Jeff Soto makes his United Kingdom debut this week with his solo show entitled “The Inland Empire” (teased) opening Thursday, May 14th, at Stolenspace. AM caught up with Soto ahead of the show to try and understand how the show came together, the symbolism and meaning behind his new work and how fatherhood has changed his career as an artist.
Read the entire interview and see some sneak peeks of the work after the jump. Note: The interview contains use of strong language.
Arrested Motion (AM): Your show “The Inland Empire” will be your first solo outside of the United States. How does it feel to be going international?
Jeff Soto (JS): It’s a great feeling, I’m psyched to meet some of my UK fans. I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do shows outside of the US but the timing was never right, so it hasn’t happened except for group exhibits. For years I was alternating my show schedule between LA and NY, so it was time to do something different and connect with another country. After the US, the UK has been my biggest supporters so it made sense to do a London show. I’ve never been to the UK but am leaving tomorrow and really looking forward to seeing the city.
AM: Can you tell us how you hooked up with Stolenspace for this show? Was it a conscious choice for you to show at this gallery in particular for your debut UK show?
JS: About a year ago I started planning with Jonathan Levine and I told him I’d like to do a show in London sometime in 2009. He knew D*Face at StolenSpace, and we all started floating ideas back and forth. It turned out D*Face was a fan of my work, and I was a fan of his, and the match just seemed to work so I said let’s do it. When I look at all the artists they’ve shown, people like Kinsey, Alexone, Seen, Will Barras, Andrew McAttee, the list goes on- these are all artists I respect so much and have been following for years. I like their whole roster, and to show in the same place as all these artists is an honor. It just seemed to be a natural fit.
AM: The title “The Inland Empire” is a reference to your home environs and we understand that part of the underlying theme is the recession – particularly in and around the Riverside area due to it being a commuter suburb of Los Angeles. Has the global recession had a direct effect on you, both as an individual and as an artist?
JS: Well, my area has been hit hard. Tons of people bought artificially expensive houses out here and when the values dropped they became upside down on their mortgages. Now I’m seeing more of my studio neighbors close shop, which makes me sad. These are good hard working people that can’t pay their bills and it’s a bummer.
I am definitely seeing it change the way people buy art these days. I think a lot of pieces were moving on pure hype, buyers would snatch up anything they could get on fears that shows would sell out quickly. Some still do, but overall, things have slowed down for everyone. Buyers are reeling back a little and buying more intelligently. They are asking for deals or trying to work direct with the artists. It is kind of a scary time for many artists and galleries, and I think we’re going to see many fade away in the next couple of years.
As for myself, I am caught up in this too, though I am not feeling the pinch so bad. I think the only things artists can do is make the best work possible.
AM: Mainly for our non-US based readers, where does the term Inland Empire originate and what are the meanings behind the term? Can you ever see yourself living in Los Angeles and being closer to the epicenter of the art scene there or will Riverside always hold a special place in your heart and continue to be a source of inspiration for your work?
JS: Inland Empire is the name given to the large inland valley area east of Los Angeles. Sort of like a suburb of a suburb, really just part of the huge continuous sprawl from the coast to the ocean. People out here have a lot of pride in the area, there’s a lot of I E tattoos, car decals boldly proclaiming Inland Empire, and the style is a mix of gangster, motocross, stripper/porn, and goth. It’s a weird place full of contradictions. I like it and sometimes I hate it.
We do talk about moving but I wouldn’t move closer to L.A. Were already close enough. I don’t know if that’s the epicenter anymore, at least from my point of view. Sure there are a lot of galleries and a lot of shows to see. But are the shows good? Is the work original? There are some great shows nowadays, but many are played out. I think things were really happening in L.A. in the early 2000’s- galleries like La Luz de Jesus, New Image Art, Merry Karnowsky, the work was fresh, seemed like every show was something to make the hour drive for. But anyways, I got off topic. I don’t know if this movement has an epicenter anymore. L.A. was it for a while, but maybe NY is coming along…
AM: You are planning an outdoor installation or mural as part of this exhibition being that you have a history of outdoor work going back to your early days as an artist. We are familiar with some of your recent indoor installations, but we can’t think of seeing any recent outdoor examples. Has it been a while since you’ve done such a thing and are you looking forward to getting some sun on your back?
JS: Yeah, I am looking forward to it. Painting outdoors on a large scale has always been part of my life. It’s been a while though, I retired from painting graffiti a number of years ago, so I’m gonna be rusty, but who cares. I still don’t know where or what I’ll be painting, but I figure D*Face might know some spots, and there’s an art supply place around the corner from where I’m staying. Hopefully I paint some cool stuff.
