I went to Thailand in September (first time in Asia!) Here are some images from my first few days in Bangkok. See more on my official photo website here.
I went to Spain at the end of October & spent a week in Barcelona.
Here are some images from that trip. See more on my official photo website here.
Issue 12 of Cheap & Plastique is now available, in it’s entirety, on Issuu. If you like pretending to flip through a magazine on thee internet do please have a look, plenty of things to entertain your eyeballs in this issue! CLICK HERE to be magically transported to Issuu land.
Triade, 2014, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 63 x 57 inches
C & P: Where did you grow up? Did the environment you experienced as a youth influence your decision to become an artist? Or influence your work at all? If so, how?
Jessica: I grew up in the same town that I live in now. I did not know that I would become an artist. I have no artists in my family and I didn’t really know any when I was younger, it was only in my last year of high school that I decided to start taking art classes, instead of dance classes, and my teacher at the time really encouraged me to keep on studying art in college. I really didn’t know what I wanted to pursue at the time, so I decided to continue discovering my new passion.
The small town that I am from has always been an inspiration for my work. I was always fascinated with old buildings and barns and the rural style of architecture found in these small country towns—any building with texture was something I desired to paint.
Convergence, 2015, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 49 x 35 inches
C & P: You live in the Lower Laurentians, outside of Montreal, Quebec. What do you like most about living there? Least? Does being in this location inspire your work?
Jessica: What I like the most about being in the Laurentians is the calm and beauty of the nature I’m surrounded by. Most of the subjects I have painted over the years are all places from the Laurentians, most specifically my hometown, but even if it is a large and endless source of inspiration, the fact that I’m further from the city makes me an even more solitary artist than I used to be. My studio is in my home so it’s difficult to have regular contact with the art world and to engage in discussions or receive feedback from other artists.
Réflexion #4, 2014, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 51 x 57 inches
C & P: Tell me a little about the process of creating a new work. What inspires you to begin a picture?
Jessica: Every painting usually starts with a photograph that I have taken myself, as a record of a place or just an image of something I find interesting. I’ve always been very fascinated by architectural structures, there is great history and many stories in a construction, some more interesting and significant than others. Houses, buildings, barns and other structures provide us with a lot of information about the way we live and evolve and therefore have always been very relevant subject matter for artists.
What I’m looking for in the subject is something ambiguous, whether it is in the physical structure, the history of the place, it’s evolution, or something more personal to me, what I represent tends to raise questions. This is what brought me to working with optical reflections, the complexity of this phenomenon and the diversity of images it produces makes it a fascinating subject.
Métro, 2012, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 48 x 72 inches
C & P: What is a day in your studio like?
Jessica: A day in the studio for me is never the same. I work in the daytime, evenings, or at night, sometime full days, sometime only a couple of hours. My studio is in my home so I can go in to work easily, whenever I’m inspired and have time. I always work on multiple paintings at once so the works in the series have something in common. Working on multiple canvases at once also helps to stimulate the work.
C & P: Do you begin sketching out your ideas by drawing something first? Do you ever work out a composition as a collage or on a computer before you begin to paint?
Jessica: I usually sketch a little using the photo or image of the subject. The subjects I paint are simplified, so I like to sketch to help me organize the compositions, but I like to keep it spontaneous as much as possible. The images I use mostly serve to start, once the composition is set then there are no rules.
C & P: Do you paint mainly with acrylics? Do any other materials find their way into your artwork?
Jessica: My main material is acrylic paint, because it makes it easier to work in layers, but I also use spray paint on some parts of paintings.
Immaculé-Conception, 2012, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 48 x 60 inches
C & P: Architecture is present throughout your work (for example: Immaculate Conception and Metro, both from 2012) and in your latest work (such as Specular Reflection, 2016) various architectural elements are taken apart, abstracted and then reconstructed, sometimes combining with or reflecting natural elements. Could you talk a bit about this play between the built environment and nature in your work? Are they getting along harmoniously? Or is there a bit of a struggle between the two?
Jessica: Like I said earlier I like to represent a subject in an ambiguous way, sometimes it implies putting aside the realistic aspect of my subjects. In 2012, I started working with old pictures of locations in my hometown, which have now been transformed. This work was about the evolution of society and the changes in the way in which we live. Churches becoming condos and sports clubs, a supermarket becoming a daycare center, a train station turned into an office building, etc… I combine a representation of how the building was in the past with its utility currently within one canvas. This kind of duality has always been something I liked to play with in my paintings.
In my recent work, about optical reflections, natural and architectural elements are confronted in what seems to be an almost abstract composition. These elements are complementary in my work, but there is also a struggle between them that is more and more present because I am now working with both interior and exterior spaces in my recent work. This confrontation is more about not knowing where we stand regarding the subject.
