,Portrait by Sam Monkarsh, 2016
Jack Greer is a multidisciplinary artist who enjoys the freedom that comes with that title. Best known as a founding member of the art collective Still House, sole proprietor of the streetwear label Iggy (named after his dog), and most recently as a director of the feature length documentary Circles in Tompkins Square, Greer imbues each project with the meticulous focus of an obsessive teenager. Talking to Jack, it immediately becomes clear that all these projects are just the latest installment of a creative practice informed by a youthful passion: doing whatever you what you want, the best way possible, in the current moment.
Where are you from?
Los Angeles, California, in a neighborhood called Palms on Venice Boulevard. It’s pretty centrally located, but few families raise their children there. You only know your own reality, so it was great. I’ve never known a world other than an inner city environment. I went to a high school that had 3,000 students, and I didn’t know if that was a lot or a little. I got to walk home from school with the neighborhood kids. I enjoyed it.
What were you and your friends into?
Skateboarding and graffiti.
How old were you when you started skating?
I was probably 10. It was as if you gave an alien a skateboard. I had no idea what it was. I didn’t have an older brother that could put me on. It wasn’t until I was probably 12 that I started to meet other skaters, and was old enough for my parents to let me go around the neighborhood. That’s probably when some red flags went up. I wasn’t bad, always performed really well in school, but they pulled me out of my middle school, and for eighth and ninth grade they sent me to a really artsy private school that they couldn’t really afford.
Was that how you got into art?
No. I was always making art. I made art before I knew what art was. I’ve always just conceived of an idea, and sought out how to produce it. I mean, I thought stuff was cool. That San Francisco, late 90s, early 2000s stuff was probably my first inspiration as a tweenager.
Like Twist and stuff?
Yeah and skateboard magazines. Looking at creative entrepreneurs like Ed Templeton… I wouldn’t be surprised if it helped me rationalize how does one go about navigating this universe. Maybe it’s why I’m sitting in this room today with a couple of boxes of shirts and six paintings wrapped up, and a sewing machine on the ground, and a zine.
Did you always want to go to art school?
No. I didn’t want to go to college, but I made the deal with my parents that I would apply. I thought that I was so busy at the time, which to some extent I was…
What were you doing?
When I was 16 I had a little clothing company. I did things for Fred Segal.. I used to draw on my own shoes and sew patches on my clothes. I think that someone saw a pair of shoes I did, who was like, “Those are really cool, you should show those to someone,”. I walked in kind of cold turkey into Fred Segal and I was like, hey, I can…I draw these on my blank Converse or blank VANS. They were into it so I was on a consignment basis doing shoes for them. So basically, I had a clothing and shoe embellishment operation from 16 to 18, and thought that I don’t need to go to college.
Jack Greer: Inside The White Cube, 2014
But you ended up applying.
I applied to Pratt, Yale and Cooper Union. I got into Pratt, and got a lot of presidential merit-based scholarships because I had performed really well academically in school.
What was Pratt like?
Great. I don’t even remember almost any of my classes. It was just learning how to do all this other stuff. Scheduling, time management, growing up, interacting with other artists, working on projects,…The whole thing was good. It also did provide some parameters to being 18 in New York. I entered as a drawing major, but switched to being a painting major because painting majors get their own studio; I focused on sculpture so that I could have a sculpture studio as well. None of that shit really matters, because you graduate with a BFA. By my senior year there, there was no such thing as a studio-based homework assignment.
So you just made what you wanted?
Let’s put it this way: It’s not that hard to make anything fit an assignment if you want it to. I was just making work. wasn’t there to be a student fulfilling assignments. I was there to be an artist that had to conform to being a student every once in awhile. And that was fine. If someone has their own drive, you just let them run with it. Never try to slow down a 21-year-old working their ass off.
Were you doing shows?
Not real shows. I participated in little things any time someone asked me to, but I was still far too unaware of the art world, or even what it meant to curate an exhibition. It was more like, everyone who’s made something bring it in, hang it in a room, and we all drink beers together. There was no larger consideration beyond that.
Did Still House happen when you were still at Pratt?
