Joey Remmers ‘The Lost’
Soey Milk ‘Sinavro’
Corey Helford Gallery Circa
8530a West Washington Boulevard, Culver City, CA 90232
December 13th – January 10th, 2015
Artists Joey Remmers and Soey Milk take us on an inward journey through their depictions of the dualities of creation by the interplay between the internal and the external, the dark and the light. In other words, that which is seen and that which is unseen. On December 13th, CHG Circa hosted an artist reception by opening the dual exhibition for Joey Remmers’ The Lost and Soey Milk’s Sinavro.
We are thrown into the middle of a painted narrative as we walk along the walls displaying Joey Remmers’ The Lost series. Most of the paintings include a protagonist, a setting, a time of day, and in some cases even an antagonist. But what we look at is a story in which an individual stands before an imminent threat, or better yet, the dark unknown.
Mother Nature is a peculiar term. What a contradiction it seems that what we consider our mother is something that can be as much dangerous as it can be providing. This natural duality plays in the works of Remmers, often in the delicate form of a woman set in a barren landscape who is either peering down into an abyss or is amongst a pack of wolves. In images such as his new work, Whirlpool, where a woman stands upon the sturdiness of a rock within a lake holding her foot forward over a whirl leading into oblivion, a feeling of anxiety is evoked. But if we consider other works, such as A Sheep Amongst Wolves (2011), we will notice that wolves gather around this woman, but are not attacking her. In another painting from The Lost series, Defenders, the wolves are benign. These seemingly dangerous situations actually portray a sense of protection. We can gather from Remmers’ work that the destructive element of nature is an aspect of its nurturing condition. Likewise, in the depictions of women peering into the great unknown, we can assume that the darkness they look into is not going to swallow them whole and deplete their individuality, but to expand their consciousness and connect them with nature as a greater whole.
The delicacy in Soey Milk’s paintings is the shyness of emergence. I particularly noticed when viewing her new work the concept of vision. There were eyes closed and eyes opened. The evolution of creation is divided by opposing elements of light and dark—that which we see and that which we do not see. Both are necessary as it is vital to see or be conscious of our own growth (that which we see), but also to understand that in order to grow we must not limit ourselves by only growing to the limit of what we understand, but to enter the unknown (that which we don’t see).
Soey Milk’s series is entitled, Sinavro, which means, “To progress slowly, almost imperceptibly”. This idea is perfectly captured in Dawn, where there appears to be three stages of evolution on a vertical narrative. Starting at the bottom-a face with closed eyes inhaling the fragrance of a blossomed flower; in the middle – a curious face half revealing itself; at the top – a face with eyes fully opened and the head crowned with a diadem of the universe. The light brush strokes create hues upon the canvas like a cosmic light of universal consciousness. In another painting, Eyes Shut, a contrast of security and vulnerability are played by a woman who has dropped her garments to reveal her breasts, yet who hides her identity behind a mask with the eyes painted open. The negative space around is created with heavy strokes of dark paint. That colorful universe from Dawn has now darkened in Eyes Shut—or is it the other way around? Is this the demonic principle in transformation? In Days Have Been Quiet a woman sits in a collage of color, her garments awry, and demonic figures behind her. She has a realist depiction, but the demons are archaic in their unrefined rendering. Beside her is a sleeping figure. The conscious woman does not appear to be conscious of the creatures and the manifested energy amongst her. Is there a reality to perceive that only closed eyes can imagine?
Between Joey Remmers The Lost and Soey Milk’s Sinavro we are invited into an artistic space to analyze our fears and to consider that perhaps what might challenge our serenity is in fact meant to facilitate our evolution. In The Lost we learn to explore the unknown and find light in unlikely corners. In Sinavro we learn patience for our own progression and to exist amongst the demons of transformation.
During the gallery opening I had the pleasure to have a conversation with Joey Remmers, who took me deeper into the journey of The Lost and into his own artistic process.
You’re a tattoo artist and a painter.