Lieu Innocupé, 2013, acrylic and spray paint on wood, 6 x 8 feet
C & P: In certain works (such as Place 2 Innocupé and Lieu Innocupé, both from 2013) you present a complete environment, such as a village scene—which might include some buildings, a bridge, a landscaped area—but in your newer work you hone in and paint a part of the scene in a very detailed manner (in works such as Untitled, 2016), reconfiguring the architectural elements into more abstract constructions. You seem to be exploring the surface more in the newer work as well. What led to this shift in your subject matter—from a recognizable landscape to an emphasis on the fragments that make up the scene?
Jessica: It’s true that over the years my work has become less about the significance of the building itself and that building’s story and more about a conceptual idea referencing architecture. Working with different reflections has made my work more and more abstract because the reflection represents a fragmented reality. I am now exploring different aspect of this subject, because it makes us see reality differently. It often feels like there is another dimension we can access through observing reflections—new spaces appear and disappear, transforming themselves throughout the day. I like to address this transformation in my newer work. In the past I didn’t use fragments of a landscape to rebuild a composition, now the subjects I paint are already deconstructed by the visual effects of reflection. I work with the juxtaposition of the planes, I find there is a lot more depth than there used to be, even if it is now a more realistic representation.
Altération #3, 2013, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 24 inches
C & P: Are the scenes depicted in your paintings actual places/buildings that you have observed around you or are your compositions constructed from many different parts of multiple places, real and imagined?
Jessica: Like I said earlier, the majority of my paintings represent places from my home town, this is especially true when I worked with a larger environment or a particular building and its surrounding. My recent work is more abstract as the subject matter is built up of of reconstructed vantage points and reflections—however, even if a particular building is not recognizable in these newer paintings they still do represent my daily environment. Its become even more intimate over the years, representing my own home, both as I remember it in the past and as it changes over time.
C & P: Are the structures in your work abandoned or are they new constructions popping up in the rural, wooded landscapes of the Lower Laurentians? Or a combination of both scenarios? Is the landscape of this area currently undergoing a change and becoming more developed?
Jessica: When I started painting I was really into finding old buildings with lots of texture—the paint itself was always, and still is, as much of the subject than what is represented.
Over the past few years there have been lots of changes in the part of the Lower Laurentians where I live and these changes have definitely influenced my work a lot. Lots of business have closed down, lots of jobs have been lost, the economy was not doing well and as a result there were all these empty commercial spaces, churches closing one after the other, and many houses for sale throughout town. However, even with all of this evidence of an economic downturn there were still multiple new construction projects underway, with many new homes being built. It made me question the way we live and it became a subject of my paintings over the years.
Réflexion #8, 2016, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 24 x 30 inches
C & P: Geometric lines and patterns often repeat from one canvas to another, utilizing various painterly techniques. The surface of the painting is sometimes flat, sometimes rough and scraped, and sometimes overpainted with thin washes, revealing multiple layers underneath. Have you always painted in this manner, mixing various textures and techniques within one canvas?
Jessica: I have always worked this way. The main reason I work with architecture as my subject matter
is because I like the contrast of the geometric lines and the possiblity to create many effects with the application of paint. I have experimented with a large variety of techniques and effects since I started painting, and its been very relevant in the progression of my work. Some techniques are used to represent more organic subjects and others to emphasize the roughness of the concrete, and others for the blurriness and the transparency found in the reflections. Mixing all these different textures in one painting brings about a very interesting contrast and without the layers I feel the paintings might feel incomplete.
C & P: Do you utilize the geometric grid to structure the work?
Jessica: I like to keep it very intuitive. I rarely calculate anything in my painting, except for with one or two works that really had to be symmetrical, and even then I would permit myself to cheat.
It’s very interesting, because I was often asked if I had any architectural background, but actually all of my perspectives and constructions are truly unrealistic.
Lieu innocupé, 2013, acrylic and spray paint on wood, 6 x 8 feet
C & P: There are rarely humans depicted in your paintings (at least in the ones that I have seen). Have figures ever appeared in your work? Is there a reason why your pictures are void of people?
Jessica: The only human figures I have used in my work so far were used in my series about the past and present, from 2012. I only painted silhouettes, these figures were included to be a reminder of the foot traffic that used to be present in these places, places which are virtually empty now. In general with my work, I find that the structures have so many details themselves that humans would only bring in an additional narrative that is not significant in my work.
Réflexion Speculaire, 2016, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 63 x 57 inches
C & P: How do you personally know when a painting is finished?
