Jason LaMotte/ interview by black dog bone
Jason LaMotte/ interview by black dog bone
From what I have seen you’re a very unusual artist. Your paintings look different from other painters, especially your drawings. They’re real demented and full of sorrow and grief. When I first saw your art I thought maybe you were someone gone crazy, mentally sick or retarded. The images in your drawings are really raw and have a very natural feel, are very earthy. They have a third world, primal feel, like Australian aboriginal paintings. And some of the art you make has had a violent feel, very disturbing?
A lot of my art, especially my drawings and my older work, has been about trying to capture a certain mood or feeling that I felt, and often times I was trying to go beyond where I felt comfortable or safe. Most of the time I have used art to discover or work on who I am, or investigate some aspect of the world I felt I needed to learn about. When I was younger I was a lot more emotional, and my art definitely expressed that, especially when I was drinking, through my twenties and early thirties. But I have always been about trying to be honest. and I wanted to do it on my terms and with as much raw feeling and honesty as I could. I experimented with weird materials, used a blowtorch a lot to burn stuff, did collage and multimedia. But most of that stuff is gone. I was so reckless at that time. I was questioning morals and limits and trying to find out who I was, and throwing myself into a strange, reckless, intoxicated, intense process of artistic practice that was inseparable from my life, and also significantly included an aspect of constant self-defeat or implosion.
You live in LA now, are you from there or somewhere else?
Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Yes, I was born in Los Angeles, to parents who were born in Los Angeles—a second generation native—one of my grandparents was born here too. When I was young my family moved out to the Santa Clarita Valley, a suburb in the northern part of L.A. county. It was an interesting place. There were lots of fields, oak groves, coyotes… But it was also the beginning of a booming suburban community, so I saw it change a lot over the years. An amusement park called Magic Mountain is there. When I was young you could get a season pass for $14, so I spent a lot of time there in the early 80’s. We were close enough to the city to go down there but also in a bit of a secluded place, surrounded by hills and some nature. It was part suburban and part still rural. We hiked through hills and creek beds with bb guns, finding old faded softcore porno magazines or snakes in the bushes, or we rode bikes or played in dirt fields. How was your childhood spent? Were you happy, were you mischievous?
I was happy, curious, then alienated, introverted…sharp, full of potential, but not very engaged, a social misfit, often left out, unsatisfied and full of yearning. My first favorite band was Kiss. We used to dress up like them and lip sync to records for performances. In middle school my favorite bands were Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. I liked to do artistic things but wasn’t very disciplined. We did some pranks, got into a little trouble. I discovered David Bowie, then a whole slew of bands, synth-pop and post-punk, in the early to mid 80’s. I got drunk and sniffed volatile chemicals, dressed a little weird, got into photography, became a DJ, was creatively restless. I would party with my high school friends at houses or outside in the surrounding canyons, fields, out-of-the-way places, while they were there, and we would go dancing at Magic Mountain or some club sometimes and drive around. I’d drive with friends and get into adventures in L.A., Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, and the Mojave desert or elsewhere. I was motivated to be wild and free. I felt creative expression was a magical, mystical thing. Usually if I painted anything I liked I’d keep painting over it until I ruined it, then burned the thing or left it somewhere, in an attic or under some stairs or someplace. Or if I ever started to come up with a good technique or approach I’d stop and try something new. I never let myself get comfortable, I didn’t trust technique or mastery or control. I didn’t like an idea to come before the process. Basically, I wanted authentic evidences of chaos.
Can you tell us something about your school life. How did you spend it?
My school life spanned many years and colleges. I got into learning. I’ve always like the idea of improving myself, even if it’s according to my own slow and strangely twisted route. I went to many community colleges and had some classes at Art Center College of Design before transferring to San Francisco Art Institute and getting my BFA in painting. I loved my time at SFAI for being able to meet creative types and immerse myself in art. There was such a great feeling being there at that time, in San Francisco and in the studios at school in the early 90’s. I was challenged and able to stretch myself and also to follow plenty of my own interests—photography, mixed media, personal subject matter, experimental techniques, collaborations with artist friends. After it was done I had to hibernate a while in my studio. I participated in a few group shows, but my concentration was more on making my work than showing it. It was personally meaningful, but I didn’t know how it might operate in society. After some years I decided for a new approach and got into video and technology. I went back for a certificate in Cinema Production, and got into making some short films, then got into the computer and doing multimedia work. I made a little comic book. Finally I realized I wanted to go back and get a graduate degree. I was unsure at first between digital multimedia and more traditional fine art painting, but in the end the latter won out and I went to Claremont Graduate University and got an MFA in Painting. Whereas SFAI offered more of a place to be experimental, CGU stressed some of the current issues, approaches, and ideas in the contemporary art world. I was able to take a philosophy course and study a good deal of theory, but, still, I spent most of my time in my studio making paintings. There has always been such a great personal challenge for me to make a really good, moving, satisfying painting.
