Jeremy Geddes- the Hyper realism interview

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This is the Third interview in the Realism series, and I gotta say that Jeremy Geddes is one of the most impressive and hardworking people who I’ve ever had the pleasure of corresponding with.

When I discovered Jeremy’s work it was a moment of straight up pure awesome, and not the casual slang use of awesome, but its original meaning which is to stand there gaping open mouthed and feeling totally overwhelmed. When I got his responses to the questions I had formulated I was really taken back. Reading through them I discovered that his execution of his thoughts is just as much a well refined process as his amazing artwork, he is eloquent and well measured in his opinions, and cuts through to some really profound and interesting ideas.

So without further ado here is Jeremy Geddes;

My first question to you is pretty straight forward: What is it that drove you to realism? And what keeps you doing what you do?

I can pretty easily trace a line between what I am doing now and what I was drawn to when I was ten, an inchoate collection of illustration and historical painting.

The relationship isn’t entirely direct, but the feelings and sensations that were created by looking at paintings then are the same ones I’m trying to capture now, albeit in a more sophisticated form.  And that chase is still there; I’m still making the attempt and only partially succeeding. It’s what keeps me painting every day.

How do you go about developing your ideas for your pieces? Do you have a method for inspiration or is it more like “something pops into your head suddenly”?

It tends to be a process of refinement.

There will be an initial kernel of an idea or a feeling, but moulding that into something that can withstand translation into a full work takes a lot of time and thought.

I like to progress through a series of studies, living with each one for a while as I try to understand what is and isn’t working.  At some point the image feels right, which leads on to the next revision and study and so on.  Then down the track, if it passes the test, I feel justified launching into a full painting.

Is there someone else’s work that you can always return to for inspiration?

I look at different paintings for different aspects of my work.  I look at Antonio Lopez Garcia for his beautiful mark making, not so much to emulate him, but to interrupt my pedantic inclinations and add some noise to the forms.

I love Wythe’s compositions and Hoppers treatment of the space figures occupy within their environments.

But mostly I listen to music.  Music is often my way into a painting; during construction of a painting, it‘s the best way I’ve found to give clarity to the emotional throughline I’m trying to achieve.

What are your thoughts on conceptual art and its value? What about the conceptual art process?

Its value is measured in the same way as all other art, if it attracts an audience who are able to extract something useful from it, I think it can be described as having value.  It holds no interest for me though.  It’s completely removed from my concerns as a painter, and I’ve never really been able to extract much from it myself.  Conceptual arts’ focus on process over engagement is alien to me.  

It’s a very easy art form to attack and ridicule from the outside, but really, the utility of all art is questionable and when the foundations of your entire village is built on sand, it’s best not to go kicking in your neighbours wall.

What are your thoughts on the production art industry (film, T.V and games)? and the processes of having an army of artists working on a single project?

It’s giving a lot of artists a steady income and the value of that can’t be understated although the un-unionised nature of the industry and the threat of outsourcing seem to be leading to greater levels of exploitation, which is a worrying development. 

As a concept, if it works for the artist, great, collaboration can be a powerful way to get work done.  Historically I’m sure it’s more the norm than the solitary artist, I’m just personally not built for it.

When it comes to your own art making, how much time do you dedicate to the planning process? Is it a conscious effort or do you just go into autopilot?

The planning process is both conscious and a feat of ‘autopilot’.  The realisation of what is and isn’t working has its own internal timescale, and I can’t force it beyond a certain point.  I try to construct a system (via studies etc) that continually prods my brain with the problems that need to be addressed, but then you just have to wait until the answers are there.  This process can easily take a year or two, rolling along in the background as I work on other pieces.

When was the Aha or Eureka moment when you realised that you had grasped the ability to paint realistically? Was it a massive breakthrough that made you want to jump up and down? Or was it a natural quiet progression?

