This is my recent interview with artist/sculpture Jerome Meadows, who currently resides in Savannah, GA, gallery owner of Indigo Sky Community Gallery at which I am an intern.
March 8, 2013
Kayla Cloonan: What is your first memory of realizing when you wanted to become an artist?
Jerome Meadows: There was a sense of being an artist when I was very young, but I didn’t consciously put that term to it. I would spend time sitting at the table in an apartment building in the Bronx drawing horses. Being an only child living in a bad neighborhood, drawing horses was a way for me to deal with that situation positively. It wasn’t until half way through technical high school while studying engineering, that I realized I was failing all my classes except art and music. I was a junior in high school when I decided I wanted to pursuit art as a career. Entering into college, when I finally got accepted to RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), I realized the important connection with those horse drawings from my childhood. It was incredible, the power of art, that it gave me the ability to be engaged in a beautiful thing, while in such a terrible situation.
KC: Did you go to school initially for art or did you start your education in a different area?If different, what caused the change?
JM: I began at a vocational technical high school studying civil engineering. What was interesting about when I was willing to make the change to art, was that I was told by the art high schools around the area that I couldn’t transfer in without losing a year; so ended up going to a general high school.
KC: How do you decide on your medium? How do you know it should be a sculpture, collage, poetry etc…?
JM: Initially, in high school, I would paint a lot. In living in an apartment, that was the reality of what I could do. But I was really attracted to sculpture, especially stone. That medium was reflecting the inspiration of the figure, the way Michelangelo used it. I was particularly interested in his incomplete figures, which seemed as though the figure was struggling to get out of the stone, which I related to my confined and entrapping environment in new york. As a graduate student, I started working with figurative stone-carving. Then, something happened that changed my work entirely. A piece of stone I was working on fell off the carving table and broke into pieces. I had a piece of drift wood on the same table and I felt the urge to push that off the table as well. I pushed the piece of wood off the table, and it bounced. This happening began my philosophy of working with materials in more abstract ways, lending the materials to have a life of their own. To me, the stone was a representation of the male – strong and hard, yet still fragile and capable of breaking – and the wood represented the female energy – soft and smooth, yet durable and resistant. This started me on the path of combining materials, speaking about those male and female relationships, freeing myself from the figure to let the dialogue between materials be important.
KC: How do you make your decision on the scale of your work?
JM: Installation pieces seemed to want to be human scale. When I left the figure, I also left the pedestal and once it became equal scale to people, it became multiples. There is something about the pedestal that is about the single thing; it becomes about the piece and owning that piece. For me, my work became about the environment created by the sculptures and the way they reacted with the space and the audience; it creates a story. Artist Kurt Schwitters and also stage design were important inspirations for my installation work. Creating public art was also an influence in scale by the works relationship to buildings, cite-lines, trees and people.
KC: When do you know your piece is done?
JM: That’s interesting. I’m never left uncertain with a work, but it’s challenging to try to psychologically go into the process and identify how it is when I know it’s done. It’s a two-layered thing, one is this sense that the worse thing you can do is spend too much time working on a piece, the process of the pieces has a shelf life; coupled with that is a sense that in addition to creating a work, I am visually taking dictation, that a piece comes as this visual statement, when i’m not longer hearing the statement, then that must mean it’s done. You have finished recording what the muse has for you. It’s a complete statement.
KC: How do you come up with ideas for your art?
JM: At any given moment, there’s at least five to ten ideas lined up in my head and they come from all manner of stimulation. I’ll look at something, I’ll be out walking and I’ll see something and I’ll get an idea. I don’t draw those things out; they all go into my head and some will remain and others won’t. It’s frustrating sometimes, because you don’t have enough time. For me, the idea is that they have to come out of you, and as they come out they have to come naturally. To sketch the idea is putting the idea into a different form. If it’s a sculpture, the idea doesn’t come in the form of a two-dimensional drawing.
KC: If you get stuck for inspiration, what do you do?
JM: I never get stuck for inspiration. There is never enough days in a week or years in a life to deal with these ideas; they are just there. Having ideas is one thing, but feeling that those ideas are valid is important in order to continue. I feel blessed with a remarkable muse.
KC: How did you get your art out to the public?
JM: In terms of the standard commercial realm, when I was in Washington DC, I was in a studio with other artists. You create work, you sell work, you meet people, develop relationships with collectors…When I graduated from college, I made a conscious decision not to go back to New York. To enter that game prematurely, I feared I would become someone besides myself; I needed time to become confident in my own art-making. While going to galleries, three out of five of the people were ass holes. One out of five, might be the person to look at your work and say “I get it”. It was working out for a while; I was getting shows and people were buying work. Then, I started getting into public art. The beauty of public art, is that it’s not just one person calling the shots, you’re sitting at a table with a committee of people; it’s a whole other ball game. Fewer ass holes, good money to be made, and scale. I could now work in materials and sizes I could never afford before and after it’s done it has a permanent place. These projects were related to the social fabric. At the time the civil rights movement was in full swing, and the notion was that if you weren’t part of the solution, you were part of the problem. So the question was presented to me, “Was I going to continue making work for the elite (commercial galleries) or for the community (public art)?”
KC: What were the steps toward making Indigo Sky Community Gallery a reality?
JM: The motivation behind it was a statement “rather then condemning someone’s darkness, you should turn on a light”. After complaining a lot about Savannah someone finally told me that, and the gallery was an effort to create positive cultural energy. At the time of its opening, it was to be split between workshops with children and displaying their work, and then shows by artists working inside and outside the city. It fits and starts, sometimes public art and commissioned projects would take up all my time, interns coming and going. Four years ago it finally kicked back in, which started when I reached out to SCAD students for my staff.
KC: Having grown up in New York city, what made you decide to move to Savannah?
JM: While living with other artists in DC, I just felt inside me that something had to change. The muse was telling me “the next best thing to being your own boss, is being your own land owner.” There was nothing affordable in Washington DC, so through public art projects, I looked into other cities. Through a public art project is how I found Savannah and this building (the old ice house). I never would have thought Savannah! The neighborhood, at first made me question, because it reminded me of my childhood in the Bronx, but the building just felt right; it was my building.
KC: Is there any advice you would give to a young artist starting out?
JM: There is a practical reality of having to generate income, but the counter to that is to make sure that no matter what you do to make income in the beginning, that you don’t let a day go by that you’re not making art. Never stop making art because what I see happening, with the finite amount of hours in a day, is that people are letting their day jobs suck up most of that time. The percentage of your time making art and not making art, should keep shifting to making more art. It’s important to keep pressure on the day job to change. It has to be a psychological, physical pressure to make art. As you’re making art, you are networking, helping you find ways to make an income out of your work. It’s the difference between the person who’s an artist, and the person who is in the fantasy of being an artist. This comes from actually making art.
“Art is about a force, it’s an energy; and being an artist is in service to that” – Jerome
Interested in the people at Indigo Sky? Click here to see the whole staff