Jake Ford is a an interdisciplinary artist and instructor. While studying at the University of Louisville for his BFA, he developed an interest in perceptual and behavioral psychology along with other social sciences. Ford uses play to explore human sexuality, intimacy, personal identity, and how these interact and are expressed in different social situations.
Play and intimacy have always been very important to him—there is a push and pull between what is comfortable play and what is learning play. When you break it down, play is the first thing one does to place and develop their identity. Moving onto adulthood; Ford theorizes tend to use play to break down inhibitions and discover a state of uninhibited experience. That’s where he intends his work to start.
Five- Dots: How long have you been in this studio?
Jake Ford: This particular space. . . I moved in just over two months ago. All of this was in my old house in Germantown and it was not so clean or organized.
F-D: When you moved in here, did you have an idea for how you wanted to lay it out or did it develop organically?
JF: Yea. . . I mean, I had an idea but it developed on its own.
F-D: Has the location of the studio (i.e the neighborhood, city, being in your home) influenced your work in any way?
JF: I was thinking about this question last night, and I guess I’ll take the opportunity to speak to my Spalding [University] studio for a little bit. This, specifically being in suburbia hasn’t really effected my work, though I’m sure it will. The community and opportunity to teach at Spalding as definitely effected my work a lot. Especially working with Joyce Ogden when she was there effected me, for sure. Her work is oriented toward community outreach and I worked with her on a mural project. I think that working with her has made me more conscious of how the community interacts with the work rather than just myself or a gallery audience.
F-D: Can you describe a typical day for yourself, inside the studio and out?
JF: I usually start off with a few sketches or a few pages of notes that I’ve taken. Then it usually devolves into a mess of me laying out materials and fabrics on the floor. . . If I’m drawing or painting it’s usually laying out a ton of material for me to create texture with. It’s kind of a mess until it organizes itself out into an assemblage or painting or sculpture whatever you’d want to call it.
F-D: What do those terms mean for you?
JF: Collective assemblage?. . .
F-D: If you're working with painting, drawing, and assemblage; what do those specific words mean together when they are paired or worked on together or at the same time?
JF: I think I treat my paintings as a sculpture or an assemblage of parts; more than how you consider a painting— in that way that you think about your form, light, composition. I was never trained formally as a painter so I don’t have that background. I just don’t really work that way. So it’s like. . . I’m looking at it and I like this thing here and these textures here and I think about how two forms look next to each other. It’s very spontaneous for me. I just make stuff, I don’t think about it in terms of “I’m a painter” or “I’m a sculptor”.
F-D: How do you divide your time up as an artist, with your time being divided between the institutions you work for, and your personal work?
JF: It’s a lot of late nights or early mornings; just staying up late working on stuff and coming up with ideas. I work full time at a gallery and at Spalding University one day a week. So it’s close to fifty hours a week with my jobs and then I’m usually working here on the weekends and at night. I haven’t had anyone offer to buy my work for a substantial amount of money, so the work, right now, isn’t financially sustaining.
F-D: How would you describe your subject matter or the content of your work?
JF: Play and intimacy have always been very important to me—that push and pull between what is comfortable play and what is learning play. When you break it down, play is the first thing that you do to discover who you are and develop your identity and everything. Moving onto adulthood; we tend to use play to break down inhibitions and discover this state of uninhibited experience. That’s where my work starts, but I also pull from gender studies and ways that sociology and psychology theorize how our identity is formed in this world. I ask why we discover the world in certain ways. . . Yea. . .
F-D: Where are gender studies situated within that?
JF: I’ve had conversations before that point to that idea not being as prevalent in the work as it is in my mind and I suppose that it’s more of a starting point for me. I’m interested in this idea that we have these bodies and we are cloaking and masking them in a certain way that demonstrates our outward expressions that demonstrate how we identify ourselves. For me, placing a gender on a body due to its biological sex just isn’t practical. There are so many animals and organisms in the world that behave so radically different from us. If you take a step back and just look at humans . . there are so many different versions of the sexed body once you get into chromosomal organization, you don’t even have to go that far, human genitalia changes radically from body to body. I think it’s interesting that we place arbitrary binary gendered roles so heavily onto each other. Religion, politics, race. . . all of these external factors that you are introduced to effect how you perceive that. To take it back to play. . . I think that how you are introduced to play and how your introduced to those societal norms are linked to how you learn and exist in the world.
The work has ended up reading as sexual, biological, or playful in nature. I look at ta lot of micro organisms or deep sea creatures that are totally alien to our everyday life but are living contemporary to us. For me, it feels as if these creatures that behave radically different from us, but can behave in that difference on the same Earth— why can’t we have some flexibility. I guess my work is more of a metaphor or proxy for how I think the world should be experienced. If you can play and feel intimate with these sort of sexual objects, why can’t we do that with one another; and to clarify—when I say “intimate” I don’t mean sexual, I mean being comfortable in our bodies with one another.
I guess it comes back to growing up in this region and going to a Catholic school and having to fit to all of those norms. I was always interested in ambiguity and things like that and I would try to wear my hair in certain ways and stuff in high school and I’d get called “gay” and all of that . . . I don’t know. It always bugged me. I never had a bad experience growing up, I had a pretty privileged childhood and I recognize that; it’s just an interesting thing for me. . .
