Interview: Jered Sprecher Always Lies

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Jered Sprecher makes paintings that do not fit neatly into any category.  At first they look like geometric abstraction, but then you realize that there is something different about the surface, it’s brushy and the edges of the shapes aren’t dogmatically hard like other geometric paintings.  In his broader body of work there are images peppered in among the abstract elements, but the images are sort of soft pictures with interruptions, like paintings based on a faded calendar that was exposed to too much light in a hallway.  Sprecher’s paintings seem to accept the modern idea that paintings are things, that paintings are first and foremost flat sculpture.  This train of thinking says illusions are a kind of deception, which they are.  Modernism goes a little further by hinting that illusions are lies that are also moral defects.  This aversion to illusion brought us abstract artists like the evangelical Donald Judd, the graceful openness of Helen Frankenthaler, and the philosophical diagrams of Peter Halley.   Enjoying painting as a window into an illusory world is a “mistake” everyone made until the 1940s, when some smart people came along and told us to be careful about it.  Modernists say any artwork that hides its true nature is a metaphor for misunderstanding life in a bigger way.  Sprecher does not seem to completely buy the modernist talking points, and like a bad political surrogate goes off message on a Sunday talk show, saying “Yes, but…  I always lie!”

You can see Sprecher’s newest work in his show I Always Lie at Jeff Bailey Gallery in Chelsea until March 23rd.  Interview after the jump.

B/D: I Always Lie, the title you choose, seems to have something to do with tension between painting as image and painting as paint on a surface – the flat sculpture.  I was reminded of Picasso saying “Art is a lie that tells the truth,” and Rene Magritte’s paintings of an easel holding a painting of a landscape in front of a window that frames an identical landscape.  There is some element of error in any communication that could be viewed as a lie, but painting in particular is obsessed with mimesis, playing the mimic.  Your work only mimics in ways that keep the idea of painting in the foreground.  What were you pointing towards with your title?

JS:  “I Always Lie” is known as the Liars Paradox. Basically if I am a liar and I say “I Always Lie” it presents a seeming paradox, because I just said something that is true.  Art, Painting, Life. They are filled with paradox. For me recognizing that as an inherent quality to painting was a liberating moment. I did not want to think of painting as an either / or situation. Painting is painting. A surface and an image engaging each other, there is a basic artifice to art and painting.  But that artifice is an extremely real thing.  If we think about errors in communication that take place within art. Those errors are often the result of friction or noise within the artwork, generative points embedded by the artist.

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B/D: A math professor I had would lecture that we cannot calculate the real area of a circle because we don’t know the full number pi.  We can only get finer and finer polygons to approximate the circle. That’s another kind of weird lie that I’m sure is everywhere.  I mean we don’t really know how big a circle is; we can only get really close.  That’s a pretty weird thought.  Jered you smoosh and brush geometric shapes, I always feel like they are sort of bruised ideas, do you identify with not knowing the exact area of the circle, or feel that ideas and systems of ideas are sort of squishy?

JS: I agree with both of them. My wife’s background is mathematics. So we get to have these discussions pretty regularly. Mathematics is based off of theory and much of it was discovered with no real world applications, only later do we find its uses. In regards to the geometric shapes, I like the idea of them appearing as bruised ideas. When I am painting it is like taking a geometric shape, pattern, or idealized picture for a long walk and see what happens.  Sometimes I trip and fall or it begins to rain. I have to deal with the results of those events.

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B/D: The formal qualities of an artist’s work sometimes hint towards their world view, to over generalize: hard-edge painters are often fanatics about some idea, lyrical abstractionists are often generally relaxed.  Your paintings feel like they start from a sort of extreme position, like a sharp triangle in a field of lines, and that a lot of what you do in the studio is walking that triangle towards something gentler.  Like your impulse is towards an extreme, but that you will the image to present something that recognizes complexity and empathy.  Am I even close?

JS: I often try to “paint myself into a corner”, by making a rash decision at the beginning of the painting and finding a way to exist with those early decisions. From this is often where the paradox or dissonance enters the work. Trying to see multiple solutions or ways out.  There is often a compromise of ideas or détente that occurs. Like trying to hold the painting in balance, but not trying in the sense of creating formal harmony. I want the paintings to teeter at the edge, holding on to the fissures that have opened up. Complexity and empathy are at the core. It is hard to say more than that. If there is an acceptance of complexity and willingness to empathize, that is a major accomplishment. It is hard to move around in the muck and the mire, but gray areas are reality and necessary.

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B/D:  The one painting with an obvious image in your current show, Memory Device, shows two adult doves and a baby in a nest area, and the image has these little rectangles floating over the surface.  For some reason the term “softened picture” came to mind when thinking about Memory Device.  The image presents itself as definitely being painted, it’s very brushy, and then there are those little gray rectangles, which interrupt the image, and they really make it into a painting.  What were you thinking about with this painting?

JS: Memory Device started by looking at the cover of a photo album that my parents had when I was young. I always thought that image was beautiful and haunting, as much about the nest embedded in the cliff, the water in the distance, and the two adult pigeons/doves staring out of the picture, all within a compact image. I told myself I should leave that image alone and not paint it, but I couldn’t leave it alone. The little gray rectangles entered at the end as a way for me to feel my way around the painting, to chart it and mark its surface. Placing those rectangles was a way of turning off the sound of the sea and the shore.


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B/D: Painting is generally ocular-centric, but your paintings reference touch.  In particular I’m thinking about texture.  Also, as a fellow painter, your brush work inspires motions like “air guitar” where I move my hand in the motion I imagine your hand dragging the brush through the paint.  It inspires that deep physical reaction that doesn’t carry a meaning per se, but has a feeling, the speed and intensity are registered and felt by whoever looks at the paintings.  How do you think about texture, does it carry meaning like an image or shape might carry a meaning?

JS: Certainly, I want the paintings to register varied haptic experience. That the viewer has a kinetic reaction of trying to understand how paint has been applied. That is part of the intelligence of painting, whether you are looking at Giorgio Morandi, Joan Mitchell, or Julie Mehretu. The touch present or absent in a work of art is central to that work of art. For quite a while I thought of my paintings as having different hands or voices present in them. While I am working in the studio now, I do not think of that as much, but it still affects my decision-making.  When I think of touch that is made present, I always picture my grandmother’s handwriting with its elegant yet restrained cursive line and the slight tremor of age rocking each letter.

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B/D: Back to texture, in a world where we all increasingly interact with high-def flat screen devices, I think we become more aware of texture when presented with a surface that is made by hand.  The flatness or brushyness of the painting becomes apparent in a more forceful way, and it asserts itself almost like a second image.  Do you think about the context of images your viewers are immersed in, or is your process more a long-term evolution that has just ended up at a place where there is this tension between flatness and texture?

JS: You cannot deny the pervasive presence of screens and the images and information that moves across them.  We also love to stare at things that emanate light. Moon, fire, television, smart phone.  Though I know my paintings have texture, I think in terms of a record of touch. The presence of material, oil paint, in varied states is so different than the flat screen with the flow of information. The paintings offer a concurrent sensation of touch and sight and the challenging endeavor of wrestling with a static object.