Transcript: E20 Vincent D’Onofrio & Laurence Fuller — Embracing Failure, Celebrating Joy, & Pushing Poetry Further Out

“Your art has to come from you, your faults, and your greatness. That’s how your work comes out. It comes out like you.”

— Vincent D’Onofrio

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Read the Show Notes

[2:24] BW: Hello, and welcome to this episode of Pixels and Paint. It’s an exciting one as we have Lawrence Fuller and Vincent D’Onofrio with us. Lawrence and Vincent, could you briefly introduce yourselves and share how you came to work together?

[3:01] VD: I met Lawrence online on Twitter. He reached out after seeing something I posted, or maybe I saw something he did…

[3:15] LF: Well, Vincent is one of my favorite actors, so I’ve been engaging with his Twitter for years. I think the algorithm showed him one of my poetic art pieces, which he then retweeted.

[3:34] BW: And that’s when you decided to collaborate?

[3:39] VD: Yes, his piece sparked a bit of enlightenment in me. It was the beginning of a thread that I’ve been following with Lawrence about this kind of web three stuff. I complimented his work, and from there, we started to develop a rapport.

[4:29] BW: Do you remember which piece it was?

[4:33] VD: Yes, it was the one before the one that I collaborated with you on. What was it called?

[4:42] LF: It was called “The Garden of Barnacles.” It featured a whale and was a collaboration with my mother, who’s a painter.

[4:53] VD: It was indeed very sweet and elegant.

[4:59] BW: Vincent, what was your involvement with web3 before collaborating with Lawrence?

[5:04] VD: Honestly, none at all. Just a lack of knowledge and my ability to hate.

The Heartbeat and Breath Behind Art

[5:17] BW: What was the hate directed at specifically?

[5:21] VD: I’ve been involved in theater and film for over 40 years. The only kind of digital stuff that I was introduced to in the business was CGI, and then digital cameras. I’ve always followed the technology, I’ve always loved that aspect of what I do. I have an eclectic way of looking at storytelling, but I saw AI as a threat because I knew so little about it. Even now, knowing more about it, I still see it as a threat, and people are going to lose jobs. Despite this, I’m learning and approaching AI as a tool. As our productions grow, it’s crucial there’s a human heartbeat and breath behind each department. We use AI as a palette, and sometimes a brush. We mix the paints, and it’s our experiences, our emotions that dictate what we do, not a machine mimicking.

[7:48] BW: You’ve used that kiss-of-a-woman analogy in a different interview, suggesting an AI would never remember the feeling of a recent kiss. Do either of you use AI in the writing process?

[8:13] LF: I sometimes have a concept for a poem and start making images for it, but never use ChatGPT or similar tools, if that’s what you’re referring to.

[8:37] VD: The key here is we can’t dismiss the fact that AI can be used creatively, and you can’t stop it from being used. It’s just technology. Like standing in front of a fire in a cave, drawing handprints and pictures, eventually technology took over. You can’t stop it, and it leaves behind a lot of outdated practices. My solace is knowing there’s always been a pile of mediocre writing, films, plays, and that pile will get bigger. You can’t stop it. But the greats, those with a heartbeat and breath, will always be there, as long as financiers and producers recognize that. So, there will always be a pile of really great stuff, too.

[10:20] BW: And faster and faster. Yeah.

[10:23] VD: There’s going to be people exploiting it, making tons of money on it, and it’s going to be crap. Crap makes money.

Exploring Art through the Lens of Method Acting

[10:40] BW: It’s true. Speaking of the heartbeat, I want to know what, in your opinion, Stanislavski can teach visual artists. Feel free to add in Sanford Meisner, Uta Hagen, or anyone else associated with the method. Vincent, I know you teach the method, and Lawrence, you’ve studied it. I’ll let you take it from there.

[11:11] VD: Can you repeat the main part of the question?

[11:15] BW: What can visual artists learn from the teachings of the method or the system?

[11:24] VD: It’s not about just taking away something from the teachings; you have to learn it. It’s the process of executing what you’ve learned. You have to learn how to express yourself using oil, acrylic, canvas or paper. It’s when you start to execute that you start to understand and get inspired. An artist’s work is their representation. You have to learn to represent yourself through your human experience. Even if you’re using the words of another author, those words need to come through your stomach and heart, not your head. If they fall flat, great. If they fly like a butterfly, great. That’s what artists need to know. Your art has to come from you, your faults, and your greatness. That’s how your work comes out. It comes out like you. Some people have a natural instinct for it, like Lawrence. And some of it is learned. But you can never get away from that. So to any Web 3 kind of artist, make sure the experience you’re putting out there is a human experience, and that it’s you who you’re trying to display.

