“[I started] inserting this sort of technological aesthetic to it: a lot of grids and pixels and things of that nature, and it started to just sort of take over.”
When an artist tells you that they are a landscape painter, you imagine the same tired imagery that you see in your parent’s childhood home. Fortunately for us, someone like Joshua Lynn exists in the world and has taken the stigma that comes along with being a landscape artist and completely debunked it.
Tell us a little bit about how you ended up in Charleston.
Well, I went to the Savannah College of Art and Design for painting and printmaking. I left there and moved up to Chicago where I spent about 7 years, give or take, doing a variety of jobs: I was a mural designer, worked in a photography studio, I took pictures for a band magazine, and at one point I was a garbage man of sorts. It was in the estate service it was a very strange job. Some days you were holding Picasso’s and doing things for Sotheby’s, and the next day you would be in a foreclosed house shoveling dead cats.
Then I decided I was done with Chicago for the most part and me and Kate, my girlfriend at the time, got married and went back to Savannah to do my grad degree. Right after grad school I got a job here [at the College of Charleston] and have been here ever since, going on 5 years now which is insane.
Did you ever see yourself becoming an adjunct professor at a college? Do you think that being in this position influences your work?
I did not. The first time I started to think about it was when I had to give a presentation in a contemporary art history class in grad school. We would all do a round table sort of thing and when I got up there and started talking, I just took up the whole class. I didn’t mean to, but the conversation just got sort of crazy. There were a lot of questions and people got mad at the things I was saying. I like the interaction, I liked the setting. It suited me more than I thought it would. Then I started thinking about it a little more, and I was married, and I was like ‘I need a job, it would be sort of nice to have an income, and I really like interacting with the students’.
It helps me really think about things in a more direct way; how to relay information and relate experiences that I’ve had, things that have helped me or pitfalls that I would avoid. It just invigorates you in a weird way, you know? I see myself in you guys, and you get hungry for it. Sometimes you get so isolated in the studio that you don’t know who you’re doing it for half the time. I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a really great experience.
So, where do you get the inspiration for your work, and how did you arrive at primarily working with landscapes?
What I’ve been doing for the past six or seven years has been landscape for the most part, or in the realm of landscape. I always think that you need parameters, parameters really help me. If I make this little fence for myself, I’m more creative because there are these rules that I have to adhere to and then bend these rules, and if I don’t have those then I’m just sort of going off in all these different directions and it has no cohesion whatsoever.
When I first got to grad school I had done a lot of narrative paintings of animals but when I got there I just saw so much of it and so many other people doing it. That’s not a reason to not do something, but I was just so tired of doing it, I decided that I needed to do something different to reignite this flame.
I thought landscapes were a good fit. They’re something that I think everyone has an idea of; even people who don’t have any idea about what they like about art either know a landscape or has a landscape in their house. The other thing is technology. The world is much different now than it was when I was your age and I’m not crazy older than you guys, so it’s just strange how fast it’s gone. I thought those were two things that I can sort of mess with and put together that are completely opposite. It just sort of evolved from there.
When I started off in grad school I did very traditional landscapes. I came from the west, so the ocean was still strange and cool, so I focused on that in the beginning and transitioned from there. It got more abstract. I kept breaking up the images and putting them back together and started inserting this sort of technological aesthetic to it: a lot of grids and pixels and things of that nature, and it started to just sort of take over.
Other than in a strictly visual sense, how do you incorporate technological elements in your into your paintings?
After my grad school thesis show, I started to think ‘all right I can kinda see what’s happening. I’m really feeling good about this’. Then I started with the QR code thing, which was, for me, more about being able to interact with the painting in a totally different way. When you scan the QR codes,They take you some videos and animations that I’ve made either about the painting, for the painting, or about making the painting. In my mind they’re like little Easter eggs that you find that tell you more about the painting. When you look at it, they aesthetically fit in the painting. You don’t have to scan it to enjoy it but you can actually take that extra step and get something a little extra out of the work.
And you know, the average time that somebody looks at a painting is something like 8 seconds, so to be able to kind of hold them there and hold their interest for just a little bit longer than usual and think about it in any way is great.
