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Artist Jesse Mosher Dishes On His Process, Music, and Why He Might Just Stay in France

 

Jesse Mosher has made his way from his hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts to Grenoble, France where his artistry has truly blossomed in the most punk rock of ways. Mosher portrays musicians with an honesty that is only matched by the ferocity of his artistic live performances. Easier seen than explained Mosher shares his talent through a unique full performance usually carried out right in front of a performing band. Luckily enough, I was able to pick the brain of an artist that finds equal value in the experience of creating as the final product; Which, quite frankly, is refreshing. 


When you do live paintings how do you go about it? It seems like en plein air with concerts as the backdrop as opposed to nature. When I paint live (which would be all but a few paintings in a year), I start with a photo. I project or free hand a drawing in pencil onto the primed plywood or screwed together scraps of wood that I use as a canvas. I use 3-4 coats of white wood primer, with alternating brush stroke directions, to form a grid like texture similar to canvas, so that it holds paint better than smooth painted surfaces. I start by turning the pencil sketch into a line painting during sound check, or as the band sets up(less than 3 minutes. When the band starts to play I can jump fully into the painting performance without  having to be slow, still or calm from the outset.  after 2 songs or 5 minutes the portrait should be identifiable, with just black on white. I do white fills next, then some watered down black, or grey, then back to black. Each coat takes less than a minute, so I can layer up many thin coats in about 20 Minutes. Paintings usually have 8-10 layers at that point. I like to finish up the paintings for 5 minutes to an hour more after the show before I sell them. Most are finished at home, unless I have a buyer interested that night, and can finish it up to my standards at the  venue. Most are black and white water based acrylic, which I mix with ashes( burnt grass from Jack Kerouac’s grave) with old tar like consistency expensive artists’ acrylic. ( I got a Tupperware full from Richard Prince’s old studio that his assistant had in Greenport NY) this makes it thicker and dries much faster than any conventional acrylic I’ve tried.

There is an real parallel to Plein Air painting. It’s mostly philosophical, about getting out into the world.  My subjects are pre planned, so I’m almost never painting the groups or someone in the room. Also I rarely ever look up so it’s hard to make observations on subjects to correct my paintings. I very rarely look at any reference photos, the image is in my mind as I paint. This makes all my paintings have an element of self portraiture to them as I often subconsciously add my own features, and angles of features to the paintings. It’s the default we all have from looking in the mirror, knowing our face better than any other.  It’s also important for me not to think  in any guided manner about what I’m doing. For me the paintings come out deeper that way.  Performing my works , and breaking new ground in painting technique, by changing the working perspective, materials, and angles of attack is what’s really important to me. I’m prepared to stick by this for my lifetime, because I’m convinced it has value, and it could be seen as a new evolution of ideas in general (like rock n roll, surfing, or poetry) rather than the philosophical differences between painting movements like cubism, surrealism, landscape which share techniques, materials, and the same work position of facing the canvas, wall or Easel. I enjoy the challenge of low or intermittent lighting, getting pushed around by the crowd, my own physical fatigue, sweat distorting my vision while I paint. These layers make a powerful and unique underpainting. The part I love most is coordinating my movement to the music and having brush control at the wildest and fastest parts of the show, which is a different motivation or goal than any other painters I’ve met.

What is it like living in France? France is pretty sweet. I first came here in 2015. My wife is French so she showed me around. It’s very laid back and about 3x cheaper than Brooklyn where I moved from in January. Great free healthcare ( it’s all the same National standard here) and lots of support for the baby. Artist is an occupation over here so I can get unemployment insurance, free studio space, and tour support through the govt. They can also buy paintings from me for the national collection in theory. It’s all coming together but I should be moving into the art studio in a few weeks. Lots of paperwork here but everyone is part of France, all working towards a goal of becoming the best at what we do. It’s really different than how I was raised in America but I dig it. In general it’s more of a community, where I Live now, in a small 20,000 person city, like Brooklyn across the river from Grenoble, the capital of the Alps. My new town Fontaine was famous as a union and communist stronghold, very central to the French Resistance in WW2. It has streets named after fallen partisans, Marx and Lenin, and has had a PCF ( party communist Français) mayor since the 1920s. We live over the PCF headquarters actually. The mayor wrote us a nice letter  and gave us a gift when Ann was born. The town is very diverse, lots of immigrants and tall apartments, but it seems very peaceful, no obvious crime. Streets are clean, and I almost never see police. Tram way is 2.50 a month. I recently found out my apt was bombed by the US during the war and rebuilt ( the Apt. was 700 feet from a strategic bridge). Looking out on the stone buildings, cobblestone streets, and snow capped mountains from my balcony is always inspiring. It’s hard to say, But I may be living over here in France for the rest of my days..

