WHEN THE FIRST TALK ART BOOK CAME OUT, it was lockdown, we didn’t have an opportunity to really promote it. We had live events lined up and that all got cancelled. And yet it became a Sunday Times bestseller because people have connected to the podcast so much, and they want art for themselves. Our whole mantra is “art for everyone”; we want to connect to as many people as possible. And the first book did that without really much promotion.
The second book I’m hoping is going to connect on a deeper level. We’ve curated a lot of interviews from some of our favourite dynamic, fascinating guests, which is going to give a really balanced, nuanced, quite emotional at times, funnily enough opportunity to delve deeper into the psyche of why art matters to so many people. The more that the world is falling apart, the more art is being made because people have to communicate to each other. And art moves quicker than any political propaganda beyond and always has been.
NO, I DON’T WANT TO BE AN ARTIST MYSELF. I’d be drawing something when I get asked to do charity doodles or a selfie with very big ears. Sometimes there’ll be a dog in there. But no, I don’t, I like to keep artists on pedestals. For me, they’re my heroes. If I was trying myself, I don’t think I would achieve anything to what they are achieving.
I THINK THE WORLD IS OPENING WHEN IT COMES TO ART BEING REPRESENTED INTERNATIONALLY. We have Frieze Seoul in South Korea, Art Basel in Hong Kong, Art SG in Singapore. If you look at the institutional side of it, there is a real support for more diversity, for more representation in museums: South Asian, brown people, black people, people from East Asia—everybody’s being represented. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but it’s going in the right direction.
TALK ART IS ABOUT TELLING EVERY VOICE. The thing about this podcast is that it’s neverending. And we are always looking for incredible guests. There are a lot of East Asian, Asian artists that are changing the dial. And not just artists, [but] also curators and cultural leaders that we’d love to speak to.
ASIAN FILMS HAVE SHOWN ME PART OF THE WORLD AND STORIES THAT I MIGHT NOT BE AWARE OF. There’s certain energy that’s distinctive, that is captivating. You’re being allowed to be in the moment. I feel like what I’ve experienced from Asian film and TV is this stillness, which I think is missing from the minute a franchise dominated [a] thing where it’s all fast paced, it’s all about quick edits. It’s all about plot. Whereas I felt like we were allowed to sit and be with these characters. I would love to participate in some Asian projects. What an amazing part of the world to go and work.
THE NEW SEASON OF AMERICAN HORROR STORY IS FOCUSED ON BEING A GAY MAN IN NEW YORK CITY IN THE 1980S. It’s post-Stonewall time, when people were embracing queerness, their newfound rights, freedom and opportunities. AIDS kicked in and it was horrific. I remember AIDS being a thing when I came out. But I wasn’t old enough to have friends directly affecting my experience of what it was to be an adult and a gay man. I find it a fascinating period in history and period of art, creativity that I want to know more about. So that aside, American Horror Story is set in this time in history. AIDS is a real thing that still exists, that’s still with us. Yes, there’s medication, but in certain parts of the world [AIDS] is still a death sentence. That element really gives this show a depth.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN OUT SINCE AN EARLY AGE. I was advised against doing it from certain people, them saying “it would affect my career”. Maybe it did affect my career in a certain way that opportunities didn’t happen in an organic way as they would’ve. But I knew that “Russell is not the actor”, but “Russell is a person”. And I needed to do that so I could live an authentic life and be happy. That was my priority. And when I started playing a lot of gay roles as a gay man, my career completely changed.
It feels like the world got bigger than it’s ever been for me, because there’re billions of gay people, people that have stories to tell. And American Horror Story is another opportunity to tell a story about a closeted gay cop in ’80s New York post- Stonewall, pre-AIDS that falls in love with a man who’s incredibly politically out and challenging to him. I really loved it and I’m really enjoying meeting Ryan Murphy [American Horror Story’s producer] and being part of these conversations. I’m very proud of it.
I MEAN, IT’S QUITE AN EXISTENTIAL BIG IDEA, BUT HOW ABOUT WE CELEBRATE LOVE? Connection, connectivity, understanding, sympathy? And again, that’s what art does on all medium. It shows us what the world is, represents who everybody is around us, what opportunities you have. How much more fascinating and inspiring the world is when you can see other faces apart from your own.
Art is about connecting. There are so many people who are going through so much and it’s dark out there. So why not try to be light? Why not do your best to be a good person and care about people?
This story was first published in the December 2022/January 2023 issue of Esquire Singapore.
PhotographyAlvin Kean Wong at Seen Artists
Fashion styling and productionAlexey Kazakov
GroomingThomas Dunkin at Art Department
Location scoutingAndy Butthol
LocationToya Horiuchi’s artist studio