Jake is a New York-based artist who does fantastic landscapes. However, he says his work isn’t really about nature per se www.jakefernandez.com. How can that be? Read on and find out. By the way, I love this chat with Jake. He’s literally a breath of fresh air.
MICHAEL: Hey Jake, Your work is great. You really seem to be smitten with nature and painting and drawing landscapes. How and why does it inspire you?
JAKE: Thank you Michael. Believe it or not, I am a city dweller. I lived in urban areas (Havana, Miami and New York) most of my life, except for a short stint after graduation when I lived in a remote place near the Ocala forest in Florida. What draws me to nature is not so much its intrinsic beauty, but the complexity and intricacies of form that the landscape offers. Natural forms almost always present a far more complex and "pure" source than the artificial. Although I have an interest in nature, I am more interested in translating visual phenomena. I am more of a detective than I am a naturalist.
MICHAEL: I see the structure of creation in your work. I hate to mention him, but I do see some Claude Monet in your work. Is he an influence?
JAKE: Many people do and I take it as a compliment. From my perspective, Monet was more interested in the overall picture plane, rather than illustrating individual flora as in the case of botanical illustrations or sharp descriptive realism. The garden as subject matter is another factor I share with Monet. It is ironic that Monet is my least favorite of the French Impressionists. I much prefer Degas, Manet and the American Mary Cassatt. Unlike the Impressionists, my interest is focused on "processing" visual information created and altered by time and process. I am concerned with what evolves over a long period of time not painting direct and immediate light effects. Monet was looking in one end of the telescope and I was looking back from the other end. Visually we may be kindred spirits, but conceptually we are worlds apart.
JAKE: In my early years, my choice of subject matter was random and lacking any psychological baggage. In 2006, I decided to go the other extreme and work from places that had a history, hallowed ground if you will. My first target was Monet's Nymphias garden at Giverny. I travelled there. My reason was not so much an homage to old Claude, but a curiosity about the pond itself. I know he worked on that garden for many years. In my case, I had less than eight hours to experience, memorize and take in all I needed to reconstruct and decipher the experience back in my studio in the U.S. My intent was not to mimic the master, but to revisit the "scene of the crime" in a way a detective would carry out an investigation. As it turned out, I reduced the images to black and white, doing away with what I believe was Monet's primary concern; color and mined areas that were overlooked.
MICHAEL: I get the sense that while color is a dominant feature in your work, you really use it as seasoning, like sprinkling on salt and pepper or glopping on salsa. I could be wrong.
JAKE: Color is a by-product of the process. I don't think I have a color identity or preferences.
MICHAEL: What do you mean when you say color is a by-product? I thought color was integral to any artistic process. Even black and white are colors, no?
JAKE: What I mean is that I don't have a strong color preference or a pre-selected color palette. The coloration in my painting comes mainly from the accumulated overlapping and juxtaposition between several "passes" or "layers.” This creates optical effects that are decoded by the viewer. Much of the color you see in my work is the result of optical mixing within the eye of the observer. This makes it more subjective and ephemeral than the direct application of pigment on a surface. Black and white are colors, but as you know, they cover a more narrow chromatic range making the image even more ambiguous. I don’t know if that further confuses the issue, but it’s easy to see when you see it.
MICHAEL: Are you in Miami? I love South Florida. It's such a creative, expressive community. Why is that? How has the community changed over the years? Art Basel is only one week out of the year.
JAKE: I grew up in Miami, but left by the time I was 18. I saw Miami change from a sleepy retirement town into a large Latin American city. Back in the 60's and 70's, the music scene was very eclectic and exciting and I believe it still is. The visual arts somehow lagged behind. Having lived in NYC for over 20 years, I am kind of spoiled. Basel is one big party and the city really takes on a more international feel during that time.
MICHAEL: What do you think about the art world today and how it functions? Most emerging artists continue to have a tough time while blue chip art continues to be snapped up by the super-rich.
JAKE: Even after 30 years as a professional artist in New York, I only have a minimal understanding of the "art world.” It is illogical when compared to other enterprises. There has always been a large discrepancy between blue chip art prices and the rest. This is not new, and I don't see it changing. I find that emerging artists have a much better chance today than 30 years ago. Opportunities for young artist are at an all-time high, as the art business adopts a business model closer to the fashion and entertainment industries were youth is of the essence.
