STARFKRS at the Kingston Pop Museum

image courtesy of artist
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Artist and gallery owner David Craig Ellis of Not Another Gallery in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is taking his latest project, STARFKRS upstate this summer to the Kingston Pop Museum. There he’ll be showcasing an installation and accompanying merchandise that is a nod to the perils of consumerism and the downfalls of trying to be a successful working artist today. The installation is a clear dig at one of the biggest brands out there today. The press release reads, “it’s so pervasive, so inescapable that it could only be fake… Not content with mere juxtaposition, Ellis interrogates the dialectical synergy of two mammoth brands – each an unquestionable market leader – and fuses them into a single, awe-inspiring enterprise capable of appeasing the full breadth of consumer demands. Big business has never been this big.” In typical David Craig Ellis style, the conceptual installation and fake coffee shop on view is bold, rebellious and witty. The artist spoke to us about his most recent project and his relationship with the Kingston Pop Museum. 

How did the idea come about?

Pretty much the same as always: Severe Insomnia. Up half the night with my mind going nonstop. If I don’t think of new ideas, new projects, I’ll spiral out into a world of worry and severe anxiety. Masturbation is only good for a short escape, then it’s back to reality. So I lay there, drumming up new fun things to create. Originally, I was going to have only the Peter Criss make-up on the Starbucks character with arms up, drumsticks crossing overhead. My assistant Greg and I put that together and it didn’t work. It looked awful: it didn’t stand on its own. But it gave me the idea to use all the KISS band members and do all four. I hand painted the originals, which are the prototypes used on everything included in the installation.

What is the main message you are hoping to convey?

The message is essentially a middle finger to “the commercial art world,” which I imagine like most artists, I long to be a part of, yet hate with all of my soul. The check-off boxes on the backs of the cups, mugs and t-shirts spell it out literally in black and white: Arrogant Artist, Dishonest Dealer, Pompous Collector, Phony Art Advisor, Conceited Gallerist, Snooty Curator. The Irony lies in the fact that I most likely fall into more than one of those categories. I worked in NYC Galleries through the 90s and although I had a blast, I also came to dislike almost everyone involved, including the regulars that would turn up on Thursdays for free wine and cheese. There was a lot of dishonesty overall. I’m not fond of anything fake. I’m a fan of the truth.

What are you hoping to say through the artwork and coinciding merchandise?

I suppose it’s a parody of itself. In a way it makes fun of anything that has become a “sell out” in the mainstream, but STARFKRS itself longs to become big enough to sell out, to be such a commercial success that it would no longer have to take any criticism or hassle from the art world. Now that I think of it, perhaps the whole thing is representative of me, as an artist wanting to be accepted in the mainstream, or by all of humanity, who knows?

How did this collaboration with Kingston Pop Museum unfold?

The owner of Kingston Pop Museum (KPM), John Stavros, was the manager of my rock group Sweet Little Roxana in the 90s. At the time, he secured us a production deal, inclusion on a movie soundtrack and had a pilot being written about the band and our struggles in the East Village. Personal problems with one or more of the band members destroyed opportunities; and any trust that was left in the end had disintegrated. I still have the heartbreaking letter from Clive Davis turning us down.Through the drugs, booze, apartment fires, homelessness, fights and failure, John continued to feed the band and allow us to crash at his studio in Hell’s Kitchen. We’ve been friends for over 3 decades and I’m overjoyed to show in his museum.

An example of David Craig Ellis’ mocking on a famous coffee powerhouse. Image courtesy of artist.

Can you tell us a little bit about the artwork on view?

I’ll be doing a room takeover in Museum Room #2, turning the room into a fake coffee shop which will include cups, mugs, hats, t-shirts, oil paintings, signed and numbered prints and actual coffee, all under the umbrella of the STARFKRS conceptual fake brand. All of the art, merchandise and swag is part and parcel of the entire conceptual installation itself, so any portion of the art installation can be purchased. A collector could purchase part, parts or all of the work of art that makes up a never-ending conceptual installation. Museum Room #1 will be commandeered by the brilliant visual artist Eugene Stetz, of whom I am a fan. Stetz is based out of Kingston and works in several different mediums and works from small to large scale. Definitely see it!

How long will the project be on view at KPM? 

The show will be on view all summer right up until August 30th. The opening reception is on Saturday, July 6th. I’ll constantly add more aspects of the installation as time goes on.

A view of part of the installation and fake coffee shop. Image courtesy of artist.

How long did it take for the installation to come together from conceptualization to finished installation and merchandise? 

This project has taken well over four years since its conception. There were many stumbling blocks and obstacles. A lot of printers refused to do the work, some last minute after I had already paid. We had to go back to the drawing board several times. Plus, I’ve had no money to finance this thing. I was denied all the grants I applied for. I would work a bit, order some blank t-shirts, work some more, order some ink. A lot is handmade. I screenprinted the t-shirts, tote bags and prints myself. It was very time consuming and exhausting, but in the end it was totally worth it. Satisfying. Like a Snickers bar!


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