Art Chat with Jeff P.
Often described as Psychedelic Realism, Jeff P.'s renderings are part Audubon Society and part Fillmore concert poster circa 1967. His vivid illustrations brim with saturated colors and strong symmetrical composition to celebrate the wonders and oddities of nature to hallucinogenic effect. In anticipation of Straight Outta Portland opening this Friday at Stephanie Chefas Projects, we took the opportunity to have a chat with the Portland based artist. Here he talks about his process, horseshoe crabs, and why you can expect a fair amount of crying at home lately.
What was it about Portland that made you fall in love and call this city home? How has living in the Pacific Northwest shaped your creativity?
People from Portland like to complain about the weather here. I’m not sure what they think weather is like in the rest of the country, but I can tell you the rest of the country (excluding Southern California) gets really cold in the winter, and really humid in the summer. The weather here is rarely uncomfortable. I love it. Living here has allowed me the mental space, as well as the physical space, to explore my paintings in a serious and thoughtful way.
Tell us about your process. How does a work evolve from conception to completion?
It typically involves a lot of layering. Occasionally, I’ll have a specific plan—start with a thumbnail to work out the general feel and layout. As part of this thumb nailing process, I’ll also do a lot of “research”. Maybe I’ll see an ant that’s colored a certain way, so I’ll try to find out more about it, and learn about how they destroy a certain type of flower’s leaves, and those flowers are pollinated by this kind of bird whose eggs are damaged by these little bugs and so on. I don’t necessarily feel beholden to these scientific threads, but they push the ideas forward. Many of the connecting threads will be omitted in the final piece, leaving the remaining disparate elements open for interpretation. Kind of like rhyming slang. Then I’ll draw the separate pieces at size and start to arrange them on tracing paper and begin transferring the line drawings on top of some light color washes. I don’t have any formal training in painting so my process from here on is very indirect—full of false starts, reworks, failed experiments, and happy accidents. I try to stay very present in what is happening on the paper. Often times I’ll miss the mark I was aiming for and stumble on something I like better, then work on shaping and recreating that look.
Your works for STRAIGHT OUTTA PORTLAND are an amazing detailed depiction of the Horseshoe Crab . Tell us about the inspiration behind these pieces.
It starts with just being blown away by how those crabs look. I had originally thumbnailed these with other lifeforms that seem to be survivors of the same prehistoric era, hence the title Ordovician Obduro. Once I had painted the crab though, I realized it was much stronger on its own, and I left the other pieces out (they’ll probably reappear in a future painting, survivors that they are). Audubon once said that “nature indifferently copied is far superior to the best idealities” and I’m inclined to agree with him, though I think we can take another step by experiencing nature on a deeper level with the aid of psychotropics. I’m often trying to mash together these two worlds of naturalism and psychedelia— psychedelic naturalism. Staring into the swirling highlights of this crab’s carapace, or into it’s intricately terrifying underside required very little additional work from me to push it into this psychotropic realm. I have plans to elaborate on this series of horseshoe crab paintings that I’m very excited about.
If you could hang only one artwork from art history in your home or studio, what would it be and why?
I’d be freaked out to have just about any piece from Audubon’s Birds of America. Either the American Anhinga—The layout of the two birds with their long necks, and the colors really stand out to me— or the Magnificent Frigatebird—I love how Audubon superimposed the bird’s feet at the top of the print. Today, I’ll go with the Anhinga. Tomorrow, who knows.
Tell us something about yourself we wouldn't necessarily know.
I’m from Philadelphia originally, and love that city. Lifelong Flyers fan. The accent, the attitude—I find it all very endearing. I heard a joke recently that if you call someone from Philly an asshole, they’ll thank you. I think that’s true in a way, but I think it’s a straightforward way of talking, and ball-busting that may offend more sensitive thin-skinned types when, really, we’re just having some fun.
If I were to spend the day with Jeff P., what could I expect?
Well, my wife and I just had a baby girl, so there would be a lot of crying—from any one of us. I try to wake up on the early side and take the dog for a walk. This puts me in the right mindset for a good day. I can make lists of things that need to get taken care of, and think about paintings I want to make. Breakfast, followed by working my way through that list before putting on some music and settling in to work on a new painting—pulling stacks of books out, googling, thumb nailing, making notes and sketches—or an in-progress painting—trying to remember what I was doing before, getting in the right frame of mind, mixing paint and putting in on paper. I recommend giving me some space when I’m in this painting phase. I’m often extremely frustrated and hating myself. It usually goes bad for a while before it goes well. Towards the end of the day, dinner while watching a movie, followed by some hockey hi-lights from the day, and sketching ideas in my notebook. That’s a working day. A non-working day I’m hopefully with friends, eating and talking about movies and music.
STRAIGHT OUTTA PORTLAND opens Feb. 5th at Stephanie Chefas Projects, 305 SE 3rd Ave., Portland, OR 97214, www.stephaniechefas.com