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Home FEATURES Josh Keyes Interview

Josh Keyes Interview

Written by Van Edwards   
Monday, 06 November 2006 06:38
This Yale graduate is new to the Bay Area and is producing amazing work!

We've known of Josh's work for some time now, but man, in the last few months his work has really gotten so much more interesting in our opinion! Broken islands floating in space- technology and nature smashed together with the debris of human existence. Something about the confusion of raw nature and the ugliness of what man has created- but at the same time there's a unique beauty in that combination too... That's what's so refreshing about Josh's work- it's so simple and emotional. The simplicity and elegance of that is what makes his work so appealing... And it's with great pleasure that we bring this Oakland based artist to the site. -Van Edwards

Basic info. Age? Location? Hometown? Favorite drinking hole?

37. Oakland CA. From Tacoma WA. Favorite bar = The Albatross

Describe an average day for you.

I have a schedule I try to stick to, I try to put in at least 9 hours a day on making work. I am a bit of a homebody so I am either painting, drawing, or doing research. I love used bookstores, so when I take a break from work I looking for strange and odd images.

What do you do to pay the bills?

Paying the bills is difficult and will most likely always be a challenge. I have had many jobs after graduating from Yale. I tried to get a teaching position but the only teaching experience I had was a teaching assistantship at Yale, most colleges and universities require at least three years of non TA experience. The student loans cut deep into my monthly spending so it's a lot of good cheap food from Trader Joe's. I am finally making ends meet off the sale of my work. It has taken about 6 years to get to this point, I don't know how long it will last but I am working hard to stay afloat. Right now I go month to month.

Favorite gallery in SF?

I have not visited all of the galleries I have heard about, I need to get out to more and check them out. I am interested in and like the energy of : Needles and Pens - Luggage Store - Southern Exposure - Receiver Gallery - Andrea Schwartz

My exhibition experience with Susan O'Malley at the Hang Art Gallery has been fantastic, the consultants are passionate about the work and do a great job promoting the work, I have also enjoyed working with Sacha Eckes at 111 Minna.

Describe your process for creating a new piece of work.

Like most artists, I do a lot of research. I look at the imagery in campy old sci-fi movies, and enjoy looking through ancient textbooks from the 1940-70's. I feel like I am building a world, developing characters and planning events. I am often captivated by something I see on the street, signs, graffiti, animals, and human interaction. I like to work through these ideas in my sketchbook before I start a drawing or painting. Once an idea feels right I will start laying it out, working on the composition is the most exciting part of the process. The organization of the pictorial elements is a challenge. Trying to fill the space without actually filling it. I find the compositions of Cezanne, Jaques Luis David, Caravaggio, and Piero Della Francesca very inspiring. I like to orchestrate the angles and visual elements so that the viewer's eye moves continuously through the work.

Once I have laid in the pictorial framework, I begin filling in areas of solid color with water color or gouache, then I begin adding all of the detail work. Though I was taught to paint from life, my work is not. It is a challenge to figure out the arrangement and color of the shadows, to make sure that all of the colors exist in the same light. Painting from life in the past helps me with these elements. One saying I remember from a figure painting class " A light in the dark is lighter than a dark in the light". I have many objects on my drawing table that I use as a reference, geometric forms, plastic containers, and scraps of material. Some folks have asked if I use the computer as a tool to lay out my designs. I think it would be a good tool for developing my work but I don't have any experience with the drawing programs. At some point I may experiment with the computer, but I think I would miss the drawing process.

There are a lot of animals in your paintings. Which is your favorite to do and why?

I enjoy using North American wildlife in my work. I feel that animal imagery still holds a sense of mystery, and can evoke feelings and emotions in a different way than the human figure. I have always enjoyed the use of personification in the work of artists. It is a way of stepping outside human perception, in doing so it calls attention to the human condition without depicting a human figure.

