Using Art To Connect: Interview with Jordan Segal
At a young age, I watched my mother die of cancer, struggled with my own medical and learning challenges, and grew up literally across the street from the World Trade Center. As I grew older, I realized that the experiences of trauma and loss are universal. In sharing my experiences, I felt more connected and less alone. In my art, I feel it’s important to start with my own experiences in order to develop my concepts with sincerity. Paintings need to be honest. To be honest at times requires us to be confrontational, especially when dealing with subjects on the difficult sides of life.
My work combines iconography and mixed media to emulate interior emotional and psychological moods. The canvas is the arena where my characters reside and tell their stories. The characters are slightly strange and their environments are off-kilter. My images have sharp edges. My style aims to cut through resistance and open the way for the artist and audience to know, to process, to understand and heal. Like words in a poem, I arrange symbols to create a world that is relatable, but mysterious enough to allow the viewer to construct his/her own meaning. Like a poetic memoir, I explore my story to offer others a window into their own personal stories and to construct their own meaning.
Iconography is the foundation of my compositions, but the materials are the emotional core of the narratives. I use painterly techniques that become at once figurative and abstract. My surfaces become textural elements that harmonize with my characters’ inner lives. I ascribe to no rules or self-imposed constraints when working. I sand, scrape, paint with a brush, smear with a pallet knife, engrave with box cutters, create hard edges with tape, mix materials like sand and plaster, paint with computer programs and witness the effects they have. The process of layering and experimenting culminates in paintings that take on a sculptural form. I finish a piece when the rhythms of the materials harmonize with the world of the character or narrative line.
As my historical mentors James Ensor, Enzo Cucci, and Philip Guston understood, we can push the boundaries of realism while staying truthful. For me, images are incredibly powerful when enhanced with the expressive and abstract languages of texture and color. Through the worlds I create in painting, I hope to touch others and be touched.
Give us a brief story about your journey as a painter. How has your work evolved over the years?
My journey as a painter really began during my senior year of highschool, when my mother was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer, passing away nine months later. Losing a loved one really shakes up your conception of the world, and puts life in perspective. Upon entering college a few months later, I was not interested in doing anything besides what was important to me. I realized that spending my time making art was the way I could make meaning out of life.
You mention your heartbreaking experience with loss. As difficult as it is to be open and vulnerable in our practice, do you feel it has helped you be more connected as an artist? If so, how?
Experiencing loss has helped me feel both more connected to myself as an artist and more connected to the work of others. I have a large range of experiences, both good and bad, that allows me to connect with paintings across any emotional spectrum - from an optimistic and energetic still life by Raoul Dufy to a brooding grey landscape by Anselm Kiefer. As an artist, I can create emotive work that is either ebullient or macabre depending on what I am trying to express.
What advice would you give other creatives in terms of being transparent and open about their experiences in their work?
My advice is to never be contrived. I think the strongest work just flows out of you. It is ok to create stupid work as long as it sincere. If the art is honest, at least some people will be able to relate to it. I believe that ideas come naturally from working, not the other way around.
What inspires you? How do you enjoy spending your time when you are not painting?
My inspiration is whatever is around me: People, New York, my cat. But, to be honest, I have a pretty limited range of things I really like to do. I love looking at art, reading, and watching movies. Modern and contemporary art is the most inspiring thing in the world to me. I feel very connected to this very human mode of communication and always feel energized after looking at some good work. Aside from the art of others, reading a good book or watching a movie can be very impactful. I feel inspired by any art form really, especially if it is odd. The stranger the better. If something really hits me at an emotional level I feel the need to express that feeling in my own work.
Share a piece of advice that has helped your career so far.
A professor of mine at Bard College told me that “Making art is work, it is not always fun.” I think this has stuck with me. A lot of the time I don’t feel like working, but you have to be consistent. You have to put in the hours, as opposed to waiting for inspiration to strike. I think I have come very far simply through sticking to a regimented working schedule - whether I like it or not.
How has living in New York influenced you as a painter?
Most of my work has to do with my thoughts and feelings about New York City. As someone who grew up here, I feel rejected by my own city. It is no longer a place where bohemians and artist can really live, it is for the rich. Much of my work as a painter has been about what it means to be a working adult in New York and how I feel that this city limits you. It’s tragic because I love this city, but it is pushing me out.
What do you hope to accomplish this year?
I hope to create a new body of digital paintings this year, building off of some of the work I did last year. My work has been somewhat scattered in recent years and I would like to take one medium and one idea and push it as far as I can. I see a lot of potential for my digital paintings and would love to see where this work takes me. My other main ambition is to figure out how I can add a research component to my art without feel like it is forced. If I could figure out how to successfully do that, it would be a major personal and artistic triumph.