The Highway Is For Gamblers: An Interview With Artist Jeremy Everett

In Jeremy Everett’s latest, most ambitious work of art, entitled FLOY – a magnum opus of grandiosity and scale – the artist crashes a 60-foot truck on a highway in Utah, leaving milk spilled across the asphalt. The wreckage was filmed from a helicopter ­– the artist had to race from the crash site to the helipad before the milk evaporated. Indeed, evaporation is an important part of Everett’s oeuvre – in his Double Pour series, for which his current exhibition at Wilding Cran is named after, the artist captured water spilled on a generic parking lot in Los Angeles before it dried and disappeared into the ether. While most artists apply material to material, Everett’s practice seems almost like a VHS tape on constant rewind; a fuzzy layering of time, space and ephemerality that makes you realize the illusion of time, the impermanence of life and the absurdity of everything. For instance, there is the time the artist took a vacuum to Death Valley and literally Hoovered the desert landscape – in the following interview, you’ll find out what happened to the vacuum. Also in our conversation, Everett talks about what it's like crashing a truck full of milk, the symbolism of the American highway, and his experience growing up in the American west.  

Oliver Kupper: So, I want to talk about FLOY because we’re standing in front of it right now, what was it like making that project? 

Jeremy Everett: We had a very small crew, only seven people. No insurance. It was mostly spoiled milk. We also had to use this fire-retardant foam because the milk was evaporating so fast I wouldn't have had time to go get the helicopter and fly back and document the piece from above.  But I like it even more, that it was staged in this way. Shooting from the hip. 

OK: Yeah, it’s like a set. Was it originally used to transport milk? Real dairy?

JE: Yes its all real. The truck was previously wrecked so I filled it and wrecked it again. 

OK: Was it difficult to get permits? 

JE: It was tedious, government agencies need facts. Part of the text for this piece will be the proposals for the permits. They ask for exactly what you’re going to do—how, when, who. It’s this absurd idea dissected into factual government vocabulary. I was trying to convince the department of highway on the phone, they said, “I don’t know what you’re doing, but if it all evaporates and there will be no permanent damage then okay.” 

OK: Utah seems outside of that creative realm. People might be more open to saying, “Okay, whatever you want to do.”

JE: In the beginning they couldn’t understand how it could be sculpture, but they were still very supportive by agreeing to do it, by the end of the day they loved it so much all of the families of the local crew came out to see it  and celebrate the work. Very interesting to see that transition. I am so grateful for their help,  I’m sending them a print from this show

OK: The branding on the truck says Real Dairy, that's such an American, generic thing.

JE: Yeah, and the highway is America’s greatest monument 

OK: I’ve been reading a lot of interviews about you, and it seems like people have trouble defining your work in a less abstract way. How would you define your practice?

JE: All of the work is directly related to and participates inside of life.  The work in this show begins with an action, wrecking the truck, pouring two puddles in a parking lot in LA, painting the visual structure of the surface, the grid, until it breaks. Allowing these disruptions to produce a visual charge.   

OK: And earth art. Could that be used to define your work? You grew up in Colorado, right? 

JE: I grew up in Colorado very close to where Christo did Rifle Curtain, I enjoy the works of Smithson and Heizer very much but I don’t feel my work has a connection to land art. I closed the the highway so I could wreck the truck, so the sculpture could participate in the system, stop the system, this disruption is a significant part of the work.

OK: So there’s a performance aspect to it?

JE: Yes. All of the photographs of Works in Situ are documentations of temporary works that I stage or perform. I really enjoy how factual a work is when it participates inside of life.  Double Pour lasted five minutes, during this time the parking lot became something else long enough so I could  photograph it.  

OK: And landscape architecture—what were you going to do with that degree?

JE: Nothing. But the school was incredible. We had full freedom in a very conceptual environment. 

OK: So, you used that to explore your artistic practice?

JE: Yes. I never really practiced landscape architecture. After school, I went to Toronto to study with the designer Bruce Mau. It was a graduate interdisciplinary studio with only seven people, so we had full freedom. My entire education was full freedom. I never really thought about the need to categorize what I was doing or making.   

OK: It seems you have an obsession with materials and decay, the way materials interact with one another.

JE: The way the cream of the milk ran down the chrome of the truck. I enjoy using references of certain materials as a part of the work. Also revealing certain visual qualities like the way the wireframe grid leaves an image on the surface of the painting with photographic accuracy. 

