Ann Weber, Jeremiah Jenkins, Diane Ding, Richard Whittaker at Dolby Chadwick Gallery: Artist Panel from w&c #34
by , Apr 11, 2018
February 17, 2018
Several of Ann Weber’s sculpture pieces are standing in the gallery while on the walls mixed media pieces by Udo Nöger are hung. An audience has gathered and we finally settle down. Addressing us all, Lisa Chadwick speaks…
Lisa: [to RW] I think you told me once that you really didn’t like the art writing you were reading. It didn’t feel like it was a good doorway, or it wasn’t inspiring you—and so then you started to create works & conversations.
Richard Whittaker: Yes.
Lisa: A few weeks ago, I’d taken your new issue home—and I treasure these because they’re always so inspiring. Like with great poetry, I’m always transported to another place and reminded why I do what I do. So, it was a Sunday, and I opened it and started to read the interview with Ann. By the time I got to the end, I was crying, and just like, “I love Ann so much! Her journey has been so incredible!”
[looking at Ann] We’ve been working together all these years, but this gave me another layer of insight into you and your path.
So it’s an incredible gift you do with these interviews that we’ll always have. If anybody needs to look back and read about an artist, these interviews are invaluable. So, Richard, thank you for your work! It’s really rare, and the best art writing-reading around, I think.
And Ann and I, [looking at Ann] we’ve been working together for…?
Ann Weber: Seven years now.
Lisa: And it’s been another great love fest. Of course, these are Ann’s sculptures [gestures around the room]. She’s been working with the found cardboard material for, how long—twenty years? Time is moving so fast, I can’t keep up. But it’s just a great honor to represent you, Ann. Your forms are just—I don’t know, even though they’re so abstract, they do feel like people, and they have a human narrative to them. You’re so innovative with what you’ve done, and it’s great to be on this ride with you.
Now Jeremiah and Diane, I don’t know as much about your work, so hopefully, Richard can enlighten us, and you can enlighten us, too. So, welcome, everybody. Thanks for being here.
Ann: [to RW] Well, since you’re the interviewer, we’re going to let you take the lead. I want to hear a little more about the magazine, but I also want to say a few words to thank Lisa for having us. One of the reasons we feel that it’s important to have these kinds of discussions in galleries is to get people to come into galleries. And we have a beautiful show with Udo Nöger that just happens to coincide. His work really dovetails beautifully, but I want to thank all of you for coming out. So, we’re going to talk a little bit about who and why and where.
RW: Thank you, Lisa, for that introduction, and you really did touch on the heart of it with the magazine. I feel old-fashioned about art. I think that, at its best, art can speak very deeply to us in ways that are no longer particularly written about or thought about. I could ask, what’s happened to the heart?
The problem with saying that is that it’s just a big cliché. But when you said reading the magazine reminds you of why you keep this gallery going, it’s because something deeper has been touched, something essential. It’s difficult to bring language to that.
When a poet succeeds, that’s what we’re brought to. When an artist is trying to work from some deep search for meaning, you feel it, and you’re touched. It’s what I feel is accomplished through these conversations with artists like Ann and Jeremiah and Diane and all the other artists I’ve featured. I’m drawn to certain artists working in this way and have found that when artists speak candidly about what is most meaningful to them, we move much closer to art’s deeper possibility.
And I’m really happy with this issue, in particular. I think it really started with a conversation I had with Diane, and then I got a notice from Ann that she was leaving her studio in Emeryville. Ann and I have known each other for quite a while and I knew she was flirting with LA, but when I saw her notice of a studio sale in Emeryville, I thought, “Wow, this is it! She’s leaving and going to LA.” I was so touched by that.
There’s so much courage in Ann’s move, and with some of the things she’s been through in her life—well, she’s never been defeated. Anyway, I knew this was the moment to interview her. And [looking at Ann] it’s really quite an amazing interview.
Now Diane [looking at her] is not really looking for attention. So we had to drag her up to join us here. [turning to Diane’s husband, Wanxin Zhang] And everybody here should already know Wanxin Zhang’s work. He’s one of the best ceramic artists I've ever seen. But I discovered that Wanxin’s wife, Diane, is a hidden treasure, an amazing artist herself. So, please take a copy of the magazine and read the article about Diane. It includes several of her remarkable paintings. You’re going to be surprised.
