years," he said. "I like Natalie, and I respect her intelligence and activism. But, to be honest, I can't figure out why she would actively misrepresent the truth about our (albeit brief) involvement. He also said that he backs up the story in his book with "lots of corroborating photo evidence, etc." He then ends with this: "I completely respect Natalie's possible regret in dating me(to be fair, I would probably regret dating me, too), but it doesn't alter the actual facts of our brief romantic history."

Among many other things that are questionable about his claims, if you have to have "corroborating evidence" to prove a relationship that one person claims didn't happen, you're doing the whole "dating" thing wrong.

Photo by Jerritt Clark / Stringer / Getty Images.

She's been wonderfully honest about the ups and downs of her procedures

There is a good chance that, right now, Cardi B is wearing really something really tight. I'm not talking about one of the pieces from her Fashion Nova collection, either. Instead, she's probably cooing at baby Kulture while swaddled in a compression garment, a necessary part of the healing process after certain cosmetic surgery procedures.

As reported by E! News, Cardi B has had to cancel several performances after her doctor ordered her to rest and allow her body to recover following cosmetic surgery. A rep for Cardi explained to E! that "Cardi was overzealous in getting back to work" and that "her strenuous schedule has taken a toll on her body and she has been given strict doctor's orders to pull out of the rest of her performances in May." This followed an admission by Cardi herself, at the Beale Street Music Festival earlier this month, that she should have canceled her performance because moving too much would mess up her lipo.

Cardi's transparency about plastic surgery is nothing new for her. She has opened up in the past about her underground butt injections, including the financial pressure she felt and the risks she took to get them. She's been open about both of her breast augmentation procedures as well, most recently getting them redone after giving birth to her daughter. But Cardi's transparency about the ups and downs of plastic surgery is still rare amongst celebrities and is therefore refreshing.

And it's not just celebrities who keep quiet about these procedures. The first person I knew to get a butt augmentation was a friend from high school. We reconnected as adults, and I remember going to her apartment after her surgery, and seeing her pace the floor in her compression garment, since it was still too soon to sit and put pressure on her backside. But even in the comfort of her own home, she seemed to speak in a hushed tone about having had the surgery. Before I'd arrived, she just told me she'd had a "medical procedure," and didn't say anything more. This has been the case for other women I've met who have gotten "work" done, including my aesthetician, a colleague who got a nose job, a darling YouTuber with whom I had the pleasure of having dinner; all of them would only acknowledge their enhancements in secret—the shame was palpable, and unfortunate. It's clear that women who get plastic surgery might be celebrated for the results, but there's an expectation that they should keep quiet about it, and feel bad for having made a choice about their own bodies.

So it's no surprise that, in the pop culture realm, people like Cardi are exceptions to the rule. Thanks to the internet, we can easily track the fullness of a celebrity's lips or backside over the course of time without them ever explicitly acknowledging the medical intervention that took place. And while people, of course, have the right to privacy, and should be able to do whatever they want with their bodies without offering explanations, it would still be nice if they opened up, if only to take away the attached stigma that affects so many people. Which is why I hope Cardi's willingness to lay it all out there becomes a trend. No one should have to harbor shame for investing in having a body that looks the way they want it to.

Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

"In my head I thought, This is how it ends"

Kit Harington almost lost a lot more than the Iron Throne while filming the final season of Game of Thrones. According to an interview with NowThis News, the actor almost lost one of his balls while riding a mechanical dragon.

Harington revealed that the incident took place when he was filming the scene where his character, Jon Snow, takes a ride on Rhaegal for the first time in the Season 8 premiere. Since dragons aren't real (sorry), Harington was filming the scene, where Jon almost falls off the dragon and then swings around to pick himself back up, on a mechanical contraption.

"My right ball got trapped, and I didn't have time to say, 'Stop,'" Harington said in an interview. "And I was being swung around. In my head I thought, This is how it ends. On this buck, swinging me around by my testicles, literally." We see shots of the fake dragon he's riding in front of a green screen, and it does look pretty terrifying.

Luckily, his testicles remained intact through the near-disastrous event, and he's survived with quite the story to tell to unsuspecting journalists.

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Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for goop

"I had to create a harder shell about being a woman"

In a panel discussion during Gwyneth Paltrow's In Goop Health summit, actress Jessica Alba revealed that she "stopped eating" to avoid unwanted attention from men when she was first starting her career in Hollywood.

According to People, Alba said that she "had a curvy figure as a young girl" and, as such, was made to feel as though her body was the reason that men may be inappropriate toward her. "I was meant to feel ashamed if I tempted men," Alba said during the panel discussion. "Then I stopped eating a lot when I became an actress. I made myself look more like a boy so I wouldn't get as much attention. I went through a big tomboy phase."

She continued, "In Hollywood, you're really preyed upon. They see a young girl, and they just want to touch you inappropriately or talk to you inappropriately or think that they're allowed to be aggressive with you in a way."

Alba also noted that she was raised in a conservative household. "My mom would say, 'You have a body, and it's very womanly, and people don't understand that you're 12,'" she said. "I wasn't allowed to have my nalgas out, which is butt cheeks [in Spanish], but I was born with a giant booty, and they come out of everything. So, I didn't get to wear normal things that all my friends wore."

She said that these reactions to her body really affected her attitude. "I created this pretty insane 'don't fuck with me' [attitude]," she said. "I had to create a harder shell about being a woman."

According to her, her relationship to her body only changed when her first child, Honor, was born in 2008. "[After she was born,] I was like, Oh this is what these boobies are meant to do! Feed a kid!" she said. "And that was the dopest shit I'd ever done. So, I came into my body as a woman finally and I stopped being ashamed of myself."

Photo courtesy of Teva

Because of course

Teva, the most obvious lesbian footwear brand since Birkenstock, really knows its customer base. In time for Pride, the brand has teamed up with Tegan and Sara for a gay shoe to end all gay shoes. In other words, your Pride footwear is on lock.

The shoe isn't just your average Teva sandal. Tegan and Sara's design, the Teva Flatform Universal Pride sandal, is a 2.5-inch platform shoe with a rainbow sole. Tegan and Sara noted in a press release that they have been Teva wearers for pretty much their whole lives. "We got our first pair of Teva sandals when we were 16," they said. "This rainbow Flatform collab is like full circle LGBTQ+ Pride validation."

What's better, with each sandal sale, Teva will donate $15 to the Tegan and Sara Foundation, up to $30,000. The funds donated will go toward scholarships which will give young members of the LGBTQ+ community the chance to go to summer camps which will "help develop self-confidence and leadership abilities in a safe and nurturing environment." Tegan and Sara added, "Teva's generous support for our foundation will allow us to help even more LGBTQ+ youth."

Available today at Teva's and Nordstrom's websites, the sandal retails for $80.

Photo courtesy of Teva

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