IPaintMyMind Exclusive Interview: Jeremy Hara
There’s really nothing better than being connected by someone you think highly of, and trust. IPMM seeped into Jeremy’s mainframe some time after we caught up with Jeff Jordan, and we’re happy to have been kept in his loop since then. A little while back, we saw that Jeremy was posting images of dollar bills which he had “refaced” by imagining testaments to humanity who aren’t colonial forefathers. Here at IPaintMyMind, we enthusiastically applaud anyone’s attempt to recast history in their image – and Jeremy has done exactly that.
Whether his other conceptually driven works, or his latest attempt at turning currency into art, Jeremy is clearly an ideas man. A founding member of Empire Squared, an art collective based in Eureka, CA, Jeremy Hara has often positioned himself amongst thriving creative environments, and seems insistent on functioning as a spark plug. Jump right in.
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IPMM: Jeremy, great to finally link up man. When we saw you drawin’ on money, we had to give ya a shout.
JH: Thanks for reaching out, I’m an IPMM fan.
IPMM: Lets start right there…. How’d you come up with the idea to recast these characters on our currency?
JH: First of all, I’d like to say our forefathers have been on our money long enough. They were great men for their times, but they also had their flaws, like being slave-owners, and…well that’s enough. There have been many great Americans since then, and I think they should be represented on our currency. I have drawn on money in the past, and last year I worked on a project called “Colored Duckets”. I colored the presidents in the Andy Warhol Marilyn Monroe style, with blue eye-shadow, red lips and blond hair. It gave them a feminine, or transgender quality, many people described them as “pretty”. For a month I drew on all the cash I could get my hands on. I showed my bills at Empire Squared Gallery of Contemporary Arts, where I also ran a money exchange. I traded my colored money for clean money of equal value. That night I exchanged nearly a thousand dollars. I liked that the project was well received, and that this project brought my art out of the gallery space. Every store I went into I was spending colorful money. It was interesting to take my art into the public sphere.
Now to answer your question…Recently an artist friend of mine Donovan Clark came across a dollar with the 1960’s Adam West style Batman drawn over George Washington’s portrait. He posted it on Facebook and was overwhelmed by “likes” and comments, so he decided to do his own version. When I saw his dollar I thought to myself “Hey…working on money is kind of MY thing.” So I made a Darth Vader Dollar. I was trying to beat Donovan to the punch, as Vader is a common motif of his. After posting it and seeing the positive response I set to work recasting our currency, or as I call it “refacing our currency”. I started drawing great Americans, people I wanted to see on our bills. Noam Chomsky, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Charles Bukowski, Don DeLillo, and by then I was hooked. I started drawing artists, cultural and civil rights leaders, and musicians. As I finished each drawing I would post images on Facebook and was really happy with the glowing feedback. It was at this point that I started compiling a list of “great Americans”. I’ve done 75 bills in the last 40 days. I try to make at least one every day.
IPMM: We love the medium. Obviously, art supplies cost money, but drawing on dollar bills is a bit of a jab at anyone who thinks art is pointless. How do you view it?
JH: Wait…who thinks art is pointless?!!?! I love the medium as well. I like that all these pieces have been done with cash, a white out pen and a free “Doubletree” ballpoint pen. I enjoy the simplicity, and low-brow nature of these unconventional art materials. It might be a slight jab at traditional art supplies.
What I find most interesting about this project is it calls into question values. What we value, and who we value. Is money more valuable if it has a drawing on it? What makes money valuable and who owns it? Can I do what ever I want to my money? Is Art valued? What is Art’s value? Is Art only valuable as a commodity? Do we value values?
I don’t know if I have the answers, but the question of value and values are what I think this project is all about. This is also my first art project that has existed more in the virtual world than in the real world, or the art world. So far it has mostly been viewed on Facebook and Twitter, which has been interesting, and new to me. Right now this project is becoming even more virtual as someone is reading this on a computer screen or mobile device. And thank you, dear reader, for sharing this virtual experience. In the real world this particular art functions as money. In this sense it is a form of “free art”. I spend it, and put it in tip jars. People who receive them like them. And from there, I have no idea what happens to them. I do enjoy that the bills snap people out of their nine to five fog, into a human reaction.
IPMM: We could see how some people could be peeved by drawing on money, then again, we don’t really care about that. Is your intention to ruffle a few feathers?