Diane Ding: Thank you, Richard.
RW: Now Jeremiah here—all three of these artists are just fabulous, and they all have amazing stories; Jeremiah has an amazing sense of humor. It’s deep, and that’s because of the feeling under it. A real depth of feeling can lead to some very penetrating humor. I've been really touched by Jeremiah’s work.
Okay, that’s the introduction.
So Ann, since this is your gallery (and Lisa’s), let’s start with you. We didn’t really talk about this in the interview, but I just think it’s brilliant that you hit on using scraps of cardboard to do this work. It’s interesting on many levels, and I know you’ve talked about this, but could you just say something about working with cardboard? And how you’ve been able to stay with this for so long?
Ann Weber: Thank you. Well, I started out with a ceramics background—production pottery, in a nutshell. I moved to California, studied with Viola Frey. And my friend [JoAnn Viacini?], in the front row here, we were in graduate school together at California College of Arts & Crafts. Viola [Frey], our teacher, was very dogmatic. She had all these rules. Like you never travel, except for your work. You don’t have relationships, because that takes too much time from the studio. And you definitely X out the family—because think of all those anniversaries and birthdays that would take you away from the studio [laughs]. And you should be an okay teacher, not a great teacher. Save the best part of yourself for your work. And she said, “Don’t use yellow.” Why? And then, "You’re a beginning artist for the first ten years out of school."
So, it gives you a lot of leeway to just think that you’re not—that your graduate show doesn’t mean anything. It's just that a body of work was done, and then you go onto the next body of work for X number of years. And then you start to learn something from your work, from your commitment - and you make more.
That was always it: make more, make more.
So, I did experiment with a lot of different materials like canvas and paper maché. I did painting and printmaking—and this went on for about eight years. Then I’d moved to a second-floor studio. I did a lot of work with plaster, because it was so immediate. There was no way I was going to have the money to set-up a pottery studio, because I couldn’t sell anything. I knew I wasn’t going to sell anything, because I wasn’t making teapots, cups, and bowls.
I had this really cheap studio in East Oakland, near the Coliseum. It was on the second-floor and I couldn’t even take the plaster pieces up there. They were too heavy. So, I had a big pile of boxes in the middle of the room from the move, all flattened, and I thought, “Well, those are materials. Who cares what the material is? Just keep working with the forms.”
I thought about Frank Geary and his furniture. So that was my impetus for the cardboard. Then it started to grow on me, and I looked around and noticed some other artists, besides Geary, were working with cardboard; it was Arte Povera—and Michelangelo Pistoletto was working with newspapers.
It really suited me because I'm a Midwesterner. The idea of using material that was nothing, that was throwaway—and to be resourceful—really struck home.
I have no interest in being in shows that are about recycling. I recycle like a banshee. I pretend that the water coming from the faucet, that I had to haul it from a stream. But when it comes to the work, it’s not about recycling. It’s about alternative materials, which started with the Italians after World War II—and also with Rauschenberg and Claes Oldenburg. I only recently discovered some of their extraordinary work with cardboard from the streets. But there was always this feeling of, especially early on when I started working with the cardboard, whether or not I could really use this alternative material.
I thought maybe it would be cast in bronze. When I worked at a friend’s foundry I learned that to set-up a bronze foundry, all you need is a tank and a crucible, and something to heat it up. Then you need a kiln to burn it out, which you can just make with fiberfrax and cheap metal.
So, he had a little studio over on 34th and San Pablo. I waxed the cardboard up, and then we’d burn it out. I didn’t like the cardboard in the bronze, nearly as much as I liked the cardboard, although there was something that felt very successful about going from the cardboard to the bronze. But even in reviews—I remember Mark Van Proyen said that there’s much more power in the cardboard. That was another validation, because again, you just keep experimenting. So, I just kept finding there are infinite possibilities in this material—and I still feel that.
Now I'm working with a lot more color—and I'm making wall pieces, too. I went to Los Angeles with a suitcase and a staple gun - have gun, will travel. I got an empty space, and there's nothing an artist likes more than an empty space, especially a sculptor, and I just started filling it. My move down there was totally unpremeditated. I ran into Josh Hagler. Do you know Josh and Maja Ruznic?
