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Videos & Interviews

"Queen of Her Room" documentary by Karen Bernstein  for Gallery HD TV New York

Texas Monthly Talks Television -  Evan Smith interviews Julie Speed 

Julie Speed and Shawn Colvin slide show with music 

 Interview with Ross Smeltzer, Parts 1, 2 and 3

A Conversation Between Julie Speed and Lisa Hatchadoorian from SNUG HARBOR, A Survey of Work 2007-2012  exhibited at the Nicolaysen Art Museum and the Longview Museum of Art

 

CLICK >>>>>>>>>trailer-for-undertoad-a-two-city-show-of-recent  <<<<<<< CLICK CLICK ABOVE for 44 second trailer of Undertoad

CLICK >>>>>>>>>trailer-for-undertoad-a-two-city-show-of-recent  <<<<<<< CLICK

CLICK ABOVE for 44 second trailer of Undertoad

Chaque jeudi, du 19 juin au 17 juillet, ARTE Creative vous propose un nouvel épisode de la web-série "I [art] MARFA". Les réalisateurs Sébastien Carayol et Katie Callan vous emmènent, le temps de cinq chansons, à la rencontre d’exilés artistiques, directeur de musée, mécène, artiste ou entrepreneur, installés à Marfa, un haut lieu de l'art contemporain mondial en plein désert texan. 

 
 

 

click title  to view>  QUEEN OF HER ROOM

 

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TEXAS MONTHLY TALKS TELEVISION 

 interview with Evan Smith (6 min. excerpt from 30 minute show)

 

 view  3 minute slide show > SHAWN COLVIN That Don't Worry Me Now

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INTERVIEWS 


An Interview With Julie Speed: Part I

December 10, 2012 · Ross Smeltzer

Classifying The Art of Julie Speed 


Matchbox 

Matchbox 

Julie Speed is, in her own words, a “Pararealist;” though her works are strange and fantastical the situations she depicts are not wholly inconceivable.  Speed is known for her meticulous painting style, redolent of the Renaissance masters, and for the absurdity of the images she contrives.  She has been influenced by Italian painters like Bellini and Botticelli, as well as by representatives from Europe’s north like Memling and van der Weyden.  Speed is cosmopolitan in her tastes, however.  She is also a careful student of fairy tales, Russian art and icons, Mughal art and Australian Aboriginal art.  Her works are intriguing amalgams of these disparate and seemingly incongruent influences.

Speed is, along with painters like John Currin and Julie Heffernan, at the forefront of a return to figurative painting in contemporary American art.

This is the first part of an interview we conducted with Julie Speed.  There will be two subsequent installments.  We hope you find it as interesting to read as we did to conduct!

 

Q.           When forced to classify your work, writers and critics tend to call it “Surrealist” or “Neo Surrealist.”  You’ve expressed dissatisfaction with these terms; why are the writers and critics getting wrong?  What distinguishes your work from that of the Surrealists? Do you think there are qualities about your work related to the Surrealist aesthetic?

Julie Speed.       It’s the original group of Surrealists themselves who I have a problem being identified with, not the art that people now call Surrealist.   The founders were a dogmatic bunch with a narrowly focused set of beliefs about art. Many of them regarded Surrealism as an intellectual movement first and foremost with the work almost an illustration or artifact of their philosophy.   They  formed and unformed cliques and spent a lot of time writing snarky manifestos and squabbling with each other about the true nature of art and the relative worthiness of other artists and movements.

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Julie Speed, “Snakes for Jesus,” 2012, collage and gouache

Q.           In previous interviews, you’ve distinguished your work from that of the Surrealists by classifying it as “pararealistic,” meaning that the subjects and situations you depict are “’alongside’ rather than the ‘over,’ ‘beyond,’ or ‘above’” purely representational work.  Could you expand on this distinction? What are the precise differences implied by being “alongside” realism, as opposed to being “’over,’ ‘beyond,’ or ‘above’” it?

