In a world where the past is often overshadowed by the fast-paced digital present, JC Spock's artworks offer a refreshing touch of nostalgia with a contemporary twist. Her mixed-media pieces seamlessly blend vintage elements with modern imagery, creating art that resonates deeply with viewers from all walks of life. We sat down with Spock to gain insights into her life, inspirations, and the thought process behind her captivating "Postcards of Colorado" exhibition.
JC Spock in the studio
Can you tell us about your early life and how it influenced your journey into art?
Although I grew up in New England, a cross country trip in my teenage years forever changed my relationship with the West. It was during that trip that I discovered where I belonged and where "home" truly was for me. I relocated to Colorado in 2002 as a young adult and began photographing the landscape, the buildings and historical artifacts throughout the state. It ignited an interest in the history of Colorado and the American West which in turn informed my art and focus in contemporary Western Art.
Outside of art, what are some personal passions or interests that enrich your life?
A passion of mine is traveling off the beaten path, through dust bowl towns and rural communities throughout the West on country roads with names like "Road 88" and "County Road XY." It's on these dusty, dirt roads that you experience small town life in America, see how a community survives (or once thrived) while experiencing a sense of tranquility that is hard to find in the city.
Another personal passion is visiting antique shops and sitting for hours rummaging through stacks of papers (letters, postcards, receipts and documents) to get a glimpse into life from a previous generation (or century!).
I also love to spend time outdoors exploring small, lesser known parks (which are often the beaten path) and hiking the trails with my husband and our Boston Terrier pup.
Although these things are outside of my art practice, they all greatly influence my art style.
Who are some of your artistic inspirations or mentors that have shaped your work over the years?
Artists of the past that have shaped my work include Andrew Wyeth (for his regionalist exploration into rural life and softer color palette), Dorothea Lange (for her incredibly raw photojournalism during the Depression era) and Norman Rockwell (for his nostalgic view of Americana).
There are many artists that inspire me today, including: David Kammerzell, Stephanie Hartshorn, Logan Maxwell Hagege, Mark Maggiori, Kenneth Peloke, Maura Allen, Miles Glynn among others!
Explore the unique ephemera JC Spock infuses into her art, weaving history and nostalgia.
What inspired you to delve into mixed media, especially using vintage ephemera, as a significant component of your art?
Although always creative, I didn't delve into a focused art practice until my mid-30s. But looking back, I can clearly see how different creative processes throughout different stages in my life were setting me up for the mixed media practice I have today.
I got my first camera at the age of 8 and photography became a passion of mine from that early age. I then picked up collage as a way to destress and explore creatively when in college. And as a young adult, I became enamored with old photos and documents (this is also where my love of antiquing really began) which sparked my interest in history.
I became aware of mixed media in the late 2000s and was particularly drawn to the depth of layers in such artwork, particularly those that incorporated collage. I realized it was a way to incorporate vintage ephemera into my collages and in 2010, I took an online course in mixed media painting and that one course was all it took - I was hooked.
For several years I created mixed media paintings that blended collage with paint and pencils but wasn't quite able to figure out how to incorporate my photography into that process. It took me 6 years and thousands of hours of trial and error in the studio, but finally I was able to figure out how to seamlessly blend together vintage ephemera, paint and photography together in 2016 and it's been my practice ever since.
In your creative process, do you start with an envisioned end or does the art evolve organically?
Although there is a fair amount of planning in my process (from selecting and editing the photos that I build the piece around, to researching the history related to the image, to identifying the vintage ephemera that will be used in the piece), there is a fair amount of happenstance and flow that I allow which means that I often don’t quite know how a piece will end up, particularly when I pull out the paints. I plan my parameters and set my intentions, but then I find that my best work comes when I allow myself to get lost in music, a podcast or a show and let my subconscious mind get to work. When I focus too hard on the end result, I am never happy with my work, but when I let it flow without too much control around the process, my best work comes out.
This collection uniquely uses vintage postcards as the substrate. What drove this artistic decision for the "Postcards of Colorado" series?