Jeremiah Jenkins: Yeah.
Ann: They said they’d just moved to Los Angeles and had gotten more attention in eight months than in 12 years here in San Francisco, So, I thought, “Oh, fuck. I missed the boat. I'm 65 years old, it’s way too late.” Then I woke up the next day and thought, “Well, I’ve got 20 years left.” I called my friend [Joni] in Santa Monica, and said, “I'm thinking I might want to move down.”
She said, “Well, come on down. You can sleep on the couch.” Then I sent an email to everybody at the co-op. Like a day later, I get somebody who wanted to move in; they wanted a year’s lease. So that gave me time to decide. I'm going to sort of stop there.
RW: That’s beautiful, Ann.
Ann: Thank you.
RW: Okay. Diane, now your story is long and full of really interesting things, so I don’t know where to start. You were born in China and went to art school in China, and you had a relationship with one of the famous painters in China who taught you. Right? [yes] So would you share as much of your story as you want to tell us? Just lead us a little bit through that.
Diane: Okay. First I want to thank Lisa for inviting me here. So, I didn’t prepare. I just sat down here to enjoy the show and the aura, and all the friends. I'm really embarrassed to sit here. But I grew up in an artist’s family; my mom was an artist. So I start at a very young age. Later on, like after high school, I met my husband, Wanxin in China. So at a young age we’re dating, until right now we’re married.
I think my life is pretty simple. It’s just everything about art. My mom was an artist. I marry an artist. I grew up in my mom’s artist studio. Then I hang out with my husband in his studio. So, I never give up my joy in doing art. Actually, it’s for myself. So, a few years ago, when Richard come to my husband’s studio and then saw my work, and he’s starting follow my work. I was like, I don’t know, low-key or humble. I just think I do everything for myself. So, when you do this, now everybody knows my work. It’s a little embarrassing. I sit down here, it’s really embarrassing. Not like you, you’re the master, you know? [everyone is laughing] Everybody ask me like, “You’re Wanzin’s wife, Diane.” So, nobody know I'm an artist, like at dinner. But people are so impressed, saying, “Oh, you’re an artist?” Like when people see my drawings, “Oh, you’re an artist?” You know? Really embarrassing. [laughter] But I'm happy to sit here. I know my whole life about art. Ever since I was ten, I still continue to do my work. Thank you.
[ Audience applause.]
RW: Thanks, Diane. This is a painting of Diane’s on the cover [holding the magazine up].
Diane: Yeah. Some paintings are weird. I cannot choose. The story is true, like from the bottom of my heart. I do everything like that.
Lisa: What is that piece on the cover about?
Diane: That one is Fishboy. I was trying do something from the Chinese culture, to express some life struggle. The culture needs a lot of money, they’re making money, always. The fish is representing money. Then I try to use the fat boy. It’s little bit a critique about greediness in the culture, you know? But also, I want to make fun. Like fat boys, you want money, money. It’s from my series, called The Family Series. Then Richard loves it so much. He gets that work.
RW: Those are really—they’re fantastic. And you can see why it's a perfect cover image for this issue with the theme, “Enough: Not Enough” - It’s a big question, “What is enough?” We keep finding out that things aren’t enough, like “I thought my Tesla would be all I needed.” So thank you, Diane.
All right. Now, Jeremiah, you have a really interesting story. One of the things I found out about Jeremiah, which I could have guessed - in fact, I think I asked, “Did you ever consider doing stand-up?” And Jeremiah answered, “Oh, yeah, I've done that.” So, Jeremiah has done some really interesting and, I think, rather funny things. He created something called the Tenderloin Institute of Art. Now, were you still at SFAI?
Jeremiah: No, that was afterwards.
RW: And it’s sort of a response to your experience of being at the Art Institute [SFAI], right?
Jeremiah: Sort of, yeah. I told Richard that I came out here very naïve. I came from “the holler” in Tennessee - that’s what we call it - In the middle of nowhere, with very little exposure to art.
As an undergrad, I moved to the “big” city and went to school at East Tennessee State and learned about contemporary art. I had this idea that if I came out to San Francisco and worked real hard, I could be the next Bruce Nauman. Okay?
Then, when I got out here and I saw this whole other reality. The Art Institute is very expensive, and it’s not what I thought. I came to this bizarre place [SF] —like on my way here today, there was a parade; there are still drums playing in my head. This is a bizarre place—San Francisco. I mean, I’d be going to school and I’d walk around the corner, and there would be huge crowds of naked people all of a sudden - and it would be like Tuesday. [laughter]
Anyway, after grad school, the bottom just dropped out. A lot of personal things happened. I didn’t get out of grad school ready to step into the world. I was pretty distraught.
And ten years after grad school, those ten years—that’s really what taught me, how to move forward. The Tenderloin Institute of Art was my response to what art school is here: everyone’s got an MFA. All of a sudden, everyone’s “an artist.” Everyone’s gone through this thing.
I just wanted to critique that, and also offer it. So, I offered a free MFA program. You could do, I said, “in under 90 minutes.” [laughter] Some people spent longer, some people spent less time. I mean, you could knock it out in 15 minutes. [audience erupts in laughter.] And you would come away with the certificate.
RW: Well, let’s look at that. Tell everyone about your curriculum, because you set up a curriculum for this.
Jeremiah: Yeah. The whole reason I went to grad school was to be a teacher, and also to get out of Tennessee. It’s really hard to get out. So, I came here. Then after school, I'm like, “I got a degree! Any takers? Anybody?” It’s really hard to get a teaching job. So, I thought, “Well, I have an opportunity to do a performance piece in this experimental space.”
I was like, “Well, I'll just make myself a professor!” And why not the dean? And the chair of all the departments? So there was a 2D department, a 3D department, critical theory, art history, and new genres. I was chair of all those departments, and also the instructor for all of the classes in those departments! And I didn’t have to apply or go through an interview process! [laughs]
Audience question: Where was it?
Jeremiah: It was a storefront in the Tenderloin down from the old Ever Gold space that my friend Andrew McClintock started. I was up for three weeks with that. And I did an advertising video like, “Come to the historic Tenderloin District.” Right? [laugher]
So, when you show up for your MFA program go into this space. You’re greeted at the door and you get this packet. You have to go through and complete the requirement in the packet. You have to do at least two of the art stations in addition to art history station and the critical theory station. For the 2D station, the instructions were like, “Draw something. Draw something similar, and then draw something else.” [Laughter.]
Then for 3D, I had these bins of found objects, and a hot glue gun. I also had little photo backdrop. So the instruction were: “Glue two or three things together. Take a nice photograph of it.” Which essentially, is kind of making fun of myself, because a lot of times, that’s what I do. That’s my work. [laughter]
With Critical Theory, there were three dart boards and each person was given a Mad Lib- style, artist statement. There were blanks you had to fill in. So in order to fill these spaces in, you would throw darts. I had dartboards with words on them.
RW: You’d need some verbs, some adjectives and some nouns to fill in the spaces, right?
Jeremiah: Right. And all the words on the dartboards were all very “critical theory” words, you know? So, people would “write” their artist statements by throwing darts, and the artist statements all sounded great! [laughter]
For Art history, I’d made a twelve-minute video, summarizing the entire history of art.
RW: It’s up on YouTube. So, you can go check it out.
Jeremiah: Right. And everyone had to take a ten-question multiple choice quiz. Then, for New Genres, I had a selfie-stick and nice lights, so people would stand in front of that and make a video performance piece. [laughter]
Then, once you did that, you would turn in your packet, and you’d get your MFA.
RW: And how many did you award?
Jeremiah: I think it was somewhere around eighty.
RW: So now there are eighty more MFAs.
Jeremiah: Yeah. We are a non-credentialed, non-accredited university. And I gave out a few Honorary PhDs. [laughter]
It was fun. Some people came in just because it was a fun thing to do, and they got the joke. And some people were like, “I never got my MFA. I’m never going to go get it. And this is free and quick and easy!” So it was like a rite of passage for them—even this silly, little thing.
RW: So it must have been touching when some of these people took it seriously.
Jeremiah: Yeah. It was great.
RW: Great stuff. You have a lot more in your story—everyone does.
Your portrait series, Diane, I find those paintings so evocative. But before that, when you graduated from art school, you were working for a newspaper. Right?
