Wendy Lee Gadzuk is an artist and musician in Oakland, CA. A true firebrand with bright red hair to match, Wendy’s art and music are unmistakably her own point of view. It wasn’t always this way, however. Dirge sat down for tea and a chat with her recently to discuss art, music, feminism, and how cat pee played a pivotal role in her artistic self-discovery.
Dirge Magazine: I know you studied jewelry-making and metalsmithing. That’s badass, first of all. How did that translate over into your artwork? And how did music come along?
Wendy Gadzuk: I studied that at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, and I continued doing that for a while. But even in school there’s always that question of, is it art? Is it craft? Is it functional? And people tend to devalue functional items; if you call it art, it automatically gets put on a pedestal and a certain price is considered legitimate. Where if it’s just, like, a pair of earrings, no one wants to pay more than $20 for a pair of earrings. I just got kind of tired of trying to make things that I thought people would want to buy.
Then, after graduation, I had this weird kind of symbolic thing happen. I had a show at a gallery outside of Philadelphia in the suburbs, and the night before the show, the gallery got broken into, and all of my work got stolen. Luckily it was insured, so I got the money for my art and I ended up just taking the money and buying a guitar that I had been looking at for a long time.
I was always playing with shapes. I was kind of toying with the idea of doing something more sculptural, because everything I did was always jewelry or wearable. I cut these pieces out of wood when I was living in Philly and I just never finished it, but I never lost interest. Then I moved to LA, and one day I thought, “I need to work on this.” I laid it all out, and had it on my floor, and I went away for the weekend to visit my boyfriend, and when I came back, one of my cats had peed on it. So I ended up taking it apart; but while I was taking it apart, I thought, “oh, this would be better as two pieces!” It was kind of a happy accident.
That’s really when I started doing the mixed media assemblage pieces. My influence from jewelry and everything can still be seen, but yeah…you can’t wear ‘em.
So is it all found objects in your artwork or is it now a mix? Did it start that way and gradually evolve?
It’s kind of whatever I have. People give me boxes of things; I’ll go to thrift stores. I don’t so much anymore because I have a lot of stuff. Which is kind of a bummer because I really like going to thrift stores, I just don’t have room for anything else! And I carry around a screwdriver in my purse, because people throw away old furniture with really cool hardware on it, so if I see it on the side of the road I’ll stop and just take off the hardware!
My new thing is drawings, though. It started from these doodles. I always kind of doodled, but I was working at a restaurant, and when I was hosting I would just sit there and draw. I never know what I’m gonna do when I start, I just sit down and they evolve. And they’re all really symmetrical but they’re all completely freehand, I don’t use any kind of measuring tools.
Back when I had the work stolen from the gallery and then I bought the guitar and started focusing on the music, I always felt like they were really separate. And it’s kind of cool because I’m in a place now where I feel like the music and art are coming together. This band I’m in now is really supportive of me using my art as a visual branding for the music. I’ve had my pieces on the covers of both of our records and I made a piece that we bring onstage with us when we play shows.
How did this current band, Andalusia Rose, start? And how did you get into swamp rock?
I’ve always been into bluesy stuff, old Delta blues, Fred McDowell… There’s three of us in the band right now, and we all have different backgrounds, but we come together on this common ground which I think makes for something interesting that’s not necessarily super classifiable.
I was always writing music, and with all my bands, I was still locked into this formula that I thought people expected of us, like punk rock, or basic bar rock, and I just wanted to write songs that just are what they are, and not feel confined.
I found Jeff, the bass player, and he and I started playing together, and it took a little bit of time before we found Paul [the drummer]. We had another guitar player in the beginning as well, because I had always played with other guitar players. We actually had a keyboard player too, and then we ended up parting ways with the two of them. But we had a show booked less than a week later, so we were like fuck it, we’re gonna play it as a three piece. We didn’t even have a chance to rehearse that way, but everybody who was at the show said, “Wow, you are so much better this way!”
The piece you showed me earlier, the one with your ex’s hair and your blood in it, where did that idea come from?
That was created for a show last year at Modern Eden gallery in San Francisco. I’ve done a few group shows and there’s always a theme for the show, and that one was called “Home.” They gave every artist the same blank wooden birdhouse. I don’t know where the idea came from; it just kind of evolved. I have a bag of some of his hair, and I just decided to use it.
And the blood is actual menstrual blood. The front was almost like a vaginal shape. I never really think about exactly what I’m gonna do ahead of time or exactly what the symbology is going to mean, it’s more like something that you can look at after the fact and think, “oh, this relates to this,” but it’s not something I think about during the process, it’s more…
Exactly. A lot of my work ends up being vaginal, even though I don’t really think about it ahead of time. There’s so much phallic art throughout history.
We need strong female voices in art. Powerful women using their natural gifts.
I think it’s the time for that now. We’re ready. I feel like feminism, in its earlier stages, especially in the 1980s, was about women trying to prove that they could do what men did. And now we’re at a place where we’re saying, no, women…we’re different than men. We can do a lot of the same things but we’re coming from a different place. We really are creators. We can make babies.
Well we can make a lot of other things, too.
Right, but who we are at the core is creators, and I think it’s important to really bring that voice into being and to have that be respected for its own thing. I mean, even in art…I took this course in college, Women Artists, and the first thing that was asked was, “Why are there no great women artists in history?”
But if you think about it, it’s kind of true; when you go through the history of art, the big names, Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Caravaggio, they’re all men. It’s not because men are better at art than women; it’s because men were allowed to make art. Men were allowed to paint the nude figure, women were not.
A lot of art is just gauged, throughout history, from a male perspective; what’s “good art” is symbology and imagery that men legitimized. It’s what they think. It’s from their measuring stick. It’s just the way its been. I’m seeing this new crop of female art that’s coming from a really feminine place that has really been explored and worked at. Younger women than me, it’s cool seeing that they have been told that it’s okay to do this, and really beautiful results have been coming from that.
I remember years ago before social media was a thing, there was KNAC, a music website from Los Angeles. They used to be a radio station, but they had online message boards, and someone posted a similar question about how there have been no real groundbreaking female guitarists; how there have been good female guitarists, but none or very few that have created their own signature style.
You think about Jimi Hendrix, you know he made his own style. Chuck Berry, everybody knows that style. A lot of women have been able to really competently play guitar and play as well as men, but I think it’s the same thing, where women aren’t nurtured from an early age to find their voice. Or they haven’t been told that your voice as a woman, even if nobody else has spoken in your voice, that it’s legitimate.
It’s not in any way saying a man’s voice is less than [a woman’s]; but it’s necessary for women to know that their voice is just as important and that they can create their own voice, and that because men may not understand it doesn’t mean there’s no value in it. I like what I do and I feel like I’m a singer and a guitar player and a songwriter, and the combination of those three things is what gives me my uniqueness. My gift is in using all those things and my visual art to create an identity that steps beyond the technical aspects of what I do.
I think people respect that and appreciate it more when an artist is being their authentic self. And it’s scary to do that and put yourself out there that way.
That’s the hard thing. Being an artist, and a musician in particular, especially with social media so in your face, you see what everybody else is doing, and you think, “Oh my God I’m never gonna be as good a singer as this person, or as good a guitar player as this person.”
But then I have to think, “You know what, nobody else can do exactly what I do either.” If I just focus on really making the most of what I can do, and really delve into and document my world in a tangible form that’s my path and my vision that isn’t anybody else’s, that’s important. And I’d rather do that than make these things that are kind of cool that somebody will buy for $30. So it’s just a balance; it’s a struggle to figure out how to do that and keep my sanity and pay my rent.