In an effort to more fully understand the faces behind some of the works in the Museum’s most recent exhibition, Uncommon Territory: Contemporary Art in Alabama, the MUSES teen council had the opportunity to meet and interview three artists about their work: Jamey Grimes, Amy Pleasant, and Pete Schulte.
About the MUSES
The MUSES is a teen council that meets on Wednesday afternoons to enjoy creative experiences in the galleries and coordinate art events for teens in Montgomery. To learn how to represent your school and become part of the MUSES, please contact Elisabeth Palmer at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 334.240.4362.
About the Artist
Jamey Grimes lives and works in Cottondale. He studied art and biology at Birmingham-Southern College and received his MFA in sculpture at the University of Alabama. His exhibition piece Roil hangs from the gallery ceiling and immediately grabbed our attention.
Is there a message? Or is it just, “Look, this looks cool.”
I mean maybe that is the message, I don’t know. I was interested in where it started and, that as an artist, I have a certain responsibility to create certain prompts if I want there to be more of a conversation. The fact that it’s in a museum, maybe it’s supposed to have this level of importance, a message behind it. I think about that a lot but the way that I’m presenting my work, I want it to be kind of clean and distant from a really aggressive message. I think that the formal aspects of the piece are content. And that’s sorta debatable in the world, but I like the idea of structure, of shadow, the things that I am abstracting or pulling from. That is content. So I would defend that, but at a certain point there are other questions that continue right after that. I’m as interested in those, although it’s not very overt. I mean the idea that this is made of plastic, that it emulates nature like you guys were dancing right at the edge of a conversation, that I kinda feel like I am too. Whether it’s about pollution or this synthetic nature, or is it just the reality of nature? There’s a beauty in nature that’s better than what we do. So, I like the idea of kinda making this “fake nature.” And what happens next in terms of the conversation? I need people like you to know what that would be. I’m asking those questions but I don’t know if it’s really direct in the work. Is that a fair answer? I’m not pushy about it. I don’t put it in the title, but I’m thinking about it. It’ll be a part of the work from now on, but how much I don’t know.
So it can be both?
I think so. I can’t boldly claim that it makes a big environmental statement or whatever. There’s definitely an introduction and an environmental question about plastic and the environment, and human beings.
Elisabeth Palmer, MUSES teen council sponsor:
Especially with what we’re going through today. The questions we ask ourselves about recycling and plastic, how dependent we are, where that goes after use, and how that affects our planet.
I was very much on that track. When I was in high school it was all very explicit. I felt like anything you did to kinda cross the line environmentally was like an immediate “no-no,” because we knew we needed to re-train our entire culture. And we still do. I have to ask questions like, “If I have any environmental quality to what this work is doing, how do I justify melting all this plastic? Or throwing away the bits that I cut away?” I wrestle with some of that stuff and hope to find a good answer that helps me sleep at night, but ultimately, my answers to those questions aren’t too different from a big ole factory getting the job done. I don’t know, I’m not guilt free, I’ll say that. But it’s not the purest message either. I want there to be this sort of dichotomy, I want there to be this opposition.
It’s calm and peaceful in a way and also kind of sinister. There’s something in that, like the personification of nature. We let a thunderstorm be angry and things like that and they’re not angry. They’re discharging electrons and stuff like that. It’s all very formal.
Have you always liked doing abstract art? How did you get here? You say that you studied marine biology so how did we get here, why did we get here, when did we get here?
Its lots of teeny tiny steps, you know. When I was in high school, I thought I was going to live at the beach, play with fish and draw comic books. I’d still like to do that but I just ended up doing something else, you know? In the comic book world, way back to Hans Ruedi Giger. His work was very imaginative and weird and caught my attention and it’s still kinda fascinating. When I was a kid, it was all ebony pencil and rendering little alien worlds and the crazy little spaces that I would just draw to build my own version that was very close to a lot of the way that I would work through spaces and stuff you know? I could see him connecting it to little bugs and things like that and the crazy stuff that happens in our world. We don’t need it to be fiction. There’s all this real stuff. I’m not supposed to talk about comic books and movie special effects if I’m gonna be making contemporary art. But it was right there in my face and engaged me while I was developing this skill set. I did painting in undergrad, along with biology. So I was still developing imagery and a lot of it was really overt. It was just too much. It makes me nauseous now. Those paintings are gone, but the pieces of that that are still there. I feel much better about asking a question where I don’t provide the answer, and sometimes the question is not quite even a full question anyway. It feels more comfortable to me, the beginning of a real conversation with another real human being as opposed to “I wrote and packaged up this whole thing and now you just have to swallow it”. I don’t like that.
But in terms of just the abstraction, I was in a sculpture class and I said “I need to learn how to build this whole giant eurypterid model with all this texture” and they’re like “slow down, just make texture for a minute” so I was carving into a ball then four weeks later, I was still carving on this ball. I had lost the “I’m gonna build this scorpion thing” and just liked the texture. I got lost in that little ball. The texture was happening there and evolved over time. I liked getting lost, just playing with the material and getting to where I could finally control what it was doing. A part of me that wants to just be all over the place again and feel that energy. But I asked myself a question a long time ago now like, “If I work on this idea for 10 years, what would happen?” Because I always had a great idea that I would start but I would change to another idea before I gave it a fair chance. I’m still chipping away at it. It’s kinda interesting as to how it changes when you can change time, in terms of how you would work with an object.
Then you kinda play with “happy accidents,” right? So once things start to happen, and you make an observation about it, I love it. Like all of a sudden the shadows are doing what? Oh I see that too! Give me six months and I’ll be back with an experiment that plays with what that was doing. My work has been a lot of reaction to the last show. In a weird way, I use the gallery like a studio space because my studio isn’t that big. So every time I build something, I react to what I did before and it’s a disjointed, irregular version.
Dr. Jennifer Jankauskas, Uncommon Territory exhibition curator:
And I think it’s not only a reaction to what you did before but you have to solve a very specific set of problems for every space you’re in because your work is very much adapted to every space you put it in.
It has to be. As much as I would plan it out, I’d kill something in this piece. The process to put it in needs that organic reaction and embracing the random factors that kick in like the angles and lights that create these shadows that mess with you a bit and if you don’t do that, if you fight against it, it’s going to show that awkwardness.
As the night came to a close, a unifying theme came into view: the question of meaning; what does art really mean? What does it mean to you? As contemporary artists, this is a question that each artist has asked themselves during their respective practices.
It was evident that the focus of the artworks was to pose a question to the viewer, to make an ambiguous statement and force the viewer to think deeply about what they are being asked.
Sometimes, art can be interpreted as a statement, like Peter Schulte’s piece, Humanist Flag, or Tomorrow Gon’ Be Too Late. Other times, it’s a question like Jamey Grimes’ piece, Roil. And yet art can also be a reflection of life, like Amy Pleasant’s series Seated. We greatly appreciate and thank these artists for taking their time to help us explore Uncommon Territory.