Conversation with Clint Jukkala
by Elizabeth Johnson, edited by Matthew Crain
Conversation with Clint Jukkala
by Elizabeth Johnson, edited by Matthew Crain
Elizabeth Johnson: As I scroll through your portfolio that begins in 2005, I notice evolution through the styles of: digital notation, architectural windows, split-screen windows, round pairs of portals, portals presenting deeper space, portals juxtaposing contrasting surfaces, and, most recently, collaged paintings in mixed media. Your BravinLee programs artist statement asserts: "I'm interested in our awareness of our own thinking and sense perceptions––our consciousness. I approach this with a sense of humor that reflects the irrational space of knowing and believing." Does your development express a gradual change in your personal consciousness? Does the arc of change in your work feel chance-based to you?
Clint Jukkala: My work has changed over the years, though many aspects have stayed constant: an impulse towards images that suggest things but aren’t descriptive, a preoccupation with framing devices and spaces within spaces, an interest in the numerous possibilities of color, and a focus on simple and direct means. Other developments reflect a marked change, like the loosening of systems, and an embrace of varying materials and surfaces. The changes come from following a line of inquiry and seeing where it goes. The changes aren’t planned but are a result of the making process. Consciousness seems similar in that there is a core that remains constant while we see and experience things differently over time.
EJ: In the interview ("Tuning In") for Two Coats of Paint, you say, "I'm less interested in the ‘looks like’ quality. . . . I've always been interested in figure/ground relationships for how they suggest a continual equivocation, a lack of fixedness. Somewhere the Bauhaus ideas started to fuse with other influences."
EJ: Are similarities with Charles and Ray Eames, Jean Arp, Joan Miró, or Josef Albers only general? Are there artists that you study rigorously or that you align yourself with?
CJ: I think those interests are general. I’m particularly drawn to things with a clear and visible structure. I love early video games because you can see the way elements are built from pixels. I’m attracted to mosaics and textiles for similar reasons: the building blocks are always apparent and can be seen distinctly from the whole.
CJ: I try and look at as much as possible. For a while, I’ve been in a place where I’m not studying anything intensely, but just trying to take in whatever I come across.
EJ: What are some things that have spurred a “line of inquiry”?
CJ: I try to pay close attention to what I'm excited about. If I'm working in the studio and feeling engaged, I know that is a good thing, regardless of what the work looks like. In some of the recent paintings like Begin Again, I was cutting out old canvases, and I got really interested in the remnants and the frames. I started attaching new canvas inside the frame and keeping the remnants. I hadn’t planned to do this: it was what I was interested in at that moment.
CJ: I've been listening to Rick Rubin's The Creative Act over and over in the studio. It's about paying attention and being open in the act of making. These are things artists know and do, but I find it so helpful to be reminded.
EJ: In the Two Coats interview, you say, “It’s subtle, but in that way, I find my new paintings feel more sculptural or built. I really relate to John [Newman]’s work in this regard. He has such a great sensitivity to shifting materials and surfaces, and it’s a holistic part of his work. You can’t separate the form from the color and surface.”
EJ: The interview was in 2015. Your work now sports many varying surfaces. Would you say that, currently, you leverage how collage separates color and surface from form?
CJ: I feel like those aspects are guiding me as much as color. I'm using different kinds of canvas with varying weights and weaves. In some cases, I'm staining and applying paint before I collage, and in other cases, after. I've been cutting up and collaging old drawings, paintings, and found materials. A few pieces include fragments from drawings that I did nearly twenty years ago in New Haven.
CJ: On a personal level, it's interesting to bring the past and present into a painting. Visually, I think it brings different temperaments and speeds together in a way that slows things down. There is a separation between the marks that were made on a particular piece of paper or canvas and the arranging and collaging that happens on the painting.
EJ: For the current Gross McCleaf show, the Koan paintings in oil, acrylic, and fabric explore number and, perhaps, the progression or accretion of states of consciousness.
EJ: Do you practice meditation? Was the twelfth piece a summation of sorts?
CJ: Those pieces are a series of questions more than a progression, and the order doesn’t matter. “What if this is next to that? How can these shapes and materials create an unexpected image?” The small size of each piece allows for a looseness and openness that can be harder to find in larger work. In that way, they are like drawings. I meditate, though not as regularly as I’d like.
EJ: Why did you leap from painting contrasting surfaces to collaging with them in recent work? How does varying the texture and feel of parts of new pieces dovetail with your long-held inclination to set up dualities?
CJ: I’ve made collages before, just on paper not canvas. I began exploring textural differences in 2011, and those paintings were preceded by a series of collage drawings. Collage allows each element to have its own physical life. That can be done with pure paint, but it can feel less direct and it’s harder to get a sense of difference. I don’t think of my work as setting up dualities as much as ambiguities.
EJ: I want to expand on what you call "each element having its own physical life.” How do the textures of your collage pieces help this happen?
CJ: The collage elements can function in a similar way. You are aware of looking at a material surface on canvas, yet a shape or juxtaposition can take you into an illusionistic space.
