Artist: Josh Keyes
Location: Oakland, CA
Website: Josh Keyes Dot Net
It was fun doing this interview with Josh. His work fascinates me. While I am attracted to his paintings and drawings for their aesthetic beauty, I am also challenged by their meaning. He is excellent, I hope you enjoy this!
Artist Statement: "My intention is to create work that asks questions about the implications of urban sprawl and its impact on the environment. I am interested in creating psychological narratives set in closed systems that express the behavior of and the interaction between humans and animals. The dystopian model creates a dynamic playing field where I can experiment with these ideas and forms. "
What attracts you towards "creating psychological narratives set in closed systems that express the behavior of and the interaction between humans and animals?" I think you do this really well. Would you attribute your ability to make it so real, to growing up near forested property?
I think a number of experiences and memories helped shape both the narrative element and the stage like settings in my work. Ever since I was a child, I seemed to take notice of where one thing ends and another begins.
I do think growing up near an area of dense trees made me aware of the separation between nature and developed areas. I can remember wandering through the thick ivy and hearing the birds overhead, the sunlight typing down through the leaves. The feeling of walking out of the trees and on to pavement was a memorable experience.
In terms of the psychological effect, I think there is a connection to my love of world mythology, especially animal myths and folk tales. Animal imagery evokes a strong feeling, and can serve to personify or suggest certain emotions or impulses.
My recent work incorporates monuments and statues, and I use specific animals to play out a story or create a subtext that relates or comments on the historical significance, or the apparent suggestion or intension of a public monument.
It appears that your work in the beginning of 2004 was more flat and spread out than it is now. What led to that change in style? Do you see yourself moving in a new direction anytime soon?
I was figuring things out back then. I think of the slow development and progression in terms of world building. As I continued working I felt a strong desire to develop the level of realism of the depicted materials and objects. I still get ideas that could find expression in a more graphic or isometric format. The initial idea or visual image I have in my mind, usually informs the process.
I am thinking of working with sculpture in future shows, in addition to painting. There are some other ideas that I am toying with at the moment but they need more time in the oven.
Do you use photographs or other images as reference points when you are painting? Are most the images you create stored in your head? What other inspirations do you use?
I use a combination of found imagery and photographs that I take around the Bay Area. I also have a large collection of props and geometric forms that I use for reference. The preparation or research as I call it for a painting can take up to a month or more before I start painting.
I get the sense that there is some folk-ish undercurrent passing through art and music right now. Do you see that happening as well? If not, what underlying theme or notion do you see occurring there?
I definitely see the undercurrent you are describing. I notice a number of artists who incorporate what could be thought of as non-art materials. It feels like a resurgence of the artwork that was made during the 60’s and 70’s.
I think back to my art history classes and remember studying about the Beat generation, Funk art, and happenings. I see two dominant ways that artists seem to be working today, there is a culture of storytelling and narrative and I see another way of working which is concerned with material and process coming out of the history of found object and assemblage art.
I think two artists who have had a huge influence in the latter way of working are Jessica Stockholder and Richard Tuttle. In relation to narrative structures and systems, I think the work of Kiki Smith and the late Henry Darger, as well as many other artists have had an enormous influence on emerging artists.
A new breed of young artists fuse these different styles or systems of working together. Many artists are working with environmental or green ideas and concepts, and some are using environmentally friendly materials for the creation of their work. I think it is an exciting time to be a working artist, there are endless opportunities and such a wide and diverse landscape of issues and subject matter to draw from.
What/who is inspiring to you right now? What are some new things you want to try out?
I am interested not so much in individual artists, though there are many who I feel are breaking new ground and who have found a unique expression and voice, but I am more interested in the ebb and flow of the different styles and current movements.
I once had a teacher say that computers would spell the end of painting, but it seems to me that more people are making art and painting like crazy than ever before. It’s fantastic.
New things, as I mentioned, there are some projects that are in the incubator. I am thinking in 3d and possibly kinetic sculpture. Things are easier in flat land, sculpture is a whole new world. Stay tuned.
Thanks so much Josh!