As you can see, the stuff that I’m working on now still references that thing but just in a different way.
What sort of processes do you go through to achieve your aesthetic?
I think the key term is process. I just love process. Again it’s about having those parameters. The thing about the process is that it gives you steps to get to an end result. I have to take certain steps for that it to come out right, whether it was already designed for me or not. That’s why I loved printmaking when I got into it. But then I started to make my own process.
With these paintings here, I cut out my little stencils, and arranged them, and then there’s the spray painting step to get the grid on there, and then you have to tape it off to get the static part which just gives it another abstract, sort of fun aspect to the painting, and then you have to tape off all that and do the actual landscape part of it, and then tape up the rest of that and do the drop shadows. I have to take steps for these to look like I want them to.
In terms of going about making whatever that is, it varies.
It’s all pretty much based in landscape but the materials in the processes have a wide range. I feel like someone says landscape and it’s just like a dread, but in terms of how I go about making it varies.
How does your artwork fit into the Charleston art scene? Do people accept that you paint landscapes that are so wildly different?
I think a lot of people take me as reclusive in a lot of ways. I don’t have tons of time; I have a family and I have class to do and that’s about all that I do. I don’t have a lot of time to socialize so I don’t have time to really get into the scene as much as I would like, like I did when I was in grad school, so I haven’t been as much a part of galleries here.
I’m not trying to please everybody but trying to welcome everybody. I’m trying to do something that you’re a little bit familiar with, but it’s leading into more contemporary ideas of art, and not be exclusive and that way of you just don’t understand. But there might be more to it.
Some of the work that I used to make they couldn’t relate to at all because a lot of Contemporary Art requires you to know something about not just art, but art history, the artists in general and what they’re making.
When you ask somebody who’s your favorite musician people will have an answer for you and they might not even sing. But if you ask somebody who’s your favorite artist and they’re like, ‘I don’t know art’. You know what you like and what you don’t like, you know?
Tell us a little bit about the show that is coming up?
Well, It’s in Alaska and it’s in mid September. It’s me and a former professor of mine, Gregory Eltonham and another colleague, and Ben Carson. It’s 3 different rooms so it’s kind of like we all have our own little show going at the same time and we all do pretty different things.
Greg works more with figurative narrative, but everything is very colorful. Ben works with more surreal imagery and uses a lot of collage elements. And then mine is landscape, So there’s like a contemporary conglomeration going on with the show and you’re getting little pieces of everything.
Do you know how the installation will be arranged?
I don’t quite know, it’s composed of so many small pieces that it can be arranged and rearranged. I will just give this to the curator and give them examples and ideas of how it could be arranged, but ultimately let them do their own thing. It’s like with Legos; it used to be that you had a sack of Legos and would dump that sack out and just make stuff. And now it’s like ‘here’s a TIE fighter and here’s instructions for the TIE fighter, make this TIE Fighter.’ And I just want to go back to more like it was: just dump out the Legos.
And so whoever shows this next time, they won’t be repeating the same thing.
What made you decide to paint so many small works as opposed to a few larger format ones?
I made the one painting and I liked it and then I started making all the small ones for the show because I didn’t know what the show is going to be
I tell you [my students] this all the time, and it’s something one of my professors told me, which is make a bunch of small ones. If you make a bunch of small ones you’re going to try a whole bunch of different things. You’ll be able to step back and see all those different examples in all different ways and be able to kind of pick and choose what you like and what you don’t like. And then you can really go for it.
Like, wow, you use some serious, beautiful color. Did you always paint with this palette?
A former teacher of mine come to an open studio and she was like, ‘And now all you have to do is think about color.’ I looked around and there was a lot of brown and I was like, ‘Do I think about color?’ and then I really started thinking about color. And I was like ‘Alright, let’s do it let’s try it.” I don’t like bright colors you know? I dress like a communist, I don’t really have any interest in it besides painting. Then when I look outside, I look at the sky and I’m like ‘that is pink, that is so pink.’ Such a weird simple statement caused all of this and she just said it offhandedly. and I was like, ‘Wait! I have more questions for you! You started something!’.