Photo: Michael Bezjian/Getty Images
Meet Dave Navarro's Visual Artist Alter-Ego: lifeafterdeath
Rather than discuss his lauded work with the bands Jane's Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, guitarist Dave Navarro is happily holding forth about Francis Bacon—both the English Lord Chancellor from the 1500s and the bleakly captivating British painter. The conversation morphs quickly into electric chairs—the 1971 series of artworks done by Andy Warhol during his "death and disaster" period, that is.
While Navarro has kept his own artistic creations relatively quiet, he recently released a limited edition art print entitled More Government Care? under his nom-de-art lifeafterdeath. The powerful piece touches on both the U.S. treatment of immigrant children as well as the COVID-19 crisis. Sales of the hand-signed and numbered piece via Punk Rock & Paintbrushes benefit the L.A.-based The Sidewalk Project, an initiative of the art collective. The proceeds will provide care to the houseless, including current efforts to provide them with COVID kits.
More Government Care? by lifeafterdeath
Available for purchase here
Emily T. Nielsen, a founder of both Punk Rock & Paintbrushes and The Sidewalk Project, says that "Dave has a mission with his art, and through his personal experiences these are truly seen in this work."
In an extensive quarantine conversation from his Los Angeles home, Navarro waxed eloquent on art, politics, and of course, the pandemic, expressing hope that "at the end of this thing we can finally see ourselves as earthlings and just as fragile as one another, and vulnerable. Hopefully, if handled correctly," he says, "it can bring forth a wider spiritual view, a much more a loving environment on a planetary level." And with More Government Care?, he's created socio-political art that at once comments on our planetary plight while aiding some of his hometown's most vulnerable citizens.
Tell me about what art you collect and your entree into the art world as an observer, a fan.
I was on tour with Jane's Addiction in the 1980s. Eric Avery—the bass player—and I took a trip to the Guggenheim and they had one canvas Electric Chair of Andy Warhol's. I saw it up close and in-person and it hit me like an arrow through the heart, because of the blatant juxtaposition of color and imagery. That kind of shook me into liking Pop Art. Before that, I was really more of a classicist guy. I was more of a Vienna Secession guy [an art movement, related to Art Nouveau, formed in 1897 by a group of Austrian painters], like [Gustav] Klimt, Egon Schiele, [Edvard] Munch, Oskar Kokoschka; people like that were in my wheelhouse for a long time as a fan.
I bought a Warhol, a silkscreen, I guess it was, of Mick Jagger on [L.A.'s] Melrose Avenue in the early '90s.
It's funny you brought up Melrose, because there was a place called the Cantor Gallery on Melrose in the late '80s/early '90s. I got a Jean-Michel Basquiat for like five grand back then. Back then that was a lot of money. I was maybe my late twenties or early thirties, and I was like, ‘Okay, I'll do it.' It felt like I was putting everything I had on the line. I wouldn't part with it for anything now, but if you think about how that market has taken off since those days, I really lucked out.
At the time I created that, last year, it was actually a three-dimensional installation. It wasn't just a print; it was an actual border toilet from the border crisis, and a metal food tray. This was at the height of the outrage of the treatment of immigrant children in the [border crossing detainee] camps. I saw what was going on and I realized just how poorly our children had been treated by this country forever, and the amount of fear and trauma with that treatment. I was reminded of the height of nuclear fear, when kids were told to get under their desks and put on a mask. Again, that's just terrifying. I saw this thread of fear and trauma within the children.
The installation was a lot of fun to build. And I spray painted the wall with the caption. The girl—I don't know where that image came from, but she ended up becoming a cutout that I blew up and propped up to take her off the wall to give it more of a three-dimensional feeling. It was initially just a video concept, it wasn't even going to be a print.
[Then] I worked with Gary Lichtenstein Editions, who's a world-famous screen printer and has been at the game since probably the '60s. He and I decided to create these editions of the installation. As far as I know, [the installation] is still there. It was in a basement of Mana Contemporary Gallery in New Jersey. It's a really great artist/shared living studio space. This [building] is from the 20s, so it's got the most incredible ominous interior; you couldn't ask for a better set.
