Jeff Roland is an artist of French descent who currently lives with his family in Eulmont, Lorraine, France. I think we met online www.jeffroland.org. He creates these very intriguing paintings depicting human-like figures in interesting settings. In short, Roland likes playing with ideas of individuality and differences. I think he's a talented artist who tells a story with every painting. Read on and find out more about Jeff.
MICHAEL: Hey Jeff. To me, your work is really "old school" in the sense that your paintings are strongly narrative. There always seems to be a story even though we may not be able to figure out the story. Do you see yourself as a storyteller in addition to a painter?
JEFF: Well Michael, I am definitely an "old school" painter ... or maybe I'm re-introducing a part that was missing as I'm also fully aware of the arguments of the post-modern artists, which would possibly put me into the post-post modernism era or something like that. I am a storyteller and have always been inside and outside a painting. Telling stories or proposing tales is to me a way to see whether the images I put forward have an effect on the spectator. And then, to see whether it matches my expectations, which makes it even more old school as I do have expectations as far as the viewer is concerned. In fact, he or she is a partner or a co-player to the game.
MICHAEL: I've never heard an artist put it quite that way. That's very cool. With that in mind, how do you create a painting?
JEFF: I usually observe a simple situation in reality and let this situation derive into a reflection and consider the implications at a broader level, sociological, political, psychological and philosophical. And in this way, as I paint, the story unfolds in front of my eyes and I invite the spectator to participate. For example, in my paintings entitled Statues, I present two figures that are rushing or seem to pass by without noticing other. They are the ones who lead their lives without taking too much notice of others. They are into a project or to put it simply, know where they are going. Then there are two other figures represented as trees, living trees, with long roots. They have chosen to lead a static life. They have made another choice based on roots, family, something around them. They are fully happy with that, both groups have made choices and live accordingly. Then, you can see two characters, looking at both other groups. They are the ones who spend their time criticizing, patronizing and observing with bitterness and disgust at the others.
MICHAEL: Very interesting scenarios from real life.
JEFF: This is a situation of everyday ... some people are like that. But it's true that when you look at the painting, it can be seen from another angle. This is very welcome and I'm always very interested to hear different interpretations, but I have my story. It is always important for me that the painting may be a simple aesthetic pleasure for the viewer. He or she doesn't have to understand. People should be free and I know that that aspect of respecting the need for the pleasure of the eyes and nothing else is another very old fashioned trait and I have no problem with that at all.
MICHAEL: The figures in your work seem to be humanistic rather that fully human. To me, they seem to be otherworldly caricatures.
JEFF: Yes or sometimes not even humanistic at all which makes me step away from the old school unless you go back in time enough to see that representations of figures, be they human, gods, goddesses or otherworld creatures, are in fact coming straight from a zone in our mind where nothing is really clear. I have occasionally worked on figurative human forms, for example, when someone wants me to draw or paint a portrait. Well, I will do it, but I won't be able to refrain from bringing a scene or character or shape that will step apart from realism. I admire the best works of figurative painting, but what truly attracts me is the spiritual value of paintings.
MICHAEL: How do you show that?
JEFF: This can be expressed through several different aspects: color, shapes, representations, musicality, atmosphere, you name it. I believe that the sincerity in your process and the dedication to your "ritual" as a painter are most important. I feel related to the early primitives, to whom all sorts of representations and inventions are possible. Not real, but possible.
MICHAEL: And that speaks to the "otherworldliness" of your figures.
JEFF: Other worlds are the worlds around us and we are others too if seen through the right eyes. The idea of difference, acceptance of it and dealing with it is central to my painting, which has been tagged as outsider before, but is rather more precisely the expression of "outsiderness." It's through an ensemble of various processes, most of which are invented on the spot, which makes me also understand that I still have to discover what my work will be made of in the future. I want to try to be open to experience, textures, paint, techniques, inventing or re-inventing techniques, learning and un-learning to paint, structuring and destructuring. I can't remember exactly a quote by Antoni Tapiès, but he said something like ... "An artist can only be considered as such when he's undertaking an adventure." I can refer to this quite perfectly, allowing myself and my spectators to live an adventure!
MICHAEL: You just said your art is often about the "idea of difference" or "outsiderness." My guess is that you've experienced this in your own life and perhaps that's why it's such a strong theme in your work?
JEFF: First of all, I don't come from an artistic family or surroundings. This has always given me a feeling of having to give long explanations about how I see the world, how come I wasn't interested in very down to earth thoughts and the like. At a point, I really felt like an outsider because, I just felt un-adapted or literally somewhere else. I have drawn as far back as I can remember. It was not a way out, but a sort of meditation. I have gotten into a habit of reaching for another world inside my mind, creative, fun, intellectual, playful and developing imagination without having to rely on my surroundings.
MICHAEL: Believe me, as a writer, I can totally relate.
JEFF: I was a quiet kid, pondering a lot. But even if quiet, I was attracted to the people who were the most different from me ... different cultures, social backgrounds, ways of life. Then I started learning English and went to England every year during the summer to take in the culture and see France from another point of view. I don't know whether you have noticed but there's something weird about France. It seems to pretend that we all live as a group sharing a lot and not having the need for communities. I reckon this is a mistake and this process of restraining people affected my work a lot.
MICHAEL: The French do seem very independent spirited to me.
JEFF: Well, as for my life, I do feel a little like Groucho Marx when he says that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would accept him as a member. I don't want to belong. I want to be free, I want others to be free. Mind you, I do believe in rules, but most of the ones I follow are self evident, not mass control. This is another theme in my work that's linked to the previous one ... control. For the sake of our own biodiversity, not just strange animals in a rainforest, but us, as thinking apes, it is important to open our eyes and ears and not let anybody control us and make us forget about our differences. Difference is wealth, progress and fun.
MICHAEL: Oh, I like that observation!
JEFF: Uniformity is always uniform according to the choices of somebody and that somebody obviously isn't you. But maybe you're asleep!
MICHAEL: Amen Brother! Thanks Jeff. I really love your work and this has been great.
To see Jeff Roland's cool and imaginative works, check out his website at www.jeffroland.org.