Kris Kuksi in conversation with Jacob Hicks

A Presumptuously Pagan Celebration, mixed media assemblage, 43” x 33” x 12”


Jacob Hicks: It is an honor to interview you, I have loved your work for a long time. I see in it an infinite kind of maximization. Experiencing it makes me imagine running through a city with a microscope magnifying glass machine simultaneously allowing me to see everything giant and minuscule at once. It also reminds me of those exponential distance videos where the camera eye starts zooming away from an individual object at rapid speeds, moves up through the atmosphere to reveal outer space, moves through space to reveal our solar system, then through the galaxy and so on forever outward. Even though your sculptures have boundaries it is easy for me to imagine them extending on indefinitely, and it is not an easy feat to capture the concept of infinity in a work of art. Tell me about your relationship or thoughts on miniaturization and immensity…

Kris Kuksi: Since childhood I’ve been obsessed with miniatures. As a child I made a small scale winnebago out of construction paper at my grandmother’s house. It was a fascination with a fine line between the real scale world vs. pretending I was really only 4 inches tall. My action figure toys were the players of my world and a rich rural outdoor access without the distractions of cable TV and video games just fueled artistic ventures. I built shrines to dead animals found around her farm with bricks from a slowly collapsing barn. Watching a barn slowly collapse over the years really influenced my artistic ideas. Time was another subject I always felt drawn to, such as looking at a large amount of time within a short perception of distance. I had hours of time. Rural life was slow, very slow, but considering the tree whose roots I had a makeshift fortress for my action figure occupants to dwell, I must have only been a split second of that tree’s life experience. Realizing the selfish human application of measuring time against nature made me appreciate our limited time on Earth.    


Prosperity, mixed media assemblage, 48” x 46” x 12”

I know you are an accomplished realist painter, and those works seem very unlike what you do sculpturally. Does your painting influence your sculpture, how does each mode of making resonate with the other and do they ever live together in a single work?

It certainly was a very necessary fundamental background for my sculptures. It was like a simulation game before jumping in, I’m thinking mostly from a compositional ability to place things in relation to each other to create harmony. I love the compliments objects can have to each other. In my college years my painting instructor taught me to look at the negative space between positive forms to find relationship and balance. I had a huge advantage painting the sculptures after they were built because I understood painting. I experienced a hard life lesson realizing my true following was the 3-d realm, though my ego wanted to be a painter. I had to come to grips and surrender to being a ‘builder’ when it came to the real world calling me.

Reclining Nude, acrylic on panel, 24” x 48”

Who are your primary influences? I see a lot of iconography, the baroque (in terms of frozen or expressed motion) pop culture (in the detritus of works based in assemblage), and a lot of H. R. Giger. Am I off-base? What artists move you and most strongly influence you?

You are definitely correct there. I’m influenced not only by visual artists but also by architecture. I have a fondness for the works of Louis Sullivan, who is largely overlooked because he was the mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright. But it’s also design, ornamental decor, and the relation between the human form and the occupancy within built structures. We as modern humans build our nests as elaborate and complicated places to live, much like my sculptures. I had to provide the setting for the characters and architectural influence is a crucial part of the compositional nature of my works.  

Reign of Ceasar, mixed media assemblage, 46” x 34” x 9”

I’m interested in your fairly consistent choice to maintain a monochrome reality in your assemblage. This is also really fascinating seeing you are a capable and talented colorist in your painting. Tell me about the decision to keep your world monochrome?

It’s interesting because I do actually use a lot of subtle color in my works. There are rusty tones, cool tones, greens, turquoise, etc. Photographs tend to blur or wash those out but its intentional to stay close to neutral zones. It’s a unifying method to make it look as though all the forms are of the same material. Something is always admired in a timeless manner for sculptures of monochromatic finish. I tend to think color defines trends or trends assign color schemes, I try to steer away from being locked into a period of time. I seek to remain ‘timeless’ in what I do. Again, there is that subject of time; ‘all time together’ is a vision I like to explore.

