Alan Taylor Jeffries is a self-taught abstract expressionist painter living in Ohio and represented by several galleries around the country, such as the George Gallery in Charleston, SC. Jeffries began to paint in 2008 and has had a remarkably successful journey in exploring the style of abstract expressionism.
1. When did you start painting, and what were the circumstances that brought you to become an artist?
I’ve always loved art but only started painting about ten years ago. After I went through a divorce I moved into a new house with bare walls, and began watching some interior design TV programs as I thought about how to furnish my new home. In one of those programs, homeowners created some of their own art to decorate their walls, which inspired me to try that for myself. My first attempts were clumsy and crude but I persisted, especially when I soon found that entering into the “flow experience” of creative work had a therapeutic benefit for me. I also began to study the work of my favorite painters in an effort to hone my own skills. As my work developed, I grew confident enough to let others see it and then to post it on several online sites, through which I was soon selling pieces. Eventually my work came to the attention of someone who was opening a new gallery and invited me to become one of her artists. Since then I have been asked to join four additional galleries. My paintings now hang in personal collections in the U.S. and Europe.
2. How did you arrive at your current way of abstraction in the mode of abstract expressionism? What did you try to achieve in the beginning? What’s different now?
Abstract has always been my favorite style of painting, particularly the work of the first generation AbExers in the 1940s and 50s, so it was natural for me to study and try to emulate their work. A leading critic and art theorist of that time, Clement Greenberg, discarded notions that a painting must “mean” something or “be” anything other than gestures and colors on a surface, and that has been a guiding principle for me. My paintings are simply the application of paint on canvas in ways intended to evoke a purely aesthetic response. That was my goal then and remains my goal now, although my style and methods have evolved over the years as I attempted to move beyond first generation AbEx into something more idiosyncratic. A big stepping stone on that journey was discovering 1980s Neo-expressionism, primarily Basquiat’s work, which showed me greater possibilities of what a painting could be or could hold in itself. This was very liberating for me in my own work. One thing it taught me is that, when I have reached a stage with a painting where it could stand as is as a “nice” finished painting, that’s when I have to do something weird or unexpected or counterintuitive or even “ugly” to it, in an attempt to break it open and help a better, stronger painting emerge. I’m forced to reassess, rearrange, reorient, add to, subtract from the components of the earlier version of the painting to release what becomes the final finished form. Often I think of it a bit like smashing atoms to release energy. Sometimes this tactic fails and I’m back almost to square one, but other times it succeeds even better than hoped for.
3. What do you hope to achieve in painting in terms of exploration of and experimentation with color and abstraction? Are you trying to depict light? Emotions? Thoughts? Or a condition? Is it a manifestation of your process?
I don’t bother with color theory or light theory. I’m self-taught and work intuitively. I like working with a simple limited palette. While I might agree that my emotions or thoughts as I work may influence a painting, it’s only on a subconscious level. I am not trying to depict any emotion or thought or condition, e.g. “Hm, I’m going to make a melancholy painting today,” or “I’m angry and I’m going to show it in this painting.” As I said in a previous answer, I’m just applying paint to canvas in what I hope is an interesting way. If you see anything other than that, that says more about you than about me LOL. Usually I work on one painting at a time, although that’s partly because of studio space restrictions, but it’s also one of the reasons why none of my paintings are exactly the same. More than one person has told me that my paintings all look different but are still easily recognizable as mine. I like that, and it indicates that the essentials of my individual style and methods carry over from painting to painting, but each one is unique. Some artists seem to keep painting the same painting over and over, and that’s fine if it works for them. But I look at each painting as a new arena for exploration, experimentation, growth, etc. The finished painting is a visual record or manifestation of that process.
4. How do you arrive at a title for your works?
My titles are words/phrases that pop into my head, or from music and TV shows that might be on in the background, or from books. I collect them in a notebook. I never title a painting until it’s finished, and it isn’t meant as a “clue” to deciphering the painting. In fact I prefer titles that are ambiguous or have multiple meanings. It’s actually a kind of game and I must admit I like the idea of someone looking at one of my paintings and wondering, “Why did he call it that?”
5. What kind of impact would you like for your work to have on the people and the environment? Are your paintings a kind of food for the mind and the soul?
“Food for the mind and soul”—that sums it up well. A painting (or any work of art) should satisfy something in someone that can’t be satisfied by anything else, even if that’s not on a conscious or rational level. But what that satisfied something might be—emotion? idea?—who knows? I prefer to think in terms of “aesthetic response,” but where does our aesthetic sense reside? Seems this question has raised more questions than answers.
6. You have stated previously that when things are not going well in painting, color black is your cure-all solution. What do you think the use of color black does to your work?
Black is a fascinating color to me and I often indulge in it. Other times I have to restrain myself. Sometimes I use it as a kind of structure or scaffolding. Other times I use it when something—a juxtaposition of shapes, a color choice, etc.—isn’t working in a painting. Black can obliterate, connect, highlight, restructure. There’s a starkness, a depth, a resonance, an almost gravitational density to black—it’s a powerful color, maybe the most powerful. I see a lot of what I call “soft” paintings, they’re rather vague or unfocused or, frankly, bland. Black sharpens a painting.
7. Do you perceive in your paintings a monumental quality to the abstract forms and colors? Are the abstract forms and colors supposed to stand like architectural structures in an abstract landscape? What is the best way to read your paintings for the layman audience?
I don’t think in terms of architecture but rather of relationship. The shapes and mark-making exist in relationship to each other, in fact they develop out of each other, so the components of a painting don’t exist unto themselves as structures. Instead, through the relationships of balance, tension, etc., they form a whole. As for how a lay audience should “read” them, all I can say is simply look and see what’s there, nothing more or less, and don’t feel compelled to find some hidden meaning or reference to an outside object.
8. What is the internal logic of a painting? Is it a common visual style or language that unifies the painting and is its building block? Is it the way colors occupy a space - sinking, contracting, or expanding?
The process of painting gradually reveals the internal logic of any particular painting, usually through a lot of trial and error with color choices, shapes, sizes, and lines. I never begin with a plan or image in mind and I never know what the finished painting will be. I just start applying paint, more or less randomly at first, but then one thing starts to suggest the next, then that suggests the next, and so on. It’s more like setting myself a puzzle or problem to be solved, but eventually the puzzle itself starts to show directions to the solution. Even so, this solution—my satisfaction with the end product—and the ways I reached it will be based on my own individual artistic sensibility/aesthetics. Does this answer the question? Maybe not!
9. Who are your favorite artists? Who inspires you or influences your work the most?
Too many to name all, but at the top of the list are Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, Mark Rothko.
10. What is the most important thing or goal for an artist today? What is the meaning of the life of an artist?
The only real goal for an artist of any period is to continue to produce good, new, challenging work.