I was always wary of too much technique or control, in method or even idea. I couldn’t relate to that and it didn’t seem honest. I wanted to be able to give access to a spontaneous expression, to try and get under all my tastes and superficial, learned judgements, and see if I could get to anything deeply and personally meaningful.
What kind of medium do you prefer to use in your art? Is it oils or watercolor?
Oil color. I used acrylic much when I was younger because I needed to paint faster, to try and keep up with fleeting impressions. And I have always like the immediacy and boldness of black acrylic ink. But oil color has the amazing richness, vibrancy, texture, organic depth, range of colors… It thrills me. I’ve gone from more water-based media to oils. Are their any artists in this field you respect?
I’m sure there are a lot. I’m not going to list specific individuals, but I see a lot of work that is interesting, challenging, different, intriguing. There are a lot of people out there who make creative work, who pour their hearts and minds into it, and work out how to render it up in some compelling and honest form, people who stick with it, and evolve their vision to meet the changes within themselves and the world around them. I admire artists who put themselves in uncomfortable places and allow themselves to fumble around and be vulnerable. The artists I respect get great expressive force out of their materials. They get obsessed by the process, remain curious, push themselves to go deeper and explore their subjects.
I would experiment with some of the automatic techniques that the surrealists used, often times getting inebriated with drink, smoke, etc. in an effort to undercut my conscious mind, searching for the crucial mark. Part of me has always valued the untrained and basic, free, primal mark-making impulse.
As far as your art where do you fit in? or do you fit in at all? are you like in a world of your own?
In some ways I have felt to be in a world of my own, and I have often times felt that I did not really fit in comfortably or that I am an eclectic hybrid in an in-between zone. I’ve learned from my education and have been open to challenging my own boundaries, and I’ve tried to lighten up and spend a little time with pop culture. U.S. popular culture has been a topic in one of my more recent series of paintings. One of the reasons I went to graduate school was to get more compatible with whats going on around me. After graduate school I couldn’t paint for a few years. I played around making music and wrote some but I couldn’t paint for a while, and then eventually I had to return to it. I had to try and paint a post grad school body of work that took all my experience into account and that I felt good about. I also wasn’t interested anymore in trying to cultivate a necessarily individual and unique path. In fact more of the opposite: I started a series of paintings as investigations into an identity mind of U.S. popular culture. And I have been open to it not only in terms of subject matter but also aesthetics. Now I’ve been painting abstracts, and working on some other series that are more personal and more expressive, but they have changed a lot over the years. They take me a long time also, but I’ve started to show them. Really, I have my first big exhibition of these new post-grad school paintings coming up. So it’s still being worked out where I fit in, but I think there may be a place for me and my art work yet.
we were close enough to Hollywood to go down there but also in a bit of a secluded place, surrounded by hills and some nature. It was part suburban and part still rural. We hiked through hills and creek beds with bee bee guns, finding old faded soft core porno magazines or snakes in the bushes, or we rode bikes or played in dirt fields.
Are you conscious about the world around you?
Some of it. The world is a complex place and has a lot going on. One can only be conscious of so much. I pay a lot of attention to what’s right in front of me and in my daily life, but I’m also open to news and have curiosity about other places and people, plus now is an especially strange period with this current white house administration and the seemingly over-severe backlash to the social progress we had been making. Most of the news I see these days is almost shocking. It’s crazy times. But I prefer trying to be present and aware of the immediate world around me. I believe it would be a better world if we could be more present and aware of where we are and what’s going on around us. I’m trying to get better at this.
the first time I drove on the freeway was to Chinatown for dim sum, but I’d like to drive down to Melrose Blvd in Hollywood or around the San Fernando Valley or the rural roads in Santa Clarita. I was full of crazy energy and fantasies, and caught in tension of being a repressed rebel. I realized the only thing I could be, really, is an artist.
Do you like to read? What are the books you like most?
