JH : So I see you are in Cathedral City now, but it looks like you used to live in Portland, and New York City, is that right?
JG: Indeed! My wife and I moved from NYC to Portland in late 2015. We had lived in the city for a long time and were ready for tall trees instead of tall buildings. Then in late 2022, we left cloudy Portland behind for the sunshine of the California desert. We are both fire signs and thus are big fans of big life changes!
JH: Your recent work consists of largely muted color palettes; very subtle shifts from one to the next. How do you arrive at color choices?
JG: My color choices are very intuitive, and develop over time as I try out different colors within the context of the painting to see what feels right. My overall color journey has been a long one, when I was a kid coming out of undergrad the colors were very bright and pop. Over time, life drained all the saturation out! (laughs) Just kidding, sort of. (smiling) But it is true that while I was at Hunter, I began exploring color relationships within a very limited range of value. I found that there could be quite a lot going on visually, within that narrow band of value. I really like how it encourages the viewer to look a bit harder, and I find that when the work asks for myself and the viewer to work a bit harder it becomes that much more rewarding. The work I have made in the last few years is more dynamic than what I was doing in say 2014, but still operates within the same ethos.
JH: There is repetition in the curvilinear forms that compose the work, and a lot of upward movement. Can you talk about the origins of these forms?
JG: Well my paintings have always been based on doodles or “automatic drawings” that I make anytime I have a pen and paper nearby. Those forms have slowly evolved and changed over time, but within a certain period of my life, those doodles all wind up being related to each other in some way or another, as they are reflective of the mind state I have at that given point in time. Sometime in 2017 the current forms started to creep into the doodles and at first I didn’t really know what to do with them, as they didn’t exactly fit into the work I was making at the moment. By 2019 they had completely taken over though and I was really left with no choice but to engage with them in my paintings. I find they have a sort of straightforward solidity that I find attractive. And they create this wonderful dynamic space of interaction between shapes that allows the color to run wild.
JH: Why work on raw canvas?
JG: In 2016 I had reached one of those points in my life where something had to change. It was almost a year after I left New York, and we were really in love with Portland and I was feeling like my studio life hadn’t experienced the same change and growth that my personal life had. For so many years I had been making paintings with these flat, opaque colorforms and I just couldn’t keep doing it. But I also didn’t want to just throw everything out the window and start over. So I decided to change one of the physical aspects of the work, and I gave away my gesso and started painting on raw canvas. I immediately found that the physical movements of applying paint to canvas were different and the new restrictions opened up a new way of working to me that has just been a lifesaver. It has deepened my ability to interact with color and form in ways that were not available to me previously.
JH: What influences your work that isn’t related to visual art
JG: Music is the big one, both the music itself and the way musicians and their art gets talked about. Growing up in the 90’s my teenage mind was absolutely shaped (some might say “warped”) by the British music press. The way that they wrote about music was how I felt about art, but no one wrote about visual art that way. It was all theory based, and I’ve never had much of an interest in theory. So I was left to my own devices and started making analogies between music and visual art in my head as a way to express what I was feeling or thinking about art. So its impact on me discursively has been huge, but also physically in the studio the music that I listen to helps guide the paintings and the way that I paint. I currently only listen to dance music in the studio and every day is about finding the right genre or subgenre at the right BPM to suit the mood of the day and to keep me going. Previously my go-to genre of music was shoegaze, but the variety and quantity of dance music that is now readily available thanks to Spotify, SoundCloud and Mixcloud just makes it too easy to vibe out to something like Italian Dream House when the mood calls for it.
JH: Your titles seem important but ambiguous. Such as “Pre Millenial Tension.” Can you elaborate?
JG: Well, I don’t want to elaborate too much, or else the ambiguity in the titles will be for naught! (laughs) But you are correct, I take care in choosing titles for my paintings. Each title has to suit the mood of the painting for me in some way but I also want it to function on another level. I am interested in wordplay, like combining words to make new words. So with “Pre Millenial Tension”, that is about my birth year being right on the cusp between Gen X and Millenial, but it's also a nod to Tricky’s album “Pre Millenium Tension” which was a real mood at the time but also seems a bit silly now. I also enjoy taking certain phrases out of context and seeing what they feel like stripped of their previous meaning. This works especially well with football terminology like “Air Raid” or “Stick Concept”. I like the idea that the title can be taken at face value or if the audience wants to really dive in they can suss out a sort of cosmology of influences and interests by tracking down the references in my titles.
JH: You also run other projects and your interaction with other artists seems to be an important part of your identity as an artist. Can you elaborate on that side of your practice?
JG: Sure, yes absolutely. It’s all about giving back and encouraging your community isn’t it? I love the idea of trying these weird projects like The Drawing Exchange that can function like a virtual social club or something that can bring artists together, make new connections and also grow our collections. Or Air In Space which is a slightly more formal way for me to showcase work by other painters that I love. I was super jealous that musicians will just start a record label to put out music by their friends that they think is cool. It’s like starting an artist-run space, but with less physical hassle. So I launched AIS on Instagram and it was a super fun experience developing deeper relationships with other artists.