And here we are the next year in the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, and the original piece has become something that makes a dual statement.
Working with Emily and the Sidewalk Project I started looking at the piece again. And then of course the masks [which the girl wears in the print] being the symbol of what's going on now. Then I was tying it into the immigrant populations, but today [with Covid-19] it's come out that a lot of the migrants in this country, some of that community are afraid to even report whether or not they're feeling ill. Or if they have symptoms, or if there is sickness in their families because they don't want to find themselves documented, and on a bus out of here with 103 fever. So as a result of the dynamics set up by this government and the lack of empathy that toward that community, they're more at risk. We won't know the number of cases truly with this community in a position of fear. Once again, when I think fear and trauma and crisis, and what that does to a child, to me, that's the most heinous crime there is.
"Dave has a mission with his art, and through his personal experiences these are truly seen in this work." -Emily T. Nielsen
In Los Angeles, there's also a huge homeless community that's not getting the help they need during this crisis…
These are communities and people I see on a daily basis. A lot of the homeless community know that there is a virus and know there's planetary fear, but they don't really know the facts. The amount of fear and trauma within those communities is immeasurable. So when I got together with Emily and Punk Rock & Paintbrushes it seemed like a natural fit to offer this piece as a way to possibly help those communities. I don't sell tons of art. It's not really my bag, though. I love it and it's a part of my life since I can remember. But in this particular case, it seemed like a worthwhile cause.
And even though the image itself is dark and I can't really imagine people wanting to hang that in their homes at a time like this, it is still to me a documentation of an inherent history of how we go about taking care of our own children. It's really more of a planetary plea for kindness and care towards those who come after us.
I'm sure people would be happy to hang such a powerful image.
In the same breath, in 1963, when Kennedy was assassinated, there probably weren't a whole lot of people hanging the paper, the Dallas Morning News, where it says ‘Kennedy Slain on Dallas Street.' But now I myself have that in a frame on the wall as a remembrance piece, a time capsule, and to not forget where we've come from. So I'm hoping that if someone wants to donate and help Sidewalk Project, I wouldn't be offended if they waited a couple of years to put it up.
Obviously More Government Care? is a very political statement. Is that something you have done through your music or would like to do?
In music, I typically like to be a collaborator; a contributor more than steering the ship. But when it comes to art, I will definitely get more political. Early on, I was very involved in the Marianne Williamson campaign for president. And when she dropped out, I was involved with the Tulsi Gabbard campaign. Politically speaking, I'm very outspoken, but I watch very carefully to try and never be against anything, and say what I'm for. I think that being against things is very low-hanging fruit. It's very easy to say that things are handled terribly, this person is a liar, but to offer alternatives and solutions is a little bit more challenging.
I've also found that if you offer solutions rather than arguments, it lands a little bit better. If I feel attacked, I don't care how great your idea is, my first instinct is to go to defense, and then I'm not going to hear the context. I never was a big anti-establishment guy. I'm a registered Independent. I have had a serious left-ish leadings and I've had some very conservative leanings. So I don't really fit within a political party. I vote the person. I speak out in terms of what they have to offer rather than what someone else isn't doing.
Dave Navarro signing More Government Care? prints; photos by Emily T. Nielsen
Why do you use an ‘art name,' lifeafterdeath, as a pseudonym for your artist creations.
It started for a couple of reasons. One is because I think about the lives that are still going on after the death of a close loved one. It's not in a supernatural sense I'm talking about; it's a very literal sense. I myself am a life after a death with my mom, and so many people since. We spend so much time grieving the people who go, but very little awareness is put on the fact that there are hundreds of people suffering as a result of that loss. And the person we're putting our energy into isn't feeling anything.