Churchtank Type 6.6F, mixed media assemblage, 12” x 4” x 13”

In your artist statement you talk a lot about cultural decadence and decay, how people’s amassing of material wealth, clutter, and general “stuff” is ultimately their undoing, and how your works are a reflection of death in this regard. They are also extremely elegant, delicate, and beautiful. Tell me a little bit about that conundrum, the beauty and elegance of decadence and decay...

It drives our wants and desires. We make material goods responsible for our happiness and self-worth. I’m probably on the low end of materialistic though I salivate at owning a castle someday while driving a late 70’s Pinto or very run down Mercedes. I’m obsessed with the opulent lifestyle but also ‘fake wealth’ persona. There’s a lot of ‘acting rich’ that goes on and we live to trick others into believing this. So there’s a destructive element to our conditioned response to material needs. My most valued possession is a Civil War era wooden prosthetic leg. For one it’s old, two, it carries an experience with it as it was a necessary tool to help in that person’s life after what trauma they must have experienced. Like you said, it has beauty and decay together. Furthermore in my life of meeting an amazing collection of people, I’m blessed to have had the experience to sit and chat with a homeless person and see the expression value in his views on life. I painted his portrait and it was accepted into a big portrait competition at the Smithsonian years ago.  I really brought the world to him where he was oftentimes overlooked by society. On the flip side, I once sat down to a meeting with the world’s richest man over a proposal for an art installation of mine (in just one of his many homes). We laughed after he felt comfortable in saying “I’m glad I’m not the only crazy one here!” 

A New Divinity, mixed media assemblage, 36” x 36” x 9.5”

If it was the end of the world and you could run into any museum and take out with you one work of art, what would it be?

I’d refuse to take anything. Instead I would just wander around the museum (The Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna) and look at master works while the world ended. I’d like to be a corpse in that museum for the end times!

How are you doing through the pandemic, and has this global event impacted your practice?

Doing fine. I’m mostly a hermit by nature so it hasn’t been such a change. And I still managed to keep sales going through it all. If anything it’s been a blessing for making art but I did manage to get a mild form of the virus for a few days.

Do you have any upcoming exhibitions, events, or publications you would like to share?

I’m coming out with a chess set. That is probably the most exciting news I have, a few other top secret things, maybe.

Eros at Play, mixed media assemblage, 21” x 16” x 8”

What is your advice for young artists, the ones who are driven by a passion for making but maybe don’t have the resources and stability of a lot of the successful artists making their way through this difficult field?

It’s a tough road ahead. I’d advise finding the fine line between making art true to your personal vision, but also making what the world wants a piece of. It’s not always predictable. I never thought the sculpture that I did would be taken seriously, but the world wanted it and it was definitely a very enjoyable path to take. It takes lots of luck too and being visible to the world as much as you can. Say ‘no’ a lot. Say ‘yes’ to challenges. Stretch your abilities. Cut down on the sleep, it’s bad for artists. Eat lots of caffeine, sugar, and carbs, as they help with creativity. Give into your impulses, moderately. You don’t have to be popular, just know your limits. Don’t copy anyone. But if someone does copy you, you’ve made it pretty far already.

Christian Rex van Minnen in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

 

2016

I fell in sort of angry love with the paintings of Christian Rex van Minnen (what a name: a religious predatory dinosaur Dutch Master). This is true art floating through the thick fog of contentless, deskilled, rapidly produced art world uneducated wealthy person chicken feed that saturates and obstructs true voices.  He lobs technical precision into the birthing of sugary monstrosities, articulated insanities, perfectly formed pustule mirrors reflecting rupturing cultural delusions and illnesses no one dares look at but everyone proliferates.

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Your paintings are the equivalent of quality production blockbuster movies: technical precisionism rooted in old master practice, totally compelling illusionism; all of this adds up to an uncanny, stomach-turning, semi-computer generated (but with a quattrocento instagram filter) horror that is very time/generation specific. You are Cronenberg without a budget cap and tempted by cgi. How do you relate to cinema and what is your specific kind of grotesque’s aimed societal comment?