Julie Speed.       I was poking fun at the Surrealist’s tendency towards self-aggrandizement by picking a more humble prefix for my own made-up “ism.”  What I really think is that future art historians should be the ones to eventually decide what constitutes a “movement” in art and what to call it.  When done in the reverse order it smells more like bullshit.

Q.           What contemporary artists do you think your work is most closely aligned with, in terms of both style and subject matter?

Julie Speed.       Well, off the top of my head I’d say Martin Puryear.  Not that we share  either style or subject matter but when I look at his work I feel a strong connection to his obvious hands on attention to detail and  the trust  that it seems to me that he puts in the act of work itself. I feel the same way about Lee Bontecou’s work.

 

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“Plenty’s Boast,” Martin Puryear

Q.           Your works appear to employ many of the conventions of Northern Renaissance painting (and you have previously commented on your connection with both Bosch and Brueghel the Elder).  For what reasons does the art of the Northern Renaissance particularly appeal to you, and do you think it is significant that you have incorporated the conventions of the period into your work? Are you using these conventions in the same ways as their originators? If so, why, and, if not, why not?

Julie Speed.       Yes,  Bosch and Breughel the Elder both influenced my work  but I wouldn’t say that they influenced me any more  than other great Northern Renaissance artists such as  Lucas Cranach (The Elder more than the younger) , Albrecht Durer, Grunewald (The Mocking of Christ)  and  Hans Memling  (Portrait of a Man with a Coin of the Emperor Nero) . In particular I like the black humor and telling details of the Northern painters.

The Italian Renaissance artists such as Fra Angelico (Entombment),  Mantenga (St. Sebastian), Botticelli, Giovanni Bellini (St. Francis in Ecstasy, The Doge of Venice),  Piero della Francesca or for that matter Da Vinci (drawings)  or Giorgione (landscape, sky)  have also been lifelong inspirations. Piero Della Francesca I admire in particular for the geometric perfection of his compositions.

It’s that use of geometry, perspective and detail which invite the viewer into the painting.

The same is true of Mughal and Persian miniature paintings.  Look at. Look into.  They are different experiences.

Yes, I guess I do use the conventions of that time in the same way as they did back then but I just hadn’t thought of it that way. To me it seems a practical way to set up a picture. You have the imagined space in front and to the sides of the foreground (outside of the picture and often implied by eyes or hands inside the picture), the foreground, the middle ground and a background or two, and you can use or not use any of these to set up multiple possibilities, both in terms of the composition and the narrative.  For instance, if I needed a certain texture in the middle ground I could paint a maze of gnarled tree branches. If I happened to need a red dot of a certain size for the sake of the composition then I could paint a small red chair in the appropriate place in the background landscape or if an interior, in the room beyond. Sometimes details are there for practical reasons. Sometimes just for the joy of painting details.

My father built ship models from scratch.  Beneath the deck, hidden inside the hold of one of my favorite models is a ladder leading down to the ship’s galley where a tiny drunken captain sits slumped over in his chair holding a bottle of rum. Lying across the table in front of him with her head in her hands is a naked woman. The lighter part of the carved wood is her skin and the darker part is her hair. The whole thing is only about an inch or so across. Once the deck housing is back in place no one will ever see it.  He carved it because he wanted to and he could. Sometimes it’s just that simple.

 

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Julie Speed, “The Supplicants,” 2012, gouache and collage

An Interview with Julie Speed: Part II

December 12, 2012 Ross Smeltzer  

The Search For Meaning in Julie Speed’s Works

In the first part of our interview with the contemporary painter Julie Speed, we explored the artist’s relationship with other artistic movements in general and with the Surrealists in particular.  In this second part of our interview, we will be exploring her influences and the symbols embedded in her works.

 

Q.           What artists and art movements have had the most impact on your work and why?

Julie Speed.        In addition to works from the Renaissance I’ve also spent a lot of time looking at early Byzantine and Russian religious works. Their flat geometry and tiny dots of detail are (to me) like Australian Aboriginal painting and I’ve borrowed a lot from both over the years. In particular I’m a big fan of the contemporary aboriginal painter Gloria Petyarre.

