In Studio with Jordan Sweke

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Be it through paint, photography, illustration or street murals, the artist’s approach to his multi-disciplinary facets communicate the human condition, the environment and the constant stream of transformation.

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What does being an artist mean to you in this generation?

I feel there is a great need for artists within any generation as imagination and creativity are innate facets of the human condition. That part of our psyche can either be expressed directly or accommodated through the experience and interrogation of external stimuli such as art objects. The existence of this need for imaginative engagement grants the artist power in affecting changes in consciousness through the objects he or she creates. On a personal level, art is a way for me to affect change both internally and externally. Works are the results of events which I am able to control and then later reflect upon. The expression of a thought or feeling, placed in view to be read in whatever the conditioning of each viewer might direct. I feel that my work, being focused on the relationship between humans and nature, has a place in reconstituting this relationship on individual levels.

You’re a musician in your own right. Is playing an instrument an asset or a burden when it comes to listening to the technicality and musicality of new bands?

If making music is a burden, then it’s one I’m willing to take on. Technical musical knowledge can make one hyper-critical, but at the end of the day, if the music is good, I will enjoy it. If anything, I feel it is an advantage as I am able to enjoy complex music on both technical and purely sensory levels.

I’ve seen you bouncing around at gigs, on stages, in the activity of the epicentre, trying to find the perfect angle on your mobile to document the band before you. What is it that attracts you to capturing these live dynamics?

As a musician and visual artist, I like to mix the two and often this involves the shooting of live acts for video or stills. I am currently working on a short documentary about the cultural cross-pollination happening around the street music scene in Berlin. Often, and especially in cultural hubs like Berlin, I find myself bearing witness to incredible artistic events which, to me, feel like important moments, worthy of documentation and dissemination in some form. If I don’t have a camera on me, I do usually resort to my phone.

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You seem to be drawn to a vast array of mediums. Paint, photography, illustration, street art and printmaking. Can you explain why you immerse yourself in all these mediums and how each outlet feeds you?

For me, art is a way of living. A way of being and seeing the world. Photography for me is the same, in essence, as painting and sculpture. Ways of manipulating the light that reaches our retina. Painting is highly embedded into my everyday life, a constant relationship with concepts, techniques and materials. A meditation of endless practice. Photography is essential to my painting and film photography has become, for me, a photographic process with a painterly result. My painting bleeds over into sculpture in the form of ‘sculptural painting installations’ such as Iris (2014) and Evers (2016). Street art has been a way for me to place images inspired by the natural world into highly urban, non-gallery environments. A juxtaposition continually present in my practice. I don’t like to feel constricted to any prescribed medium. My interests lie mainly in creative communication, something which all of the disciplines do differently. The multi-disciplinary communication of concepts intrigues me greatly.

Another theme that runs throughout my conceptual framework is the notion of sitting on lines between two prescribed binaries. Juxtapositions such as: representational versus abstract, positive/negative, day/night, peaceful/ominous, balance/imbalance, painting/sculpture, photography/painting, digital/real/imagined.

Do you have a specific routine when you’re in studio producing new work? What do your surroundings look like in your studio space? Shared or solo? Size? Location? Quiet or fuelled with sounds?

I usually work nocturnally and go to sleep after sunrise. When I am painting, I mostly listen to post-rock, metal, classical, reggae or blues and enjoy the calm silence in between. Strongly rhythmic melodies aid the vibrancy and animate nature of my strokes and overall pieces. My studio is relatively small (30m2) for the large scale paintings I produce. It serves as a workshop too for building all of my canvasses and installations and is fully kitted out with everything that I need- miter saw, compressor, pneumatic guns etc. I prefer for my living space to be joined to my studio as when I’m working I like to remain focused and often cut out other distractions, focusing on eating, sleeping and producing work. And I don’t have to drive to work.

Your paintings are done on large frames of stretched canvas. Tell us about the process of one work – the timeline, the energy levels and the inspiration.

Processes and timelines can vary greatly from work to work. I usually travel to specific natural environments nationally and internationally to gather research (photographs, notes, field recordings, footage, found objects) then I return to my studio and conceptualise a cohesive body of work. I then build the necessary structures or frames (if any) and enter into intensive production, sometimes for three months at a time. All of the works in a body are intended to act in conversation, creating a rounded thematic.

Scale is one of the tools I use to aid the communication of the sublime. A beauty so large, intricate and inconceivable that it frightens us as it lays our own insignificance before us, but somehow also causes us to feel connected to that fearful beauty, awakens us to an interior vastness and strength. An interesting kind of beauty that reflects both our own insignificance and power.

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Your video pieces are transitional and almost levitate within the stillness of what this world can contribute. Tell us about your approach to motion in imagery?

There is no single approach for me. Video as a medium holds endless possibilities for creative expression. Each piece has a unique approach and much of my video work varies in style. My in gallery video-installations that you made reference to above have played a vital role in the message delivered by bodies of work as wholes. The videos allow insight into true motion which the paintings can only suggest, as well as background insight into my intentions, ways of researching and general mind-set. In a cohesive, curated body of work, each piece, regardless of medium, is as important as the next in the creation of a rounded conceptual framework.

In Carbon (2016) Thomas Dreyer and I collaborated to create a sound and video installation piece to accompany an exhibition and as a stand alone piece. For the opening of my upcoming solo show, The Antidote, there will be a video work mapped onto the exterior of the building, once again in collaboration with Thomas Dreyer.

Nature plays a vital role in your work. Which elements are you most drawn to?

From an artistic perspective I am most interested in the disconnection I find apparent between humans and nature. We are natural beings yet we destroy the environment we live in. Our home. I asked a few people if they thought they were natural and they replied yes, of course but when asked to imagine the most pristine natural environment, added ‘untouched by humans’ to the description. It’s this cognitive dissonance which I believe causes destructive behaviour and needs to be re-assessed. I found this dissonance embedded in the definition of the word nature too- ‘the phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.’

Also, as previously mentioned, the way in which notions of the sublime act within conceptual natural space.

You have played around with different styles and mark making in your painting since 2007. We’ve noticed that around 2013, a signature style was forming within your works. Tell us how important it is to develop your own ‘voice’ as an artist and how your progression has helped you create today?

For me, art has become a mixture of skill and experimentation. Constant practice at mastering techniques as well as relentless counter intuitive thought processes. My practice is constantly growing and transforming. It’s exciting to let discoveries lead the way. That way the narrative is set through spontaneity. I think it is important for an artist to isolate a focus, whether it be conceptual or aesthetic, and then explore the farthest reaches of said focus. This is how my voice has come to light and how my style has progressed to its current state.

Have you cross-collaborated with individuals from other mediums. If so, tell us about the rewards you experienced?

Collaboration has stood out for me as being one of the most rewarding strategies of art making. A team mate with a separate skill set and set of perceptions there to challenge and inform. I have learned a lot about myself through collaboration. How I think, how I work. It has allowed me greater perspective on my own practice and methodologies. The most important thing to me about collaboration is the notion of ‘community’ as opposed to competition. I am all for the pooling of ideas and skills, bringing together everyone’s individual strengths and doing something far more exceptional than we would be capable of as individuals. I have made some dear friends out of strangers through collaboration. A mutual relationship. A team. Sometimes even a family.

 


See Jordan’s latest exhibition ‘The Antidote’ on 26 October at Salon91.

www.jordansweke.com

 

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Content junkie | Self-assured | Dance floor devotee | Empathetic | Lone wolf | “If you only read the things that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking."