“A New Kind Of Perversity”: John Waters On His New York Gallery Exhibit

January 26, 2015 | Rhett Jones

John Waters is probably the most famous director of “obscene” films that ever lived. His unlikely rise to fame from the underground world of grainy 8mm movies that were designed to be unpalatable trash has never been repeated by anyone. This is a man who spent a decade taking acid and having his troupe of extreme characters (on and off the screen) perform ludicrous acts like eating poop and scream foul-mouthed non-sequiturs at each other. After years of seeing his budgets and popularity grow, including a Broadway musical and big budget remake of his film Hairspray, he now finds it difficult to get movies financed in a landscape where distributors only want extremely cheap or extremely expensive films with nothing in between.

Rather than go backwards, Waters says he’s just channeled his creativity into best-selling books, live appearances and gallery-ready art. For the opening of his latest exhibition that’s titled “Beverly Hills John,” the artist was nice enough to walk us through and explain his motivations behind the often hilarious work. Below are some the best.


This is Waters’ ode to the crab. Not the seafaring type of crab, he means pubic lice. The artist says that pubic hair is so rare these days that he feels that crabs are a kind of endangered species. He made an environmental/art double entendre, “This is my green-piece.”


As a lifetime outsider in more ways than one, Waters has spent years watching societal barriers and prejudices fall away, be it in the realm of civil rights or in the prosecution of  “obscenity.” Today he feels that there’s at least one way that he remains a misfit within his own community: he doesn’t want to get married and he sees a divide growing in gay life between those who and those who don’t.


Of all the anecdotes that Waters shared, this one was the grossest. He recalled his days as a young man when sex and nudity were unheard of in films. For men to see a vagina, they would go to exploitation films that spliced in live birth footage and they would jerk off in the theater. This piece uses stills from one such film that was titled, Mom And Dad.


These three works “celebrate” screwed up plastic surgery.  Waters says that he’s fascinated by people who go overboard with surgical procedures, “People look like this. They don’t look old, they look insane.”


With no interest in child-rearing, Waters keeps a fake baby named Bill around the house. This is Bill’s stroller, it’s decorated with the logos of closed fetish bars.


This is exactly what it looks like. Shots from anal surgery mixed with reactions from one of the Three Stooges. Waters says that it’s to remind people to “Eat a lot bran.”


“Is there any race, age or demographic that can say that and not be a racist?”


This GIF comes from Waters’ feature length video remake of his most notorious film, Pink Flamingos. This remake wasn’t really a proper film, it’s entirely composed of a table reading of the X-rated film by children. Waters cleaned up the script to make it appropriate for children. For him, this is a new approach to obscenity. He wants those who have seen the original to experience it with all of their memories. “It makes you feel weird. I’m hoping for a new kind of perversity. That the audience and the collector is the dirty one.”


Another collage of film stills, the first is a title card from She Shoulda Said No! Waters says the subsequent stills of celebrities “are all women who shoulda said no.”

To see more works, as well as the full video of that Pink Flamingos remake, visit “Beverly Hills John,” from Jan. 9th until Feb 14th at Marianne Boesky Gallery in Manhattan.

(Photos: Rhett Jones/ANIMALNewYork)