Beth Fox Interviews Jwan Yosef about his upcoming show High Notes
High Notes opens Thursday January 10th at the Galleri Anna Thulin in Stockholm

 


photography by Gala Knörr

 

 

BF:
Your show High Notes opens on January 10th at Galleri Anna Thulin in Stockholm, what’s the significance of the shows title?
JY:
My idea for the exhibition was to try and capture sound with paint. I’ve painted portraits for years but I don’t see these works as just portraits of singers, they’re paintings that attempt to imitate noise, to sort of mimic a constant note. I want the room to be filled with sound. The shifting in the colour and sharpness of the repeated images is supposed to create a mood or tone, the painting technique is referring back to the represented image. My intention is to create a room that oozes a note or a tone or a sound, but there’s no music, it’s just painting.

 

BF:
What kind of tone do you feel that the images are making?
JW:
A loud one, not a hum or a drone, something like a high C maybe, some of the paintings seem to scream, especially the ones that are more abstracted. Yeah, I’d say it’s a high C. That’s what I’m hearing.

 

BF:
As a painter do ever feel jealous of the ephemeral quality of music?
JW:
No, not jealous. I mean, music is such a universal thing; it can be enjoyed and understood by everyone. It feels to me that painting is a language that everyone respects but not everyone necessarily understands. Music’s ephemeral but in a way that’s problematic for musicians. I like to have a tangible object at the end of the process.

 

BF:
Does music play an important role in your life?
JW:
I think I’m tone deaf but I love music. I think it influences my practice more than art. Music is my main form of inspiration and painting is my way of expressing myself.

 

BF:
Do you listen to music when you paint?
JW:
Always, but I listen to music constantly, no matter what I’m doing. I think everyone does, we’re all making our own soundtracks to our life movies.

 

BF:
If there was a movie about you what would it be called?
JW:
(laughs)…. “Drowning in Jwan”!

 

BF:
What were you listening to when you created these works?
JW:
Matthew Herbert.

 

BF:
There’s a mixture of representational portraiture and more abstract images in this show, are you moving away from representation and into abstraction?
JW:
Much more so. I’m finding the simpler I’m making my portraits the more sharp they feel, the less technical and photographic I get the more I get to tell. There’s good and bad things about working on perspex and sometimes it almost looks too good. I feel like I need to narrow down that slickness it’s almost essential to make the images more ambiguous. The more abstract I get the less obvious they are, and I want the pictures to ask questions, not to just be surface images.

 

BF:
Do you paint exclusively on perspex?
JW:
I do. I made an active choice early on, almost my first year of art school. I decided to venture away from canvas because it’s like a burden, weighed down with tradition. Confronted with canvas I feel a responsibility to it and I wanted to get away from that.

Painting on perspex is a completely different process, the first layer you put on is the first one you see, it’s painting in reverse. When you flip the perspex the painting is contained, it’s never actually the painted surface that you interact with. Conceptually it makes sense to me along with this idea of capturing a moment, by trapping the image between the wall and surface, it’s another way of isolating the image.

I’ve been painting in this method for almost ten years now, and it’s a material that I have started to identify with.

 

BF:
Do you identify because you’re so transparent?
JW:
Yes. (laughs) You’re not the first person to ask me that.

 

BF:
Are the images you are using random?
JW:
Yeah, the photos are chosen randomly from internet sources, some are stills from videos, some are commercial singers, some I found in PhotoBucket but don’t tell anyone because they might say “that’s my image” and fuck me over. There’s a process of collecting mass amounts of images and then refining the selection down til I have a series that all work together. These images don’t have any relation to each other but I try and create a tone that they all hold.

 

BF:
All of the images you are using are of people with their mouths open except the pair titled “Head” why is this?
JW:
The head images I have worked on previously, I tend to paint the same images again and again to see how repetition can affect them. I’m more interested in what is going on outside the frame of the image, I think that’s something that’s important to all of the works in this exhibition but maybe it’s the most obvious with this pair. I put them in the show to sort of lead people to question what the characters are reacting to, and to challenge the narrative that’s going on outside of the frame.

 

BF:
It’s a blow job right?
JW:
Hah, whatever you see yourself, it’s up to the viewer to decide! All but these images are of blurred faces with open mouths. The face becomes just a blur with a hole. It could be singing, screaming, or waiting to receive well, anything. The focus is oral and keeping the profile paintings, the “blowjob paintings” leads all the works to have a sexual connotation which is just another layer to the works. Some people will see it that way, others won’t.

 

BF:
Would you say you have an oral fixation?
JW:
(laughs) No, I think I’m much more anal.

 

 

Explore more on Jwan Yosef and his work here