THE BRILLIANCE! > Josh Keyes….good morning/afternoon/evening, how is everything going for you at this moment?
JOSH KEYES! > Hi Benjamin, I doing well, I am busy working on my last body of work for 2007. The work is for a two person show I doing at the Limited Addiction Gallery in Denver this October. The other artist I will be showing with is Oliver Vernon.
TB! > We always ask…what did you have for breakfast? Would you have it again?
JK! > Oatmeal with milk and a pinch of brown sugar, and coffee, without my morning coffee I would sleep walking.
TB! > So Josh Keyes both the artist as well as the person. Tell us and everyone else about yourself. Long or short…just don’t copy-and-paste some bio or whatever.
JK! > I was born and raised in Tacoma Washington where it is green, overcast, and seemed to be always raining. Growing up, I was inspired by the natural formations of the landscape, Mount Rainer, the water and forests. There were times as a teenager when I would try to get lost in the forest, I think it came from a desire to be engulfed or surrounded by the unknown, and escape from cement and roads. The legends and stories of the Pacific Northwest Native Americans I read when I was younger, had a strong influence on my imagery and narrative roots. I enjoyed the stories and characters found in the creation myths and the animal legends.
As a child, I was always making or drawing things. Both of my parents are artists so the choice to pursue art as a serious profession was encouraged. I had decided around the age of eight or nine that I wanted to work on special effects for film. This decision evolved from my love of science fiction and fantasy films that I saw while growing up. I remember coming home after seeing the Dark Crystal and creating an entire set in miniature, based on one of the scenes from the film. I spent hours sculpting the characters out of colored modeling clay; they had a tremendous amount of detail. As time passed my interest in special effects and film transferred to two-dimensional art. I became more interested in painting and drawing, especially the challenges of perceptual painting, and became fascinated with art history. I still feel connected to my early beginnings and in some way feel that my work has shed some of the academic influences I picked up in art school. I feel that the strength of the work is based in the narrative potential, I am interested in telling stories that have a play and mystery to them much like the Native American stories and legends. The challenge I take on in my work is the fusion of surreal or dystopian imagery to reality.
TB! > Do you have any formal school/training in painting? Do you think schooling is important?
JK! > Some of the best years of my life were spent at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. To be in an environment for four years, surrounded by people who are passionate about everything art is an amazing experience. I dabbled in everything, kinetics, sound, video, sculpture, and at one point was seriously thinking of pursuing performance art. The instructors at SAIC were amazing, each one had their own unique way of teaching and a critiquing work. It was after taking a figure drawing class from Dan Gustin, a painting instructor at SAIC, and a color theory class from Elizabeth Rupprecht that I found my calling in painting and drawing. I had one of those “Aha!” moments. The experience was as if my eyes turned into a laser, everything I saw was in terms of painting, line color mixtures, harmonies. I remember riding home on the “L” after class, and looking out the window seeing every building, tree and cloud, and thinking of what colors to mix to achieve that color.
I still reflect and refer to the majority of lessons, training, and experience I received at SAIC.
Four years later, after developing a body of work based on a family tragedy, I decided it was time to go to graduate school. I originally wanted to study with Jerome Witkin, who teaches at Syracuse University, I thought and still think his subject matter and technique are arresting. I also applied to Yale, because that is were a few of my favorite painting instructors from SAIC went to graduate school. I had a sense that the reason they were so effective as instructors and artists had to do with their experience at Yale. Fortunately I was accepted into the painting program at Yale.
The two years I spent at Yale remain in my memory, one of the most challenging and difficult times of my life. It was a rigorous program, and fiercly competitive. The critiques are not for the faint of heart. They used to have, in the old art building, a room called the “pit”. This was a large communal space, and during final critiques transformed into a crowded, open to the public, lion’s den.
