PENNY-ANTE: EVERY SITUATION WITHOUT FEAR
Penny-Ante started just about the same time as L.A. RECORD, at the other extreme of printed matter—instead of one page every week, they’d release giant beautiful books full of original art and writing and creative expression and even wedge in a unique CD of music, too. Now after three giant volumes, Penny-Ante’s Rebekah Weikel has released a series of original prints as Penny-Ante part 4 this spring. She will DJ at Big Freak tonight. This interview by Drew Denny.
I’ve always revered Penny-Ante publications as these beautiful gems containing tidy genealogies of all the messy stuff I like. Why did you start making them?
It was 2005, I was young, bored out of my mind, and had five grand to burn. Since then … more burning.
What about you personally? Where were you before Penny-Ante?
Pretty lost, as anyone in their early twenties should be. Left school, flew across the country, ended up outside Boston for a few months, then somehow found myself in a Christian philosophy program/shelter. For twelve dollars a day, you got fed and a bed which sounded good to me. The program’s New York branch was full, so I ended up in their Rochester, Minnesota, branch. I shared a basement with the only other stayer, a 4’11” photographer that was all sorts of mixed up between drugs and her Southern Baptist upbringing. We were forced to listen to these Francis Schaeffer tapes every morning for a few hours and after a while, we both went totally insane. We were stuck in Flat Town, USA in the dead of winter, and the only thing to do was wonder at the enormity of the Mayo Clinic and walk around Silver Lake. Irony? I did indeed make it to the only show that came to town: Jars of Clay. It’s funny. We actually ended up on their tour bus after the show somehow. Big party. Lots of Evian water. After the snow melted, I came back to California, got a job and settled into a nice quiet life on Sawtelle Boulevard across from the Yamaguchi Bonsai Nursery. Then I gave birth to Penny-Ante, and everything got fucked up again.
How? Where has Penny-Ante taken you?
Out and in of love … and to Tokyo, too. I went out there with Simeon Coxe—I was working as Silver Apples’ manager at the time—and I don’t think Tokyo will ever leave me. Our visit to the Meiji Shrine was something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Breathtaking. We stayed there almost four hours, in silence. You couldn’t talk. It was just too beautiful.
Does Penny-Ante create its community or did a community create Penny-Ante?
The community came first. I just came in quietly and stood in the back and took notes. I do feel very strongly about preservation. Penny-Ante has always been my attempt to document people and things I fear might get lost.
How did you happen upon this particular bunch of L.A. artists? Who were your first friends here?
It’s tricky to say, really. When I was living on Sawtelle in West L.A., I met a girl named Phoebe at a house party. We both had jobs we hated and not too many people in our lives we felt a connection with. We clicked easy and it was the beginning of a new era. Every night, she would pick me up around nine after she got off work and we’d drive east on Sunset. We did this for almost a year and it was an incredible time in my life. We were open to anything and we entered every situation without fear. We didn’t know anyone, we had no one to please, we just didn’t give a fuck—we were looking for an escape and we found it. Eventually, we came across Little Joy and Joe McGraw, who later found me my place in Hollywood. On Kingsley and Sunset. So I guess you could say Phoebe and Joe were my first friends in L.A. It stayed that way for quite a while. I think I came to Los Angeles at just the right time, and I plan on leaving at the right time too.
How about Jason Yates?
Jason and I met via email in late 2005. I had contacted him to contribute to Book #1 and he was the first person involved to pick up the phone and call me. Somewhere in that first conversation, it was decided he was going to do the cover for the first edition. A few months later, he came out from Arizona to Sawtelle to make some art for the release show and in that time, a quasi-familial relationship was formed. I say ‘quasi’ only because he made me a bit nervous. In fact, he still makes me nervous … that’s probably why I like working with him so much.
Why didn’t he do the third edition?
When I first started on Three, both our lives were in flux. Jason had a baby on the way, had just been picked up by Circus Gallery, and his art career was on the rise. My dad died, my mom’s mental illness was getting progressively worse, and I holed up indoors with a chip on my shoulder. I think there was a semi-silent agreement made between the two of us that he was not going to do the cover … but since, we both have agreed that his disconnect from Three was the best thing for the both of us. I recently went down to visit him and his wife [artist Coco Yates] in Encinitas, and we had a nice fireside chat on the matter. I think we both feel satisfied with the cover’s outcome.
My dad died in November, and my mom’s marrying her rehab counselor. We should order some drinks.
Indeed we should and will, Drew. My mom passed last September. Let’s watch the sun come up.
Now Jason’s back on board and you’re releasing a series of prints—
I’m currently working with Jed Ochmanek, Hedi El Kohlti, Jason Yates and New York-based artist Jiminie Ha. The prints are available now. In terms of exhibiting, plans are pending.
What else are you releasing?
Dream Warfare 3—a film by artist Jason Triefenbach, released in a limited DVD format.
Why the sudden format flip-flop?
My relationship with the Penny-Ante ‘comp’ books tired. Personally and professionally, a lot has happened in the past few years that left me with a strong desire to abandon the past. I’m looking forward to the freedom in working with varied formats and Jason’s film seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
I hear Triefenbach somehow made you leave a performance with shards of glass stuck in your arm—is that what it takes for an artist to get a publisher’s attention?
Maybe mine. I don’t necessarily prefer to bleed, but yes—I’ve come to terms with the fact I’m only attracted to people and things that make me nervous.
Who are the people behind the journal Animal Shelter? What’s the relationship between Penny-Ante and Animal Shelter? You seem to overlap in a healthy sort of way.
Hedi El Kohlti edits Animal Shelter. Ashley Nelson—a dear friend of mine—gifted me a copy of the first Animal Shelter a couple years back and I just found it to be exquisite. Since then, I’ve spoken with Hedi about possibly coming on board as the publisher of his next issue. I’ve been sent the first draft and will be reading through it in the next few weeks.
What excites you about artist, writer and musician Andrew Arduini?
He’s immaculate, in person and in the courtesies he takes with words.
What’s your favorite poem?
In song, ‘When the Ships Come In’ by Bob Dylan. And close to anything by Bertolt Brecht.
Was Joseph Beuys right? Is everyone an artist?
I have a deep-rooted respect for Beuys and his ideas, yes. We, as free people, can paint a society by the choices we make and our action—both large and small.
Jack Heard asks if every ‘one’ is an artist, is every ‘thing’ an artist?
I suppose you could say so. Whether it’s an animate or inanimate ‘thing,’ ‘it’ affects. ‘It’ has its place and position in the world and its size of effect on the whole—depends on who it comes into contact with.
What is the role of print publication in today’s society? Wait, don’t answer that … How do you get by without selling ads to pot clubs and sensual masseuses?
REBEKAH WEIKEL DJs AS PART OF THE GIRL GANG DJs AT BIG FREAK ON MON., AUG. 22, AT BLACK BOAR, 1630 COLORADO BLVD., EAGLE ROCK. 10 PM / FREE / 21+. TWITTER.COM/HEWASABIGFREAK. PENNY-ANTE’S PRINT SERIES IS AVAILABLE NOW AND JASON TRIEFENBACH’S DREAM WARFARE 3 DVD WILL RELEASE THIS SPRING. VISIT PENNY-ANTE AT PENNY-ANTE.NET.