AM: We hear that you are releasing an exclusive screen print and doing a book signing at the opening. The intro to your latest book “Storm Clouds” was written by David Choe and it was probably one of the craziest introductions to an art monograph we’ve ever read! What did you think of his “Jeff Soto is Pearl Jam” line?
JS: Dude, he’s a genius! He’s so perverted and so am I. The difference is I keep it in. I love his fucked up writing style, his bad punctuation and misspellings. I asked him to do an intro to my book, and I knew I’d get some classic Choe. I’m going to paste it in below for those who haven’t read it…
As I slid my dick into her ass, the words
“And everything I can’t remember,
As fucked up as it all may seem,
The consequences that I’ve rendered,
I’ve gone and fucked things up again.”
blasted out of her radio, this is a song by the band staind, I know this, not because I like their music, I actually fucking hate their music and everyone who like’s their music, but I know this because she screamed out “ooh this is staind, my favorite band! I love this song!!!” as she sang along word for word, as I fucked her from behind, this mildly annoyed me, but not really, afterall, I didn’t meet many women that let me put my parts into their buttholes, BUT then as she was still singing along, she saw a jeff soto poster I had hanging out of my bag, from an issue of art prostitute, and commented “ooh I love that guys art! My last boyfriend collected it, it’s (############) right?!?!” As she looked back at me with a goofy proud ignorant smile on her retraded face, the staind reference wasn’t enough to upset me, but after that, I wanted to choke the fucking shit out of her, and then remembered that she actually likes that, so I finished violently pounding her ass, and went home, what the fuck was going on in this fucking world?!?
As I got on the bus, I started to reflect on shit, as I sniffed shit on my fingers, there were all these horribly shitty fucking bands like CREED, STAIND, NICKLEBACK, etc. and they were fucking huge?!? These were people’s favorite bands!! they loved and worshipped them!! couldn’t they see they were all fucking horrible, and just wanted to be like Pearl Jam? Then this got me started thinking about jeff soto, jeff soto is pearl jam, pearl jam is this awesome grunge band from the 90’s that sort of sounded like a little of this and a little of that, but in the end they blended it into their own shit and they fucking rocked. I don’t even know if Jeff likes pearl jam, but basically this fucker comes from a background that includes fine art, graffiti, zine’s, and illustration and comes blasting out, and he fucking kills it, I never seen a guy so new to the art scene that has spawned more imitators and biters so quickly, everywhere I go I see these unoriginal cliche’d images of straight jeff soto bites and it kills me, it makes me want to choke the fucking shit out of them, and I will! because jeff is too nice to do it, for them it’s all on the surface there’s nothing underneath, and people are so crazy about art right now, they’ll buy and listen to anything, there’s no accounting for taste!
Soto has seamlessly combined his love for graffiti, cartoons and growing up in los angeles’ cultural wasteland (the OC and Riverside), into beautiful paintings, he takes the same care and attention to detail, to render, roy fokker’s Valkyrie VF-1S ve ritech fighter as he does rendering a Euphorbiaceae Succulent, and then all these fuckers come along and see his cactus and just bite his shit, fuck them, Jeff is the king! buy his shit!
At this point, since jeff asked me to write this intro, I’d like to say two things, one is an apology for one of the worst unprofessional intros ever, I don’t even know if it makes any sense, and two is a formal thank you to jeff.
Many years ago, when their were many more people actively trying to end my art career, I barely knew jeff, I had met him once or twice at comicon and he was nice enough to invite me into a group show he was curating focused on robots. it’s pretty much my favorite shit to draw, so I immediately said yes, soon after, i got news that the 100 plus person art show was not gonna happen, Because the venue found out i was gonna be a part of it, and would not have the show, unless jeff kicked me out of the show. So that was that, I knew I was gonna get kicked out, it was better than having the police try to look for me at an art show that happened earlier that week, Jeff didn’t know me, he didn9 9t owe me shit, why would he risk this huge project he put together, just so I could stay and play, so he calls me and says “I don’t know you, and I don’t know what you did, but I like you and I like your art, and you never did shit to me, so I’m gonna keep you in the show and just find someplace else to show it.” I always remembered that, a scholar and a gentleman, so if I didn’t say it back then, I’ll say it right now, thank you jeff, you rule the school !
