There is artistry that enthralls the viewer in a visceral way, generating a poignant and fervent reaction. Jeff P. is the creator of artwork that has that transcendental quality. When I saw his paintings, I was struck first by the rich, saturated pigments and exquisite subject matter, noting afterwards that his use of space created an environment that was at once ephemerally hypnagogic and deeply personal. Admirers of Ernst Haeckel and John James Audubon will no doubt make the connection, however his use of natural life transcends into a world well known to collectors of curio cabinets, bejeweled Opium bottles, and delicately painted snuff boxes. His creations have an essence that is hypnotic and intoxicating, and it’s like eating pomegranates and dragon fruit. Enriched by exotic myth and the traces of ancient experience, Jeff P.’s work digs deep into visual, animal, and human history to offer a vision: this ocular eternal knot, a connecting of all that is and was, here or there.
Jeff P.’s work will be a part of the SELFIE exhibition at the Portland, Oregon based contemporary art gallery Stephanie Chefas Projects. You can also purchase prints of his work at his website or visit him at the Art Work Rebels tattoo studio for a more permanent piece. Jeff will also participate in an exhibition at Parlor Gallery, opening May 7.
Friday, April 8, 2016 | 6-9PM
April 8- 30, 2016
305 SE 3rd Ave #202, Portland, OR 97214 – 503.719.6945
In 2014, an Aubudon ‘Birds of America’ sold at a Christie’s auction for $7,922,500. In 2006 the Traite de arbres fruitiers [Treatise on Fruit Trees] illustrated by Pierre Antoine Poiteau and Pierre Jean François Turpin sold for $4.5 million. What do you think is at the core of society’s obsession with natural life illustrations? Perhaps it has to do with modernity and life so often removed from nature these days.
Humans are curious about their environment. It’s a defining characteristic, this need to explain things. Whether it’s through the application of methodological observation, or philosophical rumination, we want an answer. We want to know. “This is this kind of bird, because it has these markings, and its beak is shaped like this.” We’re different from other animals in that it goes beyond survival. We don’t just want to know so that we can identify poisonous plants and avoid them. We want to know, so that we know. The natural world is an unending question, like the kid who keeps asking “why?” And we are drawn into it. When this other mystery, “art,” joins up with science, it’s the melding of the two greatest endeavors of humankind.
Where, for you, does the fascination with nature stem from?
First, there’s the visual aspect. The intricate arrangement of a snake’s scales. Color-changing lizards. An insane variability in appearance and purpose of bird feathers. Flowers that mimic bees. And we are only aware of a tiny fraction of what’s out there. On top of that, I dig the interconnectedness of everything in the Universe. We’re all made of the same stuff combined in endless variations. And we all evolved together to where we are at this moment. When I say “we” I mean the humans, and the lions, and tigers and bears, and the fish and birds, and the bugs and viruses—all of us. And a change in this one thing, led to a change in this thing, and everything else. You can take any two things in the universe and draw a line between them. This is what I’m exploring in my paintings.
Does painting help hone your tattooing skills or vice versa? Is there a mutualistic relationship there or are they pretty separate practices for you?
They’re completely separate, but I need both of them. They complement each other for sure. I tattoo in a very traditional American style. Bold lines, heavy black shading, and a limited color palette. A relatively naive drawing style. They look like tattoos. There is no subtext to them—they are what they are. A rose, a dagger, a naked lady. And they’re for other people—my paintings are for me. I’m exploring complicated ideas, vague notions, psychedelic impressions of the natural world. They would make terrible tattoos.
What under-appreciated artist, gallery, or work do you think people should know about?
Everybody. I know it sounds like a cop-out answer, but I really think everybody should make art. Just make something and make it as good as you can. I bet it will be great.
What do you believe is the role of the artist in society?
To make art, I guess. I don’t think there has to be anything noble or revolutionary about it. But if it can get someone to engage with the world around them, that’s great.
Do you ever run out of inspiration, and, if so, how do you deal with artist’s block?
Never. I can’t work fast enough. At any moment there are 100 paintings I would like to be working on. Most of them are scribbles in a notebook, or a sentence on my phone.
What was your first experience with art and/or tattooing? Do you have any past experiences that you find really support the artist that you are now?
I can’t remember a time when drawing wasn’t a central part of my life. I had a really great art teacher in middle school, Greg Telthorster, who just seemed so genuinely excited about what we were making. Instead of dismissing comic books, he looked through them with us and helped me to appreciate the craftsmanship and attention to detail that even I took for granted. It confirmed my belief that these things I was into weren’t just junk.
Many of your works involve snakes; is there any symbolic nature to them for you or is it a matter of enjoying painting the form?
Well, snakes are obviously pretty heavy with symbolism, and I’ve definitely pulled from there a bit—they have a certain gravitas and mystery that maybe a frog, or chipmunk lack. But a lot of it is the malleability of the form, and the process I’ve developed for drawing them. I’m very interested in process, maybe even more than the finished piece, and I really enjoy seeing the “work” in a finished piece: brush strokes, reworked lines, overworked areas, corrections, errant marks—signs of the battle, frustration, relentlessness and ultimately victory.
The cross is another element that you paint often. Is representing Christian iconography an important piece to your practice, a homage to old school American flash, or something else entirely?
The cross in my work is a direct reference to the classic Christian image of the Rock of Ages, which is also very popular within tattooing. My use of it has less to do with Christianity, and more to do with the persistence of symbols themselves, and it served as a shortcut to a sense of solemnity and significance.
What culture or community do you most often associate yourself with?
I’ve been tattooing for over 10 years. It’s a big part of who I am. It’s what the IRS knows me as. I like to associate myself with anyone who is trying to make themselves and other people happy.
Do you have any tattooing rules that you are really strict about? Do you think painting, or being an artist, comes with its own set of rules?
A tattoo has to have a black outline and black shading. If you want color, keep it simple. Don’t try to be clever. Build it to last a lifetime. In painting, all bets are off. Personally, I like to set certain constraints for myself to work within, and I try to avoid going with my first idea.
How has social media changed the art and tattoo community?
It’s hard for me to say how it’s changed it, since it’s pretty much always been there for me. It’s an incredible way to see what is happening out there, to find new artists and forge relationships. It makes it so easy to find a supportive audience. Of course, it’s also easy to get lost in a sea of “content.”
Any new mediums, or artists, who you hope to work with in the future?
I want to work bigger and looser. Sculpture. I’m in the process of putting together a new studio space at home which should help me take on these projects.
Your artwork is super psychedelic, and some of it made me think of Carlos Castaneda’s books about incendiary mescaline hallucinations, and even at times of Jorge Luis Borges magical and mysterious realism. As your website states nature books are a huge inspiration for you, but is there any other literature that inspires the deeply moving and colorful visions you depict?
I’m not a student of psychedelic experience—I’m more of a tourist. I really enjoy altering perception. That’s our only connection to the “real world,” right? Altering our experience of the world has the power to make us much more sympathetic beings. In addition to being a ‘psychedelic naturalist’, I’m also an ‘optimistic nihilist’, meaning I see the inherent meaninglessness of our existence as an opportunity to make it whatever we want. None of this matters, so let’s enjoy it and be good to one another. To answer your question, I’m very visually oriented. Picture books of every kind give me endless amounts of inspiration. I’m a slow reader, but I love to read, and I will check out those books you mentioned.