What have you found inspiration in as of late? Lately, like always, my muses change. There are a few hundred people places and things that inspire me consistently, but they rotate in and out with the seasons. I add new ones pretty regularly. The older I get the things that inspire me come from all different places, not just the arts..

By the early 1990s I had begun thinking about all my major musical inspirations. For me they are all classics. Joan Jett, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, Johnny Thunders, David Bowie, T Rex, Buddy Guy, Howlin Wolf, Lightning Hopkins, The Ramones, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, Link Wray, Iggy Pop, Kurt Cobain, Sex Pistols, The Beastie Boys, Guns and Roses, Led Zeppelin, and the first thing a child usually remembers, JIMI HENDRIX. Add to that painters like Rembrandt, Picasso, Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Warhol. I went through a lot of phases musically over the years, too numerous to list, but they all have an effect on me and added knowledge of different types. In my lifetime (Since 1977) the greatest artists have been musicians. That’s been switching over to film, video etc. for a while, so that’s why my influences artistically until pretty recently came from musicians and bands mostly.

Now a days my inspirations are more from life. Friends I have who are struggling mightily against circumstances, limitations or their own demons are inspiring. Characters like Olympic wrestlers, both men and women I find very interesting in that they wear their personalities physically. Race car drivers for their speed, and focused intensity. The stories, attitude and struggles of train hoppers. The brazen hell raising confidence of various American  Outlaws and criminals I know and have Known. The perspective and Bearing of my Native American friends, is always an inspiration. My travels in Former Yugoslavia and Wales, and the people I have met there, with their really ancient tribal European Vibe, that feels like Deja vu for me, after nearly 400 years of family history in America. Musically, Aileen Valca, Zoran Calic, The Jabbers, Gung Ho, Sihasin and the Svetlanas are my biggest inspirations this year. Most of all though It’s my Family, My Daughter born May 8th this year, Ann Mosher, and my wife Audrey Mosher.

How would you describe your creative process? In a nutshell its build up some energy, release it all at once until I hit the wall. I read a lot, watch a lot of video, have long conversations with artists, listen to records, philosophize, exercise, rest as much as I can. I find photos from books, magazines, newspapers, and sometimes off the internet of people to paint. I find plywood or scrap wood to cut with a handsaw, or screw together to make shapes. I paint the wood white, 3-5 coats  of primer. I make a painting on the pieces 19″x14″ or less with bands, and on the bigger ones I do the work at home or in a studio. I did 4 large Studio paintings last year, up to 6 1/2′ tall. I paint most live paintings on 3/8 inch plywood, 17×13 inches because I have to hold and balance the painting in my left hand and brace it on my right leg. More than a few inches larger, it becomes awkward to move with, and the weight can strain my elbows, shoulders. I also use an Aluminum pilots map case (17×13 inches interior dimensions) to tour with, and it can hold about 10 paintings. Onstage the closed and empty case forms a palette, that I put the paint on top of to use while I’m performing. The movements, associated with getting  paint off of or loading my brush up on the case are part of the performance, and possibly the slickest part be cause of how many times I’ve done it (every 10 seconds or less the whole show). I time it to the beat as well. As the last note of the set is played I slam down the painting on the floor and walk away. In a few minutes the paintings are dry and I can put it all away in the case. paint brushes are pretty disposable, I break one every other show and  usually buy 50+ A year. Hog bristle lasts the longest, and is cheap. The acrylic bristle synthetics are good if their stiff, but die easy if they are soft. Same for all other animal hair brushes except a horse hair Japanese pin striping brush I’ve had for 7 years.  After the show I finish up paintings at home usually sitting on the couch. It’s only 90 degrees different from my standing painting position, but is an easy way to paint for many hours.  I usually use the reference photos to compare and finish up the paintings, but not always. 30- 120 minutes can finish almost any 13×17 painting up. I sell less this year than in the past, but through the internet, after performances, on commission, and through art shows about covers the way I sell work. I also give away a few, and trade other artists for their work every year. Everything good I’ve got almost came to me by making art, doing these shows etc, I just try to keep it going, keep putting it out there.

Do you have a particularly controversial piece? Controversial? Yeah there is one. It was of Ted Kacinzsky’, the Unabomber. It was of a crazy looking federal mugshot, orange jumpsuit. It said Fuck Technology on it because he engraved FT for that reason on all his bomb pieces. It was the main theme of his manifesto. ‘LI’ve been saying Fuck Technology for years, and was surprised to read about that. The piece was an idea that if he could have made the FT statement artistically and reached many people then he wouldn’t have done the bombings, which overshadowed any message he had. That’s the real point. I don’t in any way condone violence. The painting sold to someone who probably didn’t understand it in 2005. Anytime you paint someone there is the politics of their life history, legacy and public perceptions of them at play. Some people are really branded. Painting a Hitler, Stalin, Saddam etc. Obviously has universal horrible meanings, but for some people painting certain musicians, Like Ike Turner, GG Allin, or Johnny Ramone can have some strong reactions. I paint who I paint, and avoid other subjects for my own reasons. Always happy to explain why I’m drawn to paint the subjects of my work, I don’t go out of my way to explain unless asked usually. I like to think I put all my reasoning into the layers that make the image.