Diane: Yes. It was called The Daily Cultural Magazine. I was working as art editor there, after graduating at an art college in China.
RW: So, you’ve done newspaper work, where you were the art editor. You’ve done fashion work, fashion illustration. And do you still teach students?
Diane: I teach a little bit, private students.
RW: You grew up in a very northeastern part of China, close to Russia. Right?
RW: And there was a lot of Russian influence in your life.
Diane: Yeah, my hometown, Harbin, is near Russia. I remember when I was a young girl, when I'm walking on the street, people were speaking Russian—a lot of Russian people. Even right now, they are many like 3rd, 4th generation Russian, something like that.
RW: I don’t know if you want to say anything about your portrait series, but there are many stories there. And you paint just from memory. Right?
Diane: Most of them are from my memory, made-up. I started doing a series, because my family has that kind of stories. My uncle’s lover was Russian. Some of the story is in there, but I don’t want to occupy Ann’s time, you know?
RW: Let’s see. We have a little bit more time.
Diane: I think you should…
Ann: No, no, no. We all feed each other.
Diane: But it is your gallery, so I just hope people take a magazine. It has a short story about my art. I don’t want to talk about my art too much; keep it a secret. I'll listen to you.
RW: Okay. We’re going to honor that. So, Ann, what do you think?
Ann: Well, I know a lot of people in the audience know my story. I’d like you to talk a little bit about being part of the gift economy. You don’t charge money, and there’s a reason for that. And there’s no advertising in the magazine. Do you mind talking about that?
RW: Well, before I switched to a pay-it-forward mode I’d been doing the magazine fifteen years. The whole thing stared from my getting involved in photography. Sometimes I would see things that were so beautiful it was an ecstatic experience. Now, those are hard to share, but I thought, “This must be art.” Then I discovered the art world. Nobody was talking about stuff like that in the art world.
The art world got to be a highly intellectualized place. The influence of several French philosophers—Derrida, Lyotard, Foucault, Roland Barthes and others—entered the art world, especially through the university English Literature departments. You remember the term, deconstruction? Everything was being questioned. All the high-sounding things about God, and beauty, and truth—it was getting thrown in the trash bin, all bs, a question of power. etc. So, art started getting tied up in studying power and cultural relativity, the relativity of knowledge.
Excuse me, I have a philosophy degree; forgive me, but you asked me this question. [Laughter]
Anyway, my experience was very powerful, and I didn’t see anybody writing about what you might call the intelligence of feeling. (I wasn’t aware of Suzi Gablik, who did really get into this area.) With all the power of science, technology and the critiques of the postmoderists, there was no room to take anything like a feeling for beauty seriously. What counted was rigor, critical thinking, the exposure of social ills, etc.
But we all live in the world of experience and what we can get via our capacity to feel is a hugely important thing. I mean, I'm trying to boil it down. In essence, I want to honor the depth and the possibilities of the importance of feeling. A lot of artists know this, and are seeking something related to the realm, we could say—in the simplest way—the realm of the heart.
But it’s hard to write about it. I try to avoid that kind of language and still bring something into the magazine so people can feel it. I was never motivated by the money part of it. Eventually, some help came my way, without my having applied for grants. I don’t pay myself anything for my time.
I just feel so grateful to be able to have these kinds of relationships with artists, because I feel that what they’re doing can be so valuable. I think much of what I’ve been able to get into the magazine is actually nourishment that we need. People often don’t even know what to look for, but if they feel it, they recognize it. It’s like what you were saying, Lisa. “This is why I’m putting all this energy into art.” I'm reminded of that from time-to-time, “Oh, this is why!” Because I lose sight of it, too. I get tired and discouraged, but then something reminds me.
Lisa: Do you have help, Richard, or do you do it all yourself?
RW: I do most of it, but I find other people and feature their content. For instance, like Ron Hobbs here [in the audience] who is a dear friend. He’s a poet, and I've published three or four things of Ron’s. They’re treasures. He hits that magic thing that happens sometimes. And Daniel Hunter is here. He’s in Issue No. 33. Daniel is a beautiful artist.
So, I kind of do it myself, but it’s not like I insist. If someone wants to help me, and they can do it at the level I want it to be done, and they’re willing to work for free, yes. I'm happy. That’s kind of hard to find though.
