Friday, February 16, 2007

Art Space Talk: Jonathan Weiner (a.k.a VINER)

I recently interviewed artist Jonathan Weiner (a.k.a VINER). Viner is known for utilizing traditional methods of oil painting to create images that explore the state of man in the 21st century. His work has been featured in Juxtapoz Magazine.

Viner's art confronts significant themes facing contemporary society such as violence, rapid change, alienation, power, and morality. He achieves this by combining allegory, stylization, and surrealism. A strong sense of symbolism can be observed in every image he creates.

Q. Your art confronts significant themes facing contemporary society, such as violence, rapid change, morality, power and alienation. What made you decide to focus on these issues with your work? What do you hope viewers gain from observing these works?

A. "There are probably many reasons why I focus on these issues, but in the end it all boils down to the simple answer that this is just what comes out of me when I pick up a brush. It isn’t a conscious decision.

As for what I hope viewers gain, I guess I want them to see something special, and for them to be moved by it. I like the idea of strangers connecting with my work. Other than that, I don’t worry too much about what they specifically gain. In all honesty, my motivations as an artist are far from charitable. I paint because I’m compelled to and I’m rewarded for it."

Q. There seems to be a great deal of psychology within the context of your work. Have you studied psychology? If so, do you utilize that knowledge when creating?

A. "I’ve never studied psychology, but I’ve always been a kind of "armchair psychologist". People who are close to me have pointed out that I tend to poke and prod, and engage their defenses. It’s a bit of a character flaw on my part, perhaps.

I’ve dealt with some serious anxiety issues since adolescence. In a way, I’m sort of spreading the hysteria through my artwork. Misery loves company, right? Actually I don’t really think my motivation is that sadistic. I think I’m just grappling with shit through my artwork, ultimately trying to not only normalize these anxieties, but to find the beauty in them. "

Q. Your family moved often during your childhood. Do you think those memories are reflected in the work you create today? If so, how? Is this where the theme of alienation came from? Having been moved from one place to another when you were young?

A. "That sounds like a pretty good analysis to me, though I think the alienation would still be there had we not moved around. I think being Jewish plays a factor, as does being an identical twin. Before we ever moved, these things made me feel special on the one hand and strange on the other. Moving around and often being the new kid sure didn’t make it any easier to feel like I belonged."

Q. You have stated that you are influenced by Velasquez, Carravaggio, and Sargent (among others). Can you go into detail as to how these artists have influenced you?

A. "I was attracted to dramatic images, with charged atmospheres. These painters made images that felt authentic and sincere, and powerful. I was impressed with artists who displayed impressive technical skill, and I set out to absorb the various elements that made their work great. I’ve always considered myself to be another link in this chain of traditional oil painters that spans centuries."

Q. You have said that art is the "battlefield upon which the mind vies with reality. Whichever force triumphs, the result is art.". Care to go into detail about this statement? What is the philosophy behind your creative process?

A. "At some point in my early twenties I realized that I made my best work when I remained flexible and stopped trying to control the outcome. It’s always a blend of the intentional and the unintentional. For example, I may imagine a scene with a red wall in the background, but when I try to paint it, I’ll wind up struggling with that red until I have to back off and recognize that it just shouldn’t be red. It doesn’t want to be red. It’s a stressful, tumultuous, challenging, but ultimately enjoyable process. I get satisfaction from painting, but at the same time I’m never entirely satisfied with the final outcome. I always want to try again."

Q. Your work has been published in Juxtapoz Magazine. This is considered by many to be a major accomplishment. Care to share any details of that experience? How did you feel afterwards?

A. "It’s just one step on a long path. I have a strange relationship with that magazine. They seem to lean more towards graffiti and tattoo culture, and I have no real connection with that stuff. It’s another example of feeling like I’m an outsider (even among the outsiders)."

Q. Your client list includes Playboy, Rolling Stone, Darwin, Harvard Business Review, Forbes and many more. Did you ever expect your work to be so successful? Or is it kind of like living a dream?

A. "It was actually nothing like living a dream. And it started to dawn on me that perhaps I’m not best suited to be an illustrator. One of my teachers at RISD had observed that I work in reverse, from an illustration standpoint. First I paint something and then figure out what it’s "illustrating". Obviously you can’t work that way in the illustration world.

When working on an illustration assignment, I had to change my natural process and do several preliminary sketches, then make changes to suite someone else’s needs, and then execute a painting that adheres to a predetermined sketch, all within about a week. It’s rather rigid and stifling, and I believe the quality of my work suffered.

Also, my work is considered to be a bit too dark and edgy for many publishers. While I received much recognition from the illustration annuals and organizations, I didn’t really get much work, and the work I got didn’t pay that great for the amount of time I worked.

At this point I make a much better living off of selling my work in galleries. Now I have the time and flexibility to make better paintings, and I can finally afford to pay rent for a roomy painting studio where I can devote myself full time to my own work. That’s more like living a dream to me than seeing some painting I had only two days to paint get printed on the bottom left quarter of page 63 of so-and-so monthly."

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

A. "There was no specific point where I discovered that. It’s like asking at what point I discovered food would be an important part of my adult life. It’s always been there, and I’ve always known that it always would be. Even if I wound up becoming an electrician or something, I’d be painting in my spare time."

Q. On average, how long does it take you to create a piece?

A. "It’s hard to calculate. I rarely have the luxury of spending enough time on a piece. I probably wind up spending about two to four weeks average. Six to eight weeks for a larger painting. I like to work on a few at the same time, going back and forth. Basically, I can honestly say that I have never had enough time to complete a painting. Usually I run out of time. I have a nagging suspicion that this is a metaphor about life."

