The last time I visited Jordan Kasey’s studio was exactly one year ago, in the spring, again around the same time both of us were coming out of winter hibernation. Jordan’s new paintings are evident of the season’s change. Her large scale oil paintings embody an underlying representation of how figures interact with the natural world: vast open spaces, the sea, rocks, plants and sunlight. A new painting depicts figures at the beach, shielding the sun from their burnt flesh. We unwrap some recent works, dark moody figures in dimly lit interiors, paintings influenced by the past winter in which they were created. After covering the floor in smaller unstretched rock paintings we decide to have our picnic outdoors across the street at Cooper Park.
Picnic: I haven’t seen your work in a while, the last time I was here was exactly one year ago, what have you been working on?
Jordan: I am working on large paintings and I’ve been working on these little rock paintings. I took pictures of minerals, gems and meteorites at the Natural History Museum, hundreds of photos and printed them out. I’ve been making little studies of those, for fun and for myself, to explore different textures and light; and maybe or maybe not incorporating them into my larger works. I’m hoping they will seep into the part of my brain that will find some use for them later on, but for now they are mostly just fun.
And then there are these three big paintings…
Right now I’m working on three big paintings, they’re figurative. Since I successfully made a painting that had two people I felt confident enough to incorporate more than one person in a painting, so I made three people, it’s women at the beach. I feel like every summer, or as summer starts to come, I start making beach paintings. This one started out as a dark background in an interior, as the weather got warmer the background turned into a sunny blue beach day.
They definitely feel informed by the weather, the color of the skin too, the red implying sun burn.
Yeah heat and warmth. When those are finished I have wood to make new paintings, paintings of more beach imagery. It may not end up being the beach at all because I usually start a painting with one idea and it turns into something totally different- my favorite part of working on a painting is if it completely surprises me by taking a new direction that I never intended.
I was re-familiarizing myself with your work by looking at your website this week and came across this metallic painting, of gears and shiny metal, and I thought ‘wow, she’s really changing her angle.’ From the work I know, you focus a lot on corals, clouds, rocks, oceans, sands, that natural texture. Where did this change to the man-made and metallic come from?
That still-life was really reaching out to touch a place I don’t need to go back to. I did it as a challenge to see if I could set up a still-life and paint it. I was trying to surprise myself by working outside of my head. When you’re working from your imagination you have this notion of what nature will do, you develop a really concrete and stylized idea of what nature looks like. So I’ve been doing some practice working from observation and then applying that to my paintings. It all spirals together over time, it’s hard to force new ideas into the work immediately.
When did you start photographing the rocks and painting them?
I remember it was warm out, it might’ve been late spring, beginning of last summer.
Before that were you working from imagination?
Yea mostly, but sometimes, I would make forms out of clay blobs to see how the light hit it. Then everything I painted from imagination started to look like clay. I’ll work from imagination, but I’ll look at an ear for reference, or do a sketch of my sunglasses, set them upside down on the beach. One day I was going to the beach specifically to draw the reflection in my sunglasses. I left my house on my bike and there was this little boy wearing a t-shirt that had sunglasses with the reflection of the beach in them, I thought it was funny, that’s what my day was all about.
Your figures, rocks and landscapes feel really sculptural, and working from imagination you do a really good job of capturing the light: the deep shadows and the direct light source, if feels like you could be drawing from life because your’e making it up really well.
Light is really important to me when I’m painting. Part of doing the metallic still-life was to see how light affects other surfaces, because I’ll fall on the same pattern of how I make light and shadow. I have a hard time imagining it without the light source that makes you see it. I like thinking of light, how things mentally occupy a three-dimensional space and trying to sculpt it with paint.
There is this fascination with the natural world and geology, but then there is always this intervening figure. Something about their scale and how they cannot be contained within the constraints of the canvas make them very ominous or otherworldly. Who are they?
I would hope the figures have some sort of emotional impact, they are less of any sort of specific person and more about how it feels to be in a body at a certain point, more emotionally occupying it than visually even, physically occupying an emotional space. They aren’t really people.
A personification of an emotion?
Yeah but I would hope it not be worded that directly. It’s hard to talk about it, you want a piece to be able to speak for itself.
