The paintings Jamie Boling creates are drenched in the spirit of American pop culture, often revealing truthful, humorous and sometimes grim glimpses into our media saturated culture. Images of vulgarity and beauty strung together create a visual dialogue of our dualistic existence; one foot in reality and the other in a virtual void of 24/7 sounds bites and iconic spectacles. Guided by the belief that “the sensational can sometimes provide profound insights into human nature”, Jamie creates quiet moments of clarity for the viewer by re-contextualizing the way we experience ubiquitous imagery.
I had the honor to interview Jamie about the concepts and themes in his imagery. Here's what he had to say over the phone.
DD: Let’s start with the beginning – what is your earliest memory of art as a child?
JB: It’s funny that I remember this so clearly because it was in 1st or 2nd grade when my class read the Three Billy Goats Gruff. We made hand puppets out of brown paper bags and construction paper so we could put on a puppet show. There was something about the project which really lit a fire in me and I totally got into it. I ran across that troll puppet years later as my mom had saved a bunch of my early work. I had made the troll with green fur, white crooked pointed teeth, and even an eye patch. Seeing it brought back this clear memory of realizing that the pictures that I have in my head could become physical and real. It was an incredibly powerful and profound experience to have early on.
DD: Some of your work has been considered controversial; like the time when Barack Obama was scheduled for a campaign rally which was hosted in the same building as an exhibit of yours. Obama’s Public Relations team was sent ahead to scope out the venue and asked you to censor your artwork for fear that the then-Presidential-Candidate would be photographed alongside it. What went down, and how did you handle the request to remove your artwork?
JB: I understood their reasons for wanting to remove those particular pieces; I just wasn’t willing to censor myself. I let them know that I wasn’t going to make any changes to the exhibit, and that they had the choice to deal with the situation as they saw fit. What ended up happening was they erected a large blue curtain in front of the images they objected to. Shortly after, the media caught wind of the whole ordeal and the censorship of my work made a few headlines. That’s the beauty of making a piece of work that reflects the ridiculous nature of media fascination – the censorship of that becomes its own fascination. The idea perpetuates itself, and I think it’s kind of appropriate and amusing how it all went down.
DD: I understand that you’ve had some time to study at the Louvre. How did you end up there, and what was your experience like?
JB: At the time my heroes were the French Painters from the 18th – 19th century. I spent a year living in Paris in order to really understand how they made their paintings and the culture that inspired them. In particular, I focused on studying the “Death of Sardanapalus” by Delacroix in order to visually absorb the techniques and then create a large scale reproduction. I went to the Louvre nearly every day just to stand in front of the Delacroix masterpiece. While I was there, I really got a chance to experience the contrast between contemporary American culture as I am accustomed to and the studiously refined artistic culture that inundates French day to day living.
DD: Much of your art is a visual re-appropriation of contemporary pop culture imagery created with traditional painting techniques. What inspires you to choose an image to paint?
JB: My selection stems from curiosity, and a suspended sort of fascination with images that I come across in my daily life. For example, my painting "Wasted" was created after I read a news article about a Facebook group called 30 Reasons Girls Should Call It a Night. The article featured feminist groups and concerned mothers that were up in arms over young women posting images of themselves drunk and high. I was struck by how many of the posted images were simultaneously disturbing and formally beautiful. I culled through literally hundreds of images and chose a few to make into large-scale paintings. I believe that there is some kind of power in re-contextualized those images. They have a physical presence that is at once arresting, unsettling, and alluring. I am endlessly intrigued by that tension as well as how images like those tell a story of this time and place we live in.
DD: So, essentially you are taking hyper-glorified images from the media and re-contextualizing them. Is there the possibility that your re-population of these images as art is a continued extension of the original sin that you are commenting on?
JB: I consider my approach to be more anthropological than anything else. The work doesn’t exist to cast judgment, antagonize, or to sensationalize. The work exists more as a record of this time and place, similar to the way those French painters I admire were documenting the time and place in which they lived. There are other considerations in my art work such as form and beauty, but at the heart of my work is the urge to establish a record of my experience in this short time I have on the earth. My curatorial choices in image selection end up revealing something that is both personal and journalistic.
DD: If your present self could time travel and visit your past self, what advice about being an artist would you give to yourself?
JB: The advice I would give to my past self about being an artist would be to avoid being so cautious in his approach. In a lot of different teachings on art, particularly the classical painting techniques that I have studied, there is a solid methodology and foundation of learning that comes with the territory. Often instead of being a tool used for art, traditional methodology can become restrictive and causes one to become too conservative or limited. I have certainly battled against those tendencies in my studio. Embracing new ways of doing things and becoming less inhibited during the creative process has helped me to become more inventive, honest, and open to possibilities with regard to form and subject matter. For me, exercising that freedom has been a slow but steady evolution.
Visit www.jamieboling.com to see more masterpieces by this artist.
Images © Jamie Boling, All Rights Reserved