Local painter, sculptor and conceptual artist Jeremiah Jossim recently sat down with SAI’s editor, Kayla Goggin, to discuss his upcoming exhibition, Disparity, which debuts at the Sentient Bean on Friday, September 2 with a reception from 6 – 9pm.
SAI: Are these pieces all painted on natural pieces of wood?
Jossim: I do a lot of carpentry work so I have a lot of scrap wood in my studio but I’ve also become interested in hunting down specific weather-worn pieces of plywood at the driftwood places I go to in Savannah sometimes. There are a lot of places on the river where there’s plenty. It’s like a heaven of driftwood. But I find natural form really hard to deal with because it’s already perfect. In my choosing to make art, it’s because I want my voice to shine. If the world made that piece of wood perfect already, why should I do anything else to it? These are all about finding the perfect canvas. It all started because I found this one piece [of wood] from a ship’s hull that had red paint on it. I used that to make the “Post” piece.
SAI: Could you talk a little bit about what the title Disparity means and how that connects to the overall concept of the exhibition?
Jossim: I was living in San Francisco for a while, so the show is kind of about that Mission School style.
First, I was just making [pieces] because I loved that style and what it meant, but then I realized it applied to Savannah heavily. The Mission in San Francisco is this beautiful street and right next to it is Valencia Street which has been bought out by all these fancy coffee shops. So there’s this juxtaposition and disparity between “have” and “have-not.”
The have-nots still have their own style. They have these hand-painted signs and when you look down [Mission Street] it’s nuts because there’s hand-painted signs coming out from everywhere and it’s all red and yellow. Valencia is all really quiet, nice steel architecture and it’s all clean and polished and glass. So I was making these [pieces] and I was talking about topical issues in Savannah–some of them are social issues. I made “Disparity” because one day I was thinking about queer culture. There’s a sinking ship on fire on it and I was thinking about how it feels to be that and that’s kind of what I feel disparity is. You’re the sinking ship that no one really cares about.
I think the word “disparity” applies to Savannah so heavily sometimes. I look around my neighborhood sometimes and I just think… Goddamnit, why are we like this? Why are we all so poor? And why are some people just not?
SAI: There is such a distinct divide in Savannah and it seems to be becoming clearer that there are these lines of delineation between haves and have-nots. It’s interesting that you’ve pulled out this hand-painted sign concept because that is something that’s been such a big part of this community and is now dying in a sense.
Jossim: Yeah. Tom Kohler did a presentation of the remaining Savannah hand-painted signs a while back. I don’t know if he still does it but he went around and documented all the [signs] that were still up. He wanted to get pictures of them before they went away. Maybe on a subconscious level that affected me somehow. I didn’t think of it when I was making it, but it may have influenced me.
There’s something about the weight of the human line… I have this “Pi” piece where I drew the symbol over and over and they got bigger and bigger and I hadn’t intended to do that. I noticed it halfway through and just decided to go with it. The hand just does such organic, natural things and the human eye likes it too. It feels good. Whereas when something is printed and perfect, you can just look at it and not look at it because you know it’s balanced already. Symmetry is boring.
SAI: Could you talk a little bit about your state of mind while making this work?
Jossim: I used to write a lot of poetry and I loved it. I started channeling that more into art. I love using words. People are always saying that words are distracting in art but I was really interested in it. The hand-painted sign is a nice motif because it’s an accepted motif where words and images are expected to be together.
In general, my state of mind is like anyone who is protesting. I don’t like to go to protests because I don’t think that’s what I’m good at. I don’t like being with people like that, but I think art is a form of protest and that’s where I like to make my stand.
SAI: What is your relationship to language and how do you incorporate words into your visual language?
Jossim: I love reading. I haven’t met a good artist who doesn’t read. Most visual artists I’ve met read a lot. Words are so fucking powerful sometimes. I love it. My favorite is probably Ursula Le Guin. She’s kind of a flowery writer at times but I love how she plays with words. I like playing with words how she does. A sentence becomes an idea and that idea plays with another idea. I flip things a lot in my head when I’m reading but it’s almost funny to me when it happens. It makes things more interesting. It makes the world flip a little.
Disparity opens at The Sentient Bean on Friday, September 2 during the First Friday Art March from 6 – 9pm. Click here to see more of Jeremiah Jossim’s artwork.