Failure is an Option, 2017. Installation view.
In a nod to the legacy of Modernism, JEFF KRUEGER (@kruegerstudio) uses recurring, abstract forms. But his ceramic works and drawings do not maintain the primacy of the non-contingent art object. Whether in sculptures glazed with his own blood or objects that evoke both physics and philosophy—his works refer to real objects and issues in our very messy lives. Jeff earned his BFA, in Ceramics at the California College of Arts and Crafts, followed by his MFA in Sculpture at the University of New Mexico. His residency at Roswell Artist-in-Residence in New Mexico culminated in the solo exhibition Failure is an Option: My life with Abstractions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center. Jeff's work is represented by Gallery Fritz (Santa Fe, NM), where he will have a two-person show in April 2019. In the meantime, his work is included in the group show The Audacity of Art, opening on October 26, 2018 at Gallery Fritz. Jeff lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
OtherPeoplesPixels: You identify yourself as an “abstract social realist.” What does that mean to you?
Jeff Krueger: This is a catch all terms I use. In many instances, the work is a form of cultural study, which re-renders forms in the world, be it items designed for the body, the home, small public arenas or corporate identification. They are things as diverse as cervical caps, water pitchers, oddly curious parking lot dividers. There can be a flat footedness to the enterprise, like reading the My McDonalds ad campaign and deciding to make my own arch. The Social Realism aspect of this is the turning of the arch upside down with bottles of bleach holding up the sign, which is a reference to the city of Chicago pouring bleach into street food vendors food as a means of discouraging the practice.
OPP: Talk about the abstract visual language you work with.
JK: I generate a constant stream of abstract forms, be it works which evolved out of Dadaist, Surrealist, non-objective art and other 20th Century traditions. This language is our artistic inheritance. My work involves infusing these forms with direct contact with the real, whether that is coating the objects with red blood cells, using them to present things like my DNA, store used condoms, or simply juxtaposing the forms with materials that have generally understood cultural meaning. In the newer works, it can be as simple as glazing them in such a way that the color gives the work meanings. I hope the works achieve some quality that there is an active social realist consciousness to the object. Group identity or cultural identity is for me a form of abstraction, and I am looking to render these abstractions as a vehicle for understanding the world.
My Brother Michael Drinks from the Evangelical Water Bottle, 2017. Ink on Paper. 19"x 13"
OPP: Can you give us a specific example of that?
JK: I made a drawing of a my brother being waterboarded by what I called the Evangelical Water Bottle. It was a thought about how he had become such a devout Evangelical Christian and how our country has used waterboarding as a method of torture. I decided to make the water bottle into an object. I wanted to use the work to reconsider imagery which might reflect upon the central Christian rite of Baptism, one of these major cultural abstractions. Once you are washed, you are forever washed. Water is present, even though it is gone. The photograph with the bottle in front of a handicap parking space was a way of taking the object back to my brother, as he was one of the people that spoke before Congress in advance of the Americans with Disabilities Act. This parking spot at Bitter Lake was a direct result of Michael’s work.
It is a poetic loop I suppose, but one I hope considers a wide scope of related subjects.
Untitled Body with Red Interior, 2017. Ceramic with Poplar and Brass. 16" x 44" x 14"
OPP: Have you always worked with ceramics? Tell us a little about your artistic trajectory.
JK: I started working with clay in high school. I studied at 3-4 different schools as an undergraduate, and at each step I was given the direction to aim high. Viola Frey, at the California College of Arts and Crafts, was among those voices. She was pretty amazing and directly introduced the idea that art could be a form of cultural study. I have been a restless artist since then, exploring a number of media and forms, but often return to ceramic work due to its unique properties and my interest in design. I was schooled in the 80s, which can be seen as both the peek and collapse of Modernism. Minimalism and all that gospel still has meaning to me, as I think a ‘thing’ unto itself can be far more commanding than something which is primarily referencing something outside itself. Ceramics does the former very well.
Infinity is King, 2017.
OPP: You use a lot of repeated ceramic forms that are recontextualized by color and titles. An example is Infinity is King, in which the form is a figure wearing a crown, and Infinity Tastes Like Candy, where the same form evokes cotton candy. Talk about this recontextualization.
JK: It is an outcome of thinking about the same thing in different ways. I would not say I work in series, but I do think about the same topic from different perspectives, variations on a given form allow for distinctly different ways to frame the ideas in the work.
