Flowstate /North Brooklyn Artists


Joey Parlett

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.

AIRED: March 24, 2021 | 0:13:42

(waves crashing)

(upbeat music)

- 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?

(door knocks)

And what do you do when you get there?

Hey Joey, how you doing?

- Good, how are you?

- Doing all right.

(gentle music)

- 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.

- Okay.

- 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

substantial influences

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.

(gentle music)

- 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?

- Yeah.

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.

- Alright.

- 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 yeah.

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,

you know?

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.

- Yeah.

- 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.

(Ralf laughs).

- 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.

(keys jingling)

- [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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