Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Tattoo Savage Magazine: The Full Interview

A huge thank you to managing editor Christina Diaz at Tattoo Savage Magazine! Go pick up The September 2011 issue, #116 right now. 
Aside from a 4 page spread of yours truly, the magazine is packed full of tattoo, artsy goodness!
I'm on page 32 btw! Below is the full, unedited interview.

Tattoo Savage: What, or who, got you interested in art?

Jeff Musser: I gravitated to art on my own, but I learned later it was in my blood. I’m an only child so I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time alone, which is, I think, one of the reasons I became an artist.

TS: Were you artistic as a child?

JM: Very much so. My parents love to tell people that the only form of discipline that truly worked on me, when I knew I was in serious trouble, was for them to take away my ability to draw. I had video games, friends, played little league, but I was always drawing. When I couldn’t draw I was heartbroken and I knew I was in serious trouble.

TS: How long have you been interested in the tattoo culture?

JM: The year was 2002 and Chicago, Illinois. I sat in my friend’s kitchen and couldn’t help but to feel a little bit sorry for him (even though he kind of brought the misery on himself). His face dripped with sweat; his arm was covered in Neosporin and he wore a layer of plastic wrap like a thin, see-through cast. After 12 hours under the needle—with more than six hours to go once his arm healed—he was exhausted, both physically and mentally. It was a strange payoff: all that needle-to-skin pain, for what? A message encoded in a symphony of bold, thick lines with precise, delicate shading.

That image—my friend, slumped over himself, depleted of energy, in pain with an expertly crafted image on his arm—stuck with me.

TS: You are multi-talented to say the least. Tell me about your art. How would you describe your art?

JM: It’s very traditional in material and technique, oil on canvas, or acrylic & pencil on paper. I would say the work itself art is neither traditional nor avant-garde, but a combination of the two. Work that brings together the spirituality and humanism of the Old Masters with the innovation, humor, and criticality of the Modern Masters.

TS: Discuss the process you go through to create a piece. Mediums you decide to use and why? Is there a medium you enjoy over the other and why? How do you title a piece?

JM: The immediacy of acrylics is nice because you can knock out several pieces in one day, possibly a dozen in a week, but nothing beats oil on canvas! The depth, the texture, the luminosity, even the smell. I’m such a painting nerd that I enjoy the smell of good quality oil paints and it has gotten to the point I can tell the difference between colors without having to look at the label!

As far as the steps I go through, it happens two ways. Either a phrase or a certain group of words resonate with me and I build a painting around a perceived title or I work out a composition and figure out the title when I feel its finished. The physical act of making a painting is the same every time: build the frame, stretch the canvas, prep it, sketch the composition in charcoal or pencil, complete the under painting, then work the paint section by section until complete.

TS: Where and when did you get your first tattoo? Who did it? Tell me about this ink experience. If you are a tattoo virgin, then please explain why you haven’t gotten any ink thus far? Think you ever will? Do you have any plans for future ink? If so, please tell us more.

JM: I’m a tattoo virgin! This really throws people off, especially if they are familiar with my work but have never met me before. As to why I’m bare, I’m just not ready yet. It has nothing to do with pain, I’ve had kidney stones and if any of your readers have gone though that, they know exactly what I mean! I actually like a little pain, its euphoric and calming.

And the buzz of the tattoo machine reminds me of being in the rainforest because multiple machines is close to the sound of insects communicating with each other. I’m not ready in the sense of I haven’t figured out what I want yet. I know it would be black & grey since I’m pasty as fuck and it would look good on my skin. Also when I’m ready, I’m going all in and getting fully sleeved on both arms. But that takes time and top-notch artists have long waiting lists.

But it will happen.

TS: Are you self-taught or did you attend a trade school? Are you a full time artist or is your art a hobby? Please explain how you got into the industry.

JM: I went to art school (School of the Art Institute of Chicago) and took a few painting classes while in attendance, but didn’t major in painting. I didn’t get serious about painting until after I was laid off from my 9-5 corporate design job. Since then it has been practice, experimentation, huge failures, patience, sleep deprivation, and more practice. I paint full time now, balancing what I have to paint in order to live and my own personal work.

TS: Where do you get ideas for your artwork?

JM: My life, the lives of those around me, and people I meet fuel my work; in both positive and negative ways.

TS: Are there certain images, scenes and/or characters you are looking forward to paint or re-create? Or current pieces you are working on that are excited to unveil?

JM: I have several compositions floating around in my head and by the time this is published, some of them will be in a more concrete form. I enjoy Old Master painting techniques, particularly the technical challenge they present.

Subsequently my work has always been very controlled, very meticulous, and very precise. Although I have always painted what I wanted and have considered various subject matters, my work has always been, in my view, very safe. Even if I didn’t care for an artists work, I always envied an admired their resolve to just go for it.

For years I have been afraid to let go of my inhibitions, to truly explore and express what I felt in my work. If I took that journey through my art, I doubted my ability to deal with what I would find. I also feared that no one would follow me. Admitting these feelings seems a bit strange – even to me.

No longer can I continue down the same path. I have dealt with this fear and depression in unhealthy ways since adolescence. It took nearly falling into the abyss of addiction for me to fully confront this dread.

My current direction will reflect my process of letting go of all the fear and depression I have been holding onto. All the same influences will remain within the new work: old master inspired compositions, realism, tattooing and how the art form is a physical manifestations of inner dialog.

But the new work will be much more personal, more surreal, and darker. It may not be pleasing to the eye, but it will be something far more important, it will be honest.

TS: What sets you apart from other artists in the industry?

JM: Even though tattooing has exploded into the mainstream, I have found very few artists in the contemporary art world who have explored or used it as inspiration. But as times goes and more people realize that tattooing is one the defining languages of our generation, much like hip hop, skateboarding, etc., you will see it more.

And very few people are willing to put in the time to learn traditional painting techniques, so my work tends to stand out. I enjoy Shepherd Fairey, Bansky, and those guys who went to the streets instead of the studio, but too many people want to call themselves “artists” and copy those who are popular and be the next big thing without putting in the time or energy to learn the foundations.

“Look at me I can stencil some shit on the side of a building…now I’m an artist.”
Please, learn how to draw and study some Rembrandt you asshole.

One of the many aspects that drew me to tattoo artists, was the countless hours of drawing and sketching they had to put in. You really have to be detail oriented and every tattoo artist I know is a rock solid draftsman when it comes to pencil, charcoal or watercolor.

Especially watercolor. Jesus Christ I hate watercolors! Anyone who can navigate and conquer that medium has my respect!

TS: What does your family think about your career choice?

JM: All the doubt I wrestle with comes from within. I have been very lucky in that my family has always supported me and they never told me my dreams of being an artist were stupid. Over the years I have networked with a strong foundation of like-minded and supportive people. That’s the magic formula really, for any endeavor creative or not; surround yourself with good, inspiring, supportive people because they will be there when you need them most.

TS: What is next for you?

JM: The last year has been quite tumultuous for me, so I’m working on a new body of work that reflects that change.

TS: Please tell us how and where our readers can get a hold of your art?

JM: Visit my website or find me on Facebook.