Rim Ware, 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25"H
JEREMY R. BROOKS appropriates, alters and remixes found ceramic and plastic objects, hobbycraft decals and paint-your-own figurines. Whether exploring desire through lushious finishes on benign bunnies and birds or twisting heteronormative ceramic decals into queer narratives filled with wholesome longing, he emphasizes the flexibility of meaning available in preexisting objects. Jeremy received his BFA in art & design from Grand Valley State University & his MFA in ceramic art from Alfred University. He received the emerging artist award by the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) and was a guest of honor at the XXIst International Biennial of Vallauris, France. He has has solo exhibitions at The Clay Studio in Philadelphia, Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids, Michigan and Kalamazoo College. Jeremy’s work is currently included in Within the Margins | Contemporary Ceramics at Penland Gallery (Penland, North Carolina) and GENDERED: An Inclusive Art Show at the Mint Museum Uptown (Charlotte, North Carolina). Jeremy is currently a Visiting Assistant Professor of ceramics at Southern Illinois University and resides in Carbondale, Illinois.
OtherPeoplesPixels: Appropriation and juxtaposition are repeated strategies in your work, especially in the Arrangements and the Cockamamies. Tell us about your instinct to create new objects and images out of existing ones. Have you always worked this way?
Jeremy Brooks: This method of creation grew out of my research as a mold maker, learning to make molds by studying the parting lines of cast objects—artifacts of where pieces of a mold meet. I appropriated objects to create new molds from and assembled castings from different molds together. This is how my Arrangements series initially started. Slowly this series became less about the virtuosity of mold making and more about the juxtaposition of found parts through an eclectic sensibility. Today I only make molds if the work specifically calls for it. Otherwise, I’m content incorporating found objects directly into my work.
For the Cockamamies series, I collage different cockamamie decals with one another to create work. A cockamamie is a specific type of ceramic hobby decal that was marketed toward children by decal manufacturers. Although the meaning has changed today, the etymology of this term originates from the ceramic field, which is something that I find fascinating and enjoy sharing with others. Cartoon characters, for instance, are common motifs in cockamamie decals. By itself, cockamamie imagery is quite kitschy, which can present a challenge in how to use it in an artful way. Collaging different parts together is a solution that is playful and thoughtful, while embracing the unique history of cockamamie decals.
French Fry Field, 2012. Found objects.
OPP: Do you think about your work in relation to Camp?
JB: Maybe not the final work per se, but I can see certain aspects of my studio practice in relation to camp. The homepage to my website presents a portrait of me appropriating a set of praying hands from a thrift store and exaggerating the distance between them. I would characterize this gesture, changing the act of prayer into the pedestrian act of exaggerating, as camp. My intervention with the found object was performative and that gesture is essentially what drove my research forward to realize the artwork A Fish Story in 2011. I tend to think about aspects of satire, parody and pastiche more frequently in my work than camp.
The (Close) Marriage License, 2016. Found objects, epoxy. 9.0”L x 3.5”W x 9.0
OPP: In recent years, you’ve been mashing-up commercially-available ceramic decals on plates, creating queer narratives out of distinctly heteronormative imagery—Norman Rockwell’s The Marriage License, for example—from another era. These works draw attention to a time when gay men needed the hanky code to find each other. Some of my gay male students in their early 20s don’t even know what it is, which I suppose is a great thing because they have never lived in a world where they have to be in the closet. How do the decal works speak to different generations?
JB: Gay culture has a covert past, and I try to illuminate aspects of this history through my work. I’m currently making work to celebrate gay male culture and sexuality through pastiches assembled from Rockwellian sources. My aim is to subvert Rockwell’s heteronormative narratives and depict a queer experience. By altering the figures and scenarios portrayed through Rockwellian memorabilia, I invite the viewer to consider the narratives of gay americana during eras that were at odds with such identified otherness. I feel fortunate to live during a time where I can live an open life out of the closet, but in order to do so I find it important to recognize the past struggles LGBTQ people have endured to get us where we are today.
A Passing Interest, 2016. Found objects, epoxy.
OPP: Tell us about the origin of I Can Feel The Distance
(2015), a series of 10 plates, which I imagine installed all together
as one horizon line. Unlike the other decal works, the tone of this
series is poetically emotional, less humorous.
JB: I was presented with an opportunity to exhibit work upon a long blank wall at the Creative Arts Workshop
in New Haven, Connecticut, so I created these plates to punctuate that
space. The work I put together for this exhibition was inspired by a
plate I made the previous year titled I’m Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder).
This plate was about love and self control; wanting to touch someone
close to you, but showing restraint. After making this piece, I was
curious about exploring a variation of this narrative where the distance
between the figures was further exaggerated. The exhibition space at
the Creative Arts Workshop presented an opportunity to explore this new
scenario. I Can Feel the Distance ended up being about the landscape of a long distance relationship, which I know from personal experience.
I'm Not Touching You (Distance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder), 2014. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank) porcelain plate. 10.25”L x 1”W x 10.25”H
OPP: Can the plates be separated or must they be sold and exhibited as a set?
JB: I see the plates with landscape-specific imagery as components of an unfixed set, and I see the two plates with figures on them as punctuation necessary to establish the structure of the narrative. The narrative content is about being physically separated, and the individuality of the plates echo that for me. They do not need to be exhibited as a complete set, however the figures are necessary for me to establish the narrative. I made more than the ten plates that were exhibited at the Creative Arts Workshop, and I have exhibited this series with different quantities and arrangements of landscape specific plates since they were first shown in 2015. In each variation however, the two plates with figures were a necessary part of an ever-changing composition.
I Can Feel The Distance
(2/10), 2015. (commercial / hobby) ceramic decals, (commercial / blank)
porcelain plates. 16.5”L x 1.25”W x 11.5”H. Installation dimensions
OPP: You’ve made numerous cute, rounded bunnies hiding in? munching on? grass over the years. Ground (2006), Silverweed (2010) and The March Hare
(2015) are just a few. These works stand out from the other works which
address queer experience in a variety of ways. Is there a connection?
They are quite different from one another, however my exploration of ceramic decal collage grew out of this research through a sense of parallel play. I often attend ceramic trade shows to source hobby figurines, which is where I first became exposed to ceramic decals. I became curious about using them, so I slowly began to amass a collection of decals. It took me a number of years to figure out a way of working that made sense to me. In 2013, I began subverting the heteronormative narratives portrayed through ceramic decals upon commercial plates, and the work departed from there. So, the relationship between the bunnies and my decal work is that both series came from hobby-craft practices.
Silverweed, 2012. Porcelain, paint. 8”L x 8”W x 4”H
OPP: Can you talk about the variety of surfaces on these bunnies?
JB: I use figurines from the hobby ceramics genre to explore color and surface. I view this work as a juxtaposition of high and low forms of craft practice through applying finish fetish surfaces to paint-your-own ceramic figurines. When I first started making the bunnies, I was exploring underglaze and fragrant waxes; the grass forms paired with the bunnies were infused with the aroma of freshly cut grass. After working with those materials for a few years, I began exploring a new line of commercially available textured spray paints. Several years later, these paints were discontinued, so I turned my research toward ceramic surfaces that I could formulate on my own. The glazes I am currently using are robust and archival; they look fuzzy, but are rough like sand paper to the touch. I enjoy experimenting to discover different surface solutions, and although I am uncertain what surface l will turn toward next, I remain open to new possibilities and change.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.