1626 Chinese Fashion Magazine-Issue #193, 17/12/2012
Article/Interview with Jeffrey Allen Price
Cult of Potato
Potato, lying in the grocery store with numerous of other kinds of vegetables—it is neither as glossy as greens, nor as charming as tomatoes and peppers. Potatoes are covered in mud and have lumpy surfaces; they are always seen as the quietest and humblest one in the popularity ranks of vegetables. However simple their appearance, you will find that potatoes have been cooked in all sorts of ways by people of all ages in every country. It seems that potatoes are never absent from our lives, but also perhaps, undervalued.
For American artist, Jeffrey Allen Price, potato is his inspiration. For over fifteen years, he has eaten potatoes, drawn potatoes, sculpted potatoes, studied potatoes, collected everything related to potatoes, and even has potato parties. He uses potatoes in every imaginable way to reveal them; he exalts this most ordinary organism with immense zeal, so that we can learn more possibilities about art and potatoes.
Creations far and wide, never tired of playing with it
Since there are so many diverse creations that can be made, J.A.P. never gets bored of working with potatoes. He said that “there are so many fascinating avenues that the potato can lead one down; I think that is the key to its longevity as a medium for me. I don’t get tired of making art about potatoes because of the diversity of my approach.”
He even plants his own potatoes and takes them out of the ground periodically to observe the growing process. Even when potatoes are left alone in a drawer or closet they branch out with fibrous roots, and he is able to produce many art pieces out of them. The creating of the work is a process, not a fixed result or something that stops at a particular moment. His artwork reveals the different states of each progressive stage, telling people much more through the process than the end result.
Among all J.A.P’s works, there is one piece that is very impressive called “I Never Get Tired of Saying Potato.” In this artwork, he formed a pile of potatoes with a screen inserted into it. On the screen his face repeats “potato, potato, potato…” for one hour. Pay attention to this, the film was not edited; he really did repeat the word “potato” for the duration. Even the artist knows that other people will find this piece strange, but he wants to show his dedication to potatoes. Potato has brought many things to his life, the potato has taught him how to cook, plant, research and create better.
One hundred possibilities with J.A.P.’s potatoes
J.A.P. formed a musical group called “POTATOTRON” and has been consistently writing original music with them for the last two years. In 2003, he wrote a paper on art and potatoes that was published in an academic art journal and he is currently working on expanding his theories into a book. J.A.P has also begun a pilot for a potato-themed talk show. Recently, he even updated a play that he had written using the potato as a theme. He also designs different potato logos for T-shirts and hats, almost like “cult symbols” for people who also love potato. Some projects for the future include producing a potato-themed documentary film and an animated potato cartoon series.
J.A.P. knows how to say “potato” in over thirty different languages. He even did a performance where he dove onto a pile of potatoes. He has his own garden where he plants potatoes to use and eat. Some of the things he has done with potato seem so absurd, but this is his art.
Crazy about collecting potatoes
Have you ever thought about how many things there are to collect about potato? J.A.P. can give you an answer to this question, he owns over 5000 objects related to the potato, and also has countless papers with facts and research about potato in his collection. He created a book tower from his library of more than 400 books; these books are about culture, economics, society, history and many other aspects—all with potato in the title. He has compiled more than 300 songs about potato, and dozens of video clips with potato references that he shares on the internet. In his crazy potato collection he has many Mr. Potato Heads from the movie “Toy Story”, potato gardening implements, potato chip tins, antique pictures with potatoes, potato posters and potato stories. He also collects potato clothing and jewelry, empty potato chips bags, French fry packages, potato toys and potato dolls…
J.A.P believes that there are many ways of creating art and connecting with people. Obsessively collecting potato-themed objects is seen by J.A.P. to be art. Every object in his collection demonstrates a different aspect of human activity connected to the potato. He is satisfied when people connect with different objects in his collection or when people are excited or amazed by the breadth of the collection. When collecting the songs or films about potato, there are always new works discovered almost every day, making this kind of collecting endless. Many people also contribute or donate objects to J.A.P for his collection. Before experiencing his collection, people might not have taken much notice of potatoes, but after seeing his project people understand the potato much more. He hopes his project and collection will live on even after he leaves this world.
Who would have thought that potato could be so sexy?
Among all the objects in J.A.P.’s collection, he is most fascinated by a set of photographs of Marilyn Monroe from back in 1952. It was said that Marilyn Monroe could look beautiful even in a potato sack, and she later proved this statement to be true, posing for a photo shoot in a burlap sack dress. These pictures are both sexy and humorous, with this influential Pop icon making the potato more colorful and alive.
