Jake Oliver-Fishman: Unpacking the Color Black

When reflecting on my delightful interview with Jake, the phrase “you can’t judge a book by its cover” comes to mind. Seeing those light bulbs jutting off his head (see profile), I imagined he might be hard to pin down. But it’s part of his playful nature and defiance to grow stagnant. I caught up with Jake not from his native England, but from a mobile phone in Nicaragua where he’s doing a self-directed stay near the coast. We talked at length about his some of his off-beat mixed media projects like, “Head against Object” and “Ping Pong Pants.” These projects and works on Artisster, such as “Fly” and “Everything”, typify his experimentation with the unexpected and playfulness. I had the chance to talk to Jake about his style, love of water, and how to know when an artwork is “whole”.


How you developed your style?

It’s my obsession with experimentation, with objects and materials that mainly contributed to its development. I am exploring what happens when you use something outside its original purpose. It’s all about playing. So many of us lose that ability to play without borders. Even as children we are drilled to produce the correct answers and are discouraged from getting it wrong. These paintings are the deliberate result of intense experimentation. The first works were tiny, a mere couple of centimetres squared. As my understanding of the materials has grown so have the physical sizes of the works.


How do you approach a new work? Describe your creative process.

In regards to my works with Ink, I start by determining the dimensions I’d like to work with, using sketches. I then order the acrylic glass and set up a structure on the floor to support the glass. The structure enables me create different heights and depths across the flexible surface. Prior to starting, I sit in front of the glass and mediate, visualising the surface I am going to about to work on. Once I have a vision of what I want to happen within the work I begin. The experience of making the works feels like a type of dance, between myself the liquid and surface I’m working on, at times the experience feels slightly performative, although I’m the only one attending. I prefer to be alone when painting.


How do you know when a piece is finished?

It varies, in some cases I reach a point where there is total clarity, what is there feels whole and I know the work is complete, at others it takes time. I either leave it in the studio or take it home and let it exist within my everyday environment. In the case of these pieces, I generally gradually realise what I feel is missing and then revisit the work and begin to gradually add further layers and detailing. This either eventually reaches the point of feeling “whole” or reaches a point when I feel it’s time to strip the whole thing back and start again.


What took you to South America? What will you produce?

My time here is not directly about my artistic practice. It’s more about my personal curiosity and desire to step outside of London. It gives me a different space in which to keep reassessing and questioning. Taking myself into different environments and seeing what that gives way to.


Can you recount a memorable comment you’ve received about your work?

My favourite comments are when viewers read a whole story into what see or say something like, “That’s an amazing painting of a rhino!”, when I hadn’t even seen anything resembling a rhino. I like it when people play with their own creativity and imaginations when viewing the works. I feel I do half of the work and then it’s the viewer’s interaction that brings them to life.

How does meditation influence your work?

Meditation has become is an integral part of my work. In 2014, I had the opportunity to do a 10-day silent retreat, called a Vipassana. It turned out to be an incredibly creative period. Through the silence, the stillness and calmness gave way to a lot of ideas. During a Vipassana as well as not talking you are not meant to write. While I followed this for the majority of the time, you are also meant to find your own path. For me that meant, in the case of the ideas that became most vivid, recording them in my sketchbook as this enabled me to temporarily let go of them and return to the silence. I have very recently been exploring my meditation practice through free diving.


What’s the most unusual place you’ve exhibited? or the most unusual work you’ve created?

I had a show in 2006 in Queens Wood in North London. I love galleries, and some work requires the cleanness and of space. But this work featured 8’x4′ acrylic mirrors and was truly unique in how the works and the audiences interacted with the environment. More recently I exhibited 20 of the fruit and veg images by pasting them up in central Hong Kong. These can be seen on instagram @jfishy.


Who’s your favorite visual artist, living or dead? Living, Erwin Wurm; Dead, [René] Magritte and [Salvador] Dali.


Favorite childhood memory?

My most imprinted memory is being in a pram being pushed through London when it was raining. I remember the sound of the rain pummelling the plastic cover of the pram, the calmness within the bubble of the pram and the seeming chaos outside.


Biggest threat to future generations? Climate change.


Biggest threat to the Arts?

Funding cuts are probably the biggest of threats. While cuts are a threat, one that is totally unjust given that governments continue to find billions of pounds to spend on nuclear arms that will either never be used or eventually be responsible for killing us all, thus making them seem like a strange choice, the arts will never die. As long as we’re here, people will always find ways to express and create.


What were you doing right before you opened this eMail? Surfing.


If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be? Erwin Wurm


Have you been surprised about the number and types of colors you’ve been able to extract from black?

Yes, totally and I continue to search for different blacks as each one is made slightly differently and hence has a different pallet to offer.

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