A folio from the "Hamzanama", otherwise known as the "Adventures of Hamza" 

A folio from the "Hamzanama", otherwise known as the "Adventures of Hamza" 

 

When I was a kid I fell in love with Indian, Persian and Mughal painting and how those anonymous sixteenth century Mughal Empire artists handled water led me to look again at the great Japanese wood block masters of the nineteenth century (Kuniyoshi and Kunisada are two favorites) which also overlapped my interest in the Suprematist works of Kasimir Malevich because that movement’s work led to looking closely at the design of battleships of that era. When I can find them I collect Japanese woodblock prints of the naval battles from the Russo-Japanese war 1904-1905. My Dad built me a model of the battleship Potemkin.   I like looking at and painting explosions.

I had a favorite great-aunt Phyllis, a palmist who traveled around the world between WWI and WWII gathering and translating fairy tales. She would read the translations to me. These were old school fairy tales that often ended with phrases like………”and so the Shark King ate the Princess.” My love of fairy tales led me to Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac who led me to nineteenth century European graphic artists like Max Klinger and Gustave Dore and from there to Edward Gorey.

Other artists who have influenced my work are Jean Jones Jackson, Otto Dix, Balthus (every time I go to the Met I have to spend time with his Nude before a Mirror), Francis Bacon, Richard Muller and Bill Traylor.   Degas and Manet in particular for composition.  Joseph Cornell, Romare Beardon and Kurt Schwitters for collage.

And of course Lucien Freud.  What kills me about Freud is that he’s truly succeeded in figuring out how to paint a portrait whose compelling artistic power in no way depends on the fame of his subject. Look for instance at his Benefits Supervisor, Sleeping or Reflection, Self-Portrait.  Like Giovanni Bellini’s Doge of Venice, you don’t need to know who, what, where or why in order to appreciate the painting. Art for Art’s sake.

Q.           What films, books, and albums have most informed your work and why?

Julie Speed.        My husband and many of my friends are musicians, mostly of the blues and singer-songwriter variety and I’ve always been a compulsive reader so music and books are a huge part of my life but I don’t think I can sort out any direct one to one correlations for you.

Q.           What works of art have most inspired and affected you?  For what reasons do you think you were inspired by those works?

Julie Speed.        Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein and Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square. They both hit me in the same section of my gut.  Malevich painted his Black Square as an icon and it’s dead on – as perfectly implacable as the best of the Byzantine saints.  Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein gives me the same feeling, like I should kill a chicken for her.

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Pablo Picasso, “Portrait of Gertrude Stein,” 1906

 

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Kasimir Malevich, “Black Square,” 1915

Almost any work you can name by Francis Bacon affects me. A long time ago he had a huge retrospective at MOMA and I went two days in a row. The first day I felt it like a stomach ache.  The second day I could look at the paint.  He’s been my visceral favorite since high school and if it had been possible (which I found it wasn’t) my intention would have been to be to paint in large raw swathes and splatters and strokes like he did or in even thicker layers like Vincent Van Gogh.  When I was a kid I remember waiting for the museum guard to wander into the other room so that I could fit my finger into a brushstroke groove in the bottom corner of one of his oils ( I think it was Wheatfield with Crows)  and  felt an electric thrill I’ll never forget……….and yes, I do now realize that I will burn in art hell forever for that.

Q.           What are you trying to communicate in your paintings? What do you want people looking at your work to think about and feel?

Julie Speed.        I’m not trying to communicate. I’m trying to solve a puzzle that is visual first and narrative second.  The elements are color, form, line, texture, bits from the news, light from the windows, what I just saw in the street or in a tree when I walked to town to get the mail, a book, a phrase, a shadow and a thousand other small observations, so many that I could never count them or quantify them but they all occur and combine in the present.  It’s a puzzle for me now while I’m working on it and it takes every bit of concentration to get the work right.  As a practical matter it wouldn’t be useful to me to try to factor in my guess about how someone else would think or feel about it at some future time.  It’s hard enough to tune out my own inner bullshit.

