Royal Jarmon (@royal_jarmon) is a painter/sculptor living and working in Brooklyn, New York. His subjects include fire escapes, colliding cars, sports heroes, and crushed cans. Following Warhol's legacy, he uses a critical lens to reflect upon America's pea-cocking capitalism, equally critiquing and glorifying the ingredients that make up America's popular culture and consumer experience.
We met up with Royal last May to talk about his past projects and to get insight on what he is focused on next.
What are you working on now? Are you still working on the fire escapes?
I am moving away from the fire escapes. I did a lot of them. The series was from my last apartment.
Where were you living?
A couple of blocks from here in Williamsburg. I had to go on the fire escape to smoke. For a while, I used that apartment as my studio. It was a tiny room. I was out on the fire escape all the time.
I feel like fire escapes are such a big part of the New York summer experience. They resonate with anyone who has lived here...
I love accessibility - when people can easily relate to the paintings. I'm excited that (for the first time ever) my family is responding to my work. That doesn't happen all the time...
What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a NASCAR series. They are pretty involved. This painting took me months. I've also been working on sculpture, and I am really excited about it. I've been wasting a lot of time on sculpture recently. Well, I shouldn't say wasting...
In the paintings, the cars are just getting across the finish line before crashing.
When I moved into the new studio, I had a lot of work to do on it. I tore up the floors and repainted all the walls. I felt like I was wrecking myself. We were having a New Year's Eve party, so I was trying to get all the renovations done. I wanted to finish the first car painting before everyone came over. The painting wasn't completely finished in time for the party, but I got a good response from it (from friends/artists I respect). I could tell this was the next direction. That feedback was helpful. At the time, it was the only painting I had in the studio. I had blank canvases everywhere else.
What sparked your interest in race cars?
I grew up in the country, and we watched NASCAR and football all the time. I worked on a farm, and we worked on the weekends. Our breaks were watching NASCAR.
What part of the country did you live in?
I was born in California, and I grew up in Iowa. When I was 10...11, we moved to Ohio - southern Ohio, close to Kentucky.
Did you have a favorite race car growing up? Let me preference this question that with I know nothing about NASCAR.
That's okay. Without knowing anything about NASCAR, how do you feel about the paintings?
Haha. Thanks for turning the interview around. I'm attracted to the colors and form and connect to that Americana sort of Popism.
It's a strange thing. It's all of these masculine dudes who just love fluorescent colors.
Yeah, the colors they use on the cars are striking.
NASCAR is a great subject because it has a lot of potential for abstract value. I make triangles and break them up with color. I started learning more about painting from this series.
Other than a jump in subject matter, did anything else change about your painting style in this new body of work?
I like to give myself challenges. At first painting a fire escape was hard. Figuring it all out - that is what my work is about. I find more and more I can narrow myself to some rules to keep a consistency and a command over the work, but reaching is an important part of the process.
And what about the Evian and Modelo bottles?
I really love how Modelo looks. There was a period where I was drinking too much with a friend,and I made a Modelo piece as a memory of that. That's why it says “BFF”.
I love how you pull your pallets from commercial material.
Amazing designers work for these companies. I'm just stealing from them. (Obviously this way of thinking is inspired by Warhol.) One day, I was doing construction in Missouri, and I was looking at a Coke machine. I was inspired by the browns and the reds, the airbrushing. After that point, I moved towards a more commercial pallet. At first I was criticizing the commercial propaganda, but my perspective has matured to the point where I'm not being directly negative or positive about it; I am just presenting it. I want to figure out the best way I can exist within these systems.
What is this football painting about?
Its Barry Sanders.
Forgive me. But who is that?
Barry Sanders! He was a football player. He was very skilled but equally humble. Most of these guys that are good showboat, but when Barry Sanders made a touchdown, he would be happy, immediately run to the ref, give him the ball, and walk off. He was a class act. He was also really short (which I appreciated as a short kid). He was always my favorite player. I was afraid it was going to be a cheesy painting, but I had to make it. I went into this mind frame a little while ago where I just had to paint certain things...
You pull from a lot of sports imagery, did you play?
I was always into art, but I also played football. In high school, I had a friend group that was all stoners, and I had a friend group that was all preps. I was awful at football, but I was nice, so everyone still liked me...