Salmagundi Library Newsletter | Autumn | 2022 | An interview with artist, Jon Brogie

Deep Dive into Elemental magick in the Ghost Image exhibition at the Salmagundi Club

While the paintings for the Ghost Image exhibition were being hung on October 29, 2022, I had a chance to sit down with the artist Jon Brogie to talk about his painting Elemental magick, which is currently on display in the Smith Library until December 4, 2022.

Jon Brogie [JR RP 2021] Elemental Magick, 2018

Milène J. Fernández: How did you decide to create this composition? You have a skull, two glasses, a vase, and a jar. What are these objects in the foreground?

Jon Brogie: These objects on the board are supposed to represent various elements. The stone could represent earth; the little piece of copper, metal; there’s a piece of bark for wood; a feather; et cetera.

MF: And it’s on a wood board that has such geometrical pattern on it.

JB: The title is “Elemental Magick.”

MF: Are you a magician?

JB: No.

MF: There’s a skull there too. Do you consider it a memento mori or is it more about magic, the elements or wizardry?

JB: I was interested in a more esoteric aesthetic. I found different objects that I like aesthetically and lay them out in some kind of loose narrative. It always sounds a little strange when you spell it out too explicitly.

MF: I think so too. The painting should speak for itself anyway. What about technically? What did you enjoy in the process of making this painting?

JB: When you combine a variety of objects for a still life, you get the opportunity to paint a lot of different things. Painting is this kind of romantic practice. But when you’re in the studio every day, it can get a little tedious, especially when you’re painting slowly. And if you work on painting a different thing every day, even within the same painting, then it keeps it fresh. The different paint handling and different materials is always kind of interesting.

MF: This is a beautifully executed painting. It’s just so subtle, the way you capture the different textures of the objects. I can tell this is wood, I can tell that’s ceramic, that’s glass, that’s paper, that’s bone, etc.  It’s very obvious what it is, apart from these objects in the foreground on the wood. They are more nebulous or abstract. I especially like the way you depicted the dust on the glass. It’s so vivid. Overall, it’s a dark painting. It’s mysterious.

MF: What do you hope that viewers will take away from it, other than admiring the beauty of it?

JB: Creating something that’s hopefully beautiful is the starting point for a painting. I tend to like, not necessarily unconventional beauty, but the type of beauty that has a little sadness in it, I suppose. I think that’s something I put into a lot of my paintings, and maybe the viewer will get a certain kind of atmosphere from that. Mysterious is probably a good description for it. So maybe the viewer contemplates a little bit of what’s beyond the surface. That’s kind of the idea. With still life paintings, you’re just painting inanimate objects, but you can imply a narrative with the types of objects, the relationships between them, and the way that you organize them.

And then maybe the objects themselves will have some kind of history or communicate some symbolism. I like to make a theme or narrative with these inanimate objects. Maybe with this painting [“Elemental Magick”], you get the impression of stumbling upon a witch’s table in a little cottage in the woods or something like that.

Jonathan Brogie [JR RP 2021]

MF: When you painted it, did you contemplate your own mortality?

JB: I think I do that with every painting. I mean, every painting is like a memento mori. In the process, I ask myself: is making this worth the time I’m putting into it? Is it good enough? Is it meaningful enough? Is it interesting?

MF: Do you believe wizards exist?

JB: I wouldn’t say I do [laughs]. It’s not supposed to be necessarily a representation of reality, so to speak, or at least not the sort of normal, surface level reality.

MF: It is like another world that you’re creating, in another dimension, if I can put it that way.

JB: I guess it sort of represents something below the surface. Some kind of ritual scene.

MF: It does give me that sense, as you described, like you’ve stumbled into an abandoned cottage, and these are the objects that were left, but you don’t know anything more beyond that. But I mean, ritual is something that is real.

JB: Of course, everyone has, rituals. It’s part of human nature. And then those rituals have the meaning that you imbue in them. There’s that very old idea that you had to do the proper ritual, at the proper time, in the proper way just to be in harmony with the world, or reality, or they would probably perform rituals to please God or the gods or whatever. You can phrase it however you want, but I’m not trying to paint something that’s totally separate from our world, but it’s hinting at the things that are below the surface.

MF: Is painting for you like a ritual?

JB: It can be. Definitely. Every time I sit down to paint, it ingrains a little bit of a ritual. I’ll lay out the palette exactly the same way, all the colors that I need, and get my medium, my rag, the brushes that I’m going use and I lay them out. Sometimes just sitting and looking is the best thing to do. I am constantly turning the painting upside down [laugh] just to see it fresh. It becomes a cycle. I’ll work for an hour, turn it upside down, wait, and turn it back, and then work for an hour again.

MF: I’ve heard many artists describe the painting process as magical because you’re creating this illusion of something that exists. You know, you’re creating this three-dimensional illusion on a two-dimensional surface. You are transmuting mud basically [laugh], and some kind of other chemicals I guess, but most of the pigments (e.g. the umbers) are mud.

MF: I want to go back to a broader question. Why did you decide to become a painter?

JB: It’s a good question. Sometimes I feel like I didn’t consciously decide. It happened.

MF: You just kind of move in in the direction that feels natural and then that happens.

JB: Of course, that’s just part of it. There definitely were several conscious decisions and a lot of strong will to go in that direction because it’s not an easy direction to go these days, so you do have to force it a bit [laughs]. But why? I don’t know. I feel that the ‘why’ is still a little mysterious. I mean, I love painting. I love history and generally older things. Painting is the medium. It’s one of the few mediums that has so much history.

MF: Do you know much about the history of memento mori paintings that you’d like to share?

JB: Not that much. I’m aware of the history of it, and of course I’ve seen a variety of vanitas paintings. But I’m not necessarily an expert on it. I think it’s just a natural subject for people. If it wasn’t in paintings, there are similar themes in sculpture and in literature.

MF: Do you believe in an afterlife?

JB: I don’t know, there’s a poetic, or maybe more of an abstract version of the afterlife. If you do something worth remembering, then, in a sense, you live on.

MF: So maybe this painting is, in a way, your afterlife.

JB: Yeah, in a way [Laughs].

MF: I hope somebody buys it, takes care of it, right? Do you do commissions?

JB: I’m always open to commissions, but it’s not a regular thing that I do.

MF: Between still life, portrait, figure, or landscape, what do you enjoy the most?

JB: I enjoy multi-figure allegorical compositions the most.

MF: That’s interesting. In a way, this painting is an allegory.

JB: Yeah. I was trying to bring that into it. A little, not quite an allegory, because it doesn’t have a moral message to it.

MF: It does creep me out a little bit because I do think that there are dark forces that are real. I mean, both good and evil do exist. There’s a distinction there. I don’t know if you’ve seen the Lord of the Rings, but why is that film so popular? It’s because it really resonates with people’s sense of both good and evil existing. I do think there are forces that exist and that are real. So then when I look at this, I’m wondering, okay, so this is beautiful, but who is this wizard? Was he a good wizard or a bad wizard?

JB: That’s a good question [laughs]. I think we should leave it at…

MF: It’s a mystery. Let’s leave it at that.

JB: Maybe it could act as a sort of memento mori, about good and evil instead of just about life and death.

MF: Absolutely, and I think you’ve reached a very beautiful balance—not too obvious and not too nebulous either. Also technically, how tightly it is rendered compared to its soft edges. I like this balance that you’ve reached with this painting.

JB: Thank you, Milène!