100 ft tall baby chicks, massive strawberries, and flying fish will be part of your trip with Jeff Jordan …
Great art always provokes more questions than answers. His art is a surrealist stab at the ‘how’ and ‘why’ beyond the psychic space that develops around an image, by jolting linear thought processes, and pushing the outer limits of creative evolution. Jeff Jordan’s hybrids and irrational relationships are birthed by his relentless attempt to broaden mental pliability, and expand our desire to inquire. His acrylic originals are inspired by his appreciation of surrealism pre-dating the Breton-led French Surrealist movement, and its subsequent challenger, Salvador Dali. His ability to depict a contorted realistic state is defined by the scope of the components, which bend back on any attempt to synthesize objective meaning, and yield a beautifully surreal circumstance.
Jeff hasn’t lost his head about his new found attention. He’s a humble guy living in Humboldt County where he dedicates himself to the permutations his mind reflects when his brush meets his canvas. Recognition can lead to some crazy shit, but all in all, this surrealist veteran continues to be inspired by a world that obviously still needs to be poked in the eye. After meeting him through the grapevine, I can say it was truly an honor to get such an in-depth interview by an artist so resolved in his indictments of the norm.
EM: I usually see three things in your art – humanity relating to our physical bodies, a spiritual or mythological component, and some surreal scope. Do you feel there is a specific aspect of your personality that informs the conceptual background for your work?
I think it’s not so much an aspect of my personality as much as what was going on when I was coming up. I was a kid in the 50s, which was a fairly drab, if not bleak, time. In art, the big thing was Jackson Pollock and the AbEx artists. I remember seeing Van Eyck in an encyclopedia and it blew me away. Jewels and pearls that looked real, just a total minute rendering of that early 16th Century world, every detail clear and perfectly finished. Pollock and those other guys were just scribbling on huge canvases. Van Eyck and Van der Weyden really caught my attention. A little bit later, I got into Norman Rockwell–still a hero in the way he made details stand out and tell stories. I didn’t get to Bosch for many years, but I was always attracted to people painting the Real World. So for me it was the Flemish, then the Dutch guys. I loved the little details that made it seem real, or at least closer to a reality I could relate to.
It was the time of post-atomic bomb fears. Duck and cover withfallout shelters. Like we were gonna survive a nuclear apocalypse. And then Godzilla! It was a natural progression. Also, it was the time of the American Dream. Everybody was gonna own a flying car! There was a strong science fiction aspect to life in the 50s, even more so in the 60s. In the 60s, the whole exploration of space was going on. I grew up with a LOT of Sci Fi, and I was very comfortable in the world of the future. Daily life was endlessly boring. On TV it was shit like Leave it to Beaver, solid drone reinforcement. I seemed to stay inside my head, and found it not so much hard, but BORING, to follow the crowd. I never quite fit in with all that. My few friends and I were into Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. There were alternative thought processes if you searched for them…..I graduated High School in 1966, so I was perfectly placed for the Hippie thing, although I didn’t consider myself to be a ‘hippie.’ I considered myself a Beatnik, by then. Kerouac was influencing teenagers of the 60s.
By then, I was listening to a lot of Free Jazz, like Ornette Coleman, Roland Kirk (pre- Rahsaan), Coltrane- the guys who took Jazz to the next level. I wasn’t interested in the Pop music of the time–Pat Boone, the Four Seasons, all that east coast doo-wop based crap. I was always looking for the edges. Then along came The Beatles and everything really changed. In the fullness of time, once the British Invasion came along, I became a huge Rolling Stones fan. The Beatles gave the impression of being squeaky clean, but the Stones just came out saying “Fuckall!” I guess you could say my personality led me in the anti-Establishment direction, which has served me very well in the intervening years.
EM: In your bio, you mention surrealism specifically as the “second -ism.” For me, surrealism’s value is its tendency to vastly broaden creative possibilities. The implausibility of the circumstances in your paintings seems to reveal your reverence for the same. Is your approach spontaneous, or are you more calculated about the elements in your work? Does it have to make sense for you, or are you more concerned with the aesthetics than the implication?
