“My parents have always encouraged my interests, even though my interests mostly horrified them. They weren’t big fans of contemporary art. ”Unlike other film and art lions, the relevance of John Waters it never really stopped. While taking a break from writing his ninth book while he is in quarantine, in the new issue of The man is about what it feels like to be a great dad – not a regular dad – to a whole new generation of pop rebels. She also delves into her relationship with her father, with whom she shares her name, and the ridiculous misadventures that come with raising her “son” Bill, a very realistic vinyl doll that resembles a newborn and sits on a shelf in her living room.
John Waters in Gucci photographed by EthanJamesGreen and styled by Brian Molloy on the cover of L’Uomo, The Generations Issue.
“My parents always encouraged my interests, even if my interests horrified them, which they mostly did. They were no big fans of contemporary art, but they took me to the museum and let me look and I liked it. ” Unlike other film-and-art lions, Waters’s relevancy has remarkably never really stalled. Taking a break from writing his ninth book while quarantining, in the new issue of L’UOMO, he discusses what it feels like to be a cool dad, not a regular dad, for a whole new generation of pop rebels. He also delves into his relationship with his own father, with which he shares a name, and the ridiculous misadventures that come with raising his “son”, Bill – a lifelike vinyl doll resembling a newborn that resides on a shelf in his living room.
John Waters wearing Gucci.
Photograph by Ethan James Green.
Styling by Brian Molloy.
One-of-a-kind hand-painted leather coat, Marni. Turtleneck, The Row. Virgin wool trousers, Emporio Armani.
Interview with John Waters by Alex Hagwood
Whether it’s the recent announcement that his name will one day be emblazoned on the walls of the restrooms at the Baltimore Museum of Art (which will also become gender-neutral and be known officially as The John Waters Restrooms after he dies, as per his request ) or appearing as the face of Saint Laurent‘s Autumn 2020 menswear campaign, his genre-defying artistic practice continues to persuade new generations to fly their filth flag high. Not bad for a 74-year-old auteur whose scrapbooks, costumes and other memorabilia were inducted into the television-and-film history archives at Wesleyan University all the way back in 1989. More than anything, the method to his restless madness is that he is always way ahead of the curve, perhaps too far. That Waters’s undesirables sit in the Wesleyan alongside storied collections from the likes of Clint Eastwood and Ingrid Bergman somehow manages to feel even more joyously perverse today, knowing the full arch of his topsy-turvy career, than during the initial pearl-clutching prompted by the donation’s first announcement three decades ago.
Unlike other film-and-art lions, Waters’s relevancy has remarkably never really stalled. RuPaul’s Drag Race still regularly pays homage to his oeuvre. Miley Cyrus and Dua Lipa used a scene of the drag legend Divine from his seminal 1974 film Female Trouble in their music-video duet. And just last year, his eighth and most recent book, Mr. Know-It-All: The Tarnished Wisdom of a Filth Elder, was nominated for spoken-word album of the year. (He lost to Michelle Obama.) “Somehow I became respectable,” he declares in the book’s very first sentence. Only a few pages later, thank God, he’s back to spitting hot takes on air travel (“Why is everybody ugly in first class?”), Extremist anilingus (don’t ask), paintings made by chimpanzees (one of which is included in his donation to BMA), and the pleasures of dropping acid as a septuagenarian (which he chronicles in the last chapter of his book). Filth, he seems to assure his readers, only gets better with age.
Taking a break from writing his ninth book while quarantining in his Provincetown home, Waters discussed what it feels like to be a cool dad, not a regular dad, for a whole new generation of pop rebels. He also delved into his relationship with his own father, with which he shares a name, and the ridiculous misadventures that come with raising his “son”, Bill – a creepy, lifelike vinyl doll resembling a newborn that resides on a shelf in his living room.
You recently donated your entire contemporary art collection to your hometown museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA). The gift will include 375 works by more than 125 artists, including pieces by Cy Twombly, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol and, of course, yourself.
Yes, but they don’t get it until I’m dead. So I won’t have to live with bare walls, thankfully.
This is something of a full-circle moment, considering you first started visiting the museum back in the 1950s when your parents would bring you there as a boy.
My parents always encouraged my interests, even if my interests horrified them, which they mostly did. They were no big fans of contemporary art, but they took me to the museum and let me look and I liked it.
Is it true that during that time you bought a two-dollar Joan Miró poster at BMA’s gift shop?
When I bought that Miró print and took it home, that’s when I started to become a collector. My father used to say, “You bought that?” Listen, I never talk about what things are worth or what pieces went at auctions. I’ve only sold one piece ever. I donated everything else to the museum, which is what good collectors should do. But my dad was the only person that I would say, “Oh yeah, look what it just went for 20 years later!” He would shake his head and tell me, “They saw you coming, boy.” He said that about clothes, too – especially some of my Comme des Garçons. He would say, “You bought that?” And I would say, “Yes, dad!” And he would say, “Well, I guess they saw you coming, didn’t they?” And the answer is: yes, they did see me coming! In fact, they sent me clothes! [laughs]
I’m sure you shocked your father in other ways, too.
My parents were most shocked by my movies, of course. But that was because no one said they were any good. That and I got arrested for making them. It was in the newspapers: horrible reviews, getting busted and everything for censorship. The movies were probably the hardest for them. The art I made didn’t come until way later. And when I had my own art shows, I did a piece called 12 Assholes and a Dirty Foot. I remember I gave my parents an art book that had the piece in it. I put a little tape over that piece and told them, “So, just don’t even look at this.” They didn’t say anything, and so I said, “Did you like the book?” They were silent and then all of a sudden my father yelled, “Why would you do something like that?”
Did that scare your father from attending any of your art shows?
At a retrospective a long time ago, that piece was there. My parents kept trying to not go anywhere near it because every photographer wanted to get that shot of them in front of 12 Assholes. So we’re at the event and somebody comes over and says to me, “Your father is in an ambulance!” It turns out my father had some kind of seizure – not because of the piece, I should add – but he was taken away in an ambulance. I mean, he was later in life, but I remember thinking to myself, “Oh my God, I hope he didn’t have a seizure in front of that piece!”
Did you get a sense that they were proud of your prolific creative output as a whole?
My parents learned. They were definitely proud of me. My father had the same name. I’m John Waters, Jr, which I don’t use. Here’s the thing: never name your son the same name as you unless you’re ready for any career that they might have. [laughs] I keep my phone number unlisted, so he used to get my obscene phone calls at all hours of the night. But they definitely – let’s just say they always let me do my bedroom the way I wanted to do it growing up. I could hang up weird art. I could hang up anything, really. You know, they always let me have my own environment. Of course, we fought about clothes constantly. I mean, that’s why I never could wear a Halloween outfit. Because every night when I left as a teenager, my father would say to me, “But it’s not Halloween, you know! Are you going out wearing that? ” What he didn’t realize is that, yes, every night is Halloween when you’re on LSD. But they learned, certainly. They put up with a lot. They adapted to things. But, you know, there was nothing in the Dr. Spock parenting book to tell them what to do.