Fellows News

“All the world’s a …studio”? Jered Sprecher, Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Arts, 2009

Nov 5, 2013

Jered Sprecher, Guggenheim Fellow in Fine Arts, 2009, could give a new spin to Shakespeare’s famous words. As he explains in the following interview, he envisions possibilities for his art in every person, place, and thing he encounters.

Amy Skinner:: I wanted to ask you about a comment in your Artist’s Statement. “I am a hunter and a gatherer, constantly accumulating images produced by the people and cultures around me. Segments of this collection of images then emerge in my paintings.”

Jered Sprecher:: I remember one of my mentors, John Dilg, talking about being in the studio without physically being in the studio. There is a freedom in recognizing that each moment of the day is loaded with potential. A rusty chain-link fence, an internet pop-up add, a Moroccan rug, a child’s wooden puzzle, or a Fragonard landscape give me the sliver of an idea, a handhold to begin a painting. To regard an image or object is to regard an idea.

AS:: Can you describe some of the stages of your creative process before you begin to paint or draw? How do you collect these images? Do you make notes, take photographs, or sketch ideas when you encounter something inspiring in your environment?

JS:: I have sketchbooks filled with words, phrases, notes, sketches, and diagrams. I catalog what I find online, in books, and in magazines. I take many photographs. These photographs document the way that humans interact with the world, leaving our mark with such things as architecture, city infrastructure, advertising, monuments, graffiti, grottoes, and domestic spaces. The process of combing back through the sketchbooks, torn pages, jpegs, scribbles on napkins, and other remnants is integral to my time in the studio. I see all these things that hold potential meaning and resonance and I want to draw them out. There are so many paintings waiting to be made.

Often the starting point for a painting is one idea. The impulse to make a painting that is so thin that it is practically a ghost or my fascination with a found photograph can be the place where I begin painting. I allow myself the indulgence of starting with disparate sources or impulses. Allen Ginsberg said, “First thought, best thought.” I love this flat-footed bravery. Often it results in painting oneself into a corner. “I need the next painting to start with a large pink heart in the middle of the canvas.” Then I have to reckon with that image, its implications and what I have just done to the canvas. This is the beginning of negotiations and negations as I deal with each contingency as it arises.

AS:: You recently participated in the Chinati Foundation’s artist-in-residence program. Aside from the obvious benefits of time, can you describe your experience in West Texas? Did you find the location and atmosphere of Marfa inspiring? Were there any unanticipated challenges working in this space compared to your typical studio practice? After you leave a place like the Chinati Foundation, do you find that you carry a part of your experience forward, incorporating elements in future work?

JS:: There is really no way to fully describe West Texas. It is really amazing. It is hot and dry during the days and then it cools down to 60 degrees at night. There is so little light pollution that at night the sky just opens up. I had never seen so many stars. The contrast between the mountains and the open spaces is something everyone should see.

One evening we were driving from Alpine back to Marfa and we came around a turn in the road, where the expanse of the desert opens up right before you. As we scanned the horizon before us we could see six separate places where it was raining. When you see something like that you totally understand what artists like Thomas Moran or Albert Bierstadt were trying to harness in their paintings.

It was great having a studio in the center of Marfa, to watch the trains go by, to walk next door to the Marfa Public Library. The studio had huge storefront windows, letting in this brilliant light. I was right there at street level. It was nice to be part of the community. It is a small town, but there are so many layers to it, so many things to discover.

I would walk around and pick up rocks with my sons. I watched them stack and arrange the rocks we collected. There is something so basic about their actions. Taking time to contemplate these rocks and other treasures is absolutely necessary. I am not sure how my time in Marfa will surface in my work, that usually takes time. I am looking forward to seeing what arises in my work from this time.

AS:: Your list of credits and achievements is impressive. Do you think these recognitions have had an impact on your creative process?

JS:: Each credit or achievement is a result of someone who took a chance and offered support to my work. I feel gratitude and I always strive to make the most out of each opportunity that is presented. I try to give generously of myself and my work, to be wiling and open to share what happens in the studio.

AS:: Are there other artists, students, or specific painters that inspire you? Is the work of other artists something you consider with any regularity?

JS:: One can be alone in the studio, but not be alone. The work of other artists, poets, writers, filmmakers, musicians, composers, scientists, and thinkers can populate the studio. Lately I am thinking about Edouard Manet and Edvard Munch. Both of them have paintings that seem as if they are about to fall apart. I am fascinated by this and think about how to push a painting to that teetering edge. Munch has what he calls his “kill or cure” treatment. It is all or nothing. I admire the fearlessness and the sense of necessity that he invokes.

Through my position at the University of Tennessee, I have the privilege to work with many talented students. They keep me honest. They ask “But why?” and I say “Let’s figure it out.” In teaching I can take nothing for granted. I learn from each student, especially in his or her struggle to understand something new or challenging. Each thing you learn builds on the thing before it. Nothing is easy. Nothing should be easy.

There are many artists who are currently working that I really admire. It is a really wonderful experience when you find an artist or work of art that really shakes you to your core. Charlene von Heyl and Amy Sillman loom large as amazing artists who speak thoughtfully of their work and the world. I am interested in artists who are active writing, curating, teaching, and in other ways extending the dialogue.

AS:: I have asked you about the stages of your creative process, but I am also curious about your work environment. Do you find that you need quiet space when you work, or do you listen to music and enjoy the occasional visitor or interruption? How many hours do you typically spend creating before you need or want to take a break?

JS:: Several years ago we converted our garage into a studio space. Having a family, I wanted to be able to help put the kids to bed and not have to commute back to the studio. Now my commute is across the driveway. I have three walls for hanging paintings and the fourth wall with windows to let in some indirect light. I work on several paintings at a time. I often have source material spread out on the floor and pinned to the wall. All that source material sometimes gets to be too much and I put all the pictures and drawings away and simply concentrate on the paintings. The occasional visitor or interruption is a good thing. They help me step back from what I am working on, ask me a needed question, or provide a necessary distraction. I like to have music, an audio book, or the radio playing in the background. I often find myself working in silence, absorbed in my painting, not noticing that the recording ended an hour ago.