It's a little bit to bring that to somebody's attention, maybe. I think the other side is that as a musician and with my history, I don't really love the idea of anything artistic being overshadowed by my own past. When I attach my name to something, it brings a lot of baggage comes along with it. Even though it's not a big, deep, dark secret, you're really the first media outlet. I've spoken to about any of this. Because I feel this particular cause at this particular time is important.
Yes, preconceived notions come into play.
Right. I've also taken a real reprieve from any kind of online presence. When I grew up, we weren't in a position for our hearts to be tinkered with by the entire planetary system. And now that's the norm.
You mean "offline" since the pandemic or prior to that?
Prior. I kind of went dark on anything profile-related, just because I felt that it wasn't serving me anymore and it was kind of becoming a trigger source. There's plenty of triggers that I already have built up; I don't need to invent any new ones! I will say that after months of not being connected—no Twitter, no Instagram, no Facebook—I still know what's going on in the world and I still know what my close friends are up to, and I'm still just as connected as ever.
To put our interview in context, tell me what you've been doing since the lockdown; what's your current state of mind and being?
It's really been a challenge. I have a girlfriend and I have a dog, and we're in it together. So one of us comes down, the other one's going down. Apart from just the tremendous amount of loss of lives and incomes, security and fear that's on a visceral level that you can feel it in the air, it's difficult being in a scenario where the people we're closest to are sometimes the only ones we're able to really interact and exchange energy with. Your partner becomes the person who has to weather everything that you're going through.
But, you know, we are losing friends from the virus and also losing people due to addiction, because a lot of people are so terrified and alone and isolated that the number of OD cases is up. We've already lost two or three people within the past month. If we're not careful, there's a very deep undercurrent of hopelessness out there. If I was still struggling with my addiction, I don't see why I wouldn't delve deeper into it right now.
I know you're extremely supportive of MusiCares. Do you think musicians have enough resources during this trying time?
I can say that MusiCares has absolutely helped friends and loved ones of mine and potentially thousands of people that I know of. It's an amazing resource that not only helps with addiction and treatment for addiction, but also for mental health issues. I think I fit more in the mental health side of things, even though I'm an addict. Even though my addictions are at bay, my mental health issues are still very much real. So I really applaud them for expanding their resources in that area.
I've been working with them for a number of years doing different events. Me and my partner Billy Morrison, for two years now we've done Above Ground, which is an organization to help raise funds for MusicCares. Basically, we put on concerts, selecting full-length vinyl albums that we intend to perform from beginning to end.
That's a lot of work for you, but it sounds amazing!
So far we've done the whole Adam And The Ants' Kings of the Wild Frontier. The whole album of Velvet Underground with Nico; the full Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. And the Stooges record, all records that had a real impact on Billy and I. We loved celebrating the vinyl aspect and the craftsmanship that went into them. We played the Belasco Theatre and the Fonda Theatre. We'd do one complete album, then a break where Dr. Drew and Bob Forrest would speak and we would auction off paintings and art from local artists. Then we would come back with the second record. And guests like Perry Farrell or Al Jourgensen would come and sing a song. Courtney Love, Macy Gray and Jesse Hughes, all these really great friends of ours came together for the same reason.
I really put my energy in these things and it tends to help take me out of self. Because left in my own brain is a really dangerous place. I think it can be for a lot of people, and maybe that's something to look out for people right now: because we're under such a lockdown, a lot of us, especially people with mental health issues, are left to our own devices. Sometimes our own devices are the worst devices. So it's really important to stay connected right now.
Final question: Are you doing any music currently? Or what's coming out of this lockdown and pandemic time creatively for you?
I haven't really been focusing on music that much. I love playing, I love the musical side of my life, but I think that's something I care to do much more as an ensemble. And since I'm not really able to do that right now—and particularly with our band [Jane's], everyone has kids, so there's a lot more at stake. It's not like the old days where the four of us could just say ‘f**k it, let's go meet up in the rehearsal room and see what happens.' Now they go home and they have their families, so they'd be putting them at risk too. The music thing I love to do with different people and have different energy in the room, whereas given the current state of things, art is the one thing that I have as a resource for myself and something that I can do.
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