Kalup Linzy has always loved soap operas. He grew up in the rural community of Stuckey, Florida, watching shows like “General Hospital” and “All My Children” with his grandmother.
“I was addicted to the stories, and addicted to the ensemble acting, and how the different parts worked and moved together,” he said. “There was something about melodrama that just kind of stuck with me.”
Linzy is a video and performance artist and a current Tulsa Artist Fellow who is serving as a School of Art mentor for this season’s virtual program. He will be speaking at 6:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, July 14, on the Virtual Porch as part of the Chautauqua Visual Art Visiting Artist Lecture Series.
Linzy’s video work plays with the conventions and traditions of the soap opera. His numerous multi-episode series, like “As Da Art World Might Turn” and “Conversations Wit De Churen” star Linzy, often in drag, playing a number of vibrant characters, with other actors lip-synching to modulated dialogue that Linzy pre-recorded.
I just don’t know where we’re going. I’m in this space where I’m grateful for the seeds that I have sown, but at the same time I do have regrets for some of the avenues I didn’t pursue,” he said. “You think you have all the time in the word, and then all of a sudden it’s just thrown into question. So really what we have to hold onto (are) the things that we build, the seeds we have sown that have grown.”
For his lecture, Linzy plans to tell the story of his art career, starting from his early days recording soap operas with his cousins for school projects. His high school media teacher gave him the tools to start experimenting with video work.
“She just literally gave me the keys to the school and showed me how to work the equipment and let me edit videos at the school,” he said. “I wasn’t even in her class, … but because I was student body president, (teachers) trusted me, so I was literally (alone) in the school editing my videos. She didn’t have to do that; she let me follow this passion.”
Linzy wonders how his career would have evolved differently if, at a young age, he had been aware of the work of Andy Warhol or other artists who use video as their medium. He didn’t discover the tradition of video art until he earned his MFA at the University of South Florida.
“The goal early on was just to do well enough to get a job to work for somebody else,” he said. “I didn’t know I would be a self-employed visual artist.”
In some ways, Linzy said this lack of context coming up helped him create without restricting himself to others’ ideas about what video art should be. This is something he hopes to impress upon the School of Art’s Students and Emerging Artists during his two-week residency.
“I think a lot of young artists don’t understand that. They feel like they have to fall into some tradition, when they don’t necessarily have to,” Linzy said. “You can relate to something, because we all do, but you can (still) be true to yourself and experiment and try different avenues.”
As a mentor, he has instructed the Emerging Artists to create one-minute videos inspired by or directly recreating his pieces.
“Some of these artists are doing work that have personas and narratives and some aren’t, but that doesn’t mean we can’t approach different mediums,” he said. “They all have a story.”
Linzy’s soap opera obsession came to a head in 2010, when actor James Franco approached him about appearing in an episode of “General Hospital.” Franco was about to guest star in a 20-episode run on the show as a villainous artist named Franco. He would later use footage from the appearance in an experimental “mini-thriller” called “Francophrenia (Or Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is).”
“I said, ‘Sure,’ … but I didn’t think anything of it,” Linzy said. “I thought, there’s just no way the ‘General Hospital’ people are going to say yes. Never in a million years is someone going to let me on a soap opera.”
To his surprise, Linzy was soon contacted by the show’s producers and was featured alongside Franco in an episode, playing performance artist Kalup Ishmael.
“I was so starstruck. Some of those people I had grown up reading (about) in the soap opera magazines, and I couldn’t believe I was actually in the same space as them,” he said. “It was a pretty amazing experience. … It meant the world to me.”
Linzy hopes that this lecture will help give some context to his work, for the School of Arts Emerging Artists as well as any curious Chautauquans.
“I hope they (leave with) a better understanding of my work if they’re just coming across bits and pieces on the web,” he said.
Like many artists at the moment, Linzy is unsure of what his next steps will be, but encourages the Emerging Artists to take hold of opportunities as they come.
“I just don’t know where we’re going. I’m in this space where I’m grateful for the seeds that I have sown, but at the same time I do have regrets for some of the avenues I didn’t pursue,” he said. “You think you have all the time in the word, and then all of a sudden it’s just thrown into question. So really what we have to hold onto (are) the things that we build, the seeds we have sown that have grown.”