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Jeremy Sweet Fades To Black

detail of a painting based on tattoo flash

Jeremy Sweet's past work was bursting with color, but in deference to the coming winter, he has created his entire show in shades of gray. Sweet' s newest show at the Paper Crane Gallery is called, fittingly, Fade to Black.

Sweet combines painting, prints, and drawing to create multilayer images that reference traditional tattoo art, old foreign movie posters, comics, and even his own family experiences.

The layering of several different types of appropriated images allows Sweet to create a narrative of his own. Using symbols that many of the viewers will be familiar withthe femme fatale pin-up, the fabular wolf in sheep's clothing, the iconic design of comicsSweet plays on the expectations of the viewer to craft a new and more personal narrative.

First, can you tell me about the pieces that you have in the show?

The whole group of work is based on black and gray tattoo, and also black ink lithography. It all has a gray scale to it. And they're tattoo-based images, where I pull the heavy symbolic nature of them and I bring the different elements together to tell a story, and that's usually one portion of the image.

The other portion is a hand-drawn or an appropriated layer from historical referencesusually comics, or vintage movie posters. So I take those and I kind of mash them up or combine them with my own images, and I do most of that work in a computer.

So taking separate parts of tattoo flash, the symbolism of, for example, a wolf in sheep's clothing, a sailor's last breath in water. There's some religious stuff, rock of ages. I've done a sheet with Jesus portrayals, because of the history of my family.

You have so many reference images. Do you start with the poster, or with one piece of flash you want to use, or do you start with the story you want to use and search for images?

Just with drawing the flash sheets. I draw them with a No. 2 pencil and slowly build up the shading, like they would a black and gray tattoo with a single needle.

Those guys, they build those transitions from dark to light with a single needle and a lot of patience. I start that way with my drawings, which are the source of a lot of the imagery. And then what I can do is scan those and manipulate them in the computer, and start to visually see how the layers interact.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Part of the show as well was about the darkness of the winter. I think that's also conceptually important, because it drove me to keep a simple palette, staying in the gray scale.

I wanted to have a body of work that looked consistent, but I also wanted to have an emotional consistency. It's also a reaction to me living in a cold place, when I grew up in a warm place, in Southern California.

I'm used to it, but there's alsways a cloud that comes over me for a bit as it gets darker, as it gets colder, and I see myself being stuck inside a little more.

So part of the intensity of the imagery, and the aggressiveness or the darkness of it, is a positive reaction for me to get it out versus me yelling and screaming, or kicking and punching. I can get it out, and have the characters expressing those emotions.

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