Audience: Are you doing all of the layout?
RW: Yeah. It’s fun. I enjoy doing that.
Lisa: Yes, Laurel?
Laurel: Who are you looking for to interview, and how can we help you find that person?
RW: Well, it’s an organic process. I just follow my intuition. And I’ve got a backlog of people to interview. But thank you, though.
Ann: Well, I want to talk a little bit about beauty and feeling. I’m not afraid of those two emotions. I feel like I've based my whole life on beauty and feeling, for better or for worse. I mean, the sacrifices that an artist makes. I feel like you can only work a part-time job, because it takes too much out of you to work full-time. You have to figure out a way to do that. And I had a couple of husbands. They had some income, and then that didn’t work out. So, you have to sort of figure out how you’re going to support yourself. I mean, I raised a daughter. So, there’s all this sort of juggling.
At the same time, I felt like my life was my material, especially when I was starting to work on the cardboard. I wanted to build monumental work, because I was so influenced by Viola Frey’s monumental work. I also wanted to show that you didn’t have to have steel and forklifts to make a powerful statement and to work large-scale. And also, as a woman, I felt like there was something important about going into large-scale. So, the things I talked about were balancing acts, because that was so much my metaphor. That’s where my ideas came from: how high can I build something before it collapses? How many things can I take on, before the whole thing falls out from under me?
It also was important to me to try to figure out how to be an artist. I read all these monographs. I went back to school, and started reading Bruce Nauman and Beverly Pepper and Elizabeth Murray, and Rothko. Rothko taught at the Jewish Community Center; he taught kids. In 1987 when I graduated, the door slammed shut on jobs. I worked at schools part-time and taught at Chabot Elementary in Oakland. So you sort of figure it out. I lived in a yurt. I was back to the land. I was just part of that early—I was born in 1950. I couldn’t have been 18 at a better time then 1968, because the world was on my side, as far as getting away from things that were of commercial value.
I mean, I remember reading in Life magazine, about 1963, where these Harvard graduates were eschewing the commercial world of banking and lawyering. They were painting houses. And I thought, “That’s great! It’s just like blowing smoke in the face of the people who said you had to be a certain way. That so appealed to me—and going back to the land. So, I just felt grateful I was born into that.
But then things started to change, and my friend said, “I’m going to go back to law school. I can’t live like this.”
So once the '70s and '80s came along, it was a tougher row to hoe. But I'm stubborn. Once I’d decided this was my path, it wasn’t a choice. That’s another thing Viola says. “You have to need to make art.” Everything else is going to work against you. It leads to humiliation and despair and rejection, just constantly; it’s like you’re an actor.
I was in an auction in the Laguna Art Museum. I'm working with a person down there who said, “I'm on the committee there, and you have to be nominated now to give your work away.” She said, “It will be great exposure.” So they put me in a silent auction. It was a big to-do; everybody was dressed to the nines. These 65-year-old women were wearing bare backs and stilettos. It’s a real scene down there.
So I'm in with all these heavy-hitters: Charles Arnoldi, Edward Shay, Andy Moses and Ed Moses—and Frank Geary had some drawings. The auctioneer was from Sotheby’s and she was dynamite. She was getting this whole energy thing going. There were young people standing with cellphones bidding on things. Lita Albuquerque’s $30,000 pieces were starting at $15,000. They’d go up. I mean, people were really bidding. Then an Arnoldi comes up, a really beautiful painting, and there’s no bids on it! All of a sudden, I had this sinking feeling. I was with this friend, and I started getting closer to him. Then the auctioneer says, “Is the artist in the house?”
I raised my hand, and then there were no bids. [Audience moans in support.]
All I wanted to do was crawl on my knees out of that room. Then this art dealer comes up, and she says, “Don’t worry. You got great exposure.” She was really sweet. It only took me about an hour to recover from that because I’m kind of used to it. I was fine the next morning. I knew my work was beautiful. I knew it looked great.
There’s so much emotion and feeling that goes into my work. This is about a love affair [pointing]. I did about 30 of these “Personages” and Lisa showed them. It came after what I call a period of “obstacles.” I had no idea so many people loved me. All these people took care of me through this one-year period, and there was another year to recover. So, I did an homage to this phalanx of people.
