Artist Interview: Jeremy Mann on "Experimentations, Process and Emotions"

Experimental foundations, intentional artistic processes and opposing poetic emotions make up Jeremy Mann’s latest body of sensuous portraits and moody cityscapes, debuting at the end of the month at EVOKE Contemporary. The San Francisco artist’s seemingly distinct subject matter is tied by underlying emotive forces, allowing the viewer to see past the subject and experience the poetic, yet intense emotional impact that is the essence of Mann’s work and the captivating draw for his global following. "Experimentations, Process and Emotions" opens on April 28th with an artist reception from 5-7pm at EVOKE Contemporary. The show will be on display through May 20th. I interviewed Jeremy about his latest work for this show in the Q&A below.

NYC #23, Jeremy Mann, 48x48" oil on panel at  EVOKE Contemporary

NYC #23, Jeremy Mann, 48x48" oil on panel at EVOKE Contemporary

"Experimentations, Process and Emotions" will be an exhibition of cityscapes and figurative works. Will one subject be more dominant?

(MANN) If one subject pervades the show its simply on accident.  If I could include the photography and film in the exhibition as well as the set design and costume, I would for sure, but it’s difficult to express the idea of an overall artistry which supersedes subject when people arrive with the expectation of seeing only a painting exhibition.  I look forward to changing that in the future, yet I understand these things are better left for half dead or fully dead artists and retrospectives, so I’ll just leave them all in my basement until then.  The imagery created during my photographic experiments is more foundationally important to the creation of my paintings than many realize, it is one of the “experiments” which lead to different processes which create new and more fine-tuned poetic emotions.  I find no separation amongst subject and the final result being an image, only that some subjects elicit a specific emotion better than others; I find no desire in trying to make a city look beautiful and I’m not interested in painting a beautiful woman with pure aggression.  All needs to be in balance with its purpose.

In your recent documentary A Solitary MANN, you mentioned that the area around your figurative subjects becomes more violent and aggressive (the way you paint cityscapes) as the viewer enters into reality. How does the process and emotion that goes into painting cityscapes carry over into the figurative work and vice versa? Where do they overlap? What underlying themes are present for you in both bodies of work?

(MANN) The underlying themes in my art are the abstract fundamental and theoretical ideas.  As I create each painting I focus on composition and balance in both form and color, movement, the perception of light and its consequential effect on how we perceive the world around us, and comparatively just as important; mark-making.  These are the things which carry between each subject matter, and their realization only comes from the little experimental pushes in painting.  Where the study and painting of moving car lights in the middle of a cemented city storm will surface in my mind while painting a beautiful figure draped in silks as evening light dissolves.  My brow furrows in momentary confusion, “I’ve experienced this before...” and the realization arrives that both of those views seen with my own eyes are filtered through the same brain.  It’s that awareness of process and purpose in painting which allows one to see beyond cityscape, figure, kitten faces, cars, chandeliers, etc., and open up to the idea of “speaking to the soul with images.”  I am human, subject and master of my own emotions, and so each subject I paint with an intended purpose that will benefit from that choice of subject.  I hate square cement blockades and the bumbling of masses, feel quite alone amongst that crowd and so, solitary in my studio I use that aggression to create marks upon the panels that can ONLY exist because of that emotional and physical style of painting.  I dance, swirl and scream like a fool, fists clenched and flinging oil!  But you can’t hate something completely and utterly without recourse, even the worst people I’ve met I still can only sum it up in my mind that they simply “don’t know any better, blame their parents” or some garbage.  So I bring into the cityscape small moments of light, atmospheres of dreams, distances which place one above the city to view them from an outside perspective.  When painting the figure, the emotional quality of the melancholy woman, partly of their persona and partly of my memory and emotions, those aggressive marks found while feeding on the cityscapes find their way across faces, bodies, lights and objects to remind us that everything we experience in life isn’t pure pleasure, perfection and beauty.  I would never want to look at a painting that didn’t have some balance of two opposing forces, melancholy and elation, beauty and ugly, calm in a fog of aggressive confusion.  It’s one of the theoretical balances which must exist to fully understand the thing you are looking at, where to experience the awareness of the whole, you must have experienced awareness of its nonexistence.

Limbus Memoria, Jeremy Mann, 26x49" oil on panel at  EVOKE Contemporary

Limbus Memoria, Jeremy Mann, 26x49" oil on panel at EVOKE Contemporary


There was a quick shot of an Alphonse Mucha painting within your documentary. Is his work an inspiration as far as subject matter when staging your portraits? Are there other artists you look to for inspiration?

