: Unstoppable Tomorrow :

A Conversation with Jennifer Liu about my Upcoming Solo Exhibition "From Here" @ Joseph Gross Gallery


This coming November 5th, one week and two days away, I will open my latest exhibition at Joseph Gross Gallery.  A collection of works that were created when I returned from a rather quick and cyclical exodus to find home back in NYC only to return to California with a new understanding of what the reality of that concept truly is.  Home is where we are when all of our facets are running correctly and our fluid movement in the universe is meant to be in its then place at that moment, at least that is how I feel.  The work reflects and shows almost in a performance like quality of process the pain and joy and realization and growth the act of coming to terms with ones self and accepting life on life's terms while finding gratitude within it.  It is going to be so feeing to show this body of work to New York and the world.

One thing that has happened in the process of this new evolution is that my incredibly close friend and energy Jennifer Liu, a brilliant thinker and writer, was in conversation with me throughout this painful and the enlightening and powerful process.  She has played an integral role in my life since meeting her in the spring of 2014.  She and I have a bond found in transcendental meditation, tacos, art, music, weirdness and an ability to question and talk about the universe and life and the power of experience to no end.  She came to visit California this past spring and we sat down and had Ethiopian food and we recorded a conversation about the work and the upcoming show and all that went into it and her views on it and my process and everything in between.  So here I am officially publishing the transcription of that conversation which she so thoroughly put into print.  I am extremely grateful that she took the time out to do this and am very happy to share it with you.  Here goes. Oh and I will be posting images of the work along with it.

Deep Darkness Come Ah Creepin (low res)
Deep Darkness Come Ah Creepin (low res)

conversation with JFA III on june 21, 2015 asmara restaurant, telegraph ave. oakland, ca

j: So, we can first start with what mediums you’ve been using, ‘cause I feel like you don’t typically use pastels that much…

f: Yeah. It’s a huge departure from, like — everything I had been doing for a while had a sort of formula to it, where I was using kind of a set of materials that created an aesthetic effect that was consistent, and I really wanted to work on paper. I always like working on paper —

j: — which also made you break away from paints, right?

f: Yeah, totally. So I went to an art store, and I just bought what I felt like I needed to buy at the time, rather than basing my decision on what I knew worked.

j: What you were good at.

f: Yeah, exactly. I knew I wanted to make marks. I knew something inside of me was like, I need to make raw marks. With black pastel. I could see these orbs, these vortexes, these really chaotic energy kind of vortexes that I had to create. And I was like, oil pastels, spray paint, just regular house paint — I bought as limited of a color palette, as limited an amount of materials as I could. It wasn’t about what I was using. I mean, somewhat. But more about having to make something with the things I had, because I didn’t have a lot of money either.

j: That’s interesting. This is reminding me of primary process thinking versus secondary process thinking. Primary process is kind of what it sounds like: it’s about the process. Whereas secondary process thinking is when you’re sort of using a means to an end, like trying to achieve a logical goal. Trying to manifest some image you have. Primary process thinking is very prominent in children, like when they doodle they don’t really care if it looks like shit, or if they play an instrument, they’re not phased by whether or not they sound good.

f: That’s exactly what it was.

j: I feel like as an established artist, you have to mostly be in secondary process thinking because you need to make money, you need to think about what people like, if what you’re doing is offensive or illegal… You have to have this sort of logical checklist.

f: Yeah, and so much of my work that I have been making for so long — I realized after this really intense experience that really broke me back down to this core level of being, that a lot of the stuff I had made really did begin with that in mind, with this, “How am I gonna make this look cool?”

j: Or make it the most technically impressive thing you can. Just one-up something you did before.

f: And consistency, and…

j: Yeah. I think what was interesting about your recent work, it did kind of have this Basquiat vibe where it was very childish but in a way that — it’s not easy to be childish. It’s really not. As an adult, it’s not easy to be childish. To unlearn what you —

f: You can’t fake it.

j: And that nagging voice that’s telling you to shade something properly, or to add more detail, all the things you learned in art school or from society, it’s all engrained in us now and the older we get the harder it is to not listen to those voices. So when I think of Adventure Time, the TV show, it’s like a cartoon that’s just nonsense. This nonsense world. And I remember having this thought where I was just like — and Tim & Eric, stuff like that — “I can’t believe people get paid to write this shit.” But then I was like, wait, I totally can believe that, because it’s not easy to make a fleshed out nonsensical thing, you know?

