The artist Oliver Jeffers, born in Northern Ireland and living and working now in Brooklyn, always has a lot going on. So it makes sense that his studio is in the Invisible Dog Art Center, a converted factory that is home to art exhibitions, performances and public art events, as well as studio space for several dozen artists. With Jeffers’ public installation, “The Moon, the Earth and Us,” now up on Manhattan’s High Line, we stopped in to his studio to find out how he makes it all happen. These are edited excerpts from our conversation.
How did you end up here?
I found it just by walking past. I was in between studios and I rented it absolutely temporarily. The first project I worked on here was the book “Stuck,” and I fell in love with the community. It felt like a breath of fresh air. The other artists here now are incredible — Mac Premo, Kevin Waldron, Prune Nourry, many others.
There’s all walks of artistic practice here, so you get great advice. I like advice from people who work in a different discipline. Prune, who’s a sculptor, helps me with painting. When you’re at any critical point in a project it’s easy to knock on three people’s doors and get three points of view. But you can also have absolute silence and isolation. I tend to do my best work late into the night or on weekends when there’s not many other people around.
What’s your favorite thing about your space?
The charm. There’s a certain charm to it because it’s a really old building. It used to be a factory. There’s a rustic-ness. That of course leads to leaks occasionally, but that’s okay.
I also like the light. It’s southern facing. The daylight just streams in, and especially in the winter it’s quite piercing, which is not great for painting, but it’s very lovely. That’s why I’ve got a separate painting area at the back which has got a skylight. That light is a little more easy to control.
You have a lot of materials, but they seem very organized.
I do have an elaborate organizational scheme. I tend to plunge back and forth between different mediums. In an ideal world my studio would be four times larger. I would like to be able to leave projects sitting there when I’m working on more than one. But because it’s Brooklyn and there is so little space, I get around that by having a pretty organized space, so when I need to get my hands on something I know where it is.
That bin you have for “Mediocre” brushes” is even a bit poignant.
I’ve got brushes all divided up. The “Mediocre Brushes” — sometimes if you’re doing a stroke and you need to be quite brush-strokey and not perfect, it’s just the thing. Painting hair, for example, is sometimes easier to do with a really terrible brush.
You also seem to be a fan of to-do-lists.
Oh yes. One of my favorite things to do is cross things off lists. So much so that one of my habits is I write something that’s already been done, just so I can cross it off. I tell myself, the wheels are turning!
Besides materials, what objects do you like to keep around the studio?
Books, of course — I’ve got two areas for books, one for reference and one that is collage material. I’ve got a photograph of my son the day he was born, and he actually looks like a Russian terrorist. I keep it right above my screen, on the blackboard where I’ve written Pi to 500 digits. And I always keep globes and maps around.
Your installation on the High Line right now, “The Moon, the Earth and Us,” has two globes representing the Earth and the Moon. And your latest picture book, too, “Here We Are,” is full of globes and maps. How do you see the relationship between your fine art work and your picture books? You seem to bring the two together as seamlessly as any artist working today.
For me the relationship between fine art and children’s books has always been cross-referencing and cross-pollinating in some less obvious ways. But in the last five years it’s happening more and more directly. They’re covering the same lines of inquiry. Sometimes I put it in the form of a book, and sometimes it becomes a painting, or a giant sculpture on the High Line.
Do you think of those audiences as different?
It’s all one audience. My audience is just people. The idea of making a book being that the end result is whatever comes off the press and is in the bookshop, while in the gallery the final piece is an individual one-off piece that sits on a wall. But there are different restraints and expectations. With galleries, they are quite vague, there’s no contract. With a book, the structure needs to be more direct and clear. With publishing everything’s up front and crystal clear. That offers a different kind of freedom, though with fine arts, the system lets you go off on tangents.
Which do you like best?
I like both! With fine arts you can suggest things and point things out after the fact … it’s more suggestive. But I’ve always been a storyteller too. And I don’t think all artists are storytellers. Some are observers or question-askers. But for me it’s a natural line to straddle.
Produced by Erica Ackerberg