Gallery 224

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August, 2016

Featured Artist

Jared Patton Plock

I am a visual artist based in Milwaukee, WI. I have a BFA in Printmaking from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and a MFA in Printmaking from Cranbrook Academy of Art. I am currently a faculty member at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design, Carthage College and Parkside.

Focusing on the intersection between the drawn and the sculpted, my practice utilizes printmaking, drawing, sculpture and installation to investigate the subject/object dynamic. The blurred line between what is a painting, drawing, and sculpture is the niche where my work resides. While in residence I will further explore these themes using printmaking as a narrative form to investigate our relationships with the ordinary and commonplace.

Visit Jared's website at
Jared will be in the studio January-August 2016


A Conversation with Jared Plock

by Don Niederfrank

Jared Plock and I met on a Saturday morning in the quiet of Gallery 224. Though a few folks drifted in during our conversation, it was a good place to begin. After about an hour, we took ourselves to the Daily Baking Co. for more conversation.

Let's start with your childhood. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Dixon, Illinois.

Was that your hometown all your life?
Well, I was born there and we moved a bit, but the majority of my childhood was spent in Dixon.

Did you do art as a child?
Oh, yeah. I was asked this the other day and was trying to remember some of my first projects as a kid. My mother got me a subscription to Kid's Sports Illustrated, and in the back of the issue they always had a caricature of a sports figure. She would cut the picture in half and tape in down, and I would complete the other half of the caricature. She would do that every month. Aside from that, I always wanted to be an architect, so I would draw plans and schematics of rooms and houses. They were often overly elaborate and a little ridiculous.

That's interesting. Was your mom a teacher?
No, I think she was trying to come up with something to keep me occupied, something that I would have to exert some mental energy on, something to focus on.

So, high school. Art classes in high school? Were you one of the 'art students' in your school?
Well, yes. I always took art classes. At my school there were seven art classes you could enroll in. By my junior and senior year I had completed all my general education classes, so I was able to enroll in seven art classes per semester. It was fantastic. In fact, my art teacher was pretty much the sole reason I ended up going to college. One day prior to class she asked, “What are you doing tomorrow?” I said, “I don't know. Coming to class?” She said, “No, you’re not. You need to find a ride to Milwaukee. I've arranged an interview for you at the Milwaukee Institute of Design. Here's a box of slides you need to give them; here's the paper work you need to give them; and here are the drawings you need to show them. You just have to find a ride up there.”

How cool! Do you remember her name?
Lisa Castello.

Does she know you do art?
Yes. We stay in touch.

So you did a lot of art your last two years.
Yes. She treated it as an independent study. She would give me assignments to work on outside the normal coursework, with extended deadlines and more elaborate concepts. I didn't know this at the time, but what she was having me do is build a portfolio to apply to schools. So I was creating a body of work rather than individual assignments.

You've been out of school for a while.
Actually, I went to MIAD and ended up dropping out. My mom was sick with an autoimmune disease, and I thought about dropping out then, but she insisted I continue. But she ended up dying my second year. It was a difficult time for me. Shortly after that I ended up withdrawing.

You ended up stepping out of MIAD...
Yes, I thought that was the end of my artistic career.

What did you do?
I kind of just floated around for a bit doing dumb jobs. Then I fell into deejaying professionally. I was playing out four or five nights a week. Coincidentally, deejaying is what got me back into art. Promotion is a huge part of the music industry and when you’re starting out you end up doing a lot of the design and promotion yourself.

Were people paying you to do graphic design?
Not really. I had a production company and would end up making the posters for shows we promoted. So this got me into thinking creatively in a visual sense. Music can be creative but it's a completely different set of skills.

Are you synesthetic?
No, not at all.

Okay. Go on.
For a while I was working at a club in Milwaukee. I was the music director, booking agent and resident dj for this club.

In that role I was also head designer and curator. We had a rotating exhibition art work that was coming through the night club, so I was choosing the artists that were displaying work. And then I had to hire teams of graphic designers that were hired to do the website and flyers and posters and all that stuff. So deejaying and being in the music industry got me back into making art. When I was 27 or 28 the owners of the club decided to change the format of the club, from electronic music to all salsa. So I didn't have a job. I had to decide between doing the same thing and starting all over again or going back to school, which is what I ended up doing.

And you went back to MIAD?
No, I went to UWM with the intention of doing graphic design.