So, when you’re trying to make something that relates to everybody, but it’s impossible, you make something that’s your most deeply personal statement. And through that comes the universal. That’s what happens, I think. I mean, do you want to talk about that? [turning to Diane]
Diane: So, usually, artists, if you don’t follow your own story, own personal thing, you’ve got a wrong track. I think art has to be honest. So, it’s pretty simple. Like your things [turning to Jeremiah]—you have a sense of humor, but also you’re very honest, and art should be like that. That’s why people like it. Everybody has their own honest stuff, own personal story, so that’s pretty important. That’s why they have many beautiful and different arts.
Ann: And I like a sense of humor in mine, too. [to Jeremiah] But how do you deal with humor and seriousness—because there’s a lot of seriousness in your work.
Jeremiah: Well, for a long time, I studied comedy. I studied ways to make jokes. The structure of a joke is that they’re set-up. It gets everyone in some familiar place, and then there’s a flip. There are all these different set-ups and flips, but it doesn’t always have to be funny. Like some of the best jokes, will just stop an audience. Then you can bring them out in some way.
Ann: Can you give an example of the structure of a joke?
Jeremiah: Well, knock-knock.
Ann: Who’s there?
Ann: Boo who?
Jeremiah: You don’t have to cry about it; just open the door.
So, you have this familiar situation, right? And then I twisted you into this thing where maybe you’re thinking I'm going to do some sort of ghost joke.
I did these with my daughter a lot. That’s why it’s a knock-knock joke. But then I twist it back around on you. With some of my work—like I made my own credit cards into mouse traps. The joke there is pretty simple. The two things are familiar, but then the combination of them is unexpected. That leads you to the punchline, which is really what I'm saying—that it’s a trap. We’re an incredibly “stuff-heavy” species.
And with thinking about the universal, there’s always this thought —and I've thought this, too—like I need to be on this sort of cosmic level to really understand the universe and understand all these sort of enlightened feelings. But no. It’s not like that. It’s also on the street. It’s also on TV. It’s in cartoons. It’s in all these ridiculous places. It’s just a matter of like listening.
RW: That’s good, Jeremiah. Listening.
Wanxin Zhang: Ann, we’ve known each other for over ten years, but I was thinking of asking you what kind of circumstance led you from ceramic to cardboard? Just out of curiosity…
AW: Why did I leave clay? Well, the process was too cumbersome and heavy. And it was too expensive. And can you imagine what would I would have to go through to make this thing glazed? [pointing to one of her standing pieces in the gallery]
RW: [laughs] I think Wanxin can imagine.
Ann: I love clay sculpture. I mean, I love your sculpture. Wanxin shows with Catherine Clark.
Audience: You talk about art being about love and feeling. I'm an interior designer, and I was working in the showroom, when I came around the corner, and there’s this woman there. It’s exactly what you said. I didn’t need anybody’s words to describe my feelings. I just got this kind of weak-in-the-knees thing. It was just pure love to the heart. immediately.
I’d love to hear from each of you that first moment when that first piece of art that went directly to your heart, that one moment where you went, “I've got to do this!”
RW: Great question.
Ann: Lisa, there are so many artists out there in the world, what makes you choose me? Or what makes you choose Udo Noger?
Lisa: Hmm. I mean, the work has to move me. It’s definitely not based on because I think I can sell it. It has to speak to me. If you look at Ann Gale, for example—a lot of the things I'm drawn to will have just this beauty or sadness. One piece of art won’t speak to everybody. With Udo’s work, for example, I just had never seen anything like it. It’s like, “How does he get these white paintings to vibrate? Why do they have so much light coming out of them? I just felt his work has a really spiritual quality to it. Then I found out later that they have this feeling of light inside them because they’re actually sculptural.
Ann: Thank you. Well, I think it would be a good time to close. Please take a magazine.
Lisa: Hang out as long as you want. I do want to say one thing. Once you read one of these, you’ll just be hooked, and if you love it. Send him a check if you feel inspired, and I know that’s not what today is about. But let’s help him keep this going. It’s just such a gift to this world, what you’ve done.
RW: Thank you so much, Lisa.