Interview by Jason Pirodsky
A pioneer of Nerd Art, Jeremiah Palecek has used the "1 painting a day" concept to build up an impressive, eclectic body of work (which can be viewed at his blog). Focusing on video games, TV screenshots, day-to-day mundanities, and a variety of juxtapositions, he crafts beautiful paintings of things like 8-bit NES characters, the Konami cheat code, or the Gmail login box. To me, the mere concept of what Palecek does is brilliant; further down below, he explains that the things he paints are simply more relevant to his life than more 'classical' subjects. To many, the work may be inaccessible. But for some of us, the subjects are a significant (if unintentional) part of our lives, and Jeremiah's work is not only a reflection of this, but also a part of us that is rarely seen in the arts. To mediate my in-objectivity, I'll let Mr. Palecek speak for himself:
Tell me a little about yourself.
"I was born in Bismarck, North Dakota; my grandmother was an obsessive painter and had a large house in the country which was absolutely full of large scale paintings and sculptures. She made a lot of paintings dealing with evolution and the Earth. This probably had to do with the fact that she lived in a very conservative area, and was Czech. I started painting a lot with her materials when I was very young, and was intrigued by her works, she always gave me time and attention when I was painting. After graduating from high school I moved to Connecticut to attend the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. At the Academy I studied classical figure painting as well as sculpture. Plus I got to go on field trips to Yale to dissect human bodies. Needless to say, this was a great foundation for me as it was extremely classically-based, however I wanted more freedom so I transferred to the school of the art institute of Chicago. After going to SAIC I had the itch to move again so I studied abroad at the Glasgow School of Art in the Macintosh building. At the Glasgow School of Art I stayed on an extra semester and studied environmental arts (which is basically sound, video, performance, and new media). Upon arriving back in the states I finished my degree at SAIC, and then after saving up some money I moved to Prague."
What is Nerd Art?
"Nerd Art is artwork dealing with and reworking the elements of digital media, and manipulating them to be seen or used in a new way. I draw my inspiration from many different sources of digital media. Television, Films, Video games, Websites, and HTML code. I have chosen paint as my medium of choice, while others may do mash-ups of films, or songs. There is generally a common understanding of Fair Use of copyrighted material. Meaning that since the artist is the filter through which an image is being seen, an artist should be allowed to manipulate these images, devices, or sounds that they hear, use, or see everyday. For this reason the vast majority of nerd artists support groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The EFF act as advocates for those who wish to manipulate otherwise copyrighted or proprietary material in order to convey their own personal vision. Plus they have a lot of lawyers on staff which is also really cool. So Nerd Arts encompasses people who mash up films, hack hardware to make it fit their purposes better, people who re-mix songs, make crocheted Nintendo characters, make paintings of digital media, and a few other realms I'm sure I´ve forgotten about."
Why Nerd Art?
"Well the act of creativity, and creation, are obsessively taught in most Art Schools. However I think that creation is a bad way of describing the artistic process. I would say the word Reaction is more truthful because in general one is reacting to an environment or situation. So in general, art isn't something that necessarily grows in a vacuum. The act of creativity comes into play when one has to find a way to react and create something. I spend a lot of time on the internet, gaming, and watching films. This is the world in which I live, so about 7 years ago I decided to start painting it. I could care less about going into a landscape and painting a tree (something I used to do a lot) because I think people like Corot and Degas did it way better than I ever could since that element of their lives was more pertinent. Plus it's just not honest because I live in the city and my experiences don't really have much to do with sitting in a quiet field painting a tree."
What are your major influences?
"In terms of painting I would have to say Degas, Morandi, Hopper, Damien Loeb, and Eric Fishcl's early work. But in terms of overall influence the list could go on forever. YTCracker, Make Magazine, YouTube mash-up artists, people talking shit during counterstrike games, 8-bit games, Star Wars, Star Trek. I should probably stop because this list could go on forever."
What were your inspirations for the '1 painting a day' project?
"I've always been very prolific, and I had maintained a website for a while, but the blog format was just too enticing to pass up. It was so easy to update, and since most blogs that become popular have to be updated at least daily, I thought in order to grow a readership base I would have to be updating it constantly. It's ironic that the term "painting a day" is now huge and if you type it into Google you'll find literally hundreds of artists doing it. It's become a successful way for painters to market themselves and bypass the gallery system. I was the second person on the net to start doing it, and the publicity I received was enormous. So enormous that every time I get a large traffic boost Google now watches me, and thinks I'm spamming or Google-bombing. Because of the "painting a day" phenomenon I´ve been featured in magazines, and newspapers, however my paintings are generally right next to a bunch of still lifes. So in some ways I wish I wouldn't have started it, and publicized the whole painting a day thing since my content doesn't really have much to do with the people who are making a lot of money off of it now."
How successful was the project? Was it blessing or a curse forcing yourself to paint that often?
"I have to paint regardless, so it just basically helped me keep focus on creating something new everyday, and finish it. I am partial to sketches more than large finished works so it also helped me to just let a painting go, and be finished. However as a quick view of my blog will show I don't always make my goal of a painting a day."
