Artist File

Montauk and NYC-based artist Jonah Freeman tells Purist about his wildly creative collaborations with artist Justin Lowe.
Jonah Freeman & Justin Lowe, “Jazz Was the Least of My Problems,” 2021; oil, acrylic, silkscreen, spray paint and ink


Hometown/Current Residence: New York City/Montauk/Woodstock

Driving Force: For the past 14 years, we have been engaged in a collaborative practice that uses spatial collage to explore a constellation of disparate themes. One dominant thread that is present in all our major projects, from Hello Meth Lab in the Sun, 2008, to Colony Sound, 2019-2020, would be the symbiotic and antagonistic relationship between counterculture and mainstream industrial society. Another would be the concept of the “Hybrid.” This could involve biological hybrids like our plant/mineral sculptures, or an architectural hybrid, where a shopping arcade becomes a youth dwelling. Since much of our work involves some form of assemblage or collage, the general approach to material is also rooted in the notion of the hybrid—the combination of several base materials to make some new, unforeseen identity. This goes from the smallest items such as the sci-fi book-cover collages, all the way to the total architectural mashups of the installations. Another theme that is central to the practice is the notion of “Alchemy in a Modern Context,” which could include everything from the alchemy of industrial production to the alchemy of illicit drug production or the alchemy of homemade soup. We approach the idea of alchemy on sculptural terms, with the concept being that sculpture is frequently trying to use one material as an illusory symbol for another.

The Work: “Jazz Was the Least of My Problems” is a mixed-media painting from an ongoing series called the Signal Flow Pictures. These works are based on the infamous NASA spider experiments, in which researchers gave spiders different drugs and then studied what kind of web patterns emerged from the influence of each drug. We have taken these spiderweb patterns and expanded them into drawings that resemble a kind of cybernetic map. This painting is a riff on a spiderweb made under the influence of Benzedrine. The series’ title is a reference to the signal flow graphs invented by information theorist Claude Shannon in 1942 to map the electronic signals in analog computers. The imagery in the work is intended to create an overlay network in which the specific images represent nodes in a larger system. This particular painting uses film stills from the 1970 film Myra Breckinridge, a comedy based on the novel by Gore Vidal, about a transgender woman who attempts to disrupt the entertainment industry and conventional notions of masculinity through the introduction of FemDom. The film could be interpreted as a story about a hybrid identity, where technology has been used with biology as materials in a collage that remakes notions of gender identity.

How do your surroundings affect your creative process?: Since our primary medium is architectural environments, I would say the surroundings are crucial to the tone and content of the work. Early in our collaborative practice, we would walk the streets of NYC taking pictures of spaces that seemed liminal or forgotten: the kind of architectural noise that is often overlooked as we pass through the built world. I don’t think that these works would have emerged if we were based in a rural environment.