Interview With Artist Jeremy Willis


Jeremy Willis is a New Orleans born, Brooklyn based painter and musician. Prior to moving to New York he spent time in Providence, living in one of those art squat lofts adjacent to Fort Thunder. It was always a treat going up there to watch the loft wrestling matches, play in Atari tournaments and throw bowling balls off the roof at abandoned cars that were set on fire.


RINY: Before we start what song are you listening to at the moment and what do you like about it?

JW: Don't Shout at Me Daddy by Ella Johnson. It's a great weird pop/soul song with a darkness and an innocence that I am currently really digging.

RINY:  You’re primarily a painter. What attracts you to this medium and do you work in other mediums?

JW: I think painting is such a simple, primitive way of engaging with the world. It's slowness, history, and detachment from contemporary culture all make it perfect for my purposes of examining the conflict between personal experience and our larger cultural moment. I also play and sing in a rock and/or roll band called The New Feelings.



RINY: Is there a message or meaning behind your work? If so, what is it?

JW: Good art is usually about the same things: mortality, sex, culture. I think I have a lot of these themes in my work. I want my paintings to be sad, funny, conflicted and more than a little idiotically exuberant.

RINY: How do you think your work fits in the larger art scene?

JW: People seem really open minded about all different strategies of art making. I think artists have stopped fretting about what art is and are focusing more on what art does.The field is wide open and there has been a lot of exciting painting lately. Of course there has been a lot of boom market crap as well.  I see my stuff in dialogue with a lot of contemporary painters. Steve Dibenedetto, Dana Schutz, Caroll Dunham, Katherine Bernhardt, Tom Sanford.



RINY: Is being a New York based artist a help or hindrance to your work?

JW:  Well, both.....the rents are a drag, as is the bullshit and silly hierarchy. But there is so much great art to see that you can never see it all. And things happen here on a scale and with a quality that is always impressive. The best art on planet earth always makes it way here for a viewing at some point.


RINY: I’ve heard rumors that you’re a bit of prankster. I heard that you once sabotaged Columbia University’s MFA inauguration under the alias, The League of Militant Apathy, and that men dressed in masks took over the event by challenging the faculty and students to a dance contest.  On another occasion, I heard that this same group was on route to throw a BBQ in front of Julian Schnabel’s house, but were thwarted by cops on the way over because you guys got drunk and played tug of war on the L train. Is this true?

JW: All I will say about this is that those Columbia kids can't dance worth a shit.

RINY: What is missing in the New York art world?

JW: I would like to see mixed nuts available at all NYC galleries. Any finger foods really.....




RINY: Are there NY Galleries you particularly like?  What about them do you like?

JW: Lots to choose from. I usually like what they show at David Nolan, Mitchell Innes and Nash, Leo Koenig, Luhring Augustine, Canada, On Stellar Rays is a cool new LES gallery.


RINY: What painting do you wish you painted and why?

JW: The St. Paul paintings by Caravaggio in Rome because they made me cry.


The Conversion of St. Paul

RINY: What are three paintings everyone should be aware of?

JW: Yikes! That's hard. I'm gonna go with personal faves:

1. Painting, Smoking, and Eating by Phillip Guston
2. The Flagelation by Piero della Francesca
3. Agosta the Winged Man and Rasha the Black Dove by Christian Schad.


Painting, Smoking and Eating by Phillip Guston

The Flagellation by Piero della Francesca

Agosta the Winged Man and Rasha the Black Dove by Christian Schad

RINY: What three artists have influenced you and why?

1. R crumb for his frank personal honesty and ability to engage with his own shortcomings.
2. Goya for his ability to make the experience of his own time into something universal, complex, and critical.
3. Paul McCarthy because he seems so willing to plumb the depths.



                                                      Crumb                                                            Goya                                                            McCarthy

RINY: What are three books everyone should read and why?

1. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass - nazis, eels, a midget that breaks glass with his voice!
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner-because it feels like a description of a hallucination but is so brilliantly structured and full of meaning.
3. Please Kill Me by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain-because very few books have been so entertaining to me. I love almost all of the bands they talk about and the stories are so insane.The Iggy stories alone make it worth it.



RINY: What are three films everyone should see and why?

1. Pee Wee's Big Adventure-Greatest. Film. Ever. "Is there something you would like to share with the rest of us, Amazing Larry!?"
2. McCabe and Mrs. Miller-So many great Altman movies to choose from. This one is so funny and so sweet and sooo strange. Plus, Julie Christie......!
3. Laura - Amazing film noir with Gene Tiereney. They ask the villian if he would describe himself as a nice man and he says, "let's just say I would hate to see my neighbor's children devoured by wolves." People wrote better dialogue back then.



RINY: What are three records everyone should own and why?

JW: Why does it keep having to be 3? Usually when I am headed to a hypothetical desert island I get 5 or 10 picks....
1. The Best of Blind Willie Mctell. This is the most spooky beautiful haunting music I have ever heard.
2. Modern Lovers-Modern Lovers. No one tells it straight like Jonathan Richman.
3. Anything written and produced by Allen Toussaint. He is probably my favorite American songwriter.



RINY: If they had to recast the movie Twins, who are you Danny Devito or Arnold Scwartzenegger?

JW: I think I will always be a Devito trying to be a Schwarzenneger.



RINY: What are some images that inspire you?

JW: Comic books, porn, art history, Polish hip hop flyers, movie posters, but more specifically these:





Categories: interviews, Artists, art