F-D: What mediums do you work with?
JF: For two dimensional work, mostly acrylic paint, acrylic mediums, and watercolor. I never really got into oils. For three dimensional work it’s mostly textile sculpture. Occasionally I’ll need Poly-fil or I’ll have to build a structure of some kind and those tend to be made with wood.
F-D: Do you have a preference with media? Do you have anything that you gravitate towards?
JF: I love the fabric sculpture because I grew up doing that sort of stuff. I grew up making these fabric dolls. I made them in high school and gave them to my friends and they always just told me it was weird but my Mom always made little stuffed animals and dolls. She made these little things that she used to refer to as “stumpkins”, little people made out of old panty hose and she’d wrap them up and make dolls out of them. She’d pair them with miniature things that she had collected. . . like miniature fishing poles and stuff like that. . . I would go through those boxes with her have my mind blown.
F-D: So your mom was pretty influential then?
JF: Yea, both of my parents were. My dad had a wood shop and he was definitely craft oriented—he made custom walking sticks and things like that.
F-D: So both of them were creative people. . .
JF: Yea. . . they were just great with anything craft oriented. He actually gets frustrated with me that I’m not more craft focused, but I still try to do a good job.
F-D: Can you tell us about your process and how it has evolved?
JF: I think that I’ve always worked in a kind of messy, chaotic way in which I gather things that I find interesting and then I cut stuff up and find shapes that I like; usually based off of sketches. I’ve gained the ability to be more concise and I’ve been able to edit down the idea and prioritize the ideas.
F-D: Do you work with narratives, plot, or a general progressive ideas?
JF: I don’t think narrative or plot are really applicable to my process. As far as a progressing idea. . . You could consider my philosophy and world view and accumulated influence by those that I meet and form relationships with factors that effect how my ideas progress.
F-D: Do you consider your work to be autobiographical at all; does personal history work its way into your making?
JF: I wouldn’t say that the work is autobiographical; but it has definitely effected by my personal history. It’s definitely effected by my experience growing up Catholic and in a limited progressive region.
F-D: What influences outside the visual arts inspire and impact your approach to making work?
JF: Obviously nature, aquatic life, looking at all sorts of weird parasites, microbes. . . that sort of thing. Psychology and sociology. . . . Sci-fi films and music also make a huge impact. Horror films, in particular Horror B-films. I love the raw and gritty visual approach to filmmaking.
F-D: What does having a physical space to make art in mean for your process, and how do you make your space work for you?
JF: It allows it to grow and physically protects me from having to do it outside. . . [laughs]. It definitely effects the size of the work, but not necessarily the content of the work. When you work with a university or campus and you have extra storage, you don’t have to worry about what you’ll do with something after it’s made. Having the studio in the home is a little restrictive in that way, I guess.
F-D: Do you see your work as relating to any current movement or direction in visual art or culture? Which other artists might your work be in conversation with?
JF: There are a good number of people out in LA, and I’m sure elsewhere, that are working in similar ways. I’m really in love with this woman’s work: Dawn Long?. . .She does these cool foam sculptures, she influenced pretty heavily some foam sculpture that I ended up making for my last show. Ernesto Neto and Nick Cave were my heroes for a while. . . Takashi Murakami and Yayoi Kusama for sure. . .
F-D: Do you have a motto or creed that as an artist you live by?
JF: I don’t know. . . On my website I have the text “Play. Touch. Live” up on my website. I feel like that is an excellent catch all for my work.
F-D: When asked; what do you tell people you do for a living?
JF: I usually say that, you know, for money I work at a gallery and. . . I start there and branch out to my other things. I do tell people that I’m an artist; but that word is confusing for me. That word— artist— is confusing for me. There’s no way that I could make a living off of my work right now, and I barely have time to make any work. So I feel weird calling myself that. I know that I’m a creative person, and I always will be. . . but the self doubt is there, for sure.
F-D: What risks have you taken in your work, or for your work?
JF: Physically, I have almost overheated multiple times in my large costumes. They’re pretty hot. They don’t breathe very well— they're like twenty pounds of Poly-fil packed on to a structure. I put a lot of my own money into my work. It’s always a risk to put it out there.
F-D: Words of wisdom?
JF: Just keep making it and don’t think too much.
F-D: Is there something you are currently working on, or are excited about starting that you can tell us about?
JF: I am currently working on a new body of work that will mostly be interactive sculptures, some 2D mixed media drawing, and wall hanging textile work . I am interested in how people put on different personas for all the different aspects of their lives. We dress and present ourselves differently for every occasions, putting on masks to alter how our outward perceptions. As humans we tend to categorizes everything to help us understand our world. These sculptures and any other work that may come from this process will hopefully give the viewers an opportunity to question these little boxes that we use to explain and understand our lives while also letting them remove their habitations and play.
F-D: Are you involved in any upcoming shows or events? Where and when?
JF: This will be shown at Quappi Projects, 1520b Lytle St, Louisville, KY 40203 sometime in February 2019.
Below you can also find youtube links to several of his video works: