A little more than a year ago, the 30-year-old New York artist Jeremy Blake-whose digital, slow-moving painterly animations were seen in the Whitney Museum exhibition BitStreams and the San Francisco MoMA’s 010101 show-found a message on his answering machine that he called “the equivalent of being discovered in Schwab’s.”
The message was from the filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia. Mr. Anderson had just seen Mr. Blake’s San Francisco MoMA show, and wanted to know: Did Mr. Blake like his films, and would he contribute to his next one, Punch-Drunk Love ?
“At first, I thought it was a prank,” Mr. Blake said the other day on the phone from Los Angeles. “When I called back, I was really cautious. I was like, ‘Well, if this is really Paul …. ‘”
After talking with Mr. Anderson and finding him “instantly cool”-especially the director’s use of Star Wars metaphors (“Shorthand for nerds,” Mr. Blake said)-the artist accepted. In an experience he compared to Gilligan’s Island , Mr. Blake flew to L.A. for a one-month job that turned into six.
“I went through last September in New York,” Mr. Blake said, “so I was glad to have an excuse to duck under my desk in the Valley and contribute to something that was really romantic.”
Mr. Blake has been working with digital imagery since 1995. After training as a painter at Cal Arts and feeling “kind of bored with the paintings I was doing,” he started working with an artist who digitally retouched Richard Avedon photographs and became interested in the form. Mr. Blake began composing colorful animations that used both traditional painting methods and digital techniques; recent pieces, like 2001′s Winchester in this year’s Whitney Biennial, utilized images of the ever-growing Winchester Mansion in San Jose, Calif., with ominous digital imagery inserted. Mr. Blake also recently completed the cover art for Beck’s new CD, Sea Change .
In Punch-Drunk Love , which won the Best Director prize at Cannes and opens here on Oct. 18, Mr. Blake’s animation sequences are used to illustrate the fluctuations of the love story involving stars Adam Sandler and Emily Watson. Mr. Blake described his first sequence in the film as “an orchestral valentine” that shows the “scary parts of falling in love”; the second as a changing landscape that reflects the central character’s need to travel; and the third as “an explosion of anger and passion,” when Mr. Sandler’s character starts “removing obstacles that prevent him from falling in love.”
“It’s the visual equivalent of sound,” Mr. Blake said. “It’s composing visually with a mood in mind-which wasn’t much different than my work anyway, so it was really easy to do.”
As they worked, Mr. Blake became impressed by the director’s eye for detail.
“He knows what he’s doing,” Mr. Blake said. “At one point, he was mad at something I’d done, where I thought it looked fine. But after looking and looking, I saw there was a problem, a small 16th-of-a-second thing, and he’d seen it.”
Though Mr. Blake continues to split his time between New York and Los Angeles, he said he was planning to come back to the city in October. Los Angeles, he said, “is no fun unless you’re hanging out with Paul or Beck.”
Not surprisingly, Mr. Blake said he’d already heard from some New York art scenesters who were worried that he’d sold out-Hollywood movie, Beck record and all.
“Some people almost look hurt when I tell them,” Mr. Blake said. “But that’s how you know you’re doing well.”
Bronzed at Dawn in the Village
Hollywood Tans, which opened in May at 388 Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village, is New York City’s only 24-hour tanning salon. The operation boasts UV-free “instant tan” booths, where a client can have a St. Tropez tan essentially sprayed onto his or her epidermis in six seconds.
But the nutty part is the hours, really. Who tans at 4:00 a.m.?
“Hollywood Tans is for the city that never sleeps,” said Rhonda Venuto, Hollywood Tans’ director of marketing. “Most of the late-night clients are bartenders or people in the restaurant industry.”
How many people tanned from, say, 11 p.m. until 8 a.m.? “Oh, about 30 to 50,” Ms. Venuto said.
On a recent warm Monday night, I set up camp outside Hollywood Tans from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. to see for myself.
1:05 a.m.: Things are pretty quiet. Gray’s Papaya appears to be the only establishment open. A crazy man on the sidewalk is laughing and ridiculing passers-by. He himself is wearing a sombrero and sitting in a baby carriage.
1:15 a.m.: Notice that a sign on the Hollywood Tans door states: “Friday: Open till 12am, Saturday and Sunday: 9am to 10pm.” (Later, when this is pointed out to Ms. Venuto, she says: “Hmmm … that sign must be old.”) Also notice: An “open/closed” flip sign in the window.
1:20 a.m.: Two young women emerge from Hollywood Tans. Turns out they’re students at Wesleyan College who have been working this summer at a nearby diner. They’d been lying on the tanning beds and looked slightly pink. “The instant-tan thing sounds kind of scary,” one of the women said. “The whole thing is a little too auto-shop for me.”
“I tried it once,” the other woman said. “The next day, I had to buy self-tanner from Duane Reade and do touch-ups.”
1:24 a.m.–3:24 a.m.: Over the next two hours, no customers enter or exit. Perhaps Mondays are dead on the tanning circuit.
3:25 a.m.: Two African-American males walk in. Turns out they were there only to use the bathroom. What did they think of the 24-hour tanning salon? “White people should stop trying to look like us and start keeping it real. For real, for real,” said Jermaine Guidry, 23.
3:26 a.m.: Notice that there’s a buzzer on the Hollywood Tans door. What’s the policy there? Only admit the obscenely pale?
3:27 a.m.: Sean Carrington, 32, stops in. He’s been coming for a few weeks. “I don’t have time to go to the beach, but I don’t want to be a nasty, pale thing in the middle of the summer. I like that I can come here after work and then go straight home to sleep. In the past, I would go tanning during my lunch break; I’d come back blood-red, and my coworkers would be like, ‘What the hell happened to you?’”
Is he a waiter? “No one’s ‘just a waiter,’ dear,” Mr. Carrington said. “I’m a singer, too.”
5 a.m.: Inside, the only employee behind the counter is Kevin Scullin, 40. Mr. Scullin said it was a typical overnight at Hollywood Tans. “At the most, we’ll get 10 in an eight-hour graveyard shift,” he said. “Six to 8 a.m. are peak hours. That’s when we get the Le Cirque ladies who come in so they can look golden for when they brunch. And the businessmen will come in to catch a tan before hopping their morning flight to Europe.” Mr. Scullin also works as an actor and voice-over artist.
Do any celebrities come in? “There are people who seem to believe that they’re celebrities,” he said. “A lot of people come in here trying to get free tans for themselves or their family members. I tell them to go to Waverly Diner across the street, ask the waiter for a free burger and see what happens.
“Some people will just stop in and hang out,” Mr. Scullin continued. “They find it soothing, I think. I’m like a bartender without the booze.”
I bid good morning to Mr. Scullin and left. I nodded to the sombrero man in the stroller, bought a banana smoothie at Gray’s Papaya and walked home.