Painter Jeremiah Palecek Talks Net Surrealism In The Czech Republic

The nerdkore artist discusses new media in Prague, projection mapping, and Angela Merkel fever dreams.

Painter and musician Jeremiah Palecek's work lives in the unique space between the hyper modern and the traditional, the digital and the analog, the mundane and the mega-weird. In Palecek's world Big Foot invades the suburbs, and the Pope takes a nervous airplane ride like a normal civilian:

Pope Ratzinger

Originally hailing from Bismarck, North Dakota, Palecek studied art and painting at the Lyme Academy of College of Fine Arts, the Glasgow School of Art, and The School of the Art Institute of Chicago before packing up his bags to move to Prague for the last wave of the city's expat golden age. Gaining a reputation with both galleries and net circles for his work turning tech subjects like video games and memes into oil paintings, this self proclaimed "nerdkore" artist is a pivotal member of Prague's digi scene.

Recently we were able to chat with Palecek about his work, the Czech new media community, funny Youtube clips, and Britney Spears' most embarrassing moments.

The Creators Project: What drew you to Prague?
Jeremiah Palecek: I came to Prague about a decade ago after finishing my studies at the Glasgow School of Art. Basically I came back to the US and after a few months I desired to continue on with my explorations of Europe. I had always wanted to visit Czech Republic, since my family came from here, so I just saved up some money and went. There's definitely a strong DIY spirit still alive here in the Arts and people just do things, as opposed to worrying about obtaining the proper permits and all that nonsense. That's of course not to say that the Czech Bureaucracy isn't alive and well, for instance bands still have to stop playing here at 10, and bars are supposed to close at some early morning hour--but if that bar has gambling machines in it, then it's allowed to stay open 24/7. 

What are you currently working on?

Currently I'm delving further into the role of digital reproductions of my imagery, and how these types of considerations effect the painting process itself. Paint as a medium is a sensual one and obviously there's this giant cannon of painting history weighing on anyone who dabbles in it. On top of that, painting continues to die and is then reborn about every decade now. But right now I would wager to say that more people look at paintings than ever before in history, it's just that our relationships with painting has changed. I recently read an article describing how there's more visitors to the Guggenheim's website than the actual museum. And I am one of these people--I look at images of painting online all the time and see far more reproduced images of paintings as opposed to the real objects themselves. In the end the actual object is less valuable than the reproduced one.

In my current work I'm playing around with projecting video directly onto the painting surface which I'm working on, not because I would want to exhibit the finished piece with a video projection on top of it, but more because there's a certain artificiality present in the surface that is completely alien when there is video being projected onto it. Paint is a squishy and seductive medium while video is inherently cool and rigid. The interplay between the two can be quite nice.  

Recently I worked with virtual reality specialist Jakub Grosz and we had a show where I repainted two canvases I had found in the trash. I hooked a webcam up to my hand so my brush kind of looked like a gun in a first person shooter, and then the footage from the webcam was sent to Jakub, and he further manipulated it and then projected it back onto the canvases which he had also created different masks onto which he could map his projections.

It was a fairly schizophrenic event but it got me hooked on this interplay between the two media.

Just today I made a painting from Mac and Me, where I had to paint Mac while I was projecting the entire video onto my canvas. I chose Mac and Me because it's completely forgettable (minus the wheelchair scene) and if I used a Caravaggio I would just be a dick. 

Debate (taken from a still of the Nixon and Kennedy debate where there was a editing glitch which made them appear on the screen at the same time).

How did you get into internet imagery, appropriation, and other reproductive qualities of painting?

I started painting from television back in the late 90s, and I made this series of landscapes from video games as well as a bunch of still lifes I painted from Top Gun. I learned how to draw people by watching Rikki Lake and sketching the guests on the show, and I still do this with Judge Judy as this show tends to have the same characters stand motionless for the longest period of time.

Anyway, In 2006 I worked with writer Travis Jeppesen to create the book Poems I Wrote While Watching TV. Travis wrote all of the poetry and I created all of the imagery. We even went on this weird book tour and I'd perform my music and then he'd read from the book. After that I started a series of paintings from Youtube videos, one of which was of the Techno Viking, which if you don't know just went to the Supreme Court in Germany about copyrights of our personal identities. The case itself was quite interesting and because of the popularity of both the Techno Viking and the timing at which I was featured on BoingBoing.net this work probably became the most widely reproduced image I ever painted.

I also painted Britney Spears Vagina (NSFW) in a juvenile poke at Courbet's "Origin of the World", and this work will be going on display at the Pompidou in Metz, France in a few months as part of an upcoming show which will tour around Europe called Paparazzi. I actually ended up painting her vagina because I made a series of paintings based off of the most popular Google Trends and "Britney Spears Upskirt" was in the top ten that day.  