With my Postcard series, I marinated on the idea for nearly a year as I wanted the postcards to be the starting point and not the end. I wanted a way to highlight the 100 year old postmarks, the beautiful penmanship, the history and stories contained within and make them as much of the focal point as the imagery I've chosen (instead of partially obscured into the background of a piece).
The juxtaposition of your photography with these vintage postcards creates a bridge between past and present. How do you choose the right photographic image to match a specific postcard?
For this series, I wanted to strike a balance between my photography and the postcards i chose, so that they they support one another in a symbiotic manner. Sometimes I matched postmarks to locations of the imagery, but often I took creative license to weave together possibilities of a story (as I do with all my art). Nostalgia is the central theme of my artistic practice: the feelings we get recalling the past. But we also know that nostalgia is not quite an exact historical representation of the past but loosely based recollections that pieced together give a feeling of the story we want to create in our minds. Much like historical fiction, my artwork and this series is my visual expression of such.
Do you have a favorite piece in this exhibition? If so, could you share why it holds a special place for you?
I look fondly upon each piece like a fun, bite-size memory of my travels and can clearly recall where I was, what I was doing, and when I took each image. That being said, the larger collective piece, "Postcards from the Mountains" featuring 30 postcards is my favorite because it incorporates photographs I've taken all over the state and across many mountain ranges over the last 2 decades. When people think of Colorado, they think mountains and this collective piece is a snapshot of the history and visual beauty of this great state. It too holds fond memories of my time exploring the mountains and is a big reason why I continue to call Colorado my home.
How do you hope viewers will feel or what do you hope they'll take away from this exhibition?
It is always a joy to see viewers experience their own sense of nostalgia when viewing my work. It is my hope that they take curiosity in the layers of each piece: the penmanship, stamps and postmarks of the postcards, the collaboration of photography, paint and pencils coming together, the artifacts of the vintage ephemera layered within.
Although I acknowledge the benefits of the social, cultural and technological advances of our modern era, it also my hope that my work inspires people to explore our collective history and to hold reverence for the bygone era.
Given the postcards feature many locations from Colorado, do you have any personal stories tied to these places?
I've lived in 5 different counties in Colorado and as such, have a connection and a bank of memories tied to each of these communities. That being said, I am never content staying too close to home and enjoy spending weekends road-tripping throughout the state and exploring many tiny communities that most have never heard of. I don't take this beautiful state for granted and growing up in a totally different part of the country gave me a curious lens to view the places and communities of Colorado that many overlook or see as obscure.
PC Colorado #17: I've always been drawn to trains, the lure of traveling by rail, the history of the Transcontinental Railroad, so I photograph trains often. This scene is from Limon, CO - a place that most just associate as a refueling stop on I-70; but it's so much more if you're willing to get off the highway and explore the quaint downtown that looks unchanged for the last 50 years; the sweet community park dotted with historic windmills donated from the surrounding communities, the tranquil big skies that continue unobstructed for hundreds of miles and the railroad that punches through the ranchlands. There is so much to see and appreciate when you're willing to be open to the experience.
PC Colorado #23: The Sangre de Cristo mountain range shows most impressively in the small town that gets little notice: Westcliffe, CO. It's a quiet ranching community with a sweet main street of local shops sandwiched between the Sangres and the Wet Mountains. It's a place I hope to call home one day as it's tranquility and grandeur is hidden from the masses yet the postmark speaks to my current home in Colorado Springs. It certainly holds a special place in my heart.
PC Colorado #24: This location holds particularly weight in my heart as it was a place that I once considered the most beautiful place on earth and where I spent a lot of time: Crested Butte. However, in the last decade it has been transformed by mass migration, unaffordability, and a labor/housing crisis that has affected many mountain communities. So while this place has changed, I have this imagery, this piece to transport me back to the nostalgic memories of a community I once loved.
PC Colorado #41: I have a special relationship with Grain Elevators. I had never seen one before moving to Colorado in 2002 when I drove by one in awe - what is this structure I asked? 20 years later and now they are one of my favorite things to seek out and photograph, especially as I spend a great deal of time on the Eastern plains of Colorado. I took the photo of this grain elevator in particular when I lived in Greeley, a place that often is mocked by locals and one that I had my own reservations of moving to. But life circumstances brought me there and I was so pleasantly surprised at how vibrant and kind a community it was and how city amenities quickly turned to agricultural farmland in 5 minutes. In my short year there, I mapped out the entire county and drove road by road, capturing small town Ag life including this rusted grain elevator on the plains. Another example of giving a place a chance and being open to seeing and experiencing what the locals overlook.
