Ralf Jean-Pierre visits Joey Parlett’s Bushwick studio, where he makes intricate ink drawings in a disciplined time structure. Adhering to his midwestern roots and freelance work, Joey clocks in and out every day to keep track of the hours he spends painting.
- Summer 2020 sure has been tough.
Businesses closing, residents moving away.
Today in Bushwick, I'm visiting an artist
who has to move out of his studio after 12 years.
I know we've all had a hard time this year
but that must suck.
If Brooklyn tells you, you got to go,
then you got to go.
But where do you go?
And what do you do when you get there?
Hey Joey, how you doing?
- Good, how are you?
- Doing all right.
- When I worked here, there was a desk,
a bookshelf, a kind of thing with the flat files.
And then this side, has always been open
for like open studios and like visits,
and things like that.
- It's like it's very ornate, but it's very gentle,
especially the colors are very gentle.
It's interesting to me
the connection that you're making
from like these very kind of,
I guess pastoral landscapes
to like the modern world and the internet,
and how we think and how we're processing information,
and how it's affecting our lives like,
I wouldn't think that really to look
at these directly but when you say that,
it becomes very apparent to me.
- I think this one in particular
like that waterfall piece.
That was a closer representation to...
Once I started, like once you do
a Google search of waterfall.
You know, it's just like a waterfall of waterfalls.
And then, it was also the way you digest information,
and this endless flow.
I like that mixture of referencing
art historical pieces.
And also, silly postcards
from 60's landscape magazines or personal images,
and smashing them all together.
- Which is another way, you know,
just how we digest things.
- You mentioned when we were walking up
that you know, that you're getting ready
to move out of this space.
And I understand you've been here 10 years.
- This is the 12th year.
- Can you talk a little bit about New York,
and how being here like particularly,
like affected your process,
and the work that you ended up making.
Especially, being in this neighborhood.
- Oh yeah.
I think, probably one of the most
this particular neighborhood
has been like Bushwick Open Studios.
Which won't happen this year
but I think it started in 2006 or 2008.
That was like really, really exciting,
and energizing to be like, "Holy crap."
This is so interesting where you see a range
of really professional high-end work,
and people that were like myself,
just not, you know, figuring it out on the fly.
But opening their door and having these conversations.
- I would love to,
if it's possible to go and see your live workspace,
now you've worked now, you work out of.
Can we do that?
I'll clock out real quick and that'll be...
- What was that? (laughs)
You're going to clock out?
- Having spent a considerable amount of time
as a freelancer.
For any job I've ever had to do,
I had to basically log my hours,
and share those in order to get paid.
It was something where I was like,
"Wow, I do that for my job."
I don't know I do that for my practice,
just as a way to bring some discipline,
just like kind of set,
write down that mindset of like,
"Oh, I'm working now."
I don't want the value of the work
to be exclusively connected to time.
But it is obviously in the work itself being,
it's like all these tiny marks
that are built up slowly.
And during studio visits,
it's definitely one of the first things that people ask.
They're like, "Oh wow, how long did that take?"
And it's really nice to be like,
"Oh yeah, a 22 by 30 piece generally takes
about 80 hours of desk hours."
(car engine revving)
- Do you mind if we take our masks off
just for the walk to your house.
We'll stay a little bit socially distanced.
- This is one of your last times
leaving your studio space.
- Yeah, it's definitely been a bit
of a drawn out process where going...
Like when I sent the email to Michael
about leaving the space
who has the lease on the building.
It was a quick firm decision,
but it hurt, you know?
And then, like, just mostly because,
it was like my first studio space and-
- Oh man.
- When I moved in, it wasn't quite
to make the work that I make now.
So, I feel in some ways like I grew up
in the space a little bit.
Basically, an opportunity presented itself
where we'd be able to go to Colorado,
where Erin's, my wife's parents live.
And stay there for five months
while they winter somewhere else.
And part of me is thinking like
how that might...
One, working in a new environment
that's so radically different.
Kind of, doesn't quite have the community,
and the connection with where my work
was going anyway.
So, all of that is much more, I don't know.