I do like movies. Cronenberg, Werner Herzog and David Lynch are my favorite directors. I knew movies way before I knew art so they have naturally had a strong influence on my work. I’ve always loved directors who intentionally aim to destabilize the viewer in a benevolent sort of way. Disturbance is ok, but if it isn’t followed with some heart and good intentions you’re just an asshole.

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You know that feeling as a child on Halloween had from consuming too much candy? All of the excitement before in the amassing, the lack of restriction during consumption, the little pings of oncoming sickness, finally the inevitable ache. I feel in your work a deep celebration of that gut sickness and the wildness that leads there. All sorts of floating, metaphysical crystalline sugar confections bloom within your picture planes. What is your relationship to sweets, these mass produced and beautiful little poison pellets we are trained to revere, though they sicken us?

I can identify with that in so far as what you are describing is a commingling of contrasting emotions and feelings. To be completely honest I didn’t realize that they would be almost universally interpreted as candy. That wasn’t my intention, as naive as that may sound. I was mining for a new range of imagery and a technical approach that could increase contrast, both technically and conceptually. These bright, ultra-luminous, transparent, often weightless whimsical objects were the solution.

What is it about the ugly sensation, cankers, cancers, horrors, that so provokes you to your result, and why so much precisionism in its depiction?

I don’t really know. I think that those forms come from noodling the paint. Just making things up as I go, things look distorted, cancerous, bulbous. I drag those images through a division of labor that makes them believable. I like the result! It has certainly led to a lot of interesting imagery and post-rationalizing of concept. But, in the end, it’s fundamental surreal, automatic drawing/painting. I aim for believability rather than representation.

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Tell me about your relationship to the Dutch still-life. That golden age was one of excess wealth and so for the first time a wide array of non-religious art appeared. Yours is that but in a cult of death sort of way, an exuberance for rotting fills the religious void.

That too is a result of a confluence of interests. First and foremost, that era produced paintings that I am most visually attracted to. It’s oil painting at it’s zenith. So much of it was about technique and that had a lot to do with the market being detached from the church. Then there’s the issue of legacy. My father is from South Africa, and many generations before that, Flanders. There is some dark history there in the middle. I was raised to think a lot about legacy and atonement and how to right the wrongs of the past. Consequently, I have thought a lot about my connection to Europe and what it means to be an American of European heritage.

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Who are your major influences, painting, music, literature, etc…?

Rembrandt, hip hop, Cormac McCarthy, David Lynch, Otto Marseus van Schrieck, Aphex Twin, Bukowski. Those are some that come to mind.

How political is your work–what do artists do during our current climate of American unraveling?

I don’t know. People say that it’s all political right? Let’s go with that. I was in the studio watching it all happen, the election, and it was like that scene in Alien. Seemed like it was going ok then the convulsions and the chest bursting and this fucking shit. I felt both bewildered but also emboldened. This is my work, I’ve been training for this. This is a spiritual war.

2015

How did you start exhibiting with Poulsen? Give me a little of your working/personal history/trajectory that got you from point A to B.

I met Morten the first year I moved to NYC. A couple of the artists there, also friends of mine, told him about my work. He came over to my studio, basically a closet in my apartment, and liked what he saw and then things just took off. He is a force, that Morten Poulsen. Not to be underestimated. I’m very grateful for what he’s done for me and my family.

Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you would like to share?

I am making a new body of work for a 4 person show at Postmasters Gallery here in New York in March that I’m really, really excited about. Then preparing for my first solo show with Richard Heller Gallery out in LA late fall. It’s a big year and I’m just excited that I can go into that studio everyday and make work that people are into right now. Very grateful.

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Jacob Hicks in Conversation with Alessandro Sicioldr

oracolo-2016
Oracolo, 2016

Alessandro Sicioldr follows in a long tradition of visionary artists. His works are directed by an informed unconscious, by the Jungian depths of communicative symbol. I discovered it through social media, and have watched in wonder as his pool of active, beautifully haunting imagery changes in content, but never in quality.  Sicioldr employs a luminous visual voice, and so I reached out to discuss his process and motivations.

