Interview with Josh Keyes for ‘Inside Out’

Thinkspace is proud to present new work by Portland-based artist Josh Keyes for his latest exhibition ‘Inside Out‘.

Keyes’ highly detailed narrative paintings have evolved from their earlier iteration as closed systems, or quasi-scientific specimens drawn from some post-apocalyptic natural history museum to less confined and formulaic expressions of an imploding natural order.

We continue our conversation with Keyes and dive deeper into answers from previous interviews, how he is coping with the current pandemic, and great Sci-Fi recommendations.

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work?

I used to imagine and speculate what was coming, how the world and society was shaping and changing with technology, social media, and our impact on the environment. My work and visions at that time were always a bit exaggerated to the extreme, the fall of civilization, civil war, and environmental collapse and the world after. Not exactly a Thomas Kinkade utopian vision. My work has always arrived through personal catharsis, a way of working through ideas, and mostly feelings of anxiety and melancholy about the state of the world.

We have always lived in a world of uncertainty, and challenges, but it seems like we are really at the edge of unprecedented traumatic change, with moments and glimmers through the storm of a brighter future. My new work and path still has echos of the anxiety and desperation, manifested in a dystopian or post-human world, but instead of an intentional preachy warning of what’s to come, I am moved by exporting what possible beauty or poetry might be found in a world left behind.

With everything going on, coronavirus, social distancing, political and racial tensions, the post protest mayhem ending up looking like the horrific opening scene from the film Gangs of New York. I feel myself, the world turning inside out, there is no place to hide from oneself. All of our shadows and demons are running wild. I fear for the end of our humanitarian nature and the end of or a drastic change to mother nature.

In a previous interview, you mentioned your professor, Lynn Book, and how her world view helped to break down yours at the time. Can you share some of her wisdom with us?

She was living in the moment, long before the Power of Now movement evolved. She saw, perceived, acted outside social codes and norms, almost as if she was just visiting this reality and joining the dance. She trusted her inner voice and was quick to question political or social patterns. The ones that we have to learn how to unlearn. Deprogram what our parents and society has taught us in order to discover our true self. To seek out awareness and acceptance of the immediate moment without preconceived judgment.

I try to maneuver in this way, in my life, but my challenge and work is with an inner dialogue that sees the world falling apart, instead of realizing the cyclic nature of phenomena. Painting my imagery is a way of casting/sifting out demons and finding moments or visions of the quiet in the storm inside and out.

When viewing other artists’ work, what elements get you excited or inspire you?

I follow about 7,000 + creative people on Instagram. I would follow more if it would let me. I am amazed by pure imagination and that spark that combines technique, passion, and the unexpected. I like all things made, craft, music, performance, and those that are off the grid living like wild animals. I love the spectrum of human nature and expression. We are so much, so precious, that when you see how destructive and violent we can be to each other, it is like watching someone take a hot poker and shoving it into their own flesh.

What piece challenged you most in this body of work and why?

The main challenges I had were personal, the onset of corona and quarantine, caring and entertaining a 5-year-old, processing the endless traumatic breaking news reports. This is now a shared trauma we all carry and are processing daily. For me, I had set out to make a specific body of work and many of the images I was dreaming with were too unsettling to show. I feel disappointed in myself that I could not deliver the work I intended, and I apologize to those of you who follow and support my work and to the Thinkspace Gallery. I feel that I am still in incubation mode, processing everything that is going on, the feelings and imagery are very raw and unfiltered and have yet to take form that moves beyond personal therapy.

Who was the first artist (or work of art) that made a significant impression on you?

I remember seeing Morning Sun, a painting by Edward Hopper when I was young. I was drawn to the colors, so rich and vibrant. I could almost feel the warmth beaming into the room. There has always been something about the isolation and underlying melancholy nature of his work that captivated me and still does. I would say most of my time developing a painting or image is in playing with the composition of the image, where everything locks in and moves the eye so that it almost rests in motion.

If you could download any skill or subject into your brain, Matrix-style, what would it be?

An app that would regulate stress and emotions, and math and spelling, and less fart jokes.

As a Sci-Fi junkie, are you excited about the new Dune movie that’s coming out? Any good movie recommendations?

Oh yes, I grew up reading the Dune series and loved the David Lynch version. After seeing the Jodorowsky documentary I am curious to see if the new version, drew inspiration from any of his aesthetic designs. I think the story also hits very close to home with our own political and environmental climate. My go-to watching the last year or so has been, the classic Duel by Spielberg, that movie is such a great metaphor for any unknown fear that plagues and haunts you. Just substitute the truck and driver for any fear you have, like an art show deadline. The masterpieces Get Out and Us by Jordan Peele. Mandy and Beyond the Black Rainbow by Panos Cosmatos are just so bizzare. Hereditary by Ari Aster, made me feel things I don’t have words for and I don’t think I could watch it twice.

Do you have a ritual that helps get you into the creative flow?

Medication and old episodes of Golden Girls. 

We are in the middle of a global pandemic, it’s an unprecedented time, and it’s a weird time – how are you creating a sense of normalcy or levity for your family?

My wife and I try our best not to talk too much about what’s going on with our daughter, just enough so she is not terrified of the world. It is a challenge to maintain a level of calm and peace and playfulness when almost every moment you feel like jumping to your phone to be freaked out and have a panic attack.

If your work inspired a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor, what would be the ingredients and the name of the pint?

Rainbows End : tear gas, Lime Cucumber Gatorade, whale tears, neon pink sprinkles — melted 🙂

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