Inside The Mind Of A Fine Art Original
♦ Jeremy Mann is an acclaimed American fine artist who has built up a reputation for a style that is both classical yet contemporary. His paintings of US cityscapes and female portraits have gained him a huge following worldwide. December saw the publication of his second at book, the mammoth Mann Vol.2 and Tripwire’s editor-in-chief JOEL MEADOWS just spoke to Mann about the new book and his current work…
TRIPWIRE: With your work being created on large canvasses, how do you feel about it being reproduced in books like Vol.1 and Vol.2?
JEREMY MANN: I think it’s as good as its gonna get for people who can’t possibly get to see the paintings in person. There should be no reason NOT to see paintings in person, that’s exactly how they were meant to be viewed, surrounded by the weight of the massiveness, or your nose within the intimate inches of a little piece, standing before the only existing one of its kind, in the exact footsteps of where the artist brought it to life. Anything else isn’t doing the painting, or you, any justice. In these days of digital drudgery and the instant and insufficient spread of images of art, it’s easy to lose sight of this. I’ve made it a goal, a purpose, a duty even, out of respect to the art in which I partake, to travel as far as I can to see as many paintings that I want to see in person, and the experiences which come along with that are bountifully beneficial to an artist, and to just a person’s soul as well. Along with what I believe about not doing prints of original paintings for these and many other reasons too complicated to oversimplify here without completing “MANN vol. 7 – The Rantings of an Angry Mann,” and wanting to support the fans and admirers of my art who simply cannot afford to own an original or see them in person, the massive tomes (both of which contain over 40 life-size duplications anyway) are as close as I can provide and staying true to myself.
TW: The second volume definitely seems to focus more on your portraits than your landscapes and cityscapes. Does this reflect more where you currently are as an artist?
JM: Indeed. Artists need to grow and change and artists need to create the things which resound to them the most in the changing times of their lives. Having gone from suburbia to the big city at the time when I was studying art, the excitement of those new surroundings infused themselves into the paintings I was creating. An artist can paint anything they desire in their own style, or voice, and find it not only liberating, but exciting through the struggle to that realization. And, secondly, an artist should paint mostly the things they love (in terms of: inspired by, interested in, and infused with a passion for). The last few years, having moved from the city to a house in suburbs again, living in a more solitary state, my desires have turned inward to the worlds of emotional connection, dreams, stories, and all the mish-muck our torrid little dramas play during our time on stage. Cityscapes have qualities I love to paint for reasons other than figures and will forever be a large part of me, but these days the balance has shifted to these beautiful creatures of melancholy, a shift which I am aware of in self-reflection which lets me know I’m on the right bumpy path.
TW: You have published both books independently rather than gone with a mainstream publisher. Was this a conscious decision to allow you total control of what goes in them?
JM: I did want full control of the books, as I see them also as a strange part of my art as well. Perhaps the future books will be even more unique than just hundreds of pages of images, and with that long term mindset, I needed to be in charge from the beginning. Quite frankly it’s absolutely stupid to do books that large and heavy when I have other shit to do, and with full control comes all the extra costs and time of managing them, which, although is tiresome and annoying, for someone with a stubborn and high work ethic, it’s just a fly in the soup of delicious.
TW: You paint in oils rather than utilising digital techniques. Is there ever any temptation to switch to digital for any of your work?
JM: Not really. The digital world is a world I don’t think I would agree with, I feel like I’d be the cranky old bastard in the corner always talking about “how good it used to be” and “your silly pixels are lifeless!” It’s not easy to take this stance in a world moving so quickly to become completely digital and I get tired of defending a personal choice made from years of experience because it makes me sound like an asshole. The thing is, I fucking love digital images from great digital artists. They can be fucking mind-blowing! The technical level of skill and the mastery of that medium when in the hands of brilliant and experienced artists can blow minds away just as good as a masterpiece of oil in the museum, or a symphony which is still played 200 years after the composer is dead. The problem is that people need to realize it is still a “mastery of medium in the hands of a brilliant and experienced artist.”
Digital art carries with it a heavy load of seemingly simplistic tricks and lazy attitudes for young artists who don’t realize the benefit that comes from a life of study in the natural world and tactile techniques. And once these young artists have created their pieces of shit, they don’t exist! They are duplicated by the combination of two keys and spread worldwide to infect others with the brilliance of their lazy attempts to reach hard earned heights. I personally use digital techniques quite often for many things related to my art, most of which is for simplicities sake in a world where what I prefer to do slower and more hands-on has become of thing of the past. For instance: having built my own cameras to use the old polaroid peel-aparts so that I can get a negative by a process of bleaching and then using the enlarger in the darkroom to bring the image to its desired size, has met with so many damn hindrances due only to the exacerbation of the digital age’s instant gratification appeal. The beautiful accidents, tones, qualities, and life that come from the polaroids themselves has been killed, literally going if not completely gone extinct, because the virus of the masses has replaced original beauty with easiness of obtainability. “why would I go through all of that trouble when I can just take 40 digital images of your stupid face, pick the best one, print it on my little printer and there you go, instant print?” But that rediculous mindset is completely and vapidly overlooking the multitude of important aspects that come with, inherently associated with, the tactile experiences of creating the polaroid in the first place. They’re not easy, each one is not cheap, nor easy, to create from beginning to end, so you have to put a hell of a lot of thought in those moments before you click the shutter. Then you have to bring it to life through processes which cannot possibly be precisely controlled by hand. The accidents which occur not only give life to the art, but they give life to the artist who sees accidents, learns from them, and makes them their own.
The “quality” of a digital camera is one who’s main goal is to obliterate any and all of these “accidents.” Every image must have everything crisp and clean and in focus, more megapixels means more details everywhere. Now, all the demons which existed in those dark hazy shadows are gone from these images, now, the story which brings one to tears in the out-of-focus is removed and replaced with smiley selfies. How much space do we have on this page to print my ramblings? If this is just a digital magazine or a web blog or something, no problem, space is unlimited, you can say all you want, but if we’re going to print it, every word has a cost so those words must be important or limited, and I would ramble on for 1000 pages which the interviewer would have to print, and now what you have is a large heavy book in your hands which must have something someone believes to be important to say because it was created and brought to existance. But since my hands are going numb I’ll have to save that rant for that MANN vol. 7 above, right before I die, so I don’t have to listen to all the complaining and naysayers about my personal choice who don’t realize I don’t have to space and time to explain all the “although’s,” “however’s,” and “on-the-other-hand’s” which come from defending a personal opinion from a man who fully practices and believes in knowing all aspects of something before making their own choice. Anyone who would read here the .0001% of my complete opinion and discourse on the matter and then respond with “but I’ve seen great digital photographs and digital art that were astounding masterpieces, what about that, Mr. Mann, what about that!?” I would simply sigh, and walk back through the peaceful forest into my dark and sheltered home to talk to my love and my cat who understand the other 99.9999% of what I mean. So I don’t have time to regurgitate the life I’ve lived while I’m trying to create and live today.
TW: Or is it the physicality and the tactile nature of painting traditionally that continues to appeal to you?
JM: I think, theoretically, humanity would suffer in a world gone completely digital. I mean, Matrix like, bubbles of bodies attached to minds in binary. We’d lose the revered “renaissance man with golden hands.” There is something spiritual, natural, human, in the use of the hands and body with the thoughts of the mind. Nowadays, if a person’s washing machine is broken, you can click an “app” and have someone come and fix it, or, actually probably cheaper and easier and more materialistically self-gratifying, just amazon prime yourself a new washing machine that same fucking day. (absolutely love that.) However, the experiences gained when learning how to fix it yourself would, guaranteed, invisible and menial though it may seem at first, benefit the human soul in ways you cannot fathom. This is a proverb (non-religious) a short pithy saying in general use, stating a general truth or piece of advice. And yes, this does apply to painting. The painting speaks back to you when you create. No, I don’t mean some sort of spiritual thing the artist is not somehow in charge of and therefore a genius by luck or grace of superpower ghosts, I mean an artist makes decisions based on what happens while creating, and judges the quality of those decisions based on their own tastes built on a foundation of experience. Removing the “experience” wipes out the “foundation” and builds muddy “tastes” which make bad “decisions” and now you have a shitty “artist.” The whole tower collapses. This is the more important issue I have with the whole soured debate.
A painting which exists is revered as a relic in monumental buildings we create to house them indefinitely. These buildings are meant to display to the future masses the exemplary quality of what we as human’s can do in an attempt to preserve that ideal in a changing world. Yes, of course, the world changes, digital is going to be and has become a major, if not now inseparable part of our lives, but the point of the matter is to not be so blinded as to forget where we come from. I think yes, we are much better painters now than those silly naked people blowing red dust on cave walls, but that heart, that soul, that desire to create which they developed, is what drives our souls as artists today. Its physical, its human, it’s the mind made real. They pave over older buildings to build impressive new ones, but how come we keep digging back down and get excited when we find the old ones again? How do you say it? Criminy… digital art in the hands of brilliant artists can create art which would surpass anything already created, but the ability and knowledge to create that art rests in the human mind built on a life of natural experiences and wisdom. Those things come from the world around us. The world around us is physical, tactile. You can touch the dewy wet grass, you can smell the rain in the clouds coming from the south to sooth the parched plants, you can watch the sunset fall over distant mountains and find in a pile of sticks the most fantastic composition. Without one hand in that earth, an artist will be useless. You cannot have both hands on the keyboard. Do you see what I’m trying to say? Do you feel the endless metaphor?
TW: Also would you not feel like a ‘proper’ artist if you didn’t paint physically?