Q.           In the past, you have said there are no objective meanings in your works: you expect different viewers to produce different – equally legitimate – meanings. But, given your use of repeated symbols and images, do you think you are attempting to communicate certain meanings, thoughts and perspectives to those viewing your works? In other words, are all interpretations of your work equally legitimate and, if not, why not?

Julie Speed.        I do use certain images over and over but I’m not deliberately embedding symbols in some kind of code.   I repeat certain images because they’re useful compositionally or simply because I like to paint them.

However, while I don’t know exactly how or why, I do know that if I get the composition and content balanced just right then the work will sometimes strike a chord in another person – not in most people of course, just a few….but when that happens I like to hear what it is that they thought or felt.

It’s certainly just as valid and often way  more interesting to me than my own thoughts because I’ve already thought my own thoughts – they’re no longer new to me.

Once in a blue moon I’ll paint something that I absolutely want to be seen the way I want.  The Grand Dragon Crossing the River Styx on his Way to Hell from 1989 is the one that comes most readily to mind.  But I think the title kind of gives it away.

Sometimes it’s just what cracks me up.  Right now I’m working on an oil painting that’s a total rip of Hokusai’s Pearl Diver and Two Octopus shunga squid porn.

Q.           Do you feel the quote below by Odilon Redon, in which he describes the purpose of his art, is applicable to your own work? Why or why not?

“My drawings inspire and are not to be defined. They determine nothing. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous world of the undetermined. They are a kind of metaphor.”

 

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Odilon Redon, “The Smiling Spider,” 1881

Julie Speed.       I hope so, and yes, while I rarely get there my aim is always to find that certain arrangement that takes me for a moment behind the veil.

Francis Bacon expressed something similar in an interview with David Sylvester “…..one wants a thing to be as factual as possible and at the same time as deeply suggestive or deeply unlocking of areas of sensation other than simple illustration of the object that you set out to do? Isn’t that what all art is about?”

Kasimir Malevich called it “the supremacy of pure artistic feeling.” The Supremacist’s aim was to make a work of art which would evoke an emotion unrelated to the figurative content of the work by using strictly geometric forms.   I totally agree with that aim. I just want to be able to do it using other types of figures also.

Sometimes it’s hard to separate out what is and what isn’t.  It’s my experience that not reading the wall text until after you’ve seen the work helps.

 

 

An Interview with Julie Speed: Part III

December 14, 2012 

Julie Speed’s Reflections on the Creative Process

 

This is the third and final part of our interview with artist Julie Speed.  In this installment, Speed gives an illuminating look at her creative process.  

Q.           Can you describe the time you first realized that you needed to have a creative career?

Julie Speed.        My first career choice was caveman, my second choice was pirate. Art was my third choice after pirate so I was too young to remember the decision.

Q.           You have previously said that your ideas come to you fully formed (often in the bathtub) and that your works are not the product of design or premeditation.  Would you agree with Francis Bacon that “chance and accident are the most fertile things at any artist’s disposal” or are there times when planning and calculation do enter into the creative process?  Can creativity be directed?

Julie Speed.        Well, “fully formed” was probably a very bad choice of words.  The time between when I finish the last piece and start a new piece is difficult. I’m cranky and out of sorts.

Then – and it’s usually when I’m doing something relaxing like taking a bath or walking to town to get the mail – a “way in” will present itself. It’s hard to describe it. Sometimes it’s just a couple of shapes, sometimes it’s actual figures but mostly – well, this is very difficult to describe exactly – it’s like – not literally but inside my brain – there’s  a blank wall with no door and then suddenly there’s a door where there wasn’t one before.

As I’ve gotten older and better it’s much easier for me to find the way in because I’ve trampled that path so many times before. Also living out here in the big empty quiet gives me long stretches of uninterrupted thought. Makes connecting the dots much less difficult.

Yes, chance and accident definitely play a part.  Rather than the usual trip and splash kind of accident, however, mine are mostly accidents of the eye. I’ll catch sight of a smashed bug on the wall or a news photograph or bit of paper or discarded shingle or light hitting a door a certain way and go from there.

