Pablo de Pinho: Do you prefer producing work in a big city, or in the countryside? Does it make a difference in the aesthetic of the images as well as idea of the work?
Jonathan Ryan Storm: I just recently moved from Houston Texas to a small town in Western Massachusetts. I’ve lived all over, but I consider my two hometowns to be Texas and Vermont. So it was a pretty natural return to the “countryside”. Honestly, right now I prefer working here, but that’s probably more to do with where my life is currently at. When I started art making, it was in Brattleboro, Vermont, just up the road from here. And that’s its own world, a unique trip. I think when I moved to Houston, I tried to bring my work ethic with me. Which was ways of seeing the world, ways to try finding my place in it. And so with the move back to the country, my approach has shifted again to how do I make work that’s of the “other”, that is not “of me”. So in that way it’s been positive living and working in a quieter place, where my mind can really stretch out and wander the woods.
I wouldn’t know how to classify it, or where it fits in with different fields of picture making. Sometimes they can be minimal, sometimes chaotic, sometimes heavy or light. I think it always depends on what needs to happen. These new paintings I’ve been making with oil bars have been unlike any of my other works. I’m basically taking a walk around the canvas. It’s totally therapeutic in a way picture making for me has never been. And I’ve been reducing the colors in the paintings, focusing on two or three, just taking what I need with me when I start the trip. Part of it is my history with color blindness, since I have Deuteranopia (red green color blindness). My early paintings were mainly me throwing every color I could muster into my paintings. Who knows if I could see half of them or not. But I was really trying to convey the same type of visual static I was seeing all around me and lately my eyesight has gradually weakened.
Jean Nagai said it best, “sewing is healing”. I originally began to incorporate sewing into my process out of necessity: I had three pieces of canvas that I wanted to work as one, simple as that. It’s since evolved into its own body of work. Pattern is something I’ve been increasingly interested in as I’ve gotten older, so it’s a natural, direct connection with the history of textile work, but old and contemporary. The evolution of pattern and print in textiles and fabrics has often been overlooked in the wide world of art, but it’s a place where pretty radical things have taken place. I have a rudimentary usage of my sewing machine so I’m limited in what I can do, but I find that when I switch from a painted piece to a sewn piece, it activates a different part of my brain, and keeps the process mysterious and exciting.
What is the longest painting you've worked on? How long did it take to make?
In Vermont, my first pictures were quite small, because I was either working in a small cabin or a small studio. A small painting holds great power. I like the idea of making a painting you’d want to carry with you in your pocket. It’s personal and intimate in a way that a ten foot tall painting simply can’t be. When I moved to Houston I found myself surrounded by artists who were working on a massive scale, something I’d only seen in museums, so it let me stretch out and picture bigger things. I made large paintings almost exclusively for the four years I lived there. These past six months, now living back in the country, I’ve found a balance between the two. Right after the move I worked mainly on an 8x10 inch scale. That helped with the transition in a lot of ways; I was able make paintings quickly and move on to the next, putting one foot in front of the other. When life settled down and the dust settled from the move, I let me brain wander back over to that bigger road, where larger, more time consuming paintings tend to hang out. But not restricting myself to a certain size is key for me. I go where the work needs to go, big or small.
It does. I never went to art school, never studied art in any institution. I studied metaphysics in a small school, specifically cosmology. For me that was my way of trying to figure things out, sometimes with the aid of substances, both pharmaceutical and of the earth. When I was younger I considered myself a psychedelic cosmonaut, pulling back the curtain and reporting back my findings. I’m sure that imagery made it’s way into my work, subconsciously. Now that I’m older, I’m very conscious of wanting to not know where it’s coming from, in hopes that wherever it winds up will be pure and mysterious. I mean that’s the whole trip, right? I’m trying to eliminate my ego in the process, and decision making. It’s not an arbitrary way of doing things, that’s a fallacy to try to steer the ship and cede control at the same time. I’m just at peace letting the work take me where it wants to go.