JM: I’ve said enough. People don’t have to agree, people can believe what they wish, and I see no problem against that. I’m actually having a fucking blast working on a very traditional film these past several months, much of which is compiled and edited in the computer. It’s easy. Hell, we’ve gotten to this point so that we can make films fast digitally, hell yes, use it! But it’s just because it’s more convenient these days and I have so many other things I need to create and so little time. If you had to pay for and develop every inch of footage, you’d really think things through, and create, most likely, a much better work of art with that film. It could still be a shit film, but it will be YOUR BEST shit film at that moment because the physical process itself had an inherent capability of making you really focus. Anyone who thinks I’m declaring something along the lines of: “only movies made traditionally are good movies,” is a complete idiot and an asshole. Again, this cranky old bastard in the corner is tired of having to put in these disclaimers to shut up the naysayers. What I’m saying is that there is a property, a personification, hidden deep within the connection to the physical world, that an artist, hell, a human, cannot do without. There are certain properties inherent in digital, immaterial world, which erase and remove that part of our soul from our lives, and it spreads as fast as a megavirus. Spreads in selfies. Spreads in tablets and programs and social media. Spreads in google 360 of Russian art museums (I really do love google, but I don’t let it in the house amongst friends. Seriously, it’s a rule in this house.) And if anyone wonders what I think the next plague upon humanity is, I think it’s this clouded charade of ours trying to justify the wonders of the digital world. ( 😀 I’m having a fucking blast! )
TW: With the cityscapes, what do they offer for you as an artist?
JM: Aggression and Fundamentals!! Angsty and emphatic emotional markmaking! Compositions, Perspective, Balance, Shape, Value!!! It’s so simplistically there for me, and once I learned how to see it, my world blew open. The fog lifted and there before me, everywhere could be a painting! Some corners were shitty paintings; some streets were masterpieces waiting to be heard! This is my temple where I study, to bring those fundaments with me into the world of figures. The figures are the peace and sensual satisfaction to bring into the hectic world of concrete, skyscrapers, cars and mobs of shoppers! They feed and devour each other equally and constantly in their dichotomy within my minds creativity. My art would not be if it weren’t for both, whether we’re talking about painting, filmmaking, music, poetry, photography, hiking, or hugs.
TW: When you are painting cityscapes, do you go out on multiple reccies and then once you feel ready, do you start to paint them?
JM: If only I had a little monster to ride around on while I wrote, wrote, wrote, all the things which flash into my mind observing and living, I’d feel complete. And while I stroll around the cities from shadow to corner, street to sidewalk I capture the hustling bustle of “the city” with my trusty digital camera. I love digital cameras!! 😉 I can record a billion photographs of something so nauseatingly hectic and chaotic as the world of people and take them all back to the solitude of my studio for study. I can flip through this catalogue and devour all its intricacies, dissect it and study it part by part, and compile a whole answer and explanation. I can discover its secrets in long hours of experiments, trial and error, to assemble a complete and concise scientific statement of the foundations hidden within life, nature, art itself.
That, my friend, is a cityscape painting.
And it’s never correct.
There was a flea in the beaker.
The cat sneezed in the test-tube.
All is lost.
So out I go again into the field to collect more specimens. Perhaps they are better captured in the rain. Perhaps the fog will actual reveal some secret rather than seclude it. Perhaps staring at the sun is a good thing! Perhaps when everyone is asleep, late in the middle of the night, when the layman has gone home to his sweet sleep, they reveal themselves to those who are waiting, there in the moonlight, with open loving arms.
TW: As an artist with such a huge body of work, what was your criteria for including specific pieces in the latest book?
JM: I included as much as I could and wanted to. As one should paint, as one should live. If any paintings or photographs were not included it simply was because there wasn’t enough room for everyone at the soup kitchen, it doesn’t mean I don’t love them just as much. Each piece is part of me, each is a child of mine, and if I tried to fit them all at the kitchen table, the table would collapse, hell, the house would collapse! There’s oodles of hundreds more art here in the house, images, photographs, paintings, studies, drawings, which surround me even now, but again, the parable of a man spending his days writing all the things in his days would end with an endless book of “I’m writing in a book about writing in a book about writing in a book about writing in a……”
So I ended it and sent it to the printer, happy with this documented stage of my life and got back to living.
TW: You have included some of your photography in the book too. How does this fit in with you as an artist? Is it purely in the service of the paintings or do you see them as part of your work in its own right?
JM: An artist is not simply a painter, or a sculptor, or a photographer. These stereotypical classifications were created by the mediocre long ago to make their own life more easy to get through. An “artist” transcends these terms. Quite frankly, even the word Artist was created by us weak-minded artists to make our own life more easy to get through AS artists. Artists are people who are tuned into something beyond what our humanity can see physically and mentally. Correlations between our own physical existence and the existence of something deeper as of yet not defined. The definition of which we continually try to explain to others, as well as ourselves, with each creation we muster out of it. These explanations can be heard in every beautiful symphony whether glorious or melancholy. They can be experienced transfixed in the dark before the theater stage or screen. They are written in plain site before the open-eyed minds gazing at mediums on surfaces in the quiet of the museum. Written within the spaces between sentences of novels by the fire or on the airplane. And, they can be glimpsed behind the silver halide patterns of life burnt onto paper. I simply cannot resist digging into that world, and its secrets are hidden everywhere, so, naturally, one has to look everywhere.
Mann Vol.2 is out now and available to order here
To read our older chat with Jeremy Mann, visit here