I just adore these small mixed media works by Jamey Hart, which are buoyant, bright, and just a little bit quirky. We chat about the playfulness of painting, and also the "glorious agony" of it. More at the links after this spectacular interview!
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I'd love to know a bit about you! Where are you from originally, and where are you based now?
I was born in Erie, Pennsylvania which is a small steel city situated between Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. It is a bizarrely magical place because of the light, but depending where you are at any given time you can get stabbed. It is a complicated and interesting place to be. Growing up I mostly just spent my time doing grime labor, not sleeping, and walking outside. I moved to Cleveland, Ohio which is similar to Erie in many ways, and studied painting for undergraduate at the Cleveland Institute of Art. Seven years later I am back in Erie before relocating to Jersey City in the fall.
What first interested you in art, especially making it yourself?
It is sort of hard to trace back. I don’t think I have one particular moment that was so sharp that it changed everything. I was always scratching at paper. I remember going to the library after school in first grade to take out books on birds to try to draw them. Even then, I think I liked making things because of its ability to hold you in the process, and in some cases trap you. A defining time might be the days I would spend sweating and working in basements, on roofs, and in yards, handling construction materials and mud, and just being so devastated by how engaging all those things were. I have always felt basically unconvinced and unable to accept a material for its use and only its use. I just wanted to admire them for hours. I think I knew if I went to school for painting, it would afford me that time to look at things I wanted to look at.
Your work is a combination of 3-dimensional processes and painting. How would you describe your practice?
I consider myself a painter. The work I make develops the same way paintings develop and the concerns are really grounded within the concerns of painting. My investment, even when I was making relatively two-dimensional paintings, has always been related to the object of painting. I would study paintings and was consistently obsessed with the edges and the way the thing itself came together. From the building of the panel or stretching of the canvas to the gentle brushing or forceful smashing. All of those things that sort of snowballed the work into existence felt equally as compelling to me as the face of the painting. I like painting because it is both a portal and something you can bump up against. I am interested in the gestation of material, two-ness and remaining in the spectrum between things, and the poetic potential in painting’s object.
What do you like most about working with your materials?
I have gotten to a point in my practice where I have core materials that all the other materials orbit around. Wood, cloth, gluey-house paint, and gouache or acrylic. From these materials, there is so much room. They are all so pliable and offer space to change the working sensibility within the painting. It typically comes down to shifts in the surface. I focus most intensely on these four materials, but the nature of my work is such that anything is available to try. The parameters of the studio are mainly that the work must feel totally inseparable from itself and singular. Therefore, if I find a sheet of metal and I can manage to siphon some sensibility from it that doesn’t feel derivative, then it is an open field.
What is your process like? How much time do you typically spend on a work? Do you do any sort of research?
I work on one painting at a time. I focus all energy into that one thing. It starts out slow, with me staring at whatever painting I just finished for some hours while running through outlines in my head. I carry around notepads and am constantly doodling shapes and writing phrases, like “raisin-bone” or “milky-conscience”, and I will sometimes try to take those doodles and make an object that resonates in some way. Typically, it falls apart and becomes something else from that. Regardless, the incessant doodling feels important, as does the fact the painting usually falls apart and then comes back together. Something I think about is that each painting should in some way break from the last painting. Whether that be in material, color, working logic, or sense. It is a tipping scale that I try to constantly keep in balance and stay in between.
Therefore, instead of repeating myself and making five of the same paintings spread out over five weeks, I am forced to make those five paintings compacted into one painting because I won't have another chance to revisit the thought until whatever the cycle is runs its course. If I am making a blue painting, I am trying to run through as many possibilities that I can comprehend within that period, and put myself in the position to say definitively that this blue, in this way, on this object, is what I chose on that day, after saying no to so many other options. It vacillates between serious suffering and playful abandonment. All of which stem from being absorbed in the material I am working with at that time. Most of the paintings manage to come together around the fifty-hour mark, from fruition to the final staring contest. But, some go for longer and some come in full relatively quickly. I have one painting that kept going for three years. When they start to breach the three-week mark, I usually introduce something else into the studio to disrupt whatever I thought was going to happen with the painting. That either results in an entirely separate painting or it all merges.
