For Royal Jarmon‘s second solo exhibition at NYC‘s The Hole, the artist has centered his focus on maps—an obsession since childhood. The show—called Respire—just “opened” online, but also occupies the gallery’s Bowery space. It’s there that Jarmon painted a mural—a performance piece in many ways, and a divergence from his typical approach to unveiling an artwork. We spoke with him about the inspiration he draws from maps, the virtual exhibition, and the city of New York.
Your map-drawing traces back to your school days—have you always found sketching the country enjoyable or cathartic? What fuels your devotion to making them over and over?
I was a rambunctious but shy kid in junior high, so I’d finish my school work haphazardly and start drawing maps right onto the desk. When the teacher was impressed instead of angry, I kept doing it. A couple of years ago I found some desks in a dumpster and started drawing the US on the tops like I remembered from childhood. One of these looked like an eagle and my interest in the subject took off from there until I was squeezing them into the rectangle like the current show. The maps can have various connotations and that interests me to continue using the subject.
We saw that you painted a mural at The Hole for the show. Did you approach that any differently, knowing that it won’t be a traditional exhibition with the gallery full of people? How did your process change, if at all?
Yes, the quarantine restrictions fostered a performative aspect of doing the mural all alone, signifying the situation we are in. As well, gathering video of the process was a creative solution to ensure that most people could see this no matter what the restrictions on the physical space might be.
Tell us about the piece “Respire,” which represents the country as a living, breathing entity. Was that something born from this lockdown? Or something you’ve always envisioned?
That came to me during lockdown, I knew immediately it was a reflection of our situation. My first jobs in NY were for a stop-motion company, so I coupled those skills with the convex and concave US Map Paintings and added breathing.
Has your approach or subject matter changed much during this period of isolation? Have you discovered new concepts or techniques to explore?
Yes, I like variety, so I paint a motif as long as I’m interested and then I’ll work on other stuff until I’m into it again. Doing other media is helpful for that break up too. It was especially fun to have the opportunity to make my first mural at The Hole.
You’re self-taught. In terms of art history and the art world, did you actively research and learn, or was a lot of it by osmosis?
Yes, I’m always researching and learning. This has only been magnified the last five years in NY with the wealth of resources and friendships I’ve made here.
You have lived in various cities in the US. What drew you to New York? Does the city still provide the same inspiration and motivation that it used to?
Living in New York has always been a dream since I was a child. I’ve had various reasons along the way but as I developed as a painter the desire only grew until I was here.
Respire is showing online now, but The Hole is in the process of setting up an appointment system to make visiting the gallery safe.
Hero image courtesy of Royal Jarmon + The Hole