I was recently interviewed by Natalie Howard of NY Observer Magazine. You can download the actual interview here or you can download the entire issue of April’s NY Observer here. The plain text version is below.
Art on fire
Was there a moment when you first realized you wanted to be an artist?
There wasn’t any specific moment. It always felt like a predetermined thing, like being an artist is woven into my DNA.
What drives you as an artist and propels your passion forward?
I’m really driven by the connection between myself and the work. My latest work is all about seduction between certain looks, especially the moment when two people first lock eyes. That’s the purest form of interpersonal connection. With certain images, the viewer is the one being seduced, and with others, the person in the image is very vulnerable and you’re the seducer.
Tell me about your exhibit at Pier 92.
The show at the Artist Project at Pier 92 [closed March 20] and was where I revealed my latest series. I had a stack of mug shots and one of them kept haunting me. I started researching the gentleman, his life and what happened to him. At first, I didn’t want to learn more about him. I was afraid I’d learn he was 5-foot-4 and lived with his mother and I would lose our connection. I learned he was arrested at age 21 for being a pimp. The San Bruno National Archives found out that the man’s name is William Murphy. They also found two men with that name—one was a war hero and the other was killed in a knife fight on a train. We don’t know which William Murphy this is. That’s where the mystery gets left in the viewer’s hands.
You often use very vibrant colors in your work.
I like vibrant colors be- cause I want my art to grab the attention of the room and be the centerpiece, and vibrant colors stand out more than others. Also, I think they spice up the pieces. A lot of things in real life are boring colors, but in art I can make them any color I want. This is the only life you live, why not make it exciting?
What are some of the primary materials you use when creating art?
I really like to work with rare materials, especially encaustic wax. Encaustic wax is a primitive form of painting; it was used to paint portraits on sarcophagi because it lasts forever. I like that encaustic wax is tactile and dangerous. You have to heat up the wax, and once it’s melted you can apply it like paint. You’re working straight off instinct because you have two seconds before the paint dries on the brush and becomes solid again. To me, instinct is the purest form of art.
I’ve heard you add a unique last touch to a lot of your pieces.
After they’re done, I light a lot of my paintings on fire. I don’t want to destroy them; I’m just adding an organic element to make them not so pretty. Things that are too perfect are cold and boring. Usually I do it for my wood pieces. It roasts the surface and reveals all the colors underneath.
If you had to describe your art in one sentence, what would it be?
I would say it’s indefin- able. Labels to me are really pigeonholing. I don’t believe in them. My art takes me all over the place—into portraiture, abstract art, painting.
What has been your favorite exhibition of your art thus far?
I would probably have to say the latest show at the Artist Project. It was mostly the mug-shot series, and I’ve never put myself out there like that. It was really rewarding because of the audience’s reactions, so I’m riding pretty high on that.
What are you most excited about for the future of your art?
I’m excited to explore more and really challenge myself to try different mediums.
See more of Jeremy Penn’s work at www.jeremypenn.com.