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Artists Chuck Ramirez and Jennifer Jankauskas sit on the porch of his home in King William. Photo by Mark Greenberg
Chuck Ramirez is a photographer whose work finds poetry in the commonplace. He recently exhibited his new work at Sol y Sombra, where he will soon curate a FotoSeptiembre show. Jennifer Jankauskas serves as the program coordinator at ArtPace. She is an art historian with a degree from the Art Institute of Chicago.

Chuck Ramirez: What exactly are your responsibilities at ArtPace?

Jennifer Jankauskas: I'm working with the programs we already have established and also creating new ones to make the public aware of what's going on. The residency program is primarily what ArtPace is focused on, and I work with those programs, but I'm also trying to create and work with established programs that are outside of that, that are a little more educational in nature - to broaden the audience for ArtPace and contemporary art.

CR: Do you ever do any stuff with kids at the high-school level?

JJ: We do have programs where the kids come in on tours. We're working on building more community initiatives, to try and branch into other arts organizations. Every year we do the Holiday Windows, and we really encourage the artists, in at least one effort per residency, to go out and do something in the community.

Gilbert Garcia: Jennifer, what got you involved with art?

JJ: I started out as a photographer, actually. I started with photography in high school, so I came to it kind of late, but in college I started taking art-history classes and found that's what I really love. I also figured out very quickly that I'm not a very good artist, so that wasn't where my strengths were. I fell into curatorial and museum work by chance, through some co-op positions. I was working at the Art Institute of Chicago, because I went to graduate school at the Art Institute. So I had an opportunity that way, and things kind of took off from there.

Chuck, you really blur the lines with what you're doing on a professional-work job with your fine-art practice. I'm interested in how you mesh the two, or how you keep them separate. When I look at your work, I see that there are a lot of issues that pertain to what you do on a professional level as a designer, and specifically, package design on the retail level.

CR: I started out as a graphic designer, and it's always been a situation where I'm designing or packaging things to entice people to buy products, to perpetuate consumerism. I've also always been an artist to some degree, but never really a showing artist, and my background in school was to study graphic design, and that's what I've been doing for a long time. I never was a painter or a sculptor, so I wondered how I could make what I do as a designer something more personal, using the same mediums that I have access to.

I've always loved photography, so when I got this idea that I wanted to make a body of work utilizing the same commercial photography venues that I do when I'm art directing a photo shoot to create this work. I'd have them photographed in the way that I would shoot a product shot, all the lighting and the four-by-five film format, so it had the look of a high-gloss advertisement.

Advertising is about creating desire. Using that kind of concept - of desire building - in art making, using the same tools - and not just the technical tools but the psychological tools of creating desire or appetite appeal with these slick kinds of images - but to convey my own sense of the world, that was the idea.

I'm interested in the way we consume things. I'm always fascinated with the aftermath of things, like a garbage bag. It's something that we totally take for granted and throw out everyday. But they're actually kind of beautiful objects in their own right, stuffed with all our crap.

JJ: I think by using those tools you are creating this extra dynamic layer to it, because I think as a consumer society we're so used to seeing packaged things or advertising. We're not consciously aware that we're absorbing those. But when we look at your images and they're very slick at first glance, looking at them further, we find these personal elements that you put in there. So do you feel like you're manipulating those tools to create that layer? Is that important to you?

CR: I think the whole idea of creating desire is manipulating. What I do in my day job is to very scientifically, in a very calculated way, convey ideas so the consumer can understand what they're buying, but also to create an appetite appeal to make them feel good about buying it. I think I'm subverting that because I'm dealing with the idea that a garbage bag is the same thing as a product.

JJ: And you're giving it beauty.

CR: Yeah. Like an empty box of chocolates, just a discarded object. My friend at work always brings in chocolates, and we were down to the last one and she said I could have it. I said, "Oh my God, look how beautiful this tray is. This is just as pretty as the chocolate was to eat." So then I started collecting those things. It seemed to me that an empty chocolate tray also started to evoke this sense of longing or loss.

JJ: I think in a lot of your work there is a quality of emptiness. And I think something that's interesting about your newest work, which most people haven't seen, is that it's all about the aftermath. These tableaus of after-the-party kind of scenes, which are really beautiful, but they're not nearly as minimal as a lot of your other pieces.

CR: For many series, I've been doing these objects that are isolated. And with these new pieces, every square inch of them is covered. The idea there was these aftermaths of eating episodes: breakfast tacos at your family's house, or a dinner party, or eating in bed on a Tuesday night. I wanted to take photos of what's left, because to me it still deals with the way we consume.

JJ: There's an edgy sense of longing. You're looking for fulfillment and want to find something more.

CR: Basically what I do with these shots is I recreate these things in the studio. I take a bunch of props, and food and everything, and go to a commercial studio, set up shop and create these tableaus. They're based on memory. So, in a weird way, these things never existed at all. They look like they happened, but they never really did. Again, it's about that illusion. It's kind of like the way we sell, market, brand, consume, or discard. Is it fiction or is it real? You don't really know.

GG: Jennifer, after living in Chicago and New York, what were your impressions of the San Antonio art scene when you came here?

JJ: It was a very easy transition here from New York. What I really like about San Antonio is that it's a very welcoming community. There's a very strong artist community here that's very supportive. There's a spirit of exchange and collaboration that you don't see in many of the big cities, because it's almost too competitive. People here are really trying to support each other.

There are so many artist-run spaces and artists who are curating, and putting other artists in their shows. If somebody gets a show in Houston or Dallas or New York, people go there. Chuck actually has a show coming up in Paris in October, and there's a huge group of people going. I'm not one of them, unfortunately. (laughs)

CR: It's going to be a party, I'll tell you what. It's going to be crazy. •



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