There is a consistency in scale of your paintings, with the exception of the smaller rock sketches, you are always working large scale. Even though your studio size might cramp it, being able to only work on two or three at a time, you’re not hindered by it. It’s really impressive. Have you always worked on such a large scale, what drew you to it?
I originally liked working big starting from the first week of freshman year in my painting class in college. The assignment was to stretch a canvas that was at least four by four feet. I never made a big painting like that. I had done a little oil painting in high school, where the teacher sets up a still-life and you have to paint it. For the assignment I took a box spring from the alley and pulled it apart and built a stretcher, it was really shitty. Anyway the painting was really fun, I made this painting that I really like. I still have this picture it was 52 x 64 inches. That was the first big painting I ever made, I enjoyed it and never went back to working small. I don’t think the things I do work well on a smaller scale. Especially working with the figure, there is a decision ‘is it going to be life size? is it going to be smaller than life, or is it going to be larger than life?’ I think if the figure is smaller than life it’s really creepy looking, and then if it’s just a little larger you can’t really notice. I like them to be a big presence, it works well for me. I like to stand up while I’m painting, I like to fill my field of vision while I’m working on it. I like it to be about my size, about my arm span, or bigger. I’ve done murals too in the past and that was really fun. I would do bigger paintings if I had a bigger studio. It comes down to enjoying the physical act of moving around the painting, it’s creating a world that I get to occupy.
The first time I saw your work was this huge mural at your old house in Baltimore. You have a lot more murals on your website, including a few at a primary school in Senegal, when were you there?
I was there two years ago, the winter before I moved to New York. I was visiting my friend Katherine who was in the Peace Corps, I needed to get out of Baltimore for a while. I went to Senegal for two months and traveled around with my friend Alex, and then settled down with Katherine in her village for a month. There wasn’t really much to do, and I thought it would be fun to paint a mural there. There isn’t really anything like that there, it’s a little village with mud huts, and the only building that wasn’t a mud hut was the school. The tailor in the village was a cool guy, coming from a conservative and traditional culture, he would talk about how he wanted girls to stay in school more and wanted to make more fashionable clothes. He was a good person to talk to and he spoke to the guy who ran the school about me painting a mural there, and he was really into it. It was a whole crazy process getting materials and finding paint. There were only 3 colors, it smelled like gasoline, and was the consistency of molasses. The paint thinner you’d get at a different store, they sold it in used wine bottles with corks. We had to get cement from the store, pile it all on our bikes and go down the long dirt road out to the village. First we had to cement the wall and paint it with white primer that we mixed with boiled water from the well. It was an awesome experience, everything takes so much longer and was so much harder to do. I painted bunnies on the wall in the school, in another room I painted a map of Senegal for the teacher with dots for all the cities and different regions. And then a painting on the gate outside of the school of a girl sitting at a desk. That was for the tailor, after talking to him about how he wanted girls to stay in school. It was really exciting, everyday we’d be out painting and there would be a huge crowd of kids gathered around watching.
Jordan: Are you not going to eat that? I love this little pie, do you think of the food in concept with the art that your’e seeing?
Picnic: Yes, on some level.
How does this relate to my work?
I wanted to play with natural texture, trying to make vegetables and earthy foods look surreal. Similar to your earthy textures and rocks, to keep its natural form but abstract it. So I literally searched “weird foods to make with vegetables” and came across this.
I feel like the colors work too!
If only I could make sky blue food!
[mumbled talk about cookies while chewing on apricot Hamantashen]
Do you have any shows or trips coming up?
I have a group show coming up at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery, opening the 24th of this month. It’s Andrew Guenther, Nicholas Moenich, & Tracy Thomason, curated by Alex Ebstein. She wants to put in three paintings, we’ll see, to be determined. And hoping to travel again this summer, thinking we’re going to go Serbia or Croatia for a few weeks. I was in Croatia before on a farm, but haven’t seen any of the parks. I was near the coast, but will hopefully explore it more thoroughly this time.
Check out Jordan’s work in person next week in TIDE POOL at Greenpoint Terminal Gallery April 24 – May 30, 2015. Or at Bushwick Open Studios in June. More murals and recent artwork at http://jordankasey.blogspot.com/.