Love david choe-las vegas, bellagio business center
p.s. hey jeff if you don’t like the pearl jam reference just switch it to any band you like that rocks. i just used it because they’re the most imitated rock band, and your the most imitated artist, the real song that she sang along to was “My Own Worst Enemy” by lit which is actually a guilty pleasure but i will never admit to
p.s.s my dick was never in her ass, it just made a better opening statement, it was just the tip
P.S.S.S. it was never even just the tip or “My Own Worst Enemy” by lit, it was just me sitting in my bedroom by myself, reading a stack of punisher comics and pornos, glancing up at that art prostitute poster, getting mad at all the biters, and then getting a sandwich and taking a nap. everything else i wrote is true.
AM: Your wife recently gave birth to your second daughter, Natalie Rose, so firstly congratulations to you and Jen from all of us at AM. How has being a father affected the content and also the context of your work? There seemed to be a shift in the theme of your work around and about the time that your first daughter, Shannon, was born. We’ve seen significantly less of the robot inspired and walker-type character based work that you became known for earlier in your career and your output seemed to take on a different aesthetic. What was it that triggered the shift?
JS: I used to think my work took a more serious tone after I became a father, and maybe that’s somewhat true, but really I think my work was already starting to evolve into a new direction before my first daughter was born. I’d always been interested in the problems we face in this world, and the robots usually represented man vs. nature conflicts. At some point I started feeling like my collectors were buying my work just for the robots and not looking at what I was trying to say. It started to feel gimmicky to me, and I felt like I was falling into that trap of having to paint the same thing my entire career. I mean, those paintings always sold. It would have been easy to just keep pumping them out, but where would that get me?
It sounds funny, but for the first time in years I started thinking about all the possibilities of art making again, there were so many things to use as imagery, so many styles and techniques, and that’s just within painting. I opened my mind and slowly pushed off from some of the older ideas, and I feel my work is richer, both visually and conceptually. Many of my past collectors have come along for the ride and I thank them. To the ones who like the old stuff better, I want to thank them too, they provided the roots for the tree to grow!
AM: How does being a father tie in with your working hours? What is the typical routine for Mr. Soto?
JS: It is tough sometimes. I know many artists who don’t want kids, I guess they think it might cramp their style, can’t party as much, or they just don’t want the responsibility. I don’t fault them for it, being an artist is like having two full time jobs, and it is tough to raise a family with all the stress of shows, travel and random things that blow in. It is all about balancing family stuff with a demanding job. For example, today we had a birthday party for my daughter’s friend, got back, made dinner, gave baths, rocking the baby till midnight, and now I am finally able to get to this interview at 1am. I still have to pack, leaving for London in the morning. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world man. I love being a dad, it made me a better human. My wife is awesome, she puts up with a lot!
AM: One thing that seems to be a consistent reference that we’ve seen you use for a long time is palm trees and power lines disappearing into the distance. What do these images represent in your work? We’re also intrigued what the rainbows in the newer works signify.
JS: Phone lines were all around when I was a kid but now you see cell towers disguised as pine trees. Something kinda cool and fucked up about that. Palm trees are all over and somewhat a symbol of Southern California; I guess much of what I paint is just the stuff in our lives. Megan Whitmarsh summed it up perfectly and way better than I ever could in her show “The Fucking Crap of Life”. It’s just all our junk, things we need or think we need, and my brain just randomly coming up with things. The rainbows were cool in the 80’s, I guess it’s a little nostalgia thrown in. Yeah nostalgia… I like it…
AM: One thing that we should ask for fear of old school Soto fans lynching us if we didn’t use this opportunity: What has happened with plans to release the Walker vinyl edition? Is there a glimmer of hope that this project is still running and will it ever see the light of day?
JS: Naw, it’s dead man. I thought it could happen for a long time but it was just too complex a piece, so many poseable parts, I had high expectations, Conor had high expectations, and the factories were having a hard time, bad communication, mental breakdowns, me sometimes just not giving a shit… it was all our faults, I think it was going to have to retail for hundreds of dollars just to break even. It sort of scared me away from making any vinyl toys for awhile, left a bad taste in my mouth, though I am still cool with all involved.
AM: Have you made your must see list of things to do while you are in London? Is it your first time here? Are you going to be rocking an “I heart London” t-shirt and getting all touristy?
JS: For sure! I like all the touristy stuff. Got to hit up the Eye, the Tate, that big cathedral, might even take one of those double decker tours if I have time. It is sad, but I’m also going to get lots of sleep. A 3 year old and a 6 week old is crazy! I am constantly sleep deprived. I’m surprised I just did this whole interview. Yay 2am!
AM: Many thanks for your time Jeff. We wish you much success with your UK debut.
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