In Conversation with: Joey Feldman

Feldman is a LA-based artist with a very dedicated fanbase. After a variety of jobs, including as a display artist at Tower Records and an illustrator designing materials for bands like Pearl Jam, he eventually began his own artistic practice inspired by his background, love of comic books, the work of Ralph Steadman, and abstract expressionism that captures a sense of visceral urgency and gonzo-like subjectivity. 

Feldman recently held a pop-up art show, Incomprehensible Remoralization, in Culver City, welcoming a large crowd to view a collection of new work in his signature style, adored by fans for its use of the unexpected, dark and humorous abstraction, and stylish references to sketch drawing and comic illustration.

Emerald Arguelles: Can you discuss the beginning of your career and how you were inspired to be an artist?

Joey Feldman: Since grade school, I was always drawing all over my notebooks at the beginning of every school year. I was not really good at anything else and I’m a terrible learner. I actually failed several art classes. Then I received an award for “classroom cartoonist” at my 5th grade graduation. 

The earliest, biggest jolt of inspiration I can remember is my father buying me a hardback copy of Son of Origins of Marvel Comics. This gave me an incredibly blissful feeling I had never experienced before. I began tracing these fantastic Jack Kirby illustrations and then eventually started drawing my own. 

When my father, who was a house painter, passed away in my arms when I was 19 years old, this was the start of a lot of personal challenges and changes. I went on to work at Tower Records in Philadelphia as a “store artist” doing displays for albums and movies. I also became a house painter like my father. While doing all these kinds of jobs, I was trying to become a full time artist and illustrator. 

I’ve always been inspired by comic book artists. They are some of the most hard-working and talented artists. As hard as I tried, I found I could never draw as well as the ones I admired. Ultimately, this led me to cross over into illustration, which has more freedom in it then comic books. 

I’m in love with drawing and art. To this day I keep a sketchbook and fountain pen with me wherever I go because inspiration always strikes. 

EA: Can you talk about the experience of creating the portrait of O.J. Simpson?

JF: I was 23 years old, working at an art supply store in downtown Philadelphia. I had been in contact with the local weekly publication, The Philadelphia Weekly. One night, I called into my answering machine from a payphone and listened to a message from The Philadelphia Weekly: the jury was deciding the case tomorrow and they wanted to have a portrait of O.J. done by 4 AM the next morning to go to press with it. I called back, agreed, and got to work right away. I delivered the piece to the office and later that day and I saw my first published piece in the paper. For the following few years, The Philadelphia Weekly hired me to do more portraits and cartoons.                                                                                

EA: What has inspired you to keep creating?

JF: This “art life” is what I’ve always dreamt of having. I paint and create something every day. 

There were days and years when I had multiple jobs at once and I could barely fit in the time to paint because bills had to be paid. I never want to forget where I came from, and I’m full of pure gratitude for the ability to live creatively now. 

I’m my own boss and have total creative freedom. I get up every morning, head into my studio and I find myself surprised on a daily basis of what I’m able to produce. I never really know what’s going to happen that day. Showing up for that daily creative miracle inspires me to keep going. 

Another inspiration for me is hearing from my collectors and how they’ve connected with the work. It’s a humbling experience. I use my paintings as a way of dealing with this crazy world we all live in, so to hear that the work connected with someone else is a good motivator. 

EA: Is there one piece that you have created that you are more attached to than the others?

JF: Yes, the current piece I’m working on in the studio right now. The one I’m most attached to is always the one I’m in the middle of working on because at that point it’s like we’re “dating” and it’s hot and heavy. This piece, ”Let me tell you about 2021,” is a follow up to my collage from last year “Let me tell you about 2020”.

EA: When did you find your signature style and did you stumble upon it or was it intentional?

JF: When I worked at Tower Records as a store artist, my boss brought me a copy of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, illustrated by Ralph Steadman. My boss told me my artwork reminded him of this. He opened up to the “Lizard Lounge” drawing and I had never seen anything like it before. This had an effect on me. 

I immediately tracked down as much of Ralph’s work as I could find. There was no internet then, so old book stores where it was at. I started to learn from a lot of these techniques and draw inspiration. I was never formally trained so this way felt comfortable and went on for a while. 

I have a personal relationship with Ralph and he has shared his inspirations with me. He gave me some names to look up. Three that stood out were Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, and Max Beckmann. I dove into their work and started painting on canvases, something I had not really done before. I would try and see these artists’ work in person, and each of their paintings always felt like an event. I wanted my paintings to feel like that, too. 

EA: You use Cubism in your work, do you remember the first time you saw it?

JF: Yes, and I was completely unaware of its presence in the painting because I had no idea what Cubism really was. I had heard the term but I’m a slow learner and I never got around to looking it up exactly. But then I looked at Picasso’s Guernica and that image erupted all types of feelings and emotions. In my opinion, it may be one of the greatest paintings of all time.