New York, 2012: Jazz-minh Moore paints chaos with meticulous delicacy. Her passionate portraits of her beautiful friends and siblings are rich with energy and affection. Her self-portraits represent her own warmth, vitality, beauty and powerful character.
Raised in a hippie community in Redwood Forest, Oregon, and the outskirts of San Diego, Jazz-minh earned a MFA from California State University, Long Beach, a BFA from Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle, a NYFA fellowship and an Elizabeth Greenshields Foundation Grant. In 2009, she co-founded the ten-strong NYC based art collective, Gutbox, as an extended and welcoming version of “Exquisite corpse.”
I met Jazz-minh while working at a conservative gallery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side for my first job. Jazz-minh came to drop off her slides and I walked out with her. We never went back and have been close friends for the decade since. Talking about art, and especially her art, is one delight of our friendship. Here, we make our habitual chat about her solo show in Chelsea’s Lyons Wier Gallery public…
Ana Finel Honigman: Stepping away from personal meanings, why did you decide to use your sister as your main model? Being as objective as you can, what do you think Asia Kindred signifies for a viewer?
Jazz-minh Moore: Unlike most of us, who adopt some sort of veneer to gloss over the true tumult of our personal dramatic narrative, Asia's thoughts, beliefs and experiences are worn on the outside of her body. The theatricality of her tattoos signifies, to me at least, a person who is not afraid to alienate those forces trying to control her, regardless of the consequences. Her rebellion is, at the core, a war against consumerism and the destruction of nature. The tattooed vines growing down her arms are like armor. The skeleton playing the accordion is a signifier of who she is and what she does. No one could mistake her for someone who just gets swept up in the popular culture without really thinking about it.
When she was younger, Asia's rebellion was so vehement, that she ended up getting kicked out of high school for refusing to follow dress codes. Though sometimes destructive, this strength of character has driven her to build a creative life on her own terms. She and her boyfriend have a chicken coop in their back yard, a beautiful vegetable garden, and a music venue in the basement, where touring black-metal bands throw each other around in riotous mosh pits. She sews her own clothes and makes hair pins out of feathers and dried roses.
AFH: How do the textures in your new work relate to Asia?
JM: I've been working almost exclusively on wood panel for more than ten years, and using the resin finish for the last few. The most recent chiseling and carving is actually reminiscent of work I did back when I was twenty years old. I like the fact that the wood surface was once alive - was once the body of something. There are relics from the tree's life in the striation of the woodgrain.
The resin is this industrial gloss that unifies all elements and makes them sexy. It makes sense to me that the illusionistic painting would be caught between the body of the wood and this synthetic material. In the most recent piece, Rocket, I've poured the resin selectively, so that areas in the foreground are bare. In some places, the surface veneer of the birch panel has been cut away to reveal the rough, striated texture underneath. There is also an area that has been chiseled all the way through the panel, to open up a little secret world that exists inside the stretcher bars, full of tiny writing and a special bird skull that I found on the beach in Montauk. I plan on building more secret worlds.
I also developed a real disdain for the rote texture of cheap cotton duck canvas in art school. When people paint these thin, illusionistic pictures on top of that canvas texture, they think no one notices the little bumps of the canvas, but that's all I see. It shows lack of attention to surface, or for the piece as an object in space. I've never really been interested in the illusion, or the skin. I want to know what's underneath, and how that affects the surface, be it in a face, a painting, a culture, a planet or what have you.
AFH: Why do you think representation painting, modeled after Old Master techniques or themes, is undervalued in the contemporary art community?
JM: I think Old Master-style painting is, and will remain, a fringe genre for two reasons. Firstly, most of these paintings are nostalgic, romantic and beautiful in a traditionally sanctified way, both in technique and subject matter. Romance and Beauty are such easy buttons to push, that it's hard to take them seriously within a contemporary art conversation.
Secondly, artists who follow these rules of technique are often fundamentalists about it, and I think fundamentalism of any tradition is deeply unpopular at this moment in history. The lack of innovation within Old Master-style painting is obstinately close-minded, and when compared to excitingly innovative artists, such as David Altmejd, Leonardo Drew or Allison Elizabeth Taylor, it just doesn't hold interest. I think there will always be a place for this style of painting, but it won't be in the spotlight of the contemporary art world.
AFH: Your colors are not traditional. You often use a neutral palette shot with sparks of intense color. Why do you use the colors you do?
JM: I've noticed that the city I live in affects my palette. When I moved from Seattle to California, my palette shot out of the rainy blues and deep greens, and into this bright candy vermillion, and other warm, sun-drenched colors. When I moved to New York, my palette got much more subdued and a design quality entered. I became more selective with the brights.
