Derek Albeck, Put on a Happy Face, graphite on paper 2009
Whether the euphemistic name ‘Fecal Face’ has its origins in carefully considered marketing strategy, or is the fruit of chance greatness born in a fleeting moment of insanity; it proves, that Shakespeare was wrong. When he penned the lines: “What is in a name? That which we call a rose/ By any other name would smell as sweet?”, referring, it seems, to the meaninglessness of a name, he clearly, wasn’t considering the power of branding. A name is everything, and one like “Fecal Face” is not only testament to the power of alliteration, but when applied to a contemporary art website, seems to be strangely appropriate.
Why? Well, there are clear parallels between the existence, (and subsequent popularity), that comes with having such an absurd title, and a great deal of what young contemporary artists aim to do. First and foremost, they may strive to elicit some form of audience response. Be it positive or negative, this is of little importance; however, one must never underestimate the power of ‘shock’. Secondly, avant gardism is also highly regarded, so too is wit, and a conceptual foundation that no-one, barr the creator, truly understands. Like contemporary art, a website with the name ‘Fecal Face’, (intentions aside), does these same things. It sets trends. Why else is everyone in Surry Hills rocking a “fixie” (fixed gear bike)? The answer may be traced back to this website.
Not only does Fecal Face make things cool, purely by association, it is genuinely awesome in what it’s done for contemporary art, and the element of exposure that it continues to offer, up- and- coming artists. What started off as a small zine by the same name, created by website founder John Trippe, is now, a global success. The site gets around 15,000 unique hits a day, and has come a long way since its inception in 2000, when it only featured the art of San Francisco.
In my interview with Trippe, we discussed, amongst other things, guerrilla marketing techniques, and the reasons why San Francisco may never overtake New York as the center for contemporary art. We decided, that in the end, location is of little relevance when we live in a world, where a website like Fecal Face is giving all artists a chance to have their work seen, no matter where they may be. And this, crude url’s aside, is something to get excited about.
Shawn Barber, San Francisco
So how did you guys decide to start the website, and where did you begin?
I actually started a homemade magazine, a little zine, probably around 1998, and then I started the website by myself, and that was in 2000. Which means that this April marks our 10th year!
Well congrats on that! I know you started off with San Francisco- based artists on the website, but when, and why did you guys go international with your content?
I don’t think there was any specific decision to do that, it kind of happened organically. I think 10 years ago there weren’t as many art websites online as there are now, and to be honest, I don’t even know how people found us, but yeah, I guess there just wasn’t that much on the internet if you were interested in art and culture and stuff like that, so we got passed around through links and things, and I put ALOT of stickers up in San Fransisco. But there wasn’t any conscious decision in terms of marketing or anything to try to go globally. I just picked stuff up if I liked it and put it on the site.
I suppose everyone asks you this but how did you decide on the name ‘Fecal Face’?
In about 1998, I made a small, xeroxed zine. I grew up skateboarding and for a lot of skaters that was a normal thing to do, just to feature your own photography or just cut up magazines and paste them together. The content really wasn’t that important either, it was just about making some sort of homemade magazine to express yourself. The names of the zines back then didn’t really matter either. ‘Fecal Face’ just kind of rolled off the tongue and I thought it seemed funny at the time. Then in 2000 I started learning how to put together websites and kind of kept doing the same thing I was doing with the zine, which was featuring my friends art, and when I had to get a URL I figured why not Fecal Face? The site just kept growing and growing, and every once in a while I’d think about changing it but it’s too late. So the name is just what it is I guess.
Ryan Travis Christian, Mariah
Do you think because of the website’s name, you attracts a certain crowd? Or repel another?
Yeah I think it did for sure. When there weren’t as many art sites online, and maybe some other ones popped up, I’m sure that we stood out. I grew up skateboarding and around punk-rock music and all that, so, I think that if you’re an open minded person it’s just kind of funny. I’m sure that there’s some people that are a bit more buttoned- up, but I guess if you grew up in a certain situation with certain types of music, then maybe ‘Fecal Face’ isn’t that shocking or that weird; whereas, other people might be turned off. I mean now we have a small gallery space in San Francisco and on the awning it says ‘Fecal Face Dot Gallery’ really big and white. We get people driving by, and gawking at the name and taking pictures and stuff like that! So even though we’ve been in San Francisco for 10 years and a lot of people know of us, there’s still a lot of people that are pretty aghast at the name. But ten years, you know, what are you gonna do?
