Two years ago I was walking through a flea market outside Lambertville New Jersey. I remember seeing a woman about my age, possibly a couple years younger, intensely scouring the vendor tables as if she were looking for spare change underneath the floor mats of her car in order to make up a toll on the New Jersey Turnpike when she recollected that she had no cash. I could tell she was doing the same thing that I was, that is, she was looking for trigger objects… A 23-year-old slow dance in the kitchen by an elderly couple that was transmitted by an old cast-iron frypan as dinner was cooking, or, a doorknob who’s edges of brass were last polished by a B-rate celebrity as he had a heart attack and collapsed… The point is, she wasn’t buying anything, she was just excavating experiences. It wasn’t until a couple months later that I discovered that young woman was Jane Lafarge Hamill.
Jane carries with her a seriousness, an emotional intensity that can be read in the form of concentration on her face at all times. I’m not talking about a resting bitch face,( and I can only make that comparison because I’m her friend) but something that looks like readership when someone is lost in a great novel.
The propulsion of wonder extends its hand when rhythm is broken and this is exactly what happens every time that Jane welcomes a friend. She becomes a neatly tended campfire of warmth and love. This dramatic shift of inner self to outer self, is perhaps what is so thoroughly communicated within her paintings and is exactly why I am so drawn to them. Jane seems to reach a point of elation within the process of painting while tapping into a much deeper, richer and darker intensity. Due to our friendship, and because we are both painters, something happens with the spoken word in the studio when talking about work that doesn’t happen with the written word. Because of this, I wanted to take an opportunity to interview one of my largest inspirations and someone who I feel I can connect to on a painterly level. This person is Jane Lafarge Hamill.
In your earlier work you identifiably represented the human form in an academic, almost classical manner and your current work is still harnessed in portrait painting, However,you seem to root these portraits of your peers and colleagues in a form of Abstract Expressionism. Is there a particular painting or moment that transformed or explained this major shift within your work?
I have to start this answer by stepping back to college. We were reading T.S Eliot for a Ulysses class, and a concept in his essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’ hit me hard and has informed my work since. The piece is generally about the artist and his relationship to art. But what was particularly influential- was the part about artistic creation being a process of objecting your own experiences and separating yourself from them. If you can be inspired by, but then extract yourself from your own sincerely personal emotional experience, you can potentially create something universal, which in turn has the chance to engender the original emotion again anew within the viewer/reader.
So my answer to your question is that I spent way too many years making art that concentrated on the middle part of that equation. Or really, the equation.
And when I finally had a life event that went beyond any possible logic or reason- that shook any discipline I had out of me- my paintings started making themselves. Full disclosure, the event was one of those horrifically common American experiences of being shot at in a public place; in this instance during a memorial service inside a church. A week later my paintings made the drastic change mentioned. It was that exact.
In my opinion, There is a severe darkness and intensity in your work along with its propensity to describe a sort of immediacy within the viewers eye that I tend to describe as a mix between Francis Bacon on steroids and Willem Dekooning. I use these two examples because they are familiar. However, unlike Bacon and deKooning these works tend to be rather small and contained yet still have, luscious, violent and, elegant marks ( thick thin and everywhere in-between). How do you do that!? Just kidding (not really,you can tell me off tape… 😉 )I’m setting you up here to answer several questions.:
Are you comfortable with these associations? And who are a few names,within a contemporary context, that really influence your work, if any?
Ha. Yes, what painter wouldn’t want an association with Bacon and Dekooning! I’m comfortable with that. They weren’t scared off by a broader, rich sense of life that includes (massive amounts of alcohol- just kidding) horror amongst beauty. When looking at other painters, I’m looking for how they create textures in mark making. You can find meaning in the recorded choreography of a painter’s physical movements. A few contemporary painters who do things in paint I REALLY wish I could, are Peter Krauskopf, Jamian Juliano Villani, and Adrian Ghenie.
You tend to still describe your work as portraits in an adamant way. They are rather small and about the same scale as a human head. Are you trying to represent the essence of a person through the language of color and texture? How important is it to you that your paintings are regarded as portraits? Is it the notion of the uncanny that you’re trying to tap into to describe the nature of those you care about? Have you ever told someone that they were the subject of your paintings? (When asking this question I’m assuming that you are not painting these from life. I could be totally wrong. Do you ever work from life?)
The paintings are small because when we moved out from Brooklyn, before my studio was built, I had 3 years of working in our laundry room. Those walls demanded working at that scale. So I tried to make big paintings within a small format.
Yes, I make portraits of specific people, and communities, and aspects shared among people, etc. The most direct example is a painting I made this month of a girl I became mildly obsessed with over instagram named Fusksalad. She reminds me of everything it is to be young and weird and bold- and that was something I wanted to spend time indulging in.
How immediate is your painting process? Is there any sort of parameter or rules that you set for yourself when deciding what makes the cut and what doesn’t?
The immediacy of the marks is really important- they speak more than the image or narrative to my subconscious. If I put something down and I didn’t nail it- the paint has to come off right away because it’s too thick and too small a space to save anything half assed. My process is driven by what Francis Bacon called ‘manipulated chance’. And I think the studio is a place you’re supposed to give yourself permission, not rules.