The starting point for Snug Harbor  (2012 oil) was this Toulouse-Lautrec lithograph, Cycle Michael which was in an ancient print catalog that happened to be on the floor of the bathroom several years ago.   I found this image again to send you because I thought it would explain something…. but now that I’m looking at the two images together I’m not so sure.

 

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, “Cycle Michael,” lithograph, 1896

 

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Julie Speed, “Snug Harbor”

 

Q.           Do you ever abandon inspirations in the process of translating them into art?  Do you revise or edit your inspirations as you work?

Julie Speed.        Yes, continuously.  It is the essential nature of how I work. Each element that I add or take away changes the color and spatial relationships between all the other elements so the solution is a constantly moving target.  That’s why it’s never boring. Otherwise I could just think a thought and then hire someone else to paint a picture of it and with all that spare time I would probably drink myself to death. 

 

Q.           What creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have?

Julie Speed.       The oil paintings take a very long time. I can only do about 6 or 7 a year even though I work constantly so I can’t wait around to be in the mood.  I keep a pretty strict schedule that only varies with the seasonal needs of the garden and the light. I occasionally take road trips to find collage material but I’d always rather be in my studio than anywhere else.

Because of the drying time involved between layers I’ll usually work on two, or sometimes three oils at a time so many months will go by and by the time I'm through I need a mental/visual perspective shakeup so I'll move over to the collage room and cut and paste there for a month or two or maybe go on a drawing or printmaking jag.  Sometimes I'll combine the three. Gouache also. It mostly depends on what I need to  learn.  When I'm not in the studio almost everything else I like to do (gardening, rock-work, cooking, drawing building plans) relates to what I'm doing in the studio anyway so my thoughts aren't so much interrupted as moved over a notch. 

 

Q.           You have been described as being in “the vanguard of a return to figurative painting in contemporary art.” Would you like to see figurative painting regain some of its former preeminence?  What do you think was lost when figurative painting fell out of vogue?  What do you think figurative work, specifically, contributes to art?

Julie Speed.        There are certainly just as many badly done figurative paintings as works done badly in any other style or media so I’m not looking to be the poster child for a return to figurative painting if it’s the same old thing, “which kind of art is better, _________or __________?”  It’s the wrong question and it’s always been the wrong question.

I think what the practice of figuration contributes to art is that if you learn to draw then if you want to draw something realistically you are able.  The same is true for abstract drawing. There’s a mathematical precision to composition.   If you take a handful of shapes and arrange and rearrange them on a closed plane it will be wrong a thousand times until it’s right.

Q.           How would you like to see the art world change in the near future?  You once said that, currently, “The accepted endeavor of ‘cutting edge’ art was to address/rebuke/engage the other ‘cutting edge’ art immediately preceding it. Popular culture reflecting popular culture reflecting popular culture and to properly surf the art world’s cutting edge if you really just had to paint a thing you had to paint it ironically.”  Aside from wanting to see the postmodern aesthetic lose some of its hegemony, how do you want to see art and art creation evolve in the coming years?

Julie Speed.        I’d like artists to aspire to something less shallow than fame. I’d like museums to be able to afford to stop pandering.  I’d like all the commodity traders to leave art alone and go collect stamps.

 

 

A Conversation between Julie Speed and Lisa Hatchadoorian

from  JULIE SPEED - SNUG HARBOR: A SURVEY OF WORK 2007-2012 CURATED BY LISA HATCHADOORIAN

LONGVIEW MUSEUM OF ART 2012-2013, NICOLAYSEN ART MUSEM 2013

LH: I am fascinated by the idea that visual artists have a conversation within a lineage that is hundreds of years old and through many cultures. It seems a very primal connection when you find visual elements or techniques in an older artist’s work that you can apply to the here and now. Can you speak to that visceral artistic connection throughout time?