"Once during a snowstorm a truck flipped and slid into my lane. I was far enough away that I stopped to watch, but it was unbelievable. That physical power. Beyond the violence of it there was a very interesting sculptural quality to the object. "

OK: Could you talk a bit about where the obsession with material came from?

JE: I approach painting through sculpture and photography. These paintings are the results of trying not to make “paintings.”  I am also obsessed with printing and copying, all forms of reproduction 

OK: Is there a fatalistic element to your work? 

JE: Yes and no. 

OK: In terms of environment, is there any kind of message you’re trying to tell?

JE:  These are such short term discussions that I don’t find it interesting in the long run. Art is a much bigger picture.

OK: It doesn’t need a message. Do you think too many artists are looking for that message?

JE: I enjoy art when it is dysfunctional. Working with a message seems more connected to advertising. 

OK: I want to talk a little about the performance sculpture. Where did that idea initially come from? 

JE: I grew up in the West and saw several truck accidents.  Once during a snowstorm a truck flipped and slid into my lane. I was far enough away that I stopped to watch, but it was unbelievable. That physical power. Beyond the violence of it there was a very interesting sculptural quality to the object. 

OK: We gamble with inertia all the time.

JE: This object is massive. When you flip it on its side, something happens visually and physically. It becomes heavier -  I was interested in that sculptural situation.

OK: When people think of trucks, they don’t think about the death and destruction of it. They think about a truck driving down the highway. It took two years to put together?

JE: Yes it took two years to find the pieces. I drove from NYC to LA for a residency, stopped for gas and there was this wrecked truck sitting in a parking lot, it was the last part I needed to realize the work. I found the owner of the truck, convinced him to let me re-wreck the truck and it was on. I shot the piece two weeks later.  

OK: With this show, what are you trying to convey as a whole? 

JE: All of the work is connected by a monumental or un-monumental temporality. There are three photographs of Works In Situ hanging directly on the wall, constructed from smaller tiled prints. This grid construction is very important, and relates to the paintings which are also grids with a photographic quality, but pushed until the grid of the surface is broken. The paintings lead you to FLOY in the next room which is much larger and more specific work in Situ. Next to FLOY is a photograph revealing the section of the gallery wall exposed on film under specific lighting conditions. 

OK: You grew up in Colorado, but you said you spent time in Paris as well?

JE: I’ve been in Paris on and off for the past five years.

OK: What brought you back to LA?

JE: I did a residency here and found it so easy to make work. This city is all about production. Now I have a studio thats large enough to work on multiple ideas at the same time.

OK: It’s easier to get out of LA too. You can get out to open space. There are open highways, which play an important part in your work. 

JE: Yes.

OK: What about your vacuum piece – were you going to show an example that at your current show here at Wilding Cran? 

JE: I like the repetition of vacuuming so I took a Hoover to Death Valley and vacuumed the desert for nine minutes until the vacuum blew up. We were going to show it here, but it didn't work visually in this space. 

OK: So, lets talk about some of the wire mesh pieces – can you talk a little bit about those and what materials did you use?

JE: I was interested in mapping the painting with a perfect grid so I laid out a wireframe and then began to build the surface with paint, casting the painting like a sculpture. By doing this, the grid began to slip, fracture and crumble in ways that were specific to the action.  

OK: Fine art is probably more freeing than architecture?

JE: Yeah. I left architecture a long time ago. It was just for school. I entered the art world through the back door.  

OK: Anything that you are working on now? 

JE: I have a few large scale temporary works like FLOY that I am always working on out of the studio. One of which should be realized in the next three months. In the studio I'm preparing a solo show at Edouard Malingue gallery in Hong Kong and another show at Art Basel Hong Kong opening in February/March. 

OK: Can you talk about those?

JE: Yes the paintings that will be shown in Hong Kong are made using smoke pigment.  The canvas is almost printed with pigment and air, revealing the structure underneath as the image and composition. I use air current to make a copy in a similar way that a photocopier uses light. 

OK: Bigger than this?

JE: Different. Even more reduced. 

Jeremy Everett "Double Pour" will be on view until November 14, 2015 at Wilding Cran Gallery, 939 South Santa Fe. Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. text and interview by Oliver Maxwell Kupper