In the Is That All There Is series, I deliberately painted these flat, candy pinks into the fallen wood to "spice it up" with subjective optimism. I'm not interested in creating dreary, cataclysmic, woeful paintings -- though I do believe humanity is well into its twilight years. The idea of apocalypse is not so terrible, when looked at from a certain perspective. Even in the hypothetically worst scenario: Say, Newt Gingrich wins the Republican nomination and the general election, then in some mean-spirited pathological fury, he hurls a full-throttle nuclear attack on Iran, whereby creating a nuclear ice age and wiping out all life on this planet. The potential for something like that to happen makes it all the more precious and exciting to simply be alive and to be human, now. I also keep in mind that all ends lead to new beginnings.
AFH: How would you describe the balance between realistic depiction and fantasy in your compositions? For example, what do the broken building ruins mean to you?
JM: I'm really interested in that phase of life that our culture shelters us from--the process of decay. The notion of “decay” in more cyclical philosophies leads to new life. In nature, decay is essential to new growth. New life feeds off the detritus of old life. I don't think we give that concept due importance in our culture. There is a huge black hole at the end of the linear lifeline of Western thought. I think the reason people had to invent Heaven and the after-life was so that, at the end of their imaginary line, there was somewhere great to go. They just couldn't deal with the fact that humans have to go back into the earth and support other life forms with their decaying bodies, like every other organism. Now I'm really off on a tangent, but it's essential to my work. The reason I paint the fallen house is to put this phase in people's faces, without telling them how to feel about it. Asia is symbolically exploring the decay-phase of civilization. She has enough personal strength to build shelter there. She starts to re-build a mythology that makes sense to her, picking from all the different memories of mankind.
AFH: "Suicide pig" is a term that my friend invented for the grotesque masochistic-looking cartoon sculptures or drawings of pigs in British butcher shops who preen or seem to flirt while advertising pork. There was one in Oxford that even wore garters. I never know what to make of them, but any thinking person would notice how spiritually akin to Armin Meiwes's lover they are... Why did you include a drawing of a"suicide pig" in one painting?
JM: Interesting. I was walking through Chelsea with a friend, and we found Matthew Weinstein's obese piggy bank sculpture at Sonnabend Gallery. I'd been troving for a new set of "gods" to include in my works, since I'm a little frustrated with monotheistic religion, and I don't think the ancient pagan religions should have a monopoly in this department. I was looking for creatures that reminded me of something greater than myself, to look to for guidance. This fat pig -- resting on its huge belly, waving its tiny infantile hands and feet (that could in no way ever support that huge body) and laughing over his double chin, with the coin slot in his asshole -- somehow spoke to me. It made me feel ok about the state of the world. It told me to lighten the fuck up and enjoy life!
I didn't associate it with the "suicide pigs," maybe because I'm a life-long vegetarian, or maybe because they're just less vivacious in America. Americans have a tendency to get super offended at anything questionable, so the conservatives have probably eradicated such icons from butcher shop windows by now.
AFH: We never spoke about your Work of Art experience. Besides being brutally public, how did the actual set-up compare to art school?
JM: Ha! Work of Art was so outside the bounds of anything I would normally do, that I've kind of forgotten that it happened. It feels like it happened separately from the time-line of my life. I also have reverse fame from it. I see people who watched the show, and know me, but never realized that I was that Jazz-minh on the show. People don't recognize me in the street. It's as if someone else, unassociated with me, was on that show.
The set-up was like art school on crack. We had a day and a half to make each piece, then half a day of critique -- so every four days, we'd have to make two pieces. I never believed in it, and I'm sure that didn't help me. It was "fun" in a very deer-in-the-headlights sort of way, but I don't think I would do it twice. That said, I also don't think I would have made my last body of work if I hadn't done the show, but that has more to do with Jerry Saltz than anything else. I respect Jerry. Going on an adventure with him was the sole reason I participated in Work of Art.
AFH: How has being in Manhattan affected your work and ways of viewing others' work?
JM: Having access to the innumerable museums and galleries provides a continuous feed of visual information, which I think we assimilate in ways we don't even know. I imagine it's like the rich organic compound of the forest floor, but in my mind. I don't know exactly what all went into it, but Maurizio Cattelan's massive hanging cat skeleton and Ai Weiwei's sunflower seeds are alchemically combined with Marianne Vitale's burned bridge, Will Kurtz' strange shitting dog newspaper sculpture and Michael Zelehoski's perspectival wood paintings...and that was just in the last week! (For readers who don't live in NYC, I suggest subscribing to Jerry Saltz and Loren Monk on Facebook, and of course reading the art reviews in the NYTimes, NY Mag, Village Voice, et al)
Seeing this much art is like the immersion alternative to learning a language from a text book. The more I see, the more at home I feel in my own work, because I realize that so many artists are making work along similar conceptual lines, but with a huge variety of outcomes. I think it was Ezra Pound who said "the artists are the antennae of the race."
Jazz-minh Moore's work is included in the Heart 4 Hart benefit auction, a fundraiser for artist Heather Hart who is battling cancer. There will be a fundraiser event on March 19th and the auction is available online here.
ArtSlant would like to thank Jazz-minh Moore for her assistance in making this interview possible.