When we mention the name Laurence Gartel, we are talking about a figure within the art world that has pretty much seen everything. From the heady days of Studio 54 and bumping into the likes of Truman Capote through to being the frontrunner in the art-car phenomenon.
Gartel’s work has also been featured in the collections of the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in NY, and The Lucca Museum in Italy.
Here we speak to the man himself about a life that would sit pretty on the big screen….
Tell me a little about where you grew up and your family?
I’m a New Yorker through and through - part French part Russian part Austrian-Hungarian. Everyone in America is a mix. I am an only child and my parents were tremendously supportive. I attended the Pels School Of Art, which was housed in one of the oldest apartment buildings turn hotels in NYC. I went every Saturday for many years. This was where I created my first portfolio, which eventually led to me into the famous New York High School of Music & Art (you will remember the famous movie FAME which was based on the school). You know, I’ve had half a Century to do a lot of crazy and cool things. I should have an Encyclopaedia. One day when I get around to it. I am still creating.
I remember in my youth going to amazing places such as Max's Kansas City and seeing people like Warhol, Mick and Bianca Jagger, and Dali sitting there having a drink and a conversation. I must have been 17 years old and would go upstairs to watch bands like The Sex Pistols, Ramones, Dead Boys, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, Debbie Harry and many others.
The famous Studio 54 was the place where people went to dance and party on whatever drugs they could get their hands on. - Max's was a more chilled vibe where people could converse.
One story that I must tell you is when I was going to photograph Sid Vicious from the Sex Pistols. He was staying at the famous Hotel Chelsea and I’d called ahead to say I was going to be a few minutes late. When I spoke to the concierge he simply said ‘don’t come because he’s just slashed Nancy to death’. I was very lucky that day.
You studied in NYC at the School of Visual Arts alongside graffiti Godfather Keith Haring. Good buddies? Learn from one another?
Yes. I studied graphics at SVA smoked pot on the back staircase with Keith. He was creating work then that was making people sit up and take notice. This was around the time that I took a semester off to visit my girlfriend in Buffalo and started taking photographs of screen imagery to see if it could replace a painting on the wall - this was all going through my head back in 1975 - nobody knew about this sort of process. This is where I met one of the gods of digital art, Nam June Paik and really started my career working alongside him at Media Study/Buffalo.
You are known as a pioneer of Digital Art. What was the attraction to this form?
I was into photography and purchased a Rangefinder camera from a friend. I used to take lot of photographs even though I was in the graphics department. I wanted a picture to define something, to bring a sense of realism. There is a well-known American photographer called Jerry Ulesmann who would create amazing visual effects through his darkroom work. I was effectively creating imagery through my computer imaging that would void out his process. I could do so many things.
Explain what your mojo is and where it comes from? Who is Laurence Gartel?
When I was seven years old my mum bought me a Beatles wig for $4. That was pretty special in itself. She bought a guitar as well and on this big piece of paper she wrote ‘Laurence G, the star’. My mother would tell me I was great. I honestly believed her and I would walk around telling people that I was great. My father was a painting contractor, a very, very hard worker. He would always tell me ‘The roller had hit the wall at ten to 7AM every day.
I’ve always had energy and a real drive. I started the Computer Lab in 1982 as one of the three founding instructors. In 1990 I had one of the students asked me where I get my energy from and I told them “It’s in my DNA.”
From creating work for Absolut Vodka, years ahead of others collaborating with drink brands, through working with high profile musicians and global brands like Coca Cola, Mercedes Benz, Hard Rock, Disney, I have evolved my work around the principles I started out with: Always being innovative.
What was Andy Warhol like and I hear you showed him how to use a computer? From your perspective was he a good artist?
It was 1985 when I met him at Studio 54. We got chatting and he asked me to teach him how to use the Amiga Computer as he was given the commission to create Debbie Harry’s album cover - I introduced him to Deluxe paint and Photon Paint programs. Warhol at the time was a big Artist as was Peter Max. Warhol had more of an avant-garde flavour and I suppose like anything else they were looking for popularity. Today it is like he has been “canonized” by many just because he is a mark in time representing Pop. There were several great Artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Claus Oldenburg, James Rosenquist, and the great Bob Rauschenberg. However, the mystique has been created around Warhol as celebrity. You can equate that to the phenomenon of the Spice Girls perhaps. In my estimation the work is quite mundane and even boring, however, it is a historic moment in time. This is why the Lucca Museum in Italy created the exhibition: “WARHOL vs. GARTEL HYPE POP.” Leading Andy brought on the transition of the Digital Age. In no time prior was the computer looked at as an aesthetic tool. I surely popularized that. Look where we are today!!