Jessica: To be honest, its very hard for me to decide when a painting is finished, there is always something I could change or modify. The fact that I work in layers makes it hard to stop because I can always come back to almost any part of the painting and add. I guess in order to stop I need to ask myself if the intention of the painting is well defined.
C & P: Which artists inspire you? Which artists would you cite as influences?
Jessica: There are so many artists that I like and/or have been inspired by such as Peter Doig, Trevor Kiernander, David Hockney, Matthias Weischer and so many other younger artists. I also had a strong cubist influence in many of my paintings from 2010-2011.
Réflexion Prismatique, 2016, acrylic and spray paint on canvas, 51 x 57 inches
C & P: What projects are you working on currently?
Jessica: At the moment I am working on a series of paintings of windows which reflect the inside of my home. I’ve only just started, but its more of an in-situ painting project. When this body of work is exhibited in a gallery there will be paintings hung on the walls, as well as elements traced directly onto the flloor, refering to shadows and room delimitations, like you see on an architectural plan. The idea is that as soon as you enter the exhibition space, you enter a reproduction of my personal home, but with only information selected for the spectator by me. There will be more information and pictures on my website coming soon.
C & P: What could you imagine doing if you did not create art?
Jessica: I think creating art is part of who I am. I never really wanted to be anything in particular. Being an artist is not something you decide to do its something you are.
Interview by Cheap & Plastique‘s Violet Shuraka.
Photography of artwork © Guy L’heureux
I just finished directing my first official music video for the Brooklyn band, Triple Hex.
I have been shooting footage for months, while meandering through various city streets—in NYC, London, & Dublin—eyes peeled for sparkly lights, sleazy joints with sexy mannequins, and old neon strip club, bar, and restaurant signs. The video showcases Triple Hex in their nocturnal natural state. Listen to more tunes by Triple Hex here.
Currently there is a show up at Lodge Gallery (131 Chrystie St, New York, New York),
Paul Brainard: Roasted, a group exhibition celebrating Paul as both an artist and curator. Next week Lodge Gallery will be presenting Paul’s work at Volta NY
(booth X9). Check out both shows!
Frank in his Fort Greene, Brooklyn studio.
Frank Webster is a Brooklyn based painter, and all around sharp guy. We visited his studio on a balmy day in December for issue #12. It was a great place to reflect on the apocalypse.
Interview by Cheap & Plastique‘s Heather Morgan. Please see more of Frank’s work here.
C & P: You live and work in Brooklyn, NYC. How long have you been in the city and what brought you to New York originally?
Frank I’ve been in New York for about 20 years. Most of it has been spent in Brooklyn. I originally came to the East Coast from Chicago to get my MFA at Rutgers. I attended Skowhegan right after graduation and moved to the city shortly afterwards.
C & P: You maintain a studio in Fort Greene, have you witnessed a drastic change in the neighborhood since you have been in this location?
Frank I’ve watched a pretty dramatic change occur in my time here. The building I have my studio in was just sold to a group of investors for over $160 million dollars. I think it’s unlikely I will be in this space much longer. It’s a fairly common story New Yorkers of all walks of life face as we try to deal with the phenomenon of gentrification. When I first moved to Fort Greene the area near the Navy Yard was a dangerous no man’s land with a reputation for crime. Now it is part of something called the “tech triangle” in real-estate-speak. Scarcity has made it in demand as office space despite the lack of amenities and poor transportation service.
A Volcanic Crater, 2015, watercolor on paper, 9” x 12”
C & P: Your work definitely has an “end of the world” feeling to me, whether you take the city for your subject matter, or you are out in nature. Do you think we are doomed?
Frank That’s an interesting question. Existentially of course as individuals we are—we all have about a 70 year expiration date, if we’re lucky. As a species I think we have a lot better prospects. Most of our current problems regarding our environment are the result of human ingenuity. If I didn’t think that ingenuity could be used to correct these problems I’d probably pass over conditions in silence. So contradictorily, I guess I’m really a bit of an bright-eyed optimist. Infer irony if you like.
C & P: Your earlier work seems to draw comparison between nature and the objects and architecture we have built, to melancholy effect. Your current series seem more wholly immersed in the landscape (in Iceland).
What prompted this shift, and do you find it satisfying to work in this way?
Frank I tend to see my work as a long running project so it all seems as part of a greater whole to me. The architecture work always had a topographic quality about it—a sort of catalogue of the landscape of the modern built environment at its most vernacular level. “How had America been altered by the great wave of suburbs of the later half of the last century?” for instance. More recent work has started examining a natural landscape without architecture, a place with a highway but without strip malls. It is in a northern region (the north Atlantic) where some of the most dramatic effects of climate change are beginning to be seen. It also is a place of unearthly beauty—fascinating geologically and historically, the wellspring of European colonization of the New World with a rich and influential literary legacy. I find it satisfying thus far but really feel like I’m at the beginning of something with a lot of loose ends to tie up and questions to answer.