(MANN) Just the other night, before sitting down to sketch, I tripped over a pile of books which have found their resting place on floors and carpets because the shelves have no vacancy.  “I need another bookshelf.”  There’s just too much inspiration to list, and books are the best way to grasp it in your hands.  There’s a quality to flipping through an art book which enlightens and inspires as you glance through the lifetime of an artist in an hour, and even more so when you hold it in your hands.  I can barely keep up with all the damn thoughts I have and things I need to express that it’s nice to have them in a physical form around me, like writing down a thought, just to put it on paper and keep it solidified so you don’t lose your mind.  My inspirations from dead artists, ancient ones, contemporary artists of worthiness, photographers, film makers, and musicians is boundless and not tied to specific material forms.  I only create with paint, photography and now film because I simply don’t have the time in my life anymore to learn how to play the piano.  I just sold it, so it would stop confronting me with its depressing state in the dusty corner on my way to and from the studio.  I have a vague idea how to paint, so I will spend my life figuring out how to express with it how the poetry of music and movement of light make me feel.


What tools do you use to paint your cityscapes?

(MANN) Ha ha ha!  Oh these are my favorite questions, which would take a book to answer, (one, mind you, which I am currently working on) and is more about the question asked, than the actual answer people are looking for.  I recently discovered an artist who, over the past year, started making cityscapes which look similar to mine, and tried to use the same tools glimpsed in the recent documentary of me by Loic Zimmermann.  Yet despite the same exact tools, he simply didn’t know how to use them.  The rollers themselves were part of my Master’s thesis.  I literally “wrote the book on them” and by that I mean figuratively also, where that comment means “knows in its completeness above all others.” I’m not a complete conceded asshole, I am fully aware that I didn’t invent the thing, but I put forth the effort to be fully in control of it to a form of mastery.  I didn’t invent the mouth either, but I sure do own the poetry I make with the one I have.  I found a mark I liked, the rollers made it with me, and so I spent over 5 years and currently on number 170 of monotone cityscapes which created within me the absolute knowledge of everything possible with that tool.  Then one must have the wherewithal to move on and do the same with something new.  It’s the experiments and experience which cannot be supplanted.  So that question alone can only be answered by: “it doesn’t matter what tool I use to paint.”  And that statement was the springboard for my thesis, and one of the driving forces of how I paint.  It’s not what’s in your hands, its what’s in your head.   These damn tools in our clumsy mitts are actually the hindrance to creating a great painting, so the only way to get around that hurtle is to spend the time, energy, expertise and intelligence to figure that tool out, find all the marks it can possibly make that I enjoy, and then I will be able to express directly what’s in my head.  But then, having realized that is the solution, I spin slowly around my studio, my brow furrowed again (the way it does just before a discovery) ... “I can use anything, then…”   Yes!  And I’ve since moved far beyond these days, using 4 foot rollers, door jambs, windshield wipers, bottles, liquids, spit, whatever!  And therein lies the foundational theories of style and uniqueness in artistry.  It doesn’t matter what you use, it’s what you know and how you use those tools which sing their notes to your soul alone, with which to make your unique mark on the world.

Composition 163, Jeremy Mann, 48x48" oil on panel at  EVOKE Contemporary

Composition 163, Jeremy Mann, 48x48" oil on panel at EVOKE Contemporary

Do you shoot and develop photos of the cityscapes the way you do for your figurative paintings? 

(MANN) Good lord no!  As said before, I must embrace the good things of that which I hate, and there is the only place at my table at which digital photography may sit.  Any other use of it is simply detrimental for a learning artist.  I’m not going to stand in the middle of a yellow light, watching over my back so the idiots behind the wheel don’t run over the idiot in the intersection, fumbling with f-stops, shutter speeds and ISO’s in the downpour of a midnight rain!  Snap hundreds of photos and get the hell out of the way!   Later, when at peace from the storm and home in my studio, I spend countless hours searching through the library of photos, to find several with the best compositional possibilities, or light, or perspective or whatever it was I saw during that moment out there in the world.  I see these things in life, in instant heartbeats while crossing an interaction, if you pay attention, everyone passes each other in a pattern reminiscent to the wavelengths of music, in beats and rhythms you can’t create purposefully, much easier seen while out shooting with headphones and Mozart, or in the thunderstorm with Respighi.  What a psychopath people would think I was if it wasn’t for the camera in my hand alluding to them that some sort of physical purpose exists for my smile!  But the digital camera can catch those heartbeat moments of the city, with which I recompose from multiple images in the studio, adding destructive effects and layers, using parts of other paintings, mashing cars, buildings and people, flipping roads around and removing skies.  You see, it’s not about painting a city, it’s about painting those fundamentals, to which the subject has no say, it’s about me, and what I know.  What I do to those digital photos which I use as a jumping point for a painting, a reference if you wish, I learned and evolved from the effect found in developing my own film, building my own cameras, and processing the negatives of polaroids in the darkroom, and from simply being solitary an observant.  Awareness is all important.  It’s all intertwined.


