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Carlos Batts And Chris X

Uli Loskot

By Joe MacLeod | Posted 6/22/2005

Carlos Batts is a Los Angeles-based photographer originally from Reisterstown who has shot nudes and fetish stuff for himself and others, plus a couple of covers for this very paper. He has weathered examinations of his work and whether or not itís crap or porn or both (ďSkin Graft,Ē Arts & Entertainment, Dec. 3, 2003; ďWhy is This Man Smiling?Ē, Oct. 24, 2001). He is now the really, really proud creator of his third book, American Gothic, the debut original offering of Scapegoat Publishing, Reptilian Records store/label owner Chris Xís recent spin-off enterprise. We talked to the pair about their latest creation at Mr. Xís home earlier this year, where there are lots of skulls and alluring devil-things lying around.


City Paper: (To Chris X) Do you get this a lot, that you look like the guy in the George Romero movies?

Chris X: Yeah, but Iím better looking than him. Tom Savini. I wish I had one of those gun codpieces.

CP: OK, so what do you do?

X: After 10 years of watching the music industry change and formats change, I decided I wanted to do something different. So I moved into publishing because there are artists who I want books by and those books donít exist, and there are books I want to read that donít exist. So who better to do that than me? Iím doing this book of Carlosí art because Iíve been into his art since the day I met him. Iíve watched him grow and become famous for his fetish photography, but this [collage and multimedia art] of his has gone unnoticed because publishers were afraid of it or whatever.

Carlos Batts: Iíve got a film coming out on DVD with Cult Epics called American Gothic based on the painting. Itís just not like, for goth kids. This is the 75th anniversary of the painting, ďAmerican Gothic.Ē In the 1930s when that painting was created it was a satire of rural America. The hidden message in the book is thereís more things going on besides skulls. Thereís like, racial tension and sexual tension, and my work is far beyond just eroticism. I decided to make that to challenge the art community as well as take this idea of America and put my identity to it. So I have a film thatís based on the painting that the old man had killed his wife and did it for the painting and is trapped inside of the painting.

CP: So what are you saying about this country?

Batts: I didnít grow up going to Hot Topic at the mall. Iíve been around this scene for a while and thereís more to me thanó

CP: Are you sad that thereís Hot Topic now and you can get your little goth kit?

Batts: I would love to have 15-year-old goth kids grow up listening to Chris Xís music and Carlos Battsí photography because his ears are better thanóChris has put out records by bands that are far more provocative than anything on Headbangers Ball.

CP: How does that make you feel? I mean, you know what Iím talking about? I go to Arundel Mills mall and see a 15-year-old girl wearing skin-tight PVC and white makeup and looking like Marilyn Manson.

X: I have mixed feelings about itó

CP: Because kids canít help where they liveó

X: Exactly. Iím glad that itís a little bit more accessible than it used to be and that people who otherwise wouldnít dig deep enough to find it have access to it, but from a business point of view, of course I donít like the overcommercialization of something that used to be more artistic and underground and special. I also donít like the competition.

CP: You try to make money on your business and put aside money to do other things?

X: I try to make money with the record store and also put these things out there where people can see them by having a store. Iím building my empireórecord label and book publishingóso that I donít have to stand behind a counter the rest of my life.

CP: How do you guys feel about the fact that Iím the one who had to fuckiní come here to do this interview? You know? I went to a couple different editors, and they all just kinda went, ďehh,Ē and I thought it was important because (points to Chris X) youíve been around for a long time and (points to Batts) you do what you do and nobody else does it.

X: Who else is doing stuff like this in Baltimore? Who else has got a label like this in Baltimore? Who else has got a store like this in Baltimore?

CP: What does that say about my paper, though?

X: People like us are taken for granted. Iíve been putting on shows and putting out records and doing what I do for 15 years. I think your paper does a fairly good job of covering a lot of things that people would otherwise not know about. But even though itís in the paper it doesnít mean anyoneís paying attention to it.

Batts: Iím here visiting. I donít need to say anything bad, Iím living my life. And Chris doesnít know this, but doing his record covers over the past six years while Iím shooting the girl stuff, Chris was one of the few people that understood my work, and I honestly think he came up with projects for me to do so I could keep doing my work fresh. This book is far more different than anything Iíve ever done. Itís the real me.

CP: You told me you shot a couple of little films. You want to be a director?

Batts: My life has been planned since I was 15. This new film is amazing, because it looks like the book. I directed two videos, I did a couple feature-length fetish films, but that was years ago, and the whole goal was to be a director. The film is a companion piece to the book. Itís in the vein of Matthew Barney or David Lynch, the same kind of visceral idea of what cinema should be. I have that now. I donít wanna make weird art films for only weird art people. Weíre not gonna have a problem selling books. Our peer group is there.

CP: Your subculture?

Batts: Our subculture, but Iím far bigger than that. I have a universal vision. The fact that me and Chris are friends, that weíre different races and cultures, our families are different, but we have a general interest, thatís more provocative to me. Baltimore sometimes isolates people. They think they donít have the same interests, both racially and culturally. The book isnít just about skulls and scaring people. I watch MSNBC every morning. I walk down the street and pay taxes like everybody else. I donít wake up and thereís a porno set in my house. Thereís other things happening, man.

The only problem that I have with the City Paper is that we shouldnít even have a debate right now, Iím from fuckiní Reisterstown, this is my third book. You find me anyóIíll say itógo to MICA, go to any fuckiní art school in Maryland, period, and find me a photographer that graduated from there and has three books, thatís been around the world, thatís exhibited around the world, thatís curated around the world, thatís worked with bands. I shot Snoop Dogg, my fuckiní rap hero, and Glenn Danzig from the Misfits. Iíve done everything I wanted to do. Everything. To the T. There shouldnít be a debate. I should be celebrated, like, ďDamn, this is cool!Ē when I come back. I shot my brotherís rap group. I come back to Baltimore to my friends, I show love.

X: Both he and I might go ignored or taken for granted in Baltimore, but there are people from all over the East Coast and all over the country who come to my record store to shop, but people here, because of whatever petty bullshit they haveóproblems with me or my politics or whateveróthey donít come to my store. The same with my label. People might think of it as a Baltimore label, but Iíve got bands from all over the United States on my label.

CP: Whenever I see a business like yours, I always worry about it, and I always wonder how it says afloat.

X: Itís a struggle and a fight. Iíve lived in the back room and slept on the floor.

CP: Tell me again about the Scapegoat thing, I shoulda asked you that, but Iím not a reporter.

X: The name of the publishing company, Scapegoat, is also a reflection of myself and the artists that Iím working with and the authors that Iím working with and how weíre perceivedóor ignored.

CP: Why is that? What did you boys ever do to anybody?

X: A lot of people are very comfortable with their Martha Stewart television view of life, and they donít want to think about the grease on the bottom of the stove of humanity. People donít want to recognize that we are carnal beings and we are animals with desires and feelings like hatred and anger that are just as much a part of us as love and beauty, and I prefer to expose both sides of that.

CP: Martha Stewart did time. Either of you guys done time?

Both: No.

CP: Neither of you boys has done time?

X: We havenít been caught.

Batts: I wear rubber gloves.

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