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L’enigma del sogno o il risveglio, 2016

I see in your work a dream language, an undeniable root to Jung’s collective unconscious, an internal human truth in archetype that resonates so loudly with me. Talk about a few of these elements/motifs in your work

*The double, The Tree, The Sphinx, The King, The moon, Water…

It’s always been hard for me to talk about my images, since they speak through a visual language which is ambiguous, sibylline. I come from a scientific background, (I have a degree in computer science) so I am very careful when talking about mind, spirituality, symbolism and topics involving facts that are impossible to prove with rational means. Rules and boundaries are useless when dealing with metaphysics, so I just let my inner world speak without asking questions. These images are important for me and when I think about them I get a particular feeling. They need to be represented and they follow their strange irrational rules. Why do I put an element there, or use that particular color? It is because it should go there, these are the rules of the painting. I don’t think about symbolism because deliberate and intellectual reasoning can spoil the purity of a composition and the result can easily be fake. I recently discovered that a lot, maybe all of my paintings are composed within the rules of the golden section without knowing, I find this incredible but this is how human minds work.

 

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La Soglia, 2016

What does your process of making look like-do you improvise in paint, do you start with a sketch or composition? Do you work primarily from imagination (I suspect), and how does reference play into your procedure?

I do not have a rigid scheme for the conceptual part because art is like love. There isn’t a routine for falling in love, you just do it, you just feel it and your soul is inclined toward that particular thing. I am a compulsive sketcher, I sketch everything and when I feel that something is important I begin the painting process. The painting process is a mix of craftsmanship and improvisation. I use traditional and contemporary means, I aim for the best not for the old fashioned, so if I prepare myself the raw linen it is because I like it more than industrial ones. I have no rules for references, often I paint from imagination because it is hard to find models like a giant bird chariot with a strange head inside moving on roots with heads inside and pulled by sacerdotes wearing red capes in an icy landscape. But I use some photographs and models to help me a little bit. The fact that I have no real reference is the hardest part of my technique, it is easier to work with a model.

 

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Adam’s dream, 2015

Tell me a little bit about your education-who you studied under/major artistic influences…

I am a self taught, as I said before I have a scientific background but I always nurtured a passion for art, for literature. My mother and my father are both people with great culture, plus my father is a painter and he gave me some basis but I’ve never received a technical lesson in my life. I see paintings, I make copies, I study a lot. The problem with many artists is the lack of culture and experience in fields that are not related with art. I think that a creative should devour tons of books, visit museums, and be curious about things that are difficult. My main and unique influence is my inner world, but i have a deep love for the primitive art, the art of ancient civilizations (I live in the land of etruscans) the byzantines, the medieval and oriental art, the Italian and flemish primitives, Piero di Cosimo, Titian, Lotto, Paris Bordone, Bronzino, Parmigianino, symbolism (Kubin, Redon, Moreau, Spilliaert, Khnopff, Klinger, Kobliha), Felix Vallotton, Gauguin, surrealism (mainly Max Ernst, Kay Sage), the first De Chirico and so on… I also like a lot of contemporary artists!

 

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The Well (Salome), 2015

What do you do to pay the bills? What galleries do you show with? Do you have advice for working artists on how to get their work seen?

I sell paintings and drawings to pay the bills, both alone and with galleries (in and outside Italy), I’m still young and I hope to grow and to reach a wider audience. The only advice I could give is: make great paintings. Do not aim for success, that is a consequence. Money is important but if that becomes the main issue there is something wrong and it is better to get a day job. A day job will allow you to be free, that is the most important thing, not career..

 

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La Sibilla, 2016

Do you have any news, projects, or upcoming exhibitions you would like to share?

No news in these months, I am taking a small break from shows and I am focusing on creating new works. I often need a period where I just paint.

Jamie Adams in Conversation

by Jacob Hicks

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Niagara Pink Pair, Oil on linen, 60 x 48 inches, 2015

Jamie Adams  creates metaphysical realms of collapsed time and indeterminate gravity punctuated by acidic color and sexuality.  He weaves classicism, the old masters, old Hollywood, disco, nature, and modernism into floating, lucid, beautiful dreamscapes.  I have admired his work since I first ran across it.  I was lucky to engage him in the conversation that follows.

