This interview was originally published at Loving MIxed Media (no longer available online) . Reprinted with permission.
LMM: Who are some of your favorite artists?
JR: Robert Rauschenberg, Hannah Höch, Marc Chagall, Winston Smith, Stephen Tunney, to name a few.
LMM: Are you influenced/inspired by any of them or by a particular art movement?
JR: Robert Rauschenberg’s assemblages, his “combines” in particular, definitely influenced my personal aesthetic. Marc Chagall’s gift for finding the poetry in his paint is uniquely inspiring, even if it’s not something I can claim to emulate very well. Hannah Höch, along with artists like Phil Guston and to some extent, Chagall, marvelously handled grave subject matter with a bizarre sense of humor and whimsy. These are the kinds of things that make me want to create images of my own. As far as influential movements, I can credit Surrealism and Dadaism for luring me into art history at a young age. And learning about social and conceptual movements like Constructivism, abstract expressionism and the Pop art movement helped me better understand the relationship between art and culture as a whole.
LMM: What are your favorite mediums to work with and why?
JR: I primarily work with acrylic, ink, and charcoal. I often incorporate stain and Polyurethane as well. Oil-based stain and acrylic don't blend and make for some interesting, serendipitous results when worked in certain ways. Frankly, I'm liable to use whatever is most handy at my studio. Coffee grounds, scraps, sawdust… I once did a series of small ink drawings on individually wrapped slices of American cheese. That stuff never molds, you know. After a while it just turns into a hard, orange-colored plastic-y substance. The oils in the cheese came to the surface and interacted with the ink. Come to think of it, that's probably what led to my introducing other petroleum based substances into my work.
LMM: Have you had any formal art training and are you currently involved in an Art Society?
JR: I graduated from the College of Visual arts in St. Paul, MN, where I earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Illustration.
LMM: Do you exhibit your work somewhere?Any current or upcoming exhibitions?
JR: In March and April of last year, I had a solo show, An Evening of the Odds, on display at Nicademus Art in St. Paul, Minnesota. I’ve also recently shown work in several group shows including the Art Through Education Exhibition at St. Paul’s Creative Arts High School, the College of Visual Arts Alumni Exhibition, and the House of Mercy Church. This fall I'll be showing new work at our annual Open Studio party (date TBD,) along with my studio mates. And I am currently working on completing my next show Opportunityland! which will be on display at the Burnsville Performing Arts Center, Burnsville, Minnesota, USA, between August 2nd, and September 8th, 2012.
LMM: Who do you aspire to be like? As successful as?
JR: I’ve never really thought about it in those terms. I’d really just love to show my work as far and wide as I can.
LMM: How would you classify your style?
JR: Some sort of combination of surrealism and expressionism, I suppose. I always struggle with this question. Someone recently asked me what kind of painter I was and I’m sure I offered an overly long, painfully pretentious explanation. It wasn’t until later it occurred to me he was most likely asking if I paint walls or pictures.
LMM: Does your art carry a message?
JR: I tend to work in series, and each series is built around a theme or a philosophy. I don't know if message is the word I’d use. Message seems to imply a greater clarity of intent than I would dare claim. I have ideas, which are often unclear to me until I've worked on something for a while, and then step back and really analyze the decisions I've made. This is somewhat backwards but it's really how I begin almost every new series. After I've finished what is essentially a conceptual prototype, I'll begin to make more in the same vein, exploring different aspects of the same ideas. That said, there are a few aspects that are probably present in just about all of my work. My visual style has been described as ghostly, dreamlike and even surreal, however my intent is not to explore the subconscious mind, but rather the cognitive; how we think, reason and remember. I use layered imagery and figural abstraction along with expressive mark-making as a way to visualize and bring some order to the chaos that is constantly going on in our minds.
LMM: What caused you to start creating in the first place?
JR: As a young child I loved to draw and my parents and others were very supportive and encouraging, but it wasn’t something I took seriously until much later. If I had to single out one thing that’s most responsible for my expanded interest in art it would probably be “Eddie”, the mascot from the British heavy metal band Iron Maiden. I bought all of their albums (on cassette, back then) and even though I didn’t really care for their music, I loved the cover artwork and would recreate it on folders and notebooks and in the margins of tests. People saw it, told me it was good and midway through high school I started taking art classes. That went well and the next thing I knew, I was applying at art schools, intent on studying illustration.
LMM: How long does it take you to complete a work of art on average?
JR: Most of my work is very process heavy, for example my current crop involves digital composition, which is output on paper, then gel transferred to canvas and painted over. Gel transfer is a pretty common technique, but I’m working at much larger scale than is typical (48in x 60in), and tiling the image. Just the transfer process, which (excluding drying and compression times) shouldn’t take more than an hour or so, takes me about 2 hours per square foot. Add to that, 2 hours to build and stretch the canvas, an hour or so to compose the image, and maybe 3 to 5 hours of painting.
LMM: What about colors/themes? Is there a predominant color or theme that runs through your work?
JR: I have a lot of recurring imagery. Gears and machinery, buildings and cityscapes, the juxtaposition of body parts with objects. The obscuring of hands and parts of the face. I really enjoy putting things on people’s heads that shouldn’t be there. A recurring conceptual theme of mine is the transitivity of context and I routinely try to create work that can be interpreted in completely different ways depending on the circumstances under which it is encountered. I’m also very interested in the perception of time and how it relates to our construction and recollection of memories.
LMM: What advice would you offer beginner artists?
JR: Surround yourself with creative, motivated people whom you respect and admire.
LMM: What are you working on at the moment?
JR: I’m currently working on a series called Opportunityland, dealing with issues of alienation, assimilation and the bizarre presumption of normalcy that defines both.
LMM: Do you have a studio space? If not, where do you work? IF so, do you keep it clean and tidy or is it a complete mess?
JR: I share a large workspace in an old warehouse with three other artists. By studio standards, I think it’s pretty tidy. By any other standard, it’s an absolute mess.