It's interesting and exciting,
and like, I have more curiosity about it
than I have fear or trepidation
or anything like that.
It's definitely, yeah.
A lot more questions that need to be answered, I guess.
- How do you feel like the COVID pandemic
affected your art?
And I'm like specifically interested
in if it affected your drawing in itself.
- I definitely hadn't ever quite...
It definitely felt more like a therapy tool
than just a practice
where I'd be curious to hear your thoughts
on like how you felt, especially early April
when we're still climbing the mountain.
But for me it was like,
there's nothing else to do.
I just feel the collective stress,
and having something to focus on was...
Made me feel a lot better.
- The COVID response for me was not.
I wasn't very stressed.
I was like, things were okay.
Like we were able to make our rent,
and pay our bills.
And I didn't know anyone
who was sick or passed away.
And I knew that that wasn't the case
for a lot of people.
So, I like really,
it was really important to me to not...
I just felt like,
man, I feel good and I feel happy making work.
And like, how dare I not make work, right now.
When other people do not,
they're either essential workers
or they're getting sick
or they can't pay their rent.
And none of those things happened for me,
I better at least make something I'm proud of
in this time.
I'd better get up everyday and try to make something,
And enjoy it, you know?
- I think there was a...
For me, there was definitely a navigation
of what are these potential risks
knowing the context of my risks
compared to someone else's
that's a frontline worker, grocery store--.
Anybody, like you could walk outside,
and there were the trailer morgues at the hospital.
And so, the reality was palpable
but then also just like my present moment
felt pretty okay.
And navigating between those two things.
- [Ralf] With survivor's guilt, (indistinct).
- [Joey] Yeah.
- Yeah, I had somebody get really mad at me about it.
And then, a couple of people,
I'm sure people were having that feeling.
And then, a buddy of mine was like,
he was asking like,
"You know, I don't know how I feel about
promoting music or releasing music at this time."
And I just remember thinking like,
aren't we always saying that we're making music
to get people through hard times.
That we're making art to get people through hard times.
If this is anything,
isn't it a hard time? - [Joey] Yeah.
- Shouldn't we be releasing art now?
I know that maybe it feels inappropriate,
it didn't feel right.
But the guilt to me seems strange.
Like in, especially if you're making music like,
if you're not making music
to get people through hard times.
You know, what is the music,
is the music for brunch?
What is the music for?
And also, I feel like this is the time
that people need that stuff.
This is, they feel alone,
and they need to feel good and feel hopeful.
- This is it?
- Yeah, this is the place.
Yeah, second floor and all that good stuff.
- All right.
- Yeah, here is the space.
There is my cat, Velcro.
- Hi, Velcro.
- I think working digitally
for some people is an end in itself,
and I think it's great.
And there's a lot of great digital art.
For me, the connection to
the labor of building up the line
is something that I value.
And even if I work from the same photo, several times,
each piece is really different.
- You've used the word discipline, several times.
Labor, several times.
- Yeah, I think my connection to the time sheets,
and an idea of, I don't know,
that my dad got up at 3.00 a.m everyday
to go to work.
And I don't know, there's like,
I have this sort of internalized idea of work.
So, one way it's crazy,
but in another way I'm like, I don't know.
I guess this is what I have to do.
I didn't plan on making work like this,
but all right, this is happening.
And even when I'm really tired at the end of the day,
and I sit down to work,
it's giving, like I'm more energized
and I'm like, "Oh, I did my work for the day.
This is good."
(background gentle music)
- [Ralf] There's so much to admire about Joey Parlett.
His gentle and enthusiastic spirit,
the breathtaking meticulousness of his work,
his devoted work ethic.
I don't tend to buy into the idea
of an artist being disciplined.
But if there is an argument for it,
Joey's beautiful drawings are it.
In some ways I'm happy for Joey,
even though he's losing his home of 12 years.
- [Joey] There it is.
- [Ralf] Maybe the grim streets of Brooklyn
were just tour of duty for him.
A camp he was stationed at
to work his way up the ranks.
Prove his discipline and devotion
through many recorded hours of hard work.
Until he could will his vision
of peace and serenity into life.
Best of luck on your next assignment, bud.
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