Canadian art duo thought each other were straight until they tongue kissed at a gay bar in Winnipeg
Not long after they hooked up, Travis Larusson (31) and Przemek Pyszczek (26) began making art. They went on a series of ‘non-dates’, like to Home Depot where they made out in the parking lot and bought wood, and to Value Village. They picked up a Super 8 camera, used it to make short films of themselves jerking off to the Tom of Finland page in In Touch magazine. But they quickly outgrew Winnipeg’s smalltown attitude, and fled to Berlin in 2010. In a Kreuzberg studio, they’ve been crafting a body of work (portraits, drawings and oil paintings) that use those found Tom of Finland drawings as their primary source of inspiration.
Danny: Where did you guys meet?
Przemek: We met at an opening in Winnipeg. I thought Travis was straight.
Travis: And I though he was straight.
You both thought each other were straight?
T: Yeah, ‘cause in Winnipeg there’s like two gay bars.
P: The only other way you would meet someone is online I guess, but anyone who’s online in Winnipeg is a decrepit monster. I have no idea how anyone in Winnipeg meets anyone. I had never even seen Travis.
T: I had previously gone on this weird date with Richard who kept mentioning this name Przemek, Przemek, Przemek… Like all night long he kept talking about his friend Przemek. And then he insisted that he didn’t have any gay friends in Winnipeg. So I go to the opening and sure enough who do I meet?
T: Our mutual friend, Kagen, who’s this total queen —
P: — Salty queen.
T: Kagen introduced us.
P: And Travis was like, ‘Oh, Richard told me so much about you…’
T: I kind of fell in love with the name as Richard kept talking about him.
You were hypnotized by the name.
T: Yeah, yeah… And he has many different versions of his name. Like Przemuś is what his mom would call him, and Przemysław is his full name.
Did you shorten it?
P: Well, Przemek is the proper dimunutive form of Przemysław.
Your last name sounds like a watersports porn… Piss Check.
P: Pysczek means ‘small animal snout’.
T: When I met Przemek at the opening his hair was shaved down to a little mop with a curl. Nobody in Winnipeg had a haircut like that. He had black skinny jeans and desert boots on. He looked different, and I was instantly attracted to him.
P: Earlier that day at work, this friend of mine Sardé, like the singer, she was like, ‘So Richard made out with a total babe last night.’ Richard was always his own worst enemy when it came to dating. So after Travis had mentioned Richard, I put two and two together and messaged Richard on Facebook: ‘Did you make out with Travis?’ He was like, ‘Yeah I did,’ and he sent me a photo. Then I went on vacation for two months.
Where’d you go?
P: Poland, Berlin, London…
T: But we ran into each other again a couple months later. In the middle of the afternoon, I was waiting around in this stupid gallery, and I was like, I’m just gonna wait ‘cause something’s gonna happen. Sure enough, like after twenty minutes of painful exposure to Canadian art, Przemek walked in.
P: I came in on a Saturday which I never do. Long story short, he was like —
T: — I said, ‘I gotta get my ass in gear’.
P: So I said, ‘You better move that nice ass’.
T: I was like, what is it with this supercool straight guy, like why’s he being so nice? And then he gives me his number and says we should get a beer sometime.
P: And he still thought I was straight.
T: Because Richard had convinced me he had no gay friends.
So Richard lied.
P: Then one night, when going to one of two gay bars in Winnipeg, I run into Travis on the dance floor. It was very serendipidous.
T: And that night you had this skinhead haircut and those tight black jeans, with combat boots or something. You had a different plaid shirt on.
P: More like a McQueen tartan.
T: And you had suspenders on too. You were like this scaryass thug skinhead. By then, of course, I knew you were like, whatever… Gay. I grabbed his belly and said, ‘I love how thick you are’. But because I lived in the country, I needed a place to sleep.
P: So I was like, ‘I guess you can sleep at my place, but I live at home with my parents still’. So he slept over. In the morning, my mom comes in without knocking. She was like, ‘Oh… Hello. Do you guys want to come to Tim Hortons with us?’ So we went for family breakfast.
T: Your parents got me a sausage-egg McMuffin thing.
And then you started dating?
P: Basically. And then a month and a half later we moved in together.
T: Like lesbians.
Travis Larusson (left) and Przemek Pyszczek (right) were photographed by Samuel Hodge at their home slash studio in the Kreuzberg neighborhood of Berlin.
What’s the division of labor when you’re making art, like who does what?
T: It’s fifty-fifty.
You both paint, you both draw, you both —
P: — PR.
T: But clearly there are some more heavily-weighted efforts on both our parts. We have tendancies. Przemek will do a lot of PR, more so than I will. But we don’t ever just go out alone, not anywhere art-related.
Do you only present yourselves as a duo in public?
P: Any kind of social art-related context, we’re there together. The only time we’re not together is if someone’s sick in bed or something.
T: Like when we came back from Canada last time, I was nuts.
P: Jetlag psychosis. It was that half of Xanax. You were like Brandi on ‘The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’.
T: I know, I know.
P: Uncle Xanny.
You took Xanax to sleep on the plane?
T: Not so much to sleep, but to make the time fly.
P: On the way to Canada, we took half each and we fell asleep for almost the whole flight. I’d naver taken one before. It was amazing ‘cause you could fall asleep in any position.
T: I really enjoyed the hangover too.
P: Do you want to know the Berlin art world’s dirty little secret?
Yeah, of course I do.
P: Everyone’s obsessed with reality TV. Everyone’s watching ‘Project Runway’.
T: ‘Housewives’… Like e-ver-y-one.
P: We try to avoid ‘The Real Housewives of OC’ and ‘Miami’ ‘cause those are busted. Like seriously. Here there’s ‘Germany’s Next Topmodel’ with Heidi Klum screaming, ‘Schlampe!’
T: Which means slut in German.
P: And, ‘Schnell, schnell!’ Faster, faster! Germans think she’s the ultimate ho. When she speaks German apparently she sounds like the biggest trashbag.
How much access can a collector expect with you two when buying your work?
P: Well, honestly a lot of the collectors we’ve met are superfun, where you’re like, ‘Yeah, I’d love to go for dinner with you and hang out’.
Who would be your ideal collector?
P: One of those fierce couture bitches like Daphne Guiness. Or Elton John.
What sort of demands do you think he makes from the artists he collects?
Larusson & Przemek’s exhibition, ‘Your History Is Not Our History’, opens this Saturday, 18 February from 6 to 8 PM at Dittrich & Schlechtriem in Berlin. Click here for more info.