Interview With Jackson Farley

Jackson Farley is a stencil artist currently studying at Sydney College of the Arts (SCA). As a young artist, his practice is evolving and he is excited to investigate other media, while continuing his stencil works. He uses images of popular culture inspired by a wide range of countries, applying them onto a background of vibrant block colour, and steadily increasing the size of his stretched linen canvases. What inspires him is a chaotic mix of street culture and rich history, especially in Asian cultures.

How about you tell us a little bit about yourself? How did you start making art?
I study Fine Arts at SCA in Rozelle. I’m in second year at the moment. I’ve always liked drawing, but when I did a module on Street Art in high school I discovered that it was something I really liked doing. That is where all of my stencil art stems from, I guess. A few years ago, I went to the Balmain Street Art Auction and I met Elk (a Sydney-based street artist) who was live painting outside. He sent me a list of guidelines to create stencil artworks, which I followed. That was a really important step in my practice.

I had thought that I’d do design when I finished high school, but I ended up doing a gap year in Europe. On my way back to Australia, I stopped over in Japan. It is such a unique place… I find it so inspiring. Many of my stencil pieces feature images from Japanese culture. What really stuck with me about Japan was the contrast between grungy popular culture and their rich and beautiful history. I remember sitting in front of a beautiful old temple in Harajuku and a seeing a drunk business man suddenly throw up in this really picturesque place. It’s weird, but I like it.

Where do you find your influences? Do you trawl the Internet for images?
Yes, I used to do that. I’m interested in historical artefacts. At the moment I’m trying to include more element drawn free-hand in my works, instead of using stencils for the entire work. I’m trying to do more works like Portrait x 3, which was based on a life-drawing exercise I did at university. I don’t use photographs very much; I find I get over them very quickly. What I like to work with is the memory of something. I’m not sure if it is an exact memory, or if the image gets a little distorted, but either way that is what I use as inspiration for my stencils. I don’t think that appropriation is really an issue anymore; I think that it has become a kind of free-for-all where any image can be used by anyone.

It is true that we are living in an age of unparalleled access to images… it is easy to see how an artist can use that to their advantage. Can you take us through your process? How do you create a work?
Sure, although it isn’t always the same for all of my artworks. Most of the time, I’ll have an idea in mind and then I’ll find an image to fit that idea.  I usually start by finding the interesting parts of a photo, and making a new scenario from a cropped detail of a photograph. Technically, my process can be quite long and tedious, which is why I’m moving on to more drawing and multimedia. I use Photoshop to manipulate the images before I transfer them onto the stencil or the canvas.

I don’t do that many stencil works at university, because the studio space is quite limited. I have do most of my big canvases at home. I don’t really do any preparatory sketches. My process is actually quite organic. You never know exactly what you’re going to end up with…  Especially with these new works that I’m creating!

When you have an idea, is it usually an image, or do you start with a concept?
Initially my ideas were always image-based, but since I’ve been studying art at university, my works have become more conceptual. For example Portrait x 3, is my way of exploring portraiture in three different ways, physical, genetic and emotional. I am trying to tell a bit more of a story, going beyond the purely aesthetic. SCA is an art school that focuses clearly on conceptual practice: you can do whatever you like as long as you are able to justify it conceptually.

Are you very dependent on inspiration or are you more disciplined in your practice?
I don’t really rely on inspiration, but when I do get an idea, I stick with it. I don’t have that many ideas flying around at once. I have been receiving a few commissions, so that has been good in motivating me to work. Before I went to Europe I was very busy, doing many commissions, but now that I’ve started at university, I’ve given myself a bit of a break. I don’t like doing multiple editions of my works, I am concentrating on original works now.

Do you do any stencils in the street?
I used to, during my high school days. But these days, I can’t be bothered! It takes too much energy to work at 3am in deserted streets (laughs). And besides, I really like working on canvas, especially when I can use block colour in the background. I feel that it really frames the image.

What projects have you been involved in?
I participated in the Stencil Art Prize in 2011, 2012 and 2013. The first year it was held on Cockatoo Island, at Outpost Projects. I was also in another thing called the Young Artist Project, which was also at Outpost Projects, so I spent two weeks out there, going to a workshop held by Beastman and Miso (street artist from Melbourne).  I really like Beastman’s work, and Thomas Jackson’s as well.

What’s next for you?
I’d like to start doing more site-specific works, branching out into installation as well as continuing to do my stencil work. I want to get away from really figurative stencils, moving towards abstraction I suppose. I want to do very big works, the bigger the better! Pop Art is also a massive inspiration for me; my dream practice would be a cross between Rothko and Andy Warhol!

You can see all of Jackson's works here.

Words: Lucie Reeves-Smith