Studio Visit with Jaybo Monk

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Jaybo Monk in the Studio

I recently had the pleasure of chatting with artist Jaybo Monk at his studio in the Kreuzberg area of Berlin. I arrived not exactly knowing what to expect, and I left with my mind buzzing with new ideas and information shared by this wizened raconteur.

I first saw Jaybo’s work on Instagram. I was immediately attracted to the abstract image which, upon further inspection, was made up of realistic renderings of body parts.  After more research I discovered his studio is located right here in Berlin and emailed an inquiry to visit. Surprisingly, he responded quickly with confirmation that I could indeed stop by and see what he was working on. Even through his emails I could get a feeling of a genuine, honest man with a passion for art. Our interaction reaffirmed this, and I was able to pick the mind of a true artist.

Jaybo Monk was born Jeremy Baudouin in a small village in southern France. As a child, he worked on a farm and drew. He loved Mickey Mouse and would copy complete Mickey Mouse magazines (including the ads) that he would receive every week. This exercise foreshadowed his creation of Berlin’s first independent magazine, Style & the Family Tune, in the 80s. The magazine, with its name taken from funk band Sly & the Family Stone, offered an eclectic mix of music, fashion, art, and more (More info of the mag here). After the magazine, Jaybo transitioned into studio art after an artist dropped from a show at a friend’s gallery.

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Newest piece, yet unfinished

In his cozy, though mostly unheated studio, we chatted about art, books, music, and the world, amidst the mass of materials yet to be turned into art. Jaybo’s work mostly consists of paintings, but also includes Dada-esque sculptures made from found objects. When I arrived, Jaybo was pulling a bad Renior flower print out of the gaudy framed that enclosed it, with plans on painting over it. His work develops from one step to the next, usually started with Surrealist mark-making, be it smearing material on a canvas or creating an etching of his studio floor. By the time his has completed a painting, the expedition of art has allowed him to create a figurative collage hinting at but revealing no complete figure. As he says, his works are about absence. The loss of a friend, which he seems to have dealt with all too much, a wallet (all to real in my case), a painting, whatever. These things are what he wants to represent in his work.

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One of the many Dada-inspired objects scattered throughout his studio

Though I had questions prepared to ask him, our conversation flowed freely and ranged a variety of topics. I peppered him with questions about his background, art history, and technique, but we veered into topics of philosophy, hip-hip, and gentrification. The beauty is that all of these things are encompassed in his work, and hopefully someday, mine as well. He presented his influence from heavy-hitting figures such as Duchamp, Rauschenberg, and Francis Bacon, as well as the more elusive names like Ray Johnson and Andy Goldsworthy. In terms of music, his roots begin with hip-hop, which he helped spread in Berlin during its genesis, but have now spread out to more avant-garde names such as John Cage. Philosophers like Camus stir his imagination during early morning readings, and we both agreed on the honest, bleak, yet sympathetic work of Bukowski. His love of poetry comes through in his word choices and phrases, which would hit me out of the blue like a stone thrown by a friend. When I expressed to him my worries of my post-graduation art career, he responded:

“You need things in your head and your heart to put on canvas, and its not paint.”

I discovered from our chat that Jaybo Monk participated in a group show, a solo show, and two art fairs (totaling to a sum of 28 pieces) in the last 3 months. He is indeed a busy man. Yet, at the end of it all, he has the time to let a complete and random, albeit charming, stranger come to his studio and take some time away from his work. Beyond my appreciation and interest in the painted collages and sculptures that he makes, I now have a definite gratitude for Jaybo Monk himself. We developed a connection between our interests, traded names, and he even gave me a small drawing. A true artist; a true man.

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Joseph Beuys: Under Construction

Joseph Beuys, by Andy  Warhol

Joseph Beuys, by Andy
Warhol

As a native German and trailblazer of contemporary art, Joseph Beuys is very well represented in Berlin. The Hamburger-Banhof has three large rooms full of his work, which includes pieces of basalt, huge chunks of tallow, and a stage full of blackboards from his famous lectures.

A certain professor of mine has a profound love of Beuys and piqued my interest in his work. Though I can’t say I fully understand everything about Beuys’ pieces or performances, I am always moved by the way Beuys engages his audience. He is famous for saying that everyone is an artist and that teaching is his greatest work of art. I am lucky to have a lot of exposure to his work, especially while staying in Berlin, and it is leaving a great impression on me.

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Remnents of his performance “I Try to Set (Make) You Free” which ended in a near riot

Currently running at the Berlinische Gallery is an exhibition featuring work from Galerie Rene Block. Artists such as Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Nam June Paik, and Joseph Beuys were represented by Rene Block. There were many posters and recordings from these artists, but not much actual work. However, they did have a video taken of Beuys’ seminal work, “I Like America and America Likes Me.” It was Beuys’ first show in America. The performance included him locked in Rene Block Gallery with a coyote. I sat and watched the whole 37 minute video (watch an informative video of the performance here).

