Artist Talk with Jill Daves for Chasing the Sun 8.18.12
Deb Klowden Mann: Welcome to Jill Daves’ Chasing the Sun.
Jill, I know one of the first things that people say when they come in is, ‘how do these two things—the
paintings and the installation—relate, and where does the fascination with the sun come from?’
Jill Daves: They relate in the sense that both the paintings and the installation are really about the sun,
and about marking time. The sun creates the wood, and it creates the wood grain as the tree grows
every year. And in a sense, it’s a marking of time. In the wood grain it’s a marking of years, since each
new line represents a year of life for the tree, and then whatever happens that we’re unaware of in that
year is represented by the space between the grain. And in the site-specific piece, it’s so transient that
those shadows will never happen again, and even while I’m making them they are changing. So they are
both kind of about this romantic loss, of trying to capture the unattainable.
DKM: One of the other things I’ve been seeing is that people come in and immediately see these
paintings as a very organic and intuitive, about this natural process of moving with nature, and relating
to natural patterns. In talking to you, I know that this is definitely true, but you also talk about the work
as having this obsessive and controlled quality to it. Could you talk about the process a bit, and then
talk a bit about the conversation and tension between those two aspects?
JD: Well, with the paintings it’s about finding a structure and deciding how many times I’m going to
repeat it. And it’s usually based loosely on how far apart the sections of manufactured wood grain are
(since the wood I paint on is not what occurs in nature, but is pieced together by a manufacturing
company to a desired width). Different kinds of wood have their grains farther apart, or more subtle
grain patterns in between. And then I start following that grain…And if I decide to more than just the
first pattern I chose it’s because I think it’s not working. [laughs] It’s sort of really intuitive, and so I
don’t know really how to explain why…
DKM: I guess what I’m asking is how you choose which path or part of the grain to follow? It seems
clear in some of the paintings that you followed the strongest elements of the grain, but in others not as
structurally obvious, and I’m wondering how you chose?
JD: I think I intuitively choose the parts that speak most strongly to me. And what happens is when you
do things where it repeats like that, the pattern overlaps itself and it just becomes thicker where the
different sections join and they got smashed together.
DKM: It’s interesting, in relation to what you’ve told me before, that because the manufactured
elements of the wood grain join together and your lines become more prominent there, it almost looks
as if you are trying to erase that mechanical nature of the manufacturing process…
JD: Right. But it also makes it more pronounced.
DKM: Yes! Moving on to the site-specific installation, could you tell us a little bit about how you began
that process, beginning with what happened when you first came to watch the way the sun moved in
JD: When I start, I really have to come in to the space to see where the sun goes and how it moves
throughout the day. When I came in here, I realized that from the beginning of the day until about
11:30am, the sun rises and moves. But then it hits the awning around 11:30 and from then on it’s just
gone. So, it’s an interesting endeavor, because all morning I’m chasing the shapes of the sun against
the windows and this one wall over here [pointing to the West wall of the gallery], and if there is a car
parked in one of the spaces in front of the building it blocks it.
The afternoon is
cars are parked here at the stop light, so I’d have to sit there and wait for them to stop at the stoplight
and then run around with the ladder and try to catch them before they moved again. So in some places
you can see that the line just stops because they drove away before I could get there.
DKM: I remember coming in and loving that you had this little—actually, not so little—container, filled
with a zillion different shades of colored pencil. How does the installation process for you work with
those colors? Do you just grab whatever you grab, or do you choose…?
JD: No, I don’t have time to choose. It was really hard given how fast I had to move, I just had a handful
of them and you could hear them dropping all of the time. I just grabbed one of them and started going,
because I had to go so fast.
What was interesting was all that time I was sitting there waiting for the cars at the stoplight I would
look at what I had done already and think, ‘Oh, I should fix this’ and then I would say, ‘No, I can’t fix this!’
Because that’s not what this is about, it’s not about fixing anything. I just had to sit there and wait.
DKM: So, if it isn’t about fixing anything, what do you feel like it is about?
