Phillip M. Miner: Your casual fans may not know this, but you’re really into art. Can you fill us all in on your art background?
Colby Keller: I’ve been to art school since I was a very little boy. In 6th grade, I started going to school at a place in Houston called Glassell. They have a school for children and an adult school, so I did that all throughout college. My parents promised to pay for my undergrad if I stayed close to home. So I went to community college to save money and then went to the University of Houston and I HATED their art program. I was in there for 1 day--I read the curriculum and left.
In the end, I had more anthropology credits than anything else and I liked it, so I changed my major. I wanted to graduate early . I could have graduated with honors at the top of my class, but I wasn’t getting credit for it because I was missing one class and my counselor didn’t tell me, so I didn’t qualify. I was a little pissed off about that .[laughs].
Miner: That’s the worst counselor ever.
Keller: Yeah, really! Although, he was amazing. He was a huge fan of wonder woman and he was trans and had these giant tits. So you’d go in to talk to him and you’d stare at these big, giant tits and wonder woman paraphernalia all over his desk. Actually, trans isn’t the right word. He went by a male name and identified as a man--he just had these giant tits.
At the same time I was doing that i was going to this art school and not getting [college] credit for it. I really wanted to get the studio experience--have a studio for a couple years and have it be paid for because I couldn’t afford it on my own. So, I went to MICA an art school in Baltimore. A friend recommended it to me. It was a great experience. They had just started the program and made a lot of changes and brought in a lot of visiting artists to do critiques. A lot of really great work came out of it. It’s now one of the highest ranked studio programs in the country. I lucked out.
Miner: Do you still make art?
Keller: I do! I just started a big art project that will probably take me a year to complete and I’m excited about that. I’ve had a bit of trouble because I want to make art as Colby Keller and it’s important to address this other career I have. [laughs]
Miner: As an artist, you’d be stupid not to leverage that audience.
Keller: Exactly. But, more importantly for my own art practice I need to confront it and deal with it and be able to talk about it. The work I made before had nothing to do with porn or sex or even queerness. I’m interested in physically making things like sculpture or paintings and it’s hard to reconcile that with “Colby Keller.” It’s been a big problem and it’s prevented me from making work because I don’t know how to address it.
I don’t want to be too explicit in the way I handle sex and I’m not that sexual a person in my personal life [big laugh]. It feels very forced to confront that head on. So that’s been a problem.
But, then I had this idea of a way of working, which I’m jokingly calling “totalitarianism” because i’m also interested in the history of leftist politics and leftist theology and how that often has this close relationship with totalitarianism and what does that mean? And as someone who is a professed leftist what does that relationship and how do I confront that? But that’s just the jokey aspect.
What I really want is to take an object and interrogate it in every possible way you can think of to extract meaning out of it. Instead of building up an object by making a painting or sculpture, I’d be taking a thing and subtracting meaning from it. It could be anything. I could take your cracked iPhone here and make a painting. Then a sculpture. Then sing a song to it. Then dance with it. There’s an endless list of ways that to interrogate a thing. Of course I can’t do all of them, but it will be an attempt to.
So there’s that problem and the problem of Colby Keller. To start this project, what object do I pick as Colby Keller. Do I have to pick a dildo? Then all of the sudden I’m the guy who sings songs to dildos. [Laughs] Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just have to decide if I want to be that guy.
So the project is very personal and involves a relationship that I have with someone who I have also worked with. This is a relationship that has recently been very emotionally fraught. In a way I’m addressing, a lot of powerful, personal content. And I’m using this as a way to start to process. And so far it’s been productive in a lot of ways that surprise me. So, I’m very excited about it.
Miner: I’m excited to see what comes of it. Do you or have you ever considered “Colby” art?
Yes. I definitely do. [Big Shoe Diaries] in particular I think of as a piece of [artistic] work that’s constantly growing and changing. I do want to bring in more art in a more explicit art direction. In ways of making art that the Non-Colby person used to enjoy making art. They can be terrible. It doesn’t have to be good necessarily but I want to bring that into it and have Colby be an artist as well as a piece of art that I’m making.
Miner: Things are getting really nuanced and meta.
Keller: You have no idea. There are other people who participate as Colby. I’m not the only “Colby”. At this point, Colby Keller is almost like a corporate entity. There are a lot of people who present as Colby and are part of the creation of Colby. So, it’s not just me--the person who has the body--who embodies Colby.
Miner: I get it. It’s like mall Santas. What’s it like existing as two people?
Keller: What’s interesting about existing as Non-Colby Guy is that he’s receding into the background more and more as time goes on. I introduce myself as Colby to most people I meet. It was difficult at first coming to terms with that because it’s a very public persona. And, I really sympathize with celebrities because they always have to be on because everyone is always watching them. To a certain extent that’s true for me. I went to a party at PS1 the other night, and I’m just sitting there, feeling like a schlub. And, two people came up and asked if I was Colby Keller. All of the sudden I had to get really excited. I’m realizing that anywhere I go people will be looking at me as Colby Keller. Thankfully, I have a lot freedom in how I’ve structured that character unlike most porn performers.
