Interview with Jay Stuckey
Published in September 2003 Review
OZ:You started this series before the 9/11 attacks. Not too many people are able to remember what life was like before the attacks.
Initially what was your inspiration for these disaster prints?
JS:It's funny you mention this because three months ago Artforum did this review of the 80's and in the roundtable discussion about painting Carroll Dunham had this quote, which is apt, because 9/11 comes up pretty regular with this work. Dunham said "Cultural contextualization can't be predicted by the maker". Its one of those things that in certain respects, it came up on me, and once it came, and Alice Thornson made reference to this in the review, it did put a lens over everything. It's hard to look at it pre-imposed in the same way that D-DAY, which I didn't mean to make yet another airplane analogy, is another moment that when that happened your looking at life now pre-imposed and its hard to discern the two. The initial inspiration was coming out of graduate school I felt like I was in a corner, and you come out of it, I needed new things to look at and think about. School was really great for that being submerged around all theses great people and great things to look at. But I think the downside of that is you come out of that and you lose a bit of yourself. You have all this other information coming from other sources floating around and so when I first got out all this work was kind of formal and I was working through making formal things I was interested in. But I think that’s a real limited road. I got to the point where I wondered how much of me was in the work, was I really enjoying it, was I being too clinical? My wife and I had been in Las Vegas at one of these gambling supply stores and bought a package of cards with airplanes replicated on them, back in World War II they handed out these playing cards that had silhouettes of all the airplanes on them to identify the enemy aircraft. It was a silhouette of the sides from the front and from below. I was back in my studio and I really wasn't happy with the work I made and we had just got back from this trip and I was looking at these cards and in looking at them it really reminded me of doing war drawings as a kid. I hate to be so boy-specific about it, but a lot of boys my age had made war drawings. And when I made those drawings I was just lost in that world, if the drawing lasted 5 min. or 45 min. It was almost a direct narrative; here was the one plane you drew, then the next plane, then the bullets, and then the explosion. And I remembered just really getting lost in that and loving it then, and I thought that’s what I really need to get back. I really just need to enjoy making the work. And I just started making airplane drawings, and the cards were inspirational at the time. And I set a rule out for myself that if I felt like if it was work again, because there was a time for two or three months that it felt like I was punching a time card in to work when I went to the studio, I wanted to get that excitement back, so that if at any point in the drawing I felt like I was finishing it just to finish it I would stop and start something else. It's funny because there are a lot of early airplanes and mummy drawings that you look at and they don't look done. It was like, next (motion of flipping to next sheet of paper)! I really was trying to keep that excitement, and I think that really come across.
OZ: IT does! Because when you're a kid you're free from thinking about finished composition. So it was kind of fallout from academia?
J: But at the same time there came a point where stuff that I had learned I was able to apply to it. I learned a great deal from Barbara Rossey at the Art Institute of Chicago about how different cultures from the beginning of man to the present day have depicted space on a two-dimensional surface. …. With a lot of the airplane stuff how the space is created became important to me because that’s the way its going to communicate if I want to create a tension or an absurdity or humor its gonna come about using that vocabulary. In that respect it's been a nice blending of the two, being able to thing about the academic but also trusting my instinct. Ideally shooting from the hip.
Oz:Your style has a naïve, outsider, and child-like vein. Are these prints and drawings the same subject and style that you drew as a young artist?
Jay) Maybe not as a young artist, but as a young child.
OZ:Was there a point as a mature artist that you consciously returned or de-evolved back to this naïve style?
Jay:I wouldn't say de-evolved. It's an interesting balance. How do you take what you learned and make it your own? There's certain elements in the painting that are not necessarily complex, but are considered. It's no mistake that in the large piece you never see a plane at a skewed angle, an asymmetrical angle, going back to a Cézanne concept of respecting the flatness of the surface you're working on. The idea of consistently presenting the viewer with flat images, but just by changing their relative size and creating a space, so ideally there's this moment where there's space and flatness existing. The idea is to take these two seemingly contradictory elements existing in the same space creating a tension, or taking you to some other space.
