Interview by Wil Henneberger
Vent: Biographically speaking… Where are you based and how long have you been doing what you do?
David Zamora Casas: I am a San Antonio, Texas native, and I’m a contemporary artist working in the public forum since 1985 under the pseudonym Nuclear Meltdown.
V: Inquisitively speaking… Tell us about Nuclear Meltdown…
DZC: In queer culture, people assume different names. I mean, even in gangs in neighborhoods there’s a nickname for somebody. But in LGBTQ culture there’s a performance name or a drag name. And my name is Nuclear Meltdown. And Nuclear Meltdown is the personification of an idea to manifest and move forward a dialogue which strives for an inclusive, eco-friendly, and empathetic world. Now what does that mean? Inclusive – I mean inclusive of every aspect of life. Including ethnicity, including nationality, including gender, and including self-identified pronouns.
Do you identify as a he/him? Or are you a she/her? It’s difficult. I’m still trying to learn and I’ve gotten in trouble trying to – because I ask questions. I come from a sexually free environment of the 60’s. It was drugs, sex, rock and roll. It was the tail end of the black struggle for civil rights. So the African-American community was fighting for equal rights. You know, “Black is Beautiful,” the women were burning their bras, equality for women, and the gay and lesbian people (mostly transvestite and lesbians) were fighting back when the police were harassing them. Namely 50 years ago at Stonewall. And they were the most obvious looking people because when you’re gay and transgender or butch or even extremely fluff, you know, you can’t hide those things. And I don’t think many of us do try to hide. And I’m the epidemy of that, I look queer. I walk in a room and people’s gay-dar goes off. So I’m not saying this in a derogatory way. I’m saying this as, sometimes things are just “what they IS.”
V: Controversially speaking… Are people born artists or is it a lifestyle choice?
DZC: I think there’s both. Some people are natural artists: they’re natural storytellers, they’re natural creators, they’re naturally good with their hands. They think in color, they think in composition. Some people strive really hard to fit that mold, to reach that. They go to school, they get MFA’s. But sometimes, their work is soulless. So are they artists? Yes, because they’re craftspeople, and they developed a skill. But are they artists in a visceral way, where they think with their heart, when they paint with their dick, when they create as if it was life and death? I don’t want to sound critical. But I’m just making a distinction between the passion, and the content.
V: Hypothetically speaking… Do you think psychedelics or any other drugs help inspire the creation of art?
DZC: Throughout history, mind-altering drugs such as organic things like marijuana, peyote, mushrooms, tobacco were used by native indigenous people. And those were to create a connection with your higher power, your collective consciousness. Your true inner being. But a hallucinogenic drug can be of the earth, and I think that those are important in traditional rituals. I painted a painting once on acid and it was the ugliest painting I ever painted. And I said, “I’m never gonna paint on acid because it takes me away from my creative spirit – from where I’m trying to go.” But I’ve tried mushrooms, and laughed my way through the creation process. Back in the 80’s when I did that acid and tried to paint – I said, “It’s a waste of paint, it’s a waste of time, waste of a buzz.”
V: Basically speaking… If you could only use one color the rest of your life which would it be, and why?
DZC: I had the privilege of meeting and working for a short time with an incredible artist named Judith Francisca Baca. She is an eminent artists. She teaches for UCLA, and she taught me more things about the spiritual aspect of me by teaching me the technical aspects of her work. And she taught me about the color Phthalo Blue, a blue color that when diluted a bit, it’s transparent, and you can see through that color. So, I would select phthalo blue for what it means to me about being inspired by a master painter, but I also think blue is the color of magic. Blue is the color of dreaming.
V: Socially speaking… What role can art have in changing lives?
DZC: When I speak of art, I don’t speak of just a canvas. I don’t speak of just a sculpture. I think of a community, because art and artists are a community. And that community is built on supporting each other. We have to support each other to really have a thriving, economically satisfying, human living condition. But, there’s also the visceral aspect. Like when we create art, are we just creating it to make a buck? Or are we creating it to make social change. There’s an organization that I work with called Bihl Haus Arts. It’s German. And they are the first organization of its kind to use art in the geriatric, elder, – and they like to use the word- “Golden” communities. And they have found that art reinvigorates these people’s lives. It gets them motivated, and it gives them something to look forward to and do.
And yes, art can change somebody’s life – quality of life. Art can also help people relax and put whatever they’re feeling – whether it’s anger, or whether it’s love – onto a canvas. You know, there was a point in time when I was frustrated because of the AIDS pandemic. And I hated the idea of having sex, but as a young man you cannot deny your sexual urges. So I began to masturbate on my canvases. And I had a friend who told me – she talked with an accent and she said – “Da-veed, if you are going are going to ejaculate on your canvases, don’t tell anybody.” But it saved my life, because people were dying from the AIDS pandemic, and nobody knew what was causing it. And from that point on, I believed that sex was the greatest powerful energy source. And I believed that everything has energy – in our DNA, in our hair, in our fingernails, in our blood. And I began to use mixed-media in my canvases. So, whether we’re conscientious of it or not, I think that art does – in whatever manifestation it is – affect people and their quality of life.
V: Existentially speaking… Do you have any spiritual concerns and does that play a role in the creation of your art?
DZC: I’ve come to understand in my world view that the spiritual is linked to the scientific. And the scientific is linked to the emotional in a way that is not really tangible and explainable. When we pray we’re using alpha waves that come from somewhere in our molecular, magnetic, organic body. And when we pray, we’re using our brain and the same wavelengths are coming out when we think about things, when we contemplate our existence, when we contemplate the reality of climate plunder. These things all fall into place and they all form one kinetic, continual, rotating, everlasting, infinite dialogue.
I think that I’m connected spiritually to the Earth. I’m connected spiritually to when I open my eyes and I look at the clouds. I’m connected to that, and that transfers into my painting. And I’m connected to the way people treat the Earth, and the way people treat each other. And the way people treat animals. And that is a serious connection that drives me to say, “I’m going to paint to maybe enlighten someone about the reality of the glaciers melting. Of the radioactive nuclear wolves that survived Chernobyl. Of the fish and the butterflies that are mutating in Fukushima.” If I could bring to the table that love is love and that we do not dictate who we fall in love with – that love tells us who to love…. So who are we to criticize someone else for loving.
I’ve always been about open dialogue. And I’ve always been about saying what you don’t want to say, because it needs to be said. For your own personal growth, or for your own sake, or for the sake of the person that’s listening.
Humanity, the ecosystem, and identity are the most important things for me when I’m creating a piece of art. And identity can be, “Who are my brothers and sisters? Who is my friend that has autism, or is mentally challenged – who has mental disease, who is a single parent that has to deal with that stigma? Who’s that person who has AIDS that has to deal with the stigma? Because at the end of the day, these are all things that can be controlled, and it doesn’t change the fact that we’re all human beings.