So what happened at UWM?
I enrolled with the intent of being a graphic design major, but at the time there were so many graphic design majors it was difficult to get into classes. So I ended up taking a lot of classes outside of the graphic design department. A friend recommended a printmaking course, and after that I was hooked and ended up taking more and more printmaking classes. Eventually, it got to a point in my junior year when I had more printmaking credits than graphic design and my advisor said, “You're going to have to make a decision here.” Serendipitously, they offered a interdisciplinary major that very semester which allowed you to choose how you were going to blend majors, the only requirement was that one of them was a digital component and one of them was a traditional component. So I ended up graduating with a dual emphasis in printmaking and graphic design.

I've noticed a lot of artists of your generation are involved in printmaking. So when did you graduate from UWM?
In 2012.

How is it you ended up teaching?
Within a year of entering UWM I knew I wanted to go straight through to grad school. Being that I was in my late 20’s, slightly older than my fellow students, I knew that taking a break between undergraduate and graduate school would set me back.

It really helps to take some time off rather than going straight to college form living at home. So you have a graduate degree?
Yes. Immediately after graduating I went to Cranbrook Academy of Art.

Working on an MFA?
Right an MFA.

Focusing on any particular medium?
I was accepted into the Print Media department.  At Cranbrook there are classes; there's no professors. You choose your own curriculum and what you want to study. And then your department head helps facilitate that area of study. It's entirely self-designed, self-driven, which worked really well for me.

So when did you finish at Cranbrook?
It's a two-year program so I finished there in 2014.

Then you moved back here. Now you're teaching in three different institutions? How did that happen?
Well, when I moved back, I was working as graphic designer. I then met Matthew Lee when I was on the board of directors for the Jazz Gallery in Riverwest. We only spoke for twenty minutes, but two or three months later was surprised when I got a phone call that Matt had recommended me for a position at UW-Parkside. So I began discussions with them, and then a week later I got a call from Carthage College saying Matthew Lee had recommended me for a position there. And then a former professor recommended me for a position at MIAD.

Would you like to teach as a career? If you had your choice between teaching and doing art which would you do?
I am first and foremost a studio artist, so I'm dedicated to my practice.  I absolutely love teaching. It allows me to continue my research and gives me a platform to collaborate with other creative people. I will always continue to teach, but I’m also a studio artist. However, I don't think they're mutually exclusive. Being a studio artist and teaching really go hand in hand.

Okay, let's talk about doing art. What are your favorite media? Or do you have a favorite medium?
Not really. My practice spans anything from found object art to film to photography to drawing and painting. Probably the only medium I haven't been working in recently, but have been thinking about returning to, is ceramics. It's the only thing that isn't part of my practice now. I'm working on a show now that's a lot of found object, a lot sculpture and woodworking, but in a couple of months I might be working in film...

Where's the show going to be?
U-W Parkside, September 20th through October 20th.
One thing I learned in grad school was from my mentor who was constantly asking, “Why is this a painting? Couldn't this be something else?” So through my own practice I began to ask a lot of questions like, “Which medium is appropriate for a given message or a particular content.” And that's how my practice evolved to what it is. I choose a medium that is fit for the message.

Do you ever see yourself settling on one medium?
Never. My practice is rooted in being a Printmaker. In that I tend to see things composed in layers. That all stems from a printmaking mindset, but really I’m interested in making, just not in one particular medium

So process more than product.
Oh, most definitely. It's something that I try to convey to my students continually. That work shouldn't be punctuated at the end of every finished piece. If you see the finishing of a piece as the closing of a chapter or the end of a story, it becomes really hard to string together a body of work or a field of study. For me process is the linchpin between everything.

What about artist statements?
You have to craft your writing to your audience. If it's an academic setting I'll craft my artist statements to fit that setting. If it's a more general setting I'll write to speak to that audience. You have to know who you're writing for.

Thinking about process, do you see a piece before it is finished? Like with this show. Is it all finished?
The funny thing is a lot of time I'll have a mental image of what I want something to look like, and the mental image of my work and the actuality of my work could not be further a part. A lot of that is due to process. I frequently tend to “strangle” ideas, overwork them. Through my process, I’m trying to undo the over-thinking, release the idea of the work being so refined, pull back a little bit to distance the work from my projected mental image. One of the things I'm constantly dealing with in my process is incongruity and how that can influence decision-making. Because a lot times the mental image of what I want something to look like is so uniform, that if I was to execute it exactly that way, I would absolutely loathe the finished piece. Something I do to undermine my thinking is to take what would normally be my “go to” move, the idea that is expected and safe, and make the incongruous decision of that. If something fits too well, it’s just not going to work.

It strikes me that what you might be talking about is the difference between craft and art. There's craft where people do beautiful work with whatever medium they happen to be working with, but there's no surprise to it, no incongruity, no vision.
I think I get where you're going. When something is very well crafted you can appreciate it, but from a mentally stimulating point of view it can fall flat. Craft is often the execution of a perfected mental image.

