NY Arts: Has your approach to art always been associated with performance art?
Jacolby Satterwhite: No, I started with drawing and painting; however, the images I’ve been making since childhood have been performative and used the figure as a compositional pivot. Ten years into my painting practice, I became exhausted by painting’s history because it’s gender and racial politics were getting in the way of my ideas, so I pursued the alternative, which is performance and animation.
NYA: What artists were important to you during your development? Was there a particular artist or movement you were looking at in your formative years?
JS: Piero Della Francesca, Peter Paul Rubens, Goya, Carravaggio, Picasso, Madonna, Janet Jackson, Bjork, Neo Rauch, Lisa Yuskavage, Dana Schutz, Deee-Lite, Grace Jones, Marlene Dumas, Chris Ofili, Kara Walker, Joseph Beuys, Inez and Vinoodh, Antonio Biaggi, Paul Mcarthey, Andy Warhol, Bruce Nauman, Adriane Piper, Matthew Barney, Terence Koh, Nintendo 64, Sega Genesis, Dreamcast, Playstation, and music video directors like Mark Romanek, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry—just to name a few out of a ton of influences.
NYA: Aside from performance, anything from photography, fibers, drawing, or computer-generated environments seem to make their way into your work. Is there a rhyme or reason as to the medium you decide to create a work with?
JS: The mediums I choose to work with are components of a more grand idea. Photographs and drawings are static, and give me the opportunity to make focused gestures in my work; those mediums are where I am most didactic. The CG animation and costuming is where the fun is. That is the territory where I am negotiating story, colors, textures, space, and composition.
NYA: The performative aspect seems to bleed through into a lot of what you do, whether in the form of actual performances, incorporation of these works into the realm of video, or stills taken from one or the other. How do you see your own body in relation to the work that you make? Is it just another tool or do all the creative ventures point back to it in some way?
JS: When talking about the work I usually use pronouns like “he”/ “him” to speak about the passive bodies that flow around in my animations. The way that I use my body in my work is similar to how I’d play with G.I. Joe dolls when I was a kid. The way I mediate my body between the animation and drawings gives it an unlimited terrain for what it can do and participate in. I have been outsourcing performances from others lately, and seeing what happens from there. I guess it’s like I’m getting 500 more G.I. Joes for my toy box.
NYA: Your work deals a lot with a personal or familial history. Can you tell us a little bit about what makes your background so important to the nature of your work?
JS: My background is important to my work, because I am the only person in the world with my background. You are the only person in history with your background, so by default it’s a great platform for original material. A lot of the content in the drawings are schematic documents of occurrences that happened around objects and the home. It’s my mother’s journal documented by short sentences and drawings of objects. The family photographs are separate performance documents that act as evidence that the objects in her drawings existed in her home, and people performed around them. So I usually mediate between the drawings and familial documents to influence a more surreal possibility for how those objects could function in the present animations.
NYA: How would you describe the relationship you have to your mother’s drawings?
JS: I watched my mother make her drawings since I was a child; she told me if I wanted to assist her in making them, I’d have to learn to be a better draftsman. So it technically is the genesis of my art practice. I also was the best at drawing Jesus in bible school. That was a minor influence on my ambition to pursuit art.
NYA: Her drawings seem always to have been translated to a new medium, either in being prints of the originals, or having been re-drawn into a 3D modeling environment. Do you see her need to create as flowing through your work in some way?
JS: The use of them is my system for restraining my creativity. They give me order and rules. It’s also a way to continue a creative lineage. The sheer volume of the drawings makes it necessary for me to use them to their full potential.
NYA: I hope you don’t mind me saying this—there is certainly an aspect of humor that comes through in many of your works. Can you share a little bit about the way this operates within your work?
JS: I think humor is a great subversion technique. It’s a great medium to deliver heavy content. I’m also a really goofy, nerdy, perverted guy … so it’s also a subconscious default.
NYA: You seem to have a very organic relationship to the technology you use, that is to say, you know exactly how you want it to operate and you are less concerned with a professionally polished look, and more interested in making the technology work for your project. Is this by necessity or design?
JS: I think it’s by necessity and design. My process is very analog because of tracing, rotoscoping, modeling, scanning, and performing. The design automatically results into a D.I.Y. aesthetic. I am satisfied with that, because it’s more human and porous. As I continue to learn and grow with the medium, things become more sophisticated.
NYA: Tell us about the inspiration behind the wild nature of the worlds you create, do the performances exist to be inserted into the worlds, or does the process usually happen the other way around?
JS: My live action performances are just as much of a world-building technique as my 3D animation videos; they co-exist. A lot of the footage from my live action performances informs the imagery in the animations. I compare it to an Ala Prima landscape painter like Milton Avery, Monet, or Edward Hopper going into the landscape with a sketchbook and easel, to return to their studio and make a refined project from it. I work from observation, and performance is the way that I observe the world.
NYA: Is there anything about your process or your oeuvre that you feel people overlook when encountering your work?
JS: Not in the current moment, which makes me desire to blur the lines a little more.
NYA: What upcoming exhibitions or projects do you have in the works that you are willing to share?
JS: I’m excited about a project I’m working on at Recess Art’s Sessions program. I’m outsourcing performance from the public. They’re invited to choose one of 500 drawings to re-inact on the green screen. It’s kind of like a performative Rorschach test. I’ve been working with the Kinect and 5D Camera to explore motion capturing too. Regarding upcoming shows, I am excited about Monya Rowe’s Inaugural Group Show for her new space on Orchard Street, Radical Presence Black Performance in Contemporary Art at the Grey Art Gallery and Studio Museum in Harlem this fall, my solo show at The Bindery Projects in Minneapolis, Minnesota, some upcoming solo projects in Oslo, Norway, and Mallorca, Spain at Mallorca Landings Gallery, and Untitled Art Fair in December. The 2014 stuff is tentative, but even more thrilled about that.