I’ve had that moment a few times, a kind of internal hubristic rush, and later I always looked back and realised I was full of shit and completely deluding myself.  Everything I’ve so far done feels completely bound by my technical limitations.  I feel like I can break them, or at least push them back some and that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back each day.

What was the biggest hurdle you faced when learning art and especially making realistic art?

Deluding yourself that you are better than you are is certainly up there, but honestly, the biggest hurdle is money.  It’s a struggle to be able to position yourself so you have the freedom to work as long as you need to on a piece and then destroy it because it’s not good enough.  If you need the money to survive, to pay next month’s rent, the pressure is always there to work fast, and produce work that has a decent time to money ratio, which helps the painter eat, but isn’t necessarily the best work the painter can do, or the work that is best for her career.

What importance do you place on Realism in the world of art? Why do think it’s still one of the most popular styles?

Well, I’m drawn to realism, so obviously I will see it as fairly important.  Is it popular within the ‘art world’? It would be nice if it was so, I haven’t really paid much attention.  It was mildly sneered at back when I was at art school; perhaps that has changed.  Certainly it’s popularity beyond the bubble of the ‘art world’ is easily explained, it has retained the hooks that can grab the attention of otherwise disinterested passersby, and gives them an avenue into the work that can then lead to a greater connection.

There are so many artists out there who want to do what you can do — because it’s awesome! For those aspiring to become realistic painters, what is the biggest mistake that you see them making? What do you think are the biggest wastes of time in the earlier stages?

For someone attempting realism, I’d say go in expecting to produce nothing of any merit for a while.  Develop a critical eye, unflinchingly compare your work to those painters you admire, and then throw yours away and try again.  I’d say it’s better to be too critical of your own work than not critical enough.

 So in this sense ‘wasting time’ can be a loaded term. Making the same mistake again and again is probably a waste, but making a mistake and learning from it is a crucial step in learning and progression.

And concerning the professional level: What are most common mistakes that you catch yourself and other fellow pros making?

One mistake I often catch myself in is launching into a full sized painting before I have addressed and resolved all the potential problems in small scale studies. It means I can spend days or weeks in rework for an issue that could have been sorted out in hours if I had followed the correct procedure. Tampering down enthusiasm with pragmatism can be a tricky thing to hold onto sometimes, but it is almost always worth it.

Outside of that, I really don’t know.  No-one else’s desired end point is the same as mine, and so I have no context to judge whether they are making the right decisions.  If you are producing work you are happy with, and can keep a roof over your head doing it, I would say well done, it’s not an easy trick to pull off.

Finally, do you have any strong thoughts or opinions on the public’s perceptions of fine art? Particularly, can you comment on the audience’s common feeling of disconnectedness between a piece and the message behind it?

Last time I paid attention to it, the general public had little interest in the world of fine art, and rightly so. There’s still a huge love of art, but the art forms that the public flocks to (film, television, books and music) are generally placed outside of the sphere of ‘fine art’.  The label ‘fine art’ is almost defined by its non-appeal to a broad audience.  Many of its practitioners have spent the last one hundred years pulling apart the structures that gave their discipline its popularity. This is a profound and interesting direction for anyone already immersed in its culture and language but it eventually creates an impossible divide for outsiders to bridge.

 So the disconnect between the intended meaning of a conceptual work and the meaning that  ‘Joe Public’ will take from it is obviously huge, the work is most likely buried in decades of obscure theory that the public has no knowledge of or participation in.

 To some extent, even when clear and unambiguous communication is the intent, all transmitted meaning is fractional and illusory.  You can be reasonably sure of clear communication in a medium with a heavily established structure understood by both creator and viewer, for example, an action movie or a romantic comedy (but then you could argue whether much of merit or novelty is actually being said).

 The moment you step away from a universally understood and shared structure, surety of accurate communication becomes shaky.  This, to me, seems to be a problem with no solution.  It’s inherent to the nature of the world we live in.

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for more of Jeremy’s fantastic work check out his website: http://www.jeremygeddesart.com

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