Jered Sprecher says something about painting. As Sprecher speaks, just underneath my skin, the blood starts dancing. Pulsing its ruby hips along to a great horn section, a mildly panicked Bossa Nova heartbeat. This is circa 2001, and Jered is a year or two ahead of me at the college we were at, and he was thoughtful about painting. He thought about the surface, and he thought about abstraction. He thought about what painting meant to other people. On the other hand, my education was from the school of immaturity, famous for using the word vomit and bad jokes in poor taste. I learned from him, and began to look seriously at paintings as more than an image. Today, Jered’s paintings are even stronger evidence of his thoughtfulness and clarity of vision.
Sprecher’s new paintings combine abstraction with imagery. Some of the images are based on variations of a single photograph of three pigeons or doves. When painting, Sprecher worked on some of the pieces with a process of moving from top left to bottom right, the same method a dot matrix printer uses, and other paintings used a more intuitive method of layering paint. The human, the machine, the image, and the abstraction live together in this wor/k/ld.
Jered Sprecher has a solo show, Half Moon Maker, at Steven Zevitas Gallery in Boston. The show is up until May 10th, 2014. All photos courtesy of Steven Zevitas Gallery. Below you can find an interview with Jered about his newest paintings.
B/D: Jered if someone took a quick look at your paintings they might walk away with the idea that you are an abstract painter. I think what you are doing is more complicated. Your project does not seem to be ideological, but rather metaphysical. When I look at your paintings, I see someone asking big questions, trying to figure out life. Metaphysics, the way I am using it, means the study of what can be understood. In the best way, I think that you never stopped dreaming like a little kid. Can you respond to that?
Jered Sprecher: When I am working on a painting, I am pushing it toward being a concrete object, yet I want it to maintain poetic possibilities. As I look at a painting, even a line within that painting is evocative of an emotion or thought. This line resembles something in the physical world. It is at peace being a line, yet wants to be more than that. We are animals built to search for meaning in objects, to create images, to speak words, to contemplate, to affect change. As an artist working with painting, I find it holds infinite possibilities. That is what keeps me “dreaming”, searching, and grasping for things that are in plain sight, and yet just beyond reach. It is interesting that you mention metaphysics. I think of the surface of a painting as a chalkboard at which we hash out meaning, problems, pose questions, rephrase those questions, and even bang our heads against the board. This requires thinking and feeling empathy for what is present in that work of art and by extension the world around us.
B/D: What a great response. Maybe we could dig further by thinking about language. In this case, I guess that the language is the rules of painting, and what they mean to people who understand painting’s history, or very clever, intuitive people who bother to find contemporary art, like many of the readers on B/D. For the purposes of this discussion let’s assume a language is a symbolic system of representation which can be recombined to form new meanings. If you have been introduced to any branch of modern thinking, then an abstract painting carries a meaning as clearly as a photorealistic painting. The meaning is directed by the symbols, the symbol could be the way the paint is applied, or the color scheme, as opposed to the meaning in an image based work, which is an iconographic symbol. In your case you’ve decided to work in a hybrid language, like Creole or Spanglish. When I was a soldier in Afghanistan we all learned pigeon Afghani, which combined American English, Afghani (Pashto), and some Russian. You are combining the meaning systems of abstraction and imagery, and you used the pigeon as the image. Is that a coincidence? Or, if that’s not interesting, can you respond to any of the hybridity of your visual thinking within my language metaphor?
JS: I like the idea of this hybrid language, built out of necessity, at first clunky and awkward, but extremely fluid by its own nature. This hybrid language also uses rules and logic, yet has to break them as two or more languages are combined and recombined. My looking and working in the studio is dependent upon abstraction and imagery. This can be looking at specific examples like Agnes Martin’s “Untitled #1”, 2003, that shows two large black triangles; Mary Cassatt’s “Mother and Child”, 1890; or even tar smeared on the road by a repair crew. Each of these has a language or at the very base a function to it.
