Jaimie Warren is equally far-out and down to earth. The Wisconsin-born artist brings Midwestern charm and avant weirdness to the table in spades. Jaimie’s done a series of photoshop-subverting self portraits, where she physically altered her face to look like different celebrities made from different types of food. She’s made huge community-produced music videos that artfully lampoon classic pieces of art. Freddie Mercury and Michael Jackson feature prominently in her work. In short, Jaimie is unlike any artist you’ve seen or heard of before.
Jaimie is a photographer, performance artist and lover of people. She could not shatter the archetypal image of a reclusive, aloof artist more thoroughly. CONVICTS recently caught up with Jaimie and got her word on Freddy Krueger, the nonword ‘funner,’ and what drives her wholly unique approach to artistic creation.
Hey Jaimie. To start, can you tell us a bit about your childhood. Where’d you grow up?
Childhood? I grew up in the suburb of Milwaukee. I had a younger sister and brother, used my imagination a lot. Pretty standard American childhood, for sure.
Was your family creative?
They are very conservative, which I didn’t really realize until recently but that’s a whole other story. Not on the artistic side, but they like me as a person. Everything else is a giant question mark but that’s fine. It’s probably best that way.
What was school like for you?
In high school I got really into photography. I was into hanging out in the dark room after school and being a nerd about it and being into the process of it. I left Wisconsin to go to school in Kansas City just because they gave me the biggest scholarship. I had never been to the city until my first day of school but it was a really amazing match and I had a really wonderful class of peers who worked hard and were passionate. It set me into the pace of working all the time and having a great community around me all the time, which was awesome. I still feel that way.
When did you start doing self-portraits?
When I was in college and a few years out of college I took lot of self portraits that were costumed based and inspired by a really incredible drag community in Kansas City. They had a theatre company called ‘The Late Night Theatre’ and made these incredible parodies or movies and then had insane after-parties that would be totally themed and have really wild sets and prizes and really well thought out performances. I was mostly inspired by the theatre itself and how they used props and flipped sets and the amazing costuming. This is how I would describe Whoop Dee Doo. So much of it was inspired by that.
Talk about the “Celebrities as Food” series.
There was Lasagna Del Rey and Fred Cabbage and Pretzel Rod Stewart. Terrible puns, but I was obsessed with those, trying to recreate these like really crudely photoshopped things into self-portraits but without using photoshop. It was bizarre but I thought it was so funny and a fun challenge, trying to transform myself into all these different characters.
How did you actually transform yourself?
I used pretty accessible materials for the most part. Pretty easy methods but then I just started doing them larger and larger scale. Mostly because I wanted my friends involved. So I was picking out images to recreate that were photoshopped images of famous paintings from art history. Then my friends could help create them and be in them with me. It was more of a communal experience and funner. More fun, sorry. Funner is not a word, my mom would say.
You’re all good.
Or is it? No…I should only use words like that. Oh yeah, so the self portraits got bigger and bigger in scale and then like right before I left Kansas City I did the biggest one, I did this giant Fra Angelico painting that had like 220 characters and it took nine months to do and I had tons of friends help. There were so many people in it and we had this five channel music video where we were all singing “that’s what friends are for.” It was this homage to my community in Kansas City and also to all the celebrities that were photoshopped and interspersed in the painting. After that I came to New York and had no space, so I focused on trying to get residencies out of town and do these big community-based projects.
What does the process of creating Whoop Dee Doo or these other large group projects feel like?
It kind of feels like a social event. But it’s also very stressful and difficult. Especially with Whoop Dee Doo, the projects happen in a really condensed period of time. So much happens in such a short period that it makes us all want to die, but in the best way possible. It’s always this really magical experience and it’s very, very hard but it’s so memorable because it always comes through no matter how much we think it won’t. I feel like that kind of happened with the project at The Hole too, because we had all these incredible people that were willing to help and it was also really really strenuous but totally worth it in the end.
Do you form a bond with the people you work on these projects with?
When it clicks, it clicks. The people that really enjoy it all become close friends. We all become such close friends. So we continue to do all these projects together and they keep getting bigger and crazier and more memorable. It’s going in the right direction.
Talk about your exhibition at The Hole.
So the show has two rooms. The first one is an overview of these big residency projects, then you walk through a church/cave to get into the second room. In the cave you are watching part one of a twenty-five minute video. It’s a crazy huge, long video — my videos are usually 5-9 minutes — and it took quite a while to do. But you see part one, which is all child actors reenacting a haunted episode of Punky Brewster, which is a show I used to watch as a kid.
Then you go into the next room and you can see part two, which is on a video embedded into the mountain wall. But the installation is a remake of a Fra Angelico painting. Actually, the Angelico painting got cut up into many different pieces and they’ve been trying to find all the pieces but there’s one that’s missing. So the whole painting is like very distorted, the perspective is very bizarre and that’s what we are kinda doing with the installation as well. There’s a giant person and Saints and Shepherds that are twice as tall as the doorway to a building.
But the whole space is serving as a place to have this performance which will be like a mini-musical extravaganza. I’m seeing this as like closure to all of the projects where I brought up a lot of the same characters. I hold characters like Michael Jackson, Freddie Mercury and Freddy Krueger very dear to my heart, but I also think it’s time to move on. It’s been so many years where they kind of popped up in every video and every performance that I did. I think it’s quite funny but I can’t tell if that’s funny to other people.
Who is the best character for your work?
Freddy Krueger is the ultimate character when it comes to the combination of the comical and endearing, and then the terrifying and the gross. If you watch his movies he’s got these dorky catchphrases and is actually sort of goofy. But at the same time the movies can be very gory and terrifying and they scared me as a kid and they kind of scare me now. That’s a nice symbol of what I’m looking for there.
So you have this continual juxtaposition of pop culture and high art history, would you say those are equal passions of yours?
Um, they’re not. I love the pop culture stuff. The art history stuff is like: I’m an artist and I’m supposed to know about all these paintings but I don’t. I work with kids and they don’t either, and I thought that that was great, to make up what’s going on in these paintings and turn them into music videos and it’s so much fun. For me, I love re-creating something that is already out there and then being able to add my own elements. That’s how I work the most successfully.
Do you like just starting from square one with a blank canvas?
Starting from scratch, creating my own set or my own idea is not really my forte. I love having the basics set for me and then I can build from there and mix and match. It’s pretty fun having other community members or kids contribute as well. It’s super fun if it works out that way. What I am striving to do with my work is, in general, create a community experience. My friends are everything to me.
Right on. Last question: did you have a fuck it moment when you decided that moving to New York or pursuing a career in art was it for you?
I decided I wanted to move to New York City and thirteen years later I made the move. I was like fuck it. It was a really slow ‘fuck it’. I’m a real rebel when it comes to that sort of stuff.
Respect on deliberation. Thanks for the chat Jamie, and best of luck with the show.