Jeremy Jams

Jeremy Jams was born outside of Philadelphia and now lives and works in Brooklyn, NY. After graduating with a BFA from Tyler School of Art, Jams toured the country playing music and selling zines he made with his band. He moved to New York in 2012 and started Soft City Printing, a risograph based publishing press with Dominic Fortunado. Jams has been tabling Soft City books at book fairs and recently attended the Wassiac Project Residency in the fall. He has an upcoming solo show at High Tide Gallery in Philadelphia. 

My practice is building a space for everyone to inhabit and be a part of. To address this I have developed certain symbols, systems and narratives that I can explore through drawing, print and book making, sculpture, mail art and installation. I employ a common horizon line in my drawings so they can all share the same space. In that space I use domestic objects such as vases, urns, mugs, profiles, chairs, as placeholders for people, relationships, dreams, and emotions. The objects are personified vessels that have a certain humor and offer up stories. 

Another symbol I use is a repeating wallpaper pattern. The image of the wallpaper references a net. I screen print this pattern on postcards and mail it to people I meet. The same wallpaper is also installed in spaces for people to gather in. The net is always growing, expanding, and connecting more people. The pattern also appears in some of my drawings.

My most resent drawings are portraits of objects. The objects are personified and deal with the inner space that we all have but express in different ways. The objects are drawn from memories and dreams and daily life. Pitchers and mugs are imbued with ideas and emotions played out in their relationships. A movie is screened onto a large profile by a film projector sitting on top of a stool. These can be very specific vignettes but the drawings still have an ambiguity that leaves space for the viewer to have their own stories play out. 

Jeremy and his sketchbook. Photo by Photo by Craig Scheihing.

Jeremy and his sketchbook. Photo by Photo by Craig Scheihing.

Q&A with Jeremy Jams

Questions by Emily Burns

Have you always worked on paper? What attracts you most about working on paper as a primary medium?
From a young age all the stuff I loved was on paper; comic strips, MAD Magazine, comic books, posters, flyers, zines, album packaging and books. Paper was always available to draw on when I was in a boring class and drawing has always been my favorite thing. My earliest drawings were of flying cars that could shoot lasers that I made with high-lighters. When I am drawing now, time and worries slip away, even if that is what I am drawing. Recently I have been cutting objects out of plywood with a jigsaw. It feels a lot like drawing to me and is a nice transition into some more sculptural work. 

The striations in the repeated marker lines is a strategy you employ often in your work—what about this effect interests you most?
It was really a happy accident. I make books as a way to explore new ideas and I was interested in working with color. I was making some key drawings for a book and I got really into using the markers. The overlapping lines energize the objects and confuse the space in unexpected ways. 

Can you tell us more about your postcard project? When did you first start doing this project? Has this projects changed since social media became more ubiquitous, or was this project as response to social media and documentation of physical objects?
I sent the first Wallpaper Postcard in 2012 when I moved to New York.  The project relates to how connected we are as people, physically and digitally. Social media plays a big part in that, how we relate to each other and how the project itself works. I posted peoples’ responses on Tumblr and Instagram from the beginning. Sometimes I get more address from people in real life and sometimes more from random online request. Random isn’t the best description, because you can usually track the layers of separation more directly. 

Your ongoing postcard project, Wallpaper Postcards, is an interactive project that involves sending postcards to (strangers?) and allowing them to photograph the cards, and send you an image in the new environment. Can you tell us more about the project? Why strangers? What is the significance of the wallpaper or pattern reference on the backs of the cards? Are these all hand screen printed?
I started screen printing the postcards in my kitchen in Bushwick. I think of the pattern as a net with an object in it. Everyone who participates is connected through that net. When people make a photograph with the postcard, they are sharing it with me and a larger audience. I would send a postcard to the whole world if they would just give me their address. I imagine if everyone had this little print, they would all have something to talk about with each other. 

Strangers sounds dangerous but I like that element of trust. I’m not going to anyones house and I don’t think anyone is going to show up at my studio either. I will send you this hand screen printed invitation to hang out in this in-between space and make something together. After hundreds of responses, it is always so great that people take the time to send me their pictures. Its also so interesting to see the patterns that arise in peoples’ responses. Lots of cats and dogs and babies and toys. 

Pattern seems integral to your postcard project, and the installation at Wassaic Artist Residency last year, but seems like less of a theme in your drawings. Can you talk about your interest in pattern?
The idea of a never ending space or time, no beginning and no end, seems right to me.   

