J.S. Weis

J.S. Weis sits down with us to chat about his work and the truths about being a contemporary artist in the Bay Area.

AIS: So What does J.S. Stand for?
JSW: Jeffrey Scott

AIS: How did you come up with naming Liquid Hymn, Liquid Hymn?
LW: Hymen? Is it liquid hymen or liquid hymn? I definitely read it as hymen.
JSW: It’s Liquid Hymn but that might be better. I don’t know if it goes with what I was doing, but I do like those two words together.
Well, Liquid is obviously about nature. When scientists talk about the substance that all life is dependent on, it’s not sunlight but water. Since deep sea beds exist without light. Liquid is also what I use to dispense the ink or pigment. And then hymn was where I was going with the tone of the work, really energetic, not religious.

AIS: How long does it take to do the average piece?
JSW: I don’t know, I tried to keep track of it at one point, but it just made me so depressed to think about it. But it takes a long time.

AIS: Do you work on multiple pieces at once?
JSW: Yeah

AIS: How many X-acto blades do you go through?
JSW: I had a box of 100 and I’m just starting to get to the end of. So, I’m very frugal with my materials, so when it starts to get dull, I get wire cutters and then I keep cutting them down to use the next part of the blade.

LW: Since, you like science, do scientific illustrations influence your work?
JSW: Absolutely

LW: Any specific artists?
JSW: I have a book of Ernst Haeckel forms of beauty of nature. I read a lot of the golden days of naturalists.

AIS: Where were you at when you started to want to add layers of paper into your work?
JSW: Well, I guess, I really like textures and I really thought things were flat. I wasn’t working on canvas and so there wasn’t a texture. And I really was missing something. And I thought maybe I’d do an impasto and have some really thick acrylic on there, but I don’t know. I had done something on it’s own, a side piece, that used paper in that kind of way. I just hadn’t made the jump of doing it with figurative stuff, that was just an abstract piece.

AIS: How do you describe your work?
JSW: I usually don’t, I just get people to look at it. I’m usually good about describing things, but when you’re describing your own work it’s always wrong. You’re always missing something. I rather people come to their own conclusions about it. I’m happy to answer questions and I have ideas about what people will take away.

LW: How do you feel about people describing your work as psychedelic?
JSW: Uhhh
LW: Is it psychedelic to you?
JSW: I probably should have seen that coming. I like a lot of work from the 60s and 70s like Ralph Steadman. He’s one of my favorites. I like the energy of it. It’s not rational.

AIS: Do you have a favorite piece?
JSW: Of something that I’ve done?
AIS: Yeah, of Liquid Hymn or of older work?
LW: Or do you just hate your work right after you do it?
JSW: I do, I do. Umm… maybe my self-portrait that I did.
AIS: That’s called the creator’s curse isn’t it? I was just talking to my niece and she was asking, ‘Why do I hate everything I make?” and I was like, ‘ dude girl, get use to it.’ But for some reason you’ll keep making it.
JSW: Well and it’s a good thing because you’re not satisfied with each piece you’re always think about what could be better what could have been improved on. If you’re like, oh I finally got it, then what’s the drive to make the next one.

