An Email Interview with Jeremy Blake

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4 Apr 2006

Hello Chris. Thanks for taking an interest in my work, and Jayson's as well. Below are my answers in blue.

Sincerely,
JB

1. How integral was Jayson Whitmore's involvement with you on the Winchester series? I noticed that you thanked him first in the introduction to the book of the exhibit. Did he do a majority of the animating and compositing of your imagery/drawings/abstractions, etc? Or was his role more to provide technical experience when you needed it and had questions?

Jayson Whitmore is the total motion graphics pro. He makes life easier on me because I can describe something to him and he can help me do it without much trouble. That said, its not the main reason I choose to collaborate with Jayson, because there are many people trained the way Jayson is trained, just as there are many people trained to draw and paint like I was trained. My work is also very technically simple, so technically Jayson is holding back some of his skills when he does my stuff. The reason why I always try to work with Jayson Whitmore first is because he's got a GREAT musical ear. He's got a sense for the timing of the movement and the content of the art that qualifies him as an artist in his in right. Its always an honor to work with people as outstanding and insightful as he is. The same can be said for a man named Jonathan Karp who helps us with sound, Brendan Canty from the band Fugazi who's done music with us in the past, and all the other great people I've been lucky enough to work with. I've been very fortunate to have such good people around me. Jayson is an unbeatable talent and has spent years learning the techniques he knows, and he frees up the time I need to perfect my imagery.

2. From your background in painting, and painterly approach to earlier works (like the ones employing traditional cell-painting) you have shifted to a more mixed assortment of collaged elements with your signature sixties abstraction inspired veil shapes.(that's an oversimplification I know) Does your current process still reflect that heritage? In other words, do you still employ a variety of techniques to realize your completed elements- or is it all done in the computer now?

I employ a wide variety of techniques which I can pull from years of painting, and I still paint, although obviously I don't have as much time to do so because of how complex the films are. You can't do what I do with just a computer. You can do some very cool things with just a computer though, so the young kids coming out of school making art now shouldn't give up on that approach either. Drawing is the key to everything visual though. Its not the only route to making great visual art, but its so immediate and it sweeps the cobwebs out of the brain.

3. You talk of time-based color field painting, yet it seems like they are quite pop in their referencing of contemporary culture and narrative structures. It's this mix that so intrigues me- painterly abstraction and "architectonic" cultural references like Raquel Welch standing in for Sarah Winchester. The archetypal cultural stand-ins and very symbolic nature of your almost sequential narratives remind me of things I am striving to understand in my own art... (this is more about a dialogue than a concrete question with an answer)

The simple answer here is that I am influenced by a wide variety of things that might contradict in say the mind of an art historian who specializes in one of my areas interests. That said, I think its fair to say that I make Pop art, although I think its darker and more personal and more involved with language now than most Pop art.

As far as symbolism goes, I don't have a strict system or any ideology to use in determining what is symbolic myself. Instead I tend to rely on signals from the culture to let me know what is actively symbolic or a hot issue. The Winchester rifle for example, and the larger issue of the gunfighter, are huge preexisting iconic images or subjects that loom large in many of the stories we tell ourselves about what it means to be an American. I didn't invent this stuff obviously and I'm not trying to control what it means to other people. Instead I was exploring the complexity of all it can mean in order to get to new places with my work.

There can be some good in this gunfighter imagery since at best it inspires bravery and heroism , and some bad since at worst it inspires violence which might have been avoided. And there is a neutral interpretation which doesn't weigh the good or the bad of violence in a literal way,which is that this kind of imagery and story telling inspires one to think of bold and independent individuals taking risks.

In German academia they teach something which I think translates as idea reception ( I can't remember what its called in German) and basically it is a study of the evolution of ideas through history. I try to make work that shows this evolution of ideas in action, rather than work which tells people exactly what to think. The power of art is focus the range of interpretation and at the same time leave room for multiple views.

4. Benamin Weil lists your influences as people like: Morris Louis, Barnett Newman, Edward Ruscha, Richard Prince and James Rosenquist. Are there any others? Richard Hamilton, Harun Farocki, David Hockney? Are there any filmic influences?

Too many to be named in film because even a TV show I watched as a kid might pop back up, or an idea about how a building should look or something like that from a film I'd forgotten all about. But picking up on a thread from the last question, if you think of some great American Pop films like "High Noon", "Invasion of The Body Snatchers", "Star Wars", "Apocalypse Now" etc. you'll find that all kinds of people want to claim that these stories reflect their particular belief systems (Republican vs. Democrat, etc.) or what have you.

