The third conversation (Continued)
Justin Hibbs: I wanted to ask you about writing, how you got into that. Where did it start and how do you develop it? Because for me, there was always a connection to drawing. Words are quite alien for me, I'm very visual, so I wonder: you write about visual culture and fashion.
Jason Jules: It did start out through drawing. As a kid I drew a hell of a lot, very close up to the page because I couldn't see, but that was my thing. I got fascinated by viewing and looking at stuff. I got really excited about reading American writers like Raymond Chandler and Jack Kerouac and Tom Wolfe. They wrote about stuff in a way that was really visual and inspiring and I wanted to be in those places and speak that language. It is very similar to drawing, you're shaping your environment, you're translating and transferring it onto a page. You can change a sentence dramatically just by pulling out a few words and that to me is really exciting. Having gone to a normal comprehensive school, I wasn't equipped to become a proper journalist so I started writing about fashion for marketing companies and got into it that way. Eventually got the guts to write articles. It took quite a while to think that what I write could be put into print in a magazine. I'm still kind of nervous, I'll send something off worried until it comes back – what does it look like? And then I don't read it again until two days later and maybe it's alright. It started out just by reading a lot of what I thought were really amazing writers who I still read. A lot of it is about this style as well, the way that they make sentences flow and it becomes transparent. So it's not like you're reading writing, you're just reading an idea. That's what I wanted to do for my blog, just write about stuff in a very simple way that you didn't feel like you were reading anything.
JH: You almost weren't aware of it.
JJ: Hopefully it will seem easy, even though it takes forever to do.
JH: There's a lot of parallels with what we've talked about in terms of making art. Do you find it quite hard to see what you're doing. How do you get a sense of distance from it?
JJ: It's really hard because sometimes I'll think I'll write something that's really good, really important and nobody will notice it. And then sometimes I'll write something, I'll completely forget about it the minute it's gone and then somebody'll remind me about it or repost it. It's like 'Oh, they thought that made sense?'. Distance is easy, understanding is really, really difficult. It's like getting the sense of value of what I've done, I just don't have it. To me, it's just all alright, it could be better.
JH: Does it come later that sense of value? Because I find if I've made work, in the moment I can never really tell, and then maybe a year or 18 months later 'Oh that kind of makes more sense', and I've learnt to just trust that now and to do it and not worry about not knowing what it is at the time. Does it come with time? Do you look back and think 'Oh God, did I write that?'.
JJ: It's exactly that and then I think 'Maybe I didn't write that'. I read the byline and...'Actually, I did write that. How did I write that?', 'Could I be that good again?' It's lucky whatever it is. The problem I have is that every time I start writing something it's like the first time and it's really, really difficult to work out the voice. I'm just glad to reach the end of it and rewrite it again. I have to say, I do love it. It's torture but it's also the most amazing thing for me.
JH: That sounds very familiar. The idea of how difficult it can be to make something and in that process there is great moments. For me often it's a delayed gratification, getting to look back at the work. There is a sense of dialogue with other artists for me and I'm wondering about that with writers. I see art-making as a social activity with peers and there's a discussion and a dialogue, not literally, but between our practise. Do you get that sense as well?
JJ: On a certain level, yes. But then on another level it's dialogue with people in general. I'm assuming that everyone reads or has an opinion. My response is more often is conversations I have with people or things I see people wearing rather than any idea of a peer group. There is that structured group. For example in terms of blogging and blogs that I look at, quite often I look at them with disappointment, they've mentioned something that I want to mention. I can't talk about that now because it's been done. Or I'll look at them because they're just amazing. Even if it's just photography, there's blogs I look at everyday because of the photography. Part of my thing is that I really love stuff that I can't do: art, graphic design, photography. I love working and talking to people who do that because there's no way I can do that. That's one of the great things being in this job to work with people who do that stuff.
JH: The blog, that's really your area where you can say what you want. There's a freedom.
JJ: Absolutely. It's my level of absurdity. I can say what I want without having to edit or that there's no other agendas. There's no advertising, there's no comments because I can't engage in the conversation. It's almost like you were saying before, read the work, it should speak for itself. That's the ideal. There's a process that goes on. Hopefully people will take from it what they take then they can discuss it later. Prior to that it should be pure...that's what I hope and say with the blog, it doesn't have to be consistent. One minute I'm talking about one thing I like, next I'm talking about something that is similar that I don't like but it's just a personal response. It's just my level of freedom.
The re-emergence of drawing, how do you figure it? Is it just a trend? Is it supporting a lack or replacing some absence?
JH: I think things maybe went too far the other way. There's a reappraisal of the essential things, how are we going to teach fine art? What tools can we give people? There's so many ways you can use drawing to visualise, communicate ideas, I suppose there was a realisation that there was a loss. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Drawing is becoming more important, I think you can do degrees and MAs now in drawing, which, until recently, you probably couldn't.
JJ: It would be frowned upon.
JH: Yeah, and just that association with tradition can be problematic. Partly it comes from a re-evaluation and partly it comes from just what's going on in the art scene. People have begun to celebrate drawings again and realise the value of drawing. Hopefully that won't be something that falls out of fashion again.
JJ: Yeah, it's quite key to the process for a lot of artists, like the portrait artists and the renaissance, drawing is part of all of that in order to appreciate the work.
JH: In terms of fine art where there's been a big reappraisal of tradition and a lot of people are making work within the various traditions from the past and engaging in, not in a post modern ironic way but in a very serious way with the traditions of painting or any of the traditions of art-making. I don't know if that's similar to fashion, in that there was this awful post modern thing, the almost ironic multi-style painting, just referencing or pillaging from the past. There is a sense of having got beyond that and people investing in a much more serious way or a more honest forward way. What is it to make a credible landscape painting now? How can you do that? I don't know if those problems in fashion, because fashions come and turn over.
JJ: You don't have to be perfect, you don't have to appeal to everyone else's tastes. If you're appealing to yours then the chances are that it will be wrong to everyone else, then so be it. Quite often I'll say to my wife 'How do I look?' and if she says 'You look like a fool' then I suppose we're ready to go.
JH: I like that because it made me think that in the work often you get to a stage where it's all kind of 'right' and that's just not right. There needs to be something in the work that's not quite right and it creates a break in people's ability to read it, to consume it so easily. Again, it's like a double take. It's like 'What's that guy wearing? Is that right?' and I think that's quite important – the not perfection.
JJ: From seeing your work I can't imagine you abandoning some form of reality and going purely abstract. It's almost like one of the strengths is that tension between the two and the playfulness between the two.
JH: Yeah, I can't quite imagine it because I enjoy the game-playing element too, there's a visual spatial game-playing. There's a dialogue between two things, sometimes one is attacking the other. Sometimes it's a kind of play between elements and it is about that tension between the two things. I suppose one interjects a bit of wrongness into the other and it makes you look again. As somebody making the work it's got to be interesting for me first, I'm its first audience so I have to be interested.
JJ: But then the question, to me, is you're its first audience but you're not its only audience. So, on a daily level I get dissed..what about your critics, how do you handle their responses?
JH: I try not to think about it, to be honest. What I have learnt to accept is that I make the work and once it goes out into the world people are going to read it however they read it. And people do read other things into it and I'm really interested in what they read into it. Sometimes people will say things that are really illuminating that I haven't even though of. Some of the big changes in the work have come from people saying 'Had you thought of this?' and it's really in front of your nose, you don't see it. In terms of its critical reception, it's something that you're powerless to affect so I just try to seal myself off in a sense. There was this wonderful thing when I was doing an installation, it was a group show, we were installing a group of six artists. We got quite a good budget and we were building a lot in this gallery space and the whole thing was a reaction against the idea of the white cube in creating the kind of spaces that go on in my work and the architecture of the gallery. The gallery technicians, we had five or six of these guys who were fantastic – mostly artists – and they had invented nicknames for us and eventually I found out what mine was; what they were calling me was Frank Lloyd Wrong. I just thought 'You've got it. That's fantastic, I love it'. That was a good diss.
If you look over my work over a long period you can see these developments but painting is a really slow form of thinking and I like that. I'm always longing for empty blocks of time sitting looking out the window...it's kind of an ideal scenario, no deadline.
JJ: I am ridiculously slow. I wouldn't like to call myself slow, just considered. I'll write something then I'll sleep on it and I'll get up and I'll rewrite it, then I might sleep on it again then maybe it's ready to go and send after a couple of days. To me that's the process. But then the problem is, of course, once I've sent it, I'm still thinking about it. It still could be improved on. How hard is it for you to let go?
JH: Once something goes up on a gallery wall I try and just let it go, once it goes out of the studio, I've had paintings come back to the studio after being at things and I've changed them. I don't tend to have any of my work up at home because I'd be like, 'That's really irritating'. With the modern world and the way things are, there is this need to respond quickly and in some ways it heartens me to hear that you talk about yourself as being considered because the idea of painting, it slows you down, I like that space, I like the time to think about things.