In my way of thinking, surrealism tends to vastly broaden CONCEPTUAL possibilities. For me it’s the juxtaposition and scale. Like a 100 foot tall baby chick in an otherwise normal landscape (for example, “Curiosity“). Once those basic concepts entered my thinking process, it was like “How fast can I come up with a body of work?” I did some collage work in high school, but more like Pop Art, which I could relate to, as opposed to AbEx. James Rosenquistreally spoke to me back then. Even more than the Pop artists were the folks in Chicago, specifically the Hairy Who, a mixed group who really fucked with notions of art. Also Ed Paschke, who was lumped in with the HW. They are the founders of what’s now known as Lowbrow.
The Big Mutant (Amputechture album cover) was one of the very first of those images, and look where it’s taken me. I don’t think you can be all that calculating, doing what I do. Certainly some images proliferate and I can deal with a fair amount of redundancy, getting variations on a theme. For example, I thought- If there were mythological-based creatures, what would it mean for them to be alive in this time? How does that beautiful mermaid pay the rent? Why are those two women riding a giant remote control chicken? What does that giant truffle pig eat, once she cleans out that garbage truck? What’s it gonna smell like in a few days, in the little Midwest town where all the giant fishes just rained? So to me it’s more conceptual, you know?
Big Mutant (Amputechture album cover)
Most of these images are collage based. I have a dedicated collage area with thousands of pieces of paper. I’ll often notice a few fragments lying in close proximity to each other, and something goes off in my brain. I like the element of surprise, and the most interesting images just send me off to somewhere else. Like the figure I call “the Boss” (to me he’s also Dick Cheney) came to me really easily. But I was having a problem with the “Dancer,” to whom the Boss has just imparted the revelation that makes him dance. I think of that figure is George Bush. When I was putting it together, there were two sets of arms that worked, but which one to use? Suddenly, the light bulb went off-I’ll use BOTH sets of arms. I wouldn’t have been able to calculate that, but it’s the thing that really put it over the top. SURPRISE ME!
EM: I am particularly enamored with “Harvest.” Always have been…..there’s something disarming about it. As if the act of harvesting massive strawberries breaks down the psychological barrier that the man’s khimar (Muslim headscarf as related in the Q’uran) imbues. How do you view this piece?
I was in Minnesota visiting my sweetheart, Nancy. It’s a perfect example of disparate images in close proximity to each other. Actually, that’s a woman pushing the wheelbarrow, some archeological dig in Iran, I believe. My perception of this piece is like the others. How did the giant strawberries grow to be that size? Was it in the desert? To me that one is very straightforward.
EM: You’ve done album art for The Mars Volta a few times. Who else have you done album art for and do you have any similar projects coming up?
I’m just about finished with an album cover for Graham Czach, a guy in your town actually. Late last year, I did a cover for an Irish Metal outfit-Gama Bomb, on Earache Records. I’m not really a metal person, but it was hard to resist working for Earache. Beyond that, the reason I took that job was to pursue a project called-The Grave in Space. I’ve been leaning towards Sci-Fi illustration, and The Grave was a PERFECT vehicle.
I get approached on a fairly regular basis by bands wanting a cover. It helps to be “the TMV guy” in that regard. Unfortunately, most of these bands are at the bottom of the pile. I didn’t know it when I started working for TMV. I get interesting bands, but they freak when we talk money. So I’m not doing as many album covers as I’d like, but I entertain all possibilities. Working for TMV has been really GREAT. Omar, Cedric, and I all seem to think very much alike – the thing a lot of people don’t get is that TMV is a totally surrealist band! Cedric’s lyrics are like totally Automatic Writing. They don’t necessarily MEAN anything, but they sound good together. If the words are in the right brain, they’ll set off unforeseen thoughts, and isn’t that pretty much the goal of Surrealism? So it’s a real blast to work with O & C.
EM: Was painting always your preferred medium? If not, in what else did you dabble?