Miner: How so?
I think I’m pretty open about bringing in aspects of the Non-Colby Guy who’s awkward and a geek and loves art. Unabashedly so. In some ways, I think people like that because it’s refreshing, but it also gives me freedom to actually be awkward and a geek and still be the public’s perception of Colby. That’s liberating for me. I don’t have to project sexy like some of the other actors. A lot of guys build personas that for better or for worse require them to be sexy all the time. I’m definitely not that guy and, thankfully, neither is Colby.
To be honest about it, yes, I do porn and that’s part of who I am, but this is also part of who I am. You watch my porn and your desire has some relationship to this character-- the geeky awkward stuff is also a part of that character. So, take it or leave it.[laughs]
Miner: To me I see “Colby” as performance art most readily in your Manhunt video blog posts? Some of them are incredibly weird.
Keller: [big laugh] Yes. I just have to thank Manhunt from the bottom of my heart and the base of my penis because they have done everything possible to be supportive of me and let me get away with stuff. I send them videos and I’m surprised they post them sometimes. I don’t go as far as I could; I’m trying to keep it relevant and give advice to people. I’d love to take it further, but I recognize there are limits. And those limits need to be there for what it is.
Miner: What’s your favorite?
Keller: For me it was making a “leather” outfit out of construction paper. I made a jockstrap and a harness and all sorts of leather goods out of tinfoil and construction paper. I had fun with that one.
Miner: I also loved it when you read a book from cover to cover on Big Shoe Diaries.
Keller: That was a really cool project! I found the book on leap day at this used bookstore in Baltimore. It’s the kind of place that you can bring books in and also take as many books as you want. I was perusing the shelves and found this gay book with an interesting cover about an interracial couple. The white characters name is Keith Keller--my chosen surname. I realized if I read one chapter a week, the project would be done in almost exactly a year. So, I’m like, “This is too perfect.”
I didn’t realize how difficult it is to read out loud. For me it was like practice. I figured I’m just going to read and I don’t care if I fuck up some obscure 60’s pop singer; I’m just going to fucking read it. People can enjoy those foibles or they can be annoyed by them, but that was a fun project. What I would do if I missed a week is I would still make a video and post-date it, so it would suddenly show up in the past. I would try to hide them! I was a little embarrassed by it, so I’d post them late at night and cover them up with an early morning post.
Miner: Did you hear about that kid in England who want to lose his virginity onstage.
Keller: I did hear about that. Isn’t there someone every year who pulls that stunt? It’s incredibly lazy. I want to do a piece that for a certain amount of money someone could have me castrated.
Miner: What amount of money is that?!
Keller: I thought of that! For this to be a good piece it would have to be more than chemical castration. They would have to actually take my genitals off. It’s hard to come up with the number for that.
I think it would have to be...man...i don’t know. Several million dollars--which sounds kind of cheap. But, hey, I’m cheap. [Laughs] Let’s see...I’d be on hormone therapy for the rest of my life, so it would have to cover that--which has to be hundreds of thousands of dollars. I couldn’t work anymore in porn so there’s that. I kind of just want a small house with an art studio, so the cost would have to cover this.
Miner: I’ll crunch some numbers and put together a budget for the a grant. I really want to call this piece “Parts and Labor.”
Keller: That’s what it’s called now! Now we just need to find the person who wants to buy it...
Miner: I don’t want to meet the person who wants to give you millions of dollars to cut your dick off. Moving right along, what do you think of a merging of pornography and more narrative story telling like Travis Matthews’s I Want Your Love or James Franco’s Interior. Leather Bar.
Keller: Look, who doesn’t have sex. Most people have sex. At least everyone came from sex. To deny that that doesn’t happen is dishonest. I think it depends on how it’s used or how gratuitous it is. It really depends on how it’s used. It can be full on penetration and I’ve seen film like that where you see it and it doesn’t distract from the overall narrative. But, I’m not going to the theater to jack off to that, so it’s not pornography. Pornography has a utility to it. And so does a film. But they are very different utilities. The two are difficult to combine. The utility of porn is to masturbate to it. Adding something to that or combining that with the traditional movie format is REALLY tricky. I don’t know how to do that.
Miner: Do you think Colby has opened doors for you in the art world?
Quite a few. I have a very good friend I met through Colby, Bill Arning, who’s the director of the contemporary art museum in Houston. He comes to New York maybe once a month or once every two months and does all of these mammoth gallery tours. I was very intimidated by the Chelsea gallery world and he opened that up for me.
I’m not afraid of that any more.
Miner: How long do you picture yourself continuing in the porn world?
Keller: I’m not the type of person who likes to plan ahead. At this point, I’m constantly surprised that porn companies out there want to work with me. I’ve always been surprised that people want me to do porn. I have no control over that trajectory. If I can make it 5 years, if I can make it in 30 years, it’s like sure why not. IF I could be the 90 year old porn actor, that would be great.