In the first of a series of artist interviews, Kris has been invited to hang out with painter Jonathan Lux in his Stockwell studio armed with a list a questions from Jonathan’s peers, friends and family. Kris will also be asking the artists to compile a studio playlist, an arty Desert Island Discs, scroll the the bottom of the page to hear Jonathan’s….
Hi Jonathan, tell me about your upbringing and how you first got onto the path of becoming an artist. - Kris
I always enjoyed drawing and at 14 I was accepted to a performing arts high school, meaning all the students were busy pursuing either dance, writing, music, or visual art. It was a great to get exposure to art history at a very young age, and to spend real time exploring and experimenting with a variety of tools and materials.
But I think the reason it worked so well was that all the proceedings were taken very seriously, and subconsciously the voices around me said what were were pursuing was a noble thing, that being a painter or a writer or a dancer was allowed, like any other profession. And being in a working class conservative town, this carried enormous weight for me.
In addition I clearly remember being able to escape the tedium of summers and weekends with routine trips by bicycle to an amazing used bookstore, not far from my home. (an endless maze of connected buildings, dusty, no windows, shelves stacked nearly to the ceiling). You could spend all day there, and the essence of my imagination and my curiosity, I probably learned there.
Your work seems to be moving more and more towards abstraction, yet there is always a figurative element that tends to suggest hints of narrative. How important to your work is maintaining an element of narrative? - Carl Gunhouse, photographer http://www.carlgunhousephoto.com
I don’t think a good painting needs a narrative element, but paintings lend themselves quite naturally to filling in the blanks in a viewer’s mind, and invariably a narrative will show up. It’s good because if you’re enjoying a visual experience and you perceive something is happening, it’s nice to organise that feeling in a private way, into something that could make sense. On the other hand, I think there’s added value in not always being aware of all the moving parts in a paintings conception, so that the ideal outcome would be that the picture wouldn't exhaust itself through it’s own meaning. I think we’re predisposed toward narrative whether we like it or not.
Your paintings, to me, are very suggestive of sound. I am curious if you think about sound when you’re painting, and what kinds of sounds exist for you in the paintings? - Shannon Estlund, artist http://shannonestlund.com
As a studio ritual, music is both comforting and necessary for me. But in addition to this, I think its also good to have something present that can act as a contrary mechanism, operating against concentration, in the background that one and freely engage and disengage with, which can on a subconscious level add unexpected contributions to an image. I use movies in this way, but it only works under the right conditions: the screen has to be located somewhere where I can’t see it, and it should ideally be an older film which I have seen maybe dozens of times already. Innocuous bits of dialogue like, for example the slightly presumptuous way Jimmy Stewart asks Grace kelly to bring him sandwiches or some brandy, or maybe the strangely sweet way Agnes Moorhead answers the door when a stranger knocks. I like that kind of stuff. It’s often difficult to keep influences from getting into the pictures, but I quite enjoy seeing a finished painting where I successfully followed through on a strategy but have the victory shared with unexpected elements, which I don’t understand, but make a positive contribution just the same.
I wold love to ask about your interest in cartoons, both in the art historical sense and of the mass culture-Sunday morning variety? I am so drawn to his drawings and they feel as tho in conversation with both! - Natalie Frank, artist http://www.natalie-frank.com
Oh, good cartoons can be fantastic. Cartoons have a brilliant economy and it seems natural that adapting it to a painted language would be useful tool. The deconstruction makes for very effective communication, and this seems to be true across cultures. Both painting and cartoons have a natural interest in liberty as an active mechanism, meaning that if a character or a situation could become momentarily disentangled from common sense, from gravity, or from anatomy, the image could transgress to a position of greater liberty, and greater happiness. And everybody should want a taste of that. I suppose this is why Matisse’s triple-jointed blue paper-cut out women seem so relaxed, and David Park’s oily-benevolent-mannequins seem to have found their inner peace.
Jonathan, In the recent paintings I have seen, your colour palette is becoming more extraordinary and vivid tangling your narrative and characters into a spectacle of chaos and passion. What inspires this colour palette and would you say it supports the dramatized, cartoon esque characters and lines you paint to dance upon the canvas or perhaps it is the other way around? Also, are these figures becoming familiar friends like a personal toolbox you can bring to life in each new narrative or are they themselves new every time? - Loretta Mae Hirsh, artist www.lorettamae.com
Thank you for the rich description of things! The obligation of colour can vary from picture to picture, so my primary aim is to have paintings work, one strategy at a time. Regarding colour, some ingredients include early Richard Diebenkorn swipes, adverts in the tube, early Chuck Jones backgrounds, the bathroom tiles from the Greenwich Hotel, Florida in the 1980’s (sun bleached with long, sinister shadows). Many of the figures in my paintings reference people I know, or once knew. It’s important for me to have something familiar as a starting point and then gradually let things grow distorted and unfamiliar. In regards to specific individuals, my memories sometimes run in the opposite direction of the facts, but for the sake of the painting, I don’t make distinctions between the two.
Do your daughters help you get ideas sometimes for your drawings? - Ava Lux
Well sure, they play an very active role in my life, so yes. We often sketch together at home or on the bus. Sometimes I catch them borrowing, and developing things I’m certain they’ve pealed from my sketchbook and sometimes I pull the same trick. We go see a lot of art together, and their take on things is unfiltered and can be quite interesting. Speaking as their interpreter, they really liked Matisse and Ken Price, were bewildered by Kitaj and had a great many questions about Max Beckmann. We probably should have left them at home for that one.
When I look at your sketchbook I'm struck by your imaginative energy. What do you do to exercise your imaginative muscle, and how do you nurture that interior world in the face of the distractions of daily life? - Benjamin Senior, artist
Ah, what a great question: The distractions of daily life indeed! Well I draw constantly and with the many influences present in the world filtering in, my interior world seems almost self-nurturing. I do rely heavily on the sketchbooks I keep, to sort things out and identify ideas which are worth developing further. And as those books generally remain my private concern, the stakes are quite low, and therefore anything goes. They’re a sort of wild west of equal parts brilliant potential and half baked schemes, the testing perfects grounds.
There’s a passage in Robert Hughes's book on Frank Auerbach about the guilt he feels when he’s not in the studio. I suppose I have a touch of that, maybe i’ve trained myself to feed bad if I’m not doodling while on the tube, or sitting at restaurants.
Last question - where are we now? - Kris
Right now? I’m pleased with the direction of things, but like everyone I’m always seeking an better outcome that permits more trial and less error. On days with studio struggles in the rear view mirror, I feel like Im having a lot of fun.
Click above to hear Jonathan's studio mixtape
Jonathan Lux in his studio, 2017. Chris Proctor