Updated: Oct 31
INTERVIEW by MOLLY SIMMONS
oz hal0 is a dynamic multimedia artist who creates soundscapes, visual art pieces and tattoos. Petit Mort sat down with them in their studio to talk about the importance of community, the influence of sex work in art and coping throughout the pandemic.
PETIT MORT (MOLLY SIMMONS)
You are currently working on both visual art projects and as a tattoo artist. Could you talk a little bit about your process and what has driven you to each of these fields?
I guess a good place to start is that for most of my life I’ve been a musician and performing artist doing improvised, experimental, vocally-driven, soundscapes. ”I’ve been performing solo as Morher (currently on hiatus) for about 8 years, and I was in a project called Stalebirth in my early 20s. I’ve made a lot of experimental films through the vessel of that space.
When I was 25 I got offered a scholarship to go to an art school. And while I was in that art school, I got really disillusioned by their sound department which was just a bunch of old white men with really expensive modular gear. So as a release from school I started leaning into painting and got really involved in the sculpture department. I started having a lot of really intense health issues, though, and dropped out and bounced around a little bit. Still playing shows, still going on tours. But in this moment where I felt like I was reaching my end with sound—it wasn’t where my heart was anymore.
I started having seizures on stage because my health issues were just getting worse and worse. My last show that I played was a week before the COVID lockdown hit. And I remember thinking, this is my last show. I was on stage for five minutes and I asked them not to do anything with flashing lights. They did. Because in DIY culture they just want to make it as weird as possible. And like, not throwing shade at anybody, it’s just not always the most accessible space.
So I entered into lockdown already feeling done with music. And then during lockdown, the first few weeks of being stuck in an apartment with all of the same visual stimuli was really hard on my mental health—I’m bipolar one and autistic. I started to have very mild hallucinations in the corners of my eyes, that sort of thing. My only ever good therapist has taught me that something that can really appease your brain in that space is visual stimuli. So I took out this dollar store thing of watercolor paints and I just started pouring water on cheap old canvas and then following the water trails with watercolors and doing a color therapy sort of stimulation with myself. And it really helped. I was doing it like every day. And the pieces just got slowly bigger and bigger.
It wasn’t my first time really fucking with painting. It was just my first time treating it as my routine. This is what I do every day. And when we got the Bernie checks for $600 a week I got an art studio, I bought myself a bunch of wood panels, and I started experimenting with other textures—things that I’ve learned from working in sculpture and also before that doing manual labor jobs like landscaping, interior design, finishing, and fabrication. I was mixing materials that I would use to finish a bartop with the watercolor and grabbing a random thing intuitively—actively just making work.
I think a lot of people started really leaning into decorating their homes and wanting art around and so the pieces also started to sell. One of my best friends commissioned like three pieces from me. It kept me afloat through the pandemic, so I really started leaning into it. My roommate at the time is a really, really incredible tattoo artist (@bigolbrat on Instagram). And they have this really incredible illustrative, cartooning style—all self taught. And they were like, “let me give you a machine.” We got drunk a lot, and probably did act a little risky tattooing each other.
It was the first few months of the pandemic, we had a lot of coping mechanisms. I really started obsessing with it—at the same time there was so much going on—I’d be on meeting calls about SWOP Brooklyn, while working on tattooing oranges, or disassociating playing video games for 12 hours straight. That first year of the pandemic I felt like I had to be doing something with my hands at all times, and learning how to tattoo became a sort of obsession, and was my daily sketchbook practice, whereas painting became the bigger thing. Then I just started trying to translate my painting style into tattoos. And it started with animals and shapes and then I thought, how do I bring more free flow into this?— and I’m still building on that right now—learning how to use stencil ink, putting that directly on someone’s body as a guide, using the liquid from that with different mixes of inks to paint on the body in the same way as a water color. I’m learning how to work on skin and still have that same intuitive process with it. I work with somebody and see their body and how it accepts or rejects ink the same way I would a surface with watercolor. And having to really develop a feel for it has been such an incredible and rewarding practice. And there’s so much trust—there that’s fucking love and trust. It’s bomb. It’s really great.