The Remarkable Journey of Pippa Garner: A Visionary Artist Ahead of Her Time
Pippa Garner, a veteran of Vietnam and a groundbreaking artist, has continuously reinvented herself throughout her illustrious five-decade career. With a playful irreverence and a profound exploration of gender, Garner has pushed the boundaries of art and challenged societal norms. Her work, characterized by its visionary concepts and cheeky humor, has cemented her status as a trailblazer.
Born in 1942, Garner’s fascination with car culture began at a young age. Drafted into Vietnam, she was exposed to Agent Orange, which resulted in leukemia. Despite this setback, Garner’s artistic spirit remained undeterred. In 1974, she created “Backwards Car,” a sculpture featuring a flipped chassis that seemingly drives in reverse. Garner also designed a midriff-bearing men’s suit intended for television appearances, further showcasing her penchant for unconventional ideas.
In 1984, Garner embarked on a personal transformation, rejecting binary thinking and embracing her own body as a work of art. She transitioned in an effort to challenge societal norms and explore her own multi-gendered identity. Garner’s prescient work, which resonates with the present, has finally garnered widespread attention. Art Omi curated a survey exhibition, while Primary Information reissued her influential work, “The Better Living Catalog.” The collaboration resulted in the creation of a captivating catalog titled “$ell Your $elf” and a line of T-shirts and hats adorned with bold slogans like “Obscurity Guard.” OCD Chinatown even hosted a show-cum-tattoo parlor titled “Pippa Garner: I’m With Me.” Garner’s traveling exhibition, “Act Like You Know Me,” will soon grace the walls of White Columns in New York.
Despite the newfound recognition, Garner believes that an evaluation of her work has only just begun. On Veterans Day, Surface Magazine had the privilege of speaking with Garner about consumerism, bodyhacking, and her creative process. Reflecting on her career, she expressed her delight at the sudden interest in her work, remarking, “I’m 81 and keep thinking about things in my past that make me feel like I’ve been alive for 300 years.” Garner discussed her early fascination with cars and how it evolved into a medium for her work. However, due to being legally blind, Garner is no longer able to drive. She reminisced about the distinct sensations and experiences provided by different car models from the past, highlighting her early addiction to mobility and the sheer enjoyment she derived from the machines themselves.
Garner’s artistic journey has also been intertwined with her exploration of masculinity and the need for a cultural shift. She believes that men in positions of power often abuse their hyper-testosterone-driven authority. Garner envisions a future where individuals with high responsibility are all trans, effectively challenging traditional gender roles. Drawing upon the connection between transportation and transformation, she emphasized the importance of embracing change and allowing cultural norms to evolve.
The conversation delved deeper into Garner’s personal transformation and her decision to view her own body as a canvas for art. Garner dismissed the notion of identifying solely as a woman after undergoing surgeries in Brussels during the ’90s. Instead, she embraced a multi-gendered identity, drawing inspiration from historical androgynous figures. Garner believes that her work, which often juxtaposes various elements, was a natural progression into exploring her own identity. Through her art, Garner has brought attention to the ways in which society defines and categorizes individuals based on gender.
The interview also shed light on Garner’s influential work, “The Better Living Catalog.” This bizarre and innovative book, first published in 1982, celebrates American ingenuity and features a range of surreal inventions and witty puns. Garner revealed that the idea for the catalog stemmed from a collaboration with photographer Tim Street-Porter and the discovery of General Motors salesman training films from 1962. These surreal films, combined with Garner’s distinctive artistic vision, resulted in a performance and subsequent portable portfolio displayed at the Whitney Museum. Garner expressed surprise at the recent reissue of the catalog and remarked that there are other books of her work yet to be explored.
As the conversation drew to a close, Garner discussed her recent foray into creating T-shirts. Inspired by artist Ed Ruscha, she began designing T-shirts with entertaining and theatrical messages a decade ago. Garner expressed her delight in creating designs that challenge the prevailing trend of giving free advertising through branded clothing. However, she mentioned that she is currently awaiting inspiration for her next project, suggesting that the T-shirt phase may soon evolve into something new.
On Veterans Day, the interview also touched upon Garner’s experience as a Vietnam veteran and how it influenced her life and art. Garner recalled her time at the ArtCenter School of Design in Pasadena and the subsequent draft into the army. Immersed in a homogenized environment, she documented the realities of war through photography. After her return, Garner felt a renewed sense of freedom and began pursuing her artistic career with renewed vigor.
Despite her battle with leukemia, Garner remains optimistic and hopeful for the future. She expressed gratitude for the possibility of receiving powerful antibiotics and treatments. Garner hopes to continue creating art, even considering enlisting the assistance of an assistant to increase her productivity. Ultimately, she cannot imagine a life without art and eagerly looks forward to what the future holds.
Pippa Garner’s remarkable journey as an artist, veteran, and visionary serves as an inspiration to all. Her willingness to challenge societal norms, embrace her own identity, and push artistic boundaries has captivated audiences and brought attention to important cultural issues. As Garner’s work gains recognition and continues to evolve, her impact on the art world will undoubtedly be felt for generations to come.