Chicago based artist Jacob Van Loon’s work explodes ideas of geometric, nature and architecture, quite often fairly literally with much of his work tackling the aesthetic of the scientific exploded diagram because “technical drawings are weird”. Constructed out of layers and layers of watercolours, and occasionally other media, Van Loon’s work in its process mirrors the ever changing, ever reconstructed, facades of buildings he walks past and watches evolve.
You’ve been using the internet and social media for quite a while as a way to share your work it seems. How do you think the presence of the world wide web and your interaction with it has altered your work, or how you think about art? Could you imagine doing what you do without it?
The way I make new work isn’t reactionary to the attention it receives. Drawing is something I need to do regardless. The internet becomes useful in the periods between work, when there might be more than one piece on my studio table in an unfinished state. I document and share work as it develops.
I enjoy having readers from all over the world participating in a conversation about my work which is an opportunity that without the internet would be much more difficult to attain. The stigma surrounding online communication—that if social exchange isn’t happening in a shared physical space, the value of the communication is diminished—isn’t as prominent as it was even five or six years ago. Adaptation been beneficial for my practice because more people now recognize communication as an integrated experience.
What would you say is the main thing you get out of having that dialogue with an audience?
Criticism is a valuable commodity for working artists, and there’s plenty of it to go around online. Posting work online is a way to receive unfettered opinions from just about anyone. I’m using the internet to show people something they might not see otherwise, it’s a system designed for introduction. It’s an absolute honor to correspond with other artists, friends, and clients as a result of sharing my work and process online.
I’ve enjoyed watching the videos of you painting on Youtube (that sounded a little creepier than I intended), do you see those as performance pieces or behind the scenes insights, or something entirely different?
Video is another format to share the progress of work with my online readership, and the videos inadvertently focus on the process as a story. The intent of filming the process was never to educate or impart technical knowledge. Filming and editing a video about my work gives me a chance to learn more about video without completely going off track. I use music to accompany the videos and as a result was able to connect with musicians from different places. I’ve traded some messages with Hirohito Ihara (Radicalfashion) after using some of his music, had a chance to introduce my work to David Wenngren (Library Tapes) and used a song off Fragment, and most recently tapped my friend Adam Harris (Kraken Mare, Retrograde Tapes) to compose a piece for the Station V video.
What I really love about your work is the tension/communication between organic forms and what appears to be a style influenced by technical drawings. What first drew you to those concepts?
Technical drawings are weird. Engine schematics, blueprints, assembly manuals, anatomical charts, etc. are supposed to facilitate better understanding of a physical object, but end up being the most intangible bastardization of reality. It has a lot to do with the use of outlines. Portraying an object that could exist in space with a visual element that doesn’t, ever – that’s weird.
I grew up in the Midwestern United States around Chicago. Over the years I saw tracts of land converted for suburban development. The ecotones around me were completely obliterated by these housing developments. Plains that turned into marshes that turned into forests were shorn and replaced by paved loosely-gridded blocks of ~230m² two-story, two-car-garage homes. However flat and monotone the Midwestern landscape looks, it was still remarkable to see nature’s intrinsic nuance ripped out then selectively replaced, with little shrubs or ornamental trees in the yard like shrines to a god. Homeowners would give meticulous care to their yards to make sure the nature they put back didn’t ever look too natural, so I started paying closer attention to that interplay and it now shows up in my work.
You cite architecture as one of your influences. That seems pretty broad, is there specific style or aspect that really captures your attention?
Architecture is an acute manifestation of history and is important to the design of communication. How architecture is maintained and preserved defines culture. I’m fascinated by architecture being the testament to human legacy for better or worse, so my research is far from centralized on a specific style or era. For example, I work at the Ellwood House Museum in DeKalb. The collection focuses on the family of Isaac Ellwood, who along with a local business partner designed and patented the first commercially successful version of barbed wire in 1874. Albeit a small invention, barbed wire fencing changed several industries at the turn of the century and was one of the most ubiquitous property-line fixtures when agriculture and livestock played a larger role in the American workforce. The Ellwood mansion itself has an outwardly complex facade, it’s a combination of distinct architectural styles attributed to exterior and interior renovations completed over a 30-year span since the original construction in 1879. The mansion was owned by the Ellwood family for 85 years before being donated to the city of DeKalb. Much of the family history comes through in the design of the floorplan and function of the spaces inside and out.
In regards to the “humanistic traits bleeding through” architecture, can you see that within your own work? Is that something you look for in art work on a wider scale?
Observing how people redesign their homes and communities over time correlates to a basic desire to reinvent ourselves over time. Renovation or retooling—much like aging or maturity—doesn’t usually happen in distinct phases. The past lingers underneath whatever new facades are constructed. I lived in Chicago for three years and one of my favorite things to do was take public transportation routes to their end, then walk back toward the Downtown area. I did this several times. One of my favourite walks started at 63rd street and extended north to Roosevelt – quite honestly a stupid idea if you were to ask anyone else from Chicago about it. But there was no other way to see Chicago in the way I saw it on this walk or the other walks I took. I was constrained to a certain pace, I didn’t bring a camera or headphones and had nothing to distract my attention from what was around me. Chicago is distinctly segregated in how the neighborhood divisions play out, so walking 50 blocks in mostly one direction showed me a vast array of change. All these descriptors of social structure remain influential -The diversity in how parks are distributed, how commercial and residential properties flow, how streets continue or terminate, the various architectural motifs fighting for attention contrasted with the structures fighting simply to remain standing.
Space and place seem to be big interests of yours. Is that something you explore within the presentation of your work as well as within the pieces themselves?
An interesting aspect of completing work on commission is seeing the piece with interior spatial context.
Whenever I hang my work in the studio, I often rearrange the composed order to first test how pieces interact with one another and second to understand their presence in a space. Some of my recent work would do well translated dimensionally, and I have an interest in learning about 3-D modeling and printing some of the objects I draw, which could be paired with drawings for exhibition.
As well as movement you use a lot of layers has that always been a part of your process, and are they all initially planned or do they grow organically?
The layering in my drawings is a fairly uncomfortable process. I don’t use transparencies or tracings to compose my images and I don’t do digital mockups. Mapping takes place on the final surface, I leave old marks and erasures on the page alongside more finished or tightly composed areas. Part of the strategy with layering is to graphically flatten the images. I’m unconcerned with showing perspective or conventional atmosphere, drawing is drawing. All the formal components of my drawings, from beginning to end, are having an exchange on the same visual plane which makes it more difficult to assign an overall scale to the structures. The other part of layering my images and leaving certain areas at a younger stage is that I’m still determining what actually finishes a drawing or a painting. The endpoint still evades me.
One last question: do you have a plan for how your work is going to develop next? And if so, could you give us a hint or two?
I worked in an office for about two years, there’s a certain treatment I want to give that experience. I estimate that job took up about 4,000 hours of my waking life, but I’ve mainly attempted to forget it ever happened rather than address it. More time to spend with portraiture would be good, we’ll see how that rolls into it.
Find out more about Jacob Van Loon…