JH:  Where are you in relation to your image?  Are you omnipresent-is the whole image you?  Are you nowhere within? 

JA:  I think images created are ultimately more about the artist than the image represented.  I see my work as psychic portraits or representations of an interior life regardless of the subject.  This is not to say that they mirror the artist completely.  In fact, it is a rather imperfect form of expression like any other; sometimes awkward, frequently revelatory.  My relationship with my work is often conflicted.  I don’t know that I ever consider my works to be finished.  I suppose they can be viewed as either some kind of private entertainment or public confession.  It’s what motivates me to continue making.

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Blue Marilyn, Oil on linen, 78 x 83 inches, 2016

JH:  If you were a character in the space of one of your own paintings 

a.) where would you be… 

JA:  I construct spaces that I wish to inhabit and explore.  They are often reminiscent of places I have been or imagined in a dream.  To give an example, in 2005 I was drawn to Jean Seberg’s bedroom apartment in Jean Luc Godard’s film Breathless. What piqued my interest was how it seemed inaccessible, remote, yet strangely familiar.  I imagined its quality of ambient, north-facing light in this filmic space to be a suitable space for a painter’s studio. Creating the jeannie series of paintings was the outcome, the project lasted seven years from 2005-2012.  Currently I am working on a group of paintings I am calling “Blondie Bubba”.  The impetus for the work is to re-imagine different scenarios from my father’s youth.  I want to preserve what has been lost.

b.) who would you be if not you, if you were maybe under the mask by Marilyn or a beautiful black body, or a Titian-esque statue 

JA:  I empathize with the characters in my paintings. My relationship to them—either viewing them as self or other can fluctuate over time.  As a result they often develop with a certain amount of fluidity.  The paintings generally go through multiple iterations, even when I have made preliminary sketches.  The narrative reveals itself within the process of making as the characters reveal themselves to me — almost like auditioning actors for a play, the characters morph and change, sometimes playing a kind of masquerade in order to find the appropriate role.  I am interested in portraying characters in a state of flux or an indeterminate state of being.  I think it has to do with my interest in conveying a certain kind of psychic dimension and complexity, but I will leave that to the viewer to decide.

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Jeanniebigbed 2, Oil on linen, 84 x 96 inches, 2011

JH:  Titian, Giorgione- I see a lot of Venetian influence-what else-Psychedelic 60’s, melodrama Hollywood 50’s, hip hop, pop culture, internet post-modern floating, deeply understood indirect painting.  Tell me what I’m missing-the meat of your work-the reason for making…

JA:  I grew up disco dancing, singing in quartets, and singing in musicals, so whatever flamboyance or theatricality one might find in my work emanates from that place I suppose.  The Italians come into my sightline most recently. I have been teaching a summer in Florence drawing course now with a colleague and friend Buzz Spector via Washington University in St. Louis where we work as faculty.  Seeing the massive Tintoretto’s at the Scuola di san Rocco remind me of Lucas films…and simple things like the slave’s ribcage at the center of “Miracle of the Slave” has captivated me since I was a boy.

JH:  Who is a contemporary painter you love the work of?

JA:  Lisa Yuskavage’s work was featured earlier this year at the Contemporary Art Museum here in St. Louis. I always read her work as more of a provocation, something like a collision between Precious Moments or Pixar and Penthouse.  But after hearing her talk about her work, I understood them much differently.  I read them as coming much more from a place of vulnerability as well as protest.  They reveal trace of a former self that I was not immediately appreciating.  They quite moving when viewed through the lens of life as an accumulation of experience.  Formally, I think she is a marvelous colorist.  Her images have a strong coherency of light, a color clarity.  They remind me of Tiepolo’s quartet at the Chicago Institute.  Her frequent use of green light is curious to me.  It reminds me of an important aspect to making paintings today. It’s useful, maybe even critical, for the painter to set up certain challenges.  It’s one way to find new territory.  Brilliant greens everyone knows are difficult to manage.  They easily can become overbearing.  It makes me think of things soaking in formaldehyde like Jenny Saville figures (interesting in their conversation with late Renoir…) or Kim Keever dreamscapes (which I love)…but Lisa keeps even this so pleasant and visually enriching, where color passages meander through a range of warms and cools.  Her recent piece “Triptych” (2011) I think is a great example of this on a grand scale.

