I come to Jasper Joffe’s studio armed with a voice recorder that doesn’t work. The following is a reconstructed conversation, which Jasper agreed was ‘a good re-creation of the ideas'.
MM: Your paintings have changed quite a lot over ten years.
JJ: Yes. I’ve tried to make one body of work look the same as another, but somehow I can’t do it. I get bored. I get bored of going to the studio every day, mixing colours, painting pictures. I love painting, I just can’t do the protestant work ethic, although a lot of the artists that I admire work in that way, six hours in the studio every day, like going to the office. The 24 paintings in 24 hours was a way to demonstrate that it’s not the amount of labour that is lavished on a piece of work that determines how good it is. A painting that is done in an hour can be as good as something that has been painstakingly painted over a long period of time.
MM: Your practice includes curating as well as painting. Does that keep the boredom away?
JJ:I think so. It was another way of creating a whole world of art as I see it. I don’t always agree with the way that art is perceived or treated by critics or curators, and I wanted to create a world where the kind of art that I liked was included. Why would I stick to only making paintings when I could make a whole world? It’s just because I’m so full of myself.
MM: Do you think that when your work changes it is because you get bored with doing the same thing over and over?
JJ: I’m quite an argumentative person. If somebody says something, I take the opposite view, just for the sake of a good argument. Maybe it’s the rebel in me, that makes me want to do the opposite of what I’ve done before.
MM: You’re having an argument with yourself?
JJ: It’s like a thesis/anti-thesis, if you will.
MM: So really that amounts to quite a coherent philosophy then, if you decide that your working process is to constantly present yourself with the challenge of doing something different each time. At the same time you are quite hard on the paintings you have done before?
JJ: I’m very ambitious. People say ‘oh you're so down on your work’ but I’m just very ambitious, it’s difficult to be satisfied with what I’ve done. People always say I’m just a painter who makes repulsive paintings; I paint porn, Nazis, swearwords, tattoos and cancer. But really I do it because I think painting makes it beautiful.
MM: I wanted to ask you about your notion of beauty. In the porn paintings the way you paint the women alternates between lovingly applied paint, quite academic, and big furious brushstrokes in the backgrounds and sometimes on the women’s faces.
JJ: I wanted to give the women some humanity, see beyond the image that people masturbate to. And the expressive paintwork – I suppose I wanted to inject some of that energy into the painting, the effort to see them as human beings. But I’m not happy with those paintings. I think they failed. People couldn’t see beyond the sleaziness of it. They just thought I was another misogynist.
MM: The Himmler painting works on a similar level. I’ve seen the original photo, where the look in his eyes is one of vengeance and arrogance. You have painted him in a rather loving kind of way.
JJ: Yes, it’s funny, the Nazi paintings seem to have what the porn paintings didn’t. Maybe it’s easier to see the human in a Nazi; they’re vilified by everybody, nobody’s on their side. And besides, when you paint something, you get certain sympathy for what you’re working on. And you stop seeing it as an image, it becomes abstract, just colour next to another colour, you want to get the highlights right, the relationships between nose and eye etc.
MM: The bodies you painted in the Buck Naked series were very different in style. They have more of a comedy element to them than the porn-paintings, and less focus on emotional expression.
JJ: I painted those bodies from my head; they are the people I see around me. When you think about how you see people, there are always some things that are emphasized and take over. I was just fascinated by the people I see around me here in Dalston, on the bus, what people do to themselves, how they treat themselves, the way black women straighten their hair and so on. I drew them, and filled in with colour – I guess that’s what makes them so cartoony.
MM: There are a lot of orgies going on.
JJ: The orgies are also something that is everywhere. The way people talk, they swear, they talk about sex on the bus, they are rude. All those words that people get so upset about when I put them into the paintings, they’re around us all the time.
MM: They look a bit bored with the orgy, like they don’t really engage with what they are doing.
JJ: There is nothing that is holy anymore that they can really engage with. I suppose I really would like to be religious in a way, although I’m not at all. I like to believe in really big things, like big art or big love. But people don’t treat it that way. Not religion, not sex, nothing. Children perhaps, but I don’t really want to go there in my artwork. I don’t want to touch any of that stuff, children, paedophiles or terrorists. People are angry enough with me as it is.
MM: But I don’t see your work as being linked to fads in politics. There are some things that remain constant throughout.
JJ: Yes, that is true. It's always the same, women, Nazis, sex, death, mess. And beauty.