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This week on the blog we had the pleasure of meeting with and talking to Jordan Sullivan, a writer and an artist of many mediums - an artist that is not dismayed by the idea of exploring memory and the process of creation. His latest series of work involved spending time with the mountains within Death Valley, observing the idea of different vastnesses and taking note of the subtle yet substantial color shifts within the light. We visited with him at his downtown LA studio and took a closer look at his work.
So much of your work seems to lend itself to a sense of vastness — these little windows into a never-ending abyss of beauty and magic. I'm curious if there are any spots here in LA that feel a little magical to you?
JS: The Sunset Strip at night, Dan Tanas, Elysian Park, and the roof of the Museum of Jurassic Technology.
Could you tell us a bit about your process when starting a new project? How much is premeditated and how much instinctual?
JS: There is a world I am trying to create, and with each project this world seems to take on more and more of a life of its own. I notice patterns and things that this world needs, things that work and don't work within it. Since I am conscious of this I am able, to an extent, to premeditate certain aspects of each project. However, when it comes to physically making the work I rely on my instincts and intuition.
I know you've traveled a bit, from Death Valley here in California to Iceland. Do your photographs change your relationship to the locations you choose to shoot? Or do you see your work as unrelated to place?
JS: Photography is what allows me to see a place, so yes my relationship with places is definitely dictated and altered by whatever I am creating there. Through art I can connect to the world in ways that I cannot otherwise.
Not only do you travel quite a bit to take your pictures, but then you also show them internationally. What is it like to have the Death Valley images, for example, in a gallery space in Copenhagen?
JS: Showing the Death Valley work in Europe is interesting because many people I talked to there had not been to the desert. At the same time, my Death Valley work is my vision of Death Valley, so familiarity with the actual place doesn't matter so much. I'm trying to convey emotional territories through landscape imagery, so whether a person knows the place or not, ultimately does not matter. I want to create things that make people feel something, hopefully a sense of calm or wonder. All that said, showing a picture of a desert to someone who has never been there and yet he or she still has a strong connection to the image is an incredible thing to witness.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to pursue art, or wanting to get back into creating?
JS: Live as much life as you can. Read a lot. Work random jobs, and just start making things. Do it as much as possible. Also, trust your own instincts and imagination (as corny as that might sound). Most importantly, though, make a lot of mistakes. Fall in love with all your failures.
If you were hosting a dinner party and the meal had to reflect your artwork, what would you serve?
JS: Wow. That's an amazing question. Something colorful - maybe incorporate those purple carrots and edible flowers and lots of vegetables. Indian dishes combine some amazing colors, too, so maybe that could work, but might be too heavy. The meal should probably be light I suppose.
What were you like as a kid? Was art an obvious path?
JS: I was an athlete until I was 16, but I started making art when I was around 10. In general, I was an insanely anxious, emotional and shy kid. We were Catholic so there was a lot of religious guilt, too. The world has always felt like a wondrous and terrifying place. When I made art I felt ok. It was the only thing that calmed me down. For this reason I always knew it was what I wanted to do. I also wanted to make someone feel the way I felt when I saw an incredible image. It's important to remember that. Most anyone who is creating something now, in the beginning, just wanted to make people feel the way art made them feel. You can't forget that. I've had so many crumby jobs. Making art is the only thing I've ever been really good at, aside from basketball. It's an insane luxury to even think to be an artist. The guys I worked construction with in Texas had never even been to an art gallery. Art is a luxury and a gift. I'm so fortunate to have discovered it. I make a living from it now, and that just feels unreal.
Do you find any figures outside of the art world influencing your artwork? Perhaps musicians or writers?
JS: My family. Particularly, my older brother. He is a lawyer and an amazing thinker and intellectual. He introduced me to so much growing up.
Speaking of music, do you have anything playing while you work? Podcasts, favorite artists, phone calls, silence?
JS: Currently, I almost exclusively listen to Nils Frahm in the studio, and that song Mask Off by Future. "Fuck it, mask off" is an incredibly powerful sentence.
Any new mediums you're interested in exploring next?
JS: All of them, but there is still so much territory for me to explore within photography.
Thank you Jordan! Check out his series here.
Interview by Molly Haas
Photos by Marielle Chua