Q. What was your most important exhibition? Care to share that experience?

A. "My solo show "The Attacker’s Move" was my most important show to date. To be honest, it was rather stressful. It coincided with the release of my first book, Tranquil Aftermath. In addition to working on the book, I had to deal with some major moves in my life while preparing for that show, which took a toll on the amount of work I was able to produce. That upset the gallery owner, and eventually led to some damaging exchanges which we are still struggling to recover from. I’m now working on producing work for an even bigger show at the same gallery, and the problems from "The Attacker’s Move" are still hanging overhead like an ominous cloud. It’s a complicated, emotional business, but at least it’s interesting."

Q. Do you have any 'studio rituals'? As in, do you listen to certain types of music while working? What helps to get you in the mood for working?

A. "It takes me a while to actually start painting. I need to get comfortable first. I usually start with something enjoyable and not directly painting-related. I put music on right away. Then I might answer some emails, update my website, catch up on the news, read, flip through magazines, etc. After an hour or two, I feel ready to start looking at whatever I’m working on. After some looking and thinking, I’ll get up and start painting. I repeat this ritual several times a day. "Day" is misleading, since I often prefer to work at night."

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

A. "I have an informal policy of not discussing the meaning of specific paintings."

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

A. "I really had no choice in the matter. I’d love to be able to paint with, say, acrylics instead of oils, but I just can’t. I paint in oil because that’s what I’m best at. I think it has something to do with the slow drying time. It’s a very forgiving, malleable medium, and you can work in infinite layers. And there is a depth of tone and color I can’t get from anything else. I work on panel because I dislike the texture of canvas and linen. I like the smooth surface and solidity of panel."

Q.Where can we see more of your art?

A. "In person, you can see some of my work at Jonathan LeVine Gallery, in the Chelsea gallery district of NYC. He has several of my painting in his inventory, and will pull them out for anyone who drops by during their business hours.

You can also see printed reproductions of my work in my book "Tranquil Aftermath", which is available through and

And you can see my work online at my website ."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I’m currently represented in NYC by Jonathan LeVine Gallery. My next major solo show will be there in January of 2008. I’d like to find galleries to represent me on the west coast and in Europe as well."

Q. What trends do you see in the 'art world'?

A. "No new trends that I’m aware of. The same old stuff, I think…graffiti is still hot, the na├»ve, folky stuff is still hot, tight oil painting is hot…I dunno, honestly, I’m afraid I’m blissfully unaware of trends in the art world."

Q. Any tips for emerging artists?

A. "Hone your skills, be authentic, resist gimmicks and popular trends, be patient, be persistent, and have faith in yourself. Be your own biggest fan and biggest critic. Enjoy the process but stay humble. If possible, do not get a "day job". Do what you have to do to devote as much time as you can to your art."

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

A. "The only magazine that ever killed one of my illustrations due to its content was "The Progressive", which is kind of funny if you ask me. I dealt with it by shrugging and scratching my head."

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

A. "Well, after the 9/11 attacks, which coincided with the bursting of the tech bubble, work dried up for over a year. I had to find creative ways to make rent each month. Tried painting backgrounds for an independent animator (didn’t have the temperament for that), and then tried being a dog walker for a while (that ended with a client threatening to take legal action against me). In the end I just lived off my credit cards, painted for fun, lived cheaply, and played lots of soccer at the park (it was free). Rock bottom was actually rather liberating."

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

A. "Because I’m good at it."

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

A. "As I’ve mentioned, I’m not very aware of the art scene in NYC. I’m mainly aware of the whole Juxtapoz art scene, which isn’t really relegated to one area. So in terms of this whole Lowbrow/Pop Surreal/New Art scene….it seems to be booming, and as the saying goes, you gotta make hay while the sun shines."

Q. Does religion, faith, or the lack thereof play a part in your art?

A. "Yes to all of the above."

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

A. "Nope, I think I’ve given you everything I’ve got!"
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Jonathan Weiner (a.k.a VINER). Feel free to critique or discuss his work.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

well i just like your that enough these days?

Anonymous said...

These paintings are amazing. I love looking at them. Evocative and inspiring. Furthermore, I find art that reveals realities in our troubled society to be beneficial and should be appreciated.
Thanks Viner.
~Lidiah Gray

Anonymous said...

These paintings are amazing. Truely brilliant work. I love looking at them. Evocative and inspiring. Furthermore, I think art that reveals the problems
in our society is beneficial and should be appreciated.
Thank you Viner.
~Lidiah gray

Anonymous said...

These paintings are amazing. Truely brilliant work. I love looking at them. Evocative and inspiring. Furthermore, I think art that reveals the problems
in our society is beneficial and should be appreciated.
Thank you Viner.
~Lidiah gray

Unknown said...

Man, I saw your work in Juxtapoz. It totally rocks. I love the woman with the dogs. i love how dark and beautiful so many of your paintings are. It really inspires me to keep working on my own stuff. I hope some day it turns out half as good.


Anonymous said...

"First I paint something, then I figure out what it's illustrating"

This is exactly what I do as well... and I also identifiy with the 'red wall' statement - Whenever I try to plan a painting, I end up struggling with it far more than when I just allow it to happen naturally.

Dr Mum said...

dark black,left field and cuddly.
what a combo.

Anonymous said...

These paintings are interesting, the use of space creates an uneasy feeling. i am also a painter who is presently working with the theme of alienation. i am definitely drawn to these paintings.Hope u will decide to exhibit in Jamaica.

Anonymous said...

What negative comments do you receive from peers about your work? Or are all so Lidiah Gray in her comments to you-that they feel a need to shower you with indiscriminate parroting? I am not saying that I do not find absolute merit in your art, I am just curious.