Yeah. When we first started it, it was just an idea for a website, a portfolio/strength in numbers operation to have our work seen, not that different from how a creative agency will have a list of photographers that you can hire out. It was just an online database of this group of friends that make artwork, but it led to shows. I remember making a painting in my painting studio that was in our first ‘Still House Exhibition’ at 7 Eleven Gallery on Washington Street, in 2007.
Family Portrait, 38 x 50″, Oil on Canvas, 2015
How would you describe Still House?
It was a bunch of friends, many of which grew up together, spent time socializing together that happened to make art independently of one another, decided to do a group art show together, then decided that it would be awesome if we could make work in a studio space together. Slowly, people heard about it and started paying attention.
How did you get your first space?
The old Department of Transportation offices were vacant and someone from Still House knew a real estate developer or something – I don’t remember how it happened, but someone was able to work with us to squat. We worked out a deal where we can stay in the Department of Transportation vacant offices as long as we pay for the lights, electricity or whatever until whatever company comes in there to take over the lease, which could be as little as three months, as much as a year, two – who knew? Nothing could’ve been as special as that time in my life. Who knows if something like that will ever happen again? Not just for me, but for a lot of people. We put on, I think, two exhibitions out of there but for the most part it was just a working studio. Then one day they were like “we think the GAP is going to move in here, you guys got to go.”
Was that how you ended up in Red Hook?
We had generated enough work amongst each other, that it would have been a bummer if we just packed up and went back into our apartments and worked independently, and this was just a fun little flash in the pan. It wasn’t economically viable, but it was fun to work together in a space and build something together. So we started shopping around for a real studio, and that’s when Red Hook happened and it changed dramatically.
How did it change?
Just how much people were working. It wasn’t just hanging out, throwing darts at a wall. There was an outlet for the work, whether that meant to collectors or to group exhibitions, or solo exhibitions. At a certain point, we were working really diligently and people were paying attention. It was like a dream come true for me, but I was still working for Nike, Dj-ing, and doing freelance graphic design.
You were DJing?
It was lucky point in time, which was post-real DJ-ing and pre-real DJ-ing. Meaning the iPod laptop form of DJ-ing was acceptable between the years of like 2006 and 2011. It was the easiest time to get $150 a night, three, four nights a week, and paying your rent that way.
I remember that. What did you do at Nike?
They were running a concept space, inviting different artists, photographers and designers to come and make stuff using their graphics packages, branded stuff. The equivalent of putting your name on a beanie at the mall. I got a job as a heat presser, where I would stamp a customer’s name on a t-shirt. However, I had all these machines and a lot of downtime to play with the software, and make whatever I wanted. I was using the heat set vinyl, the CAD cut machine, to make any and everything you can imagine. Zines with flocking heat pressed onto paper.
Did you ever sell stuff you made there?
I made five denim jackets with patches and embroideries on it, and sent a picture to my friend, Olivia, who was, the buyer for Opening Ceremony. She was like, “I love it. Let’s try them at the store.” I started then on consignment doing jackets for Opening Ceremony, New York, which then grew into doing jackets and pants for London, and Japan, and LA. I carried on doing that work after leaving Nike, because the Nike space was always temporary.
Customized Denim Jacket, 2012
Wow. So you were still making art at this time?
I had got myself into a predicament where Isaac, the brain behind what Still House became, told me, “This thing is moving, Still House, you’re making some cool work, but you’re dedicating a lot of your time to your freelance.” He said, “it probably won’t happen if you don’t dedicate more time into the thought behind your work, and also the making of it. Just being physically present in the Red Hook space when collectors and people come by will be beneficial to you. Because right now, they walk by your studio, there’s no-one in there, it’s a cold space.”
So you went full time as an artist?
It was a tough decision but I cut off all freelance in the beginning of September 2013. That was my entire 2014 and 2015. For the first time in my life I was conscious of nothing but the artwork I wanted to make. I had zero threat of not paying rent. I had zero fears about what I was going to make, because, to be honest, when you have the wind at your back, sometimes that confidence just spills out of you. I know that can be perceived as a bad thing, it’s nice sometimes to not be so self-critical that you can’t even make stuff.