JS: The universe is vast and mysterious. Our brains are small and dim. The central riddle of being human is that we know just enough to be aware of how much we don’t know. The only thing that we know for certain is that we will die. This is the universal monster in all of our closets. In the same way that math and science are an attempt to understand the mystery, I think art is an attempt to give it form. My feeling is that at some point these goals intersect. Not that all artists in all centuries have the same aim – not at all – but when I feel strongly drawn to a work of art, no matter what medium or form, the work I feel connected to across time is that which gives shape to that riddle.

LH: Does the way that you paint and the specific compositions ever influence how you see the world? As an example, I went through the Andreas Gursky exhibition at MOMA a couple of years ago. After being surrounded and saturated by the immense detail, size and color of those super-large photographs, I found, as I walked outside the museum, I saw the world through his photographs for at least a couple of hours. My vision had been completely changed through his.

JS: Yes, definitely. It’s a constant in my life and it flows both ways; the way I paint influences how I see the world and most other kinds of work I do influence how I paint. When I’ve been painting with umber I notice umber everywhere. When I’m laying a rock path, the puzzle of how to fit the rocks together by color, shape and texture is exactly the same type of puzzle as collage, so each teaches me about the other. When I cook, I cook by color and so the colors of the vegetables show up in my paintings and what I plant next in

the garden is determined by what’s going on the in the kitchen and the studio. Whether you’re viewing art in a museum or noticing rocks in a particularly nice rock wall it’s all about paying attention and applying what you’ve seen to what you see next.

Making it move, making it monumental, making it personal, making it red, making it expensive, making it “transgressive”, making it explode, etc. are all methods that artists have used throughout time to make people pay attention. I prefer the weight of small things because “in detail” is the way I see the world.

LH: You seem equally at home in so many different mediums (oil painting, collage, gouache, drawing and etching). What do each of them allow you to do? Are the other mediums in service to the paintings or avenues of expression in their own right?

JS: Just as other work informs art and vice versa, I think that work in one medium helps me see more clearly in the next. The oils take a month or two to finish so I can only do about six or seven a year. Collage not only gives me a break from the extended concentra- tion that the oils demand but also provides a perspective shakeup that helps keep my vision from getting stale.

LH: In one of the essays written about your work, you are described as having a “Gothic imagination informed by contemporary ex- perience.” (Essay by Barbara Rose, Julie Speed: Iconoclast) I think this gets at the heart of what is so compelling about your work- the aspect of the absurd, next to the everyday, next to casual violence. What draws you to that?

JS: I think that’s probably a good way to describe it but I don’t know the answer. My sense of the absurd is certainly ever-present. Maybe there’s a chip in the human brain that allows us to reconcile what seems illogical. I think my chip is missing. That’s probably the Gothic part. It’s also the part that makes my work funny I think. The contemporary part is the lack of fences. Across centuries and cultures, in the past the range of sanctioned representational elements an artist could use was limited by religious and/or political authority. You could argue that now art is dictated by fashion and money but it’s not analogous. No one throws you in a dungeon for flouting fashion or refusing money.

LH: Obviously, the narrative/storytelling element is primary in your work, but you also subvert a standard linear process by creat- ing ambiguity and questions within the viewer as well as open-ended interpretations. To me, it is that ambiguity and discovery that keeps me coming back as well as an intensely personal affinity and reaction to the subject matter and themes. Can you talk a bit more about the aspect of storytelling in your work?

JS: I think that when you say linear art, you’re talking about art that the viewer stands in front of, walks through, reads or listens to and is awed by, instructed by or entertained by according to the plan of the artist. Artist/pitcher. Viewer/catcher. The viewer is a re- ceiver of the artist’s “wisdom”.

If that’s the linear process, then I don’t set out to subvert it, it’s just not the way my mind works. Also, I have no wisdom to impart. The world to me is a constant riddle, sometimes funny, sometimes tragic. Making art is my way of trying to deal with it. While my paintings suggest stories that could happen, the collages, boxes and etchings vacillate between abstract and surreal. But neither provides answers for the viewer to receive. When I spend time in a museum today I see everything pretty much the same way I saw it as a child. Although I’m an avid reader, the narrative historical or religious content of a work of art has never had much impact on the way I viscerally experienced it. For me, it either worked or it didn’t work and my interest in it was always on that level first. Whether the pretty lady was really a princess or why the guy was nailed to the wooden cross were not burning need to know questions for me. The communication I felt from the long ago artist came through the painting itself, directly. It is the mystery and not the know- ing which interests me, both as a viewer and as a painter. Bill Traylor’s One Legged Man with Airplane, Francisco Goya’s Disparate Ridiculo and Kasimir Malevich’s Quadrilateral (The Black Square) all hit me in the same place.