EJ: Titles such as Begin Again, Beginner's Mind, Blank Slate, Levitate, Quantum Psychology and Channel Change recall popular books about meditation and psychology. Do you study mindfulness and neuroscience? What is your opinion of artificial intelligence?
CJ: I read and listen to a lot of podcasts on mindfulness and how the mind works. When I was in my early twenties, I discovered Robert Anton Wilson. That was the beginning of it for me. His writing isn’t about mindfulness exactly, it’s more about belief systems: how we are programmed, and how we build our “realities.” It’s funny, irreverent, and pretty far out. I’ve been reading and listening to stuff on AI. I find it terrifying in many ways, but interesting in terms of questions of consciousness, which we still don’t understand very well.
EJ: Spacetime Desktop, Pointer, and User Interface relate to Koan XII by suggesting cubes and Euclidian space. Is the use of perspective reentering your work? Does a contrast of different kinds of space––flat and deep––best express consciousness to you?
CJ: I love perspective in paintings for the way it signals depth and is also pure illusion. De Chirico was one of my favorites early on and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten away from that. I think perspective reentered my work after I read The Case Against Reality by Donald Hoffman. The cover image is a Necker cube, which flips perspective as you look at it. It’s an example of how our mind interprets and creates what we see.
EJ: Wow. It is quite a leap from optical illusions to using perspective. And I identify both in Begin Again, Koan IX, Quantum Psychology, TV Dinner, Blank Slate, Koan III, and Spacetime Desktop. I love experiencing the transformation between the two kinds of space in these pieces. Is it a matter of luck to achieve the balance?
CJ: Honestly, I have no idea. A better reference than de Chirico may be Sienese painting. I studied in Siena as an undergraduate, and the not quite rational perspective of paintings like Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good Government have always resonated with me. I love that you are transported to another place at the same time you are aware of the perspectival illusion.
EJ: De Chirico is potent because he seems to physically inhabit landscape, expressing being and the world as unified by persona. How does de Chirico challenge you?
CJ: What I love about de Chirico, or artists like Florine Stettheimer or Miyoko Ito, is that they transport you to another world through pure painting. It’s a world of imagination that defies logic and everyday language. De Chirico and Stettheimer paintings are full of narrative elements that speak to time, place, and so much more. But when I look at them, it is the spaces built of color, paint, and geometry that I feel connected to. I first discovered Miyoko Ito through a painting in PAFA’s collection and was immediately drawn to it. The color, light, and structures in her work suggest landscape, architecture, and figures, but everything is elusive. I’m drawn to those things that are felt but unnameable.
EJ: When I look at your new collages, I think of sculptors Ken Price and Ron Nagle and painters Thomas Nozkowski and Amy Sillman. In terms of "loosening of systems" you seem to be relaxing the use of clear, built structure and toggling between 2-D and 3-D in a more Cubist way. Has your relationship to ambiguity changed? Or have the ambiguities you make changed? If so, how would you describe the difference?
CJ: I love all those artists! I think I'm more comfortable with the ambiguity of image and structure in this new work. Maybe the certainty, if there is any, lies in the materials, and that has loosened me up. The surfaces act as a scaffolding to build on, so I'm less reliant on the more rigid symmetry and structures from the past.
EJ: Your recent pieces elicit television and computer screens as metaphors for the mind. Thinking Table feels like a particularly strong compromise between the digital world and collage.
CJ: I was thinking about the left brain/right brain split when I made that painting: how the two halves of our brain view or interpret the world in very different ways.
EJ: Do you see the works Begin Again, Koan IX, Quantum Psychology, TV Dinner, Blank Slate, Koan III and Spacetime Desktop as operating differently than Beginner's Mind II, III, IV and V, Thinking Table, Channel Change, and Conscious Agent? I could see the first group as balanced between Necker cube and the illusion of perspective, and the second group as fitting into your left brain/right brain description of Thinking Table. Are there other possible categories?
CJ: I think there are at least three groupings of work in the show that you’ve identified well, and there is a lot of overlap between them. There are paintings that start with a head-like form, some that are essentially based on still life, and others that take framing devices and geometry as their starting point. In some cases, the starting point is a nameable motif we are familiar with and I’m riffing on that. In other paintings, the starting and ending points are less nameable, though they are still based on the idea of an architectural structure or frame. In terms of chronology, the heads are older, and I seem to be moving towards a more ambiguous space. But the path is circuitous, and I’m not sure what’s around the corner.
edited by Matthew Crain
Exhibition Dates: September 7 - October 7, 2023
Opening Reception: Saturday, September 9, 1 - 4 pm
Clint Jukkala is an artist and educator based in Philadelphia. He received his MFA from Yale University School of Art and his BFA from the University of Washington in Seattle. Jukkala has exhibited widely in New York and across the northeastern United States including solo and two-person exhibitions in New York, Philadelphia and New Haven, Connecticut. He attended the Yaddo Residency and the MacDowell Colony Residency. Jukkala has been a visiting artist and lecturer at institutions across the country and in Pont-Aven, France. He is currently the Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia.