After almost fifteen years in New York, artists Jaime Keiter and JD Walsh relocated with their six-year-old son to Atlanta in 2016. With a young child who was about to start elementary school, they say they were “ready for a change and looking for something different in life.”
Keiter has been creating textured ceramic collages since moving to Atlanta, and Walsh has most recently been creating bold wall reliefs, as well as continuing his practices in video art and music. I visited them on a recent Sunday afternoon at their shared studio at Atlanta Contemporary, where I was greeted by the family of three and a collection of artworks that spoke to the artists’ shared sensibilities as well as their points of divergence.
Sherri Caudell: Why did you decide to make the move from New York back to Atlanta?
JD Walsh: We wanted to have a little more space to make work, and I wanted more space to explore my musical interests. Between Atlanta and New York, we both have a lot of connections, and with Atlanta being an airport hub and a major city in the Southeast, it’s very easy for us to get back and forth. We knew that we could still cultivate relationships in New York, so it seemed to be a logical move for us. We probably go to New York a dozen times a year.
SC: When did you guys become a part of the Atlanta Contemporary Studio Artist Program? What have been some of the highlights of that experience?
JDW: We joined the Atlanta Contemporary’s Studio Artist Program in August of 2017.
JK: The other artists and the Atlanta Contemporary team—especially [curator] Daniel Fuller and [director] Veronica Kessenich—are really open and supportive. It’s awesome having such a close, kind community. We’re always chatting with the other artists and having mini studio visits, which are super fun!
JDW: Atlanta Contemporary is one of the few larger arts institutions that actually has a connection with working artists in Atlanta. They’ve done a good job at being community focused, both as a free arts institution and also by opening the artists’ studios to the general public. It has created a bridge between the general Atlanta population, art, and artists. I respect them for doing that.
JK: The visitors to the museum are hugely diverse. It’s not just artists: it’s mostly non-artists, which is great because they come through to the artists’ studios after they go through the museum.
JDW: On a random Saturday when we’re working, we’ll just get strangers popping in, which is great.
SC: What benefits of the Atlanta art scene have you identified in contrast with New York?
JDW: The obvious thing is that people tend to have a little more space in Atlanta. Atlanta does still have some of the same issues of affordability and access that New York has—it’s hard to find a studio in Atlanta if you want to be inside the Perimeter. I think in New York one of the problems for a young artist is that you have to work so much to be able to afford a studio, because studios themselves are just so expensive. I feel like here you don’t have to work on other things as much, and you have a little bit more time to explore and develop ideas, and I like that better.
SC: Jaime, when did you start working with ceramics, and why do you think you were drawn to the medium?
JK: I went to art school for photography and worked in New York for over a decade with magazines, Amazon, Target, and other various clients. When we moved to Atlanta, I felt like the idea of creating was tough because I didn’t necessarily want to paint on canvas or do photography. I wanted the tactile element of creating.
SC: Is color an important element in the work each of you make?
JK: Color is everything. A lot of my work uses poppy primary colors. I’m definitely influenced by Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group style, which created an intersection between fine art, design, and architecture in the Eighties. I drew upon the Memphis Group’s use of bold colors, shapes, unexpected materials, and patterns and made a new form.
JDW: Over the course of my career I’ve worked in many different mediums from video to sound to sculpture. Lately, I’ve been doing wall reliefs, and for that body of work, color is a more prominent element. In my videos, the elements of motion or duration are probably more important for me to express than color per se. I feel like in the recent body of work, with the wall reliefs, it’s been wonderfully fun to experiment with color and just see what it can do.
I never really considered myself a painter, but it’s been really fun to explore some of those traditional, academic and formal possibilities that color can offer. Like with color theory, you can make something appear to vibrate or move, almost creating something that approaches a becoming piece that is time-based, which is something I’m interested in with video. Making a static image into something that vibrates, pops, or has more depth just by modulating a color—that kind of stuff is super interesting to me.
SC: Are you still making videos?
JDW: Yes. In fact, for Atlanta Contemporary’s Open Studios, I’m going to be showing a couple of new pieces that I’ve been working on. I feel like lately I’ve been more interested in going back to my roots as a video artist and working with light. I think video is the visual medium probably most akin to music, which is another serious interest of mine.
SC: Speaking of music, you play as Shy Layers, a one-man band. Does the music inform your artwork, or are they completely separate projects?
JDW: Yes and no. I don’t consider them totally separate. For example, when I get to make a music video for my own song, it’s really fun because that’s one of the few opportunities where those worlds actually meet: I’m taking these two different disciplines and putting them together in one format.
It’s rare that I get to do that. The same kind of process informs both creating a song and making a work of art. When you’re making a song you still have to account for questions of duration, scale, juxtaposition, contrast, and modulation, which are sometimes the same kinds of things that you’re addressing as an artist. You are on a similar path. Sometimes it’s hard to know when a painting is done, and a song is very much like that too.
SC: Do you use the technique of collaging when making the wall reliefs?
JDW: I wouldn’t necessarily call those collages, in the sense that they’re not coming from multiple materials or histories. They are paintings. A lot of that work happens on the computer and it’s a very improvisational process.
