Interview with artist, singer-songwriter, and poet Garek James

Instagram : Art page: @garek_art | Music page: @savegarek | Website: www.garek.tv

Garek is an artist, singer-songwriter and poet based in NYC. He uses art to get away from the societal pressures or judgements. He uses music to express his feeling and emotions.

I first started showing my work to people when I lived in NYC. I had always kept my art under my bed, so only close friends or people I was fucking ever got to see anything. And they would always say nice things like “You’re so talented… why don’t you try and sell these… etc.” I never believed them, though, because they were already close to me; they had to say nice things. The “a-hah” moment came when I showed some pieces to an art dealer in New York, and he bought one on the spot. I didn’t know him well, and he wasn’t trying to sleep with me, so he was legitimately interested in the art. I figured he knew what he was talking about- being an art dealer and whatnot – so I thought, “Maybe there’s something here.”

So, I started to create and post art more consistently, and people responded to it. I never sought out gallery representation, though, because I never saw anything in a gallery that I was interested in. Most of the art in NYC was garbage. I don’t know if it still is; I don’t care enough to investigate. There was nothing I wanted to be a part of. Plus, there was usually a 3-year waiting period to even be considered for your own exhibition. I’m too impatient for that.

I started throwing my art shows in my small apartment. I would move my bed to the side, tape pieces on my wall, get a few bottles of cheap wine, and invite some friends over. Then I started doing group shows at pop-up salons down in Greenwich. You don’t need a gallery; you just need wall space, and at each show, I sold something. So it was working.

Currently, I’m in Chicago. I made the move from NYC about three years ago and am so happy I did. NYC is always touted as one of the cultural epicenters of the universe. I rarely saw anything I liked there; plus, it’s become so much of a real estate city that artists can’t afford to live there. They just keep getting pushed further and further out of the city. I don’t miss it. The great thing about being an artist in the day of social media is you can create from anywhere and, as long as you have a connection to the internet, share it with the world. I could be an Eskimo in the North Pole making sculptures out of seal fat, and someone in California could see them and buy some for their… I don’t know… fat sculpture garden maybe.

I grew up in Wisconsin in a town called Pound. (Yup, it exists). It was really small (400 population) and I hated it. I like to go back and visit now, but I was always a little too colorful for the surroundings. Neither of my parents is terribly creative [love you mum and dad], but they’re both really smart. My dad’s a veterinarian, and my mom’s a nurse.

My dad tells stories about how, when I was young, I would get off the bus after school, run up to my room, and just draw for hours. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be an artist or thought I could make money doing it. I did it because it made me happy. As a child, you gravitate toward what authentically makes you happy, without societal pressures or judgments clouding your perception, and art always made me happy. It still does. To this day, it’s the only thing that makes me feel better 100% of the time.

I started using charcoal as a medium out of necessity. I was a broke artist in NY, had no art supplies or money for art supplies. The only thing I had was a pad of paper and a chunk of charcoal that I had gotten years ago from Santa. [Thanks, Santa!]. I woke up that morning with the urge to create something; it’s like this nervous energy that you have to get out; otherwise, you can’t proceed with your day. I still remember the first line I made with the charcoal. IT WAS SO BLACK! The darkest black I had seen. I was in love.

As far as subject matter goes, I tend to gravitate towards people. People are like a universe in themselves; you get everything there. You get the ugly, the beauty, the terror, the joy, the color, the darkness… whatever you want from people. It’s all there. I prefer working with subjects that are not traditionally beautiful. Beautiful people are great to look at but so dull to draw. Plus, if you can take something that people normally think is ugly and turn it into a beautiful piece, I think you’ve done something really special.

You see that a bit in my latest collection: Agent Orange Children. I took images of these deformed children (most were black and white photos) and gave them color. Orange specifically because of the chemical used that made them deformed, but also because orange was my favorite color as a child – when I was their age. Some people still look at the paintings and say how sad or ugly they are, but some find them beautiful. I can never gauge how people react. I’ve given up. I create the art – that’s my job. I try not to be concerned with how people react to it, which is hard because we’re all social animals, but the minute you start paying too much attention to what people are saying, you start catering to their tastes, then your art is no longer yours.

It doesn’t come from you. It comes from this weak, diluted perception of what other people want. It’s garbage.

Garek James

I fluctuate between mediums and subjects quite often. When people visit my studio and see the art on the walls, they say, “It looks like twenty different artists have worked here.” If I want to paint an acrylic blueberry painting, I’ll paint it. If I want to make a charcoal of two men having sex, I’ll make it. People have told me I have to stick to one medium or subject in order to establish my aesthetic as an artist. I have. It’s the charcoals. But I see no reason why I can’t create in other mediums, styles, etc., as well. Don’t try and put me in a box; because I’ll paint one side, charcoal the next, and sing or scream at another.

I’m also a singer/songwriter. But who isn’t, right? Everyone’s an artist. Singing came to me later in life. I started writing – short stories, then poems, then songs. Songs, by nature, have to be sung. So, I started singing. Art is more autonomous; music involves more people because you have the performance aspect of it. Being on stage, for me, feels lighter. Because I get to be angry and silly and sad and whatever the fuck I want to be at that particular moment. It’s one of the only times I’m able to be completely present and in the moment. The other is when I’m creating art.

If I had to pick a favorite piece I’ve done (mind you, this is like picking a favorite child), it would be “Nothing Can Keep Her From Smiling” I haven’t really done a self-portrait, but this one turned into one on accident. It’s become a mirror for me. Every time I look at it, I see myself. She’s on the verge of tears and trying so desperately to keep it together.

My primary goal as an artist is to explore and document the human experience, whether in visual art or music. People like to emphasize how different we all are, but we’re all pretty much the same at the end of it all—a scrotum of bones full of tears and laughs and everything in between.

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