Meet

Joe Geis

Where are you from and where do you reside?
I grew up in central New Jersey, and have lived somewhere between Brooklyn and Queens for the better part of the last decade. Although slower, warmer places are constantly calling my name.
What’s your favorite part of your current neighborhood?
The silence and the space. I’ve mostly lived in pretty popular areas of Bushwick and Williamsburg, which meant lots of noise and small, crowded apartments. By moving a little further out, I now have the peace and quiet needed to hear myself think and the space to make a proper mess.
What’s a typical day in the studio like?
Being that I have a full-time job, my typical day in the studio is either at night or on the weekend. I like to wake up, meditate, exercise, and cook breakfast before I begin anything. I then either put a record on, or turn on Seinfeld to get in the right headspace. From there, my cell phone usually gets turned on airplane mode. The rest of the day consists of spreading out, making a mess, a little self doubt, and a lot of snacks.
Where do you feel you create your strongest work?
I find that my headspace affects my work more than the physical space around me does. The physical space can be my studio, an unfamiliar hotel, or my parent’s living room, but if I’m not feeling comfortable, relaxed, and open, it’s going to be difficult for me to get to that place where I can shut the world off and make. I create my strongest work when I can successfully give all of my energy to one thing.
Is there any artwork on display in your home/studio?
I tend to keep the walls in my home/studio relatively bare, but I do have pieces hanging from Morning Breath Inc, Jocelyn Tsaih, Adam Lucas, and a Keith Haring autograph. My collection is new and a work in progress.
What necessities do you require when making your art?
The first thing I do is put a record on. Very loud. Natural light is a must, so I make sure to open all windows. I also can’t start working until the space around me is clean and organized. I normally use the same materials every day – a combination of Sharpies, Krink markers, oil pastels, India ink, construction paper, and acrylic.
How do you choose your materials?
Most of the materials I use now, I didn’t use a year or two ago. I plan to continue testing out new materials to push my art to new, unfamiliar places. For instance, I’ve just recently begun exploring India ink and have been super stoked on the results.
When did you begin your current practice?
Up until 2016, I was strictly a graphic designer. It’s been about two years since I began exploring the idea of making my own artwork.
How does your work as a designer inform your artistic practice?
Graphic design has taught me a lot of things. Some that benefit my time spent painting, and some that can easily become blockers if I’m not aware they are at play. Graphic design taught me about layout, negative space, balance – all things that I incorporate into my artwork. Painting has been a great lesson in non-attachment for me. No matter how hard I try to, I can’t control and manipulate every little thing like I can on my laptop in my graphic design work. I’m continuously learning how to accept and appreciate the imperfections in my analog work.
Beyond graphic design, are you formally trained?
My parents were involved in architecture, music, and advertising growing up, so I was inspired and encouraged to be creative since day one. I ended up attending a state university and studied graphic design. Although I did have a few mentors earlier in my career, I feel like I now receive that same level of critique, guidance and perspective from my peers and friends.
Slant
Painting has been a great lesson in non-attachment for me. No matter how hard I try to, I can’t control and manipulate every little thing like I can on my laptop in my graphic design work. — Joe Geis

