Welcome to the second issue of “Odd Jobs,” in which we explore the many jobs artists hold in order to support their art practice. I spoke with Kalup Linzy, a New York–based performance and video artist famous for his soap opera–style video works, such as a piece produced for the Studio Museum in Harlem titled All My Churen. Linzy uses low-tech productions methods and often plays multiple characters in each of his videos. He has received numerous awards, including the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship, the Creative Capital Foundation Grant, an Art Matters Grant, the Jerome Foundation Grant, the Harpo Foundation Grant, and the Headlands Alumni Award Residency.
Calder Yates: You went to college at University of South Florida, and then you got your graduate degree there. Did you take any time between undergrad and grad school?
Kalup Linzy: Nope. From age 5 to 26, I was in the system as a student. In college I worked in the Winn Dixie photo-lab department. When I finished grad school, somebody suggested I go back to the photo lab and I was like “no way.” I didn’t want to be standing in the Winn Dixie photo lab department with a graduate degree. So then, when I got to New York, there was a brief period for like a year where I had to get public assistance and I had to get food stamps and I was so embarrassed because I had a master’s degree. And the social worker was like, “Why are you embarrassed?” It’s not that I was freeloading, it just got to the point where I needed the extra help.
CY: Did you find a job?
KL: I found a temp agency and started working for The Mark [Hotel]. It was 2005. The Mark actually wanted to hire me full time because I guess I was the only one willing to get up at 3:30 or 4 a.m. to oversee the kitchen. I would get off around 2 o’clock. But I didn’t have the energy to go to art stuff because I literally had to be in bed by 7 or 8 p.m. to wake up the next morning to do it all over again. And then I got the Marie Walsh Sharpe residency and I was able to quit the job. Since then, I haven’t done anything completely outside of art.
CY: No other odd jobs? Were you an artist’s assistant?
KL: Well, I did have an interview for the Ricky Lake show, but I didn’t get the gig. It depends on what you mean by “odd jobs.” I was working for Whitfield Lovell and Fred Wilson [while working at the Mark Hotel]. After I did Sundance in January 2016, I went to Miami and did a residency. And then I went to Tampa and did a residency. And, you know, I’m teaching at the School of the Visual Arts (SVA), too, so it is a hustle. But all the jobs are connected to my career, so it doesn’t feel like “odd jobs.” I never had my entire income come from one thing or one source anyway.
CY: Did these residencies help?
KL: Yeah, I guess I’ve been fortunate because I went to Skowhegan. It gave me access to a New York network before I actually moved there. When I got the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant, and I remember Whitfield telling me that you may or may not come across a fellowship like that again. And so he gave me advice and said invest it in equipment and computers and cameras.
CY: What’s the new project with James Franco?
KL: It’s a new series called Ozara and Katessa. I wrote the script and directed it, but it’s a collaboration. His production company is also financing. We play different characters. I’m doing the voice of one of his characters and he’s doing the voice for a different character. We both take turns playing damsels in distress.
CY: Do you still feel like you’re hustling? Does it ever slow down?
KL: The thing is, I don’t think the hustle ever slows down. The money does, is the issue. If there’s nothing going on, I can create something to do and approach people. But the money slows. I don’t think the hustle slows for any artist. I don’t know, I don’t want live in my means. I’m always trying to get to something else more, something bigger. I don’t know what that will look like, but I’ll know what it feels like.
Like a calm place, where things are a little bit more settled, and you have the right finances. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. It still feels precarious, but I’d rather be doing this than not. Probably in Florida—my imagination runs wild in Florida, and I can think. I’d love to be there part time. My mother and my aunt, they’re getting older. Sometimes it’s nice to be around that calmness.