OZ:When I look at your prints I can't help but be reminded of the young American male's devotion and fancy with machinery, violence, technology, basically the Military Industrial Complex. Many cultural critics have condemned Hollywood and video games in the last ten years for creating the obsessive relationship between young men and violence. Obviously this has been going on for a lot longer than Lieberman cares to remember. Your art puts this childlike glee for gore on the gallery wall without any didactic message. Will young boys love violence no matter what?
JS:Wow that’s a good one. Lets see how I can break this up.
Going back to the idea of putting two contradictory elements within the same space and seeing what happens when they cohabitate. I recognize there's violence inherent in these images and they're shooting and blowing things up, but I hope that its counterbalanced by a certain humor or joy in the way there actually played out. I don't see myself as a violent person or advocating violence. I like that idea of looking at something and wanting to laugh but being worried at the same time. Creating that tension like "Oooh, damn, that's kind of fucked up". When some of the airplane pieces work successfully there's something of an impossibility about it, there's no way that many airplanes could inhabit that air space, I play more towards the absurdity of it.
OZ) Will young boys love violence no matter what?
JS: I just don't know. There's a point where I wonder if that’s there problem and not mine! It is hard in this culture, where violence is put out there. You watch television and it's crazy just what's accepted now on NBC, CBS and ABC compared to when we were growing up.
OZ) At least fictionally. In real life they won't show the violence.
JAY) and what's the difference there
OZ) I dunno but there's obviously a gap there, during the recent Gulf War, they would seldom show any close-ups of violent acts
Jay) we can't show you that but we can show you someone getting brutally tortured by a psychopath on CSI: Miami because that’s okay, its make believe. Come on.
OZ: Your references in the prints and paintings in this show are from past eras. You have old fighter planes and mummies from B-Movies of the 50's and 60's.
Jay) even a lot of my painting references would not be considered contemporary. In general there is just a lot to learn from history. Going back to that Dunham quote about contextualization, I think before the 11th I think people would have seen these (paintings) as purely playful…
I spend more time looking at the work than anyone else, for me one thing I delight in is something that is visually enjoyable. Just looking at it, and moving your eye in and out of the space. I spend a lot of time looking at other artists and how they got around problems. So in terms of how can we learn from the past, someone once commented to me that the same way you have your family and your family tree you have the same things in art. Sometimes its good to figure out who your brothers and sisters are, who your parents are, it’s a good thing to do when your on a long car trip! I'm consistently learning from those folks, it’s the same with music and movies I find myself consistently going back and like what was the first soundtrack ever put out, maybe there's something there. Going from punk rock back to soul, when did the fervor really begin? Where's the first great "Woaw!"
…Some of the paintings address more general issues, about the human condition or space and what that means. Sometimes they're just straight narratives just from again being from Southern blood and loving a good story. Just as an example my wife and I were flipping channels and there was a Godzilla film I'd never seen called Mecca Godzilla. Godzilla had come back from the ocean, of course. There was this mad scientist who created this mechanical Godzilla called Mecha Godzilla. He was the best stereotypical professor ever, he had big thick glasses and he literally had the speech where he said (invoking accent)"they laughed at me at the university but I'll show them!" It was great. We're watching this movie of Godzilla and Mecha-Godzilla beating the crap out of each other and destroying Tokyo in the process. It was one of those moments, if it was a snake it would have bit me, I was like 'I gotta have a giant mummy battling a mechanical mummy over a city' so I just turned out three or four drawings of it. It goes back to the joy of the actual act of making the work, I'm engaged in it, it keeps me making the work. Sometimes it is formal issues; sometimes it is just showing people what you like, what you think about.
OZ) Though the references are from the past, they parallel contemporary issue and times. Do you think commenting directly on current affairs can have limiting results?
Jay) I think that contemporary culture is just around us. Its here all the time. Getting influenced by it is easy you just walk out your front door. Finding out where it connects with things in the past, there's that whole Zen concept of Big Mind, that everything is interconnected in someway. You start thinking about it and man is always in conflict with man somewhere else. Things just move in this wave, and finding these connections.
Oz) In that process you save many fragments of culture that could have been lost forever.
Jay) To be specific to painting….once about every ten years people proclaim painting to be dead. For me that’s even better, go ahead proclaim painting to be dead! When people do that they want to cut off the history from that (point) and let it go.
