On October 5, 2018, Skidmore students James Rothwell ’19 and Katie Salk ’19 interviewed artist Jane Irish as part of the course “The Artist Interview,” led by Dayton Director Ian Berry.
Katie Salk ’19
Where do you source your imagery from? You seem to have such a wide array of interests.
In 1999, I moved into a live/work space in Northern Liberties, Philadelphia, where I still live. My artistic roots are with the East Village in New York in the 1980s and with doing installation work in the 1990s in alternative spaces and college galleries. Just as I was moving into my new Northern Liberties studio space, I was questioning if I would repeat the imagery I worked with before. The installation work dealt with context, decorating a room using architectural imagery as the vignette. And I was questioning that. I decided a good practice for me would be, for a year or so, to quickly paint images of people I admired as a way to get myself rejuvenated. They were resistors of the Vietnam War, the Black Panthers, people involved in the Free Speech Movement, Mario Savio, people involved in the Paris riots, and other individuals of that time period.
In the early 2000s, I was invited to do a show at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts [History Lesson, 2002–2003]. I had done a piece that was this gigantic stage flat that looks like the side of a room. It was all trompe l’oeil with images of a group of veterans that came back from the war and decided to stop it. They paid their dues. They’re a diverse group called the Vietnam Veterans Against the War. I picked that up as a core imagery. But it has become more of history painting, or history ceramics, where I’m trying to absorb what built us up to war and how we see the mythology after. It’s about French colonialism or colonialism in general or the Age of Exploration. What are the things that result in destruction of one country by another country?
James Rothwell ’19
In Antipodes Vietnam Peru 1, you include elements of Vietnam and Peru. Did you travel to each of these places? Does your content come from on-site painting or is it more imaginative?
When I started doing research, I tapped into this poetry collection, part of The Imaginative Representations of the Vietnam War, which is a special collection in La Salle University’s Connelly Library in Philadelphia. I researched through artists’ eyes rather than looking at microfilm copies of journalism from that time. This exploration of anti-war poetry led me to travel. I went to Vietnam for one month in 2008, painted every day, and came back with nineteen paintings. It was a great way to research. You’re standing in a place and you see how the place is being used; children come up to you and want to paint on your painting. I had a farmer come up and show me how to properly paint a lotus. I had a monk stand next to me while I was painting the interior of a temple, and he was smoking a cigarette the whole time. They were wonderful, visceral experiences that informed my paintings.
This ceramic piece was developed from the idea of a cosmogram, a model of the universe where you take a globe and cut it in half and flip it. Vietnam is core to my imagery, and the exact opposite on the Earth is Peru. Drilling a line through the Earth from Huế, Vietnam, leads to the mountains of Peru. Some of the other imagery has to do with Humboldt, who was an explorer in the late 1700s and early 1800s in Peru and did analyses of the ecosystems.
This piece is part of a series that I have been working on for the last two and a half years about cosmological ideas, originally based on an essay by Edgar Allan Poe, called “Eureka.” (Poe dedicated the essay to Humboldt.) It is almost as though the universe is the main character of the plot, and the plot of God is perfect, or the plot of the universe is perfect. And I use that as a basis for a creation myth that I wanted to do a cycle of works about. This is almost like the principal particle of the Big Bang. It’s a condensed form of the universe that later becomes a series of paintings.
The imagery in the inside of the Vietnam side of Antipodes is a motif I experienced in Huế in a temple called Khải Định. And it’s what the Vietnamese pictured as their cosmos. This was the basis of a giant painting I did, so there’s a flow between the 3-D and the 2-D. In a way, the 3-D gives me some freedom. I wouldn’t have made a painting of Peru probably. But the ceramics open up my practice. Experimenting in a new form opens your mind.