Friday, November 24, 2006

Art Space Talk: Jesse Richards

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I recently interviewed artist Jesse Richards. Mr. Richards is a punk film-maker, painter, and photographer. He co-founded the Remodernist Film and Photography movement and was a member of the Stuckist art movement from 2001 until 2006.

Mr. Richards was a contributing artist at the 'Stuckists Punk Victorian' exhibit and the 'Triumph of Stuckism' exhibit. In 2003 he co-produced a short film called "Shooting at the Moon", which premiered at the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival.

Jesse's work is marked by what can only be described as 'street truth'. His work may seem crude to some, but at least it is honest (sometimes brutally honest.) This honesty is captured by his ability to convey human behavior and struggles with each shot from his camera

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Q. When did you first discover that art would be an important part of your adult life?

A. "I guess when I figured out that I communicate better by making a film or taking a photograph or painting a picture rather than talking to people because I get shy and miscommunicate what I mean or just chicken out of talking at all. I’m fine about talking once I know you but sometimes its tough for me to get the ball rolling."

Q. How has creating art shaped you professionally and personally?

A. "I think it has helped me get away from lying as much as I did when I was a little boy."

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Q. How has society influenced your art? Are there any social implications in your art?

A. "Maybe, maybe not. Some people have told me that kind of thing about my films and paintings and so forth, but its not something I think about when I’m making something, nor something I would have the slightest clue about afterwards. But I think its safe to say that what you make is affected by who you are and the world that you live in, whether you mean for that to happen, or not, or just don’t notice."

Q. What are your artistic influences? Has anyone inspired you?

A. "Painters I like: Die Brucke group of German Expressionists, especially Schmidt-Rottluff, Nolde, and Kirchner; Vincent Van Gogh, Edvard Munch’s late paintings of models in the studio, a lot of Post-Impressionism, Billy Childish, Joe Machine, Wolf Howard, Philip Absolon.

Filmmakers I like: early Godard and French New Wave, no wave and punk film like Amos Poe and Nick Zedd and Wolf Howard, also FW Murnau, Carl Th. Dreyer, Yasujiro Ozu, Aki Kaurismaki, Wong Kar-wai, Nicholas Ray, Jules Dassin, Robert Bresson

and music is very inspiring, like old blues and gospel and punk and Tom Waits- I could go on forever so I’ll just stop here."

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Q. Tell me a little about your background. Are your past experiences reflected in the work you do today? If so, how?

A. "Ok so I was adopted, I lived with very elderly foster parents until I was almost three and I’m sure they were nice and meant well but I have these very early memories of feeling lonely- actually my whole life I’ve felt a sort of loneliness deep down, even when I’m pretty much happy- that probably ends up somewhere in what I do. Anyway I was adopted at almost three years old by a great family that loves me very much and is thankfully not crazy at all, but I guess the stuff prior to that had an impact.

And then other than that there are things- images, feelings, ideas that you get obsessed with and they get into what you do, sex, women, slow dancing, cigarette smoke, dogs, fighting, loneliness, driving, the vulnerability that you can feel when you’re naked, music, the ocean, dirt. But it is really hard to know exactly where these things come from, why these obsessions matter, and how they fit in exactly."

Q. How long have you been a working artist?

A. "I’ve been making films off and on since I was a teenager- a good amount of them got destroyed in a basement flood in 1998. I began messing around with photography off and on since I was in film school in the mid-90’s and then I started painting after I got arrested in 1999 for destruction of property and reckless burning. I lit someone’s KISS t- shirt on fire and through it out a window. Anyway, it landed in a dumpster unfortunately. So after that mess was over and the charges were dropped I turned to painting to try to help. I’m not one of those people that thinks painting or filmmaking or any of that will save you from who you are-that is a bunch of crap I think- but sometimes it can really help a bit."

Q. If you could pinpoint the characteristics of people who collect your art, what would they be?

A. "Usually younger people- teenagers and people in their 20’s and 30’s are the people who seem interested in what I do- a lot of punks, and goth girls, people that listen to Tom Waits or Billy Childish also. Once a child psychologist in Liverpool bought a painting- I wonder if it is in her waiting room. But actual collectors I don’t know- I don’t sell tons of work- I’m not a good business guy. I don’t make much effort at selling myself or what I do, and I’m not exactly a prolific painter so, my stuff is priced high ‘cause I don’t make a hell of a lot of paintings- there are more unfinished than finished and when something is done and done right it is hard for me to say goodbye to it, so if I do I want to pay my rent for a while."

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Q. Discuss one of your pieces. What were you thinking when you created it?

A. "I made this Super-8 short film called "Shooting at the Moon" with my friend Nic Watson. We co-wrote and co-directed it. It was about these two people who were at the end of a relationship; they were together still but didn’t believe in love anymore. The guy drank too much. The girl just began not to care.

It was a big change for me to make this film, because before this there was usually nudity in my films, and I wanted to do something opposite- in this the couple doesn’t even kiss- they almost do while dancing, but then it doesn’t happen.

While making this film I guess the main thing we were thinking about accomplishing was to express this emotional experience, and have people really feel it, and not to get to complicated with story or anything that would distract from this feeling we wanted people to have while watching the film. I think for some people this worked."

Unfortunately the film is not online at the moment, but I have a still of them dancing and almost kissing that you can see."

Q. What is your artistic process?

A. "I try to work as quickly as possible with whatever I’m doing and to rely as much as I can on my intuition. Otherwise I begin to second-guess myself before I’m finished and that can be a terrible trap to get into."

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Q. Why did you choose the medium(s) that you use?

A. "I started off making films- that was always the most exciting to me. I began painting, and photography and directing plays and acting after that for a few reasons:

To be a better filmmaker by doing these other things.

To blow off steam and have another way to do stuff but without knowing anything about it (not being trained as a painter/actor/photographer) and therefore not having rules or preconceived notions or professional aspirations to get bogged down by.

And within these things- for painting I like oil paint, its messy and feels real and is more satisfying to me, for filmmaking I like shooting on film, especially grainy film like Super-8 or 16mm, for photography I shoot film and have recently gotten into Holga cameras and pinhole cameras because there is an older and sort of spontaneous quality to the pictures they can produce. I also need to get an older Polaroid camera at some point for the same reasons."

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Q. Do you have a degree or do you plan to attend school for art? If so, how has it helped your art career?

A. "I went to SVA to film school for two years. The first year was great, I did stuff that I was happy with, I had professors that were intelligent and inspiring and enthusiastic. The second year I had bad professors who obviously hated teaching, and were pissed off by it, they were not supportive for the most part and my work got shitty (or at least was not feeling truthful to me), I began to lose my love of filmmaking and I drank too much and got depressed and had a breakdown and left. I still feel a bit guilty about it. I still don’t know if I did the right thing or not. Anyway it took a year or two for me to want to make another film after that."

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "Film stills, photography and paintings are here: "

As I mentioned before we’ve gotta get the film clips back up- we had some problems with them, but otherwise you can find stuff there."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "No I’m not represented by a gallery- I’m wanting to pick specific shows and projects and so forth to be involved in as they come up if they’re interesting. Right now I’m planning to have some Holga photos in Johnny Brewton’s next issue of "Bagazine". Johnny runs X-Ray Books Co. and recently did the art direction and design for the new Tom Waits 3 cd set. I will hopefully also shoot some pinhole photos that I’m happy with for an upcoming book including work by various pinhole photographers at Urban Fox Press. Lastly I’m trying to put together a punk film DVD compilation including films by myself, Nick Zedd, Harris Smith, Wolf Howard, and no-wave filmmaker Amos Poe."

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Q. What galleries have you exhibited in? Can you provide links to their sites?