In watching some of the film clips that J.A.P collected about potato, one impressive scene is from the film “The Seven Year Itch.” In this movie, Marilyn Monroe's character shows up at the apartment of a married man with with her dress partially untied, holding potato chips and champagne. Later in the scene she seduces him by feeding him the potato chips she has dipped in the champagne. Marilyn Monroe makes potatoes seem sexy.
The origin was a potato festival
There are a lot of influences that pushed J.A.P. to create art about potato. He became a vegetarian around 1995, and his increased intake of potatoes made him appreciate them more. Also, learning about Joseph Beuys’ concept of ‘Social Sculpture’ influenced him to put the theory into his own practice. Loosely defined, this art practice seeks to expand the notion of art and life, with the central idea that art has the potential to transform society.
Because of these two major reasons J.A.P. devoted himself to creating a “Cult of Potato.” In 1996, he hosted a potato party at his home. He invited his artist friends and asked them to come with something that related to potato—it could be a dish, a song, a story or a performance. The party was surprisingly successful because of all the exciting art forms the attendees brought to the event. The party led him to realize that the potato could connect to a larger audience, to people all over the world—regardless of their nationality or social class. From this, he began thinking how the potato could be used to promote an egalitarian society with people sharing fun activities with each other and simply enjoying some delicious and healthy food together. His potato party evolved into a larger community festival where even homeless people were invited to join the party freely.
Jeffrey Allen Price 1626 Interview
1. When did you decide you wanted to be an artist?
At 4-years old I knew I would be an artist. It wasn’t until I was about 20 that I started learning how to make a career of it.
2. What kind of art did you major in when you were a student? How did it influence the works you are making now?
I majored in Painting and Sculpture at Missouri State University and then as a graduate student I majored in Studio Arts at Stony Brook University in New York. Majoring broadly in Studio Arts was perfect because I liked being able to create any idea in any medium, with no limitations.
3. What are your associations with the “potato”?
Some ideas I associate with potato: earthiness, nutrition, creativity, versatility, humility, simplicity, and even Egalitarianism.
4. Are there any artists’ potato-related works you would like to share with us? What is it about the work that makes you want to promote it?
One of the most important potato works of art ever made was the first masterpiece by the Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, “The Potato Eaters.” In 1885, he painted this iconic image of a poor family sitting around a table sharing a humble meal of potatoes that they had grown with their own hands. Van Gogh was following in the footsteps of avant-garde artists like Jean-Francois Millet, who had chosen to paint images depicting lower classes of people, quite at odds with prevailing tastes of the day. I saw this painting in person for the first time in 1993, at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and it had a profound effect on me. Since that time, I have discovered that a number of other artists I have met, especially those making artworks about potatoes, also found that painting to be quite significant. Van Gogh also made several other paintings featuring potatoes.
5. You have worked with potato for more than 15 years, do you ever get tired of it?
Ha Ha! Admittedly, after a huge project like the current one at Islip Art Museum, I can get a little tired of potatoes and want to work on other projects. I love potatoes, but I don’t want to have them for dinner everyday. Sometimes having them as a side dish is quite nice, too. But honestly, I always come back to the potato. It is like an old friend or even a member of my family.
6. Why do you choose to use so many different forms of art to express your ideas, and not concentrate on painting, sculpture or any one certain method?
I think diversity is the key to my success as an artist. I think it is easy to get bored by concentrating on only one medium, or if something becomes too easy.
7. You have tried so many different things in different fields, have you ever experienced any difficulties?
I am often trying to find ways of making things difficult for myself by trying new methods. It keeps things fresh and makes life more interesting.
8. Do you choose the form of expression according to your ideas, or you choose it because you want to challenge that form of art?
This is hard to answer because I think it works both ways. I like art that is conceptual, meaningful, political, has social relevance, or even art that is humorous.
9. You have organized various types of potato-themed exhibitions since 2000, with another one recently in New York which was very successful. Are there any differences between this current one and previous exhibitions?
This is the largest potato event with the biggest audience so far. This is an exhibition in three-parts, with an installation of my potato collection, a group show including potato artworks from 30 artists representing 12 countries, and a solo exhibition of Potato Prints by the Brooklyn-based artist Archie Rand.
10. What do you want to express to the viewers through the potato-themed exhibition?
I want to connect people to something that is real—because too many people today are focused on things that are not real, like video games or television, material possessions, etc. I want to exalt something that is healthy and affordable. I want people to see how important something like a vegetable is to our lives. I want people to learn, and I also want people to share their own stories. I want people to laugh, or perhaps a memory or story might even make them cry. I want them to see possibilities for making art in their own lives. I also hope the potato will bring people together.