[15:34] LF: Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great example of the sort of raw humanity Vincent is talking about. There’s this brilliant interview Vincent did about method acting with Ethan Hawke on the Criterion Channel. They dissected cinema history and pointed out moments where the method shone through. There’s a moment with Marilyn Monroe where she was so alive, so dedicated to the craft, and so detailed in her responses. It was a pristine moment of method acting. Proust wrote about a man sitting at a table, dunking a biscuit into tea. That simple act flooded his mind with memories. The biscuit and tea brought out sensory experiences that related to feelings and memories. That’s where all the arts intersect. All the different method acting practitioners teach variations of relating to an imaginary object. When done in the fine arts, it’s fun to pull out and create that imaginary object. So when we’re doing it with AI, creating moments from Vincent’s poetry and refining it until we get to something that matches his imagination when he first wrote the poem. The imagination is key.

[18:48] BW: A personal imagination is a sensory one, linked back to your lived experience. It’s not like typing into ChatGPT, asking for novel combinations.[19:02] VD: Well, that’s fine too, but understand that’s like mimicking other people’s work. It’s not what I do for a living.

Way in the Deep

[19:16] BW: I want to ask about ‘Way in the Deep’, which just sold for four ETH. Congratulations. My interpretation is a creative spirit battling a super ego in the form of a ringmaster. There’s a part that wants to nurture infant ideas, then there’s the ringmaster, a crass capitalist who wants to sell those ideas perhaps prematurely or in a way that isn’t true to their spirit. Is that anywhere in the ballpark of what this poem means to you?

[20:07] VD: Yes, I’d say it’s right in the ballpark. Wouldn’t you agree, Lawrence?

[20:13] LF: Absolutely. The honesty, sarcasm, and wit in that are spot on.

[20:23] VD: Brady, you’ve pretty much nailed it.

[20:31] BW: Can you talk about the process of creating the piece?

[20:36] VD: I just wrote it.

[20:39] BW: Then you pass it on to Lawrence and then Sutu?

[20:42] VD: No, Sutu wasn’t involved. They were for the ‘Sparrow’.

[20:54] VD: A few years ago, I was doing a play with my buddy Ethan Hawke called ‘Clive’. Jonathan Sherman did the adaptation and Ethan and I played the same part. I started to write stream of consciousness stuff during that time, often on my phone. I recited one of them in the dressing room once, and then people began to expect them every day. Dana Lynn, who did a lot of the music compositions for the show, suggested putting my writings to music. We then started performing them at Joe’s Pub.

[23:11] LF: A few months ago, I went to New York to see this experience live in person. I loved it.

[23:21] VD: We used to do these performances a lot more, but I just don’t have the time these days. I just write every day without planning. Some of my writings are useful, some are not. It’s a lot of fun. And with this new web three stuff, it’s very useful for Lawrence and me. We’re trying to change things up, approach it from different angles with lighter, crazier, and fun stuff. ‘Sparrow’ is a pretty linear piece, the first part of a bigger piece we’re doing in the cube thing with Sutu. It’s going to be somewhat interactive.

Writing, Acting, and Expression

[25:26] BW: Lawrence, what does your writing process look like? Are you also doing stream of consciousness writing every morning?

[25:36] LF: It started that way for me, much like Vincent. I looked back at the poems I was writing and was inspired by the classics, like Shakespeare, William Blake, and Emily Dickinson. I became interested in the relationship between the Romantic period of poetry and fine art, like Charles Butler and John Keats’ impact on the pre-raphaelite movement. I began using painting references in my acting and writing. Nowadays, I write when I travel and I’m inspired by the people in my life or just pure imagination. When a great line comes to me, I put it down on paper immediately or it’s lost. Once you have a hold of a poem, you must finish it no matter what.

[28:22] BW: Yeah, you never remember that perfect line. Going back to what Vincent said about exploring different tones, I’ve been digging into your collaborations and your separate work. These guys are really serious. Then this morning, Lawrence sent me the text and some animation tests for the Organ Grinder’s Monkey, which is from the monkey’s point of view. He dislikes his lot in life. This seems to echo the Ringmaster theme in a comedic way. Is that accurate?

