“The first experience I had with making art was at the age of three or four. I was at a street fair in Boston, where I grew up, and a woman there had this little sculpting technique class set up on the street and she taught me how to make a pinch pot.” Jake Lamagno
Intro By: Sue Kwon
On the eve of the Jake Lamagno curated show “9 Lives” Imagista paired Jake with photographer Sue Kwon to document a few moments in Jake’s life. Both Sue and Jake are artists whose work matters to them on a profoundly personal level. Both Sue and Jake are modest and self-critical almost to a fault so it made sense that the two would connect. And both care as much, or more, about their friends and fellow artists as they do about themselves. The resulting images capture Jake, the emerging artist, in an incredibly candid and personal way.
Following is a first person account from Sue Kwon on her experience photographing Jake
“I first met Jake around 2008 at a Trouble Gang show at the Bowery Ballroom. He was much taller than me and wearing a handsome grey felt hat. I snapped a quick photo of him as he politely passed by. I haven’t seen this photograph in a long time but his spirited eyes and that hat are very clear in my memory.
Jake and I re-connected a few months ago at a charity auction and I asked him if I might take his portrait. I had no idea what Jake had been up since I’d last seen him but that was irrelevant. As a photographer I found him an intriguing subject and I wanted to capture Jake’s solitary and introspective nature. Then, in a seeming act of synchronicity, Imagista was scheduled to do a story on Jake and asked me whether I’d like to photograph him. Naturally I agreed.
I felt grateful to be allowed into Jake’s world. Armed with a camera and oxygen I spent three very late nights (nights that turned into early mornings) photographing him. Jake’s place has a feeling of a calm and controlled nuclear explosion. He works in mediums of recovered wood, precious metals, combustion and brimstone. Jake works with an intensity and genuine love for what he does.
I have learned from experience that documentary situations can be unpredictable. Photographing stories may or may not result in compelling chapters. What I photograph is not scripted. Yet, while photographing Jake, I felt that this story would captivate. This was in large part due to his sincere kindness as well as his intense focus on getting the job done.
Articulate and punctual, Jake was consummate as both a photographic subject as well as an artist feverishly working to meet a deadline. As an artist, he gives everything and I am grateful for the ease with which we were able to produce these images.”
– Sue Kwon, May 2015
Interview by Michael Williams
I caught up with an exhausted Jake Lamagno on the eve of an upcoming show as he was pushing himself to the limit in order to finish all of his pieces in time for the opening.
Imagista: Hey Jake, so how goes the prep for your show?
Jake Lamagno: Well, I haven’t slept much the past few weeks but that’s OK. As an artist I need to be very hands on with my work. I’d find it difficult to hand off my work to an assistant. I put my heart and soul into my work so it’s got to come from me, it’s a mental and physical battle during intense periods like this.
Imagista: What was your first experience with art?
J.L: The first experience I had with making art was at the age of three or four. I was at a street fair in Boston, where I grew up, and a woman there had this little sculpting technique class set up on the street and she taught me how to make a pinch pot. I actually still have that pinch pot to this day. I started taking sculpting classes with that woman, well, primarily with clay.
At the age of eight my father passed away. Shortly after that my Mother and I decided we wanted to get out of the city so we moved to Vermont. I ended up at a high school that had an amazing sculpture program. They actually had an entire building set off from the rest of the school just for art. I focused mostly on pottery but also on stone sculptural techniques.
I worked on the pottery wheel all throughout high school. I also worked on soap stone and then i matured into working on marble. It was during those four years at highschool that i honed my skills as a sculptor.
Imagista: What did you learn during those high school years that you’ve carried into what you’re doing as an artist now?
J.L: Pottery, as well as working with marble, is a bit of a patience game. Those years taught that as well dealing with strategies and the steps to make something that you like. I’m very demanding of myself in terms of creating work that I’m really satisfied with.
I was also skateboarding during high school which was also a big part of my life. The experiences I had during high school probably had the biggest impact on my career. I had this amazing teacher in Vermont named Mr. Halford. He was unreal. He kinda coached me all the way through to where I’m at now. I took some time off from my art when I moved to New York City for skateboarding.
I never went to college but I saw my first years in New York City as my college. I did all my drinking and drugging for a few years then got my shit together. During those early years in New York City I was really working on my skateboarding career.
I opened up my store “The Hunt” with a couple of my closest friends, Steven Ditchkus & Dylan Rieder. That was after that crazy period in my life. I couldn’t have executed the store without them.The store is almost an art project in itself; a curation of sorts. I’ve always been making furniture for the store, doing build outs, and anything creative using my hands as much as possible.
About four or five years ago I really dove back into my art. When I make art it’s one of the only times when I feel like I lose all of my other insecurities that I may have in my life. Those insecurities just aren’t there when I’m working on my art. When I make art I’m at my highest capacity and most secure as a person and that’s because I know whatever I make put one-hundred-fucking-percent into what I’m doing and I make it as good as I possibly can. I put blood, sweat, and tears into it.
Imagista: What inspires you to create art?
J.L: I create art to provoke an emotion in someone regardless of whether they like it or not. Either you like it, you don’t, or maybe you even kind of do. I know what my art does for me and how it makes me feel but i’m more interested in what it does to the viewer.
I’m not so big into the conceptual. There’s always a concept behind what I’m doing but I’m more into the viewer and the spectator and what it means to them. My art could mean different things to different viewers.
My art definitely is a bit more on the morbid side. It’s raw, warm sexuality. It’s got violence. It portrays my life. It portrays what I went through. I went through one of the most horrific experiences of my life when I eight years old. I felt like I had to become an adult at eight years old with my father dying and with the way he died. I think that experience greatly influences my art.
So my work definitely has a darker side and doesn’t always appeal to everyone. It also changes constantly and I feel that’s what it should be doing. I have so many ideas and concepts in my mind that I’m about to start exploring.
Imagista: What do you have coming up that you’re excited about?
I have a solo show opening up at the Muriel Guépin Gallery on January 5th, 2016 and that will be on a total different line than the show I’m doing right now (opens May 16th 2015). That is a show I’ve curated with some friends that i’m headlining. The show includes ten artists, including myself, and is called “Nine Lives”.
Everyone in the show are people I would consider very good friends of mine. I’m really into everyone’s work and I wanted to have a show for them this summer. Vincent at Castle Fitzhohns Gallery was kind enough to give us the space for a month, quite grateful and excited about that. I think we all have a bit of a similar aesthetic and we’re all so very different at the same time.
Jake’s curated show “9 Lives” features artist Jake Lamagno, Jason Levis, Pixote, Sue Kwon, Norman Reedus, Matt McCormick, Chuck, Guarino, Nicholas Wachel, Molly McMullin, and Steve Ditchkus.
Photographer: Sue Kwon
Artist: Jake Lamagno
Interview: Michael Williams