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Culture Talks - Javier Peres | Conversations with leading cultural figures by John-Paul Pryor
January 9, 2012
The art world’s arch-maverick tastemaker Javier Peres discovered, exhibited and represented some of the most influential and notorious artists of the last decade, and he garnered a reputation as the hardest partying curator ever to have assailed the international art scene along the way. Terence Koh, Dan Colen, Bruce LaBruce and the late Dash Snow are just a few of the many who passed through the near-legendary Peres Projects. More recently, the international dealer presented the debut solo show of James Franco at his gallery in Berlin and the actor-cum-artist has a small cameo role of sorts in Peres’s latest cultural offensive – his very own debut show at Berlin’s Grimmuseum. This month, Peres unveils a deeply personal series of portraits of the early 90s Hollywood icon River Phoenix – a young man whose life was cut tragically short by a party lifestyle that witnessed him overdose on a speedball outside Johnny Depp’s infamous Viper Rooms. Considering the subject matter, perhaps the most surprising thing about this series of deliberately repetitive representations of the star – entitled One Of Ours – is their depth of tenderness and, to some degree, their classical solemnity, which recalls the gravitas of religious painting. Here, the artist talks to AnOther about his journey from curator to artist and why we so often destroy those things we admire.
What did River Phoenix represent to you as a young man, and what led you to create this series?
In the spring of 2010, I found myself spending a lot of time alone in my apartment in Berlin and I began to think a lot about my past – where I had been and how I ended up where I was. Basically, I was reflecting on the life I had lived but also thinking about the life I could have lived. It took me back to a certain place, and in that place was this ideal – the ideal of life as a young man. From there, River just popped into my head and I began to look for the right images of him to portray in a series of portraits. I wanted them to have a certain, almost religious quality about them because I wanted to embark on playing with the same image over and over in the way that in religious art, the same saint or god is depicted over and over – each time resulting in a new and different image, but always based on the same person or idea. I wanted to think about the idea of someone like River, because I don´t really see these works being about one person per se – they could have been portraits of anyone that took me back to a particular period of my life.
Looking back on your life, can you recall the very first images that excited you and set you out on your path in the art world?
Memories are really important to me, especially because I usually feel like my head is one big empty world – one that I need to explore to see what I can find in there. Art has always been at the centre of my life – it has always been the great escape and the land of possibilities; the land of milk and honey. My life has been filled with lots of high and lows, and this project of making art under my own name and showing it, well, it´s just another part of these highs and lows for me. I really have no idea if I see it as a high or a low, but I do know that I felt like it was something I needed to do, so here I am.
To what degree would you agree with the notion that we all paint ourselves in the portraits of others?
These portraits are absolutely self-portraits in their own right, I think that is what made me want to make them to begin with – use someone else as the subject matter, so that I could talk about myself, without ever really have to talk about myself at all – sort of like lying to your therapist (laughs). But on a more serious note, I am excited to show these works, and am also excited to see how people react to them.
Is there a residue of Phoenix onscreen that has shaped or become integral to your identity? To what degree do you think our identities are shaped by the cultural stimuli we engage with (such as a film like My Own Private Idaho) and to what degree is that arbitrary?
When it comes to the influence of television and films, and Hollywood in general, I think that they are really influential – they have this huge impact on the entire globe. I’m fascinated by that, and how it plays out in my life because I´m not exempt from those influences. I think that making these paintings is in part my attempt to look at both the good and the bad influences in a new and different light and to reflect on what each means to me now, and also to think about the things I have and haven't done because of those influences.
What is the significance of painting on linen – does the linen add a material fragility? Is there a sense here of the fragility of human life?
The fragility of human life is a topic that has been at the forefront of my thinking this past year, and I think that is probably why I decided to make this series of works using more classical materials and mediums, but this all came to me pretty much unconsciously.
Whose portraiture do you most admire?
The artist that has always captured my imagination, and that still continues to do so, is Albrecht Dürer, his portraits are the most amazing things in the world to me, every time I see one of self portraits I think I can die right there and then because I have seen it all, and I have felt it all. They are so powerful!
This work is much less extreme – for want of a better word – than that of many of the artists you have represented... Why are you drawn to the extreme when your own aesthetic feels more as if it is reaching for the sublime and poetic? Would that be a fair reading of these works?
I think that is a fair reading of these works, but I never really thought of the works that I was drawn to in the last decade as being extreme. I think a lot of people did, but I never really understood why. I always felt I showed artists who explored themes central to their lives – personal themes – and that they were, and still are, very poetic in their practices. I think that I am doing the same thing – I’m reflecting on my own life, my own experience and memories, and that has led me to making these portraits.
The show is to be presented with a film by James Franco and Gus Van Sant called My Own Private River... How did that come together?
James and Gus presented My Own Private River in Beverly Hills at the Gagosian gallery at the same time as I was starting to think about making my paintings, so it was this moment where what I was thinking about, and what they were showing connected. Having shown James last year, I just asked him if I could show their film at the same time as I had my show, I thought it would be a nice tie-in to my project.
Finally, what do you think about the spectacle of celebrity?
It doesn´t particularly interest me, but my impression of the spectacle that surrounds people who enter the limelight is that, like everyone else, they want to have a good life. We look to them as having it all, while we have so little, which makes us both want to be them, and want to destroy them.
Copyright - AnOther
VISIONS OF RIO - JAVIER PERES - PAINTINGS
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