[29:14] VD: You know, it’s interesting, because whenever a clever person explains the stuff I’ve written, I find myself agreeing with it. Even I can be convinced. Now I kind of have to agree with your interpretation. When I’m writing, I know that I’m onto something about myself, but I don’t spend too much time pondering what that is. I don’t take my writing too seriously. I either fail miserably or not, just like how I approach my acting. To me, they’re the same thing. I put my neck out on the chopping block and hope the guillotine comes down. Failure is everything to me.

I know the words are coming from my experiences and the great writers and storytellers I’ve been around for the last 40+ years. They just flow out, and I don’t pause to question why. This woman I trust a lot mentioned the Organ Grinder piece, and said that’s definitely me. I am good at acting, I know I can contribute to other people’s art. I’m open and collaborative. But there’s also a part of me that wants to break free, to dive into the Thames and swim away. I have that urge to escape. I want to commit monkey suicide. That part of me is always there. I’ve been in this world for 40 years, since my first feature film, Full Metal Jacket. I like this world, but I also feel the pull of the other side. The Organ Grinder is me, and I’m also the monkey. I wouldn’t have said that unless she mentioned it to me. But she’s right. That’s my approach to my writing.

[34:33] LF: Yes, seeing St. Vincent’s performances of his poetry in New York was exhilarating. The way he delivers some of these poems, like one about a duck, really sticks out in my mind. It starts off “I’m a Duck, I shit in a lake,” a powerful yet reverent homage to the duck’s experience. This is echoed in his depiction of the monkey in the organ grinder.

Embracing Failure

[35:31] BW: Vincent, you mentioned failure a couple of times as something to strive for. Can you elaborate on that?

[35:40] VD: I think any artist with the guts to truly commit to their craft understands that failure is essential. The good kind, but also the hard kind. You cannot be afraid of it. Sure, you can have butterflies, you can even vomit before going out on stage. But the one thing all artists have in common is that we’re not afraid to fail, to be the most humiliated person in the room. That readiness for humiliation is what makes me feel okay about discussing this on this podcast.

On a set, I’m willing to fail over and over until something, for some reason, works. Every serious artist needs to reach that point where failure is celebrated, where the humility of being shamed is felt. Every character you perform needs to have humility. When I first saw Harrison Ford in a movie holding a gun, he looked nervous. That humility, that humaneness, even in a role of power, separates the great actors from the rest.

Humility is the key to great acting, and I think, great music and art as a whole.

[39:53] BW: Lawrence, what’s been your experience embracing or even running toward failure?

[40:02] LF: Briefly, I think that what Vincent touched on is why I studied his work as a young actor. From his work in “The Cell” to redefining what was possible on a TV show like “Law and Order”, the boldness of his choices was remarkable. This bravery is common among actors like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Robert De Niro. They commit fully to a choice, and live or die by it.

In my own work in independent film, like “Road to the Well”, I lived in an American accent, and people didn’t know I was British until the very end. But more broadly, we’re talking about a life committed to passion and the arts, a life of constant creation, discovery, and curiosity.

Acting helps us let down those walls. Standing on stage, the fear of forgetting your lines, the anxiety of being vulnerable – it grinds away at your fear of social exchanges and emotions. This process is helpful not only for any art form, but life in general. Many people walk around with their emotional walls up. Art gives them a glimpse of what lies deep within them, their protected core. As artists, we expose that core and explore it, which is the beauty of not giving a fuck.


[43:34] BW: That reminds me of a story from a biography of Miles Davis I read when I was 20. One of his sax players in the 70s, after his first show, asked Miles how he did. Miles said, “You did horrible because you didn’t mess up once.” This idea really stuck with me, and it sounds like what you both are saying. Can you tell me more about “The Cube”? I’ve seen the 10-minute short film “Sparrows” but I understand that’s just a part of a much larger whole.

[44:49] VD: Eventually, “Sparrow” will be presented as part of a graphic novel, whether that’s a web three graphic novel or in some other form. However, what we see in “Sparrow” is only a portion; we had to limit the amount due to time constraints. Both Sutu and I had to work within these limits in terms of visuals and words.

[46:38] BW: I wanted to ask about “Reflections of Ours” and how it was composed. It feels like a modified Exquisite Corpse like you both were trading off. There’s a line where Laurence says, “Fuck, that’s a good one.” It seems like a call-and-response type of writing.