During the arch of making a thing, there is a flurry of activity that goes on outside the studio that directly influences the studio. I work outside in the yard, play with my niece, clean, have fires, read and write, stare at birds, focus on stains in the driveway, and typically have some kind of job like being a dishwasher or anything else. All these things matter. The studio is intertwined with life. But it is also its own separate entity. I have a hard time describing this, but, it is sort of the sense that everything can be paid attention to with loving detail and if you do that, it inevitably will bleed softly into the things you are doing. However, if you are paying equal attention to what is happening in the studio, eventually the painting will separate from life briefly and enter its own world, or at least I think it can and should.
How would you describe your studio or workspace?
In Pennsylvania, my studio is a garage that I built out as a workspace to use for the summer months while I am here. It is stark white, with one main wall that I keep the paintings on. Opposite that wall is shelving with all the raw material, a boarded up window because the light is too warm and makes everything orange, tools like saws and sanders, gallons of paint. The floor is poured unfinished concrete with an open drain in the middle of the space that I trip on and could easily cover but never do. It is a white building with a rolling door out to the driveway where I can watch people walking their dogs and cars driving by. I keep it closed at night because of the mosquitos, but they always find a way in anyhow. I have one large working table that I built three years ago and a smaller table for paint and brushes, both on wheels. The spatial arrangement changes around fairly often, but generally, the table is situated parallel to the main wall so I can look up at the wall while working or turn my back to it. Whenever I finish a painting, I clean everything. I sweep and vacuum, paint all the table surfaces and walls. Little routines help give me some structure for starting and finishing paintings. I like when the studio practice has that sensibility. Where it becomes as habitual as washing the dishes without becoming mundane. Behind the studio, there is a fire pit and a big yard with pine trees that line the border of it.
What is the best advice you've ever received so far? Any that you're glad you chose to ignore?
Someone I was working with while roofing once told me that he regretted not remembering to taste his pudding cup at lunch. I think it's good advice to just be attentive and slow when you can be. I don’t get much advice in the form of advice. I remember another painter telling me about pushing a thing to it’s most obnoxious end, therefore you can know where it ends. I find myself thinking about that in the studio fairly often, even just as an exercise in discipline.
How would you define "success?"
It has to come back to the work and just being continually interested in the things that matter to you. I think if you are actively engaged in what you are making, that is one of the deepest forms of success as a painter. If it continues to give back and you continue to come back. If you are painting when the lights turn out on you. When the painting somehow comes out of its own sort of internalized pressure.
What do you do if you find yourself at a creative standstill?
If something stops dead in its tracks, I let myself sit in it for two or three days. I go into the studio and look at whatever is on the wall without touching it, push boxes around, sweep, wash my brushes, eat sandwich after sandwich. After those days go by, I just make one mark that I know will make me uncomfortable. That sets everything back in motion almost immediately. I care about work that comes out of itself, no matter how clumsily, where I don’t fully understand how it relates to my immediate world but know that it occupies this secondary or intermediary space that blows air and hints at external things without being tied to them. Since painting and being in the studio every day is its own kind of pattern, it is hard to be at a standstill for long, because the work itself always pushes the work forward. It doesn’t come from my idea, but instead is entirely reliant on me simply being there to look at the materials, arrange, respond and write about them. I just try to stay conscious of that.
What do you feel is the most challenging or daunting thing about pursuing art, either creatively or professionally?
Being alive and staying alive and doing taxes and buying groceries and moving and the weight of all of life’s things, on top of just spending most of your time alone with an object, is the biggest challenge. Painting is agony but in a gorgeous kind of way. But finding a way to pay bills and not die of hunger, while everything of equal but different importance is clamoring at your heels, is the other side of agony. It seems to be that you almost always surrender a good portion of your life to a perpetual chase scene where you try to move the work forward while also attempting to have enough money for paint and loans and food. I haven’t navigated the world of gallery representation, but that all presents its own suffering.I do know and remember hearing continually while in school that there are a million ways to be an artist. It seems to be about finding the space to enter the professional sector, and doing it at the right time.
What are you working on right now? Any upcoming exhibitions?
I finished a painting yesterday morning and have been cleaning the studio all day to start thinking about whatever is going to follow it. I recently compiled a book of writings I have been steadily gathering on painting and everything surrounding painting and I just finalized a short passage about the last week of making.
In terms of upcoming events, “What’s Now From Then” is a small show of six paintings and writing, opening July 21 at Frame 301 Gallery in Beverly, MA through Kevin Lucey. Mark Van Wagner and Tonja Pulfer just opened a beautiful space in Bellport, NY called Marquee Projects. I will have a few paintings up in the group show, “Sneak Peek No Show”, for the next two weeks.
I always welcome visits and am happy to talk about anything with anyone, so please reach out.
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