The performance is an incredible thing to watch. The separate forces of man and nature coming together as one in an art gallery. At times Beuys and the coyote are friendly. Beuys feeds it and tosses leather gloves that the coyote catches. Other times, especially when Beuys wraps himself in the felt, transforming himself into an ethereal creature, the coyote attacks him and rips the felt.

However, there was something else in the gallery that I focused my attention on. The museum is preparing for a Max Beckman show opening soon, which means that it is pretty much a construction site. Certain galleries were closed off, and you could hear power tools at work behind the curtains. In the main hall there was a man painting the large wall grey using a roller on a large extended pole. I watched him paint. Mesmerized. Long straight lines of grey industrial paint layering over each other in flat sheets. Done with precision. The man, with earbuds firmly in place, looked at me confused. I could tell his wasn’t sure why I was there watching him. I looked at him, not sure if he realized he was the artist. 

Also, as I watched the video of Beuys’ performance, I could see a man painting a makeshift wooden door. He worked on a felt dropcloth to catch any paint. Felt, the same material that Beuys covered himself in during his performance. To me the actions are essentially the same, just that one performer did not realize he was performing. I stood leaning on the temporary wall in the exhibition space, watching the Beuysian felt monster fend off a coyote and a professional painter work in his element.

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The tools of an artist, lying in anticipation of the action

After, I went upstairs to see the other exhibition, but not even caring for the paintings I was looking at. There was art happening in the space that had grabbed my attention.


As far as my own artistic production is concerned, I have made the painting you see below. It is a painting of a picture I took of Beuys’ Capri Battery: a lightbulb powered by a lemon. The piece was in a display case, so when I took the picture, there was a reflection of my jeans. While painting, I was reminded of the Rolling Stones’ album Sticky Fingers. The cover, bursting with innuendo, shows a male crotch complete with working zipper, an idea formed by Andy Warhol. So I gave my painting a little pop culture pizazz by adding a painterly textured zipper. I wonder what Beuys would think….

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Sticky Beuys, oil on canvas, 2015

Exploring Berlin

Berlin!

Berlin!

On Saturday I spent the day seeing as much of Berlin as I could and taking pictures along the way. Highlights including the Soviet War Memorial,the East Side Gallery, and the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. I will let the pictures do the talking.

Beginnings: Treptower Park & the Soviet War Memorial

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Across the River: East Side Gallery and Street Art

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Headed North: Mauerpark and Humboldthain

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Final Destination: Berlin Wall Memorial, Branenburger Tor, and the Jewish Memorial

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I will be doing some traveling through Europe this week, so stay tuned for more pictures and stories!

Art?

I was mindfucked by art.

Paul McCarthy

I have experienced similar feelings when watching movies that blew my mind and left me wondering who, what, and where I was, but today, it happened at a Paul McCarthy exhibition. I will tell you the story…

In early September, there were countless gallery openings for Berlin’s Art Week. I went to a few, but one that I missed was Paul McCarthy’s at the Schinkel Pavilion. I am familliar with his work, having seen his uncanny and offputting movie “Painter” (a clip) and recent “trees” that he displayed in Paris. I cannot say I ever really understood, appreciated, or liked any of his work. I can’t even say I’ve ever really even given his work a chance. I only accepted it as part of the institutional theory of art and know he was mentioned in more than one undergrad art class. But, I know I wanted to see his exhibition.

From what I had seen on the Schinkel Pavilion website (http://schinkelpavillon.de/exhibitions/current-upcoming/paul-mccarthy/), the show included a reproduction of the artist himself. Basically, Paul McCarthy made a copy of Paul McCarthy and laid him on a table, naked. That’s what I was going to see. That’s what I expected. Just a naked Paul McCarthy on a table.

This is what happened:

On a rainy Berlin Thursday, after leaving the school where I am teaching, I headed to Schinkel Pavilion in Mitte. Though the road is blocked by construction, I take a right onto Oberwallstraße and look for the entrance. I see a small sign that reads “Schinkel Pavilion <—–” pointing to the left. There is no door to the left. I keep walking between building and area blocked off by construction, and finally arrive at a door and a sign for the Schinkel Pavilion. This must be the place. The door is locked, so I buzz for Schinkel Pavilion. The door unlocks, and I enter. Unlike most museums or galleries, I am not greeted by white walls and a desk, but a winding staircase and an open door. I walk through the door, into what appears to be some sort of old, decrepit building, not the Schinkel Pavilion I had imagined. I proceed into a rotunda of sorts, with a table in the middle and TVs on the surrounding walls. There was no naked artist on the table. Only black lines that seemed to outline a body, and playing on the TV was a video showing men tracing a naked woman sitting and laying on the table. And she was laughing, hysterically, and for no reason. The room smelled like a sauna and was reminiscent of abandoned prisons. Through the window I could see a construction machine picking up garbage. It’s bangs and crashes added to the noises of the woman. On the other side of the room was a door. I walked through into the hallway you see above, and into a room in which hung neon close ups of a female face. The room was dirty and abandoned, in contrast to the gleaming photographs. There was a rusty sink and a spot where some sort of machine used to sit. It reminded me of a storage room in a carnival warehouse that I used to work at. Through this room I entered into an unlit hallway and peered into empty, dark rooms. Each time I was sure something was hiding inside, waiting for me. I walked through a room, through a swinging door, and back into the rotunda where the table sat and the videos continued to play.