[47:13] VD: When I first discussed it with Laurence, we agreed that we should use two voices. Originally, I thought it should be a female friend of Laurence’s and Laurence himself. I’m not sure how we ended up just using our voices, but we did. We agreed that it had to have responses, so we did it that way. There was nothing improvised.

[47:52] BW: So it was only written by you, Vincent?

[47:58] VD: Yes, I did write it. Laurence, in “Sparrow,” did you add additional dialogue?

[48:11] LF: Yes, as the other character, in response.

[48:16] VD: But that first piece we’re talking about, that was all in the original piece.

[48:27] BW: I’ve noticed some interesting anachronisms in “Sparrow.” It feels like it takes place in the 50s, with visuals reminiscent of Edward Hopper, and a character distinguished by her education. Yet there’s a trunk full of energy drinks and a character who mistakes the sound of a gunshot for the word “bandwidth.”

[49:00] VD: Why not? We were playing around with the idea of a new era, which was largely in Laurence’s hands. I saw his work as expressing the feel of the new era, where we can sometimes be lost in our own world, seeing things as a thriller rather than recognizing our poor choices.

[49:59] BW: Laurence, can you tell us about the process of creating those visuals?

[50:03] LF: Certainly. I should credit Suzu for finding references to a 1950s energy drink for the visuals, as well as creating the 3D environments. The strong noir feel was inspired by films from that era, but it’s also somewhat dreamlike. We didn’t deconstruct it or have story development sessions as you would with a linear narrative. We trusted our gut and imaginations, pulling from the subconscious, resulting in a more expressionistic reimagining of what a noir is.

[51:38] BW: When you create work, do you feel a sense of artistic heritage? Who would be your forebears in your artistic practices, particularly relating to these projects?

[51:56] VD: I think you might be talking to the wrong guy. Lawrence.? My approach is more like a cat burglar. I’ve been immersed in the art world, reading books, watching films, attending concerts, but I’m no scholar. I’m more like a sponge.

[52:59] LF: I recall an interview where Vincent advised young actors to spend as much time in museums as they do in their day jobs. As actors, we’re not constrained by academic rules. It’s about finding what you emotionally respond to and making it yours.

[53:48] VD: I can sense a journal entry brewing there.

[53:54] LF: Perhaps, I do have an academic bent. My mother is a painter, my father was an influential 20th-century art critic in England. I’ve studied his writings to write a screenplay about him. I’m particularly fond of mid-20th-century London School painters. History, in general, inspires me, except perhaps avant-garde installations and certain aspects of Pol Pot’s reign.

[55:02] BW: Laurence, considering how prolific and active you are on Twitter, do you have a schedule that allows you to engage with the community and release new work weekly? I find time management challenging, and I don’t even create art.

[55:35] LF: Well, I think it all comes down to motivation. I discovered in my father’s writings that he was a central figure in his relationships with people in the art world. This included his relationship with David Hockney, who I ended up playing in an HBO series last year, a weird coincidence. My father and Hockney found themselves at the center of the commercial gallery world just beginning in Soho and the center of London. They were figuring it out as it was springing up around them in the 1960s.

I feel a similar vibrancy with this new web3 art world. Myself and Julian were just in Lisbon, constantly engaging with artists we connect with via Twitter. We discuss art, wax lyrical like today, and socialize. It feels like the salon of the 1920s in France. Being a part of this culture fills me with energy.

[57:14] BW: Vincent, do you have anything to add to that? I mean, you’re also very active on Twitter, and you’re also a working actor putting out lots of work on the side?

[57:29] VD: Yeah, I just use Twitter to put stuff out there and appreciate my friends. I don’t often reply, but sometimes I do, like the other day when an ex-student of mine tweeted something about how artists have to suffer. I replied that artists should plan on experiencing art, traveling, meeting the world, and moving.

Suffering is always knocking at the door anyway, so why not try to celebrate joy? The idea that a young actor has to be dark and brooding is ridiculous. They need to live life, because we all know that grief is always knocking at the door. To play grief or shame or sorrow in acting, you need to know what having a wonderful life is first, so you know what you’re missing when you’re in the midst of sorrow.

