Jeff Soto will be opening his fourth solo show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery on September 8th, alongside the simultaneous solo shows of Audrey Kawasaki and Judith Supine. The show, entitled Decay and Overgrowth, explores life, death and the passage of time. In this interview, Soto tells Vandalog about the emotional journey this past year has taken him on, including the death of two of his grandparents, and how these events provoked his consideration of mortality; which would become a central theme of this show.
V: In your own words, can you tell us about the underlying themes of Decay and Overgrowth?
JS: I started researching my ancestry about seven years ago, well, even before that really. As a kid I knew my grandparents fought in WWII and my grandma would list off all the things we had in us- Irish, Italian, Sioux, Dutch, etc.. These stories were interesting to me. So from an early age I was aware that there is some history there, and at some point a teacher I had showed us family trees. When I was a teenager I saw Norman Rockwell’s family tree painting where the kid’s ancestors were pirates and Native Americans and cowboys. It got me interested in who my ancestors were, and how all my living relatives were related.
The last few years I have researched and got deeper into who these people were. Decay and Overgrowth comes out of this research. Finding all these relatives really drove home the point that we are born, we have kids, get married, live our life and die. And then the kids repeat the same pattern. Our offspring who come into the world like new flowers, growing and flourishing, eventually meet the same fate as any other living thing. We start aging, and at some point we all will die. We turn to dust, go back into the Earth to nourish it, and then the cycle repeats. I don’t see it as morbid at all, and I hope the paintings don’t seem too death obsessed! Even though I’ve unofficially titled my show “The Skull Show”.
V: This is a solo show, but you’re showing at the same time as Audrey Kawasaki’s and Judith Supine’s solo shows. How do you feel like this combination of works either compliment or juxtapose one another?
JS: I respect both of them. I know Audrey a bit but have never met Judith. I think as a whole our work is very different but individually we’re each very strong in what we do. Should be a fun show with something for everyone. I am predicting a large turnout.
V: Was this exploration of mortality more of a catharsis for you or a way of explaining death to your children?
JS: It’s more for me I guess. They’re too young to fully understand death. We do not hide it from them at all, you know, like if one of our fish dies or we find a dead rabbit on a walk, we talk about it. Two of my grandparents passed away in the last year, and they went to the funerals even though they’re young. I never really thought about death because it was not around me. Or maybe it’s an age thing- now that I’m in my mid/late 30’s and I have two kids that depend on me, it’s on my mind. Seeing my little brothers grow up and my parents age has been a trip.
V: What do you think your generation adds to the collective human experience?
JS: I think it’s too early to say. There’s good and bad things we’re going to add. I know that my generation seems more open to cultural differences among people. In the United States, overall we’re less racist than 40 years ago, and I think the next generation will be better than us. There’s still a long way to go but the situation is improving from the Baby Boomers and previous generations.
And of course the internet has made huge changes. For the first time in human history information is easily accessible to most people. It is empowering. Maybe it’s homogenizing us as well. It’s that whole globalization thing, we all buy the same products, listen to the same music and watch the same movies- are cultural differences starting to die out? Technology is good and bad I think. I’m 37, so I grew up with Atari which was fun, but only for about 30 minutes then we’d go outside and build a fort, climb a tree, make up a game… we used our imagination! I think that’s lacking in many kids and I wonder how it will change things. Maybe it already has. I graduated high school right as the internet was going mainstream- 1993. Our school had one computer that was online and the only thing we could access was college libraries in town. We had to search and hunt for our info, we had to go downtown and pour through a ton of books and along the way we would find other interesting books and much more thoroughly researched information. Now all the info is easily and quickly accessed in a nice little five paragraph web page. I do love Wikipedia, but 20 years ago you’d read a 300 page book on say, Cortés, now a kid in high school will read a concise web page on the iPad. Maybe that’s not so bad, I guess the Wiki entry would have much more up to date info… see, technology that this generation is bringing is both good and bad.
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