f: Yeah, and to present it.

j: It’s not unintentional. It’s not haphazard. It’s very thought out, but broken away from what we’d normally think is sensible or good.

f: And I think that that’s a lot of what’s so different and so much purer to me about this work: I think that it’s extremely intentional, and a lot of the stuff before, when I look at it — I love it, and it was really important because it did convey what was going on. But some of it became unintentional because it was like, “How do I craft this into this thing that I’m trying to show you?” rather than just, “I need to convey what’s going on inside onto this piece of paper, and however that’s perceived by the world is gonna be how it’s perceived, but this is what I have to make right now. I’m not gonna overanalyze or over think it. I’m just gonna let it pour out.”

Moment of Realization (low res)
Moment of Realization (low res)

j: I feel like there’s a sort of… utilitarian intention that turns into non-intention really quickly. Just having everything be a means to an end is limiting. I think western culture prioritizes —

f: — the end? [laughs]

j: Yeah, that sort of linear point of view, where it’s like: point A will get you to point B. You work really hard and then you’ll make it, or whatever. And also there’s that idea I was talking to you about before, how things don’t happen in the future; they happen now. When you just have your eyes fixated on the end goal, you’re completely missing everything that makes that end goal exist — which is now.

f: Well, I was defining now. I feel like for the first time since childhood, or since I first got sober, I was truly in that channel. I was just a conduit for what was happening and what had recently happened, too. I was reconciling my existence, in a way, on all those pieces of paper and panels, by just making marks and writing and letting thoughts pour out and then editing with paint and being really rudimentary.

j: The erasures are really interesting, because typically it’s about showing more and not less. You’re sort of getting into this reverse mentality where — I don’t know, it’s very zen, to be able to accept that it’s not quantifiable, it’s not literally like the more detail there is the better it is. It’s not such a direct correlation that way.

f: When I look at stuff that I did a few years ago, and some of the stuff last year — I started to get more minimal last year as I started to kind of know myself more. In the past it’s been really huge, chaotic, intense, full of detail, and I realized that that was a signifier of where I was at.

j: Trying to fill the void instead of accepting the void.

f: Yeah. I didn’t really know myself. I had this image of who I was and what I wanted and it was based off of insecurity and some deep-rooted fears, and I was very much projecting that out. And this experience that I went through broke that down to the level where that sense of ego and self was no longer working. It was not healthy. I was just covering up a lot of —

j: You were literally covering up every inch of white space on a canvas.

f: Yeah, and this time, I was actively in the work and process and trying to dig down to the core meanings and fundamental truths that were the catalysts for why I was in so much pain. And through that, I created this body of work that, to me, signifies why I was in so much pain, what it felt like, and what needed to change. And actively working to change it, and leading into this whole awakening. By all that editing and erasure and creating these same kind of intricate panel paintings and then just starting to paint over them and finding that moment where I was finally just… meat, at a level that I had never really known before, was really where it all came from.

j: I definitely felt a difference when I saw your new stuff — I feel like when I look at your old work, I’m like, “Wow, that is really impressive.” But I looked at your new stuff and I actually felt, like, emotional about it.

f: That’s awesome.

Bullet Points(low res)
Bullet Points(low res)

j: Yeah, that’s why that one was my phone background for a while. There’s something kind of — it was very much like a snapshot that implied a narrative, instead of a snapshot that implied an image. You know? You kind of got into this world where, not only was it doing something different for you, but, in turn, it was also doing something different for the audience. These new works sort of imply a process and make me think about the narrative.

f: And they’re vulnerable. It’s not like, “Look at this crazy thing that you can’t really step inside of.” It’s broken down, and totally vulnerable, you know?

j: Something else I’ve also been thinking about, in general, is instant gratification, and that same linear process of “A will get me to B” — and how New York was like an embodiment of — like, New York and cocaine —

f: [laughs]

j: — are the embodiment of instant gratification and the way I keep putting it is: the good thing about instant gratification is that you get what you want, and the bad thing about instant gratification is that you get what you want. You don’t get any less, but you don’t get any more. You get exactly what you want, but what we really learn from in life are the times when we get something different than what we expected. So I feel like what you’ve been doing is sort of a means to a means, instead of a means to an end.

f: Yeah, it’s actually like being aware of my feelings and emotions and who I really am. Getting away from this idea that I need people to perceive me in a certain way, which is not reality. It’s trying to hide from reality.