I am developing a cast of characters in my work to inhabit the fragmented landscape. The animals have a personal meaning for me. They often stand for people or events in my life. The rabbit is a recurring animal, it is the alert and frantic quality that interests me. The wolf and hyena have played a part in my earlier work, they can be seen as threatening as Disney and fairy tales have depicted them or as helpless and overshadowed by urban sprawl and human encroachment.

What is the purpose of the islands in your work?

I don't think of them as islands, though they read that way. The diagrammatic quality of my work refers to the human gaze, similar to the idea of the male gaze, it sees and takes in only what it wants to see or desires to see. The model I am using is the scientific gaze or perception. Things seen in quantity separate from the whole. A laboratory where animals, ecosystems, humans, are reduced to objects. It is a minimal playing field and something that stems from my interest in Samuel Becketts plays like Waiting for Godot, and the theater of the absurd. Though I am tempted at times to fill the entire space, I find that the minimal stage set helps to focus the attention on the narrative. I also use the minimal and segmented landscapes to bring clarity to a very complex word of events. It is a way of quieting down information. I would like to create some sculptures at some point. I have a strong fascination with the dioramas in natural history museums, they are magnificent installations.

What type of music do you listen to while working if any at all?

I used to be heavy into punk, Bad Brains, Misfits, Cramps, Butthole Surfers, Die Kreuzen, The Germs, DRI, JFA, Cheetah Chrome Motherfuckers. Then I became interested in odd stuff like Throbbing Gristle, Current 93, Sleep Chamber, Non, and Neubauten, I liked the intensity an monotony of the music and sounds. This lead me to minimalist music like Steve Reich, and our own bay area composer John Adams, and the Kronos Quartet. I also enjoy world music, the The Ramayana Monkey Chant and the Javanese Court Gamelan are pretty intense. I also enjoy soundtracks, and Joe Frank, something with a narrative, Anything that has intensity and keeps me in the moment when I work.

You got your masters at Yale. What would you tell a friend who was considering of going there?

Yale was intense. I made a heap of paintings that I eventually threw out. It is similar to a lot of other graduate programs. It is a competitive environment, and the critiques can be brutal. When I went, the graduate studios were tiny with poor lighting. They recently built a new art department building so I assume the studio spaces are better now. I am still paying back my student loans, It will take me about twenty years to be debt free again.

The program is similar to many grad school around the country. The main emphasis is on the development of your work. There are also other classes and electives you can take. I remember one class in particular. It was the Critical Issues class with Mel Bochner. He started the class off saying that if we were true artists we would go to New York instead of grad school. Another professor started the class saying they hoped we would all quit painting so they would become the most famous American artist.

The admission process was a bit stressful, you had to pack and ship about 10 current pieces of your work to the school. Then you would spend about 20 minutes with thee faculty members who would ask you questions about your work. At the time this was a unique admission process but now many school have similar admission requirements. The diversity of the graduate students work was a healthy mix of figurative, abstract, and conceptual.

There seemed to still be the old battle between figurative painting and abstraction, not among the students but with the faculty. Sometimes it was like a heavy weight boxing match during final critiques. The critiques took place in the "pitt", and it was open to the public. One thing I did not like about the critique process was that it consisted of the faculty discussing the work, students could not participate. I prefer the critiques I had as an undergrad at the Chicago Art Institute. At SAIC, students were encouraged to jump in and add to the discussion.

The best part about Yale was the opportunity given to the students to select the visiting artists for the year. We had Richard Tuttle, John Currin, Louise Bourgeois, Matthew Barney, Ross Bleckner and others. You could sign up for a studio visit with them. The school is not far from New York, so you can hop on a train and check out the museums and galleries.

I think there are a number of amazing graduate programs out there, Yale is just one. I have met a number of other artists who attended different school and in some ways their experience was less stressful and the criticism at the school was less of an attack and much more constructive.