The Rotunda

As a stood in the room, staring around at the different videos showing the same thing, a woman entered the room and looked at me, saying nothing. I was not sure who she was. A confused visitor? Part of the scam? Eventually she told me there was more upstairs. I followed her, where the naked artist and white-walled desk awaited like I expected.

One of the many definitions of art is that art is aesthetic experience, a situation where you become acutely aware of your senses. From the moment I started walking down the construction laden street of Oberwallstraße, I entered into the artistic experience. It lead up to entering what seemed to be an abandoned building, where I questioned if I should have been there, yet almost recognized it as if I already had. Art should challenge and confuse, yet excite and entertain. It should question, entice, arouse, and bemuse. All of this happened during my experience of Paul McCarthy’s show. All of this and more.

Progress

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I have recently been trying out some new stuff with my work. I am continuing to develop my method of written text as a background, and I am pushing the boundaries of what I can do with that method. I am using a wide range of materials to paint on including found boards and glass.

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I am testing the different ways to use text to my advantage, In the example below, I am going to fill in the words to create a self portrait. As you can also see, at the bottom of the picture is a piece of glass I have been painting on. I am quite satisfied by the affects I get when I paint on glass and want to push the use of this material.

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I have also been doing small paintings taken from photos and still lives. Here is a painting based on a photo taken from Berlin’s Neue Museum. I am hoping to work on it more later.

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Cecily Brown

Thug in Landscape

Thug in Landscape – oil on linen 196 x 246 cm

Cecily Brown is currently showing at Contemporary Fine Arts in Berlin along with Juergen Teller. I attended the opening on September 18 and was subsequently mind-blown by the paintings. Cecily Brown is a female, British painter, who is making paintings similar to the work of the Abstract Expressionists of the 1940s and 50s. Channeling clear influences such as de Kooning and Francis Bacon, Brown creates work with one foot in the past and the other taking a step forward.

 The Triumph of Virtue oil on linen 196 x 246 cm

The Triumph of Virtue – oil on linen 196 x 246 cm

There are basically three different types of painting: still life, landscape, and figurative. Brown’s work is clearly figurative, as disembodied limbs and faces push and pull, simultaneously bursting from and hiding within the paintings. However, she also seems to blend in elements of still lifes and landscapes. Despite the packed and crowded painting, there is a surprising amount of space in the pieces. Imagine a landscape by JMW Turner, inhabited by the grotesque figures of Francis Bacon, yet fractured and destroyed like the Cubists. Brown also manages to involve the symbolic nature of still life painting through her use of shape and color.

The Bodysnatcher

The Bodysnatcher – oil on linen 170 x 165 cm

The title of the show, “The Sleep Around and the Lost and Found,” gives viewers some insight into the paintings. With its sexual undertones it relates to the figures in the paintings. You know they are there, but they are hidden by all sorts of writhing color and mutating form. As a female working with a style and medium that is associated with white, American males, may assumptions can be made about what she wants these paintings to say. However, the artist herself would probably say something completely different.

The show runs until September 26. More information here

Berlin

View from the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in Berlin's Tiergarten

View from the Siegessäule (Victory Column) in Berlin’s Tiergarten

I recently moved to Berlin where I will work at the Nelson Mandela Schule (http://www.sisberlin.de/) as a teacher in training for five months. So far I have explored the different areas of Berlin including Wilmersdorf, Tiergarten, Potsdamer Platz, and Neukoln. Berlin is a vibrant and bustling city full of art, culture, and energy. It has a dynamic art scene and is home to some of the best museums in the world. I am already getting inspired and know I have much to learn from the city.

A piece of the Berlin Wall remains at Potsdamer Platz.

A piece of the Berlin Wall remains at Potsdamer Platz.

I begin my teachers training on Monday, August 31. I have meet my teacher-mentor, Florentine Baumann and cannot wait for this opportunity to learn more about art education and how it is conducted in Germany. We are both very excited to work with each other. I know this experience will improve my own ways of thinking and creating art.

Bis bald! (See you soon!)

Sun setting on Berlin

Sun setting on Berlin