Contributed by Sharon Butler / Last week the Visiting Artist Lecture Series kicked off at Parsons’ Kellen Auditorium with a lecture by Jamian Juliano-Villani, a cheeky, unfiltered speaker who has a painting show on view at JTT through February 24. Highly entertaining, her presentation played as both an edgy artist’s talk and a hilarious stand-up routine. Juliano-Villiani, who is known for unabashedly pilfering images from everywhere – art history, cartoons, the web, street art, you name it —opened Google drive folders and showed the audience images of paintings she has made since graduating from the Rutgers BFA program in 2013. Each painting had a story, and unlike many emerging artists who encourage the viewer to interpret their work however they please, Juliano-Villiani wasn’t shy about sharing her intended meaning. She reminded me of a precocious kid who invites you to check out her toys, and then tells you passionately why each one is super fucking cool.
As she went through the folders, grabbing images of the paintings she liked the most, it became clear that her most pressing peeve was the pomposity of artists and the art world. Refreshing call, I thought. She bristled at the notion that artists had to understand theory and philosophy, preferring a rather straightforward, un-nuanced approach to image making that fuses a unique combination of humor, subversion, and heartfelt sentiment. In ArtForum, which selected the show as a Critic’s Pick, Zoë Lescaze suggests that Juliano-Villani’s paintings are “David Salle–esque pastiches for the Ren & Stimpy generation.” Fair enough. I think that works, except that Juliano-Villani’s image combinations, unlike Salle’s, are anything but random.
Juliano-Villiani wants her work to have a stunning, jaw-dropping stupidity and a bitchy sense of humor, and she succeeds. At one point she said she tried to make the dumbest version of the work she is appropriating, asking herself as she works, “Is it stupid enough?” That’s a suitable catchphrase for a number of scenarios, and certainly for the moment of Trump.
In her show at JTT, she divided the gallery into two rooms. In the first, she presents a bunch of poorly lit white canvases tagged with graffiti-like writing. She wants the viewer to pass through the front room, behold the crappy graffiti paintings, and then go into the back gallery, where, upon seeing the “real” work – which is clearly labor-intensive and, as she would say “super intentional” – be knocked out by her brilliance. She may have been waxing sardonic, but she was also dead serious. During the Q & A, it became clear that, despite her irreverent, self-deprecating shtick, Juliano-Villani thinks deeply about her images and process. She admits she’ll use any “corny technique in the book” to get the look she wants, and will often make multiple copies of a painting if she likes it. “Fuck, Chris Wool makes the same painting over and over, I can redo the ones that work.”
For Juliano-Villiani, the image quotations are like a playlist or an arranged marriage made in Photoshop. She doesn’t want to talk too much about the process (trade secrets) but doesn’t draw. She starts with photoshopped collages, works on the canvases from “back to front,” and uses a lot of masking. Grant Wood, Brian Belott, Peter Halley, Mike Kelley, Patrick Caulfield, Vasarelli, landscape painters from the 1950, and, well, just a lot of “weird shit” are important influences. Right now, images from old art school yearbooks that she buys online are finding their way into her work. It’s hard to say what makes the mashups work, she told us, but she always knows when they don’t. Not too stupid.
“Jamian Juliano-Villani: Ten Pound Hand,” JTT, LES, New York, NY. through February 24, 2018.