I do like to read sometimes. At times of my life I’ve been absolutely fascinated by books, and texts, words, even letters. I’ve read hundreds of books in my life but sometimes I’ve found them to be overwhelming, intimidating, too removed or in need of decoding, and I’ve given up and gone back to making or being concerned with images again. But then often when I’m painting I think of texts, and words haunt me as much as music or even more. I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction, and sometimes I’ll want to read one or the other, but I have read more non-fiction. Some titles I’ve enjoyed are Argüelles’s The Transformative Vision, Garon’s Blues and the Poetic Spirit, McKenna’s Food of the Gods, Narby’s The Cosmic Serpent, Ryan’s The Strong Eye of Shamanism, Tao Te Ching, Gad’s Tarot and Individuation, Forbes’s Columbus and Other Cannibals, Marcus’s Mystery Train, Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album, Landa’s A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Nagel’s The View from Nowhere, Deleuze’s Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation, Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Kelley’s Foul Perfection, and other books on art… I’ve spent a lot of time in libraries, and have full bookshelves.
often times I wore my headphones, plugged into a portable cassette player, like a walkman but cheaper, blasting Sonic Youth, The Birthday Party, The Pixies, the Fall, Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, The Velvet Underground, The Butthole Surfers, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, or some other abrasive rhythmic band with screaming and heart, and I’d stomp around brooding. I was driven, and hunting for the edge.
Do you see an improvement or deterioration in modern art?
I love Modern art. I grew up loving modern art. The educated painter part of me likes to think of modern art as going basically from Manet until Warhol, generally presenting a more subjective view than the classical styled art that came before it. Then we phased into the post-modern or contemporary era in which we currently find ourselves. Since the artist’s work is part of social enterprise and interaction, art goes through phases with society. Art changes. Now there are a lot more people making art and the art being made has great variety. I’m hesitant to say it’s better or worse, because mostly I feel that it changes. But it is fitting that it changes with the times, so that’s better than if it didn’t. We have a lot more quantity and I think we have some good-as-ever quality too. But there will always be a romantic fascination about the past and what has passed before us as well.
At times of my life I’ve been absolutely fascinated by books, and texts, words, even letters. I’ve read hundreds of books in my life but sometimes I’ve found them to be overwhelming, intimidating, too removed or in need of decoding, and I’ve given up and gone back to making or being concerned with images again. But then often when I’m painting I think of texts, and words haunt me as much as music or even more.
What can you say about the artist in contemporary society?
I think an artist is someone who has a practice making art, and that art is a thing made by a person or people with no other function than to communicate through sensory perception with other people some idea or feeling. There’s more people living now than ever before and more going on and at a faster pace and larger scale than ever. There are plenty of people with thoughts and feelings who want to communicate something through an expressive, creative form. And the current state of the world needs it now more than ever. The arts are constantly revitalized by new people bringing new thoughts and feelings, ideas, as well as media, methods, and techniques into the traditional practices. The art stays vital with fresh blood, and every new generation has available to them a range of established practices to take on and use as they see fit. There are challenges, in keeping the art interesting and the process fresh, as well as the tastes and expectations of the people and the economics of making a living, that can make art-making difficult, but I’ve always believed that there’s an important and good fight to carry on as an artist, because the current world and social situations need creative visions and cultural dialog and diverse, passionate voices, and depictions of new ideas, fears, dreams… Individualized embodied aesthetics are cultural representations. As long as there are cultures and identities and things of importance to be expressed, we need artists. I feel that as a society we should pay better attention to the art around us. We are better when we appreciate the cultural expressions and various forms of art we have access to, when we let them work on us.
I really like Los Angeles. It’s where I was born and I’ve lived most my life somewhere in L.A. county. It’s wide and spread out, the kind of place you can get lost in, and it’s got a lot of diversity and exchange and potential. For the most part I’ve lived around the periphery. I feel it’s cutting edge in a lot of ways, the city with the ethnic and economic diversity. It’s got a certain kind of space and heat and driving culture.
Do you believe that all forms of art can help man to be better?
Yes. I believe all the forms of art are there for us to engage in and learn and grow from, that on the whole our cultural expressions communicate information about the world and people around us, and ultimately about ourselves. But it is still up to each one of us individually to make the choice to engage with a form of art, to open ourselves up to it and ask ourselves questions about it and let it speak to us. It can help us realize new understandings and share a little in the experience or viewpoints of others, and these things can help us grow and be better. But to get the most out of it, we have to use it, we have to explore it, contemplate it, sympathize with it, seek to understand it, or have a dialog or even argument with it, but imaginatively engage with it somehow.
but it is still up to each one of us individually to make the choice to engage with a form of art, to open ourselves up to it and ask ourselves questions about it and let it speak to us. It can help us realize new understandings and share a little in the experience or viewpoints of others, and these things can help us grow and be better. But to get the most out of it, we have to use it, we have to explore it, contemplate it, sympathize with it, seek to understand it, or have a dialog or even argument with it, but imaginatively engage with it somehow.