In brief, you find out what you are made of, you are confronted by an amazing group of faculty and visiting artists who ask you point blank about every aspect of your work, studio practice, conceptual ideas, and push you to your limits. In retrospect, I am glad that I survived the two years at Yale. It was a sweet and sour experience for me but I feel that it helped me to shed the clutter and fuzz that was obscuring and clogging my concepts. To answer your question, I think an art education is not necessary, I do think it can help in terms of developing an understanding of what it is you want to achieve. I think that developing personal technique and is crucial to any young or new artist. It is not always necessary to attend a four-year fine art college, or even go to grad school. I think it is very helpful to receive some kind of constructive criticism of your work and to learn a few basic rules of studio practice. The most important thing, which cannot be taught, is your drive and passion to do what you enjoy and to sustain a fascination of the crazy, beautiful world.
TB! > Your work is amazing. I’ve actually had a few people describe it as bizarre and creepy. I guess I would kind of agree…but it’s those things in a good way. How would you describe your work?
JK! > Thank you. The work is bizarre and creepy, that is how I feel about the world these days. The ideas behind the work are a combination of personal experiences and public, political, environmental concerns. Many pieces/images are like pages from a diary, others are direct response to the headlines in today’s newspaper. Sometimes these ideas fuse into a singular expression. An example would be the recent series of paintings I made titled “Sleeping”. The paintings are a gut response to a number of articles I have recently read on the topic of global warming and the devastating effect it is having on the polar bear population due to the melting ice and gradual disintegration of the bear’s hunting grounds. I find this terrifying, and it made me very sad. At the time I was developing this idea, I received news that a friend of mine had passed away. I was struck by an idea of a sleeping polar bear lying peacefully at the bottom of the ocean. For me the idea and imagery brings together both of these concerns and gives expression to the feelings I have.
My work continues to evolve and grow and echo’s the events in my life and in the world around me. I think of the work as an imaginary world or story that is based in reality. The work appears to me toy-like, with Rube Goldberg moments. The surrounding whit space serves for me a place where you can breathe and work with the imagery and information in the painting. They are images to be thought about, not in terms of a mathematical problem, but in terms of poetry, something that never closes and remains open to interpretation. I hope that answers your question.
TB! > Do you consider your work to be really stark? Both in its actual look as well as its message?
JK! > It is stark. I think it is a result of looking at so much Baroque painting, and minimalist sculpture, with a little Samuel Beckett to top it off. You might not think of Baroque painting as stark, it seems full, full of space and atmosphere, but if you look, there is hardly anything there. I am thinking of Caravaggio, if you see a negative image of a painting of his, all the black dark areas become white. I think it is interesting to think of space, full and empty in relation to color and information. I think of the recent maps of the universe, how much of it is empty. It is a psychological issue and in the end comes down to personal interpretation. I feel that my work is full and complete, though many feel it is empty and should be filled. I feel that I have a long road of work ahead of me so I may investigate other options, if I do fill the space or change the structure or dynamic in my work it will come out of necessity and will only serve to add expression and meaning to the concepts and ideas. I feel that if I were to extend the imagery to the edge of the canvas, it would be a conformation that this is an alternative world, a window of escape, and a believable world that one could step into. The tension between what is real and what is fictitious is very important to the work. I feel that the clinical, white space helps to objectify the subject matter, to release it from conventional storytelling and calls attention not only to the subject matter but also to the way in which we perceive and think about objects and the world around us. Perception itself becomes an active character in the work.
TB! > What is the desktop image on your computer?
JK! > Nothing too exotic, I think of the desktop like a canvas or drawing surface, so I keep it simple. I have the apple solid color selection that changes every few hours. I used to have some wacky images on my desktop but it became difficult to find my files!
TB! > If you could own one piece of original art, price/availability didn’t matter, what would it be?
JK! > Good grief! Well, I already own a Duchamp; it’s in my bathroom. There are many artists whose work I love, and would love to own, too many to name. In honesty, there have been two paintings that have haunted me for years. One is Cezanne’s still life Basket of Apples; it’s hanging in the Chicago Art Museum. Picasso’s Woman Dressing Her Hair, and Philip Guston’s Sleep, oh one more, a Boli sculpture from the Mande people in Africa. Sorry that’s three. Is art your ‘full-time job’? Yes, for the past year or so I have been making a living from my art. I have worked in so many different jobs, teaching, retail, selling popcorn in a movie theater, house painting, digging ditches, selling questionable art at Costco, I get tired just thinking of all those jobs. After years of hard work, I am finally doing what I want to do. It still is hard work, but it’s the best hard work I have ever had, and I hope to continue this work for many years to come.