Yeah, I think you’re pretty much stuck with it. I totally think you should keep it, I think the reason a lot of people I know are aware of you guys, is because of your name. So I reckon you’re onto a good thing
Yeah, well it rolls off the tongue, it’s easy to remember so it’s probably a good thing I guess.
So you mentioned that you started a gallery, in 2008, how’s that all going? Are you booked out for a while?
Yeah we’re doing pretty good. It’s just a small gallery space. I like to be on top of everything that I do and the website’s enough work as it is, so it’s pretty small which I like, because then I can stay on top of things. It’s good, it’ s nice to bring in artists that we like. It’s nice to see it in person, and be around it, and it’s good to show the people of San Francisco the work that we’re into. We have a lot of good shows coming up, like Damon Soule, Josh Keyes, Mi Ju and Henry Gunderson, and we have a good 10 years online, so we know a lot of talented artists and and thankfully they’re willing to put a Fecal Face stamp on their work and their career.
Ivana Klickovic, Belgrade Serbia
Out of all the artists you get on the website, how do you decide what goes in the gallery and what doesn’t?
I guess we choose artists who are at the same time in their progression as we are. What we expect from artists we show is that they’re taking their work seriously. Our shows just kind of work out when we’re in conversation and we say ‘Hey! Actually you should have a show at Fecal Face. Would you be into that?’ and then it’s like ‘yeah, alright, lets pick a month’ and then the calendar fills up pretty quickly. So the key is not to book too many shows because it just stresses you out cos you have to take things off the walls, paint the walls and package art and all that.
I feel that with the Sydney art scene, it could be because I’m bias, but I’m seeing guys getting shown a lot more than female artists. Are you trying to create a balance in the San Francisco art scene?
Umm, I don’t know how things work out. There’s probably some similarities with me being a man, so male artists are probably having the same feelings, grew up the same way, or have the same mental picture, so maybe we might show a little more men but I’m a pretty sensitive guy so I know that all work is great. But the conscious decision to choose one person’s art, over another, I don’t really have those kind of discussions in my head, I probably should think about it a little more often but I just go off my gut reaction of what I like, and what I feel that we’d like to showcase. I should probably start focusing a little bit more on female artists though.
I actually do agree with you that decisions of what gets shown and what doesn’t, should be based on the art though, not the artist’s gender. But I suppose there does come a time when you have to consider balance. Ok, so, enough on gender equality. What’s the best thing about being online? And what do you think the internet has done for contemporary art?
Well I’m very visually stimulated, like most of us who like art are, so the internet is like an endless supply of new artists and new things to see. I think because the internet is so accessible, work changes. You could look online, spend some time over the weekend looking at different artists and you could go back 100 years and you could look at the people who are creating work now, and that’s obviously going to influence what you, as an artist, are creating. So I would imagine that the whole visual language is accelerating exponentially. I find that really exciting to know that I could be shocked and amazed visually on a day to day basis.
How did you first get people interested in the site? I’ve heard that you employed some guerrilla marketing techniques?
Yeah, I had a lot of friends that did graffiti and I did a little tagging but I just liked doing the stickers. It was fun to put up Fecal Face.com stickers all over San Francisco at one point. I like it for the same reason that people do tagging, because you see your thing and you’re like ‘oh yeah Fecal Face’. A lot of people were hesitant because they didn’t know it was a real website because the whole ‘dot com’ boom was going on in 2000 and I think a lot of people thought it was a critique on all the yuppies that were moving to San Francisco at that time, and making rent too expensive for us to live here, but yeah, I loved it. So we did a lot of stickers and that’s how people found out about us, and then I think there was a lot of emailing going on, and that kind of thing.
Mel Kadel, Ecko Park, L.A.
So what do you want to achieve with your website and what do you want people to get out of it?