To those who are interested in applying to a graduate art program, I recommend taking a few years to develop work you believe in, and research the faculty. It is important to find a few instructors who share a similar vision and aesthetic as your own. Be prepared to transform, the work you go in with will change dramatically. Most people who go to grad school are interested in teaching, so the degree helps, but teaching positions are hard to come by and it can be a very competitive process. If you are an artist who continually challenges yourself in your work and work hard to promote yourself through shows and exhibitions, grad school may be a waste of time. If you reach a certain level in your work where you get stuck or would like serious criticism, then grad school is a perfect choice. There are many successful artists out there who have never attended grad school who are doing just fine. If you do decide to go, be sure to check out the scholarships and other financial resources that are available. Someone who has helped me with my career is Alan Bamberger of Artbussiness.com. He will advise you on selecting galleries, pricing your work and getting you on the right track (they don't teach you that in school).

Prefer working at night or during the day?

Night Painter, like old Philip Guston, quiet, moon, dream time. I have tried working at the crack of dawn but the sounds of the world are distracting. I feel alert and intense when the sun goes down.

How and when did you first hear of Fecal Face?

I found Fecal Face about three years ago through a random art search. I thought the work and energy on this site was(is) unique, and raw. It is the place to find out what is happening. When I was teaching art history and painting to high school students a while back, this was on their list of sites to research. They love this site, and are strong admires of the artists and bands Fecal Face showcases.

Some Bay Area artists you're feeling right now.

Holy cow, there are so many, and I have to say, I found out about most of them through this site. I can't name them all. I am honored to live in an area where artists are pushing the boundaries and exploring new ways of working. I see many new ways of working that I think are exciting and promising. Folks working with installation, found materials, there seems to be a fascination with ornamentation, and obsessive mark making, and intensity. Profound and monumental but on a personal level, intimate. Personal mythology, and story telling. Funny, in a critique at Yale, Mel Bochner told a student that narrative and story telling in painting was dead and should only exist in children's books. I think he was wrong. It also seems that a new form of abstraction is emerging. hyper-minimalist. Again there is an urgency and intensity in the work I am seeing that is new, charged, and inspiring. The Bay Area Funk movement from the late sixties and seventies is back with a vengeance and bearing fangs. Sophisticated Art Brut.

Mode of transportation?

My feet, Bart, and occasionally car when delivering work.

Favorite magazine and candy bar?

I try to glance through every art magazine when they come out on the news stand. My favs: Juxtapoz - Art Forum - New American Paintings - Modern Painters

Candy bar? I don't eat that much candy but by golly the whatchamacallit is mighty tasty, anything nutty, it goes well with my personality. I recently discovered Garlic Golden Crackle at Trader Joe's, that stuff is addictive, and tastes even better if you say "Golden Crackle" with a southern accent.

How do you escape city life? personally I'm looking forward to this winter and doing some snowboarding in Tahoe. Man, it's pretty up there in the winter!

I enjoy hiking in Marin's parks, the zoo, and miniature golf. I have never snowboarded though it looks like fun. I could get some painting ideas from the snow covered environment.

What are you just over?

My last teaching job. I taught at Oakland School for the Arts for the past two years. The students were awesome, many could draw better than I could for their age. The school was becoming more of a performing arts school and they cut back on the visual arts program, so I decided to leave and put all of my passion and energy into my work. I have a feeling some of my students will be joining the Fecal face community down the road, amazing group of artists. They dig the artists on Fecal Face. I miss working with them.

What are you looking forward to, and speaking of the future, what are some projects you're looking forward to? Shows or whatever?

I am looking forward to showing my work and meeting more of the artists in the area. I have a few shows lined up, one is in February at the George Billis Gallery in LA. I will also be showing with fellow artist John Casey at the TAG gallery in Nashville TN in March. For those who don't know John Casey's drawings and sculptures, check out his site, he has a show coming up at the Receiver Gallery. He is working on an amazing piece for the window display.

Other than that I intend to continue participating in group shows in the Bay Area. There are a number of galleries and artists who I would enjoy showing with and meeting.

For more on Josh, check his site: JoshKeyes.net {moscomment}

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