Meet the Artist: Interview with Metal Jeff

Meet the Artist: Interview with Metal Jeff

We’ve been stoked to have rad new work up in the Holland Project Gallery this month by local artist, Metal Jeff! Gallery committee member, Ashley Westwood, recently took the time to pick Jeff’s brain about his work and process. Check out the interview below and be sure to stop by the closing reception for his exhibition, Forgotten Oracles, this Thursday, Sept. 21 from 6-8pm. We’ll have DJs Echto and Elzo from the Thermites in the house and Nom Eats will be posted up slangin’ burritos.


AW: What is the significance of outer space as the setting for your subjects?

MJ: After using space for a few years now in my work, the basic concept behind these subjects fed right into the theme through the ideas of deities and gods that are typically believed to be above the earth and out of our visual spectrum as humans.  The subjects being in space helps to keep a looming sense of the strange and unknown of where these ideas and beings come from, and what they represent.  Which is a nice flip on the notion of oracles being that which one turns to for answers and insight.

AW: This is the first show in years that I have seen you do this much figurative work. Why have you returned to this and to the female form in particular?

MJ: I’ve been wanting to come back to figurative work, and even portraits, for a while.  A big part of it coming from inspiration from other artists, and revisiting comic book art, which is what formed my earliest development in drawing as a kid.  There’s so much to be found in depictions of the human form, and it’s an absolute challenge that I felt I needed to embrace. Focusing on the female form stems very much from it being used throughout the entire history of art itself.  And combining that with my usual skulls and other subjects that are often assumed or viewed to be darker or evil, there becomes a nice counterbalance and change to that visual.  I wanted to create pieces that makes the viewer unsure of the energy and representation behind it.  I’ve always loved opposing dichotomies and this seems to work with that.

AW: Many of your subjects seem to be enveloped in abstract forms. What do these represent?

MJ: I wouldn’t say there’s any absolute representation.  A lot of these pieces are meant to be interpreted by the viewer as they see fit.  Stories and representations that the image creates for them.  The overarching idea is merely a connection to nature with these otherworldly beings that represent higher answers and truths.  But with the human form it’s meant to keep humans grounded in nature where we belong.  And the lack of faces holds down and ambiguity, and more room for interpretation. As stated in my show statement, it helps to fight the vanity that comes with the assumption that higher beings look just like us as humans.

AW: How has growing up in Nevada influenced your work? What aspects of your background are most evident in your paintings?

MJ: I think growing up in Nevada, specifically Reno, you are likely to see the uniqueness that comes with the area and the people.  There’s an attitude and a sort of grime that comes with it.  It’s unlike anywhere else and people who visit always make note of that.  Being so involved in the music scene, particularly in the metal and hardcore genres, that attitude is strong and oddly positive.  This all has fed into my art which has primarily been connected to music and creating art for bands and whatnot.  They may be cliche, but I take pride and enjoy using skulls as a primary visual vocabulary.  I’ve learned that it’s okay to embrace darker ideas and the reality that there is darkness in life.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  There is beauty found in these things if you look for it.

AW: You’ve been working small scale for quite awhile and just recently started painting larger pieces again. How does working big lend to your current work? Were there any challenges in increasing the scale?

MJ: I was surprised at how well my usual technique has translated onto a larger scale.  I’m still very much dialing in my line work and how I’m using it, so this was a great learning experience.  I’m constantly wondering how much or how little to do when it comes to the details, and how much to allow the form to do it’s own work.  I have rather unsteady hands so it was tricky to make these lines larger and longer.  It’s often easier for me to make quicker marks, even though I don’t necessarily want to.  With these pieces I definitely had to be careful and allow the lines to happen in the best way that suited the piece.  I’ve also learned to embrace the imperfections that come with my lines and details.

AW: All of your paintings have a very minimal color palette. How do you choose your palette? Do the colors you use contribute to your work conceptually?

MJ: When I first started doing these space pieces on wood, I knew I wanted to work with black and gold.  I didn’t want to allow those elements to get lost and consciously made the decision to minimize the other elements going into it.  The other decision was to allow the wood to have a voice and allow the natural grain and tone to play a factor.  So since then it’s been just pen, acrylic paint, ink (and now water based wood stain instead), and gold (gold paint at first, but now gold leaf). I eventually brought in a few different colors of stain to break up things a little bit, but still maintain that wood grain since it’s become a very important part.

I wouldn’t say those stain colors play into concepts, but are merely used to enhance the visual the concept that’s been laid out. The gold, more than anything, plays into concept.  Each figure has a gold planetary body behind their head, which ends up also functioning as a halo and a way to bring the figure out.  I’ve also made a habit of adding the gold into the tips of antlers, or certain small accents.

AW: Your process is ostensibly, very time consuming and painstakingly detailed. Tell us a little about the importance of this level of detail and what drives you to do it.

MJ: These details are something I’ve grown accustomed to using.  It’s helped me find my own voice with art.  There’s obvious influence from other artists, and particularly comic books like previously mentioned, but I’m hoping that I’ve been able to make it my own.  I also try and stay conscious to not overdo it with my detail work, however, I often question that and feel I need to push it more.  It’s definitely and ongoing learning experience and growth.  Especially here with these large pieces.

I’d say the biggest time consumer when it comes to detail is painting the stars.  Each one is individually placed.  When I do them I try to make them random, but there are many that are placed in a specific way to do so.  There’s a bit of catharsis and torture all wrapped up together when it comes to the stars.  If I found a shortcut to do them, I don’t know that I would take it.

AW: I have had the pleasure of seeing your work develop over the years. How has your work evolved and how does the process of making art affect you?

MJ: It’s been a lot of growth and exploration, and learning from my past and what works, and what doesn’t.  Being surrounded by so many great artists in the area, and at the Cuddleworks studio in particular, has been helped how I think about things and how to push myself to get better at what I do.  What’s definitely played a factor in all of this is the amount of work I’ve done.  I’ve been much more productive which has led to quicker improvement in my work.

As most artists will say, I’m sure, making art is something I have to do.  It’s the only thing that truly feels right and keeps me level.  And knowing that there are people out there who genuinely enjoy what I create means the world. Which in turn drives me to create more.