June 3, 2016

Spotlight: Jamie Earnest

Marvel at luminous familiarity within Jamie Earnest's paintings.

The first time I referred to going back to my college dorm after summer break as going “home,” there was a beat, a pause, before my mother laughed. While it wasn’t my home, the dorm was home, despite its fluorescent lights and constant reek of cigarettes. It was familiar but strange, mine though I was only one in a long chain of residents. When I left it for a house off-campus, I felt a vague pang of blue before the joy of having a bed that no one else had slept in before set in.

This friction is the focus of Jamie Earnest’s first solo show, Your Home or Mine?, opening June 3 in Houston. The works—six large paintings and 22 little painting-sketches—explore how we remember our homes, whether through words, pictures, dreams or light. Through these paintings, Jamie builds portraits of homes in which we have all, somehow, lived.

Looking at these paintings and the sultry, provocative question posed by the collection’s title, I found myself thinking about the intimacy of the home, even (and especially) the temporary ones we make for ourselves. Is a space we share with the past and future ever really our own? I Skyped Jamie in her living room in Alabama, to find out.

The Le Sigh: Can you talk about where the show came from? 

Jamie Earnest: All the work that's going in the show in Houston I kind of started in September. I was making a lot of work based on my own memories of home-space, so all the places that I've lived or called a home.

TLS: How many different places have you lived? 

JE: Oh God. So I went to a boarding high school and it was about an hour and a half from where my permanent home was, so I would, five nights a week, sleep at the boarding high school and then come home for the weekend, and I did that since I was 15, so I wasn't sleeping in one place for more than two months at a time. So then over the summer I would do some sort of educational camp bullshit for colleges. I was in California one summer, I was in Atlanta one summer, and then I forget the other place. Then I went to college and would only stay in the dorm for a little bit and then come home for each break. It was like I had to keep turning all these other places into a home: how do I make someone else's home my own home? So I was making all these paintings kind of based on all these different places that I'd lived and combining them with like dreams and things like that that I was having at the time too. So from there, I was like, “What if I talk to other people about places they've lived and use their words to make the painting?” I started, I say like interview but it was definitely more of a discussion or of exchanging memories of different places. So I started doing that, and the last two paintings that are in the show, called "Pleasure-Terror Sandbox-screen" and then "Waiting Area, Yours" were made from two conversations with two different people about places that they have had to call home, whether it was conventional or unconventional. It was really cool. It became not so much about wanting to recreate the visuals of what this person was describing to me but wanting to create something that was familiar to that person, but also familiar to other people, but also kind of a stranger at the same time.

TLS: Did the people whose words you built these paintings off of, were they known to you before?

JE: I did like a trial run and I interviewed my sister, which was totally different because we share a lot of similar memories, 'cause we're twins, but some of them she would say things and I'd be like “I don't know what the hell you're talking about.” And then another person was an acquaintance, and then the other person was a friend from high school who I hadn't seen in a really long time. Like since we graduated. So I tried to keep them, at least for the other two, one step removed, so I couldn’t like picture what they were talking about.

TLS: Can you talk a little bit more about the use of text as a sketching medium? 

JE: I don't know exactly where it comes from. Like I'll write a lot of my notes in German but for me to just practice German because I'm not in a class right now. But it's more like, I'll write things that I intend to happen, sometimes I'll write something that I'll really wanna put there, like "light switch" and other times I'll be like, "Push back, push up," like very action-oriented things that I want the painting to do. There's a few paintings in the show that have little bits of words in different parts.

TLS: Like the words “golden light” in “Broken Lights.” 

JE: Yeah it's text that I keep bringing through because I wanted that like strip to have a golden glow. 

TLS: The quality of the light in your work has always struck me. I was interested especially in the way that it interplays with the geometry of the space in “Waiting Area, Yours.” 

JE: I've always struggled with keeping light in my work. With "Waiting Area," I wanted to put that light in there. The painting is actually about staying in a hospital waiting room for a really long time. It's really interesting wanting it to be warm and inviting and cozy but very cold at the same time. So it is a conceptual choice to go with the idea of the painting, but it's also an aesthetic choice. People say you can't make aesthetic choices in painting, but everyone does it.

TLS: What are you trying to achieve with the scale? You have these 6 huge paintings and then these tons of little ones. What are you trying to effect with that? 

JE: Really to fill the space of the gallery. If I could, I wouldn't necessarily call those little paintings "paintings," I think they're just like sketches, but people wanna buy them and they sell, so that's great for me. If I could have all large paintings that's what I would wanna do. I feel like my paintings need to be larger, I've always wanted them large enough for them to be encompassing, and it's really hard because I'm really small.

TLS: I feel that. [Jamie and I are both about 5 feet tall.]

JE: A door frame size is like huge to me, and I can fall into it, whereas other people have a difficult time doing that, so I started to think about the size of my paintings needing to be a little bit bigger to get the effect that I want.  They're having the effect on me of me falling into them, but I'm really little, so I need a more average thing to fall into.

Find more of Jamie Earnest's work here.

Melanie Mignucci is a writer and recent graduate of Bard College. You can follow her on Twitter dot com @melaniemignucci.