Jared Weiss has forgotten much of his subject matter. Or rather, the scenes that he paints are often buried somewhere deep in his unconscious. Reviving suppressed memories can be a dangerous game, but the Santa Fe artist has some heavy hitters on his side: Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Žižek.
Weiss draws inspiration from the famous line of psychoanalysts in his new solo exhibition at form & concept, He’s Either Dead or It Was His Birthday. Opening Friday, June 30, the show conjures a strange sense of déjà vu. Weiss’s figurative images—which resemble warped photographs from a massive theater production—are sure to lodge in the back of your mind. The exhibition opens Friday, June 30, 5-7 pm and runs through August 12, 2017. Read our interview with Weiss below, and make sure to RSVP for the reception.
You lived in Santa Fe previously, and then you left for a few years. What were you up to before returning in 2015?
I was living in San Francisco for 2 years, and going to grad school. It’s kind of scary, just how forward-thinking the tech industry is, and how with that comes not really caring about anything old. Painting being one of those things.
Young tech people aren’t collecting paintings, they’re collecting yachts.
That’s totally true. I really felt unsupported, unfulfilled. I mean, school was great in a lot of ways. The community in San Francisco is just such a weird, alien place. I had to get the hell out.
How did graduate school affect your art?
It was a great experience. It was an awful experience. The biggest thing that I came away with was that I wasn’t making the work that I’d wanted to make for a very long time. I just didn’t know how. They just squeeze you and put you in corners all the time, and you have to make fight-or-flight decisions.
Really, I was afraid for the longest time. I didn’t think that my life would be interesting. Before, I was painting from photographs of people I never knew, and would never know. I found that very interesting because it’s something you can never get to, so you’re projecting.
I just slowly came to the realization that, in fact, I can paint my life. It will be interesting.
How did you feel coming back? Do you think it’s changed here?
Definitely. There are a lot more young people here. There’s a lot more art events happening.
Tell us about where you grew up.
I’m from the Midwest. I’m also kinda done with the Midwest. Terrified of the Midwest.
And yet you return to it quite often in your work.
Yeah, it’s kind of a study on the terrifying nature of it. Very subtle.
Are you still figuring out what’s going to be in the show?
I have a pretty definite idea. The work has gotten very indebted to psychoanalysis, particularly the work of Freud, Lacan, and Žižek.
The key thread through all of it is this idea of a screen memory, which appears in an old Freudian essay. He talks about any kind of experience that threatens to overwhelm the psyche, particularly trauma or a new experience that’s too overwhelming to integrate. You can repress that as a defense mechanism, but it’s still there, buried somewhere in your psyche. In order to integrate it, you collage other memories on top of it that are similar.
A real memory is replaced by something brighter and shinier.
Yes, you have this kind of veneer on top that’s a fiction. It’s not a true experience, but it becomes more real somehow. In my work, the surface of the painting becomes this screen.
Are you using your own memories as subject matter?
Yes. For example, I grew up on this lumber yard, and I go back to this space. I’m using it as kind of a stage where I can cast people I know now as characters.
I like this idea of people seeing a painting and feeling like they’ve seen it before, but they really haven’t.
What inspires the titles of your paintings?
Mainly, I pick titles to confuse the experience. They’re like red herrings in a way. They point away from this thing, in a way that makes it palatable and safe. It gives things a semblance of friendliness.
The people in your paintings often look familiar, but their features are just fuzzy enough that they also seem like strangers.
That’s definitely intended. I want it to be obstructed to the point where you feel like there’s a similarity. There’s an entry point through yourself where you can project the people you know onto the figures. The Anywhere, America quality of the space and the potential knowability of the people is very intentional.
How do you choose your palette?
In Freud’s essay about screen memories, he talks about this memory he has. All he can remember is these incredibly yellow sunflowers. He tries to dig into all these associations with people that he knew and decisions that he made in his life, which are hidden underneath the memory of the sunflower.
The yellow of a sunflower, this hallucinatory, really amped-up yellow, is kind of what inspired the palette. You exaggerate in order to be able to remember things.
Are your paintings entirely rooted in the past?
As much as I speak about memory, the work is very much about reconstructing my life now. Pointing to this place that I’m from, but making it so it’s never in the past. It’s always this “now” moment. Painting has so many similarities with life. Good painting is always alive.
Join us for the opening reception of Jared Weiss: He’s Either Dead Or It Was His Birthday on Friday, June 30, 5-7 pm. The show opens concurrently with another painting exhibition, Rebecca Rutstein: Fault Lines. Click here to read our blog preview of Rutstein’s show.
1. Jared Weiss, I Was Saying It Outright, oil on canvas, 74 x 54 in.
2. Jared Weiss, Bad Maps, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 in.
3. Jared Weiss, In That Case, I Had a Wonderful Time, oil on canvas, 12 x 16 in.
4. Jared Weiss, This Is Only a Little of It, oil on canvas, 18 x 14 in.
5. Jared Weiss, Islands Are Not Forever, oil on canvas, 12 x 12 in.