Describe your typical day. Be as brief or expressive as you want. A typical day for me starts between 430 am and Noon. If I’m traveling by bus or plane, train or car out of the country, then I’m up early. If I’m at home then I’m usually up late at 11am or noon. I drink coffee, check the news, before I really get going on the day.  The rest of the time I take care of the baby, try to keep up on uploading video of shows on my YouTube channel, do interviews, cook ,clean, use Facebook, book shows, cut and prime wood, make posters, do video chats. At night I will study film and video for characters, movement, inspiration or technical aspects. It’s pretty much focused on the Art as I don’t have any full time management. On the road I get Up as late as I can before Lobby call or the van, car leaving. I like to get to the venue early to get a feel for the place.  I paint with as many groups as I can, usually the first and last bands. If I’m too tired, or injured I will just do the set with the band that invited me. I don’t Drink until after the Show usually. It takes  a while to wind down from a show so I like to paint as long as I can to expend as much energy as possible so I can fall asleep after. Otherwise it’s that much harder for it to all come together the next night.

What bands have you been listening to lately? These days it’s Johnny Thunders, Bob Dylan rehearsals, Sam Cooke live, Joan Baez, The Jabbers, Faces, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Ray Charles, Woody Guthrie, live Jimi Hendrix, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Social Distortion, The Ramones , The Stooges,  Johnathan Richman, Joan Jett, live Little Richard, 1960s and live Bob Marley, Beethoven, Ernest’s Liver, Velvet Underground, Steve Earle, Patti Smith, The Clash, Dave Clark 5, Howlin Wolf. I Mostly listen to Vinyl, or cd in the car, but also YouTube videos a lot.

Have you had any formal training? As far as formal training not much. I took art classes in elementary school from the early 1980s up until I graduated High school. I majored in it for one semester in college before I dropped out of University of Massachusetts Lowell. By that time I was selling work, making some money. I was in school to wrestle, and was just making the art I wanted to see made for years at that point. I started selling prints in large numbers in 1998, during the time I started studying art. I learned in a mentor kind of way from Jack Kerouac’s friend David Amram, and John Sinclair when they came through Lowell. Anibal Ciardi, an Argentinean/American artist, is a longtime advisor and Friend. I learned a lot from working with CJ Ramone from 2011-15. He is the biggest Mentored Influence on my performance painting style, and taught me a lot about life, Rock N Roll, touring, show preparation. I used to joke with him he was teaching me the Samouraï secrets of Rock N Roll. I painted at 53 of his shows and made some collaborative paintings with him.  The tours were exciting and tough, and really made me much better of a performer than any 4 years studying art could have.

How would you describe your studio? At the moment I don’t have one, so I do parts in the back yard, parts on the couch, parts where i store paintings. The club or Festival , music concert has been my de facto studio for 11 years now.

Have you had any one standout moment in your career? Not one greatest, just many great ones. Most performances out do the previous ones, the last 2 shows in Brescia and Parma Italy last weekend ( with Yonic South, Fucking Cookies, and Wah77) were 3 of my best sets ever, so there’s that, also I’ve had a lot of top adrenaline experiences over the years. Escaping from cops when I was young,  winning wrestling matches and tournaments, performing at Disneyland House of Blues with CJ Ramone or The Henry Fonda Theater in Los Angeles with the Damned, both Shows I painted with Sihasin in NY and France, Rehearsals with The Jabbers in a garage in New Hampshire, to both Stooges shows I painted at, a 51 date US tour I did in a school bus with Strangefeather in 2009 and many others rate as unduplicatable highs. They range from spiritual, dreams, fantasy to what could be described as Supernatural. Really all art and performance related. The birth of my daughter and my wedding are the only experiences outside of those which are above those times. Writing about these adventure is my late life’s work. I already have hundreds of pages written about my adventures.

Is there anything else you would like to add? Is there anything noteworthy you will be a part of in the near future? Yeah I’m always looking to the future. I’m going to stay in Europe for the foreseeable future, and concentrate on working with a half dozen groups regularly and as many new ones as I can. I don’t want to Jinx it but I’m looking to do 2 big European tours with top groups next spring, and a large feature length Film project with some of my favorite artists next summer/ fall. ( it’s not my first, but my longest film project yet). More pushing boundaries I’m sure and a nice summer festival season in Europe again. There was a real awesome  musical project I had a hand in starting up in Slovenia this last winter, hopefully we can get it on stage in the next year. Other than that leaving time to live, love and Learn, and be ready for the next new idea, or person to enter my life

INTERVIEW BY TRICIA CALLAHAN
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