I enjoy setting certain rules for my work, and I generally don't try to overthink anything, instead I just make it before any doubt can come into my head. I also enjoy writing short stories and so many times I think of my painting in a similar way to how writers are told to get an idea on paper as soon as possible before it wilts. So if I think that I should paint a picture of Angela Merkel naked with a Archaeopteryx and a Golden Monkey then that painting needs to be made as soon as possible. Of course because of this sometimes there is some terrible work which is created (the Merkel painting being one of them) but that's a risk I'm willing to take in order to be right occasionally. 

Kling Hop "I wanted to make a hip hop band with actor Matthew Bloodsmyth that would be all in Klingon. It didn't work out so well."

Can you tell us about your work making music?

I actually got into making music randomly and I don't think I'd really call myself a musician. My friend's dad in North Dakota owned a pawn shop and so we had a huge supply of musical equipment. My dad was a classical music DJ on the radio, and he also had a bunch of weirdo 60s music like Morton Subotnik, John Cage, and Iannis Xanakis. I grew up listening to all this stuff and then at a certain point I felt liberated enough to just start making it myself without any of the pretense. So we just got a bunch of instruments, tape loops, and samplers and started making noise. I haven't stopped since and over the years I've continued to work with a variety of other artists. Most recently I've been working with Jorge Boehringer (Core of the Coalman) on a project called Robert Anton Exit Orbit. All my other music I've made is available for free download at http://kingvitaman.com.  

Where can someone who wants to check out cutting edge experimental work visit in Prague?

There are a lot of different experimental and noise shows happening all over Prague now, but you usually can't go wrong to check out what's happening at Skolska28 gallery. They offer a lot of workshops as well as concerts by contemporary composers who are hacking up their instruments and making them react in silly and unpredictable ways. Cafe v Lese is another venue which recently came into its own, and there is always something happening there. The Signal Festival also just happened which as far as I know is the largest festival of projection mapping onto buildings in the world. The artist collective TheMacula got pretty well known for the projection map they did onto the church in Old Town Square and I think because of that the city was really open to letting more and more projection mapping artists fill up other buildings. There are currently like 37 different buildings with works on them. The interplay between revisioning old media with new media is one which I'm particularly fond of, and it's nice to approach these buildings from a different perspective. 

Selfie, "Error. The operation was completed successfully."

Though you came to Prague several years past the fall of communism, how do you think the flow of media and new technologies into the Czech Republic since its official end has changed art and culture?

I think the most obvious thing is that the pop culture of the 80s was so different from the US, but of course there were also imitations of American media even under communism. And sometimes these early attempts were more interesting than what is happening now. Limonadovy Joe would be one example of this. I think a lot of Western brands were fetishized under communism and this lead to their allure, but there was still access to them. There were also some interesting variations of the equipment used. The Spektrum Z80 for instance was a computer widely available under communism here, and it is still used today in the creation of chip tune music. So, while there were obvious changes in the materials which artists had access to, I would say that even while they may not have been as cutting edge as the technologies in the West that these limitations proved to be useful in the creation of some unique pieces. Now that everyone has the same access to a Canon 5D for instance, the results are more predictable and homogenous. 

Dramatic Chipmunk, from the meme collection.

You've been painting memes and net-inspired art for awhile. How has your art evolved along with the internet? Are there any new memes you really love? 

I think the access that one has to imagery has not only changed my work but inevitably the work a lot of other artists are creating as well. In a time when how "good" something is is based upon how many likes it gets, it definitely influences the creative process in some way. You can immediately get feedback once you upload an image to facebook, and gauge how many people "like" it, and thereby this undoubtedly (at least at an unconscious level ) effects how you approach the next work. It's all part of the disposability of the imagery that so many people are consuming now. So, I'd say my art is constantly evolving whether I want it to or not. As far as memes are concerned I'm not as interested in them as I once was, but I do like the rise of the absurdity of a lot of both imagery and video, which is becoming commonplace now. What would previously be considered to exist within a Dadaist tradition has become a funny video that 14 year olds like to watch. Much like this Norwegian guy who skates around a desolate lake while drinking. Or the "Ultimate Muscle Roller Legend". There's a whole genre being created of WTF videos, paintings, drawings, and imagery and I believe that it actually fits nicely into the trajectory of how we look at art, and the absurdity of this point in history. 

What are you currently up to?

I'm currently working at Prague College in the Interactive Media program, and because of my colleagues are using Arduino, sensors, and projections as tools in the creation of artwork. So when I'm not making art, I'm talking about making art. In the near future I'd like to start making paintings which incorporate some sensors that cause absolutely ridiculous things to happen. Kind of like a talking bass, but instead a painting. It's always a pleasure to work with other students who are interested in similar issues. It keeps me on my toes. 

For more on Palecek's work you can visit his website, tumblr, and facebook pages.

Below, check out some of our favorite pieces from Palecek:

Big Foot In The Suburbs

Cobra Commander

Part of Palecek's stencil art, dotted throughout Prague.