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Last Words

Artist Gary Sweeney interviews himself... and finds irreconcilable differences. (Tweezers may be called for.)

Photo: Gary Sweeney, License: N/A

Gary Sweeney

Laughing at his own expense: Gary Sweeny and Gary Sweeny.


What was the first work of art that had an impression on you?
Ed Kienholz's Back Seat Dodge, '38, Rauschenberg's Monogram (the painting with the stuffed Angora goat with the tire around it.) Later, I was floored by the works of Dennis Oppenheim, Terry Allen, and John Baldessari. They changed my way of thinking.

Researchers claim that artists and writers often create their most important work during times of emotional turmoil, stress, and even during bouts of depression. Does that apply to you?
I can assure you that the artwork I've done during times of emotional turmoil — which are rare, thank God — are among the worst objects I've ever created.

If you could own any piece of artwork, what would it be?
John Baldessari has a photo diptych called, Pelicans Staring at Woman with Bloody Nose. Dennis Oppenheim has a bronze ventriloquist dummy sitting next to a bell, and he bangs his head against it every 100 seconds. Also, The Art Guys created a giant circle made of vintage suitcases, and even though I hate those guys with every fiber of my body, I love that artwork.

What are three things that never fail to bring you pleasure?
Well, dogs would have to be the first five on that list. They are just pure joy to me. Of course, travel would be up there, too. And being in the water. Especially the ocean.

You're turning 60 soon. Does it bother you that you have very little time left? That you're almost done? That you'll soon start to circle the drain? And that your health will begin—
I GET IT! Yes.

Do you have a bucket list?
Not really. My idea of a bucket list is a list you make for things you want to do later in your life. I've been able to do things I want as they come up. There's a set of islands off San Francisco where great white sharks hang out during the fall, and you can take a boat out and get into a cage — a big, heavy cage, I'm hoping — and watch them underwater. That's next on my wish list. I hope they like getting their belly rubbed.

At what age did you realize that your life was a hollow lie, and that all of your hopes and dreams had been ground into dust by the pain and disillusion of reality?
I think I was about five or six.

Tell us something about yourself that would probably surprise your friends.
I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die. No, wait — I think I got that from a song. Okay, um … like, I can't whistle? I still cash my dead aunt's Social Security checks? Sometimes, in the water, I pee in my wetsuit? That kind of shocking revelation?

Would you rather have sex with a 10 or a seven and three at the same time? Or 10 ones or five twos? Or a three, a nine and a one? Or a four and an eight?
What the hell's wrong with you?

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