I always wanted to paint and do my own artwork but art school and a formal education wasn’t an option when I was young, so tattooing was always a means to an end. I knew that I could make a living doing that, but at least I would still be pursuing the things that I wanted to do, at least in an artistic way. I’ve been painting and drawing since I was twelve or thirteen years old. But I was a professional tattoo artist before I was a professional painter.
But you had the natural skills to draw and paint.
My mom was a painter and it was something that I always did. She would paint and draw and I would paint and draw as a kid. I wasn’t the popular kid in high school so I was kind of introverted and read a lot of books and drew and painted a lot.
So you got really cool after becoming a tattoo artist?[laughs] I don’t know if I would say that, but something like that.
With tattooing you’re interacting with a living canvas, but with painting you’re working with a blank non-living canvas. How is that different in how you approach the work?
They both have their pros and cons. One of the things I love about painting is that I can work on just my ideas and I can explore just the things that I want to explore, and I have that time for self-reflection, and working on ideas that I have. As with clients it becomes a collaborative thing where it’s something they want, it’s something that’s going to be on their body forever, and it’s part of their idea. But we get to work together and find something that I’m good at and something they want, and it’s also very rewarding. You have instant gratification with somebody who’s happy with something that you’ve done for them. Or if it’s a cover up or fixing something then they’re very excited about it. Both have their benefits.
What was it that was building up within you that you felt you needed to express through this medium of painting?
I’d like to say it was a build up of creative energy that drove me to have to go and produce work, but I was always producing work. It was more the idea that I wanted to be able to pursue something that I was passionate about and make a living at it. A big part of it was after tattooing for so long—I came up with this term that clients become like creative vampires. It sounds bad but if you’re doing someone else’s ideas all the time and always working on somebody else’s inspiration and somebody else’s projects then you lose your own vision and you’re not working on anything for you. So I needed to separate those two things. I’m fine with working with other people and collaborating and doing ideas but I needed a kind of outlet to work on my stuff. Just something that was purely me that I didn’t have to appease somebody else with. So that was the easiest way of doing it.
What I find interesting about your work is that you’re telling a story. You establish a character, a setting, and a time. Would you describe how you develop your stories into paintings?
A lot of the ideas come like flashes. It will be either, I’ll picture the scene exactly how I want to paint it, or it will be a line I read in a book or it will be a scene in a movie. The way that I paint the stories that I tell is more like a snapshot from a film—where there’s clearly a story, there’s clearly a beginning, or a before or an after, but I don’t want to be so direct with the story. I want the viewer to have to try to figure it out for themselves. I want to introduce the mystery and have the viewer discover what came before or what came after. I’m a huge reader and film buff so I think introducing that enigma, that thing that the viewer has to figure out, is fun. Or at least I hope that it is. I hope that it ignites a spark of thought or imagination.
So as far as being a painter would you then say that you’re more about psychological thrillers or perhaps the horror genre?
I’ve been a horror fan since I was a young young kid and I have a huge horror movie collection. I’m sure that plays into it because horror movies of all films illicit the strongest emotional response—unless you’re watching movies about people dying of cancer, which are also strong. But I would say psychological thrillers. The stuff that’s kind of foreboding and dark and you don’t know exactly what it is but there’s something under the initial layer that has you uneasy. Or there’s some kind of thing around the corner that you don’t know what it is, but you know something is there.
That is a good point that you bring up. This series is, The Lost, has all those elements. There’s this journey into darkness that I’m seeing. But it’s not necessarily an evilness or a grotesqueness, but a curiosity, almost an illumination in fact. Could you describe a little bit more about your intention with defining darkness?
Darkness was something that I wanted to play with in this show. In part, from a technical aspect, I wanted to explore single light sources, where the whole scene is illuminated from one point of light, and no artificial light. Like in the cave (The Discovery), there’s only one point of light shining in and illuminating it, giving it more atmosphere. But also, one of the things I always liked to play with is the duality of nature and the beauty and the violence that is always there no matter what. Even in the wild with just animals—we have forests and we have mountains and their beautiful and majestic but they’re full of natural violence. It’s just the way of the world. And so by doing it this way, adding the dark, that’s that extra sense of mystery. Adding darkness you’re adding the unknown. You’re adding something that element where you don’t know what’s in there or what’s around the corner, so to speak. To me it helped tell that narrative … or at least to make it more ominous.
