Published November 23, 2022
Objects, Language, Puddles, & Painting: An Interview with Jamey Hart
Jamey Hart (b.1992, Erie, PA) is an artist currently living and working outside of Boston, MA. His practice focuses on casting everyday experiences into the shadow of discrete objects. He received his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting from Cleveland Institute of Art in 2014 and his Masters in Fine Arts in Painting from the University of Houston in 2021. His work has been included in publications such as New American Paintings, Reciprocal Magazine, ArtMaze Magazine, and Lula Japan. Selected solo exhibitions include “Mere” at Gray Contemporary in Houston, TX, “And” at Automat Gallery in Philadelphia, PA, and “Slow Pace Time” at Front Gallery in Houston, TX. His practice has earned institutional support and recognition from Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Houston Arts Alliance, The Hopper Prize, Vermont Studio Center, and Fieldworks Marfa.
What is your background and how does it inform your work?
JH: My three sisters and I were raised by my mom in a low-income household. Things in our home had a fluid relationship with their function. The boundaries of objects were mutable and constantly challenged. Milk crates became tables, shelves, chairs, containers. Carpets and piles of laundry could be beds. Since objects were rarely relegated to any one use, they held a fundamental openness to potential. For me, this later translated into a general sense that all things are reservoirs. They are surfaces: this is the appearing face constructed by use, culture, and history. Simultaneously, they hold enormous depth: this is the withdrawing side that remains largely unknown to us. My overall preoccupation with objects and painting probably stems from here.
More specifically, I’ve been thinking about a particular period of time directly after my dad died where my family and I looked for him in everyday objects. There was this magical or delusional thinking that shifted the way ordinary objects and experiences could be digested. Eight balls, the number eight itself, a blue jay, maybe a stick that hits the roof and makes a certain noise: all potentially placeholders for something as amorphous as spirit. This isn’t necessarily an uncommon thing, but I’ve been remembering it lately. For some reason, I was never able to fully inhabit a total belief in the ulterior dimension of those objects. Even so, I was equally unable or unwilling to accept the opposite. My current approach feels entangled with that time and its tensions, not necessarily in content but in practice. I am constantly wondering about the boundaries of objects, what a surface can and can’t hold, productive delusions; reframing quotidian experiences or objects to consider them through other form.
I am constantly wondering about the boundaries of objects, what a surface can and can’t hold, productive delusions; reframing quotidian experiences or objects to consider them through other form.
How would you describe your practice?
JH: I give extended attention to materials and situations that are concealed by their commonness and acute specificity. I am guided by a quasi-magical / quasi-analytical belief that these fragments are somehow keystones to broader structures that I don't know how to understand. Legibility is the degree of ease that experiences, signs, and symbols convey meaning based on their appearance. The capacity for something to communicate hinges on its visibility, though a visible object is not necessarily a legible one. In both looking and making, I am searching for a form that can disclose this ambiguous space.
The objects begin in words. Making the object is a means of witnessing the translation of that experience from language into something wordless.
How does that act of translation take place? What is your process like?
JH: Part of the work happens in the studio. I work in two to three hour intervals. I work on one object at a time, and try to make one primary decision within the work a day. The work all develops slowly. I prefer working around a set schedule, even if that set schedule is arbitrary. While I am working, I am usually in disagreement with myself in terms of how to make whatever I am trying to make, so I am rarely moving in a straight line. The work goes through numerous reversals: a decision made one day might be fully undone the following.
Part of the work happens within everyday life. I maintain a habit of writing and make on-going projects: these are something like durational and routine performances for no audience. While in Houston, I would bike to White Oak, Brays, and Buffalo Bayou and cry. I did this two times a week for the first two years that I lived there. I document these projects in various ways. I am currently working on a book that will serve as an archive of the poems and phrases I wrote on people’s packages while working as a delivery driver after moving to Massachusetts, titled Box.
What concepts or subjects does your work explore?
JH: If I could imagine it as a list, maybe this: containers, the figure and the ground, time, the tensions between a surface and a structure, concealment, calibration, objects and language, material, placeholders.
I like the idea of the figure and the ground as a framework to think about attention. What do I notice? At what intervals? And how? The objects are an offering of some kind, something given to be looked at. Within the objects, there are mechanisms that link the figure with the ground, such as an edge, a boundary, or a physical bridging. There is a question that I have in the work, which runs throughout my practice: how is the smaller thing a ripple of, conversant with, or connected to the larger thing?
That is why I like puddles. Because puddles are minute manifestations of weather. And weather is a system that is hugely vast. I can’t hold it. I have no way of tying a knot around it. But, a puddle has an apparent edge that I can apprehend. That graspability is in tension with the boundless thing it is a part of.
Do you have any studio rituals?
JH: I usually pick something up on the road while walking to the studio, and mix the color of it when I come in. I clean the studio at the end of the night before leaving. I paint the tables and the walls after every object.
Related to your art practice or not, have you found yourself collecting anything specific over the years?
JH: At one time, I was collecting boulders and railroad ties.
Are there particular artists or writers that have influenced your work or thinking?