MICHAEL: "Youth is of the essence." I know what you mean from the art world's perspective, but really? Then where does that leave all of the artists over 35? That's when talent really begins to reveal itself. You don't have to be an art scholar to know that.
JAKE: I know it took me a long time to get my "chops,” so I agree with your statement about artists over 35. When I was in my 20's, galleries and curators would not take anyone under 40 seriously. Perhaps the pendulum will swing back in that direction someday. There are some respected voices that take exception to the current state of affairs so let’s wait and see. In my case, the work was always the driving force, not because I was above it all, but because I found the commercial and political parts of the art business as unpredictable. If I could do work that was engaging enough to hold my curiosity, that was enough for me. In time, some people took notice and others started collecting my work, allowing me to fund my future projects. A friend of mine once said "Stick around long enough and even the cab drivers know who you are.”
MICHAEL: You said earlier that your paintings aren't really nature inspired. Does that mean you don't paint plein air?
JAKE: That is correct.
MICHAEL: Since you live in New York City (recovering from Hurricane Sandy). I don't imagine your studio is very large. Also, isn't it always noisy from outside activity? What kind of working conditions do you need? Quiet? Music? Is painting a meditative process for you?
JAKE: The NYC studio is small (about 20' x 40'). There was no damage and my friend's downstairs frame shop did not flood, although he moved the artwork up to my loft as a precaution. We were very lucky. I only use my Brooklyn studio when I am in New York. I work from my Florida studio about 75% of the time now. I have a much larger space and it is very quiet. When I was first started, I was very particular about the size of the space and its location. I needed a very controlled environment in order to concentrate and be able to focus. Now I can work in a bus station and it wouldn't make any difference. I work in small scale, so the work is portable. Even my large scale work is constructed out of small scale parts that are later assembled. I paint mostly at night, so the noise level is much less even in New York. Noise doesn't bother me any longer. People drop in while I am working and I welcome their presence. As for music, I have a long list of very eclectic music that I listen too. They are shuffled in a staccato fashion so the changes from musical piece to musical piece is quite jarring. At times, I listen to books on tape. I feel like an old tobacco roller in a factory when they used to have readers. Is painting a meditative process? Everything that requires an extraordinary level of attention becomes a meditative process to me.
MICHAEL: Many artists and writers spend a lot of time alone working. Alone or loneliness? How do you deal with this?
JAKE: I can't speak to that Michael. Loneliness is something I never experience. I guess I am lucky.
MICHAEL: I hate to stereotype even in a positive way, but there's something about art created by artists of Latin American and Hispanic heritage that I think is really pushing contemporary art forward. What do you think?
JAKE: That may very well be true, but I don't follow Latin American or Contemporary art that closely. I was born in Havana, my family is of Spanish and French descent, but I lived in the US since I was 9 years old, so I am kind of a nowhere man. Somebody once told me that my artwork had a lot in common with the Magical Realists writers. Since I am not that well versed in that genre, I couldn't tell. If it is, it must be part of my DNA.
MICHAEL: Art history puts artists and their work within the social and political context of their time. Do you think that's as relevant today? In other words, when you're working, are you referencing current events and society or is your own personal experience more relevant?
JAKE: I follow politics the same way people follow sports. I see it as a game. It’s a game that has real consequences, but nevertheless a game. I've never addressed political or social issues in my work. I think this is best left to historians and propagandists. I prefer to engage in the intangible, the poetic and the spiritual to the degree that I am able. You have to ask yourself, Did Guernica stop carpet bombing? Did Leon Golub's Napalm series stop the war in Vietnam? Did Fernando Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings close Guantanamo?
MICHAEL: Finally Jake, what do you want your art to say about you after you're gone?
JAKE: I would like people to say, "That dude made us see things differently.” Thank you Michael, I enjoyed our conversation.
MICHAEL: Thanks Jake. This has been a breeze.
Check out Jake Fernandez and his work at www.jakefernandez.com.