John Dunivant is a painter and multimedia artist working out of Detroit, Michigan. His largest artistic accomplishment—Theatre Bizarre—violated an untold number of laws and gave attendants an immersive Halloween masquerade experience that was unrivaled before being shut down by the city in 2010. He was also one of 12 Kresge Art Fellows in 2011. Read on for our quick interview with John as well as process shots from The Initiation. Head over to 1xRUN.com to grab 1 of 166 silkscreens of The Initiation.
1xRUN: Let’s talk about your latest print The Initiation, how did it come about?
John Dunivant: This print was created for this past year’s Theatre Bizarre event. Because of getting caught last year there was a big shift in content and context I’d guess coming from the carnival into this more secret society. But I wanted to take the iconography that I’d already been using with the carnival but dovetail it more into this world. So it was a bit of a break in a way from the trajectory I was on.
1xRUN: What were you doing before this?
John Dunivant: It was still within a similar era and time period, but it was because of Theatre Bizarre that carnival was the base of the design, at least my version of the carnival. This was kind of a foray into another world parallel to this carnival. These are characters and Gods evoking another world.
1xRUN: Do you want to touch on some of the imagery inside?
John Dunivant: Some of the imagery is with characters that are carried over. A lot of these characters are in a way meant to be gods, but they all take place inside this floating head, which in some ways is a comment on religion, it’s man made nature. I also look to a lot of folk stories and ghost stories for a lot of subject matter and whatnot, I love a lot of Asian ghost stories. In a lot of Malaysian ghost stories they use a lot of these floating heads to represent a mischievous character. So I’ve always thought of myself as a mischievous character, so in some ways that head is a representation of me.
The guy in the left with the head on his chest is based in some ways on a lot of medieval prints on monsters where he doesn’t have a true head himself. The head that’s above his neck is a mask made of elements. There’s goggle and a beak, there’s no real head there, he just made a mound of elements to form a head. I also am carrying over the character of Zombo. I did not want to have the clown that I have been using for the past 10 years, but I still wanted him represented in some way. That’s Zombo he’s a little more stripped down and vulnerable. There’s some Fiji mermaids in there kind of flanking Edgar. I also use frog imagery sometimes, and frogs will represent plagues or death. It’s in my artwork in general, I think I’m dealing with my own mortality. So I meant a lot of things have been representing death more and more, at least exposing how vulnerable the human body is. Like Zombo here, his belly is being split open, he’s almost like a mummified version with delicate mummified skin.
1xRUN: So not to jump too far off from that, but is there a bit of a reference to the current stripped down feeling going on with Theatre Bizarre?
John Dunivant: Yea, in some ways it’s also a bit of a commentary on the status of Theatre Bizarre. It’s a much darker piece than the celebration that Theatre Bizarre generally is with the bright blinking lights. This is much more somber. It’s definitely where my head was at after everything that has happened.