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The Dark Art and Circus World of Artist & Scene Veteran Todd Sullivan

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Artist Todd Sullivan of Think Suicide Studios is a master of Dark Art whose work has appeared in galleries from Seattle to Buffalo. He’s also been a longtime staple of the local hardcore and punk scene, of which he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge. 1120 Press recently sat down with Todd to talk about art, music, his influences and efforts to build community. We appreciate his time. You can check out Todd’s work on his website (mentioned above), and on his Insta. Check out Nautious Art Gallery on Facebook, too, a group Todd started to bring artists together. — Photos provided.)

1120 Press: Thanks so much for speaking with us. Your involvement in the scene goes back decades. Your art is diverse in terms of subject matter, but music has always been an influence on you. How much art have you done for bands here?

TS: I started doing local metal bands; I did a band here called LIfebleed and that was in the late 90s. I finished up my schooling at UB for illustration and did three internships in New York City, one with (renowned illustrator) Melinda Beck who did the Manic Compression album from Quicksand, and (noted visual artists) Jordin Isip and Jonathon Rosen.

Then when I came back home, I went right to Seattle and I did more gallery stuff there. I was focusing most of my work on that probably up until seven years ago. When I came back from Seattle, I ran into a couple people who lived together in a crust house on Cluster Street off Main in Buffalo. They call it a ‘crust house’ because of the ‘crust punks’ living there. I didn’t live in the house, but I met a lot of younger punks there, and a mix of people I knew would go there to hang out. Fledgling Death played there with (hardcore legend) Scott Vogel’s step-brother (Jay Galvin) on vocals, Joe Villella on bass and Doug White on guitar. It was a new flavor for Buffalo that I had never seen before: the house and its energy.

I met (the late) Tony Lorenzo who was in the band ‘Sons of Azrael’ which signed with Metal Blade Records. My friend brought him over to meet me and he loved my work so I did the art on a CD for his band. And I did some work for (Buffalo Death Thrash Metal band) Cain. About two years ago, I worked with the band Prepare for the Mindscan, with Shawn Gomez (of Alienhost Presents, Timeless Babez, Seplophile and most recently Grizzly Run). That project never ended up being released though.

1120 Press: How did growing up in the local hardcore scene influence your art?

TS: Well, my art started progressing. I started seeing the voice in my art come out, such as anti-fascist messages. Hardcore, I think, instilled in me a different morality… The hardcore scene was always a baseline… It opened me up to a lot of people, a lot of travel, a lot of different ideas. So that went into my work. And then, there was the artwork in hardcore. In a way it’s hard to say what it did to me, or for me, but I guess it did this to me (laughing).

1120 Press: And your upbringing with your grandfather — who was both a photographer and a circus performer — influenced your art, too, right?

TS: It did, and it wasn’t something that I realized right away. It took a while. My home life growing up wasn’t very good… so I spent a lot of time with my grandparents. I would see my grandfather working on his woodworking, and his photography, making his own props for his work as a clown with Ringling Bros. and when different circuses would come through, he would go in and work with them. Though he influenced my art, like I said, it wasn’t something I realized immediately. He loved doing (clown) makeup. Art also came out of my grandmother as well. She did ceramics and clown makeup. So, yeah, I guess it was the light in the tunnel that created for me a vision, which I was always staring at, and which I craved when I wasn’t with them… I remember my grandfather taking me to a jugging convention in Rochester and I just remember 12-foot high unicycles and people juggling swords. It was a cool thing. Our brains are a computer. So those things go in that computer and they are stored there. And I’m seeing that now.

1120: So what are you exploring in your art? If your art had a mission statement,

what would it be?

TS: Some of things I’m exploring are feminism, freedom, power, violence and anti-fascism. But there’s also so much more to me… DIY things like making patches, stickers, pins and lithograph. I do merch of my art. I’m not a paper slinger. It’s not what I want to do. I want my art to stand up for itself and I never want it to be watered down… I want to stay the path and bring my art to its fullest potential.

1120: You attend all these different kinds of events where you sell your merch, so you kind of have this front row view of the scene here. What are your thoughts: how would you evaluate the scene in Buffalo and what are its challenges?

TS: The one challenge is it’s all presented separately. And, when a promoter is in a groove, they tend to stay in that groove and eventually, that groove gets worn out: for instance, using the same artist to do all the flyers for everything in all of Western New York. I had an art show last June at Area 54 next to Amy’s Place. And I had Billie Page DJ for me. I work within the scene, and I don’t see a lot of people do that. Billie does. Billie supports everyone. It’s crazy how much Billie supports everyone in the scene here. When you’re having a show, commission a local artist to do a backdrop. Now, it just seems like people all go to one person. There are a lot of artists that come from the hardcore scene. I think we need to invest in the people who come to shows, and who’s around, to make this even better.

1120: What are the challenges in trying to create a community of artists here?

TS: I call it the ‘View Master,’ everyone is just sort of seeing things through their own lens. I’ve gone to different events and have met different people. I get so much out of just talking to other artists… I tried to start a Buffalo Dark Art community here and I was cold calling artists and trying to do things, but no one was really willing to share anything. I get it: everyone has to work their own finances, situations and social lives … But I just think people should try and support each other a little more… I’ve had more success online with Nautious Art Gallery which is a group on Facebook for Dark Art and that has really kind of exploded. My administrator is Toni DB. She’s a really incredible artist here in Buffalo… There are amazing artists here. I love being a part of such a talented community.

1120: As far as community goes, there seems to be a sense of community in the hardcore scene here. But too often, we go to shows in other genres and too many of them are poorly attended. What is it about the hardcore community that makes it more close knit than other parts of the scene here?

It’s fun and there’s no drama. Unfortunately, some of the other scenes here can be a little ‘backstabby’ maybe? There’s some politics. Hardcore, I think — it’s fun and people watch out for one another. The one thing I’m amazed about hardcore too is how diverse it is as a genre.

1120: Do you have anything you’d like to add before we wrap up that we did not cover?

We have a great scene here. If anything, maybe, what it needs is more diversification. I mean, our world is diverse, so why not our scene?


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