JD: Well, for me it really is about the beauty of the endeavor to try to capture something that is not
capturable, that’s not noticed very often. To see what people don’t look at or ignore—the wallflowers of
the world. Stuff that just is a marking of what’s been there, but it’s not ever going to change really. Does
that make sense?
DKM: That makes perfect sense. It also makes me think about this subtle element of surprise in the
experience of that room. One of the things I loved at the opening was that people who came in a bit
later—when it was dark outside and the contrast with the interior lights was stronger—seemed to walk
into that room thinking that they were coming into an empty space, that we had for some reason just
not put any art up in that room, and then they slowly discovered your drawings. I love the subtlety of
that experience, which I think is a hard thing to capture in a site-specific installation.
Something else I remember is that before the opening we talked about the possibility that people
stepping on drawing on the floor, and that was something you really didn’t want to happen. Can you talk
about that a little bit?
DKM: Right! But there were actually a couple of times where people came in and said that sort of thing
about your paintings, but in a very different way. More along the lines of, “Oh, I can tell that this was a
real process.” That they could see and recognize that there was an act of waiting and time involved.
Audience member: It’s also that it seems like a different part of the process is revealed …
JD: When I do these paintings, or any kind of painting or drawing, I think of them not in a gallery space
but in the house that they end up in. I always want these to be something that you would look at for
years and see something different. Just the interactions are so complex, which does have to take time.
DKM: Since you brought up grad school, I’m going to ask you talk a little bit about where you went to
grad school, and what that process was like for you.
JD: I went to grad school at the University of Illinois at Champagne
, and that was the smallest
place I’d ever lived. It’s in
, and if anyone doesn’t know where that is, it’s tiny. And I
undergrad with more of a self-focus, much more interested in how you define yourself.
I started out doing things like paintings of earwax or my belly button fuzz and blowing them up really
big. I’d make paintings of microscopic things, like skin or whatever. So then I got pigeonholed in this
whole ‘girl trying to be…’ So then I went into more of these atmospheric, crazy pieces. Who is that guy,
Casper…who did all of those crazy sunsets? It would be like a European scene and everything would be
sort of plain and there would be cows or whatever, but the sky was just intense. It would be just about
the sky, with colors all meshing in together. And so my thesis show was all of these crazy color field
paintings, and I would take what was left on my brush and make these plaid paintings out of that, the
leftover paint. They were my leftover paint paintings. My thesis show was like this salon style show with
25 paintings, and the top would be these fields and then the bottom would be all of this plaid. It turned
out pretty funky.
DKM: And then when you left did that work carry with you?
JD: It did. I didn’t do the plaid paintings anymore, but I did these large paintings, all on canvas, that
became very geometric. They looked like the Hubble telescope, the way it looks when you look through.
Then I got pregnant and couldn’t paint with oil paint, and I hate acrylic paint, so I started doing these
tiny little obsessive tic mark drawings.
DKM: Are those the ones you call “Sweep Drawings”?
JD: Yes. Actually, I call them drawings, but they’re really tiny watercolor and gouache, with a lot of
negative space. Marking time.
DKM: Even when you talk about the plaid paintings, you get the idea that you are cataloguing and
referencing the constructed along with the natural, and the way those two things meet.
JD: Yeah. Well, I like the inability to be perfect. I like that a person can’t draw a perfect circle, can’t cut a
straight line, that kind of thing. I like the fact that you can’t, and that trying to do it, when you fail… That
is more interesting to me–the way that you fail.
DKM: Kind of entering into imperfection, instead of overriding it…
JD: Yes, that the beauty is in the imperfection, and the effort to be perfect.
Audience member: Do the titles of the paintings have a significance, a meaning?
JD: They are all just named Wood Grain, and the number that follows is how many times I repeat the
line. So this is Wood Grain 7, because I repeat the pattern seven times.
Audience member: So there isn’t any deeper meaning?
JD: No, I don’t really name them an idea. I would have been a writer if I wanted to tell people how to
think about them. [laughs] I’d rather have people come to their own conclusions, and bring their own
meaning. Because it’s sort of about the process more than how I feel about them.
Audience member: How many of this kind of site-specific installations have you done? What was the
first one that you did, and how did that come about?