It’s really interesting to me because they are cut by a CNC machine, which is a machine that can cut material with a computer-controlled arm. What I really like about it is that it’s almost like an ancient sort of woodcut or a wood scribe, and it’s a wonderful meeting of digital technology and this ancient process of scoring something into a material, a stone, or a tablet. I’ve been especially thinking about Scrolling Echo—which is currently on view in the museum on the rotating Studio Artist wall—as this sort of ancient and modern information coming together.
SC: Can each of you speak a little more about your processes in the studio?
JK: My studio process is pretty interesting because there are really two separate processes. There’s the beginning, when I actually roll out the slab of clay, cut the shapes, glaze them, paint them, fire them—and then there’s the part where I bring the fired tiles together and make them into the final piece. Some of the time when I’m cutting my slabs, I’m creating a predetermined composition, but most of the time it’s really improvisational.
For me, using ceramic tiles is a way to slow down the process of creating. The time between rolling out clay slabs for cutting shapes to taking the final glazed tiles out of the kiln takes a couple of weeks. This is an important time for me to plan out where I’m headed with each piece. I’m not the type of person who takes a blank canvas and starts painting immediately. I am constantly arranging and rearranging tiles on my work tables before I feel confident a piece is finished. The number of tiles hanging out at my studio at any given time is in the hundreds. People get really excited when they see my treasure chest of tiles.
JDW: I bounce around between music, the wall reliefs, and the videos. The most recent videos are more like a musical process where it’s kind of improvisational and I can work in real time and manipulate things live. I’ve been trying to do more of that rather than precomposed things. That’s been really fun. With any of my work, it’s important for me to have some level of looseness and improvisation. I’ll have two very small-scale projections up during open studios, only about 10 inches by 8 inches.
I’m also excited about the DIY possibilities of having this studio space. One of the things that was super helpful for me right before my latest record came out was having this space to workshop the material. I had a big projection screen in this studio space and performed live to a small audience. It was a good opportunity for me to test out the material and create the dialogue between art and music.
JK: It was very intimate. People brought chairs or just sat down and enjoyed the experience, and then after the show we had a conversation.
SC: As a family, how do you find a work-life balance that gives you time to make your artwork?
JK: I think having the studio together has been super helpful.
JDW: It’s a double-edged sword. It’s not easy all the time, but it is logistically helpful. It means that we can all come here together.
JK: Our six-year-old son also loves to create art. He comes to the studio as well and is excited about it. He’s very interested in art and loves going to art openings. He’s just a creative kid. When he comes around, he likes to help me rearrange tiles. I always move them back, but it’s kind of great that he has an interest in it.
JDW: Sharing the space works out well because we’re all on the same page. So, on the weekends, it’s never a question of what we’ll do with our free time. It’s usually a group effort. We don’t always work in here at the same time. If Jaime has a deadline, she’ll take over for a while, and if I do, I’ll take over for a little while.
SC: How does having a child affect your art practices?
JDW: One good effect of having a child is that you must be more focused while you’re working, and it helps you to prioritize artistic decisions. It would be wonderful to have more time to experiment, but this way you still have some time to experiment, and it also helps to put things in perspective. You’re not going to dilly-dally on something that’s not going to have a good return—and that’s helpful. You learn to make art a little bit quicker and more efficiently.
SC: What do you want people to take away from your work?
JDW: I just want to create an experiential quality. I want someone to have an experience that’s somehow outside their normal everyday perception of things. I think that’s really what art is supposed to be. It’s supposed to sort of transport you into a space that’s a little weird, unusual, and stimulating. It’s an experience that tickles a part of your mind that just doesn’t get activated every day, and it sort of opens the door to something else entirely.
JK: The last show I had at Atlanta Contemporary was called “Creative Writing”. It was on the Studio Artist wall before JD’s work was there. My process is similar to creative writing, but instead of moving words, I’m moving tiles and weaving an experience together.
The way people look at a piece changes with the color of grout I use as well. The black charcoal grout is darker and allows the viewer to experience the negative spaces in a bolder and denser environment, whereas the concrete colored grout is a lighter, fresher, and more airy experience, allowing the viewer to experience the tiles themselves more. I’m lucky enough to have found a local grout manufacturer that will mix Pantone colors for me to get the exact grout color I’m looking for. I spend a lot of time mixing underglazes to achieve the palette for my tiles, so it’s been a great relief to be in control of the grout since it’s equally important.
People can create their own narratives based on the colors, shapes, patterns, and textures. It’s not something that you look at immediately and you understand in a realist way. The viewers’ eyes move around the composition, and each individual tile is, in a way, a word or a sentence. Depending on how you lay them out and arrange the tiles, it creates a different story and a different experience for each person.
Open Studios will take place at Atlanta Contemporary on November 15 from 7-9pm. Admission is $10, and tickets available at the door and online.
JD Walsh will perform as Shy Layers at The Bakery in Atlanta on January 19, 2019 at 9 pm. The show is all ages and tickets are $5.