By Travis Egedy
Artwork by Milton Melvin Croissant III
When I first met Milton Melvin Croissant III (known to his friends and family as “Buddy”) over six years ago, I immediately felt like he was the coolest guy in the room. Milton has been at the center of Denver’s experimental art and music underground since the earlier part of the decade. He was the lead singer for the local legendary synth-punk band, The Ultra Boyz, and was one of the founding members of Rhinoceropolis, a “Do It Yourself” art and performance warehouse space that for over six years has been the go-to place for all things weird, artsy, and unexplainable for Denver youth.
Rhinoceropolis has since grown to be a cultural institution both locally and nationally, seeing performances by artists and musicians traveling the world and making stops in its colorful glow. Milton is an exceptionally talented visual artist and musician who never fails to take it to the next level, whether through his bright and psychedelic drawings and paintings, his self described “wizard pop” music, his collections of hundreds of found VHS movies, or his experiments with digital media and technology which have become Milton’s main point of interest over the last year. I caught up with my old friend to talk about these interests after a picnic in a park in downtown Denver.
TE: You started Rhinoceropolis six years ago; since then it has become somewhat of a legendary, internationally known hub of independent art and music. What was your motivation to start this? How did it happen?
MMCIII: The motivation came from knowing that a venue like that is an integral part of any community, and I saw that Monkey Mania [an older DIY warehouse space] was ending. I just wanted to live in a place where there was tons of potential to do whatever we wanted. It was so cool when I first walked into [the] room that was to become Rhinoceropolis, your imagination goes wild thinking of all the stuff you can do in a space like that.
Definitely. That was six years ago. Since then, how do you think Rhinoceropolis has affected or changed the Denver art or music scenes?
I feel that is has fostered a community of experimentation. Obviously there are many music communities that work in satellites, that aren’t working within the ones that work inside of Rhinoceropolis, but it has been a tool for a good amount of artists to grow and experiment without worrying about failing, or money issues. It is a place of fun. Experimentation is paramount.
You are a musician also, having toured around the country in venues like Rhinoceropolis. I know that you have been using some of your animations when you have been performing recently. How linked is your visual art and your music making?
For a while they were not so linked. My music used to be this specific wizard-pop stuff that was its own entity.While that was happening I was growing in my own right within visual art and they were kind of two separate tangents, but they are starting to merge more now aesthetically and conceptually. Right now what I am working on involves a lot of digital media and interactive things. I am working [on] video and with hardware and sensors while also playing music that is informed and made by these things. Like trying to build instruments that use sensors to generate sounds.
You have probably the largest collection of VHS movies I have ever seen—all of obscure B movies and random instructional videotapes that you use to make video art from. What is your interest appropriating these old images and scenes to make new art? Is it mostly just for the sake of humor? Because most of them are extremely funny.
Humor is the number one I guess. I did start making video art to be funny. There are a lot of very weird funny things you can find in the droves of VHS. I think using VHS as a source is this incredibly ephemeral thing now and easy to have access to. A lot of the things that were put out of VHS are things that will never be digitized.
Like a vast archive of forgotten garbage.
I always try and find tapes that don’t have labels on them, because they might be someone’s home video footage or something. It may just end up in the trash.
These are memories that could be destroyed, lost to history. And you are showcasing these memories, like historical items. Even something less than 20 years old from the 90’s or something looks like it is from a forgotten age. What are some of your favorite video edits you have made? The one that comes to mind is your edited Barbie video.
The Barbie video was really fun to make. I just watched this video and realized how many times these little girls say the word “Barbie” and I could just take that and put it all together and it would be around 3 minutes of them saying “Barbie” over and over. It was from an Epcot Center anniversary Barbie doll that came with this weird VHS tape. I am really excited about this new video piece I have at Redline Gallery that is a 20-foot projection. It’s called “Detonation films dot com” and all the video imagery comes from www.detonationfilms.com. It’s just nothing but explosions, like 4 pages of free clips of explosions. I used about fifty of them and I used the program Max MSP to write this code that randomly chooses different explosions from four different channels. It just goes by itself generating different explosions on different rhythms.
How do you feel digital art and the current art market fit together? The art market today is all based on the capitalist idea of buying and selling, and how you sell an idea or a concept? Would there be a problem with selling your “detonation films dot com,” or a computer program you designed.
Well the Denver Art Museum just bought that Chris Sanderson piece, which was in the “Blink” show. It was like 8 projections with text, and when they bought that piece from him they didn’t buy the projectors or anything, they just bought a flash drive with a code on it.
That is so future! Recently you have made a very conscious shift from 2-D artwork like painting and drawing into purely digital work, what is your interest in that?
Just discovering different software and physical micro controllers that you can use to build art from opened up the possibilities of expression for me. You can just do a lot more from it. I am an Internet person who grew up in the Internet age; so many things can just be spawned from that. My 3-D collage stuff is interesting to me because a lot of 3-D models are free. They are all found images. Like my images of the 3-D models in empty malls. The models come from this website called www.free3dmodels.com. (laughs). You go to free3dmodels.com and they have free 3-D models. I just think its cool. When I was making them I was imagining a world where people are dead but these 3-D relics still exist. Even if electricity stops pumping through America, these things still exist on a hard drive. There is a physicality to them that might outlast a Coke can or something. A digital file doesn’t biodegrade.
I love the idea of using the Internet as a source; it’s infinite. Just taking from that and making art from it. Because it is available to everyone it makes it that much more important what you do with the information and how you make it look. It is like a visual language. It’s almost like picking out words to make a poem. You have to do the research and wade through semiotics and these icons to turn them into a message that is purely visual.
Exactly. Digital collage as visual poetry. I like that. So what is next for Milton? What is now?
I have been getting deeper into physical computing and the merging of music and art is of interest to me. I am trying to build an instrument that is proximity controlled and light controlled and color controlled. Like in a completely dark room it makes no drum sounds, but as you fade on a floodlight it turns into a hard blast beat. Stuff like that.
See Milton’s work at www.mmciii.com