AIS: So talk to me about your process? Do you start out with any sketches?
JSW: No, no sketches. I’ve never done sketches, I like the surprise. If I do a sketch then I know what I’m doing. I kind of just do a splatter and then just see what comes out of it. I’m usually listening to music or TV or Radio. I was just listening to Radiolab and there was an episode about emergence theory which seemed to apply to what I was thinking about when I did it. Which is these seemingly arbitrary patterns emerge out of it and we want to make sense of those patterns. So I think, when I make a splatter, it’s then me trying to make sense out of it.
AIS: Did you do many shows before your debut of Liquid Hymn at 1AM Gallery?
JSW: Not at 1AM, a few at cafe’s. That was really the first real show.
AIS: So how did they get ahold of you or did you get ahold of them?
JSW: Well, um, I worked down the street, and I originally sent stuff to them that wasn’t that series, and I didn’t make it in. And then I sent one of the Liquid Hymn series and heard back, went in, showed them. At first it was going to be a group show or two person show but in the end they got back to me and said they thought it would do best as a solo-show which I was stoked about.AIS: How long had you been working on that series?
JSW: Just a few months when I had brought it in and then I worked on it for a whole year before the show.
AIS: Did you go into overdrive when you got the show booked?
JSW: Kind of, you know I hear about artists working all night and just because I’m doing what I’m doing, I can’t really do that. It’s like tiny pieces of paper. I also always have other series going on that I’m experimenting with so it was kind of overdrive, I was working a lot.
LW: Do you have a day job?
JSW:  I freelance graphic design
AIS: How is that?
JSW: It’s good, I like doing it. Sometimes it’s hard to divide my time between the two, you have to hustle of the graphics and you have to hustle for the art. Hopefully there will be a point when they ducktail together. I get cabin fever a lot, cause I work and think about it all time.AIS: Do you binge watch netflix?
JSW: Oh, yes, it’s on all the time in the background. I just need to hear the voices.
AIS: What are some of your favorite shows?
JSW: I haven’t watch-watched anything in a long time. I just listen to them as I work.
AIS: Yeah, we know, which shows? (laughing)
JSW: Futurama is one, Arrested Development. It tends to be comedies.
AIS: Yeah, light hearted comedies, a lot of dialogue, not much action, you can never do action packed, or subtitled foreign films.
LW: Oh yeah Subtitles, forget it.
JSW: yeahAIS: Do you ever watch The Office? It’s my go-to.
JSW: The British Office, I haven’t seen the american one.
AIS: You haven’t? 
JSW: Nope. haha, The only thing that I’ve watch-watched recently was House of Cards.
AIS: Oh yeah, I love that show, it’s so good, (to Lucy) you still need to see it.
LW: I probably never will, for the same reason I haven’t seen Game of Thrones, because I’m so use to doing something else while watching. I’m like trying to watch it, draw and read a wikipedia article and then I have no idea what’s going on.
JSW: I’d like to think that House of Cards is different. It hard for me to sit still too but this show definitely held my attention.
LW: It’s just our generation, our attention spans are so short.
JSW: And you have to wonder about that with art too.
AIS: Oh yeah, just look at First Fridays, it started as a night to go out and really look at some art, and now you’ll be luckily to get a quick glance at it since it’s become a structure to house people having small interactions. It’s totally it’s own thing, and that’s fine, but if I want to see some art, I never go to First Fridays.
AIS: Did you go to university?
JSW: I did, I went to JMU, James Madison University in Virginia. Small town, like I literally saw cows running down the street, and a cop chasing one.AIS: Did you grow up in a rural environment?
JSW: I grew up lots of places. I mostly lived in smaller towns, never big cities, not till I moved away.AIS: What did you go to university for?
JSW: BFA with a concentration in Printmaking

AIS: So you started in Fine Arts, how did you move to graphic design?
JSW: Well, I got out of college and there really wasn’t much going on for an artist. So I went into working for commercial screen printing shops for a while. Then I realized that printing wasn’t really a skill that was going to go anywhere, at least in that environment. I do love to print, but the graphic designing part was kind of the better option. It’s been very useful.

AIS: So would you say you stay very active in the art community?
JSW: More so now. I started volunteering at Creative Growth. It’s a studio in Oakland for people with developmental disabilities. It’s been really cool. Most the people who work there are artists and the clients are very interesting. It’s been a good thing and it gets me out. I wouldn’t say that I’ve been hitting the pavement and seeing a lot of shows. I’ve never been very good at that. I much rather just make work. I like socializing but socializing with an agenda isn’t good.

AIS: Where do you make your work and what is your setup like?
JSW: I work out of my room. I just have a futon that I never fold out that I sleep on and I just work there on my desk. It’s a small space but I feel that I work pretty well with what I have. I would like to see what would happen if I had more space. What the artwork would like then. It’s like the fish in the small bowl it just stays small its, like, physiology won’t get bigger until you put it in a bigger space. I wonder if I moved in to space that was large and my work would start to look dinky in it, it would start to get bigger.

AIS: That was my next question. Have you thought about doing larger works? (laughs)
JSW: Yes. (laugh) all the time.
AIS: Yeah, space really effects your work. Lucy use to work on her bed. 
LW: Yeah, well I lived in a space that was only big enough for my bed so I did all my paintings and drawings on it. They turned into a bunch of paintings and drawings of me in my bed and of my bed cover.
JSW: Did you have a window?
LW: I did, I don’t really now. Do you?
JSW: Yes. I do, I have great natural light.
AIS: That is so important!
JSW: Yeah, I spend so much time in it I would go really crazy if I didn’t have it. But I can feel for working on the bed. It’s hard to wake up and work in the same space you sleep in. It’s at least nice to have a little division.
AIS: So what are you working on now?
JSW: I’m working on two giraffes for a show in London. I have about a week to finish them.LW: Is that what you’ll be doing when you get home?
JSW: Yes, that is what I was doing before I left and what I’ll be doing when I get home.AIS: When does the show open?
JSW: September, it’s called The Ark. There is a list of endangered species and each artist picked one and is doing two pieces on them. Hence The Ark. I’m excited about this show, I have a friend who was just in London and saw ads up for it.

AIS: Nice! Do you know how they found you?
JSW: Just some blog. The interconnectedness. I keep asking people and they just keep telling me blogs, I should find out which ones though… yeah, I’ll just let it do it’s thing.
AIS: Seems to be working.

J.S. Weis works and lives in Berkeley, California. You can see his work at Bear Cub Gallery in London, England, this month and visit his website for updates, news, and his full portfolio.

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