Interview with Artist Jeffrey Gibson

There is a formidable talent brewing on the walls at Samson Projects, a contemporary art gallery in Boston, and once you see this collection of abstract works by Brooklyn-based artist Jeffrey Gibson you won't need any more convincing from me.  The paintings truly speak for themselves.

Surveillance 2008

Gibson's solid compositions consist of numerous parallel lines which cross into zigzags and then become blurred by large exploits of colour.  This obfuscated linearity convincingly shows off the brilliance behind Gibson's layering techniques.  You get lost in the shuffle of line work, colour juxtaposition and inherent balance created by the white space that gives Jeffrey's paintings the translucent quality that is reminiscent of looking through a stained glass window.  The patterns created are truly impressive and actively engage you to contemplate his painting process.

Splinter, 2008
The Monotype series which display similar elements as Gibson's paintings feature the eyes and mouth of an unidentified being.  There is a narrative here that wants to be told, or at least, Gibson gives us the option of seeking one out if we choose.  These are emotive images and they are embedded in an intentionally jarring movement of form.  The underlying chaos on display here intimates a dimension of violence and discomfort.  We instinctively want to know more.  

Fallout, 2008

Lucky for us, Jeffrey Gibson was kind enough to respond to such curiosities.  Just before the holidays, I had a chance to converse with him over email and he was more than just generous and considerate with his time and answers.  Before I knew it, one question turned into almost a dozen and hence, this interview was born. I cannot thank him enough.

Shred, 2008

Before delving into the Q & A I thought I would give you a little bit information about his background.  Born in Colorado in 1972, Jeffrey Gibson lived in Korea, and Germany before studying with sculptor Ernest Mirabal in New Mexico.  He completed his Bachelor of Fine Arts at The Art Institute of Chicago and later pursued a Master of Arts at the Royal College of Art in London, England. Being a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and half Cherokee he received great support from his community group who funded his studies in the UK (ARTnews/June 2007).  Jeffrey Gibson moved to New York in 1999 and since then he has been exhibiting his work in the US and internationally.  He is showing in Canada for the first time this month at The PlugIn Institute of Contemporary Art in Winnipeg.  The interview follows below:

Untitled Green Stripes 2008

1.  My first question is about technique because when I look at your abstract paintings from 2008 and the Monotype series I can't figure out how you started painting these.  There's obviously layering involved but the process I can't really articulate, so please help, how do you begin?  All those lines, sometimes they're crisp, sometimes they're grainy and sometimes they're jagged, what does the line work represent?

I work with acrylic, oil and spray paint in the paintings on paper and canvas and begin by making some basic decisions about colour.  The first marks are very abstract and non-objective in nature.  I will stain the paper or canvas and then begin reacting to the marks with line drawings that emphasize some of the forms.  A lot of the time is spent looking for areas of the drawing and painting that I want to keep or build on.  I mask those areas off with masking tape and use spray paints to block out large sections of space.  This immediately calms the surface down and opens up space for me to continue the line work or mark making.  When I begin to see an image forming I push it back into abstraction, maybe keep a fragment of it.  The layering allows me to confuse the layers by leaving gaps that expose the very initial marks and by keeping a similar palette I am able to pull the initial marks back onto the surface.

Overflow, 2008

The prints begin similarly.  Each mono print goes through about 4-5 passes before the eyes and lips are put on the surface.  These passes included many transparent layers that can turn a series of marks into three or four new versions of themselves just done to colour shifts.  These prints were made over a two-week period working with an incredible Mast Printer named Frank Janzen.  This opened up a lot of freedom for me to make decisions and be concerned only with the placement of marks and use his knowledge of how inks work.

Monotype, 2008

The lines function as the very beginnings of image or possibly text.  One of the goals is to hold it there, explore what happens before an image or before a word.  How much can I express and still have it remain purely abstract.  The visual languages that I work with say a lot and they both balance and contradict each other.

Untitled, 2008

2.  When I first saw your name and your work at Samson Projects, and before I ever read anything about you, I would have never guessed that you have Native origins.  In the mostly abstract works that I'm profiling here do you feel that there is still a Native element, if I can call it that, to them?

I'm not so sure.  I don't push any of my influences to the front of the work.  I have lived in many places including the US, Korea, Germany, England, and spent time in Norway, and I "collect" many visual references in the process.  One of the goals of my work is to merge these references together to form something altogether new.  I want to describe the stimulation of visual culture, the eruptions, the obstacles, the distractions and the calming effect of form and colour.  Being Native American allows for many visual languages, formats, colour combinations and philosophies that have definitely influenced me.  This definitely colours the lens that I see the world through.