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Blondie Bubba and the Red Porch, Oil on linen, 96 x 84 inches, 2016

JH:  Do you think Picasso’s vision has been surpassed-he is our time’s Giotto, so who will be the future’s Picasso?

JA:  Philip Guston is someone I look to.  He appropriates from both of these artists and across many genres, and creates profoundly disquieting new form in his late period that is still relevant to contemporary issues–political, social, human. I will say that Giotto’s masterful frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel still speak to this contemporary viewer.  I had occasion to visit Padua and see it again this summer.  His visualization of hell is terrifying, and the use of mixed spatial systems are incredibly inventive conceptions of the co-existence of temporal and eternal realities.  He certainly serves as an important bridge between a more austere Byzantine aesthetic and the grandeur of the Renaissance as a humanist project.  I am most attracted though to Masaccio’s work at the Brancacci Chapel—the cinematic narrative of Tribute Money, his awkwardly beasty bodies in the Expulsion and Baptism panels.  I think Picasso certainly saw this work and assimilated its form in many of his blue period paintings, one being the couple portrayed in “La Vie”.

JH:  What are computer’s doing to our thoughts and visions as artists?

JA:  Probably like most people I have a love-hate relationship to many of the new technologies.  The digital world is collapsing histories, and the smartphone gives me access even more easily, but I am finding it incredibly distracting in the end.  In the past I admit that I have enjoyed watching television for cheesy sit-coms, infotainment and sports—light hearted stuff, but most of it today is simply mind numbing.  Our kids rely a great deal on Snapchat and texting to communicate.  It’s a great form of communication for it’s speed and efficiency.  But like any other form of communication, it has its limitations, and is sorely lacking if used exclusively.….It’s been quite unavoidable for any of us to not be affected by so much of this–the proliferation of ‘screened’ imagery given the power of cinema, the ubiquity of the smartphone camera, etc… For myself it remains quite paradoxical–equally a problem as much as a solution when you think about how you experience life through so many mediated forms…and this is one of the reasons why I utilize collage and allow certain disparities to exist in the work.  The use of visual tropes via film, lens, or print matter to construct my narratives are useful in this way.

I suspect with the advent of the camera people probably lost a great deal of their capacity to visually remember things because the picture could do it for them. With digital media becoming even more pervasive language becomes marginalized, and any expression, as Norman Bryson states, can easily seem after-the-fact.  So it’s important to find a balance.  There is evidence that typing on a laptop keypad for instance is not as effective as actually taking hand written notes for students in the classroom. You can type faster on the computer, access more information, and so on, but comprehension and the ability to utilize information is less.  This is where media forms such as drawing and painting, embodying the trace of touch and sensual materiality, seem suitable conveyers of human experience, desire and loss.

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Jeannistand, Oil on linen, 78 x 83 inches, 2011

JH:  Do you ever work from life or all of your images sourced from other 2-d images?

JA:  I generally use whatever visual information seems necessary at the time…. I often stage still life props or clothing on a mannequin. Lately, I’ve been working more from memory, as well as developing a more elaborate diorama of characters to work from. Regardless of the source material I think it’s important to leave the references behind and develop the painting on its own terms.  It’s my accommodation to wanting to experience and remember things more directly.

JH:  What do waterfalls mean to you-their metaphor you can’t and don’t resist?