There is such a great history there, so much to be culled from. I can get just as excited by a Carroll Dunham, as I can by a great Chardin painting. Who cares when they did it! They're showing you how to do things…(Stuckey relates somewhat brief history of Chardin's formalist principles)…. Why cut that off, because that’s old and that's painting why disregard it.
Oz) Its great to hear you discuss all these formal issues. Looking at your work initially I thought of the "bad art" genre of painting.
Jay) It goes back to the idea of putting two contradictory elements together in the same work. Some of the works seem to convey chaos. The sheer fact that I sat down and made it, there's order to that. ……In certain respects I hope that the formal element of it are seamless.
OZ) Are there good planes and bad planes in this piece (BIG DAY)?
Jay) No. That’s not so important to me. Its more about creating this overwhelming chaotic mass, that has a certain absurdity and humor to it.
Being so influenced by movies, and just enjoying watching them, when I started this piece. (Big Day, large yellow), I wanted to make an epic. I wanted this grand thing. The thing that makes the epic movies so great is the format, Cinemascope. Overwhelming panoramic. I called up my wife who is a filmmaker and asked 'what's the aspect ratio for Cinemascope, and she said " 1 to 2.35". It was a conscious decision to get this panorama of this saga.
OZ) Iron Eagle or Top Gun?
Jay) I haven't seen Iron Eagle or Top Gun. I would say the question would be Tora,Tora,Tora vs. Battle over Britain. Tora,Tora, Tora has that one great scene, but for straight up massive airplane fighting Battle over Britain is a pretty massive movie. So I guess I have to pick Battle over Britain.
Oz) Three greatest apocalyptic endings scenarios for mankind according to Jay Stuckey?
Jay) World Being over run by mummies. World being over run by mummies. World being over run by mummies.
OZ) Last Question, 3 B-movies everyone should see?
Jay: ( This list was emailed to me as a post-script to the interview)
1 A Bucket Of Blood, 1959, Roger Corman.
"Ring rubber bells, best cotton gongs, Walter Paisley is BORN!"
Dick Miller plays Walter Paisley, a sort of *slow* bus boy at the local beatnik café - The Yellow Door. His dreams of becoming a famous sculptor are realized in at first accidental, then more deliberately violent acts. A MUST see for all artist. Of note is Walter*s relationship with the owner of the Yellow Door who is also his art dealer; and the beat poet Max who acts as the films Greek Chorus. Throw in a subplot about heroin, and you can*t ask for more in an hour.
2 I Walked With A Zombie, 1943, Val Lewton
Val Lewton made some of the most beautiful B-Movies ever. He had this obsession with cast shadows that make every shot mesmerizing. I Walked With A Zombie approaches zombisim from it*s more factual roots in Haitian Voodoo. A chilling movie. Don*t let the date fool you, this movie is genuinely scary.
3 Curse Of The Demon, 1957, Jacques Tourneur
It*s no co-incidence that Tourneur was a protege of Val Lewton*s, as this film shares much with Lewton*s aesthetic. The pacing, acting, cinema photography, and sound are all deftly handled in creating a psychological gestalt. Also of note is set designer Ken Adam who went on to design sets for Goldfinger, You Only Live Twice, and Dr. Strangelove.
4 IT! The Terror From Beyond Space, 1958
Rumor has it that "IT" screen writer Jerome Bixby filed suit against Ridley Scott for stealing his story when Scott was filming "Alien", and that Scott settled out of court. One look at "IT" and you*re on Jerome*s side. Sure the acting is wooden and the monster obviously fake, but you don*t care because the premise and story are so strong.
5 Last Man On Earth, 1964
Respect is due to any movie that influenced both "Night Of The Living Dead" and "Omega Man". Actually "Omega Man" is pretty much an American version of this Italian film starring Vincent Price. Two things look great on film: cinematic shots of abandoned city streets and zombies wandering aimlessly. This film may be the first to employ both, and thus laid the ground work for so many great films to come.