Recently, you have been working in a consistent smaller scale. Do you see yourself ever returning to larger works?
I can only paint what I have a particular instinct to work on. It’s like walking into the studio hungry for a particular taste. But I do want to want to paint larger, and am just waiting for the impulse. In the meantime, there’s no need to make big fucking paintings just to make big fucking paintings. A lot of people did that at my grad school, it seemed an outdated romantic gesture.
From an inside source, I heard once that you burned all of your old paintings. Wow. I’m blown away at this bravery and at the same time I totally understand it. What made you actually do that? Why did you feel it was necessary?
Inside source?! Was it the chickens? Sure, maybe it’s not the most adult thing to do- to burn it all. But It’s extremely cathartic. You learn from your past shitty art, and then move on and make new work- so why keep archives that make you wince? Make space.
You are married to another great painter, Jason Bereswill, How does this work?! The two of you seem to be on opposite ends of the painting spectrum in regard to your conceptual language. Do you ever fight over these types of philosophical issues? Or, do you see more commonalities than conflicts? Do you ever get jealous of each other’s accomplishments?
Loaded question Graham! For starters, on the jealousy front- my husband is way more successful than I am in art world terms. He was represented by Tony Shafrazi right out of grad school, the Guggenheim has one of his paintings… etc etc. But I’m not jealous of his accomplishments in that world- I could never do it. I get sweaty palms talking to gallerists, self sabotage, and whenever we’re in NYC in a taxi on the way to one of my openings, I always turn to Jason and ask if we can go home, get Chinese take out, and watch tv. I AM jealous of his total normal calm when we’re talking to artists like Richard Prince and Jason’s ability to have unfaltering faith in his work.
But he’s walking in the door now, so let’s ask him-
Jane; Do we get jealous of each others accomplishments or fight over conceptual language in painting?
Jason; no. do we? no. I don’t get jealous, but your accomplishments fuel me to be better than I am.
Jane; that’s nice……So, what about conceptual language in painting?
Jason; I feel like we don’t talk about conceptual language. I think that’s pointless. Painters mostly don’t talk about conceptual language, people who don’t paint talk about conceptual language in painting. We’re working with a visual language that’s more visceral. There are certainly ideas to talk over in our paintings, which we do, but it’s less about the conceptual language and more the instinctual response and getting that right.
Jane; And we talk about our dog.
Jason; Yes, we talk about the dog. Also- I don’t think we’re on opposite sides of the conceptual spectrum- we’re both responding to the real world- just with a different vocabulary. And skill of spelling.
Coming out of grad school, the two of you had relatively successful representation within your art careers in New York City, and as the years passed you have chosen to buy and operate a farm together outside of Lambertville, New Jersey where you grow vegetables,raise chickens, paint and curate exhibitions from local artists in a collaborative space that you and a couple of friends run. Can you comment on this decision? And has it been manageable to oversee and nurture your art careers in New York from a distance?
It’s been 3 years since we bought the farm. In that time my husband and I have each built studios on the property, my brother rehabbed the barn into a wood working shop, and we live with 2 young kick ass organic vegetable growers who farm about 4 acres of land as Rolling Hills Farm. It’s a very different life- going from a city apartment to an 1840s farm house. The learning curve was pretty steep. Our daily conversations are different, our priorities have changed, and Steph and John (the farmers) and Will (my brother) are really quite amazing to watch work. We’re all makers. Watching their growing season and having a closer relationship with the land has been quite something.
We’ve also watched the game change in the art world. Luckily, social media is enabling artists to control their careers independently in ways they never could before. You just don’t have to be in NYC (or other urban art centers) as much for people to pay attention to your work. But I’m sure part of what smoothed our transition from NYC to the farm, was that we had made connections before we left, and we’re close enough to the city to go in for openings and maintain relationships. When we moved here, we had reached a saturation point of dealing with NYC’s fairly toxic, unhealthy brand of competition. We wanted a fresh start. So we just jumped. And after being in Leipzig for 4 months on an artist residency, in between leaving NYC and living on the farm, we were really hopeful about what might happen making our art away from the art market. Working out here without studio visits, was unquestionably and unexpectedly good for my work. I needed to be in a place to act instead of react- and the farm has the quiet and privacy to do so. It’s important to leave and get perspective though, so I go on artist residencies once or twice a year.
As a curator, who would be your dream group show of 8 artists, living or non-living?
1. James Turell’s light work ‘Pleiades’
2. Peter Krausfomp’s painting ‘B090311’
3. Forcefield- their video installation ‘Tunnel Vision’
4. A Giacometti portrait. Any of them.
5. Euan Uglow’s painting ‘Nude’
6. Adrien Ghenie- any or his self portraits or pie fight pieces
7. Jamian Juliano Villani’s ‘Haniver Jinx’ on view right now at Tanya Leighton, Berlin
8. How about a Lucas Cranach nude to balance that all out?
What does Martha pickles Washington think of your works?
Martha thinks she could do better.