Friday, April 20, 2007

Art Space Talk: Jeremy Wagner

I recently interviewed artist Jeremy Wagner. Mr. Wagner grew up in the suburbs of Boston in a very artistic family. His grandfather- Sherle Wagner, was a renowned designer. Jeremy's artistic abilities were nurtured from a young age.

Mr. Wagner attended Cambridge School of Weston, an arts-focused High School. He later studied at Otis School of Design in LA and earned a BFA at Rhode Island School of Design in 2001. Jeremy is currently earning his masters in painting at Hunter College.

Mr. Wagner currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. He is represented by the Sara Nightingale Gallery ( ).

Q. Mr. Wagner, your work is derived from you fascination with architecture and the repetitious forms which are depicted through architectural structures both interior and exterior. Why did you decide to take this direction with your work? I understand that your grandfather, Sherle Wagner, was a renowned designer... did he influence your artistic direction?

A. "I recently read an interview with Marcel Duchamp where he was asked why he chose those specific objects as ready-made artworks, and he responded by saying "They choose you…" I recall thinking that I could relate to that.
Inspiration for a painting or a series can come at anytime from my surroundings and once I recognize that object or environment as something I desire to make an artwork of I internalize why that object or space spoke to me. I subconsciously look for subjects that evoke that sensation so I can continue to paint.
Architecture interests me because I have a visual appreciation for geometric hard-lined forms. It gives me pleasure transforming such spaces into paintings because through deletion of superfluous detail and employing simple lines and perspective I am able to transform a flat surface into a space that conveys depth and emphasizes my interests in the subject matter.

I attribute my appreciation for design, craft, and Fine Art to my Grandfather Sherle Wagner who was a brilliant designer and to my family’s involvement in the operation of his business in which as a teenager I had hand experience fabricating his designs.
Visiting my grandparent’s New York upper eastside apartment as a child was like discovering a secret art museum right under the noses of the Guggenheim and the MET. It was filled with artworks of artists my grandparents had met through their industry in New York; including Jacob Lawrence, Robert Gwathmey, business trips to Florence, Italy introduced my grandparents personally to Floriano Bodini where they became collectors of his prints and sculptures."

Q. In a sense, you dissect the geometric shapes and hard lines of architectural forms in order to arrange them into compositions that are geared for maximum graphic impact. Can you go into further detail about this process?

A. "In the creation of my artworks I generally use numerous source materials; images from the web, architectural books, photos I’ve shot and most recently I have been working with an architect using 3D computer programs to generate imagery. I essentially cut and past the images together while stylizing the composition and giving the images an iconic appearance. It is my intention in doing this to develop my own vernacular or to make a sort of elusive social commentary."

Q. You have an unorthodox approach in the way in which you use materials for your paintings. You are known for combining your skill as a painter with your skills of printmaking. Can you go into further detail about how you combine these two forms of artistic creation in order to create a piece? How do you make it all come together?

A. "I was formally trained as a printmaker. Which was a major I chose because I felt that training in painting was too restrictive and traditional, however I always knew I wanted to be a painter. So I took the skills I learned from printmaking: particularly silkscreen and intaglio (etching) and now apply them loosely to my painting process today.

I have always been a process-oriented artist, which is why I may have gravitated toward printmaking in the first place. In intaglio one works on a copper or zinc plate, and creates imagery through resistant grounds and acid to etch into the plate, which is then inked up and run through a press to transfer image to paper.

I enjoyed working on a metal plate but I visually preferred the plate to the prints that were pulled from it. So I began painting directly on various sheet metals, using masking and layering processes like those I’d learned in silkscreen to then spray enamel paint through airbrushes or spray guns occasionally I screen-print directly on the metal.

I strategically apply paint as a resistant or protective mask to prevent the metal from rusting in areas while leaving others exposed and treat it with chemicals to aid oxidation. This way I can utilize the decompositions of nature and oppose them against the forced, deliberate hand of the artist. I am able to achieve great effects through my exploration of materials and processes, which keeps the art-making process fun and fresh."

Q. You have said, "My paintings portray 'territorial marks' of human presence but are void of actual physical demeanor or appearance.". Can you go into further detail about how your work captures the human condition without portraying the human form outright?
A. "In my work I have been exploring a number of avenues that address American consumer culture, recreation, and relaxation. In my paintings I am invested in depicting the environments where these activities occur. Shopping mall food-courts, swimming pools, amusement parks, tropical vacation getaways, and tract housing have all been subjects in my artwork.

Most recently my paintings examines the impacts of consumer society on the natural landscape. I choose not to depict humans in a majority of my paintings for a number of reasons. I want the viewer to experience the spaces without the distraction of human presence. I challenge the viewer to have a reflexive experience with the environment, making the subjects or environments less specific in location and time in hopes to evoke an element of nostalgia or familiarity.

In the series titled "These Colors Don’t Run…" I depict images of sneakers hung from telephone lines juxtaposed with a natural landscape. Which I felt is representative of contemporary American culture and a shifting landscape.

The symbol of sneakers dangling in telephone lines once was a site exclusive to urban ghettos, now they can be seen in just about every American city. Their significance varies on what legends you subscribe to because they embody numerous meanings. The most popular belief is that they designate "gang territory" or a location to buy street drugs.

By juxtaposing the sneakers, an urban icon, with a natural landscape I am making a non-didactic societal commentary. The sneakers serve as a symbolically loaded object that represents both a consumer product that is literally thrown away and as a territorial claim to the land.
The telephone lines criss-crossing dissect the skyline and represent a nearly obsolete technology. The wires coupled with hanging sneakers function as a screen that obscures an otherwise pure landscape, which is removed, detached from the human affairs, the staking of territories, the erecting of telephone wires."

Q. Mr. Wagner, you have a strong background in the study of art. You attended an arts-focused High School (Cambridge School of Weston), studied at Otis School of Design in LA, earned your BFA (printmaking) at Rhode Island School of Design, and are currently earning your masters in painting at Hunter College. How have your studies and the art departments you've worked in enhanced your work? Who did you study under?

A. "I have studied under so many talented professors and artists, and every institution has provided me with different lessons. As a teenager who was disenchanted with school in general, attending an art-focused high school basically saved me, and I was able to nurture my creativity and be accepted at Rhode Island School of Design.
My undergrad experience at RISD was really very formal in retrospect and what it may have lacked in theory I am getting a heavy dose of at the MFA program at Hunter College. The training has collectively influenced my work and continues to do so.

However I feel that many of the ways that critical discourse and analysis is being conducted in classrooms in art schools is antiquated and ineffective, and I look forward to teaching myself as I have many ideas how to instruct young minds on peer-to-peer art criticism and art making."

Q. Where can we see more of your art?

A. "The easiest way to see my work is on my website where I post upcoming exhibitions and try to update new works regularly."

Q. Are you represented by a gallery? Do you have any upcoming exhibits?
A. "I have been showing with Sara Nightingale Gallery in Watermill, New York. In addition to showing in the Hamptons, plans for upcoming shows with galleries in Toronto and Luxemburg are in the works and dates for those shows will be posted on my website."
I hope that you have enjoyed my interview with Jeremy Wagner. Feel free to critique or discuss his art.
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin

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