What makes a good artist?
What makes a good Artist is one that has longevity and pushes the limits of his/her craft. Has exhibitions and commissions that define their work and society as a whole. For instance George Segal’s sculpture in the West Village marking “Gay Liberation” was a monumental statement when cast in 1980. Art has to have a real story. There must be a book or books on the history and progress and evolution of an Artist’s work. He or she must have their own voice, style, and signature. That determines a good Artist.
Who have you loved working with the most and why? What did you create for them?
I really loved working with Award Winning Grammy group Dirty Vegas. - I projected my work over their band and the New World Symphony Orchestra for a project called “Synesthesia.” The building was designed by Frank Gehry in 2011. It was mind-blowing and it was the first time the concert hall was ever used. It was a real thrill. Of course the greatest commission was to produce the Art for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards. I wrapped the Grammy Statue with my Digital Art. The completed Statue was photographed and then translated into the Official Announcement, Invitation, Poster, Program, and used for all media. It was great to be on the red carpet with the greatest entertainment performers of all time, 30,000 musicians and only one Visual Artist. – Very cool indeed.
What is your view of the art world of today. Who do you admire or like?
The same people I admired 50 years ago are the same people I admire today. Great Art has no time limit. My mother took me to the Guggenheim museum when I was 10-years old. I loved the work of Miro, Klee, and Kandinsky. And of course there are the impressionists: Monet, Manet, Van Gogh amongst others. I myself have a show where I reside. It went up in October and remained hanging for 3-months. What people are currently creating today is a regurgitation of past Art. It is boring. Artists today are clueless of Art history and thus are not creating anything unique. The Art Fairs are producing and encouraging the mundane. There is nobody out there as curator or critic.
Likewise, who motivated or inspired you as a young visionary?
As mentioned above, but I have looked at Art my entire life. I am in several books myself as either the last page of Art history or the foreword page depending what book you read. In Digital Art books I am the first. If you are an Artist you have to know history. One has to learn the formal rules in order to break them. I’ve broken them all but I surely admire and appreciate the masters before me. It is scary to think that few people today never heard of Magritte, DeChirico, Duchamp, etc.
Explain your passion for car art?
In Florida we have two threads. - Art and Automotive - There are more wealthy people in South Florida than you can ever imagine. It is massive, the money here is crazy up and down the State. A lot of events, car events, parties etc. I led the way with Car Art when Tesla approached me to create the first Electric Roadster. It was launched at Nikki Beach and went viral to over 25,000 websites talking about this vehicle. The second car ever created was a 1971 Mercedes 380SEL with no engine. It was the first and only hand painted car because I wanted people to know I can paint. You can go online and see it being produced. There was a party after it was completed at the Creative Workshop where it was made in Dania, Florida. The following car was a Ferrari Scuderia. Only three short years later in 2013 I was the Feature of the 113th New York International Auto Show at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. I had 30,000 square feet of Art Cars and Motorcycles. Over 350,000 people witnessed the display over the course of a few days. In 2016 I was the Feature of the Oslo Motor Show in Norway creating a BMW Mini live in front of an audience. It was great fun. Afterwards, we drove the vehicle all over Oslo so the public could get a glimpse of what we just finished. We parked the car in front of Losby Gods Manor where the Nobel Peace Prize recipients stay. It was an amazing experience. So many stories and so many cars. It is a book in itself and should be one.
Limitato. How did you find out about what the boys are going and how did the partnership evolve?
I was introduced to Gustav and Emrik by my agents and I immediately realized that what they had was something new, fresh and purposeful. Wearable Art and bringing art to the masses. This is innovation that I duly respect. Glad to be part of it!
How many art pieces are included in their collection? Across what product?
I believe I have two pieces from 1979 and 1992 respectfully within the collection. One is a short sleeve shirt and the other long sleeve.
What do you think of the business and the product itself?
The presentation is incomparable. My parents were fashionistas, wearing the greatest designers from France and Italy. This packaging is beyond fantastic. A cut above. A gem for a sophisticated soul. I can’t bring myself to wear it.
I love to just admire it. This is only the beginning, however. I am looking forward to more unique products. These guys at Limitato are thinking “outside the box.”