Gallery artist Jaik Faulk discusses his fifth solo exhibition at Nationale (!), "I feel alright with azaleas around."
Gabi Lewton-Leopold: This is the first series you've shown at Nationale that focuses solely on the still life genre. We've seen elements of this in other series—abstracted paintings of objects or flowers, but they are typically accompanied by a healthy dose of the figure. What brought you to this space that focuses completely on painting objects with a clear nod to the still life tradition (skulls, flowers, vases)? Do you see it as a departure or as an extension of your past work?
Jaik Faulk: Man, this question actually has thrown me for a loop. I was going to be wishy-washy and say it's a little bit of both (an extension as well as a departure) in some ways. But I will say firmly that it is an extension of my previous work.
The big difference is that these paintings come from direct observation. I constructed these little arrangements and still lifes with painted bottles, handmade flowers (as well as flowers I've gathered from my neighborhood), and skulls that I have collected and painted. My work up until now has always resulted from collected images—painting as a direct response to the archive I've amassed in numerous sketchbooks and carried about. They've aged and torn and become discolored and I had always found it to be a nice little secret world to pull from. At some point I found myself searching and searching this archive and nothing grabbed my attention. I felt like I had hit a brick wall with that method of working. So, in response I began creating these little studio sculptures and arrangements. I set them up and lit them—moved them a bit here and there and began tinkering with these things in a more tangible way. I've toyed with this sort of thing for quite awhile but somehow it stuck this time. I guess I have such an attachment to portraiture and the figure that it was hard to allow myself to let it go.
I find something very measured and nuanced in working this new way. It's really spooky how a studio practice can evolve and take you to places you never could've imagined. So there ya go: Extension vs Departure ?? Who knows. I could make a case for both, I guess.
GLL: It's like you took all the 2D imagery you usually work from in your sketchbooks and made it 3D in your studio—as if all the elements you collected and set up for these paintings were sketches in themselves. Your studio become your sketchbook and where you'd normally pull magazine fragments, you collected real objects. Something kinda magical about that idea. Can you talk more about your studio process with this series, what your setup is like and what materials you used.
JF: In the studio I have little clusters of arrangements all around so each angle that I am painting from varies. These objects and things are ever-present, they create a vibe in the studio that I've always wanted to be in the work. Many a time I found myself saying "ah I wish I could just have a show in my studio, or I wish I could open my studio up to the viewers." Perhaps I thought that the thinking and logic in my paintings would be more apparent that way? But I'm not sure if that's the way it works.
It is very much a painter's studio; very lived in and worked in, I love being in there. At some point in grad school someone said that it was exactly what they had imagined an artist's studio to look like, or that maybe it was "the studio most likely to be a real artist's studio." I love to see visitors respond to it, there is always something they gravitate towards that grabs their attention. Their thoughts on the objects, the space, the paintings are so informative. As I said, I love to be there and it's a nice little space that I've carved out for myself to think in and to paint in.
GLL: This is perhaps your first series without of figures. The paintings Wolf Mask and Mask with Punk Wig could be seen as figures, but you've been sure to tell us in your titles that they are in fact objects, not living beings. Through this naming they lose their menacing quality and become more artificial. Was that your intention?
JF: Yes, in the naming I did want to point out that they are artificial. You are exactly right that I wanted to strip them of their menacing quality and in fact, a great deal of all these things are artificial.
They are flowers I made out of plastic and are sort of maquettes of flowers and arrangements that I imagine to be unreal or hyper-real. I wanted to use them as objects, as things to paint for purely formal reasons. With Wolf Mask for example, I really wanted to paint the hair and I was curious as to what I would need to do to achieve that. Mask with Punk Wig was much the same—I saw the teeth as a challenge. I thought to myself, "what could I do with that?"
GLL: The teeth are one of my favorite moments from this series! The pop of color and texture is so good and satisfying. I was also wondering about symbolism. Dutch still life genre (or Vanitas) was all about symbols—the skull and flowers as markers of time passing and impermanence of this life and pleasures that will not last. Was that part of your thought process conceiving of this series? Were you thinking about mortality?
JF: I do think of the Dutch still life tradition and Vanitas painting, but I hold it all on the periphery. I've done a bit of research on its history but to be honest, I felt that I was ruining good paintings by reading too much symbolism into it or adhering to the specific coded language those old fellows were using. I like that meaning to be there, and perhaps to discover personal meaning in these works, or to develop a personal language with them is more valuable than adopting a coded language.
Mortality, oh yes. I was thinking about mortality, but again, only at the periphery. I've been to way too many funerals in the past year or two—many loved ones and people way too young, so I could see the skulls being a reflection of that. My brother is getting married in January, and I told him his wedding needs to hurry and get here so I can dress up for something fun.
I guess also on a lighter note, if the funerals have taught me anything, it is that life is too short to not paint what you want. I've always loved skulls and they do carry such a heavy weight symbolically that I've steered away from painting them. However lately, I've been looking at James Ensor and I felt like seeing how he embraced painting both skulls and masks—that gave me permission to do the same. As I get older I am learning to enjoy my little eccentricities.
GLL: I see that in my own life too, that growing up doesn’t get rid of insecurities, but it does make it easier to embrace those aspects that used to make me uncomfortable. Can you tell us a little about azaleas? What do they mean to you in terms of place and cultural or personal significance (as implied with the first person title)? And I may be wrong, but they seem to only make an appearance in one of the paintings Still Life with Gold Cup, and even in that work they are more white and light pink versus their signature hot pink.
JF: Azalea's are a little bush or shrub that is very common in Acadiana (Cajun South Louisiana), where I live. I actually didn't paint any. The little flower in Still Life with Gold Cup is some other unknown flower from my front yard. It fades pretty quick after clipping so I had to work pretty fast to paint those flowers.
Back to the Azalea's though, I thought maybe it would be too obvious to paint them, so I didn't even approach the idea. However, I love them, their presence in our neighborhoods down here gives me a specific sense of place. I see them everywhere riding my bike, and this combined with the bungalow architecture and porches I find endlessly fascinating. They do have a hot pink color and I'm not sure that they fit in the category of classic beauty, as they are a little "weedy." They pair well with linoleum counter tops and Salvation Army furniture. “Southern Bohemian Beauty” I would call it—beer rather than wine.
GLL: "Southern Bohemian Beauty" —love that, and that's exactly the picture I have in my mind of you working in your studio. I've never been to the South but people always talk about how the pace is different. Do you think your studio practice and your work have changed since moving back to Louisiana?
JF: Yes, I do believe both my practice and my work have changed—evolved, more so. I can't say if it is outwardly visible, it may be more subtle, but I know that I look at my work differently now. I expect different things from any particular piece. I've had much more time to get to know my work rather than the work of others. Who's doing what and where, and which way the art world was swaying; these were things that I paid more attention to in Portland and San Francisco. Now I am at a place where I am able to ignore extraneous noise.
I am getting to a point where I can view older pieces of mine through the lens of new works and say, "oh ok, that's what I was doing there, now I get it." And "ah-ha! that's why that piece works!" If I had to give specifics, it would be something to do with the lame fundamentals of painting. Quite often it is in analyzing the structure of a painting, the visual depth or the arrangement of things, visual cues. Silly little things that make paintings work.
Louisiana has afforded much more time and space for my work. It feels very healthy. Also I get to have lunch with my brothers just about every week. It has been a very long time since I was able to do that.