6 Night Of The Living Dead, 1968, George Romero
Without question the "Citizen Kane" of Zombie films. Others came before, but "Night Of The Living Dead" set the standard. If you see only one film on this list, THIS IS THE ONE.
7 Dawn Of The Dead, 1979, George Romero
In this sequel to "Night Of The Living Dead" even more zombies are populating the Earth, and still very little is known about them. This movie is such a part of popular culture it*s hard to write about. If it isn*t a part of your vernacular it simply must be.
8 Day Of The Dead, 1985, George Romero
Romero doesn*t take breaks, he re-loads. In this often overlooked final installment zombies have all but taken over the planet, save a few pockets of resistence. If you*ve ever found yourself thinking about how zombies might evolve as a species, this is the movie for you. The acting is just plain bad, but the story makes up for it. The shots of abandoned city streets, and zombies wondering aimlessly are a visual delight. The film*s original script supposedly adds even greater insight into the evolution of the zombie race.
9 Not Of This Earth, 1957, Roger Corman
Mr. Johnson, an alien from the planet Devana, arrives on Earth, and receives the objectives of his mission in 6 phases:
Phase 1: Study the characteristics of the Earth sub-humans
Phase 2: Send more Earth blood to Devana
Phase 3: Delivery of a live sub-human specimen to Devana for research
Phase 4: Earth blood value to be determined by Mr. Johnson*s survival or death
Phase 5: The conquest, subjugation, and pasturing of the Earth sub-humans
Phase 6: The utter obliteration of Earth
This movie doesn*t try to redefine the science fiction/ horror genre, so much as it plays off the genre*s already established conditions to perfection. Also of note is a cameo by Dick Miller of Bucket Of Blood fame.
10 Wild In The Streets, 1968, Barry Shear
Through an odd twist of events which includes drugging the water supply of Washington, D.C. with liquid acid, rock star Max Frost becomes President, and instantly forces everyone over 30 into internment camps where they are forced to wear monk like robes and drink acid on a daily basis. With a premise like that, what*s not to like? The film*s a little slow in pacing, but Shelley Winters turns in a wonderfully over the top performance as Max*s mom, and a young Richard Pryor is also featured as the drummer in Max*s band.
11 The Mask
This movie, which the Jim Carrey feature was loosely based on, is enigmatic to say the least. I have been unable to find any information on it save that it is on the cover of the Research book *Incredibly Strange Films*. And rightfully so. When the movie was originally released the mask sequences were filmed in 3-D and moviegoers were given 3-D glasses shaped like the mask in the film. When the main character is commanded by a disembodied voice to *PUT THE MASK ON NOW* we in the audience are expected to do likewise. Then it begins, some of the most unsettling, creepy, bad trip induced imagery you*ve ever seen. And, it*s in 3-D. Some video copies of *The Mask* come with 3-D glasses, and still include the mask sequences in their original format. If you find such a copy rejoice, but be warned, the mask sequences are not to be trifled with, they will scare you. PUT THE MASK ON NOW!
12 Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, 1956, Don Siegel
Inexplicable plant life appears in a small Northern California town. The pods upon hatching assume the appearance of the town*s citizenry, while their human counterparts mysteriously disappear. Our hero, played by Kevin McCarthy, is one of only a few humans who realizes the alien invasion is under way. This film directed by Don Siegel of Dirty Harry fame is the whole package. Taught, fast paced, and gripping. You don*t like the scenes when Siegel allows McCarthy to over act, you love them. Especially in what was meant to be the film*s final shot before a test audience deemed it far too disturbing. McCarthy hysterically runs between automobiles on a jam packed California highway at night screaming, "You fools, you*re in danger, can*t you see? They*re after you, they*re after all of us...They*re already here, (then facing directly into the camera) YOU*RE NEXT!"
13 The Thing; 1951, Christian Nyby; 1982, John Carpenter
Both versions of this movie are worth mention. The story revolves around a group of isolated, arctic explorers who slowly discover an evil alien among them. The Thing can assume the form of any living being, creating an atmosphere drenched in claustrophobic paranoia and anxiety. The original contains some campy/ironic dialogue between the dueling factions of science and military within the camp itself, while the remake has one of the most unexpected, jaw dropping shots I*ve ever seen.