UMOCA’s Spring Newsletter Features Interview with Artist-in-Residence Jerrin Wagstaff

Jerrin Wagstaff in the AIR Space, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Zachary Norman

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UMOCA:

Can you talk a bit about your background? What brought you to the UMOCA residency? 

Jerrin Wagstaff:

I am originally from Salt Lake City, and I went to California State University, Long Beach to earn my MFA. After living and teaching in Southern California for 12 years, I moved back to Utah to focus on the development of my studio art practice. The UMOCA residency is something I’ve been working toward since I got back. It’s an incredible program that gives artists the time, resources, and critical feedback necessary to really advance their work. I feel very fortunate to have been selected for this residency.

UMOCA:

In your exhibition statement for American Landscapes, it states that you look at paintings by artists such as Albert Bierstadt whose paintings were “formed from composite nature imagery.” What does this mean, exactly, and how is this used in your work?  

Jerrin Wagstaff:

I’m interested in how the American landscape has been used to frame and promote ideas about American culture. In those paintings, Bierstadt is presenting a version of the American West that plays on our desires by using the spectacle of a fictional landscape. One that uses the best of everything: the best tree, the best mountain, the best waterfall, the best sunset, etc. In this exhibition, I am trying to take Albert Bierstadt’s landscapes and push them even further. By combining imagery from multiple sources, I want to create a version of the landscape that defies the laws of physics and embraces contradictions, but also really leans into beauty.

UMOCA:

It’s apparent that the visual language of digital technology influences your work. Can you share some specific reference points for this integration? 

Jerrin Wagstaff:

I’m using Photoshop and AI right now as tools to create the work. I like the way Photoshop gives me unlimited power to build and manipulate the landscape. AI is kind of the opposite end of the spectrum where I have to give control over to the engine and respond to what it gives me.  I’m also looking at video games because of how the environment surrounds the player and is generated based on the player’s actions. Then, of course, there are blockbuster movie franchises like the Fast and the Furious or Transformers.  Just the visual spectacle of it all is very compelling to me. 

Jerrin Wagstaff in his studio, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Zachary Norman

UMOCA:

Your exhibition in the AIR Space includes both highly refined large-scale paintings and, what look like, more provisional collages. Can you talk a bit about your decision to include both types of work in your show and in what ways they work together? 

Jerrin Wagstaff:

Both ways of working present different challenges and opportunities but, ultimately, they are both about deconstructing and reconfiguring the American landscape. The large scale paintings are made from compositions that I create in Photoshop.  In these compositions I am able to control every aspect of the landscape and then refine them over a long period of time through the process of painting. I think of them as being similar to an orchestral arrangement. The collages are much faster and improvisational. I precut all of the material ahead of time and then it’s a matter of dealing with what is there. There’s something really physical and raw about the end product that feels more like punk rock. When we laid out the exhibition, I was really pleased with how they related to each other, like two sides of the same coin.

UMOCA:

What’s on the horizon for you as an artist?

Jerrin Wagstaff:

This is a relatively new body of work for me and during the UMOCA residency it continued to develop in ways that I hadn’t anticipated. I’m looking forward to increasing the level of complexity of the paintings and collages and exploring the possibilities of working with AI and video. It still feels like I’m at the very beginning. So as long as the subject continues to offer me possibilities, I’ll keep chasing them.