Rich Hall, a.k.a Listen O4, is a painter who turned off the content lock and threw away the remote. Born and raised in the “middle of nowhere,” his art is a manifesto of awkward ideas, told through familiar faces. No one is safe. He takes aim with zero tolerance and childlike ebullience – if an idea is outdated, he will destruct it. This interview is a celebration of the disconnected artist with a connected message.
It’s almost offensive to analyse such honest paintings, but what of the people who see your work? You speak in a highly recognisable language, flavoured with fleshy pieces of niche erotica and hip hop. Still, your work feels like a progression, with new words [or words reimagined] and androgynous envelope pushing. Do you feel the same way? Is humour your cough syrup for the kids?
Yes. It’s not so much that it’s offensive, it just seems pointless. I’ve tried in the past to think of an analogy to better explain it. It would be like listening to the most amazing piece of music and then trying to explain to someone how it sounded. It would be a second rate interpretation in another medium. Why not let them just listen to the music? You’re right on the money with your analysis. The need for language to be recognisable, the presentation to be somewhat aesthetically appealing and I think; certainly in my own work, needs to be an element of subversion. If you can achieve all three, the picture then seems to take on a life which is greater than the sum of it’s parts and the result is the progression, if that makes sense. For you to describe my work as androgynous envelope pushing is a real compliment. Without wanting to over analyse it too much I certainly think my work puts everything on one level. I’m not trying to challenge boundaries per se but instead remove them and see what happens. Nothing is unspoken. All veils are removed. Sponge Bob has a massive sponge penis and Mike Tyson sucks himself off with a vacuum cleaner. The cough syrup analogy is perfect, it doesn’t go down without laughter.
The music analogy is natural. This summer has brought us deconstructed trap music, where pronunciation is merely an afterthought and still, the message is understood by all. People can excrete as many think pieces they want for the benefit of the community that envelops hip hop, but Hall’s art is truly non negotiable – the idea has shot and killed you before you even realise it’s an idea.
You don’t seem to care much for reality in your art, but how about in real life…what makes you prefer a disconnected life?
Most of my work is rooted in anger. I don’t think I was aware of it though until you mentioned it. I have an audience in my mind a lot of the time and it is them, their view of themselves, their laws, belief systems, prejudices etc. that I want to undermine. It is hard to explain but if I felt that they ever “got it,” I would immediately stop working, certainly in that manner. I would change direction. A prime example, which I wasn’t going to bring up for various reasons but it helps in this instance, is when I changed the car billboard so it read “Go fuck yourself.” I won’t go into why I did that but when it was in that area’s local newspaper, and more specifically on the local news website, over 20 people wrote in to complain that what I had done was obscene. No one wrote in about a local child who had been held captive by two men and a women and then murdered. That may be an over simplification of the situation I understand, but it highlights the mentality of a big chunk of society and possibly explains a little better who I’m aiming my creative rifle at, so to speak, but also why I maybe try to disconnect myself from life as you mention. Possibly the most frustrating aspect, as I learnt after that, is that the people who get what you are highlighting fully get it. They already knew those contradictions existed and saw them as absurd but it goes straight over the heads of the people you are aiming at, for want of a better phrase. Nothing changes. They fail to see the irony or that what you believe is a glaringly obvious contradiction and this can be disheartening.
How many sugars?
One. Used to be two but I’m trying to live more frugally.
First book you ever read?
Probably Thomas The Tank Engine.
The Mammoth Book Of Native Americans.
Words by Timothy Shola