How will the ‘experimentation’ aspect of the show title be present within the work in this exhibition?

Figure, Composed Form Study 12, Jeremy Mann, 6x6" oil on panel at  EVOKE Contemporary

Figure, Composed Form Study 12, Jeremy Mann, 6x6" oil on panel at EVOKE Contemporary

(MANN) I suppose it’s only going to be vaguely noticeable in the marks hidden in the end result of the final paintings hanging on the wall.  I suppose I will try to include a multitude of the 6 x 6 “Compositional Form Studies” I use to line-jump ahead of myself as a painter, but those just fall short of the purpose of depicting the importance of experimentation and seem to only exist as a cheaper form of collectable.  For the last year, I’ve been experimenting with these homemade polaroid and film cameras I’ve made from antique parts and cigar or wine boxes.  And lately with the films I’ve been making (second one soon to be released) with homemade lenses and no digital after effects.  Each new “tool” is just as important as the typically assumed painting tools, and I’ve learned more in this past year about imagery than I have diddling away in the studio with the same objects.  Nobody ever teaches an artist about those things, but I have several workshops lined up where that’s exactly and ONLY what I teach, the results of which in those attendees has been wonderful.  That sort of experimentation is incredibly important to me.  But again, the public is not attuned and openly acceptable of that sort of thing.  In one of my last solo shows, I included a display case which housed the countless books of writing, several of the homemade cameras, my homemade plein air kit (the paintings of which I never sell, but did make a book of, yet nobody truly listens to my point that I couldn’t make these cityscapes or figure paintings if I didn’t do plein air painting, and that it’s NOT about making a landscape for me at all) I included manikins with the best of the dresses, jewelry, accessories, drapery, that I had, (also an important part of the process, you know how many hours I spend researching dress designs?!  So much so that all my online adds are skewed only to entice ladies to bring out their wallets, and the countless hours google stalking models to find out if their “personality” is something I want involved in my life forever solidified in a painting).  There was also a wall of fifty framed polaroids, to illuminate the effects of these experimentations, and an astute eye, would have correlated all of it… or perhaps it’s all in my head.  Forty-eight of those polaroids are behind me now in a box, partly my fault, as I have realized lately they need to be carried further, and I have plans to do so, but also partly because of what I said earlier… people are only “expecting” to see a big gallery with paintings on the walls.  To have something seemingly confusing there to engage them into the life of the artist is unexpected, and in the viewing of “finished” works of art, that’s what they expect to see.  I fully understand that I exist in my own head, with my own beliefs, and I will perceiver in the importance of it for myself.  

I still pursue my photography and film as much as I do my painting, and perhaps it’s a good thing to finally have something I do that doesn’t have that damn monetary dependency to it.  I still need to eat, but I’d be happy with my cameras, my paint box, my cat, my girl, a 10-euro train ticket, and some crackers. (although, we’d probably trade the crackers for one of those little travel wine bottles, just to be clear.)

If not answered already through the above questions, why did you choose "Experimentations, Process and Emotions" as the title for your show? How do these three ideas work together in your studio?

(MANN) In life.  Not just the studio.  I cannot find a way to separate the two and it depresses me that I can’t convince the world, the banks, my parents for a long time, and my friends who aren’t artists, that those things aren’t divisible. I wish people or whenever an aspiring artists asks questions would listen to the ridiculousness of the answers I give them, for they are said with enlightened wisdom and not classless humor. In the search for answers, one shouldn’t look to what an artist does while they’re painting, pay attention to what they do when they aren’t. Exactly the same concept as described before, to be aware of something completely, you must also experience the result of its nonexistence.


Exhibition Installation, photo by EVOKE Contemporary

Exhibition Installation, photo by EVOKE Contemporary

Exhibition Installation, photo by EVOKE Contemporary

Exhibition Installation, photo by EVOKE Contemporary