Plastic Bags, 2009, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 80″
Apartment Building, Tokyo, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 60″ x 44″
C & P: The Iceland series is connected to your earlier work by a deep sense of solitude. Even in Tokyo, your work is free of humans. Why is that?
Frank I have been a long time fan of the romantics who were the first to really grapple with a non-anthropocentric view of the world, communion with nature and the beauty of solitude. When I get this question I always am reminded of one of my favorite paintings: The Wanderer above the Mists by Caspar David Friedrich. This painting is significant for coming up with the compositional device of a figure with his back turned to the viewer to communicate contemplation of the sublime. In my paintings I think of the figurative subject as being the viewer who is placed in a scene by yours truly (the painter) to contemplate said scene. So my paintings all have a human as part of their compositional mechanics—that human just happens to be you.
C & P: This isolation seems to be the emblematic of our civilization. Do you consider your work political?
Frank Certainly alienation is one of the most well documented hallmarks of postmodern society. I personally think that sense of isolation has paradoxically increased in this period of constant contact and social media. I see a general rootlessness and sense a growing insecurity and a feeling of economic disenfranchisement. Of course the great danger here in the United States is political apathy in the face of this larger social alienation. It’s important to combat this tendency. So yes I think my work has political undertones even if it isn’t of the banners and barricades variety.
C & P: The earliest work I have seen of yours goes back about a decade, very minimalist paintings of strip malls and other suburban horrors, rendered purposefully, cheerily lifeless and geometric. Tell us about your connection to minimalism. Have you always had a minimalist sensibility?
Frank I have a bit of a love hate relationship with minimalism. I recently visited Marfa and was really taken with the grounded-ness of Donald Judd’s vision. But I also see how that aesthetic has been applied or misapplied in consumerism and it’s tendency to erase eccentricity and cultural nuance. (Post minimalist/feminist art nailed that second point pretty well, in my opinion.) Personally I try to keep things as simple as possible. But of course the world is a complicated place and complexity has it’s way of creeping into the most straight forward situations…
C & P: Your paint seems to be heightening the drama in more recent work, exploring the surface more. How does the sublime fit into a dim worldview?
Frank The sublime is interesting because it is not necessarily beautiful. Burke’s original concept of the sublime included what was most definitely NOT pleasurable, what was awesomely terrifying or downright ugly. As an idea it has been a powerful tool to free artists from their role as interior decorators. Any art that assumes a more conceptual attitude ultimately draws it’s strength from the stance of the sublime as a counter to the merely beautiful.
C & P: It is definitely oxymoronic to present a lush, beautiful painting that depicts barbed wire and an ugly, hulking tower block of a building. Is beauty important? Is it there to console the viewer or to lure them into a nightmarish hellscape? What sort of journey do you ideally wish for viewers of your work?
Frank Beauty is of great importance and ultimately there is nothing wrong with beauty. And yes, of course, it can be a tool to seduce a viewer into confronting some experience they’d rather avoid. A spoonful of sugar? Maybe. I’d avoid prescribing an experience for a viewer of my work, but I’ve always felt that catharsis was one of the most powerful emotions evoked by any work of art. Think of a late Rothko… that unspeakable beauty, calm and sadness… “Nightmarish hellscape?” Thank you, I’m flattered.
C & P: We met in an art show at a strip bar and had a funny conversation about Jean Rollin and exploitation cinema. Rollin in particular creates some stunning visuals. Do you draw on film as an influence?
Frank I LOVE Jean Rollin and his goofy post-surrealist, gothic comic book universe. I think his movies have had a lot of influence on a number of contemporary artists. He was able to find the freedom to deal with taboo and out-there subjects as long as he just tossed a sex scene in the flick to guarantee distribution in porn theaters. Georges Bataille was his godfather. But yes, his visuals are amazing. He was a real poet of the eye. He is interesting in that his mise-en-scéne is often the most interesting things about the films. I’ve made a few paintings based on transition scenes in his movies. I feel like I’m saying I read Playboy for the articles but I really enjoy his pornographic horror films for the landscapes he sets them in—that might be the most decadently subversive thing I can say about his art. (Sort of like going to a strip club to look at paintings.)
There are a lot of filmmakers I look at as influences. Michelangelo Antonioni comes to mind as someone I was inspired by early on in my career and still holds a special place in my heart. I’m also very interested in the off-beat auteur films of the ‘70s, when the director was considered an artist and low budget films were still the norm.