Your bio focuses on the imagery and history of the Midwest/West. Are there future projects or themes you're eager to explore?
I have so many untouched projects sitting patiently in the corners of my brain, waiting for their time. Artist block is never something I experience; lack of time is however!
First, I want to continue this Postcards series, whether it being exploring certain imagery (i.e. all trains or all grain elevators) or a certain regional location (i.e. all New Mexico postcards/scenes much like this current series in Colorado). I would also like to merge this Postcard Series with my Life in the 30s series where I work with vintage photographs from the Depression era. This is where the influences of Norman Rockwell, Dorothea Lange and Andrew Wyeth come in.
Another project I'm working on involves images I took on a recent trip down a portion of Route 66 (Albuquerque to Tulsa). During that 10 day excursion, I photographed hundreds of vintage signs and other Americana relics that I plan to roll out into a show in the coming year.
In addition to these and other projects, I am also experimenting with alternative processes (such as combining imagery, converting my photos to B&W and hand-tinting them back in, working with patterned backgrounds, etc.). I'm very excited to roll out these future projects and new techniques that push the boundaries of my current process.
What's the most rewarding aspect of seeing your work in a solo exhibition like this?
There is something about seeing your work in a collection, and particularly with this exhibition to see so many pieces of the same size hung together like an installation piece that creates visual impact. A single piece intrigues; a collection inspires. And it is incredibly rewarding for me as an artist to see these pieces of the puzzle come together in one location to share a larger story.
Equally rewarding is that Abend Gallery allows me the space and creative license to explore the ideas that I want to expand upon without any interference. They trust me and my process and are always encouraging me and the projects I'm working on. That is the highest level of respect an artist can receive from a gallery and I am incredibly grateful for their partnership and support.
And finally, what advice would you offer to emerging artists seeking their unique voice in the art world?
I have a very unconventional approach. I did not go to school for art and I am largely self-taught. I saw what I liked and thankfully, no one taught classes in the style of mixed media I was wanting to create because it forced me to figure it out. It took time. Years in the studio. Thousands of hours of trial and error. But in the process I found that my life experiences, preferences and styles came together in a way that no longer resembled the art I originally set out to create but was my own unique vision.
While not having an art education meant that it took me a lot longer to learn things, it also meant that I didn't have any rules to follow so I could just experiment and create my own techniques along the way which helped me to stand out. Most of the techniques I employ today are the result of loose experimentation and happy accidents learned along the way and now have become muscle memory. But make no mistake, it took a lot of time experimenting (and failing) to get to this point. I am always experimenting, tweaking my technique and hoping to stumble across my next idea.
For this reason, I encourage emerging artists to limit how much art they view, videos they watch or classes they take as it can overwhelm the mind and not allow your authentic voice to come through. Stop watching and get creating. Once I did this, my practice really ramped up. If you want to stand out, write a list of different things that you are drawn to visually (in and outside of the art realm), along with things you like to do and topics you enjoy exploring. Then see if you can try to mix two or three of those things to create something unique and different which the art world is always looking for. My artistic style perfectly encapsulates my interests in photography, collage, regional travel, and Western history.
So be willing to put time in the studio, to try new things and unconventional approaches, to not compare yourself to others and eventually your unique voice will emerge.
JC Spock's "Postcards of Colorado" offers more than just a visual feast; it provides a deeply personal and historical journey through the landscapes and narratives of Colorado. By integrating vintage postcards, photography, and mixed-media techniques, Spock crafts a narrative that bridges the gap between then and now. We invite everyone to immerse themselves in this exquisite exhibition, feel the pulse of history, and resonate with the memories it evokes. Let each artwork inspire your sense of nostalgia, and allow the stories they tell to touch your soul.
Disclaimer: The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this interview belong solely to the artist, and do not necessarily reflect the views of our gallery. We do not endorse any person, brand, or service mentioned in the article.