JH: No, it’s not my intention to ruffle feathers, but I do enjoy it as an unintended consequence. I hope people like the dollars. I like them. Then again, if your art ruffles feathers you are probably doing something right. I am intrigued by the perceived notion that drawing on money is illegal. Many people tell me that drawing on money is illegal, even those that like the project. So I have done some research and it turns out that what I am doing is not actually illegal. It is illegal to destroy money or to try to change the value of it, like making a $1 a $10. The law regarding defacing money is about destroying or damaging money so that it is “unfit to be reissued.” (US Code Title 18, Pt.1, Ch.17 Sec. 333) The law is meant to prevent damage of currency, fraud, and counterfiting. Drawing or writing on money is in a legal gray area. The stores and banks still accept them, my refaced bills remain legal tender. If this project ruffles feathers I hope that it opens dialogue and discussion about rights, freedom, legality, and great americans.
IPMM: We dig it, man. Do you plan on exhibiting these works ever?
JH: Yes. I am showing a photo collage of the first 75 bills at Piante Art Gallery in Eureka, starting June 2nd with Empire Squared. It is titled “Drawing on Dollars: Refacing Our Currency”, which has become the working title of the series. There is talk of teaming up with Donovan Clark and doing an exhibition based on the money art theme. We have been discussing it with the curator of a local gallery. I recently set up a twitter account because of this project and I will be leaking the bills out slowly @jeremyhara. “Refacing Our Currency” as well as much of my work can also be seen at http://jeremyhara.blogspot.
IPMM: You also are a founding member of Empire Squared. Tell us about that project…
JH: Empire Squared is a non-profit art collective of amazing artists that was started in Eureka, CA. It has expanded to an International group of artists, visionaries and revolutionaries. We have members all over the place. In 2003 we opened the Empire Squared Gallery of Contemporary Arts and we ran and operated it until this year when we decided to close our doors. When we opened the gallery it was to create a new space to make and display crazy art without boundaries. And that is what we did, and it was awesome. After almost ten years of great shows, month after month, it became a bit like managing a gallery and running a non-profit art organization. This starts to get in the way of making art, so we closed the gallery. Empire Squared or E2 as we are also known has been an awesome part of my development as an artist. Being surrounded by talented artists makes me work harder, it creates a sense of competition that I thrive off of. Usually creating art is a very solitary activity, so having a collective of solid artists to bounce ideas off of has been indispensable. Collaborating together and “one-upping” each others ideas led to a whole different world of creativity. I can’t say enough good things about Empire Squared and its members.
IPMM: What are some of your other works that your particularly fond of? We see you’ve worked in various mediums.
JH: “Studies of Boring Postcards” was a series I was fond of. I painstakingly painted images of truly boring postcards. I’m interested by the transformation of boring postcard into a painting that is no longer boring. The studies convey the American do it yourself mentality and a slice of life of Americana, while simultaneously conveying the absurdity of everyday banal existence. I have done a number of trompe l’oeil works dealing with painting paper. “Post-Modern Posts” is an 4′ x 8′ canvas with post-its and paper sheets painted on it, each with a message written on it. There are 30 painted post-its with messages, reminders and quotes on them.
IPMM: You live and work in Arcata, CA. Is Arcata a good environment for artists? Are you from there?
JH: Arcata is a beautiful place on the coast surrounded by redwoods. The area is very art friendly and there are a lot of artists per capita, but Arcata is a small town. I’m originally from Santa Monica, California. I moved to Arcata in 1999 and I like the slower pace of life. The natural beauty of this area is awe inspiring. I tell people I live in The Shire. I do have to visit LA regularly to see friends/family, see art shows and eat good food.
IPMM: Did you go to art school? Worth it or stupid?
JH: Yes. Worth it and stupid. Little of column A ,and a little of column B. I met cool people in school and it was a good environment to make lots of art. I did a lot while I was in school, like art shows, forming e2, and opening and running a gallery. It was good to be immersed in art. Eat, drink, sleep, art. There was also a lot of nonsense and costs so….worth it and stupid. And a lot of: Your education is what You make it.
IPMM: Just as with everything… Who are some artists that might have turned your head recently?
JH: On a personal level Rachel Grusin, Donovan Clark, Forest Stearns, Jeff Jordan, Annie Vought and Matthew Gehring. As far as recent artist heroes Tom Friedman, Maurizio Cattelan, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, OS Gemeos and Barry McGee.