When I graduated from Tyler School of Art I had no more access to printmaking equipment. I had been making lithographs of rooms and chairs. With no equipment I started making potato stamps in my basement in Philadelphia. I wanted to see how far I could push them. I made reduction prints and started stamping the potatoes on silk screens and then printing repeat patterns. There was a Built to Spill song ‘In Your Mind’ its talks about patterns, ‘A permanent repeating space, Occurring, connecting, and growing’

Many of your drawings feature ceramic or functional vessels, which are often decorated. What interests you in these forms?
In my color drawings I think of the objects as taking the place of people instead of being the hints of their activities. These vessels can be filled up with any idea or emotion.  

How does the history of still life painting affect your choice of subject matter? What interests you most in the still life?
Morandi said something to the effect of, nothing being more abstract or unreal then what we actually see. Its easy for me to project meaning and stories onto people and objects.  I am more influenced by Greek pottery and the story telling decoration than I am influence by still life painting. I think of my still life drawings like a close up in a movie. 

You created Soft City Printing, a Risograph printing collective based in Bushwick, Brooklyn. What compelled you to start the collective, and what is your current role? Can you tell us more about your interest in printing, publications, and/or design?
In ‘Fug You’ Ed Sanders wrote about his magical connection with his mimeograph and the powers of publishing. That inspired me to search for one and I instead found a risograph. I had my first risograph book, ‘A Catalogue of Blue Chairs’ printed by Perfectly Acceptable Riso and Printed Matter included it in a risograph show at their store. There was a small budding community and I stumbled into it. I asked friends Matt Koons and Bredon Avalos to buy a risograph with me. They invited their friends John Lisle and Dominic Fortunato to go in on it as well. Life got busy for everyone but Dominic and I remain the core force behind Soft City. I am always blown away by how much we have printed and published in just 3 years. 

What is the mission of Soft City, and what types of projects does the collective work on? 
We look at artist books as an extension of an artist’s practice. A way to work out an idea and collaborate with people to do so. Dominic and I usually approach an artist and brain storm how to develop or translate an idea into a book. 

What role does this collective play in your practice as an artist?
Soft City has worked with a dozen amazing artists. We’ve had book launches at Printed Matter, Molasses Books, Picture Room, and Magenta Plains. We have been traveling to book fairs in Brooklyn, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Toronto, San Francisco and more. I meet so many people through Soft City and expose them to all these artist we care about. When I travel, I try to visit riso studios, book makers, book stores and art book libraries. Soft City really gets me on the road. 

What is one of the most exciting things happening in your studio right now?
I am currently preparing for a solo show in August at High Tide gallery in Philadelphia. I have been cutting a lot chairs and vessels out of plywood, it feels just like drawing. In prepping for the install I have been hanging them on my wall, trying different arrangements out. It’s quite fun.  

Who are some of the artists that you look at the most often or most recently?
The ones the loom largest are Ray Johnson, Morandi, Gary Panter, Ettore Sottsass, Trenton Doyle Hancock. Most recently I’ve been into sound artist/composer Holly Herndon and listening to her talks. 

Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Yes, I quoted a few already. Story telling has a large influence on my work and authors voice is always so interesting to me. I just read ‘Trash’ by Dorothy Alison and was totally swallowed up by it. 

Any advice from your past that has stuck with you or helped you?
I just try to take people being themselves to heart and be inspired that they do it more then by what they do.

What has been one of the most challenging aspects of your career as an artist so far?
Balance. So many practices and ideas. Where does the focus lie? 

What is one of the best exhibitions you have seen recently?
I just saw the Becky Suss show before it closed and I loved all the details and patterns she packs into her paintings. I think they are quite deceptive.  

What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of being in the studio?
The best is when I wake up with a song stuck in my head and I listen to it in the studio. I have been listen to more electronic and experimental music and give me a different sense of space and time. If I am doing something that doesn’t require too much thinking, I’ll listen to podcasts or lectures. Its important to have something on that keeps me thinking. 

How do you interact with social media, both personally and professionally as an artist? 
Instagram takes up more time then I’d like in my day. I couldn’t say if its personal or professional because it seems like everyone mixes the two. 

Do you have any other news, shows, residencies or projects coming up?
I am currently in a group show at the Wassaic Project and I have a solo show at High Tide Gallery in August. Soft City has a lot of book fairs this summer and we will have more books in the fall.  

Who are three emerging artists making some really exciting work right now?
3 of my current favs are Marlene Frontera, James Ulmer, and Jonathan Chapline. I think Marlene’s work is totally beautiful and dreamy with such sophisticated negative space. James Ulmer’s paintings knock me out. There is great humor and joy in his imagery but the way he transfers the line weight perfectly from drawing to painting, the shift in scale keeps me throughly engaged. Jonathan Chapline’s work makes me think of old PC noir cyber punk video games. There is a lot of crossing of historical art and newer ways of rendering and depicting things at play in his paintings, fun and interesting to look at.

Thank you so much for sharing your work and talking with us!

To find out more about Jeremy and his work, check out his website.