John Waters

John Waters. Photo: Studio John Waters

 

John Waters (*1946) is an American filmmaker, writer, author, actor and artist. As one of the most celebrated directors in American independent cinema, he has produced an array of cult films in the 1970s and 80s, such as Pink Flamingos (1972), Polyester (1981), and Hairspray (1988). Casting his eye over some unlikely corners of the film business, he later turned to photographic-based work in the 1990s with the same wit and audacity found in his films. At his vibrant best, when flaunting Hollywood’s rules or revelling in bad taste, he brings this rebellious streak to his artwork whichever the medium.

 

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An uncompromising cultural force and the so-called “Pope of Trash”, Waters bridges the gap between high and low art with a lively counterculture aesthetic. Born in Baltimore, his work draws inspiration from the city’s culture and landscape, and his early film works were all shot in and around the city, including his first short film, Hag in a Black Leather Jacket (1964), which was produced for just $30. Early films celebrate the notion of camp—particularly within the genres of exploitation comedy and transgressive cult films—presenting exaggerated characters in outrageous situations, with hyperbolic dialogue and alliterated character names. His Trash Trilogy (Pink Flamingos, Female Trouble, and Desperate Living) pushed the boundaries of conventional propriety and film censorship. After he found more commercial success with the 1981 hit Polyester, Waters still retained the tongue-in-cheek outrageousness that made him such a cult favorite. The 1988 film Hairspray became a runaway success, eventually being adapted into a Tony Award-winning musical. In 2015, the British Film Institute celebrated Waters with a retrospective honoring his five decades in filmmaking.

In addition to filmmaking, Waters also works as a visual artist across media such as installation, photography and sculpture. Inspired by his work in cinema and love of the film industry, Waters began making his photo-based work in 1992 by considering his fastidious role as a consumer and watcher of films. Using his insider knowledge to stay alert to those telling moments and details that would often by overlooked by the untrained eye, he snaps a single frame from a film, often from a television, recombining these images into a storyboard-like sequence—thus re-directing some of his favorite films through playful acts of appropriation. Cut off from their source, the stills take on a range of new meanings, and the strip sets off a loose, irresolvable set of associations or narratives. His renegade attitude and fearless approach to his subject matter allows him to reveal how celebrity and identity interact, often using humor to unlock cultural codes and moral pieties.

 

 

At Home with John Waters
Drew Daniel interviews John Waters
© Frieze, 2012

Works
John Waters
John Waters
Thimk, 2014

John Waters
Thimk, 2014
Oak, birch plywood, stain, varnish, paper, archival ink
21.1 × 38.3 × 12.5 cm
8 1/4 × 15 × 5 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Beverly Hills John, 2012

John Waters
Beverly Hills John, 2012
C-Print
76.2 × 50.8 cm
30 × 20 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Bad Director's Chair, 2006

John Waters
Bad Director's Chair, 2006
Canvas, wood, steel, paint with leather bound script
116.8 × 62.2 × 55.9 cm
46 × 24 1/2 × 22 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Bill's Stroller, 2014

John Waters
Bill's Stroller, 2014
Umbrella lightweight stroller with silkscreened linen and spiked, leather belt
99.1 × 35.6 × 66 cm
39 × 14 × 26 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Reconstructed Lassie, 2012

John Waters
Reconstructed Lassie, 2012
C-Print
76.2 × 50.8 cm
30 × 20 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Fellini's 8 1/2, 2014

John Waters
Fellini's 8 1/2, 2014
White pine, pressed letters, wood stain and paint
26.4 × 259.1 × 26.4 cm
10 3/8 × 102 × 10 3/8 inches

John Waters
John Waters
R.I.P. Mike Kelley, 2014

John Waters
R.I.P. Mike Kelley, 2014
Hand-painted cat urn with decorative detail, clear knotty pine shelf with engraved heart detail
39.4 × 30.5 × 20.3 cm
15 1/2 × 12 × 8 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), 2007

John Waters
Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), 2007
Acrylic urethane on wood and aluminum
106.7 × 142.2 × 11.4 cm
42 × 56 × 4 1/2 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Library Science #3, 2014

John Waters
Library Science #3, 2014
Two C-Prints
15.2 × 19.1 cm
6 × 7 1/2 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Playdate, 2006

John Waters
Playdate, 2006
Silicone, human and synthetic hair, cotton flannel and polar fleece
Manson: 48.3 × 35.6 × 27.9 cm
Jackson: 38.1 × 33 × 68.6 cm
Manson: 19 × 14 × 11 inches
Jackson: 15 × 13 × 27 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Control, 2009

John Waters
Control, 2009
Fiberglass, silicone, urethane, acrylic, human and synthetic hair, fabric and wood
121.9 × 76.2 × 76.2 cm
48 × 30 × 30 inches

John Waters
John Waters
Library Science #7, 2014

John Waters
Library Science #7, 2014
Two C-Prints
15.2 × 19.1 cm
6 × 7 1/2 inches

Details
John Waters

John Waters
Thimk, 2014
Oak, birch plywood, stain, varnish, paper, archival ink
21.1 × 38.3 × 12.5 cm
8 1/4 × 15 × 5 inches

John Waters
Thimk, 2014
John Waters

John Waters
Beverly Hills John, 2012
C-Print
76.2 × 50.8 cm
30 × 20 inches

John Waters
Beverly Hills John, 2012
John Waters

John Waters
Bad Director's Chair, 2006
Canvas, wood, steel, paint with leather bound script
116.8 × 62.2 × 55.9 cm
46 × 24 1/2 × 22 inches