A. "I’ve shown stuff (films, paintings photos) in various places, but the two I liked best were "The Stuckists Punk Victorian" show for the 2004 Liverpool Biennial at the Walker in Liverpool and the Remodernism show that I was in at CBGB’s313 Gallery in New York in 2005. The Walker show is still online here:
The most enjoyable film screening I had was of "Shooting at the Moon" at the 2004 New York International Independent Film and Video Festival."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Try not to think you’re hot shit ‘cause you paint or make films or whatever it is you do. At the same time always tell the truth in what you do, or at least tell whatever the truth is from your perspective. This way you’re probably guaranteed to remain financially poor but you won’t have to feel guilty for being insincere. And try not to think about it as a "career" or yourself as a "professional"."

Q. Has your work ever been censored? If so, how did you deal with it?

A. "No it hasn’t, and if it were I’d quit whatever show or thing it was, or fight back. But at the same time if its something that might upset a child then I have no problem with a warning about content being posted, as with what happened at "The Stuckists Punk Victorian Show" which if anything was pretty much harmless to the show if not a bit silly. But if they had removed the paintings that were a bit racy, I think many of us would’ve taken our stuff off the walls and called it quits on that show. Now you’re wondering about the paintings- one was this intense painting by Joe Machine of sailors having violent anal sex. Joe is probably my favorite of the remaining Stuckists- he does not mess around and because of his fearless paintings, people sometimes get a little riled up. Another one that I think concerned some people was a great one by Wolf Howard called "Being on the Dole Is Like Playing Chess with Hitler". I think people get worried and are apt to misinterpret things that use this kind of imagery and some people may have misread it, or at least were not happy to see a painting that included Hitler as a character."

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Q. What was the toughest point in your career as an artist? Have you ever hit rock-bottom?

A. "Well I don’t have a career as a filmmaker or a painter, and don’t want one in that sense. Once something is work I begin to hate it. (Although it is good to have money to eat and buy film and paints and canvas and so forth). But the toughest part about making a film or painting or what have you is when I’ve put a lot of heart and time into something and it comes out feeling phony. That is frustrating as hell.

It is also difficult sometimes to find models, actors, etc. for things especially when there isn’t money involved. Then you have to find people that really are enthusiastic about what you’ve done and want to get involved for that reason. Money can spoil a lot of these things. Also when you pay someone to be photographed it makes it feel, I don’t know, less authentic? I guess that’s the word I’m looking for."

Q. In one sentence... why do you create art?

A. "Because I have to, even if nobody looks or cares- and beyond that its sort of impossible for me to verbalize."

Q. Can we find your art on MYARTSPACE.COM?

A. "Some of my photography is on there. I put a gallery of paintings up twice and twice it disappeared. The internet and computers are not my friends. You can find me under my name- Jesse Richards. Someday I will try to put the paintings up again."

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Q. What can you tell our readers about the art scene in your area?

A. "Right now I’m in Western MA, while my girlfriend is finishing school here. We just arrived recently and I’m not really involved in the art scene here yet, but Northampton seems to have a bit of a scene. I used to live in New Haven, CT. which had sort of a negative art scene. New Haven for me always felt like a place where something exciting was about to happen, but then never ever did. I don’t mean just for myself, but in general. It seemed like any time that anybody did anything worth a shit they would either get attacked, ignored, or ridiculed and eventually they would say fuck New Haven and do their stuff in New York City or Philly instead where people actually care about things."

Q. Has politics ever entered your art?

A. "Only in the sense of knowing that life is fragile and short and I need to be honest when I do something because- who knows? I’d rather not do anything at this point rather than do something that felt insincere. I guess that’s not politics exactly but more a feeling about the world? I don’t know…."

Q. Is there anything else you would like to say about your art or the 'art world'?

A. "I guess I’ve said what I can for now, but if any of your readers are interested in what I do and want to get involved, collaborate, pose for Holga photographs or whatever or just feel like saying hi- please feel free to contact me via my website.

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Jesse Richards

Outlaw Painting, Film and Photography:

And see a new painting on the Saatchi Gallery website:

I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Jesse Richards. Feel free to discuss his work.

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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