Jeremiah Maddock is a hard guy to pin down. Many have spoken of him as some sort of ghost- a shadowy figure that passes through bars and cafes with a suitcase full of muted drawings, and an unknown past. This legend surrounding the artist, who lives -most of the time- in New York City, creating richly patterned mixed media works populated with ghoulish creatures and tramps, is likely a product of his obvious lack of desire for external validation. It’s clear that Maddock, who has no personal website, maintains a very pure process; he is interested more in the act of creating -and the motivations behind such an act- than any finished product.
I caught up with Jeremiah in-between his extensive travels throughout the interior of the country. Read the interview after the jump, which includes the artist’s thoughts on steez-biting Mayans, art fairs with Josh Keyes in high school, and collaborating with the dead.
Images courtesy of the artist.
-Where are you from? What do you do all day?
I grew up in Tacoma, WA. Moved to San Francisco out of high school and stayed there for 10 years. Then up to Whidbey Island, WA. And the last 5 years in NYC.
All day- that is tuff to summarize. I have been out in the mountains for quite a while which is quite different from city life, aside from the staying in and drawing part. I would shoot guns with my brother and play music sometimes, much to everyone’s regret in the room. I really can’t play anything but love doing it. We would swim a lot in the Eel River, hiking and trying to capture photos of bears and mountain lions. Cooking, drinking and leading a pretty lazy country life.
In cities, well…. long walks to who knows where, drinking too much coffee and too much booze with friends… and of course a lot of drawing, which in general takes up the bigger portion of daily life.
-Why do you make art? What is your process like?
Making art has always been a big part of me even long before I was aware that I was making “art”. I pretty much can’t not make art; unless I’m expected to, which makes it hard for me to make anything I like. Even when there is no product to show for it, I’m always making something into something, in my head. The process in general is pretty organic- stream-of-conscious rants, in a way. It’s pretty rare for me to sit down and know what I’m going to do. And if I do know, I get bored really quickly and that thing goes to the trash. I just start, and if all goes well I can’t stop until I physically can’t do any more. Those are the best times for me, and I am addicted to that journey and exploration.
-When did you first start showing your work and what were the circumstances?
The first time was in high school with Josh Keyes in a street fair. I loved his paintings back then a lot… so when he asked me to set up with him I was really excited and extremely terrified of the whole thing. I was happy to discover last year that he is still painting and seemingly doing very well. I didn’t really show for a long time after that. It didn’t occur to me much to try and get shows, and when it did I wouldn’t know how to think about it. Still, I was always making a ton of stuff and friends would start making me do things with my work. Each showing would open new doors and that was how I ended up doing gallery shows.
-There is a reference in your work to folk and tribal art, but it doesn’t seem forced or trite. Do you consciously inject these elements into your work?
I wouldn’t say consciously, but I am moved by looking at a lot of stuff like that. I remember being down in Central America years ago and visiting a Mayan museum…. it freaked me out a bit. There was some sort of similarity [between the works in the museum and] what I was doing at the time, and I thought I was pretty original back then. But I started thinking that anyone who pays attention to the natural flow of things and is inclined to creating art will somehow reflect certain aspects of nature, catching frequencies and transcribing them in some way or another. I’m not sure if that made sense. It is something that still boggles my mind anytime I try to put it into words instead of lines.
-You often employ the use of strict patterns and repetition in your mixed media material; yet your style and line work come off as completely organic and human. What do you think about the contradiction between natural vs. artificial? How much of your art-making involves carrying out strictly natural inclinations, and how much becomes a process of manufacturing a product?
Natural vs. Artificial- I’m not sure what i think about that. I suppose it can be fun to combine them. Most of everything I do, I would say, is natural process. But there are things outside that I like to try and turn into [my own]. There have been times in the past where I was doing 4 or 5 solo shows in a year, and felt pressured to produce. Ideally, I would like to do 1 or 2 a year and feel solid with all the work. Commissions can tend to feel like manufacturing a product- someone saw something you did and want you to make them something for a price; it can make it really difficult to just let go and explore.
-What are five sources of inspiration you draw from in relation to your work?
Chasing the feeling I spoke about before, kind of going to another world for some hours; unusual circumstances, playful mischief, girls, music, wanting to understand myself and the world better, mad scientists, and traveling.
-If you could collaborate with one artist, living or dead, who would it be?
I’m not sure at all. I guess it would be fun to collaborate with a dead person.
-You work with a lot of found objects- cardboard, book covers, etc. What do you like about these materials?
For one, they are free usually. Which is nice for obvious reasons. Also they are not intimidating at all, like a 30-dollar piece of paper from the store. A lot of the stuff I work on was discarded by someone onto the street. You pretty much can’t go wrong there. You can only make it better than what it was going to be, so its easy trance out on.
-You often dress your figures in late-nineteenth/early-twentieth century garb. What’s behind this?
I’m not sure. For a long time, I have liked old antiques and weathered things. Also, I think it’s fun to try to put myself into something outside of myself. Or maybe, I’m collaborating with the dead.
-Finally, what’s next for you? Exhibitions, publications, etc.? And will we ever get a website out of you?
I’m making a hand printed limited edition book. They will all pretty much be the same, but each one will have an original drawing somewhere in the book. There might be another book as well, but for now that is just talk. Eventually, I will go to Estonia and do a series of lithographs in Tallinn.
Shows… yes, the next one is in Milano. As far as local stuff, yes… but I’m not sure where yet.
I guess I should learn to make a website one day. That question gets asked a lot. But I don’t know how to make one yet. I’ve had people offer to make them for me in the past, but generally I don’t think to act on it. But yes, probably, eventually, but by then there will probably be something cooler than websites [that we don’t yet know of].