In Conversation with Artist Jake Shapiro
Our first art exhibit of 2022 featured eight original pieces from artist Jake Shapiro. Six large-scale mixed media paintings and two smaller ceramic collages made up his show titled "The House of the Seamstress," alluding to a fictionalized historical narrative about turning points in men's fashion. Shapiro has become known for his mixed-media paintings depicting fictional collaged worlds that question cultural and social norms. Through abstract and representational renderings, he plays with what is reality and what is fabricated and how those two are in conversation with each other. Shapiro lives and works in Berkeley, CA and is currently attending SF State University to receive his MFA. We were thrilled to have his art in the shop for the past two months and spoke with him in more depth from his studio in San Francisco about his process and influences.
Materiality feels important in your work. Can you talk about how you have developed your use of mixed media and what it brings to the expression of your pieces?
Definitely. In college I was doing a lot of work with collaging paper, cutting out geometric shapes from colored paper to recreate an image. It was an accessibility thing mostly. Paper and X-acto blades were easy to buy and store. I didn't go to school for art, so it was just a side hobby. Then my first real body of work was all with oil and chalk pastels on paper. Once again it felt like an accessibility reason. Painting felt daunting, and the pastels felt a bit more intrinsic. But I was missing the collage element of the previous work. I decided to join the two, and from there the materials list has just kept growing. The fabric and sewing elements are the most recent addition. My grandma gave me her sewing machine, and I've always wanted to find a reason to use it. It felt like a natural progression to expand on the mediums and textures in the work. Overall my multimedia collage approach acts as a reflection of how I see and view everything around me. Our communities and selves are made up of these fragmented multiplicities that create this one whole thing.
For the exhibit at Erica Tanov, you created a fictional narrative around the pieces as a group. This is not the first time you've taken this approach for a body of work and it feels very immersive and effective. What role does storytelling play in your art?
The fictional world building aspect feels maybe the most important part of the work to me. I've always wanted to be a storyteller and create fictional works, and I'm trying to find ways to bring that to my work. Also, as someone without a lot of experience and education in art, I've always felt like there were things I was supposed to know or see in order to engage with artwork. For me, the use of a narrative creates a more inviting way for viewers to interact with the work. The goal is to give the viewer enough information to spark their imagination to put in their own narratives and history into the characters and story. At least it does that for me. I'm surrounded by these characters in my studio that I create stories for, and they change day to day. It's really what motivates me to keep making work.
You were born and raised in the Bay Area. You are also young (still in your 20's), and working on your Master's degree. What is it feeling like as an emerging young artist these days?
It's exciting and intimidating all at once. The choice to get my MFA was a multiyear decision. I kept coming back to it, but then pushing it to the side. Choosing to explore a life as an artist felt daunting. From what I understood, and still do, is that the majority of artists have to have two jobs. One that makes some money, and practicing art. Tough life to willingly choose. I tried graphic design, illustration, things that I felt had some more stability, but they were never it for me. The unknowns of having a lasting career as an artist are anxiety provoking, but for now having the ability to sit around and daydream fictional worlds and go into my studio every day and attempt to depict those worlds feels pretty worth all the rest of it.
Your mom founded a pre-school based on an Italian approach to early childhood education called Reggio Emilia. The approach is very child-centered and art-driven. Did this have an impact on your impulse and ability to bloom artistically?
I was pretty sports driven as a kid. I loved to draw and paint, but given the option between baseball camp and art camp, it was a no-brainer. I soon realized I wasn't going to be a professional baseball player and art made its way back. I recently worked at the preschool, and I remember my mom telling me their philosophies and the idea that if a kid is trying to draw a star and asked me what a star looked like, that I shouldn't just draw it for them. It gives the kid the space to figure it out on their own and decide for themselves what a star looks like. After reflecting on that, I could see how that philosophy, which I no doubt began learning when I went there, has continued to have an impact on my art practice. Trying to figure out how I want to depict a narrative or image, versus having it told to me and reciting it back.
What other artists are influencing you these days?
There are many, but a few are Maria Berrio, Derek Fordjour, and Muzae Sesay. Maria Berrio makes these beautiful collage works with paper and watercolor. The precision that she has is wild. Derek Fordjour is a multimedia artist who I am in awe of. He not only makes incredible work, but has a real focus on creating an entire experience. In his last exhibit he had a puppet show in the back, crazy. Muzae Sesay is a local artist whose work I could look at for hours. His pieces are very geometric, which I'm a sucker for. I love the way he reworks an image into his own style.
For inquiries or interest in other work from Jake Shapiro, please contact Hannah Love at email@example.com.