Photograph by Mike Skigen

How solitary is your art-making process?
The internet has made it incredibly easy to discover and draw inspiration from artists. I’m really into what Steven Harrington, Camilo Huinca, Shawna X, and Ellen Rutt have been making lately. My art-making process is extremely solitary for the most part, but I’ve also had great experiences collaborating with other designers and artists in the past, and would certainly like to take that a step further by potentially collaborating with artists I don’t already know personally.
Are you influenced by any artist that does something completely different than you?
I’ve always been influenced by musicians and authors – maybe even more so than visual artists. Stevie Nicks, David Sedaris, André Benjamin, Charles Bukowski, Jim Morrison. To me, there’s something very alluring and magnetic about someone who has zero interest in ever being anything other than their unapologetic true selves. To me, that’s the true definition of an “artist.”
What is the most difficult part of the artistic process for you?
The most difficult part of the artistic process for me is knowing when I’m done. I am very particular, and can sometimes get caught up in making sure every little line or edge is exactly how I see it in my head, instead of appreciating the character that these imperfections add to the piece.
What tangible objects are you most interested in representing through your works?
The lines, shapes, and colors in most of my work are influenced by tangible objects and intangible moments, but I try to represent them in an abstract way. I welcome the different perspectives. I enjoy that some only see lines and shapes, while others can identify something a little more recognizable.
How do the different elements and shapes come together in your works?
Everything I create is an experiment of movement and balance. In order to feel like myself, I need these two things to be consistent in my life. When they aren’t, I turn to paper or canvas to create them. I look at my artwork as puzzles that I need to figure out, and I often create the elements (the puzzle pieces) for a series before I even begin to think about pairing or layout. How can I foster balance between all of the elements and the negative space? When have I added too much? Are these elements too far apart? Constantly asking myself questions throughout the process helps me get closer to finishing the puzzle.
What themes or motifs are you consistently drawn to?
Movement and balance. Bright colors. Positive and negative space. Calculated interaction between elements. Imperfections and happy mistakes.
How did you decide on the colors for the series, ‘Serenity Now’?
These three colors were inspired by a walk through the Notting Hill neighborhood in London – there are a few streets with really beautifully painted homes all next to each other. I took a few photos on my phone, brought them in to Illustrator, and played around with the colors to get them to work together. I had the colors decided for this series before anything else was even started.
Slant
I look at my artwork as puzzles that I need to figure out, and I often create the elements (the puzzle pieces) for a series before I even begin to think about pairing or layout. How can I foster balance between all of the elements and the negative space? When have I added too much? Are these elements too far apart? Constantly asking myself questions throughout the process helps me get closer to finishing the puzzle. — Joe Geis
Where do you find your day-to-day inspiration?
The strongest inspiration for my art comes when I’m not doing anything that has to do with my art. I tend to get inspired most by living life, traveling, and seeing weird things – way more than scrolling through Pinterest or Instagram. The designs on Moroccan tiles. The plants in a friend’s apartment. The colorful gradient of the water in Croatia. The visuals projected behind your favorite band when they come to town. The patterns of a South American woven blanket. Those are the things inspire and energize me, which can either directly or indirectly influence my art.
Are there any aspects of your process that are left to chance?
Yes, absolutely. Although the final stages of my process are very calculated and well-thought-out, the beginning is very much left to chance. I normally begin creating the elements for a piece before I even have a concept for how it will look in the end. More often than not, happy mistakes throughout the creation process lead to a more organic final piece for me.
How important is spontaneity in your art?
Spontaneity is becoming more and more important in my art, and my life. Coming from a graphic design background, my moves are usually planned out and need to have reason behind them. Through challenging old processes and patterns, I’m learning how to let more of it in.
How has your work developed in the past few years, and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I’ve only started making my own personal art in the last two years, and I already feel like I’ve seen it go through numerous phases and pivots. Looking back at what I was making just a few years ago is a strange feeling, but I can see the steps to how I got to what I’m producing now. I couldn’t have just started with what I’m making now. I had to experiment, fail, do a lot things over, get frustrated, spill a few gallons of paint, ruin a few pairs of jeans. I’m not sure how my work will evolve in another two years, but not knowing is super exciting for me. I have no expectations, so I have limits.
Do you remember the first work of art that captured your attention?
My father has an enormous record collection that I used to spend hours sifting through, drooling over the photography, hand-lettering and illustrations of the album artwork. I always appreciated the album artwork just as much as I appreciated the music on the record, which was the whole reason I pursued design and art. Digging in the crates is still one of my favorite solo Sunday activities for inspiration.
Is there something people would be surprised to learn about you?
Initially, I had planned to go to school for music and keep art/design as a hobby, but decided to flip them last minute.
Do you still maintain music as a hobby?
I do. I’ve been playing drums since I was nine years old, and I’ve been in an out of bands my whole life. Most recently, I’ve been playing and writing with my friends in a punk band called “Old Heads” here in Brooklyn. Drumming is a difficult hobby to have while living in New York City, so I also rely on my guitar to get through a lot of my urges to play and write music when I’m not at our practice studio.
What’s next for you?
I have a few mural installations coming up this fall, a few projects that haven’t been announced yet, and some traveling. Anything but getting too comfortable.

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