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Elrod abstract painting The Last Handshake
Jeff Elrod. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui

Jeff Elrod. Pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui

When I think of Jeff Elrod, I think of the following Ernst Cassirer remark:

A utopia is not a portrait of the real world, or of the actual political or social order. It exists at no moment of time and at no point in space; it is “nowhere.” But just such a conception of a nowhere has stood the test and proved its strength in the development of the modern world. It follows from the nature and character of ethical thought that it can never condescend to accept the “given.” The ethical world is never given; it is forever in the making. 

And knowing Jeff’s deep appreciation for concrete poetry and haiku, I also thought of J.G. Ballard (one of his favorite authors), who uttered, “Art exists because reality is neither real nor significant.” Whatever lies between Jeff’s early natural alchemy with super graphics and video game lexicons and his willful desire to explore an inherent pictorial synthesis of digital art that ascribes to the warmth of the human hand and body, they are indeed both collided and integrated at times. All of a sudden the old conflict of art and technology becomes new and urgent again. This time the two old friends (who had forgotten each other’s names and places of birth) met again with tremendous resistance to and embrace of each other simultaneously. On this occasion of Jeff’s third solo exhibition The Last Handshake at Luhring Augustine (November 17, 2020–January 9, 2021), I’ve finally found an ideal opportunity to speak at length through Zoom with Jeff at his studio in Marfa, Texas about some of the questions that had been lingering in my mind in regards to the continuity of his evolution as a painter, leading to the creation of this new body of work. The following is an edited version of our two-hour conversation for your reading pleasure.


Elrod abstract painting The Last Handshake

Jeff Elrod, The Last Handshake, 2020. Inkjet ink and gesso on linen. © Jeff Elrod; Courtesy the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York.

Phong Bui (Rail): I've been reading Lev Manovich’s writings the Russian philosopher of media who I met through my friends Lisa Yuskavage and Matvey Levenstein. Lev in fact was a childhood friend of Matvey’s from Moscow. In any case, I’ve avoided and neglected how to deal with technology for so long …

Jeff Elrod: Yeah, yeah. For good reason …

Rail: It is no longer the case ever since Trump's deployment of speed with his unpredictable Tweets in the morning and middle of the night to generate chaos, anxiety, and fear to his self-serving advantage. I felt a need to understand it more fully. It’s no more or no less than when members of Al-Qaeda found means to communicate through disposable SIM cards that can be bought over the counter at any deli in NYC, inserted into the mobile phone, used once, and then thrown away during the planning of the September 11 attacks. Be it high or low use of technology, it doesn’t matter, as long as there was and is an intent of subversion, of resistance to conformity, so I’m learning many aspects of cultural software, cyber culture, computer technology as a distribution platform, digital data, modern computing which has been good for me.

Elrod: Given COVID-19 and what’s been happening, I think we all have reevaluated the way that we look at technology in our lives and see the different uses of it, as the Rail has with the Zoom forum in the New Social Environment series. Yeah, the way that we Zoom in order to keep ourselves connected in a way that we never really thought about before all this happened.



I actually think we’re living through a paradigm shift, right now. We need these screens more than ever for a variety of reasons of interconnectivity … health, art, politics, commerce, family, friends, and everything else.

Maybe we can begin a new relationship to all of this now and not go back. We can use new tools for positive purposes … maybe Zoom is one? Facebook is a good example of what we should possibly rid ourselves of. Facebook has its moments for sure, and a lot can be said about its positive influence over the years but it seems corrupted and infiltrated at this point and should probably be rethought. As an outsider to social media it seems to me that the negative aspects of that platform far outweigh the positives at this point … it seems like a giant falsehood to me, but I am speaking from the outside.

Rail: After having read David Tompkins’s insightful essay, “Filter > Distort > Displace,” I can't help but to think of Richard Shiff’s brilliant essay “Blur and Fuzz.” According to Richard, while "blur" refers to disjunctive movement and has a temporal infrastructure, "fuzz" has a spatial infrastructure, but it's an outcome of disjunctive distribution of material elements, be it mark-making, particles of pigment in painting, particles of emulsion conventional photography, for example, or electronic raster of pixels on TV, digital photography or any form of digital imaging. 

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