C & P: When painting the landscape, you get a sense of the infinite by virtue of expansive space or endless tree branches. How do you personally know when a painting is finished?
Frank It’s tough. I like to work on large paintings slowly so there is a temptation to say something is done prematurely. But ultimately a bit more time pays off in better results. I want a painting to have that infinite and expansive feeling but to also feel that somehow it just accidentally happened. Sometimes it can take forever to find that happenstance moment.
C & P: What are some paintings that you like to revisit, in museums or collections?
Frank I have a lot of artists I look at, but a recent discovery I made when visiting Vienna was Richard Gerstl, the proto-expressionist. Unfortunately, today he is probably more famous for his youthful suicide and affair with Arnold Schoenberg’s wife Mathilde but I loved the directness and urgency of his landscape paintings. His self-portraits are chilling and among the best of the first half of the 20th century. He is under appreciated today so I’ll mention him now.
C & P: What are you working on right now?
Frank I’m playing around with oil paint after a long period of working exclusively with water-based media. Right now I’m making small oil studies which I hope to develop into large-scale works. Studio or not, I’m a wily artist and will figure out a way to make my vision happen—whether an army of “international real-estate investors” likes it or not.
Artist portrait and studio shots by Violet Shuraka. All artwork ©Frank Webster.
Kelsey in her Williamsburg, Brooklyn studio.
Cheap & Plastique‘s Violet Shuraka interviews Brooklyn-based artist Kelsey Henderson for issue #12. Portraits and studio shots by Violet Shuraka. All artwork ©Kelsey Henderson. See more of Kelsey’s work here.
C & P: You live and work in Brooklyn, NYC. How long have you been in the city and what brought you to New York originally?
Kelsey: I moved here in 2006, so in September it will have been 10 years. Wow.
I moved here knowing I needed to be around driven and motivated people. Wanted
a dose of healthy competitive drive to keep me going and not complacent.
C & P: Your studio has been located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn since 2011, have you witnessed a drastic change in the neighborhood over the past few years?
Kelsey: Of course, it’s constantly changing but I hardly focus on that stuff till it hits me in the face like now—losing my studio of 7 years and realizing how messed up the price of studios in the area are. Charging apartment prices for commercial spaces shows a lack of appreciation for the arts and that the primary focus is on money, which really bums me out.
C & P: Much of your work consists of figurative oil paintings. How long have you been painting the figure? What first interested you in the figure as subject matter?
Kelsey: All my life I’ve focused on people. It’s my natural instinct and one of my favorite things to do. If there’s something that draws me in about someone, I like giving myself the time to look at and study them. Plus I find it to be challenging technically, which I enjoy. It’s good to do things that aren’t easy.
C & P: Who are the people in your paintings? Do you ever paint from a live model or do you utilize imagery from pop culture (or unpopular culture) as your subjects?
Kelsey: I used to only work from life since that’s how I was taught to work. I think it was a good practice when I was in school to create a strong relationship between my hands and eyes, but once I started becoming more conceptually focused it wasn’t necessary. Now I work from photos that I take or found photos. Whether or not I know the person directly in the paintings I want to make sure that it’s more about the message I’m making with the image vs. a formal portrait painting.
C & P: The figures that show up in your most recent work have shifted from portraits of friends/people you know to paintings of imagined ‘zine covers, which include both figures and text. You have said the images of people in this series are taken from old video cassette covers, hardcore music videos, punk magazine layouts and the text in the paintings is from various vintage pin up/erotic magazine covers. What inspired this change in the subject matter of your work?
Kelsey: That’s not all true… Most of the figures painted in this series are found by searching through 70-90s subculture images. Some being famous people, others who are not. Mostly just from photos taken from people involved in the scene at the time. And the layout and the text comes from old porn magazines. I’m pretty much making fake magazines that I wish existed, that I’d love to buy. Creating a different sense of idealism or desire than what the mainstream suggests.
C & P: Some titles of the current body of work in your studio are Teenage Extreme (tagged with Hot Straight Edge Boys), Pleasure—Number One In Excitement, Punished, Suck, Teenager in Action, which are all quite sexually suggestive. The figure that is matched up with the various title is usually a punk/hardcore/skinhead boy or girl. What draws you to the denizens of these particular underground subcultures? Do you think the underground is particularly sexually liberated?
Kelsey: I’m more focused on shifting the sexual read of the text and giving it a different reading. Which is why I don’t want to use any old porn magazines that blatantly say “SEX” “PORN” etc… I like the double play on the text… But if the painting says “Teenage Extreme” and it’s and image of a hardcore straightedge younger guy singing as hard as he can… then that text is more about a kid being hard.