j: So do you feel like what you made has to do with your returning to the Bay?

f: I think what I made has to do with me losing sight of the path — kind of being taken off the path, so to speak — for good reason. In going back to New York and finding that I had created this illusion in my head of what success was and who I was… my ego had grown quite a bit. It’s a response to, essentially, getting what I had wanted. Exactly what you were saying. I had come to a point where I got what I wanted and what I wanted was based off of a lot of dark, very insecure things. It was a response to a lot of fear, and I needed to just break myself down to being able to accept reality.

j: And everything is the reality — it’s not just about the end. Wasn’t one of your earlier shows called “No Destination” or something?

f: That was the last show I did before I left.

j: That was such an awesome name. It almost would be perfect for this one. [laughs] Revamp it!

f: It was perfect for that one! Because that show was the beginning of me visually unlearning a lot in front of an audience. It was the first time I was like, “I’m going to take a break from this whole Unstoppable Tomorrow third-party filter on everything.” I was gonna do it with some of that in mind, but in the statement I made it clear that it was a lot of information that was coming out of me from a lot of experiences I’d had in the past few years, and creating a narrative about all these awakenings — the things we can’t always see or touch or explain in the moment, you know?

j: A lot of the concepts you’ve been talking about are very Buddhist and eastern, so it may have to do with your practice, too. You learning a new definition of fulfillment that has to do with emptying.

Grow Baby Grow (Ritual of Ruin) (low res)
Grow Baby Grow (Ritual of Ruin) (low res)

f: That’s… yes! [laughs] Absolutely. That piece that you like so much was such a fundamental moment for me. I literally put a piece of paper on the wall and I was like, okay, I got these shows coming up, I need to make stuff, I’m freaking out. In my head, still, I was having thoughts about drinking and killing myself and all this crazy shit, and I was like, well I guess I should do letters how I’ve been doin’ them. So I drew the letters on there. I was like, “I’ll do them in pencil, ‘cause that’ll look cool.” And then I slept on it. And then the next day, I got so full of pain inside. I was going to A.A. like crazy, and I was just constantly in this brutal pain deep inside, and I was processing all this shit and just constantly asking for the strength to get through the day, and to work. To get through it. And I’ll never forget — I picked up the red oil pastel, and it was like, I wasn’t doing it. I wasn’t consciously doing that. I stood there and my hand started shaking, and I looked at it, and my hand just shot out and started marking through the letters in this really beautiful moment, and just broke it up. I felt this huge sense of relief because I had, in essence, let go to the point where I was in the channel again, and something was guiding me to break this formula of self, of ego, of what I thought the world needed to see from me. Just ruin it, and make a big mistake to grow from it. And it ended up being one of the most beautiful things I ever made. Then I took a pencil and struck the letters out, I was like, “Fuck you, letters!” and whatever formula of living I thought was like, “How We Live” — that’s not life. And then I started writing all this stuff about what had happened in New York under it. I picked up a brush and started marking out letters and words, took the spray paint and started spraying over parts of it, and by the end of it I realized that all I needed to get at, all I needed to convey was that I was in a moment of profound acceptance and pain, and I was growing. And that’s what growing is. So that’s why the only two words left on there are grow and acceptance. It’s circled, and it’s cut out of the paint — the “acceptance” part. I painted over it and kept cutting it out and I was like, I just need to accept that it needs to be there, and then I did, and I painted the bottom white to represent that divulgence into bliss. And then it was done. And then it was just like, fuck yes.

j: I think the white is another example of how it implies a narrative, because I could see that you had whited stuff out. But you weren’t doing it just to be clever. It’s obvious that there was a process involved, and that there are layers that went into it that are unseen in the finished product.

f: Absolutely. This is the first body of work that I’ve made, maybe ever since I was a kid, that was not made with any cleverness in mind. None of it was made with like, “This is gonna look so cool.” It was just so pure, you know?

j: I feel like intentions and motives are different, and what you had before were motives, and this is intention. There’s a really good quote by Freud or Jung or someone, and it’s super simple, it’s that “healing takes place in the present.” Not in the future, not in the past — healing takes place now. And I think what the defining factor of this new work is that it’s all very about the present.

f: And looking at the past, actually looking at it with a sense of what is real, not what is a projection, you know? In order to understand how the present is happening.

I Reckon I'm Not A Giant Robot After All (low res)
I Reckon I'm Not A Giant Robot After All (low res)