Often times, once an object is named or identified in a painting, we stop seeing the artwork and our minds wander and make associations. There is also “blindness” where only the formal and descriptive is considered and the essence of the artwork, its own thinking and feeling is stripped away in the process. The experience of each painting should incorporate a hybrid seeing/thinking and calling upon different languages.
The pigeon image I used for the paintings was on the cover of my family’s photo album from the 1980’s. I have been pondering what to do with it for quite some time. The family photos were moved to a nicer album at some point, but I decided to hold on to the empty album with the pigeons on the cover. Several years ago I started think of how Pigeons and Doves are basically interchangeable types or names. Pigeons are tied to the everyday and not considered very special (except when extinct or cared for by someone on a rooftop). A Dove is a more poetic name for the pigeon, and used more symbolically constituting peace, innocence, even beauty. I really wanted to wrestle with this image, which haunts me because it is both ordinary and extraordinary.
B/D: Let’s generalize. Abstraction is Platonic. What is important about abstract painting is an idea. That idea may or may not correspond to experience. Abstract painting holds thought in the highest regard. On the other hand, Image based painting is Aristotelian. One of Aristotle’s lesser known achievements is that he classified animals according to how they reproduced, famously noticing that a whale has babies and not eggs, therefore a whale is a mammal and not a fish. He was concerned with reality. What is important about image-based painting is two-fold, on one hand the image references the physical world, in some ways similar to a photo, on the other hand an image can function as a symbol. In your painting, you walk the tightrope between the image and the thought. In your paintings the pure idea and the messy symbolic coexist. You must draw material from both “pure” ideas and compositions, and things you see that you like. What is the relationship between abstraction and image in your work?
JS: Much of what drives my work is looking at things made by other human beings and the urge to communicate embedded in those objects. The world that surrounds us is filled with objects and images that are designed, marked, built, reorganized, framed, and edited. These images and ideas are human constructions. They are ways of mapping, knowing, and manipulating the world in which we live.
The abstraction present in my work is tampered with. It is not pure. The representation wants to see another. Pure and messy.
B/D: How do you begin a painting?
JS: I begin a painting in one of two ways. The first is finding an image or object that is a starting point, like a discarded photo, a broken sign, a quilt, or an on-line advertisement. This starting point is made by another person and I use the object or image as a touchstone to refer to as I begin to paint. I do not to replicate it, but wrestle with it, to try and understand it. At first the painting will echo the shapes, patterns, colors present in that initial object or image, but then it begins to veer away, stumble, defy, and reinvent itself.
The second way that I approach a painting is more like feeling around in the dark. It involves me scraping, scrubbing, dabbing, wiping, and pouring paint onto the canvas. I am making a painting as if I am feeling around in the dark, my hands continually trying to grasp something solid to hold. That thing to hold onto might be a remnant of geometry or a shadow, but what it does is stops me and allows the painting to solidify for a moment.
Painting is a way to hold an image or idea in my mind and try to comprehend it.
B/D: Does beauty enter into your work?
JS: Yes. It is impossible to measure, but it is something that is longed for.
B/D: Beauty is one of the most dangerous ideas I think. Identifying a standard of beauty goes against all post-modern thought. On the other hand I cannot help myself. I am always searching out the beautiful. In your work there is a searching, it might be for beauty, or it could be for some other thought-form you think about. Can you talk about beauty? Does it have a place in your paintings?
JS: To talk about beauty is dangerous. Beauty by definition can be a combination of shape, color, and form that please. That is not a very rewarding definition. It is dangerous because we want to doubt our senses. It is dangerous because it is construed with moral or ethical rightness. Beauty is used to objectify, to dehumanize. In casual conversation you might refer to something as beautiful. There is beauty that has been forgotten, there is beauty that is yet to be recognized. The instances of “beauty” that are most profound for me stem from an unexpected realization, complexity, surprise outcome, puzzling the intellect, and the immensity of experience.
When I work I want to create paintings that surprise, paintings that can hold competing ideas but not contain them.