JoeMruk

SOCIAL ART

JK: Why did you choose to come to Pittsburgh to live and work after you graduated?

JM: … well I had this sublime year in the desert, and then I came back. I’m from Pittsburgh I’ve lived here my whole life. I’m from Plum Borough. One of the reasons I wanted to avoid Pittsburgh initially was because I thought it would be taking a step backward from college, I would be moving to a place that I already knew. And I have a lot of travel related goals. What I didn’t realize because I was too naive, was that even though I had lived in the area, I never lived in the City of Pittsburgh, and it was an entirely new city to me.

JK: So it’s been a lot different from where you grew up?

JM: Yes, I would say. There is enough familiarity, but there is still new stuff to explore, sides of the city that I haven’t even seen yet. Every time I turn around a new dimension opens. So I guess leaving was what gave me the perspective to come back with a little bit of a more mature perspective on where I come from and where I’ve been. I have been able to forge my own identity here.

JK: Since you’ve been in Pittsburgh you’ve had quite a few shows. Your most recent was called Volksbeast at The Mr. Roboto Project, this was a solo show of 50 posters that you were commissioned to produce for various bands in the Pittsburgh music scene over the past 3 years. When did you start creating band posters? And was this your first solo exhibition dedicated to your illustrated posters?

JM:... It’s three years of work. My earliest posters were from 2012. They were way more spread apart then how I do them now, and they took way more time for some reason. But my friend Craig Freeman, who I went to college with, really tried to get me into the poster game. He thought my illustrations would lend themselves well to that kind of subject matter. And I am a big fan of all kinds of music. I draw a lot of inspiration from the psychedelic film war posters of the 60’s. So I wanted to use what I had formed in college… I just figured I would do a couple of posters here and there for some cash, but that’s turned out to be the main thing that I do, and I have a lot of fun doing it. Each band is like a different little world to get lost in. I always listen to their music when I am doing the posters… You should be paying attention to your source material. You can’t be representing local bands if you’re not paying attention to who they are and what they sound like… It’s a thrill for me to get to work with really diverse genres. I try to wrap myself around noise and metal posters, as well as I wrap myself around indie or tween pop because each of them presents a different challenge.

The main reason I wanted to have the poster exhibition was first and foremost, to let as many people know about what I do as possible, so that I continue to get more work for the future… but I also really wanted to sell these black and white originals that I have, and I saw this as one of my only opportunities to do that. And I just really wanted to give something back to the community that has helped me out so much.  

JM: I struggle with the idea of fine art. I don’t think anything I have ever created is fine art or what I would consider fine art. I think I am more content to tell stories, which is why I am more comfortable with being an illustrator.

JK: In addition to your very intricate and surreal poster illustrations, you are also a woodworker and painter. What is the ideal setting to show these types of works?

JM: ...The proper venue, I don’t know. I have a lot of ideas about converting spaces. I always feel constricted by white walls and lighting can be particularly bothersome to me sometimes. I hate fluorescent lighting. I’ve redone the lighting for entire shows, dangling lights because I hate fluorescent lights. I have an idea for a show lit by candlelight.

JK: Looking at your CV, you’ve done multiple shows at Modern Formations and Image Box. What type of relationship do you have with the people who own and operate these spaces? How did you foster that relationship?

JM: Well I actually go way back with the guy who owns Image Box, his name is John Mahood. I remember approaching him, one of my first years of college tentatively with a little binder with all of my work printed out in it. And I basically said, “do you want to look at my stuff? Can I have a show here?” And I have since learned that that’s not a good way to do it, specially during an art crawl. He was weirdly receptive to it. We went upstairs, he looked at my stuff, he liked it, and he gave me a show date. Which is exactly what you would hope would happen. I have since learned that you really want to set a meeting with these people, away from a date where you are incidentally meeting them…. so that’s John Mahood. I like the size of his gallery because it’s pretty small, it’s an accomplishable size.

JK: Which galleries around town have you experienced the most success selling your work?

JM: I would say I have sold the biggest bulk of my work at Assemble… I was able to sell most of the eight pieces that I had there once. I had a group show with Jordan Wong and my friend Ross Hardy. It was called Animals Eating Animals, and that’s pretty much what it was about. I had these pieces that were sculptural in nature. They had painting elements to them, but they also had this running theme of traps. I had wired all of these animal traps open. There was a catch and release theme. And I sold most of the works from the series. I don’t know if that was a fluke or not. I feel like if I get sales sometimes its through people who come in, they see the work, they like it, they have money, they buy it, and I never see them again. In a way I think that’s really good because who knows where they go with their pieces and the worlds they go into. I think sometimes it’s just as good that it be them, instead of this constantly recycling, small group of people that may buy art work and continue living in a vacuum. It seems like pure luck to me.

JK: So you would rather, for example, 50 different people own one of your works, than one person own 50 of them?

JM: Yes I think so…. It’s nice to know that you have some collectors out there, but I think more than anything I’d like to see my work spread out over as broad a spectrum as possible.

JK: So is that something you would strive for, to be able to make a living just on the production of artworks?

JM: I think so. And I think there are a couple of different ways to tackle it. I know that I want to make a children’s book in the near future, if I ever get the chance. That could be a much more steady source of income than getting commissions regularly. I’ve raised my prices a few times. I’m not able to support myself on the price that I used to charge for commissions. I guess I’m still in the process of learning. Getting some of those longer term sources of income like the book going because if you have books, and you have royalties coming in from that, then it really doesn’t matter where you live.  

In this day and age you need to be your own entrepreneur to be an artist. We can’t afford agents, so we have to be our own agents...There is a network here. There’s a will to do well, and a will to do good, and a will to help each other out.

Check out more of Joe's work at www.redbuffalo.org