On the flip side, clearly, I do want to play with the fantasized aspect of the porn magazines. These are forms of beauty that I’m drawn to, that I’m sincerely attracted to… I’m also aware of our culture’s (especially in fashion) detached rip offs and pulls from these subcultures as well—which totally turns me off.
So I’m playing with a lot of different aspects with this work and I have a lot to say about it all, which is why I know it’s important to make.
C & P: You mentioned Bruce La Bruce as an influence. His film and photography work also eroticize skinhead and punk subcultures. He was involved in the punk scene in Toronto in the early 90s, producing underground fanzines, making manifestos, and expressing his politics through a do-it-yourself style. What do you think draws you both to politically incorrect imagery and to and society’s “outsiders”?
Kelsey: I don’t think I said that. I had only recently (tho I’m not proud to admit) seen a couple of his films or looked into his work after starting my recent work. I was actually relieved I hadn’t seen his work before because it felt similar to my Crocodiles video that I made… and it may have influenced me if I had seen it prior, but I’m happy I’ve seen it now.
I love outsiders because I think a level of rebellion is important in life. The world and the people in it can’t grow without being challenged and aware that there are things beyond the norm.
C & P: Your painting technique on your most recent work calls to mind artists such as John Baldessari and Gerhard Richter, with your reduced palette and the inclusion of text. Are you responsive to these artists?
Kelsey: I mean I always loved Gerhard Richter, but with this particular body of work it feels very personal and sincere so I’m kind of stuck in my own bubble right now. I’ve always loved text and words so it’s been a really satisfying moment for me to combine these loves.
C & P: Music seems to play an important role in both your day to day life and your artwork. Are there certain bands that you will listen to for inspiration while painting? Has music always been so important to you?
Kelsey: What I listen to when I’m painting depends on my mood. I usually try to stick with something upbeat or dance-y to keep myself in the zone and energized. I don’t want to end up crying or anything while I’m working (ha ha!)
When I was a kid music wasn’t as important to me. I liked it but it didn’t hit the deep chords in my body and soul that it does today. I think the shift happened in high school when I listened to the widest range of music I’ve ever listened to—from requiems to jazz to classic rock to electronic music etc, etc… That’s when it became incredibly important to me and strongly instinctual to knowing what I liked.
C & P: A lot of people claim that New York is “dead” artistically and musically but I emphatically disagree. Do you feel that there is still a vibrant underground scene in New York City?
Kelsey: 100%. I think anyone who says it’s dead has stopped going to shows or stopped checking out scenes they didnt know about. There’s A LOT of amazing music being made right now in New York that isn’t well known.
C & P: You recently directed videos for the band Soft Moon and Crocodiles. How did the collaboration come about? How did the bands approach you to direct? Is directing something that you’d like to do more of in the future?
Kelsey: It was a nice trickle effect. I had been working on my own video projects that I’ve previewed in brief clips on Instagram. Then I was approached by my now friend Brandon from Crocodiles about using what he had seen for a video and I felt it best to create something specific for it and luckily both he and Chuck were both kind and trusting enough to let me make whatever I wanted with some discussed themes in mind. And from that I got the attention of Marco Rapisarda, who is The Soft Moon’s manager, and was asked to make a video for them.
I’ve always wanted to make music videos, I daydream about them all the time when I’m listening to music on my own—creating visuals in my head—so it was a wonderful experience. Would love to make more in the future.
C & P: Tell me a little bit about your “Yearbook/Yearfuck Class of 2015” photo project that I see you have started on Instagram. Is this directly related to the music video projects you have been working on?
Kelsey: That project is more connected to my newer paintings that I’ve been making. Creating false realities and showing subcultures as the mainstream way of life. Ultimately showing the rest of the world that within a subculture, we are the norm and the rest of the world is on the outside? Showing my reality, etc… I’m intending, and hoping, to show all of my recent work in one large show and also putting it all together in a book.
The idea came from being inspired by my friends and the people around me but knowing I had no time to paint them all. So I created the fake yearbook idea as a time capsule and spoof on the world we grew up in, creating the dream Class of 2015.
C & P: Describe a studio day. Is there a certain time of the day when you work best and are most productive? Do you have certain habits that you stick to in regards to your art making schedule?
Kelsey: When I’m on a role, I’ll get there in time for a late lunch (getting to order food from places that don’t deliver to my apt., ha ha) and then usually leave no later than 10 PM. I’ve got a pup so I always have to schedule my days around her but it’s not too much of a hassle and I like having my nights to be social since I’m alone all day. I mostly just go in, put some music on and get working.
C & P: Are you more influenced by looking at the work of other painters and artists or do you feel that you are more stimulated by the massive amount of visual information you are exposed to on a daily basis in the city, through advertising, the internet, television, etc…?
