It was a sunny day in the Zizkov district of Prague, when I popped into local artist Jay Meany's studio, above Akropolis.
In a chaotic room with a spy's eye view of the inner workings of the antiquated phone switchers at STP's nerve center, I kept to the side and out of the way in order to avoid the flow of the lease holder's possessions as they prepared to move on, victims of a greedy, unscrupulous landlord.
Jay will be moving soon, too. Jay's paintings formed a jury along one wall, where they patiently awaited to begin their journey to a new home; an exhibition in Paris, France.
Jay's work is an exploration in free-form association, a large departure from his early training as a figurative painter. His unique process starts off by working a wooden back board (a bit) applying charcoal drawings of figures, shapes and images of different sizes, and then laying down acrylic paint in layers of colors in a manner of underpainting, on top of which he lays sheets of paper and paints over those.
The result of which is that when the acrylic sets, it acts as a glue, and as you peel off the layers of paper, they rip and tear forming a very unique texture.
Once the tearing is finished, he begins sanding through the paint and paper to bring the original charcoal drawings back up, which gives the piece a very muted abstractness, a feeling similar to being inside of an abandoned storefront, very old and neglected.
To add further to this sense of abandonment and decay, he then takes a torch and burns away at whatever paper remains showing. If the results are not to his liking, he applies more layers; two, sometimes three, and close inspection of his work reveals more questions than answers, much like the artist himself.
The shapes that form the centerpoint of his pieces are subjective to your interpretations, as he is philosophically a Relativist, a believer that what the viewer sees is dependent upon their life experiences; however, he is not so shortsighted as to only use images that have no particular relevance.
For example "Lord's Prayer/Pledge of Allegiance," explores the two first things most Americans are forced to memorize from a very early age, and is very powerful. An appropriate subject for a medium that involves painting, papering, tearing, burning, cutting, scrubbing, sanding and more cutting again in a non-stop process of transitions.
"That's why I like flames and papers. I want to give the feeling that you're discovering something. I definitely don't want to dictate what the viewer gets out of the artwork.
Definitely the viewer shouldn't have to suffer through it, and in that same vein, I don't believe that you have to suffer to be an artist. That's not to say it's easy. Quite the contrary. But unless you're prepared to make art your trade, what are you going to do?
You're going to teach. And then you're not an artist, you're a teacher. If you went through school because you wanted to be an artist, then you act as an artist; painting, sculpting, working, doing whatever you do, showing it, hopefully selling, generating some sort of income such as you can to buy more supplies and do more work, and eat and pay rent.
But if you can't do that, well, then you're gonna be a little bitter. If you went to school to be a painter, and then you're a teacher, then you're not what you wanted to be.
This doesn't mean that all teachers are failed artist: some want to teach. But there's so much stigma involved in being an artist; "You have to suffer for your vision" and all this bullsh*t, this romanticism. It's not romantic, it's stupid, ignorant.
You don't have to suffer. Suffering is a choice. You know what I'm talking about, those artists; "I'm so miserable", moping around; your art doesn't come from misery, you're miserable because you're a stupid f*ck!" He laughs. "I'm not miserable, I do what I want, what I like. That's my choice. Ultimately, it is about communicating on a different lever, a level that plays upon the spiritual. And this you do by making things a suggestion. You can't box people in.
I can't just stamp this and bamm, revelation, coz you won't get anything from it. The only way they can get something out of it is just to suggest what I'm trying to say." And this theory shows in his works.
The last piece from his current series is called "Oxygen Debt" and with its muted tones and sparse frantic approach you have no doubt that the artist himself was gasping for air as he painted it.
"That one was the last painting, and I was struggling to finish it; I felt like I had been swimming for a long time, a gasping for air. The feelings I was going through really came out in this piece."
Jay now lives in North America, and if you'd like to get a feeling of Jay's latest works, check out his website at JayMeany.com, or you could always hop on over to Paris to see his work in a group showing some day.
Photography by Jeffree Benet