Psychedelic Baroque: A Conversation with Jonny Green
We’ve enjoyed having our minds fully blown by the surreal imagery of British artist, Jonny Green. In an unconventional practice that includes building gritty, somewhat dystopian sculptures from found materials and then rendering them in oil, Green successfully utilizes his masterful technique while adventurously exploring the medium of painting. Creating somewhat of a timeline glitch, he meshes classical portraiture and still-lifes with post-apocalyptic sci-fi, creating truly unique images which pose so many questions. . .
So we asked and Green answered when we got in touch to talk about his creations, both in a physical and painterly sense, digging deeper into his creative process.
Sasha Bogojev: Did you ever think of how your work might fit into traditional art movements?
Jonny Green: I think that anyone who uses oil paint has to be aware of the tradition and lineage of the medium. Essentially my works are still-life paintings (I adore Chardin), but they incorporate elements of portraiture, cartoon art, pop art, conceptual art, surrealism (Belmer) and post-digital art. Part of my process is manipulating my images in photoshop or cinema 4d before I paint them.
How did your work develop and how satisfied do you feel about this latest group of paintings?
Since the moment I began painting, the development of my work has been fairly linear, with the odd mad excursion into psychedelic baroque landscape painting and high-tech sculpture. As a student, I made assemblages of car-engine parts and found objects such as driftwood and old dentures, from which I then made monumental sized paintings. It occurred to me that most of my artist friends end up making a kind of work that suits their temperamen, rather than something that's driven by any solid conceptually-grounded set of ideas. The same can be said of my own practice. A bare canvas is a terrifying thing to me, I like to have a bunch of decisions made before I even start to paint. In my case, many of the creative choices are already made before I put brush to the canvas so that when I eventually do start making a painting, the only decisions I have to make are painterly ones and I can concentrate on rendering the image and enjoying the material.
When did you first start building your references and how has the concept changed?
The answer to that is a deeply personal one. The current series of paintings started out while I was spending days at my father's bedside in the hospital. A complication of his illness was that he would get water infections that would cause him to have very vivid hallucinations. My conversations with him became abstract and surreal. I began researching the human brain and thinking about the nature of reality and consciousness. I was unable to paint as normal at that time due to being so far from my studio, so I began making these little sculptures of brains with some old plasticine I'd found in his garage. I made dozens of these things and began photographing them with a table lamp as the only source of lighting. It wasn't until a few months later that it occurred to me that I could use the resulting images as the starting point for paintings. They have evolved continually since, but this basic idea of generating my images from sculptures has remained a constant.
How important is the building/sculpting part of the process for you?
Hugely! My practice is divided into several stages. The sculpting part is almost like stream-of-conscious, ad-libbing, completely random and spontaneous. I try and get to a state where I'm tapping into my unconscious with them and not really imposing my will. The painting stage is really the opposite, very pre-determined and controlled, where my levels of concentration have to be incredibly high.
What is your thought process like when building these? Do you create challenges for your painterly practice or is it more about making an interesting object?
I honestly don't really ever know what I'm looking for in the sculptures. I'm really waiting for the object to tell me it deserves my attention. Most of what I make sculpturally is worthless, but very occasionally something exciting happens and the sculpture resonates with me for whatever reason. One thing I will say is that I'm looking for something imperfect, something with grit and authenticity, but I'm really not sure how I decide on that or how I make it happen.
I noticed a lot of play with light, textures, and surfaces due to the use of different materials. Are those purposeful challenges you create for yourself?
Yes. I'm always looking for something painterly. What I've always admired about the work of artists like Chardin and Rembrandt is that they manage to find a 'painted equivalent' of the materials they painted. So Chardin painting the skin of a melon went far beyond an accurate description of that skin. It transcends such illustration and becomes the skin itself, a kind of alchemy and that's what I'm always trying to achieve. I want my plasticine to become more plasticine-y than the real thing.
What type of material do you use for the sculptural element besides plasticine?
Bits of old clockwork, tape, wire coat hangers, fake miniature flowers, pins, plastic, straws... basically whatever I find in my studio. I like objects and materials that are degraded or perishable, and I like how they age. Sometimes I make sculpture and leave it; then six months later it has changed and is much more interesting to paint.
Where do you get your inspiration or references for those?
The reference sculptures are a springboard towards expressing something else. I'm looking to show the 'best side' or the one interesting aspect of each object. That may involve them being transformed digitally quite significantly.
How strict are you about meticulously depicting the reference sculpture?
That's a very difficult question to answer. I never think about my work in such literal terms although obviously they are highly realized. They are also essentially abstract in that they don't depict anything 'real'. They are in and of themselves. So the paintings are realistic depictions of things that are manifestly unreal.
Are you also focused on another body of work alongside this?
Yes, over the last year I've been working on a series of “Psychedelic Baroque” paintings. The approach to this work is completely open and free, and it provides a complete contrast to the sculptural paintings with an emphasis on brushwork and movement/energy. They are improvised during the painting process and I allow my imagination to have complete rein. The most recent painting was a picture of God beating a man to death with a 100cm penis, in the clouds, with white rainbows everywhere.
Well, that’s something we’d like to see. Where else can we see your work?
I am showing with the Deptford X Arts Festival in October as part of an exhibition called Cease Producing Stimuli. Then, in November, I'll take part in a group show, Universes 2, at The Garage in Amsterdam. I'm also part of a painting show called Legacy at Auxilliary Projects in Middlesbrough, which will focus on painters who have emerged from the northeast of England over the last 25 years.