Kelsey: If anything I guess random internet rabbit hole searches are the most inspiring and then would come my daily life… Taking what I see and experience and then romantically reflecting on it all and trying to show what’s in my head in that light. I do love looking at other artist’s work but in honesty I don’t do it very much. (someone should slap my wrist for that, ha!)
C & P: What projects are you working on now? Where can we see your work in the near future?
Kelsey: I’m still working on the fake magazine paintings, videos, and photos. It’s a big project I’m trying to make, connecting all of those things so it will take some time. The best place for now is Instagram @pallidspell and from there I’ll announce any shows etc…
Jesse in his Bushwick, Brooklyn studio.
Cheap & Plastique’s Heather Morgan interviews Brooklyn-based artist Jesse McCloskey for issue #12. Portraits and studio shots by Violet Shuraka. All artwork ©Jesse McCloskey. See more of Jesse’s work here.
Various works in studio
C & P: You live and work in Brooklyn, NYC. How long have you been in the city and what brought you to New York originally?
Jesse: Actually, I live in Manhattan and paint in Brooklyn. I’ve had a cheap place on First Avenue forever. I came to New York in 1987 to attend graduate school at Parsons, where I got my MFA.
C & P: You have maintained a studio on the edge of Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn since the nineties, have you witnessed a drastic change in the neighborhood since you have been in this location?
Jesse: I got my first studio in Williamsburg around 1995, I think. It was on Lorimer and Bayard, facing the running track across the street from McCarren Pool. But they sold it for condos so now I’m at my current location on Grand and Morgan. It’s also changing rapidly, with new billboards for “Eyewear” nearby so I think I’ll have to move again soon but you know we’re survivors so I’ll come up with something hopefully!
C & P: You make darkly romantic paintings by layering and drawing, sometimes carving back into cut shapes of paper. The first time I saw your work I was blown away by not being sure of what I was looking at, how it was done. How did you arrive at this process?
Jesse: I remember my teacher Ben Martinez at the Swain School of Design, telling me Giacometti would draw and erase so much that he would rub holes into his drawings. I wondered why he didn’t just glue on a patch of paper and keep going.
I make paintings by cutting out painted paper shapes then adhering it to a canvas, I often paint on top of that, making changes until the picture comes together. Sometimes I use knives, digging down into the floorboards of the work to see if I left something useful down there. On occasion it reveals a helpful color or form. (Sometimes it’s best old decisions remained buried.)
I didn’t plan on making pictures this way, but the surface had become dead from over working so I added a slab of paper and then I had a patch over as well as a new shape and color to deal with and I just went with it.
I think it’s important to have the “Fuck It” moment. Where you don’t give a fuck about another fuckin’ painting so you just fuck it up and it forces you out for what ever pretense you’ve talked yourself into.
Ann is Salem
C & P: Your work presents a world of witches and demons, seductive and tormented figures. Sometimes it feels like you are tapping into powerful, ancient myths, and sometimes it reads as allegory for the artistic process. Tell us about the characters that are inhabiting your work, what they mean to you.
Jesse: I remember a few years ago a Christian conservative was losing a senate race in Maryland. In a last ditch effort, she said in a campaign ad, “ I am not a witch.”.It confirmed what people from New England, like myself, have always known, that our superstitions are so close to the surface. It’s only a steady supply of food, water, and electricity that keeps us from burning people or pressing scapegoats to death with field stones.
I don’t know who shows up in my paintings. They are the acting company of my desires and anxieties. They change costumes and masks but it’s the same group in different garb. My job as an artist is to make them a comfortable place to rage.
C & P: I know you to be a relentlessly driven painter. Talking with you about your progress on individual paintings, it almost sounds as though you are battling them. Does this passionate approach to producing the work inform the narratives within
Jesse: I love that Johnny Cash song, “I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way.” My process is always the same and it’s kinda awful really, I start out on a tear with all the hope and expectation that I finally know what I’m doing, only to find that I don’t. The painting is alive! Then dead, then dead but not without hope, then yes, it’s hopeless. Then not! It changes and changes mask after mask until months later it suddenly snaps into place and the picture is at a point where it can’t get any better or worse. I do not change them for the sake of changing them, but I am obsessed with getting them right.
It does inform and build the narrative, in that if I believe in anything it’s this, that if I make a painting, drawing, some kind of art, whatever, then I destroy, not for the sake of destroying it but by pushing it until it’s a mess, then I really own the work/process. I gotta make it, kill it and bring it back. I might be terrified, like so many artists in New York, of losing my studio but I’m not afraid of making a mess in there. Forcing the painting come to me as much as I come to it.