JA:  My first encounter with Niagara Falls was as a boy: it was a euphoric experience of both beauty and terror.  I remember being captivated by the spectacle of its scale.  Its raging torrents of water plunging over the edge (roughly 6 million cubic ft. of water go over the crest line of the falls every minute!)— I had a visceral reaction, a fear of falling, of being swept away with this encounter. I felt immediately small and finite in the presence of such a dynamic force of nature.  And I felt like I was in a film.  To this day I am drawn to certain films, especially vintage from a bygone era—Euro-American ‘art’ films, French and American noir, Italian (spaghetti) Westerns and Giallos, etc. I think American melodramas from the 50s  with the oversaturated Technicolor seems an appropriate expression of underlying cultural anxieties.  I chose to focus on a number of films as visual reference for my Niagara series, one being Henry Hathaways’ 1956 American noir film Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe and Joseph Cotton, the falls seem to personify this foreboding presence, like a spectre of doom.

Like most painters I have long admired a number of the American Luminist painters: Church, Bierstadt, Moran, etc., for the magical qualities found in their grand portrayals of Niagara Falls, and the American landscape more broadly. These large format paintings were meant to serve, in part, as propaganda, the new masterpieces, created as an expression of national identity and the country’s manifest destiny. They seem to prefigure the cinematic impulse, to elicit an expansive, all encompassing visual experience.  I want to see contemporary paintings continue to perform this function.

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Bride Falls, Pink Pants, Soggy Socks, Oil on Linen, 84 x 96 inches, 2016

JA:  Do you have any upcoming projects or exhibitions you would like to talk about and share?

JA:  Currently, I have a number of paintings in an exhibition for the month of September titled “Porch and a Vista” at Zolla Lieberman Gallery in Chicago.  The show’s title and much of the work has been inspired by Pierre Bonnard’s painting “Earthly Paradise” (1916-20), located at the The Art Institute of Chicago Museum.  Bonnard’s piece likely references the severe devastation of Europe following World War 1 (by way of William Morris’ epic poem) and utopian dreams.

Jane LaFarge Hamill in Conversation with Jacob Hicks

Jane LaFarge Hamill and I met when I invited her to participate in a curation project at the now liquidated Lounge Underground Artist Collective.  I distinctly remember unwrapping the first of two small paintings she delivered to the space; I was taken back in the revelation of the image.  A delicately realized portrait (possibly referencing 19th century French Academic practice) sat submerged in an asphalt darkness.  The visage was punctuated, vibrated, violated by a registry of palatially desicive palate knife gestures- a violence constructed of deeply saturate hue.  The aura of this thing hit me, like I was holding something living.  I realized what I was holding was consequential, maybe very important, and I held it much more carefully.  I later realized what I experienced was the aura I seek in all art, that all true art must contain and share this- that presence that can only be felt before the object itself and not through photography or any sort of reproduction.

What follows is a discussion with Jane about her work, which is continually growing stronger.  I say with no lack of consideration that Jane is an immense and gifted artist, and I’m honored to watch her progression.

Bringing Down the House, oil on panel, 2015
Bringing Down the House, oil on panel, 2015

Jacob Hicks: What does a face mean and what does the absence of a face mean?

Jane Lafarge Hamill: There’s no way to tell a person’s character by looking at their face. But of course we all look for clues of it in expression, for physicality that communicates more truthfully than what we say- and that’s part of what I’m interested in representing. It’s about what clues to keep in, and what to leave absent.

I prefer to think of what I’m painting as a head, not the face. It’s important for me to try to bring out what’s behind the face- to break down and pull apart the facade just enough that the interior bits- the rich parts, can come out. I’ll borrow Nicola Tyson’s term ‘psycho-figuration’ for the kind of painting that I’m making.

Solvi, oil on panel, 2015
Solvi, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Your paintings ebb between so many dualities- continuity and dissolution, presence and absence, matter and space, anger and passivity, ghost and flesh, death and vitality, abstraction and true form, the ancient and the modern. Why is it important to express these borderlines, how do you do it? Tell me about your process of making…

JLH: The borderlines are important because that’s where you’re pushing and pulling between states of static. Static is quite a boring and debilitating space; it’s where we get comfortable and stop growing. It’s on the edges between the dualities you mention- where the discussions are.