What is your saddest and happiest experience in your life?
I’m not sure exactly but I think the saddest times happened when I felt cut off from the people or things I cared about, when I felt cut off from the world and from humanity, without a place, with no hope and no sense of future. The happiest time must be the opposite when I’ve felt connected to the world and to humanity and when life feels unending and full of everything. The happiest, or the most deeply moving and joy-filled, time may have happened after I had ingested mushrooms in the woods with my friend, or when I contributed something of value to a small community and inspired others to creative acts. The saddest time might have been when I was young and trapped in a room with few perceived options, broken-hearted and lonely.
What is the most important moment in your career as an artist?
I’m not sure yet, but I certainly hope it’s still in my future. I have caused inspiration, amusement, curiosity, joy, tears, and arguments with my paintings, and I’ve always enjoyed that my work could prompt a reaction or allow people to be moved in some way. The most important moments though have probably come through just being immersed in the process of painting.
How has it been for you living in LA. do you get a lot of shows?
I really like Los Angeles. It’s where I was born and I’ve lived most my life somewhere in L.A. county. It’s wide and spread out, the kind of place you can get lost in, and it’s got a lot of diversity and exchange and potential. For the most part I’ve lived around the periphery. I feel it’s cutting edge in a lot of ways, the city with the ethnic and economic diversity. It’s got a certain kind of space and heat and driving culture. I like visiting galleries but often times feel too busy to go. I’ve had a piece in a group show here or there over the years, but haven’t had a proper show in a proper gallery in the city of Los Angeles. I’d like to. I want to. For now I’m working on my upcoming exhibition of paintings here on the eastern edge, in Pomona.
You also run a gallery right? or are you doing it with someone else. What kind of shows do you have there?
No, I don’t run a gallery. When I started to get back into art, some years ago, I found a place in Pomona to go to for uninstructed life drawing sessions called the dA Center for the Arts, and after a while I began to volunteer there. I got drawn in because the people were real and the building is cool and everyone seemed passionate about some aspect of art-making or art exhibiting, and I wanted to experience art in a new way, a way more connected to the surrounding community. I started with painting the walls and then installing the shows, working to tighten up the presentation of the exhibits. I ran a collaborative art-making monthly event where people were invited to work on pieces started by someone else, and we kept trading them around, with as many as half a dozen people working on the same piece over several sessions. I learned making linocuts from the resident printmaker, Uncle Bacon, who was there, and taught a mask-making class. I was fortunate enough to curate the first solo exhibition of paintings by a long-time artist, American Indian and Pomona native, Samee Ochoa, which was a great experience. I became a member of another gallery, 57 Underground, because of it’s proximity to the dA, and have been involved with some shows there. My first solo show there, called Live-Wild-Now!, had me put seventy feet of blank canvas over three walls, covering the wall space from ceiling to floor and lengthwise with six large pieces, and then for the duration month of the show I would go down there and paint. The gallery is in a basement and feels like a cave. I got four primal colors, white, black, yellow ochre, and red oxide and went down there to paint intuitively, spontaneously. For the opening reception I did a dance performance. I got back to the primal and expressive. Last year we did a David Bowie themed tribute for our annual Fringe of the Fringe festival, and I hosted a monthly full moon drum circle. I made a site specific installation consisting entirely of trash I collected from the nearby alleys in Pomona called “Forgotten Loves.” I’ve used my opportunities there to challenge myself and try new things. But also I’ve met a lot of local artists and have gotten to have a lot of interaction with people from the community who are interested in some aspect of art. The dA tries to do it all, so there’s always something going on, from classes to performances, art shows and community gatherings. Now we’re getting ready for our annual Aztlán show, a group exhibition focusing on Chicano art, which is part of the Getty’s 2017 Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, so we’re excited about that.
How do people get in touch with you?
I have my website at www.jasonlamotte.com. Interested parties are encouraged to poke around there to see some of what I did and get more information. I have my e-mail there and other stuff. Also I want to thank you for the interview. I learned a lot from it. And I want to thank those of you who read this too. Thank you.
How do people get in touch with you? I have my website at www.jasonlamotte.com. I have my e-mail there and other stuff. Also I want to thank you for the interview. I actually learned a lot from it. And I want to thank those of you who read this too. Thank you.