C & P: I heard your still life once described (by me) as “a Cezanne if you set it on fire.” Describe some of your influences and how your use of these materials pushes past those influences.
Jesse: The Italians like Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto and De Kooning really are my most important influences (mainly how De Kooning, himself, processed the Italians). I love the muscle car paintings they put together with such an economy of means. Everything in these artist’s pictures has a purpose to the greater whole. I believe this comes from building and pulling apart each element in a composition until it works for the greater good. Certainly its how De Kooning made pictures. I remember you and I talking about how great artists don’t show you how to make a decent painting, they show you how to arrive at one. The materials are built for speed, I can and often do change a picture drastically in one evening. It’s thrilling really, the material and it’s application become extensions of my visual mind and I think my dusty dead friends would approve.
C & P: Did you always know you wanted to be an artist when you were growing up on a horse farm in Massachusetts? Were themes of New England—the gothic landscape, witches and hapless sinners—always present in your work?
Jesse: When I was 4, my mother bought me “The Christmas Mouse” It’s a coloring book that tells of a little mouse that makes his own Christmas by stealing from the people whose house he lives in. Kind of an odd message for a child now that I think of it. Then again the only advice my mother ever gave me was “Never live within your means, you’ll never have anything.” Well, the coloring book looked great, so off I went to be a painter.
Yes, my work has always been drawn to the dark. The Satanic tint to New England fueled my early visual imagination. And the demonology and superstitious slant of late medieval early Renaissance painting formed a seamless link in my mind to Italian painting and beyond.
C & P: There is a very gleeful and mischievous quality to your work. When taking on themes of death, sex and the torment of the soul, do you think it is important not to be too serious?
Jesse: For me I do think it’s best to sit on the fence between humour and alarm. That’s why I’m drawn to the classic New England witch. It’s both comical and alarming. It the Blair Witch as well as a consumerized pop culture symbol. Used beautifully, if unsuccessfully, both ways by would-be senators from Maryland.
Drawings in studio
C & P: Your female nudes are erotically charged and quite self-possessed and the males are usually trapped in struggle or have the grotesque face of a rascal-y demon. As a woman, I really enjoy this about your work! I get the sense that no one is really winning though, in the struggle for power in your world.
Jesse: The great painter and my friend and teacher the late Paul Georges was painting one day when he was asked what he wanted for lunch, he didn’t hear the question so he was asked again and again each time a bit louder and with more annoyed insistence. Finally he was asked “What do you want?!” He raised his arms and head to the skylight above and with brush in hand said “I want to be free!” Me too.
C & P: I would describe your palette as “stained glass”; you don’t shy away from primary colors and your compositions are illuminated and accentuated with heavy black lines. Does your work comment on the sacred?
Jesse: De Kooning spoke of “The sexuality of doubt.” What a spectacular phrase! I understand it as the erotic charge of uncertainty. If my work contains a vein of the scared it’s in being clear in uncertainty. That regardless of the endless possibilities, clarity of conviction in painting is the difference between being artistic and being an artist.
C & P: While we are on the subject of religion, your personal pantheon seems to begin and end at Mick and Keith. Their lithe bodies take center stage on door of your studio. What do they represent to you and to your painting?
Jesse: The public image of the 70s Mick and Keith have been fascination from my earliest memories back in my little home town of Plympton, Massachusetts. I was drawn to the gender bending bone thin bodies and what I saw as it’s demonic power. It represents freedom to me, a glimpse of another world, another place where misfits were revered and sexual roles not clearly defined. And yet my love for the image of Rolling Stones is deeply personal, I don’t wanna know anything about their private lives, it’s none of my business. It’s the illusion I’m drawn to. I wont talk to someone if they wanna impress me with detailed knowledge of Stone trivia, I’m not interested in any of that. I feed on the dark lyrics of “Sway” and “Memo From Turner” to turn me on. Remember that passage in “A Death in Venice” where the narrator writes about how if the public knew the true inspiration for so much of the art they love they would confused, horrified and repulsed? Some stones are best not looked under.
Jesse in his studio
C & P: What is on your easel right now? Are you killing it, or are you laying on the floor beneath it with a bourbon soaked rag?
Jesse: As you know all to well, Heather, our old brick studio building heats up like the pizza ovens on the Lower East Side, it takes days to cool down. The painting being yanked around is of a blond wig that morphs into yellow pumps with snakes and a palette. As well as a Tudor rose and some other stuff. Today It’s a mess, I am not killing it. I only have some Vermouth so that’s no good. My next show was cancelled, my gallery dropped me, I don’t remember the last time I sold something. But ya know, whatever, I’m gonna attack this painting again and it will give it up.