And the process…. well, it changes, because I want to do something new every time.  Which I guess is pretty weird for me to say, because I’ve been painting the same subject on the same scale for 2 years now! But the improvisation in brushwork, and changes in what the subject is saying, move each painting beyond the previous.

Fuck Salad, oil on panel, 2015
Fuck Salad, oil on panel, 2015

JH: To me your paintings are expressions of fragmentations of selfhood visiting/haunting you.  Do you find the same expressions manifesting over and over-are their personas or states that are repeated in the history of your works?

JLH: It would take me some serious time with a psychologist to figure out what fragments of selfhood keep haunting my work! As much as we have to be accountable for our work as artists, much of the time you can’t make good work while being completely aware of it’s meaning. That comes later. We explain ourselves to ourselves. But I’m way too close to the paintings to be able to step back right now farther than a few feet- it may ruin the whole progression. Not to say I don’t walk up to my studio looking at the gravel thinking: so what the hell am I painting about today? Which I do, every time. 

Portrait of Humans, oil on panel, 2015
Portrait of Humans, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Who is your favorite dead and gone painter, who is a contemporary painter whose work is interesting? Favorite movie? Director? Musician? Time period? Artist?

JLH: This question reminds me of those articles in women’s magazines that asks someone what’s in her purse….

So- dead (but not gone) painter is my absolute favorite painter- Euan Uglow. I was introduced to his work while studying at the Slade in 2001 just after he died. He’s why I became a painter. Seeing his work is a bit like going to church. It’s a touchstone.

My favorite contemporary painter for the last 3 years, has been Peter Krauskompf. Please check him out if you don’t already know his work.

And for movies, I’ll always go back to Emir Kusturica’s Underground- particularly the very last finale scene.

For a favorite time period, I’ll define favorite by most interest in? 1919-1933 Weimar Germany. I’ve always been interested in what happened during this short, unstable, chaotic, but politically, intellectually, and artistically creative time between wars. Wild times. I would have liked a few nights out on the town in 1920s Berlin, taken in a Paul Klee lecture at the Bauhaus, talk to Adorno, you know…

Favorite Music- changes daily. It’s schizophrenic.

John Lafarge in Tahiti
John Lafarge in Fiji

JH: What is the influence of the artist John Lafarge-your great great grandfather-on your art?

JLH: I think the influence of my great great grandfather’s art was actually mostly important as an influence on my becoming an artist.

Seeing his work hung on the MET walls as a kid, made it seem normal that people you might even be personally connected to could have their work in museums. The human quality in that- understanding at a young age that all those pieces of great art were made by actual, real, normal people, was a lesson.

Yes, John LaFarge was best known for his stained glass work, but he was a remarkably versatile artist, and it was during a show of his paintings at Yale a few years ago that I felt a deeper connection to his work; on top of my familial pride to him as a man. The Yale show concentrated on his travels throughout the South Pacific begun in 1890. (He was painting in Tahiti before Gauguin, and their versions of the same places are complete contrasts.) There are 12 surviving sketch books from those South Seas travels that contain landscape and figurative drawings, but also copious notes on culture and language… in very tiny lettering. The photo I’m including is of John LaFarge (right) and his travel companion Henry Adams (left) in Fiji. Hard to see, but I inherited his nose.

It’s a practice that seems to be following in the family- my husband Jason Bereswill is also a travel painter, documenting time and place with sketches wherever we go. He does the same as LaFarge, coming back to the studio to flesh field work into larger paintings. Although the two differ in that Jason paints a bit of human folly/clumsiness within the majestic natural landscape, and LaFarge was more romantic with his graceful figures working with nature.

Vagabond, oil on panel, 2015
Vagabond, oil on panel, 2015

JH: Do you have any upcoming or current exhibitions or projects you would like to share?

JLH: As I’m writing this I just had a show come down. And now I’m thankfully working quietly on a new series in my studio. My new studio just got built on our farm, so I’m breaking it in and getting used to the space. It’s amazing how important all of the little tweaks are- like the warmth of the lighting for painting at night. Coming up this Spring, I’ll be in LA on an artist residency I was awarded at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica. Road trip!