I noticed your way of representing Mother Nature as being both the provider but also as a source of transformation.
I didn’t grow up in the city, I grew up in the mountains and I spent a lot of my childhood running around the forest and being out in nature. It’s something I’m always inclined to revisit because it has that nostalgia for me. It’s something interesting to me. It’s one of the things I do when I have free time. I go out and go backpacking and a lot of camping and hiking. It’s interesting, the way people view things. Most people look at nature like it’s so beautiful and it’s so serene, but there’s always that underlining danger. Mother Nature as beautiful as it is, can kill us in a second if we’re not careful. So by putting a protagonist or a character into that setting you’re introducing that possibility for danger—or, maybe it’s not danger but a positive thing. But that’s what I like to stay ambiguous about. I don’t like to tell my story too much. I want the painting to do it.
I noticed in some of the paintings there was this dangerous situation that also had this element of protection. What did you intend by this?
I want to raise that question. Are they dangerous or are they protectors? I want to break stereotypes in that you never know by just looking at something what it is or what it’s supposed to mean. And using things like wolves or foxes in the idea of protectors, it again posses that question. It prompts the viewer to question what is going on exactly. I don’t want to force feed my viewer, I want to create the mystery. So yes they’re protectors, but then you’re guessing, “Well they’re predators. Are they really protectors? Or is there something else at play?”
Aokigahara Forest is a source of inspiration for your work. How does that work into this series The Lost?
In a lot of the pieces the scenery is inspired by abandoned places or places that have some kind of, I don’t want to say supernatural, but a compelling story. Like this piece for example (Lost) is inspired by just that, where she’s in a deep wood. Actually, that forest (Aokigahara Forest) it’s so dense and so thick that once year when they have to go recover bodies they run lines through the forest so they can find their way back out. So this poses that question, “Is she lost in that forest and trying to find her way out? Or maybe she’s a soul that got lost in the forest and maybe that’s her way out of purgatory. And that ties into this one as well (The Path Through The Woods) where you can see that she’s following the broken line. Like maybe she was going to find her way out of the darkness, out of the scene, but the line is broken and she doesn’t know where to go.
And what is the name of this painting?
Path Through The Woods.
And this one is?
Oh, is this thee Lost?
Yeah, they all kind of center around this first image. As was the initial idea. The Suicide Forest in Japan really intrigued me and it’s steeped in a lot of tradition. Back hundreds of years ago in feudal Japan there were villages around there and it was part of their culture that if they became sick or elderly and couldn’t care for themselves they would say goodbye to their family and hike into this forest to die—kinda the way a dog would. If a dog is sick or injured it will go off by itself and die. And these people were like that and because of that tradition people still to this day go there to kill themselves. To make it their final resting place. So it’s really interesting to me that this place has that kind of energy and draws people like that.
Lastly, I just have to ask this. I’m going back to a much earlier time. You’re very specific in some of your titles and your paintings. One of them was My Brother Was Eaten Alive By Wolves On The Connecticut Turnpike. I’m almost afraid to ask it if it was based on reality. Where did that come from?[laughing] I don’t like to give up my secrets, but like I said I read a lot and a lot of ideas I get from stories, but never from the story itself. It’s usually a line or a snippet that will give me a flash or an idea. That story, My Brother Was Eaten Alive By Wolves On The Connecticut Turnpike, is from, not the movie, but the short story by Stephen King, 1408. In it one of the characters is hallucinating and he’s having this traumatic experience because the room is haunted, and he picks up the phone and there’s a voice on the other end and it’s speaking gibberish. And one of the things it says is, “My brother was eaten alive by wolves on the Connecticut turnpike.” And just that stuck out to me and it’s that seed that will get planted in my head and then it grows from there.
Photography courtesy of Ambrose Gardenhire