You might already know Antony’s music. The fortysomething performer has made a name and earned an army of followers thanks to his unique voice, offbeat persona, and undeniable talent. And it’s not just what he plays, but how he plays it. The multifaceted Antony—who performs with a band as Antony and the Johnsons—has covered Beyonce at the Apollo and performed in near darkness with no less than the Brooklyn Philharmonic as his backing band.
In the next week, he’ll unveil two new presentations: Saturday, an exhibit of his sculpture, drawings, and collage will open at Los Angeles’s Hammer Museum; and Swanlights, his group’s new album as well as a MoMA-commissioned sound piece with a 60-piece orchestra backing Antony as he works his way through his catalog of songs at Radio City Music Hall. And that’s, of course, not all. Nico Muhly, Rob Moose, and Maxim Moston did the arrangements for the numbers, there are lauded designers working on the lights and sets and the whole thing was arranged by MoMA underboss Klaus Biesenbach.
Curious about what to expect? So were we. We caught up with Antony to discuss art, nature, and life as a witch.
I think a lot of people aren’t aware of your artistic interests. Does this mean you won’t be making music as often?
A lot of my attention now is more on drawing. It probably will go in different phases. It’s definitely less verbal. Seeking not to restore but to find balance. Maybe you can’t restore it, but you can at the very least amend it and bring it in to the present that feels heartfelt.
From what I’ve read and heard in some your explanations of your drawings, you are focused on the environment.
I’ve been realizing that people can imagine the collapse of ecosystem more easily than they can leave capitalism. That will be a much more subtle shift than the shift we are gearing up for with the collapse of the ocean system and nature system.
That’s some of the things that I think that may or may not be addressed in every drawing. Some of the things that I think about. Oftentimes, I attach that when someone asks what I’m thinking about. Oftentimes, when you’re drawing, it’s more like currents or oceans. You fall into a process that’s… the gift of a moment. The most lucky opportunity, a moment of reprieve or safe space where you can express yourself. Most people don’t give themselves many opportunities to do that. How often do we take a breath and unfurl?
It sounds like you look inward for much of your inspiration, are you influenced by Jung or ideas of the collective unconscious?
I am not as familiar with Jung. I’ve been taken with Kazuo's rendition of budoh. There’s also something more: I’m a witch. I believe in the magic of this place, this world. Animate world is a magical one to me. It’s a spiritual world for me. In that regard, I love that idea that I’m creating intention when I’m making something, hopefully a positive intention.
I’m an artist, I’m an animist. I’m transgendered. I’m very non-Christian. I’m mammal identified. Part of the mammal world.
I know that sounds completely crazy. But I’m made of 70 percent water, and I’m an animate being. I don’t have that Christian idea that we’re spiritually constituted to be fundamentally different from the rest of nature. There’s this obsession with patriarchal religions, and we hail from a paradise elsewhere and we sort out some kinks in our karma. We are dominating animals, but it doesn’t mean we’re different from them spiritually. I don’t believe that human spirit is more valuable than a tiger spirit.
You live in New York though, does that mean you want to move to the country to be more inspired?
New York City is part of nature. It’s like a beehive. Everything we create is a part of nature; AIDS is a part of nature. Whether we have to be this way, whether it’s our manifest destiny to destroy this place, whether we can change our trajectory. That’s the big question. But it’s mostly artists and grandmothers and environmentalist and scientists that are interested in these questions. Most are fascinated with getting their needs met through capitalism.
Do you think being a queer person is what feeds your creativity and your artistic self?
It’s my passion. It’s my love. Queer expression is where I found all my fulfillment—since childhood.
Trans men give us so much. We have to dream for the future of men, because men need so much help. Faggots have to get on it. Trans people offer a new interpretation of how to perform as male with the knowledge of experience of the feminine in the back pocket.
Transgender kids are always living in a dazzle of light and color. I think it’s part of nature. It’s a normal role we’ve always been doing something colorful and spirited—involving joy and a relationship to spirit. How many gay kids are twirling in a pool of light at 6, 7, 8 years old and dreaming colorful who we are? That’s our nature. It’s the most vital aspects of our spirit.
Photo by Mark Seliger