Jack Pierson

03.05.13

View of “Ennui (la vie continue)” [Ennui (life goes on)], 2013, Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris.


Jack Pierson is best known for his lush photographs and sculptures of words made of letters salvaged from roadside diners, Hollywood marquees, and Las Vegas casinos. He gained notoriety in the early ’90s when he, along with peers like Karen Kilimnik and Laurie Parsons, was termed a “slacker artist” by Jack Bankowsky. Over the past six months, Pierson has mounted an entirely new body of work, beginning in October at Xavier Hufkens in Brussels and then continuing in Los Angeles at Regen Projects. On March 2, he opened “Ennui (la vie continue)” [Ennui (life goes on)], which is on view at Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac in Paris until April 6.

EVEN IF YOU’RE MADLY IN LOVE, even if it’s all working out perfectly, the deeper you fall, the faster you will realize you can’t fully be one with another. There are people who are probably so in love that this must be devastating. When I think of melancholia, I tend to think of this, of the impossibility of it all, that two can never really be one. Nostalgia and melancholy are feelings people generally don’t want to embrace, at least in art. Art is supposed to endure, to be ultimately immortal. For me, in order to create, I had to let go of the idea of immortality. Perhaps that’s why I don’t paint so much—I’ve always made work that can be disassembled, that if taken apart leaves you with nothing. Photography is a system of ghosts: The photograph is never the thing itself, and that thing in its actual form is certainly not eternal. The photograph may be actually better than what it depicts, which is why I love and despise it. In contrast, for me, to paint is to grab at eternity—sort of like deciding to have a kid. Photography is homosexual and painting is heterosexual, which is not to say its finest practitioners may or may not have been either one of these.

Last month, I mounted an exhibition in Los Angeles, which I titled “The End of the World.” Unlike much of my output, there was no nostalgia in the work I presented here; this was supposed to be a contemporary blockbuster, a statement in 3-D—this is LA, after all. It was the first time I felt like I worked completely in the now. Paris, however, is a different kind of Hollywood, and I wanted to bring the location to the work. I tend to—in a way that most serious artists won’t—play to the audience, and I love Paris. I find it as melancholic as I find it euphoric, and if I am in Paris for more than a few days, there will come a moment when I am so overwhelmed by either mortality or beauty that I want to throw myself in the Seine. Over the years it’s happened a million times and I never quite get it. And so, for the Paris show, I landed on the word ennui. If you look it up in the dictionary, ennui means melancholia and also boredom, but I think it really means something closer to killing time, waiting for the next thing to come along. Apropos.

My first concept for the Paris show was to render the word dreams in big, gargantuan letters, after which I planned to burn them. However, the general notion of burnt dreams is one that I have done many times before, and I wanted to keep the possibility for broader interpretation open. While I still constructed the word dreams, I painted the letters silver instead. I also made neon elements depicting the moon in various stages of waxing and waning and then complete fullness. Each moon is a different color and will reflect onto this big forest of letters that are silver and reflective. I’m hoping for the effect of wandering around the Pantheon or an Egyptian temple. How’s that for grandiose?

When I was in my twenties, living between New York, Miami Beach, and Boston, I wouldn’t pay for art materials. Everything I used had to be scavenged or found, which kept the process of artmaking simple. I had parameters; it led me to that sort of aesthetic that I work from now. Currently I’m making these huge works that are fabricated and made of plywood and the only boundary is that there is no boundary. Maybe it’s because I’m past fifty and looking for immortality: Next time they’ll probably be cast in bronze or stainless steel. Much of my work is language-based, but I am moving in a glacial way toward something that isn’t text-driven, if only to be more universal. I hope when I am eighty I will put a kernel of corn in the middle of the room and call it a day.

— As told to Allese Thomson