Well maybe they do in places, maybe they don't in places, but on the whole I don't think that is ever really the main issue to an artist. What's important to an artist is that you find an image or create a moment or series of moments that matters to you for personal reasons. Then, branching out from there you need to ask if your imagery or story or music etc. is also likely to energize people to think about their own situation critically and on a very personal level, and hopefully get a lift out of it. And if it does all that then you've struck gold. If what you make keeps doing that across decades and centuries then it stands the test of time.

5. How important was your upbringing as a catalyst for imagery and art-making? Are works like Bungalow 8 at all auto-biographical?

No, I hate to disappoint but I am a fairly traditional guy, and somewhat boring day to day. I have been with the same woman for over ten years and we live quietly and that's the way I like it. I'm not a tough guy gunfighter like the Winchester images might suggest, nor am I a swinging London-rock n' roll-bisexual-drug addicted- socialite like Ossie Clark, nor am I a wheeler dealer, party till you drop 1980's era businessman like the imagery in Bungalow 8 suggests.

I am just a person who tends to want to describe things that I can't look away from.

The stories around Bungalow 8 are all preexisting. The "Predator's Ball" which was an annual party some high living stock brokers and investment guys threw there in the 80's, Robert Evans getting discovered by the pool etc. All legendary stuff and great material for an American artist. I made those first DVD works at a time when I was working constantly in New York City-sixteen hour days and weekends and so on. I was processing all I had seen while at school in Southern California, and missing the light and the space. New York in the nineties was very work driven and there was a lot of economic optimism. I loved the ambition and the powerful energy I sensed in that, but at the same time I also I felt like maybe life was going by a little to fast in some ways. So as a reaction I made this slow meditative work that reflected some of the dream like pleasures and fears of the culture at that time as I saw it. When I came out to California where life has a slower pace, my work started moving faster.

An artist is usually better off if he or she is humbled by the size of the subject matter. Its like a surfer trying to catch a big wave and enjoy it and hopefully impress the crowd rather than being sucked under in front of everybody. Art making is very humbling on that level because you're always dealing with a culture that is much larger than you and you have to respect it, but you also have to be brave enough to try and make something new and exciting anyway.

As far as one's upbringing goes, its like the Eagles said "Some dance to remember, some dance to forget." My upbringing was not traditional in so much as my parents were divorced and I was growing up with in the seventies which was sort of an experimental and tumultuous time in the culture even if your family life was stable. Even so, a majority of the men on both sides of my family served in the military, including my dad who enlisted as an officer during Vietnam, and most of the women had kids which they stayed home to look after, so there was a lot of very traditional social life and family life around me on both sides growing up.

So am I the product of tradition or a break from tradition? I really have no idea. I don't even try to answer that question anymore since I'm always being subtly accused of being too liberal and too conservative for the exact same works of art.

The main thing is that I was read to a lot as a kid by my mom, so I had access to all kinds of ideas and imagery, and I was supported in pursuing my talent for drawing by my dad. Those were the biggest gifts my parents gave me and I'm grateful to both of them on that level every day.

I can tell you that no matter what your family life is like, art making is something that nobody is going to care about unless you care about it first.

Thanks for your interest Chris.

Yours,
JB

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Jeremy, Thank you for taking the time to consider my questions and give me great responses. I'm finishing up my paper in the next two-three weeks. If you'd like I can e-mail you a copy of it. Just being able to talk has totally made my day- your art and approach to image-making/ creation (not to mention your theoretical/philosophical approach) are very inspiring to me.

Thanks again,
Chris

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Good show Chris. I look forward to your paper. By the way, "Coy" is a dynamic last name.

Best,
JB

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Subject: art history paper from year + half ago
Sat, Jul 28, 2007 at 3:44 PM

Jeremy/
Feb/March of last year I emailed you with questions for a paper I was writing for an art history class. You were so generous with your answers and time and I failed to return the favor by sending back the completed paper. I've just dug it up of my l hard drive and am finally sending it off to you. I think in my head I had thought of revising it more and more in anticipation of your reading it and with notes from my professor to guide me on some minor changes.... but then just forgot about it and got busy.
Please forgive me for never sending you the paper I interviewed you for. I'm including it in this email. Thanks again- and if you have any thoughts / clarifications I would love to hear them.

/chris coy

ps. if you're interested in seeing any of my work, click on the link below.

//////// http://www.seecoy.com

 

 

(When I wrote this email I had not yet learned of Jeremy's death 11 days earlier. )

 

Blake_FinalPaper.doc by Chris Coy [pdf]