You use a word that is interesting and that I haven't heard a lot of people use and that is “practice.” “Practice” is usually a religious term, but it seems right in focusing on process rather product. So you're focusing on practice rather than production. The endeavor is to improve upon it, because it's a practice.
That's the way I view being an artist. In my opinion if you’re a professional artist and you don't view your work as practice, you are in business of production. Production can be very satisfying work. I find that in my practice, when I have perfected something is the moment that I walk away from it. What satisfaction would I get from repeating the same trick over and over? Granted, there may be a market for it, people may want to buy it, but how is that satisfying outside of a monetary endeavor?

What do you sense people don't know about art or doing art? If you were to have someone walk into your show, what is he not going to know about doing art?
The thing that I get approached about more often than not with regard to my work is that everyone wants everything explained to them. There's nothing wrong with wanting an explanation, that just means the gears are turning, that you're trying to figure it out, but asking the artist to explain it means that you don't want to do the work yourself. More often than not, when people approach me and ask for an explanation is the point at which I will ask them questions, to help them figure it out for themselves. A lot of my work is based on the semiotic relationship the viewer has with the object. Because what is ultimately influencing whether you love it or hate it is the language and memories you have related to the work.

So anytime I explain it to you, I've removed any semiotic relationship you may have with the work and replaced it with my relationship with the work. It's depriving you of the ability of experiencing it on your own. So I don't think it's that someone is missing something, as being willing to trust themselves to experience it. Whether you love something or hate it, both of those are great responses to work. The worst response you could have to work is “meh,” because that means that as an artist you have failed because you haven't evoked a response of any kind. If seventy-five percent of people hate something, that's fantastic because you created a response, which is much better than “meh.”

There's a craft in knowing who your viewer is and how people are going to respond to things, just as you can develop a craft for woodworking or anything else. I think any practicing artist should be very careful about their message. Early on in grad school when I was working on developing my body of work there were some stumbles where I did not take into account how anyone was going to view this other than me. If you aren't thinking about how things are going to be perceived it's easy to fall into that “meh” category. The viewer can often feel like, “I don't know how to feel about this, because I wasn't considered.”

You have to figure out the reaction you want to elicit in the viewer and then devise a trigger to get the viewer that have the experience you want. Its all about striking a balance between intent and crafting an interaction. If I want to elicit disgust I have to think what type of elements are going to do that. If I want people to feel nostalgia I have to think, “What kind of materials, what kind of line, what kind of shape is going to elicit nostalgia.”

There's a parallel in preaching. I have to preach that which is true to me but I have to make it available to whoever's listening.

Did you know you were going to enjoy teaching?
No. While at UWM I was asked to be a teaching assistant for a History of Modern Design class. I agreed to do it, thinking that I would hate it, but that it would look good on a resume. I quickly found that I thoroughly enjoyed the work. It just clicked with me.

What makes it rewarding?
Everything about it is rewarding. When I was teaching art history I was invested in the subject, really excited about it and I wanted to get the students excited by it. Now when I'm teaching studio classes the most exciting part about it for me is that I get to go through the creative process every single day with every single person. Getting to sit down with someone and they pitch me an idea and I get to help them put together a course of action to bring their ideas to fruition.

And I think since you have a fairly high level of what you're doing that makes their process available to  you.
Yes. At Carthage I had lots of non-art majors taking classes. And it's really rewarding to have a business major emailing me after an Intaglio course asking me if they can come in and use the shop. It's just something that's deeply rewarding.

If you didn't do art, could you see yourself doing something else?
I've said previously that I'd like to be an  astronomer or an astrophysicist.

I just find space really interesting.

There's an interesting documentary on the Hadron collider on Netflix.
Yes, I saw that. They just opened an artist-in-residence program at the collider. I thought that was really interesting.

I like theoretical physics because religion is often about certainty and theoretical physics is about “Huh?” It's like craft which is about certainty and art that is not.
Yes. Every time that I've done something that's ended up exactly how I envisioned it, I couldn't be less happy with it. This comes up in my classes too—the idea of understanding “productive failure.” I try to set myself up for situations in the studio where I'm going to fail, because failure produces unpredictable results. So you have to understand that even when failures happen you have to learn something from the process. With failure you just have to put it in the right context to understand  the successes. Even though the outcome is unpredictable doesn't mean it's necessarily bad. It just means it wasn't what you expected.

Well, I feel drawn to a close.
Yeah, I'm comfortable there.

Jerad, thanks for your time.
You're welcome. I enjoyed this.


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