One of the concepts that has played out in the work through the years is that of fecundity. What is human fecundity? It is sort of a pompous question, but not really. . . and I think it is an important one to ask these days. Somehow I think our faith and inquiries about the infinite are linked to our fecundity. These works came out of an interest in defining the infinite within a single object. What would that look like? I don’t know if this form is satisfying enough, but I like it. Infinity is King juxtaposes that form with a crown dotted with flesh tone blobs. I guess that is a thought about the human obsession with race which seems a rather petty obsession in the context of the genuinely infinite. Infinity Tastes like Candy is an ode to my childhood. When I was kid I was told everything that I would not eat tasted like candy. It was somewhat funny because, with exception of chocolate, I don’t recall ever liking candy.
She Will Gives Waves of Warning, 2004. Ceramic and Epoxy. 6 1/2" x 32" x 12 1/2"
OPP: And what about the repeated form used in Untitled in Grape, She Will Give Waves of Warning (2004) and The Settlement (2000)?Does it have a real world reference?
JK: These sculptures are part of the long line of abstract forms I mentioned. I make a lot of work in both drawing and sculptural form, which does not start from knowing what or why I am making it. Generally there is no thesis I am trying to defend. Rather, I make work intuitively and then try to see what is generated in terms of emotion or language. Then I see if I can say something or ask a question via that generated language.
After I made these, I saw the form as an abstract uterus. I wonder what this projection of a uterine form means. There is a quality to it of deriving language out of a human body part. I don’t have one of those parts but I came from one. Is that even valid to say any longer? I am not entirely sure why I feel invested, but they are beautiful. I’m aware of the pathologically patriarchal in our culture—I saw that in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings which pitted all those male characters against a flaming vulva—and I wonder if I am not doing something similar. But I don’t know if it is patriarchal to wonder about where you came from or consider the world outside oneself. There is an aspect of it which is clearly an unconscious activity, as it is most of the time when I render parts of male body in works like Doubles or Fattening Frogs for Snakes.
Juggling Our Inequity, 2017. Ceramic and Water Color. 60" x 146" x 3"
OPP: Can you talk about the relationship between ceramics and drawing in your recent show, Failure is An Option (2017)?
JK: Back in the 1980s, I worked in a preverbal, rather awkward manner. One of the more influential drawing projects that I saw back then was a collaborative book of the poet Micheal McClure, with whom I studied, and his friend Bruce Connor. At the time I was essential making blobs in both ceramics and ink drawings. In the Connor pen drawings, I saw this road to radically slowing my mark making down. There was a union of the subject and the field, meaning and content. I’ve done similar work since. I make the drawings as a matter of daily practice. Sometimes it is the bulk of my production; other times it falls to the side. Often I see forms within the drawings that I feel would be interesting objects, and so I try to render them as such. The drawing It and ceramic wall sculpture Its Black Facsimile would be one of those attempts. Each of these an attempt to render some notion of the fecund.
The exhibition also includes watercolors, renderings of photographs and plein air paintings I’ve done over the last few years. I take a lot of photographs as a manner of looking at the world. Many seem like they would be interesting paintings. I also am confounded by Facebook and the news, so I use these sources for imagery which make it into the watercolors. A suite such as Juggling Our Inequity combines all of this work. In that group, there is a small painting of a river in Russia that was reported to be poisoned. It was bright red due to copper, chrome and other contaminates. Then I did a small watercolor of the field behind my house in Roswell, which edges fields devoted to alfalfa production. The pairing of this bucolic scene with one of an industrial disaster seems honest, as both happened simultaneously. I surrounded the pair with a field of ceramic dollops. The chemicals in these glazes are about the same as those in the poisoned river and probably some of those in the alkaline water used to irrigate Roswell. All of it seems tied together, mutually dependent, the inequity that between the earth and how we use it.
Baptismal for the Death Star, 2017. Ceramic. 40" x 30" x 25." Photo credit: Margot Geist
OPP: What are you working on right now? Any new directions in the studio?
JK: At the end of my Roswell residency, I finished some pieces I call sequences. These are works which again relate to the ink drawings. They are ceramic forms thrown and then assembled and hand built. I am doing these at the same time as making more watercolors. Some of these will possibly go into a long term project that I am working on which relates to living on the Death Star.