It seems like a lot of the work you were doing comes out of relating to graffiti. I’m thinking the cactus sculptures, the paintings of spray painted rocks you would find in California.
Yeah. I don’t mind to acknowledge and admit to where my train of thought came from and what I’ve grown into, but I also don’t want to be an infant for my entire life. I hope that the connection isn’t so linear that I didn’t find a way of growing out of my childhood. I don’t want to make post-graffiti art. I don’t care as much about the aesthetics of graffiti transitioning into a fine art context, I care about the implications of the individual who went out and tagged on some object.
Did you make any other videos over the past 15 years?
I’ve exhibited video art and I’ve made video uploads of skate clips. I’ve made videos for friends. In my senior thesis show I did a video of a toy cop car chasing someone running down Ludlow Street to make this faux cops and robbers chase scene. Social Media just made it easier for people to see video pieces, so the new works are often times the first ones people think I’ve made.
Leading to Iggy Pooped… which led to Circles in Tompkins Square.
The Iggy Pooped pieces are also fun and somewhat lighthearted, the only difference is that I’m older now so it might be a more considered result. It’s no more or less than anything else I’ve ever done. In the same way, Circles is me taking the idea of being intrigued with what happens in front of me on a daily basis in New York and thinking consciously beyond tongue in cheek social media one-minute videos and saying like, “What can I really do here? What’s the root of my interest in this, of filming things that catch my eye and what do I want to make out of that?” And that’s why Circles came to me as, “Well, let’s decide on a space. That space is Tompkins? What’s in Tompkins? This is an important time in New York. Like let’s make a film about it.”
Still from Circles in Tompins Square, Beta Pictures, 2017
Why did you choose Tompkins Square though?
I wanted to be outside. Still House was coming to an end. I’d spent roughly three years studio-based. I was in a rectangle of white walls, working every day. With no foreseeable income coming in, I was going to be living off of my savings and I recognized that, as a result of that, I probably shouldn’t take up more space. I should think about making something that allows for me to break from the pattern that I’ve been so head-down stuck in. I also realized that it was about to be summer. All my other friends from Still House were either moving to Los Angeles or checked out. I wanted to engage with the people around me.
So you decided to make a film.
It just made sense. Put a video camera around your neck and go into the park. I didn’t really know how much and how serious it was going to become. But, like everything I’ve ever taken on, it became all-encompassing. The same way I was with my studio, if it was Thursday, there was no way of being like, “No, I’m not going in.” I felt so lucky to go there every day.
How did the project evolve as you worked on it?
It probably wasn’t until about three weeks into filming that I realized, “Yeah, this isn’t a skate video- this is about Tompkins.” I was a lot more conscious of everything happening in the park. Even though I knew what the park was, I really started looking with a very narrow focus at every single thing happening. And in the sixth sense sort of way, there were times when I knew that today was going to be a big day because the energy in that park- not only is it shifting, but there are times when things just coalesce.
Now that the film is out, how do you feel about it?
It’s kind of like how I’ll probably never make another zine like the one I made when I was 18. Every single decision is evident. I’m always excited about working with other stuff, but I have never felt like it was important or worthwhile to seek out being or presenting yourself as above or beyond your own reality. Even if those decisions are not always by choice, they’re the result of what is feasible to you.
Last question: your clothing label, Iggy. When did that start?
Around the same time as the film. Like Circles, I was looking to make something that didn’t depend upon exhibitions or group shows. I also always felt underwhelmed with my work in clothing, no matter how high the price point was because I knew I knew that real clothing brands are not all made by the person in their bedroom. It was like a little kid’s accomplishment to show myself that I was capable of producing a professional T-shirt.
The quality is noticeable. They don’t feel cheap.
I think if you do it right the first time, there’s a bigger possibility that you can keep doing it. It’s not like you only get one chance, but people are smart and pay attention. If you make something and they think it’s shit, they might not want the second one. I have so many friends that make clothes and have for so many years that the ones that I ended up keeping aren’t even necessarily the ones that happen to have like the ill graphic. It’s the ones that I felt like I wanted to put on before I went to sleep at night because they were not made like complete trash.