I started out doing pen and ink. I was really into comic books and newspaper comic strips, and that’s where I wanted to go when I was a kid. I was seeing Rick Griffin in Surfer magazine, Frazetta’s women in L’il Abner, and above all MAD Magazine. Then, in the later 60s, there was the psychedelic poster thing, which led to Underground comix, and the Graffiti movement a lot later. I remember trying to figure out Griffin’s crazy-ass lettering style, and eventually I did. I joined the Air Force in ’66, thinking I could keep myself outta Viet Nam. As it turned out, I became a Security Cop, guarding a radar site in Thule, Greenland. Then I came back to the States, got stationed at Vandenberg AFB, where I was a missile site guard. I’d be working in a gantry where they were assembling a Tiros weather satellite, 70 feet above the ground. And other times, I’d be in isolated sites where my time was more or less my own. That was when I pushed myself to the next level in drawing and began to think about Underground comix, and eventually it led me to painting. I never had a real plan. I just kept at it, and eventually I got to where I am. But painting was the medium that spoke the loudest to me.
EM: I’m often interested in how creativity in other mediums informs the way we look at our own craft. For example, a way of playing guitar that informs painting or an architectural idea that informs someone who works with water colors. Do you see any examples of this cross-pollination of creative philosophy in your own work?
I play around with music too and I love to dink around on my 6-string bass. It’s more of a Zen exercise for me. As much as I love music, my true calling is painting. I often compare art to music. Like when I switched back to oils after 25 years of acrylics, I came up with this analogy, “Acrylics are like having a cheap Sears guitar with no effects and a 10 watt amp. But oils are like having a top of the line Les Paul Special with a full array of pedals and a big stack of Marshall speakers and a huge amp.” Oils are LIMITLESS! Acrylics SUCK! That’s just MY opinion.
EM: Which art pieces are you most fond of? Do you derive joy from the finished product based on the effort it took to execute it, or is “success” mainly based on aesthetics, perhaps a bit of both? Conversely, how does that equation work when you are taking in other peoples’ art?
People ask “What’s your favorite painting?” And I always say, “The one I’m working on.” Each painting is usually a struggle, because I’m not content to repeat myself. If I know what I’m doing, it’s probably because I already did it. I spend at least half the time in any painting mostly trying to figure out what happens next. I find that if I get to the edge of madness, going crazy trying to figure out how to make an image conform to what I want it to be, then some little thing almost invariably comes along, one little stroke of the right color, and THEN I get it. I’ll wonder “What was so hard about THAT?” But it only comes when I feel my mind slipping away. Just that willingness to lose my mind makes the answer appear…EVERY time, dammit! Also, other people’s art that I find interesting generally addresses the concerns I deal with, myself.
EM: Does your art contain a political component or do you try to stay away from it? “Ship of Fools” seems political to me, but that could be entirely what I bring to the table as the viewer.
The politics I find myself addressing are world concepts. There’s a strong environmental aspect to a lot of what I do. Like, where do these giant critters come from? It’s not the human condition as much as what affects the world that pushes me along. The snake people in “Revelation,” for example, aren’t necessarily Cheney and Bush, but greedy assholes that stop at nothing to get bigger piles of money, and even more importantly, CONTROL. So that’s where I’m coming from, politically.
EM: What’s the one thing you hope to take away from communicating through your artwork?
The one thing I hope to take away from doing what I do is that I COMMUNICATED whatever off-the-wall thought to whoever saw the image. And it seems like some people GET it. I couldn’t ask for more, other than that people like specific images enough to buy a print, or even an original. That way I can keep putting out my thoughts.
EM: What happens when we die? Not that you’ve cornered the market on this end, but I have a feeling you can shed some light.
Tom Waits already addressed this question. Everybody’s going to end up being dirt in the ground.
EM: Name one artist my readers should check out.
I could name 50 artists that should be checked out, but one person who I’d like to see get more recognition, a guy who has inspired me greatly, is Richard Kirk. He’s Canadian, and he contacted me to trade links right after Amputechture came out. I checked him out and he blew my mind! I’m also a huge fan of Sonny Kay. We’ve been lumped together because he does all the TMV graphics, but he also does some of my favorite collage work beyond my own, and great album covers! We’ve become co-conspirators, in a way, talking about getting together to do some collaborative collage work. We both got into Hold Up Art, a new gallery that’s opening soon in Los Angeles.
“How does that beautiful mermaid pay the rent? Why are those two women riding a giant remote control chicken? What does that giant truffle pig eat?”
- Jeff Jordan
To visit more of Jeff Jordan’s work, go here.