Born in Clark County, Kentucky, Louis Zoellar Bickett was raised Catholic and knew at a young age that he was an artist. Louis recalls this realization as a common story, one that might have happened to other children who showed artistic talent; his teachers – mostly nuns in Louis’ case – recognized that he had a gift and encouraged him in many ways. He won awards for drawing and other creative projects on a regular basis as a boy.
What may have been a bit uncommon, was that moment in 1972 when Louis’ largest and longest running artistic endeavor began. While sitting with his mother who was saving and discarding alternate piles of old family photographs, he grew curious about the pile of photos that were to be thrown out or torn up, because she had no earthly idea who was in the photos – so, ‘why hang onto them?’
Louis asked then if he could have the photos that his mother did not want and that is when his interest in retaining – or containing – random, seemingly meaningless, objects began. Since that time, nearly forty-five years ago, Louis has been collecting, labeling, and storing every object in his life, whether it be a t-shirt or a love letter, a toothbrush or his own urine. He has collected thousands upon thousands of objects that together have become known as The Archive.
Throughout his career, Louis has constructed hundreds of projects, some object-based, some objects contained within other objects, many performances and all highly conceptual in nature. Each project may have been done in the construction of identity – he now acknowledges. Although he is unsure if it is all entirely autobiographical, pondering the question that it could be multiple identities or even commentary on our collective identity that most piques his interest.
Louis’ mode of working is seamless, moving from one thing until something new emerges from it. Throughout his life he has transitioned from The Totem Series to the Cultural Mudman Rituals, from Ten Thousand Selfies to his photographic essays like Sam Foy with Broom and even into poetry. Whether it be the wrapping of an object or the construction of a performance or the collection of his life in words, Louis continues to weave an intricate fabric.
Knowing now at sixty-six years of age that logically ‘the existence of God as defined by organized religion is remote’, Louis says that he is guided by science and the heart. Gently, he still sows; aligning what he has wrapped, tagged, shot, and jotted down on paper, never imaging that it needed to mean a thing to us. In fact, he confides, that even if you get nothing from his art, that is what you got and that, at least, is something.
In the end, Louis acknowledges that what he does – all he does – is a laborious thing, a duty or calling and, ‘quite honestly a pain in the ass.’ Understandably. Afterall, constructing a single identity is one thing, trying to piece together the newly broken thing we have become – sweep it clean so that we might be free to write a new label – is something entirely different.
Here from my second interview with Louis is the artist talking about The Totems and The Cultural Mudman Rituals.
Featured Image in topmost position is by Guy Mendes. Also part of the mudding performance at Al’s Bar in 2015.