Tell me about King Vitaman. How does your music compliment your art/art compliment your music?
"King Vitaman, hmmm, well that's kind of something I really stumbled into. For years I've been making experimental noise, and performing in the states. Generally I would play these really snobby art galleries where people with white Macs were hiding around every corner. I love experimental electronic music, but I guess I thought it needed some life, so I started cutting my old experimental tracks into beats and rapping on top of it. To be honest I can't understand why or how I started getting shows. Previously I would make a CD for one of my friends. Maybe 4 or 5 people would hear it. After coming to Prague I started performing like mad, and now I've played basically every major venue here. Roxy, Akropolis, Matrix, Malostranská beseda. I don't understand it, and neither does my mom. I don't really think my music compliments my artwork, I see them as two separate beasts."
How successful has the blog been? You market your art directly (solely?) through the website - any advantages or disadvantages compared to traditional methods?
"The blog has been very successful, but that was no fault of my own. To put it simply, a writer from wired magazine saw my work and suggested it to BoingBoing.net. After being on BoingBoing it started a cascading effect that still lingers to this day. My blog started getting linked all over. Within a few weeks I had a couple thousand new links to my blog which increased my page rank which makes Google think what I have to say has some sort of validity. So no, I don't really market my work or my blog. Other people are doing it for me. I am also currently working with a local programmer named Kickmuck who is helping me set up an affiliate program for my site. If that works it would be absolutely hilarious because affiliate programs are mainly used by linkdumps of pornography so some guy in Iowa can make money selling porn from the Czech Republic. I will be utilizing this same system in order to give a larger incentive to those who wish to sell my work. So if some guy in North Dakota wants to make a webpage and sell artwork from it they will get a percentage of each sale that came from their website."
How has the internet community treated you? How has your work spread online?
"As I'm sure you know by working for a site like Expats.cz there will always be trolls and people who like to cut other people down on the net. When I was on Fark.com I got flamed by the locals there. I guess the new term for these people is internet jackals which I think is quite fitting. I mean, I think an 8 year old could post a video on YouTube and say something like "hey this is my first video, I hope you like it!!:)" and the responses will be something like "hey, you're an idiot, you should be in school not wasting your time on YouTube". So, yeah, I´ve been flamed online. But the benefits of tons of free publicity far outweigh some guy sitting in his apartment in his pajamas."
Why Prague? Likes/dislikes about the city?
"I really like Prague. If I didn't I would just buy a train ticket. But that´s not to say certain things don't annoy me. Nowhere is perfect, and Prague fits my needs. Plus my grandparents were Czech and I still have a Czech name so I probably had some desire sitting in the back of my head to come here and see what I thought of it. But I don't really think that my heritage had much to do with why I chose to stay. I wish there was a larger supply of cheddar cheese. Does that count as a dislike?"
How is life for an artist in Prague? Benefits/disadvantages? How does the Czech Republic compare to North Dakota?
"Oh boy, well life in Prague is a bit different from North Dakota. There isn't a lot of cow tipping on the weekends here, and I'm in a city that is three times the size of the entire state of North Dakota. I moved here from Chicago, and while I really liked Chicago it was just too big for me. Prague is the perfect size city for me. I like being able to bump into people on the streets, and get to know all the different neighborhoods. So, yeah, sometimes I miss North Dakota and that feeling that I'm like Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, but in the end I like being able to live in a city where a lot of different things are happening."
Favorite video game? Movie?
"Um, favorite video game. Well this is a two part answer. Favorite old school game would have to be Joust for the Atari 2600, and contemporary game I would have to say that I'm an absolute slave to Counterstrike. Counterstrike is like crack for gamers. Well, actually Quake is crack for gamers, but I like killing people instead of aliens. Favorite film would be toss up between Blade Runner, and the original Planet of the Apes."
What is the future for Nerd Art? Where would you like to see it?
"Well, I´m currently on the quest to make a painting of every game for the NES system. I figured I might as well just start working from a list of games instead of randomly choosing them. Plus if I actually ever do finish this project I will have absolutely pwned all other video game painters. In terms of Nerd Art it can only really grow as more and more artists are working within the genre all the time. Nerdcore hip hop is just beginning to explode in the states. I think this will be the first mainstream work to be produced from the nerd art genre.
"I thought I could give you a list of some cool links to other nerd art to give readers a better understanding of where I´m coming from:)
My favorite nerdcore hip hop artist (album available for free online): http://www.ytcracker.com/nes/
A good mash up album (also a free download): http://www.bootieusa.com/bestofbootie2006/
Some cool musical about video game flaws: http://youtube.com/watch?v=9l_YN-yRCVY
A great mash up:
And me painting Mike Tyson's Punch Out in time lapse: http://youtube.com/watch?v=pt8QwamD_Ec
Check out Jeremiah's work at:
Or swing by the Expats.cz offices at Anglicka 26, Prague 2, to view some of his paintings on display.