"Everything we know has come from stories that have been told over and over again as truth. Those stories turn into history".
Oliver Jeffers makes art and tells stories, interweaving invisible connections between words and pictures, between conscious and unconscious, between reality and what lies beyond the first layers of cognition, between memory and distorted recollections. The Northern Irish, Brooklyn-based artist practices art in the most diverse ways, from figurative painting on either canvas or three-dimensional objects, collage, design and installation art to illustration book–making. Artist, author, director, illustrator, - Oliver has grown up in a dual environment and this has left a hall-mark on the way he perceives life and its multi facets.
He began his exploration of the thin passage between the world as it is and as we perceive it with his painting projects which soon became surrealistic scenarios. Oliver started collecting interviews with people to have witnessed death and their memories of the experience and feelings. He created portraits from the memories and kept them hidden behind frosted glass, wooden boxes and collage until the moment of their dipping into vats of enamel paint. The witnesses were then interviewed on their impression about what they saw a few seconds before the dipping experience. “The only evidence of this painting will be people who witness it, like history”. Oliver says.
The root of the Dipped Paintings project lies in the memory of his mother’s death about 15 years ago as told by his brother. Oliver thus started juggling with memory and loss. “Do we remember certain events in certain ways for self-preservation? (...) Memory is an imperfect recording device. It’s about the shared experience in the moment. And no one can take that away from you”.
His toying with this experimental idea lead him closer to quantum physics pointing to the fact that light can appear to be both a particle and a wave. This theory of paradox and duality gave birth to his Grandisonian monograph „Neither Here Nor There” and later to his imaginative illustrated children books helping kids make sense of death and loss and of learning how to look at things in different ways: „This Moose Belongs to Me”, „The Heart and the Bottle”, „How To Catch a Star”. The creational writing process was itself innovative: Oliver prefers to construct the stories starting from the illustrations, letting the words form themselves, waiting for the images to inform his words. Oliver Jeffers’s painting project “Nothing To See Here“ is thus asking the concluding question to the answers Oliver has already sewed up in all his creative endeavors: "Are we blindly ignorant or are our eyes wide open in the dark?"
To grasp the essence of your art: What inspires you? What is the driving force behind your creation? How do you visualize your ideas?
What inspires me and is the driving force behind what I do comes down to two simple things that manifest themselves differently into the different aspects of what I do. Firstly there is curiosity. What happens if... A desire to understand our world, and a desire to understand how and why we understand our world, filters into every element of my fine art. Specifically I'm interested in the gaps in between the two polar opposite means we have of understanding; instinctual / emotional understanding and clinical / logical understanding. These began taking form in my art as figurative painting and mathematical equations /scientific formulas but have spiraled outward from there as I react to the work I make. The other driving force is narrative. I grew up learning the art of how to tell a story and use this ability and pleasure as a way to make observations and entertain. Humor is very important to me, and it is through storytelling, rather than question asking that it is usually used as a device. The same can be said for poetic poignancy.
What are your future plans? What is left for you to explore? What techniques or materials would you like to explore in the future?
My future plans can be summed up fairly basically by planning to do more of what I do and continue along the paths I've set out for myself. This includes telling more of my own stories, bringing life and visual form to the stories of others that interest me, and continuing to explore the lines of enquiry I've started down in my fine art practice where I'm seeing how the logical and the poetic coexist. There is everything left to explore as I have only scratched the surface. As for materials, I've never been tied to any particular type of medium and have always selected the method of making something based on what will best bring an idea to life. I love the accidental and barely controllable flow of oil paint and will continue to use that. I'm also about to elaborate on a large project with my maps which will involve some sculpture and carpentry. Basically there is nothing I'm not willing to try.
Oliver Jeffers paintings have been exhibited worldwide and his illustration books were published by HarperCollins UK and Penguin USA. His book, “Lost and Found” became Jeffers' first book to be made into animation and received over 60 awards, including a BAFTA for Best Animated Short Film. In 2013, Oliver illustrated the vinyl cover (a drawing of Nelson Mandela) for the U2 song "Ordinary Love" and also co-directed its video.