Josh Reames is new in New York, with how his work is commanding attention, you would never know that. We sat down with him in his Bushwick studio and talked about free association, signs and symbols, escapism, and maintaining longevity as an artist.

Photographed by Cody James

1. You’ve been in this studio space for a couple of months. How are you finding New York so far?

So far, so good. It's been a bit of a blur since I've been here. Super busy but in a good way. Theres always something going on here, I love it!

2. How did the fascination with free association start to work its way into your practice? A lot of your work deals with free association, for instance you might type the word birthday into Google and then a selection of images come up that you wouldn’t necessary associate with birthday, but they make their way into your paintings.

Free association is part of the process, but not necessarily part of the outcome - it's tough not to create connections or some sort of narrative from the finished products. I think we're wired to do that. Google image search has become a pretty ubiquitous tool; I started thinking about how wide of a spectrum of images will come back from a single-word search. It's very tangential, almost like those simple free-association games you play while on a road trip. I keep this in mind when composing paintings, choosing imagery, etc.

3. Tell us a bit about how doodling on an app on your i-Phone helped inform the style that has become signature in your work?

I downloaded one of those drawing apps when I had train commutes in Chicago; just something to pass the time. The kind of fumbling line quality, gradients, blends, image/sticker impositions, etc really looked great - I wanted to make something real out of it, something that had a physical presence and scale. Every time I go to a coffee shop where they use an iPad to swipe your credit card I always love how gestural it is to sign my name on the screen with my finger; it always reminds me of Dekooning for some reason. 

4. You’ve bounced around a lot over the last few years. Grad school in Chicago, a hyper-active painting stint in Dallas while working out of the Oliver Francis Gallery and now a studio in New York. How have the changes of scenery influenced your work? 

Every time I get to a new place I always have a tough time for a week or two getting into the swing of it, the new space, new studio. Typically make a handful of questionable or just bad paintings before I find a rhythm. But all of the objects and images in my paintings are somewhat inspired by my immediate surroundings. The bullet holes, for example, started in Dallas when I was constantly seeing road signs with bullet holes in them when I was driving outside the city. Ice logos made it into a few paintings, there was a small ice dispenser building near the studio that I drove by a lot. In New York it’s the same, I think there are plenty of images that I am surrounded by that get absorbed into the paintings.

5. Your paintings seem like windows into your mind. An amalgamation of overlooked, humorous, commonplace visual stimuli that you come across at random points in time. Would you say the canvas is a type of journal for these things? 

Sure, I think so. But a little more cryptic than a journal. I can look back on older paintings and make connections with where I was and the kinds of things I was somewhat obsessed with at the time.

6. So many of us text and use random combinations of emojis and snap quick pictures of signs and places on our phones, but I think a lot of us kind of write them off as kitschy and cute. Do you ever look at at these in your paintings and realize how powerful they are becoming to our visual vernacular?

I’m hesitant to to write off things as kitschy. I think any time someone deems a subject as bad taste or kitsch it almost immediately becomes solid material to use. Cultural detritus is still an important part of culture. Emoji, stickers, etc is a part of the language now; like modern hieroglyphics. Humans are a visual culture, so it makes total sense to have a pictorial language that is agreed upon but also open-ended to an extent. It’s efficient.

7. Escapism is a theme that you have been exploring in your work for awhile now, painting in and of itself is a type of escape. How are the symbols you are using to associate with escape changing over the course of time? 

Early on I was using a lot of tropical imagery, cruise ships, etc. It was about idealism and was connected to the act of painting as a similarly idealistic act. I still use some of this imagery occasionally but I think lately there’s been more reference to psychedelics. I’ve been really in to that culture, the imagery, and the way color is used. Google’s Deep Dream has been blowing my mind recently. It generates the most accurate acid-trip depictions I’ve ever seen, but obviously not being derived from LSD or about it. There’s some sort of technological Jung or Leary writing just waiting to happen about this shared visual experience between computers and humans, looking forward to reading that..

8. Who are some young artists that you admire right now?

Jose Lerma, Ron Ewert, Amanda Ross-Ho, Tyson Reeder, Chris Bradley, Merlin Carpenter, Bill Saylor

9. You paint fast. Is this out of necessity, restlessness, the desire to create a rhythm, or something else?

A little bit of all of them. I think you can see speed in a painting. Alex Katz talked about how he would re-make a painting 10 times so that the last one was fast. Theres a specific rhythm with speed, it seems effortless and loose. Thats the feeling I’m after. 

10. As someone whose art is in extremely high demand, you mentioned not burning out. How do you see yourself maintaining longevity?

I think it’s about learning how to deal with a variety of pressures without losing yourself. The work has to evolve in the same way it would without the attention and I still have to by my own harshest critic. 

11. What do you have coming up?

There are a handful of group shows, art fairs, and a few solo shows coming up in the US, Europe, and Australia. Looking forward to doing some traveling!

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