Untitled, 2008

3.  Which artist(s) do you most identify with or would like to be associated with if any?

A.  There are many but here are a few:

Shred, 2008

4.  In the Monotype series of works, you include a woman's face or at least certain facial features in the background.  Who is this?  And why have you included her?  What was the intention behind the Monotype works?

I made these prints during a two week residency in Oregon.  I knew no one there and felt somewhat on display in this small town.  These prints were my way of investigating the place and translating this place into my own visual language that I arrived with.

Monotype, 2008

5.  What do you want people to know about you as an artist, three things?

1)  I'll be working until I can't work any longer - I love creating.
2)  I want to collaborate more with creative people on projects involving fashion/design/events.
3)  I do my best to remain in the present.

Make Me Feel It, 2008

6.  You live in NYC, how do you stay connected to your Chrokee/Choctaw community group?

I don't prioritize my communities because I crossover into many groups daily.  This is what I believe in.  There is a Native American community in NYC, and most cities, and when I feel I need them, they are there.  My primary community is an artist community made up of people from all over the world.

Four Bar Eye Dazzler Study, 2008

7.  If you could pick three of your favourite paintings to hang in your home, outside of your own, what would they be?

1.  The Italians, 1961, by Cy Twombly

The Italians, 1961, by Cy Twombly (MoMa)

2.  Serapis, 2008 by Ron Gorchov

Serapis by Ron Gorchov, 2008

3.  The Dicks, 1946, by Forrest Bess

The Dicks by Forrest Bess, 1946

8.  What direction do you hope your artwork will take in the future?  Are you planning to focus on painting or sculpture or a little bit of both?

I hope to begin showing more internationally and place my work within the context of important abstract painters working today, Germany would be a great place.  I want to continue working with both painting and sculpture but I want the paintings to engage more with the space where they are hung, more like an installation.

Slice and Dice, 2008

9.  What were the first signs while growing up that made you realize you would go into art?

I always knew I would be an artist.

Monotype, 2008

10.  In the paintings I have chosen to show on this blog what can you tell us about the use/importance of colour?  Is it something that's predetermined or something you discover along the way?

Hmmm, the colour.  The latest series of paintings do have a more specific colour palette but the ones that you are looking at, each painting has its own colour palette.  In those paintings, sometimes the colour was predetermined and I would assign some meaning to colours such as reds and oranges signifying immediacy or urgency.  Grays are generally more calming and can have a neutralizing effect.  I would also use colours as representative of the natural world and of the man-made artificial world and place them side by side and on top of each other.  I am always drawn to colours that appear completely artificial but can be found in the natural world of plants, rocks or minerals.  I would combine colour to create contrast and make areas of the paintings intense because of how colour can either sit comfortable beside each other or flicker back and forth with what is next to it.  These are all things that I play with.  And, of course, much of this is discovered along the way during the process.  The paintings get many layers and my process allows me to dramatically change a painting during each painting session until I am able to hit the balance that I am seeking.

Redspill, 2008

11.  This last question has nothing to do with your art but I'm asking because I'm curious.  Who are your favourite writers, your favourite books/food and the best thing about living in NYC?

Favourite writers include Hélène Cixous, Michel Houellebecq, and Jean Baudrillard.

Current favourite book is Carnival and Cannibal by Jean Baudrillard.

Favourite food - so many - but good greek yoghurt with fresh honey and roasted almonds always hit the spot, maybe some sour cherries on top.

Best thing about living in NYC is the collision of culture makers.  It is too much and most of it will not stand the test of time, but watching it and engaging with it is rarely boring.

Jeffrey Gibson (photo: sarweb.org)

I hope you enjoyed reading about Jeffrey Gibson;  I know I did.  I especially loved learning about his creative process.  I can't wait to research some of the artists he has mentioned.  I hope maybe one day we'll get a more intimate look of how he paints maybe on Youtube.  One thing is certain: we have much to look forward to with this talented artist.  

If you would like to see more of Jeffrey Gibson's work you can view it here:


  1. Wow, those are interesting. They have... levels. It's like there's something behind what you see, hardly visible. Don't know how to explain it elseway.

    Thanks for the tips about the website, we'll check it out.

  2. love his work..cool interview..his red stripes work is my fav


    follow if u like what u see?


  3. Slice and Dice would be soo happy on a wall in my house!