I came across Graeme Jukes’s mixed media on Ello. The images immediately arrested me. Steeped in early 20th century avant-garde movements, especially the Dadaists, his art expressed a nightmarish yet strangely familiar quality—the kind of familiarity you intuit, unable to articulate.
Captivated by his imagery, I decided to ask him about his work, his inspirations, and his need to create.
Your work seems paradoxical in that it rejects aesthetics while establishing one—or, the very least, coherence; the illusion of one. Is this conscious on your part?
Rejecting aesthetics? Possibly rejecting conventional aesthetics but I think it is part of a well-established Dadaist aesthetic. I don`t really think about it that much, I do what feels natural and as such it is not a conscious decision on my part. Paradoxical is good, however—I like that.
How did you settle on collage and mixed media?
That was largely accidental. I discovered collage back in the 1980s and decided to try my hand. I did thirteen collages and then abandoned the idea, turning to oil painting instead. These early collages are not on Ello.co but can be seen on my DeviantArt site…
I gave up on art altogether in the 1990s, destroying most of my work. In 2012 I became seriously ill with cancer. That brush with mortality made me determined that if I survived I would start making art again. I was given the all clear early in 2014. Around the same time I discovered the collages I had done thirty years earlier, which had somehow survived the 90s immolation. Simultaneously there was a major exhibition of the work of Hannah Hoch at the Whitechapel Gallery. I was absolutely bowled over by the beauty and the absurdity of her collages so I decided to have another go myself. Initially the work had a retro-scifi-popart feel before turning darker and more dada.
You’ve said “art is a way to negate an increasingly hostile world.” Although I share this philosophy, I’m not sure how it can in an era of hyper-consumer tripe. How do you think art does, or can, negate a hostile world?
It negates a hostile world for me, it is a personal thing. That does not mean it soothes. Art should be unsettling. Dark and unsettling art reflects the world around it and the more the idiocy of the everyday world is distorted then the more it is negated. As you say, we are living in an era of hyper-consumer tripe but we are also living in an era of extraordinary art and music. You just need to look beyond the commercial and the mass media and there is so much that is wonderful, exciting, beautiful. The internet has democratized art and music…. it means there is a lot of rubbish around but it also means that the good stuff can get seen as well.
As you say on Ello, your art reflects nightmares and fears. It also reflects a sense of eroticism. Do you see a link between fear and eroticism?
Eroticism? I`m not sure about that. I don`t think any of my work is erotic. Sexual certainly, but the sex is uncomfortable, awkward, trapped in the mechanical or chimerical. Machines featured in my recurring childhood nightmares. These nightmares now incorporate sexuality.
Do you think distorting the human face, or sometimes erasing it, betrays something about humans and the human condition, or is your use of the technique drawn from nightmarish imagery?
I think the distortion of the human face says a lot about the human condition. Sometimes the distortion is nightmarish but mainly it is a way of looking at humanity from all angles, like cubism. That is the technique I usually employ in my portraits.
Do you remember the first piece of art that had an impact on you?
Yes. When I was a young child I was very impressed by a small Picasso that hung in my uncle`s dining room. It was the first piece of art I was ever aware of, and I was also struck by how my grandparents thought it was peculiar and ugly yet I thought it was beautiful. It was the beginning of a lifelong love of art.
Who were your influences?
Obviously Picasso for making me interested in art in the first place. Linder Sterling for introducing me to collage in my punk years with her work for The Buzzcocks and her pamphlet “The Secret Public.” The poetry of Frank O`Hara changed my approach to imagery, taught me to have no restraint even if it appears unhinged. He also introduced me to many artists of the New York School—especially Willem de Kooning. My other main influences are musical. Psychedelic rock and expressionist songwriters. Music influences my art a great deal—I have it playing all day and my images can be influenced by the sound and lyrics I hear as I work.
If you can name one artist who inspired you—the big one—who would it be?
Hmmm! Probably Willem de Kooning. He is certainly my favourite artist, although it might be difficult to see his influence in my work. I have a small de Kooning drawing hanging over my work table so he acts as a constant inspiration. Last year the Royal Academy had an Abstract Expressionist Exhibition. There was a wall of de Kooning Women. I sat in front of Woman II (my favourite painting) for about 30 minutes, tears streaming down my face.
Do you feel the need to create? Is it an obsession or something you do when you have free time?
Yes, it is an obsession, something I am constantly thinking about even when doing something else. As I said before, I gave up art in the 1990s and had over twenty years of inactivity. I wasted so much time that now I have to make it up as quickly as possible.
Is your art an expression of what you’re feeling as you’re creating it?
Yes, largely. Portraits apart.
Take us through your routine. Do you plot out a piece, think about it, or just set pen to paper, so to speak, and see what comes out of your brain?
I do both, actually. Sometimes I will cut out an image and see what flows, be spontaneous, improvise without any idea of what the final outcome will be. These pieces usually take longer to put together. Sometimes they don’t work at all and are scrapped, but sometimes they turn out better than I had expected. Mostly, however, I plan the work beforehand. I will lie on the sofa for hours, listening to music, whilst working out an image in my mind. Once I think I have it sorted I will start work. These pieces usually get put together quickly—if you discount the days spent thinking about it. Even these planned pieces are open to improvisation and divergence, however. The works are mainly printouts cut up and pasted on card. Sometimes they are a mixture of cut ups and ink drawing and sometimes they are cut shaped coloured paper arranged to form a face. I may do some digital enhancement on the scanned image to make the work suitable for giclee prints.
What’s your biggest source of inspiration from outside the world?
Music is my biggest inspiration outside of art. Psychedelic Rock from The Byrds and Jefferson Airplane to Sleepy Sun, White Fence and Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound. Song lyrics will often influence the image, or give me a title for a piece.
Some of your work is visually complex. Where does that complexity come from?
I don`t know. It is not something I have given any thought to. We are bombarded by images constantly so it is not surprising that they get mashed up in the brain then spewed out again. If that is complexity then I can live with it quite happily.
Are you trying to convey something about yourself with each piece?
I think all art should say something about the artist. My political, social and sexual personality is on display for all who care to see it.
How do you define “art”? What is an “artist” to you?
I wouldn`t be as presumptuous as to define “art”. We are all artists in one way or another, are we not?