JH: Agnes Martin Hong Hong David Horvitz Matthew Wong Paul Chan David Hammons Carl Ostendarp Diane Cescutti Noah Leen Valentina Jager Molly Zuckerman-Hartung Josephine Halvorson Stella Zhong Leeza Meksin Jim Lee Brad Tucker Dana Frankfort Fergus Feehily Laurence Graves Michel Carmantrand Francesca Fuchs Keiko Narahashi Anne Mailey Maja Ruznic Joshua Hagler Keith Allyn Spencer Janice Nowinski Annabeth Marks Emil Halmos André Cadere Joy Williams Sean Sullivan Al Svoboda Jordan Danchilla Bas Jan Ader K Sarrantino Peter Shear Welly Fletcher Xyl Lasersohn Lael Marshall Altoon Sultan Lauren Yeager Christian Wulffen Emil Robinson Satpreet Kahlon Rachel Pontious Rachel Hecker Renana Neuman Sterling Allen Kim Faler Mie Kongo Russell Webb Graham Harman Enrique Figueredo Allison Miller Christina Tenaglia Paul Simmons Juan Logan Yi Fu Tuan Anna Horvath Russell Maltz Ever Baldwin Robert Guillot Christian Marclay Martin Herbert Jean Helion Michael Snow Baxter Koziol Ellsworth Kelly Hannah Beerman Michael Cuadrado Blinky Virgina Lee Montgomery Wislawa Szymborska Fawn Kreiger Anne Wu Mike Cloud Wilma Vissers Francis Fontaine Forrest Bess Tom Friedman Nancy Shaver Etel Adnan Brian Belott Bill Davenport Jamal Cyrus Anna Dezeuze Kevin McNamee-Tweed Matthew Feyld Sebastien Boncy Beverly Fishman Robert Walser Luc Fuller Ben Weathers Micah Lexier Cauleen Smith Steve Riedell Hervé Garcia Vincent Hawkins Guimi You George Brecht Rick Lowe Arlene Shechet Jose Bonell Leslie Jane Roberts Claudia Keep Marcel Broodthaers Anna Hepler Robert Irwin Hernan Ardila Delgado Kyle Staver Hiroshi Sugito Judith Linhares Yevgeniya Baras Tess Jaray David Shrigley Connor McNicholas Alice Tippit Jane Bustin Tuttle Thomas Nozkowski Vija Celmins Robert Filliou Suzan Frecon Hannah Davis Robert Ryman Clare Grill Jaakko Pallasvuo Katherine Bradford Daniel Euphrat Robert Gober Jake Walker Cyrilla Mozenter Johanna Blank Alberto Casais Lucebert Timothy Morton Pete Schulte Loren J. Munk Sherae Rimpsey Lygia Clark Richard Rezac Kevin Beasley George Blaha Suzan Frecon Harriet Korman Adrian Piper Kishio Suga Alison Knowles Kevin Kautenburger Charlotte Posenenske Libby Rosa Dorothee Joachim Dominic Palarchio Clare Koury Chadwick Rantanen Merlin James Domenico Gnoli Yutaka Matsuzawa Karin Sanders Katelyn Eichwald Marley Freeman Richard Bosman Brenda Goodman Harry Roseman Sophie Barber and it continues.
Thinking about your practice over time, how has it changed?
JH: I was making these white paintings out of plaster and house paint before that looked like walls. This was eight years ago. I gave myself close to two years to focus solely on that work. In my head, it was a way to develop a discipline: I wanted to see if I could continue finding difference in the same materials, drawn out over time. I felt like if I could continue that practice, continue to move this heavy thing around that might be nothing, I would be able to sustain my work going forward.
My current practice has shifted steadily in the last three years. The objects and painting practice were initially more hermetic: each work was in response to the previous in an effort to expand a formal language. The work now isn’t as explicitly reactive or internal. The objects take a longer time to show up. They are more resolute and often necessitate certain things to happen away from the studio before being made: I need to find a specific blue sheet on the path, it needs to rain so I can steal a puddle, I have to trace the shape of a particular sign and match its color at a particular time of day. I see the object-practice as parallel to a record or a logbook in some ways. There is this broader, external structure that the things are embedded in.
The books that I’ve been making come from an impulse to catch the negative spaces in my peripheral experience. By calling something a project and making a book about it, I am trying to reclaim that thing as conceivably significant to my practice. When I was delivering packages, I needed to find a way to house what I was doing within something else: to see the eleven hours inside of the van as a way of making a painting, or writing a long poem, or starting a rumor that could exist within a neighborhood of people. There is a side to this which is me lying to myself and inventing fictions to follow.
Your video work acts as a record of these in-between moments as well. Can you tell us about "01081321"?
JH: I see the videos as a means of generating a space that can be more amorphous than the books and objects while sharing some of the same concerns. 01081321 was the first attempt at creating that kind of document. The recording itself captures a portion of my bike route leaving my studio and going home. The video ends about a third of the way there, alongside the bayou. It tracks this routine path I had taken over the previous three years while at that studio. The other purpose of that work was to act as something parallel to a long statement or a lecture for an exhibition titled Mere at Gray Contemporary in Houston, Texas. I wanted to have something that was more indirect than a lecture while still clarifying some of the questions I repeatedly come back to.
How does your practice inform other areas of your life?
JH: I am looking for paintings everywhere.
"01081321", 2021, Single-channel video, a narration and list of questions, for the love of an object. Produced in lieu of an artist lecture for exhibition: Mere, Gray Contemporary, May, 2021