JD: Well, the first thing I ever did was called Divots and Bumps, and that’s where I took the
imperfections in the wall and circled them repeatedly. That started in Pittsburgh. I had been thinking
about seeing things that mostly went unnoticed but were constantly around, so I started wondering
what I could do that was about the imperfections of everything. Because you think this perfect white
wall is a perfect white wall, but it’s not. So that’s where it started, and then right before we moved here I
had another opportunity. Pittsburgh is a place where they have a lot of funding for the arts and they
also have a lot of empty buildings. So friends of ours were architecture
at Carnegie Melon,
but they were moving into a new spatial relationship. So they proposed a show in which they would take
over empty buildings and do shows there. They got this building that was downtown and it was in the
midst of being rehabbed, and it had all of this new drywall, but no electricity or anything like that. So I’m
thinking, what can I do? It’s brand new drywall, it doesn’t have any imperfections, there’s nothing wrong
with it! [laughing] So I couldn’t do the Divots and Bumps.
We had moved to LA already by that time, and it’s amazing because the sun here is fifty thousand times
brighter here than it is there. You know, my hair is five shades lighter than it was. [laughing]. I started
thinking about just watching in my house how the sun affects so much. Things get faded here so much
faster. So, they were asking me what I wanted to do, so I asked them which way the shadows went and
started to piece together that I wanted to follow the movement of the sun on the walls.
So that was 2007? And then I did a show here at Haus Gallery in Pasadena, which you know is actually
a house. And all of the imperfections of a gallery that used to be a house was perfect for me. And I did
the Chasing the Sun elements in the bathroom there. They had frosted glass windows and there was a
tree just outside so the sun would move through and onto the windows.
DKM: So often artists, even those who are doing work considered more experimental or installation
oriented, are doing things that are not ephemeral. Or even if they are meant to break down and
decompose over time, there is still usually a long amount of time in which that gets to happen. So do
you have a sense of loss or fear, or sadness about creating something that is not just meant to fade
over time, but to actually be painted over?
JD: You know, I don’t. I always knew that it was going to be that way. It’s about only existing for a certain
DKM: When I watched you doing it, it seemed like it was really liberating…
JD: Oh yeah, I had a great time doing it. It wears me out. After I’m done, I’m exhausted. But during it, it’s
a lot of fun.
DKM: I think that’s interesting too, that you wouldn’t know from looking at the installation that how
physical it is as an activity of creation. You were exhausted after five days. I remember you came in after
day three saying, “Every muscle in my body hurts!”
JD: [laughing] Well, it was those four hours in the morning that really got me, because I was really just
running around with a ladder for those four hours.
DKM: It’s so interesting to me that that physical exertion doesn’t show itself in that sense of hecticness
in the work, and it ends up having such a calm feeling to it, which makes me feel like you really are
capturing something that is pre-existing in the space, instead of imposing yourself on the space. I think
so often site-specific installation is about taking a space and putting something into it that completely
changes it and makes it something else. Here, it seems like you took what was there and brought it out.
JD: I just noticed it. [laughing]
DKM: [laughing] Does anyone else have any questions?
Noah Young (Jill’s husband): I was wondering if you can talk a little bit about how you always put
something in the drawings that no one is ever going to see…
JD: Yep, on the back of one of the columns in this installation, I drew on the outside, so you can only see
the drawing from the outside of the gallery.
Noah Young: So how does that fit in? Because in almost everything you do there’s something hidden
like that, so it seems as if it must be conscious.
JD: Well, in this case, that’s just where the sun was. But I also know that people will only see and notice
so much in a room. And knowing it’s still under there, and that someone might sand down the wall
someday and find these things, these little bits of drawings almost like artifacts, is kind of great.
DKM: I like that, too. If you talk about capturing things that most people don’t notice, I like that you are
bringing things out that might also accidentally be left behind. You know, when we are repainting that
room, and there’s some drawing in a hard to notice piece of a column, we might miss it and not paint
over it. I like the idea that there might be a little bit of Jill Daves in there hiding during the next show, and
the one after that.