LH: You have said that your images come to you fully formed. Do you ever reject any of them, work with some and can’t get it right, tinker? Is every one valid to you as it arrives?

JS: That statement was probably more true ten or fifteen years ago than it is now. I used to work more from the outside in and now I tend to work more from the inside out. While the ratios change, it’s always a combination of the two: bones and skin, skin and bones. Either way yes, I certainly tinker and reject infinitely more images than I ever use. As I’m working over the weeks and months that a painting is taking shape I sometimes remember to take photos just in case I get lost and can’t find my way back. I can show better than I can talk about it. These are some snaps I took while I was working on what later became “Fire Season”. You can see that the figures started out inside a room, then their numbers, sexes, weights, ages and positions changed, then they moved outside, then there were glaciers, then the chair became a dog and finally the glaciers turned to fire the year we had a bad wildfire season.

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Fire Season 2011 oil on panel -  fire, 24 x 36 inches.jpg

LH: Have you ever tried to channel real-life anxieties into your imagery bank and work through those emotions through the paintings and mixed media artworks?

JS: It’s hard to separate out what is deliberate and what is subconscious but as subject matter, my personal problems don’t interest me much. It’s the concentration involved in making the work that keeps the monsters out of my closet. When starting a new piece, shapes and lines lead the way. The subject matter then develops gradually as events, stories and thoughts drift in and out of my mind over the weeks of daily work. When the overall composition becomes clear, I then start concentrating on the interior compositional problems, each progressively smaller than the next - wiping out, changing and balancing representational and geometric elements as I go. That’s how the “narrative” develops. Quite often one of the interior compositional problems will cause me to go back to square one, so it’s back and forth, back and forth until a month or two into the painting, if I’m lucky, I’m perched on a chair with a magnifying hood on my head and the immediate composition might be two inches square. Then I flip the hood up, check how that composition fits within the painting then flip it down again and I’m back inside. It’s being inside and fully occupied by the work that keeps my anxieties at bay. Reactionary usually means simplistic. It’s the physical work itself that keeps me on an even keel, particularly when I can focus my entire attention.

LH: Can you talk a bit about communication in your work? There seems to be a lot of missed communication, mixed signals, people wrapped up in their own internal dialogues and not cognizant of dramatic things going on outside their windows. There are also elements of external communications with the audience. As if your characters are inviting us into their world with non-verbals and speaking to us in some way.

JS: Animals have an innate ability to follow the exact direction, angle and focus of another animal’s sightline, which makes invisible sightlines as useful as visible painted lines in constructing the composition of a painting. I never start a painting knowing which figures will have a sightline to which other figures either inside or outside the painting or whether the viewer will be included at all.
It all depends on how the composition develops. The angles of the limbs, the tilt of the shoulders and hips, all of these lines operate in the same way, first they tie the composition together (I think a lot in triangles) and then within the composition, the figures interact. I’ve found that if I try to impose a psychological narrative by deciding these things then the painting fails.

LH: Much of the interactions in your work come as the humans realize certain emotions about whatever situations they find them- selves in through your creative imagination. Do you consider yourself an astute judge of human nature- or does it just tend to come out in the imagery?

JS: I think that I have an irritatingly literal mind which makes it harder rather than easier for me to understand human nature.

LH: There seems to be a reoccurring thread of conflict in your work. Human to human, animal/human, nature/human. Even in images that feature solo portraits, there seems to be a whirlwind of internal conflict. What keeps you coming back to this again and again?

JS: The contrast between the perfect geometry of the universe and the lunacy of Man is irreconcilable in my mind. That’s probably why I keep painting it.