Perla Haney-Jardine

Interview by Amanda Violetto 

Who are you, and where are you from?

My name is Perla Haney-Jardine and I’m from Asheville, North Carolina, though I was born in Brazil. Asheville is definitely the place I call home but I have such strong ties to Latin America because that’s where my family is rooted.

What is art to you? Do your poetry and visual art grow from the same interests?

My poetry and my visual art are definitely, totally linked. I am such a visual person – I like looking at shit, you know, and drawing from everywhere. I’m constantly in that mindset, where I’m thinking about how I can translate something stylistically, or how I can translate something I notice into a poem. Art is the only way I can interpret the world and the things I’m ingesting every day. I have to constantly do it or else I’d be super depressed.

I really like excess. I wish I was better at being simple, more fine-tuned, but I love layering, adding detail, building. I’m really interested in symbols, lately. I think we operate in a very semiotic world where everything means something, whether we recognize it or not. We’re so entrenched in symbolism and I’ve started thinking about how the symbols I see every day affect me and my identity. I also think the people who hold power politically and economically also have the power to determine our symbolic world. By using unconventional symbols in my work, I am trying to question what we consider normal and what we consider weird and grotesque and gross.  

Also, I’m really not a very good committer. I’ve quit everything I’ve ever tried – karate, any musical instrument. Art has been the only constant thing in my life that I’ve been doing basically forever. I don’t even consider art a hobby because it’s something I’ve always done, without even thinking, really. It’s only recently that I’ve started to take my art to a further level of introspection, while I’ve been making art for basically my entire life because it’s simply how I process my experiences.

Do you have a creative process, and if so, what is it?

Hm, well I’m really, basically, just constantly doodling. Though I’ve taken a few art classes, when I was younger, almost all of my experience is from just constant practice. I don’t have a process; it’s more so that I find literally everything to be important – like, the smallest details have meaning to me, and there’s just so much weird shit, and the only way I can process anything is through art. I try to translate the absurdity of the world – the little, everyday details that are so, so bizarre when you take the time to notice them and really think about them.

Your visual art has a sort of dark humor to it. It’s both sarcastic in a very relatable way yet clearly you’re wrestling with heavier themes in your work. Is this intentional?

I think what I am trying to do with my art is have it be uncomfortable, but also precious and tender. I feel less bad about how my brain works when I see other people’s art and it makes me uncomfortable, because it’s like “oh, I’m not the only one who thinks like this!” I’ve had family members, like, message me on Facebook about artwork I’ve posted, checking in on me because of how obsessive and gross my art can appear. And I used to have a lot of weird shame about being dramatic and emotional, but I have realized that that’s how people are. That’s how I am! Over the past year I’ve really tried to push past that. I’ve been doing a lot of work, and trying to find my style, and while I believe in being respectful, I no longer want to censor myself emotionally anymore.

The characters you create - are they based on people you know? Or imaginary?

The people I draw are pretty much people I come up with myself. Mostly, I’ll become obsessed with a certain feature, like for a while I obsessed with hook noses, and for a week I only drew hook noses. For a while I was doing a lot of self-portraits, which for a while felt really indulgent but it’s really not.

What are your favorite mediums to work in? I noticed you do digital art as well – what do you use for that?

It really depends on the piece but I’ve been branching away from my usual mediums, sketching and pen and ink, and trying to look at the process more. There’s so many mediums I have never tried, and I want to try them! Recently, I drew with lipstick and sugar water, and I also used my body as a stamp. I covered my face with ink – for example, I covered my ear with ink and then used it as a stamp! Now that I’m taking visual art more seriously, know that I know it is something I’m really passionate about, I am looking to get rid of any preconceptions I have to find what works for me.

As for digital stuff, I actually have been using the little memo pad in the Notes app on my phone! I want to branch out more with digital art, for sure, and would love to get something more substantial, like a tablet.

What people, books, films (etc) inspire you the most?

I saw Harold and Maude when I was younger, and have seen it a million times since. I love the film’s caustic, dark humor, and how it uses symbols and everyday vignettes to display how absurd life is. I also love Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke. I’m super into anime as well. Another of my favorite films would have to be Güeros, by Mexican director Alonso Ruizpalacios. I recently saw the film Cosmos by Andrzej Żuławski. You should see it – no, you have to see it. It’s so good. One last film I saw recently is The Handmaiden, by Park Chan-wook, the same guy who directed Oldboy. I’m big into horror movies and find myself using a lot of horror movie imagery in my art. The Witch, The Babadook, and A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night are a few recent horror films I have really liked. I’m also super into documentaries because they’re kind of what I’m most interested in – chronicling the most absurd, bizarre, phenomenal parts of real life.

As for artists – some of my favorites are Ray Pettibon, Bruce Conner, Mike Kelley, Clay Wilson, and Robert Crumb. I’m also inspired a lot by erotica, especially old Japanese erotica.

Where is your favorite place to make art?

I like writing poetry in the subway. That’s the best place for me to write. I like to ride the train back and forth and do my poetry assignments. Because of that, I find that everything I do ends up being somehow about the subway.

I don’t like drawing in the subway because people peek, you know? I took a gap year before coming to Barnard, and travelled a lot, and though it wasn’t my best work, by far, I was creating a lot. I was able to really practice, practice, practice. Travelling helped my art develop simply because I was producing so much work.

Do you listen to music while drawing or writing?

I can never listen to music because I’m focused so hard on what I’m drawing or writing, usually. It’s pretty dramatic, for like a college drawing assignment, to be so extremely focused, but I just get really intense about it. I don’t think about anything else when I’m doing it.  

Why do you do what you do? Career, or hobby? Where do you want your art to take you?

I don’t know about fine art, but I have to do something visual, something aesthetic. For a long time, I had thought I wanted to be an actress and only just realized that’s not what I want to do at all, and since the start of this year I’ve been realizing that art is something I want to be more serious about. It’s the only thing I could ever do without getting tired. It never feels like a job to me. But then, there’s such a stigma surrounding a visual arts major. Also, I want to have a family and travel and buy my parents a home. I don’t necessarily think it’s 100% materialistic to want to be financially stable. I’m extremely family oriented, and the idea of being able to support my parents one day is something I really would like to do, and while pursuing the visual arts, there’s no certainty about finances.

Are you currently working on any projects or collaborations? Anything on or off campus you want to plug?

I am currently working on a self-portrait in the form of a Venn diagram. One side is my mother, and the other is my father. It’s getting intense but I’m not sure if I’m ever going to share it because of how personal it’ll probably be.

I’d actually love to plug my professor, Nicholas Gaugnini. He’s the one who showed me Ray Pettibon! He’s a really, really great professor. I can just feel myself improving much more than I ever have. Before this year, I had never made art with much intention or intelligent thought. Now, I’m actually trying to revel in the process and push my boundaries, partly thanks to him. The continuous dialogue I’ve held with him over the past semester has been really revelatory for my art.

Any advice for other artists looking to improve?

If you’re into visual art and living in NYC, go to museums as much as you can. I know everyone says that, but it’s true. I think that there is a lot of inspiration to be found in the rhythm of the place you’re living, and New York City has so, so much to offer. As of right now, this city is the best place I can be as an artist.