Jess DeCuir: Musical Mash-Up Artist From a Different Angle

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Houston Press readers should best know Jess DeCuir from Rocks Off's slavish devotion to her and husband Jeff's synthpop band Hyperbubble. We've followed their career as musicians for many years, and we can confidently call their last album, Candy Apple Daydreams, a critical success because we were the critics who acclaimed that sucker. Plus, they recently returned from a successful European tour.

But even after delving deep into the motivations and machinations of their albums, they still manage to surprise us. For instance, we had no idea that DeCuir dabbled at all in the visual arts. But dabble she does, and she will be only one of many artists featured this weekend at the Art Car Museum exhibit Musicians Who Make Art.

The art DeCuir is bringing from her home base in San Antonio is, frankly, odd. By the most literal definition, she is a collagist, but since she's a musician, we'll stick with calling the pieces mash-ups. True to what you would expect from someone whose compositions are driven by drum machine and precise synthesizer lines that underscore her fembot voice, each piece is set in a rigid machine grid and is made up of pieces of pop album covers.

In a way, her work is reminiscent of the CD rocking chairs and other album art of local radio legend David Sadof. Both artists require you to view the physical medium of music in a completely different context. However, where Sadof's work completely redefines the physical shape of CDs, DeCuir retains the exact dimensions of an album cover. The result is to make the viewer look through a sort of cracked pop culture mirror in which two artists become a single three- or four-dimensional image.

DeCuir took a little time out to talk with us about her upcoming show.

Art Attack: What inspires the mash-up art?

Jess DeCuir: The mash-up art is inspired by our record collection and sifting through the dollar bin records at thrift stores. I've been putting together two or more songs in my head to create annoying brain worms since I was little, but didn't know then that they were "mash-ups." Then I heard the audio collages of UK mash-up artist CCC (Chris Shaw). My husband Jeff and I toured the UK in 2004, and with our band Hyperbubble in 2008 and 2010, and were able to meet Chris in person during two of those visits.

At the time, I wanted to create new work for a museum exhibit and a solo show that happened the same year. I used the mash-ups of CCC in my solo show in San Antonio at a gallery in 2006, and the response was amazing. Before that time, I'd never had an art exhibit that made people smile, laugh, and dance simultaneously.

The art of collage has historically been subversive, as in Cubism and Dadaism. New meanings are created by cutting up the "original" images and pasting them together in a new context.

AA: How do you choose your subjects?

JD: Sometimes, I allow chance operations in choosing the record covers. This happens after the pieces of the records I think I may want to use are already cut up into squares. Then they become visually exciting compositions based on their colors, logos, and visual textures.

Other times, I see ridiculous themes, such as '80s hair styles and put humorous titles with the finished compositions, such as "Follicle Rock." Personal taste in music does not come into play, but many of the pop and rock album covers I deconstruct and recontextualize are bands that were popular when I was growing up in the '70s and '80s, so there's the nostalgia factor.

AA: How is making visual art like making music?

JD: I'm interested in blurring the boundaries between art and music and have done so frequently in collaboration with Jeff under various creative and musical groups. When I teach the elements and principles of design to my students, analogies are often made between art and music. Even much of the terminology is the same.

The painter and Bauhaus art professor Wassily Kandinsky said, "Color is the keyboard. The eye is the hammer. The soul is the piano, with its many strings." Creating art and music elicit an emotional response that results in a visual and aural beat sensation. There's a reason most artists listen to music while in the process of creating, and one can certainly influence the other. Art and music are a synesthetic experience.

AA: Do you prefer to use mash-ups of similar artists, or diametrically opposed artists?

JD: For example, "McDonna" is a visual collage of Michael McDonald and Madonna, two artists we know will never collaborate...or will they?

Curator Melissa Noble selected "Crimson/Collins" as one of three collages for the "Musicians Who Make Art" exhibit at the Art Car Museum. I was pleased that she picked this more recent work, as it combines the faces of two diametrically opposed artists: Judy Collins and King Crimson. The very idea of the soft-focus face and baby-blue eyes of Judy Collins cutting a single with King Crimson gives me the willies. How about you?

Jess DeCuir's mash-ups will be on display at the Musicians Who Make Art opening Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Art Car Museum. The exhibition runs through August 7. For more information, visit www.artcarmuseum.com/

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