Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jose Lerma interview


Tell us a bit about yourself Jose?

I was born in Spain, grew up in Puerto Rico  in the hospital grounds where my parents worked.  Moved to New Orleans for college and then Law School at UW-Madison.   At 27 I took a class with TL Solien  (who was an amazing teacher, and a mentor)  freaked out completely, dropped out of law school during my last year and decided to study art.  

How would you describe your work to someone who has never seen it? What are some of the driving inspirations behind your work. What has influenced you in big ways?

I make paintings and works about painting. I try my best to collapse the personal with the art historical and to fit both within a single frame.  This is something many artists do, but I just wanted to make it central to my practice.  Although the works and paintings change dramatically in terms of material, the common thread is some story I heard my mom say, for instance, or some ugly piece of furniture in their living room  or some dorky thing I did in my youth.  Then I try to fuse this with some historical event, person or artistic style.  This sounds cheesy, but  I always say that all art is about other art and about your parents.   

As far as artistic influences I like late Picasso, Morandi, Sean Landers, Piero della Francesca,William Anastassi, Phillip Guston,Carl ostendarp, James Hyde,  Bruce Nauman, George Condo, Paul Thek, R. Crumb. 

The towel pieces really intrigues me. You do some work on shirts and other non traditional painting surfaces as of late too, if I'm not mistaken. Could you talk a little bit about what prompted this experiment? 

I think the whole thing is  self generating. I was making paintings by removing the paint from an object by applying a solvent or paint stripper. Then I would paint an open flat form of that object, similar to the way a bear rug suggest the open shape the animal. This idea of removing the “skin” of an object, of seeing objects as painting minus sculpture, was reversed by using  towels, which wrap around skin and for a moment suggest the object.   So from there I began making the Carlos II portraits which were made with office carpets and were an attempt at enlarging the feel of the towel portraits.      

In my own practice, I am very interested in finding balances between figuration and abstraction. This is something you have been investigating for awhile now with your portrait-esque works. How do approach this balance?   

It’s simple really. I make something that looks like a portrait but has no likeness.    They are small and done very fast, but they are also goopy and thick…a portrait of paint.   Then I spend weeks enlarging every aspect of it, and make it maybe 9 feet tall. So it becomes about scale too, a big painting that feels very small.   The carpet thing was about walking on  a sketch…of a disfigured Spanish king, but It was about being in it. 

The way you use your materials is really engaging to me. I see lots of mixed media work and something about how you combine them really stands out to me. What is your process like? How do you approach a blank surface? Do you have an exact idea of what you want or is it more responsive? How do you determine that a piece is finished?  

I finish a show when I run out of time, just like when I took test as a kid.  I am not an organized person.   As far as the individual pieces I often paint and compose on a very large un-stretched canvas without stepping back and mostly considering the surface.  I like surfaces that look great from a foot away.   Then I step back and crop the best parts and run with what they suggest.  Often a very large canvas yields a small painting.  Other times things are set up ahead of time like doing a painting with only whatever is around, some dirt, cardboard or the paint dissolved from objects, usually cabinets or magazines. 

I like that there seems to be no hierarchy of medium in your work. The drawings and paintings seems to be one in the same and equally substantial. Do you agree with this. How do you view your drawing and painting relations? 
I never see them as separate practices.  My paintings often start with a very busy layer of drawings.  Most of those come straight from idea notebooks that I still keep for sculpture and installation work…so nothing is thrown away.   If I can’t afford to execute an idea, I can at least include it in a painting so it can exist.  For me there is an arc and if you start getting too skilled its always good to introduce another thing or medium so its interesting.

You bide your time between New York, Puerto Rico and Chicago, to you, what are the pros and cons of the respective places?   

Puerto Rico has very interesting scene and I have seen it grow  in the past 10 years.  The scene there  produced the duo Allora and Calzadilla, the painter Enoc Perez and the brilliant Jesus Bubu Negron.   Sadly,  I don’t spend too much time there anymore, but when I lived there in 01-03  the art scene was really exciting and intense and  many international curators were stopping by the island.  It was a little crazy I think they were trying to find in PR what they saw in Mexico city in the early 90s.  Most of the work was post studio then.   I think there are more painters now.  I also think the curatorial infatuation with PR only lasted about 2 year then they moved on which sucks for some of the younger artists there.

Most people I know in NY are artist…that also makes it a bit boring.   I like Chicago, especially how affordable it is, a lot but I am mostly teaching here and have little time to make work.  I find that artists in Chicago wear many hats (often curating, running apartment galleries or starting small publications) and spread themselves a bit  thin.   I don’t see that as much in NY.

Being faculty at one of the largest art institutions in the US (SAIC) what are your thoughts/experiences with art and academia?  

I feel very lucky to be working with  colleagues whose work I admire.   SAIC’s atmosphere is quite relaxed and conducive to experimentation.   I have very bright  and ambitious students and that really makes teaching fun.    I like to teach by brainstorming with the students, though sometimes my suggestions are simply moronic.   But I try my best to come up with a series of possibilities, and then let the student decide if any of them are worth pursuing.  Those were the teachers I enjoyed as a student.   I find the back and forth helpful to my practice as well.  Making art is pretty solitary and teaching gets you out of  your solipsism and neurosis. 

What's in store for you in the 2010? Any exciting projects or anything coming up? 

I have two solo shows coming up this year.  One is in Madrid at Galeria Marta Cervera in September and the other one is a small show at  Andrea Rosen In NY.   Im teaching at Ox-Bow in the summer.   That should be fun.  Also I may be  curating an exhibition in New York for SAIC painting grads.

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