Sometimes it’s hard to think that there’s other people out there when you’re sitting at your computer. I just like to showcase things that I think are intelligent, funny, interesting, stimulating; to elevate our social ignorance that the United States are sort of engulfed in. I know Fecal Face isn’t like the New York Times, and that’s not what I aspire it to be. I don’t really have any grand ideas of what I want it to be, but its basically a way for me to enjoy myself and if other people like it, that’s great.
Who are some of the artists that you’re excited about right now?
Like I said, this is what’s so great about the internet, that it literally changes everyday. But there are some people here in San Francisco that I’m really excited about. There’s Henry Gunderson, he’s 19 and he just did his second year at San Francisco Art Institute and it’s really exciting to see someone, and through their art, see who their influences are, that their voice is really unique and it’s their own. His skills are really above a lot of people that I see. It’s inspiring to see someone like that with such great talent but yeah, that’s the internet. All the time you can see how so many people are influenced by each other and then just to see someone with their own unique perspective and their own unique skill, is very nice to come across.
What would be your advice to young artists who have their own website or blog, on how to get noticed?
Well personally, its my opinion, but I like people who put their artworks online in a clean format, with not a lot of flash. If they’ve got a nice, clean website, and the background is white, the artworks stand out. But yeah, my advice would be to just have fun with it, to not worry about anything else, just do what you want to do.
So in terms of San Fran vs. New York, do you think that San Fran will ever take over as the centre of contemporary art?
I think New York will still be the epicentre for a while. There’s just so much financial support for artists, a lot of people with big trust funds, who go back a couple of generations, and they buy alot of art. Especially with the global recession right now, people can’t afford to, I’m sure that people would like to, but I don’t think San Francisco has as much of a financial backing on art as other places. I mean, we have a lot of artists that live here, but at a certain point when you’re trying to make a living off it, people tend to gravitate towards NYC. Then again, it doesn’t matter where you are, as long as you’re doing what you’re into. It’s nice to make money off artwork but not many people get that option.
Henry Gunderson, San Francisco
Yeah I suppose NYC has this great history, and as long as people continue to gravitate there, it’s not going to change, but if artists start to move to places like San Francisco, then maybe things will change?
Oh yeah definitely. And that’s what I was going to say about the internet. You don’t have to physically be in a city, I mean its definitely a benefit, but there’s artists all over the world that are being tied together through the internet, and there are artists that are surviving on their work and living in the middle of the country and are 1000 miles from a big city. So that’s kind of cool!
What’s the most bazaar kind of art that you’ve seen on Fecal Face?
Ummm. I don’t know. That’s the problem with the internet, now my brain is just so tiny (Laughs). There’s a cool thing we’re putting up later today, it’s this guy who has a box that is basically tied to the internet and it’s constantly putting itself for sale on Ebay.
(Laughs) Yeah I read about that!
(Laughs) Yeah he sent a link to me about it today, and that’s pretty cool. I like that!
So the box itself is what people buy?
You buy the box, but through the contract you have to connect it to the internet and when it’s connected to the internet it tries to sell itself through Ebay, and then someone will buy it from you and so the artist gets a certain amount of percentage of the sale. I think its a neat idea!
So it’s really just a comment on the art market in general?
Yeah it is actually! You better check out Fecal Face to get the full story (Laughs).
Damon Soule, San Francisco
So how much time do you spend on the website?
Um, like 8, 9,10 hours a day! But you know, some of that is running errands and shipping out art, and that’s including the gallery, it’s definitely a full time job.
And how many hits do you guys get a day?
Ummm, it’s generally around 15,000 unique visitors, but I try not to look at that because it makes me nervous for some reason (Laughs).
That’s amazing! Do you ever think you’ll do a 360 and go back to the print medium?
That would be a much more relaxing life. I used to work at a skateboard magazine, and one week out of the month we would have crazy deadlines, but once the magazine was sent away to the printer we could at least relax for a week or two. But with the website, and the way the world works now, it’s kind of a bummer because you get no downtime. It’s nice to look at art in its physical form but in terms of the site and print, it’d be awesome to have it all going at the same time and to have it coincide with the website. But yeah, I don’t know…
Either way, the website is awesome, and everyone should check it out. Get inspired.
To purchase tickets to Sydney’s Semi Permanent conference, where you can hear John Trippe speak about his website, go here.