TB! > Star-gazing or sunsets? Mac or PC? Palm trees or pine trees? Europe or the Caribbean? Edamame or french fries? Blogs or magazines?
JK! > Star-gazer Mac Pine Trees Europe Edamame Blogs
TB! > Favorite music/musician right now? Do you listen to music when you work?
JK! > I used to listen to all sorts of music while I work, everything from old 80’s rock and new wave, to punk and world music. Now I tend to listen to audio books, I work many hours a day so I might start off with some funky music and then dive into a novel by Margaret Atwood or David Sedaris.
TB! > I’m always personally curious about this: When you ‘found’ your style, which is quite distinct, was it like an ‘eureka!’ moment?
JK! > Sort of, it didn’t happen all of a sudden, it was a gradual development that started about nine years ago, and involved a difficult period of letting go of what I was relying on and familiar with for something strange and yet necessary and clear. The “eureka!” moment came later when I realized that nearly everything that I had been drawn to visually my whole life had finally gelled. I have so many different interests, and I feel that my style or way of painting expresses best the way in which I think.
TB! > Would you lend your work to commercial usage or have you already? Do you, as a fine artist, have any hangups or boundaries with how you’d allow your work to be used?
JK! > Good question, it has only happened recently that folks have started to approach me in relation to using my work. So far the people I have worked with are using the work in an agreeable way, book covers, album covers, etc. So far, I have been enthusiastic about working with these people. As an image-maker, and basically a small business owner, I think exposure is very important. In time I am confident that I will make wise decisions in relation to the commercial use of my work. I am continuously learning about the business of marketing my art with each new experience.
TB! > What does your studio/office look like? Can we see a picture?
JK! > My studio is in our apartment, it is a small space and I may have to find a larger studio at some point down the road. But for now it is functional and I enjoy working at home. Yes you can see it.
TB! > What do you do when you find yourself in a creative or personal rut that affects your ideas or progress on your work? How do you ‘get away’?
JK! > I haven’t really been in that position. I t is usually the opposite end of the spectrum, too many ideas! Rut or no rut, I have a few dozen art books that I look through after a day of painting, there is always something new to see even in an old artist who’s work you can visualize with clarity with your eyes shut. Sometimes I will grab a few random books and just to see the art in a fresh new way, I will look at the book in a mirror or upsidown.
TB! > Favorite travel destination?
JK! > I don’t have one yet, every job I have had since now has not allowed me to make enough to take a nice vacation or allowed enough time for one. My girlfriend and I are planning to take a few trips around the California area after my October show at Limited Addiction. This year has been very busy, I plan to travel more next year. I would love to visit Greece and travel through Europe in the next year or two. There are so many paintings I would love to see in person.
TB! > What is your favorite logo of all time?
JK! > Hmmm, Sherwin Williams, cover the world in paint. My parents used to have an old antique metal sign from that company that I loved. Creepy but cool.
TB! > How many minutes on your mobile phone plan?
JK! > Um, enough I hope.
TB! > Any closing thoughts? Thank you’s? Other artists you want to ‘shout out’? Random thoughts? Anything thats on your mind right now goes well here.
JK! > A big thanks to the folks who have shared their comments and feedback with me, and who have supported my work. If it were not for them I would not be doing what I love to do. A shout out to the amazing students I taught at the Oakland school for the Arts, I am extremely proud of their achievements and wish them continued success.
TB! > To close it out, had you ever heard of THE BRILLIANCE before we contacted you for the interview? Be candid, what do think about us?
JK! > Yes I have heard of THE BRILLIANCE! I try to check out a number of different art and culture sites and blogs each week, and for the past year or so, I have enjoyed the unique features and diversity on the site. I don’t have a lot of time to find out what’s happening or searching for interesting websites, THE BRILLIANCE solves that problem for me. Keep up the great work!
TB! > Thanks for your time, Josh!
JK! > Thanks Benjamin! I really enjoyed the interview, great questions!
Cheers, and best of luck to you.