I participate on Twitter in silly ways too, like tweeting out “Organ Grinder” or things like my children’s book “Pigs Can’t Look Up,” which started off as a tweet. I believe people are forgetting that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a pig or a non-gender child, there’s a lot you have in common, and there’s a lot you can help each other with.

I don’t participate in the extreme left or right arguments on Twitter anymore. I think it’s become a sport and it’s got really nothing to do with what people living in countries deal with every day. But I still speak up about my liberal views. That’s how I use Twitter. I’m just honest, I put a lot of silly art out there, and I promote friends or people that I admire, even if I haven’t met them yet.

Embracing the Creative Process in Career Development

[1:04:20] BW: I have a question, particularly seeking advice for our listeners. A lot of artists view building a career as the annoying part of their practice, like having to put themselves out there on Twitter. Do you believe there’s a creative process behind creating a career? Can it be fun?

[1:05:23] VD: I’d say yes. It depends on what kind of creativity you’re drawn to. We’re all in the same boat but have differences in influences and how we execute our art. Social media, in my case, is best used as a platform for art, to be enlightened, give praise, and as a platform for your own stuff. If you view it in these healthy, creative ways, I think it can be extremely helpful. When I first started with social media, it took me a while to come around. But once I did, I was so happy to see young people out there dancing on videos, singing songs, learning how to play guitar, even doing bad acting in monologues. It reminded me of my own childhood when we held little shows in our backyard and performed. So to see this on platforms like Instagram and TikTok is thrilling. It’s wonderful that young people understand they can express themselves this way. So yes, you can develop a process, and it can be good for your career if you’re practicing legitimate art in a healthy way without hurting yourself or anyone else.

[1:08:28] BW: This speaks to that willingness to fail, as you mentioned earlier.

[1:08:34] VD: It’s childlike and amazing to watch young people singing on the street. Occasionally, I’ll come across a musician or a family, and I feel honored to be able to watch them all sing together. Maybe I’m corny, but I find it genuine and good.

[1:09:17] BW: Laurence, do you have anything to add?

[1:09:20] LF: Yes, I do. I was showing a painter named Peter Hauser to Vincent about a month ago.

[1:09:46] VD: The reflection is bad.

[1:09:49] LF: His work is full of character. I picked up some of his pieces about 15 years ago. He’s now a Scottish treasure. His work, like Rubens or Rembrandt come to life in the modern day, is astounding. He paints like an old master but in a very contemporary context. I was recently speaking to the dealers at his gallery in London, an old-school art world setup. But they’re fascinated by how technology is evolving, how people communicate, and how culture is coming together. With this connectivity, anything is really possible now. Just go for your idea if you think it’s good.

[1:11:31] BW: That’s the bravery component. Here’s my wrap-up question. What’s something you’ve learned about yourself and your relationship with art and creativity in the last two or three years that you wish you’d learned sooner and our listeners could benefit from?

[1:12:10] VD: Share more, give more, accept more. Accept more help, give more help, share your art more. If you’ve been inside for too long, get out.

[1:12:38] BW: I need to get outside later today. I don’t think I’ve been outside yet.

[1:12:46] VD: That’s a great way to end. What do you think, Lawrence?

[1:12:54] LF: Basically, go for it. Vincent, one of the most successful actors around right now, is a human being and an artist, just like any of us listening. We’ve come together, we’re making it, and we’re putting it out there. Anything is possible. Live your dream.

[1:13:33] BW: I love it. But that wasn’t my last question. What can we expect from future collaborations between you two?

[1:13:49] VD: We have a few active projects right now, like the New York-themed exhibition for the Head Crash Hotel. Both Lawrence and I have pieces that we plan to present there and possibly in a venue in LA. They’re filmic pieces, moving portraits that tell a story.

[1:14:35] BW: For the listeners, Lawrence is taking Vincent’s advice and has just gone outside.

[1:14:41] VD: That’s a good idea. In the last couple of weeks, we’ve come to understand that we need to bring more of what we know into our work with this new technology. We’re aiming to create larger pieces and we’ll need financing for that. But we’re taking it slow and not rushing. For me, it’s not all about the money, it’s about creating the art. I believe we’ll approach it from different directions. Ideally, I’d like to create a gallery or display our works in galleries, having our moving, filmic portraits hanging on the walls. There’s also an interactive component, which is ambitious and exciting. That’s the future as I see it now.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, iHeart, PlayerFM, Podchaser, Boomplay, Tune-In, Podbean, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or on your favorite podcast platform.