John Waters
Bad Director's Chair, 2006
John Waters

John Waters
Bill's Stroller, 2014
Umbrella lightweight stroller with silkscreened linen and spiked, leather belt
99.1 × 35.6 × 66 cm
39 × 14 × 26 inches

John Waters
Bill's Stroller, 2014
John Waters

John Waters
Reconstructed Lassie, 2012
C-Print
76.2 × 50.8 cm
30 × 20 inches

John Waters
Reconstructed Lassie, 2012
John Waters

John Waters
Fellini's 8 1/2, 2014
White pine, pressed letters, wood stain and paint
26.4 × 259.1 × 26.4 cm
10 3/8 × 102 × 10 3/8 inches

John Waters
Fellini's 8 1/2, 2014
John Waters

John Waters
R.I.P. Mike Kelley, 2014
Hand-painted cat urn with decorative detail, clear knotty pine shelf with engraved heart detail
39.4 × 30.5 × 20.3 cm
15 1/2 × 12 × 8 inches

John Waters
R.I.P. Mike Kelley, 2014
John Waters

John Waters
Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), 2007
Acrylic urethane on wood and aluminum
106.7 × 142.2 × 11.4 cm
42 × 56 × 4 1/2 inches

John Waters
Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite), 2007
John Waters

John Waters
Library Science #3, 2014
Two C-Prints
15.2 × 19.1 cm
6 × 7 1/2 inches

John Waters
Library Science #3, 2014
John Waters

John Waters
Playdate, 2006
Silicone, human and synthetic hair, cotton flannel and polar fleece
Manson: 48.3 × 35.6 × 27.9 cm
Jackson: 38.1 × 33 × 68.6 cm
Manson: 19 × 14 × 11 inches
Jackson: 15 × 13 × 27 inches

John Waters
Playdate, 2006
John Waters

John Waters
Control, 2009
Fiberglass, silicone, urethane, acrylic, human and synthetic hair, fabric and wood
121.9 × 76.2 × 76.2 cm
48 × 30 × 30 inches

John Waters
Control, 2009
John Waters

John Waters
Library Science #7, 2014
Two C-Prints
15.2 × 19.1 cm
6 × 7 1/2 inches

John Waters
Library Science #7, 2014
Details
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Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
John Waters

John Waters
Beverly Hills John
July 1–August 15, 2015
London

John Waters' first ever exhibition in London, Beverly Hills John, is a fresh set of affectionate barbs about the movie biz. While he hasn’t lost his mordant wit or sense of mischief, Beverly Hills John finds Waters in a more reflective mood, asking the question: ‘Since celebrity is the only obscenity left in the art world, where do I fit in?’ He also hopes to resolve issues about childhood fame, false glamour, the horrors of nouveau-riche excess, his ongoing sexual attractions and the possible risk of ‘careericide’ with dignity.

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John Waters
Bad Director's Chair
February 7–March 8, 2014
Berlin

One of the most celebrated directors in American independent cinema, John Waters is at his vibrant best when flaunting Hollywood’s rules or reveling in bad taste. The director of Pink Flamingos (1972) and Pecker (1998) brings the same wit and audacity to the art gallery. Perched upon his Bad Director’s Chair, Waters has cast his eye over some unlikely corners of the film business, transforming his observations of all the glamour and heartbreak of Hollywood into photographic essays and narrative sculptures that are both ridiculously honest and brutally humorous. Waters becomes the self-appointed press agent for his newly conceived “little movies” who would surely be fired the first day of a shoot by the furious producers.

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John Waters
Press

John Waters: Indecent Exposure
Wexner Center for the Arts, March – April 2019

We took John Waters to a John Waters art exhibit in Baltimore
Washington Post, article by Sadie Dingfelder, November 26, 2018

John Waters: ‘I never wanted to be a cult film-maker’
The Guardian, interview by Nadja Sayej, October 8, 2018

Contemporary Art Hates John Waters
Interview Magazine, interview by Rob Pruitt, October 4, 2018

Garbage Man
Artforum, article by Sam McKinniss, October 2018

The Archives: John Waters
Musee Magazine, interview by Andrea Blanch, June 29, 2017

John Waters
Interview Magazine, interview by Harald Peters, September 2015

Review of John Waters: Beverly Hills John at Sprüth Magers Gallery, London
Aesthetica Magazine, review by Ashton Chandler Guyatt, August 8, 2015

John Waters: ‘I want to be despised’
The Guardian, article by Stuart Jeffries, June 30, 2015

JW 101
Parkett, article by Jay Sanders, 2015

John Waters, The Artful Dodger
The New York Times, article by Hilarie M. Sheets, June 26, 2011

Biography

John Waters (*1946, Baltimore, MD) lives and works in Baltimore. Selected solo exhibitions include Wexner Museum of Art, Ohio (2019), Baltimore Museum of Art (2018), Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich (2015), Fotomuseum Winterthur and New Museum, New York (2004). Selected group exhibitions include Fondazione Prada, Milano (2016), Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2015), Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Baltimore Museum of Art (both 2011), Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh (2010) and MoMA PS1, New York (2006). He participated in the 57th Venice Biennale (2017).

Awards, Grants and Fellowships
1997 Jack Smith Lifetime Achievement Award, Chicago Underground Film Festival
1999 Filmmaker on the Edge Award, Provincetown International Film Festival
2003 Coper Wing Tribute Award, Phonnix Film Festival
2004 Stephen F. Kolzak Award, GLAAD Media Awards
2017 Ian McLellan Hunter Award, Writer’s Guild Award
2017 Timeless Star Award, Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association