When I asked Carl Janes what three words he would use to describe his art, he said, “The real deal,” and if you’ve ever seen him at a show opening or painting around Atlanta, I think you’d agree. Janes, also known as Future Ancestors, is a vital player in the contemporary art scene. From the way he looks to the way he speaks about art, you know he’s living the honest-to-goodness life of a working artist.
Whether he is drawing inspiration from primitive drawings to artists such as Warhol and Basquiat, Janes’ work doesn’t fit into any one category. “I grew up living in different places around the world. So, I’ve got a good kind of cross-cultural childhood that has been a big inspiration to the way I work, the way I see the world, and the way I make friends and communicate with people of different cultures or different languages,” Jane says of his childhood, and many of those themes are present in his most beloved pieces. Through his art, which is often expansive and sculptural, he is able to communicate with everyone, from the most educated art critic to the passive viewer.
I sat down with Janes in his studio, The Secret Spot, to talk about the Atlanta art community, his fifteen year professional career, and his film aspirations.
AAR: Your name is Carl Janes, but you use Future Ancestors for your artwork. How did you arrive at the name Future Ancestors?
Future Ancestors (FA): A long time ago, a graffiti artist introduced himself to me. He came up and said, “Hey, I’m an artist, too!” At the time, I was working on my stuff off in the darkness and was really excited to make friends who were artists. One of the things a graffiti artist does is come up with his word or his saying or what kind of becomes his name, in a way. Depending on how deep the artist is going with his art, it becomes a message. It adds to a bit of mystery of what you’re working with.
I just happen to wake up one morning, I was sleeping on an air mattress in Monterey, California. I had a really intense dream and woke up saying, “Future Ancestors.” So I wrote that down and thought about it for a while and it seemed to say all kind of things to me. It hinted at a human chain of people that are helping guide the world now into what the world will be in the future. I made some t-shirts that read, “Future Ancestors Unite.” It was kind of a call to gang up and help manifest new worlds together, and I started using it as my word on the street.
AAR: How long have you been working as an artist?
FA: I’ve been an artist from the beginning. One of my aunts came through with a Polaroid camera. I was probably four, and I went off and made a camera out of the blocks with the little spines all on them. I would go around, take a picture, and run off and draw the scene. I was always referred to as creative and as an artist, but my family didn’t really comprehend what an artist was or what art was. So it wasn’t presented as a valid professional experience. There was a little bit of figuring out what I was going to do as a professional, but I came back to art. I’ve been a professional artist for about twelve to fifteen years.
AAR: What is the hardest part of the creative process for you?
FA: I like to challenge myself always. I like to dive into areas where I don’t really know where I’m headed. The discovery, the way the piece and the act of making the art transforms me, that’s always a bit of a challenge.
I wouldn’t really say that I think the most challenging part of the creative process is producing. It is creating the space and the time to be able to create. There are so many things going on, so many distractions. Having the space where you create and the time in the day that’s necessary to focus and work and concentrate and to do whatever it is you may or may not know that you’re doing. That’s the tricky part! I think a lot of people assume that we wave a magic wand or that we do it while we’re hanging out and art is just fun anyway. It is absolutely exhilarating, but it takes a really heightened degree of focus and concentration. You need everything near you that you’re going to work with and you need the physical space to work in. The Secret Spot (TSS) has been wonderful, an enclave for me to bring together all these objects and paints and whatever to create.
AAR: Many of your pieces involve globes and/or the “one world” theme. Tell me what interests you in this literal and metaphorical concept of global unity?
FA: I began working in currency, starting with a hundred dollar bill. I tore it at first. I was real aggressive with money for a while, tearing it and shooting it.
AAR: Real money??
FA: Yeah. Real money. Everything is real. Eventually, I got to the level of this piece (See Photo Below: One World All Together). It’s a woven tapestry of money from all over the world. So, the idea of one world surfaced. Then I had a visit from three guys who are all collectors of my work and familiar with my work. They came up to TSS, and walked around and saw what I was working on currently. They offered me a large commission, saying, “You know what? We really don’t care what you do. We just want you to do. This all looks great.” The opportunity to do a large commission is always wonderful when it comes around. I have ideas that are bigger than I can personally afford to do on my own, so with the opportunity to take the globes to a new level, I came up with a couple pieces—one is a large postcard that’s based on the old travel postcards from road trips like, “Greetings from Daytona Beach,” but called, “Greetings from One World.” It is 11’ x 30’. Along with that, I’m doing a piece called “One World Spins Together.” It’s comprised of 100 globes, all from different eras and colors and textures. They will be assembled into an 8’ sphere that will hang from the ceiling and spin.
AAR: Where do you find these globes?
FA: A variety of sources. I have some coming in off the internet. Along with that I score a lot at antique stores or markets. Sometimes craigslist. And, every now and then, one just walks in the door.
AAR: I'd imagine it's like an obsession. How would you ever stop?
FA: [laughs] I have asked myself the same question! I’m not sure I would be capable of stopping. I like to work in terms of sculptural work. I like to work with collections of things. One of the pieces I did a long time ago was made out of 16 LITE-BRITES. It was a life size velvet Elvis made out of LITE-BRITES. Then I did that View-Master piece, which was made of 37 View-Masters. I’m not sure why, but I enjoy bringing similar items together from all over the place. They come from such strange places and I bring them together to say something. I like my art, the meaning, to go deeper and deeper as one appreciates it. I like it to communicate on a tangible level, for someone to understand the message really quickly, but then it keeps going and going from there.
AAR: Many of your pieces are large and layered with a lot of different mediums. Do you find it hard to edit yourself when the canvas is so expansive? How do you know when a piece is complete enough to show the world?
FA: It’s not really a matter of editing myself. The size of the canvas creates the opportunity to really unleash. I like to work in a very active way and apply the paint in the way someone might play a guitar. I don’t get too precious or too close. The scale, and being able to work big, makes it easier to really splash it on. I still get really detailed, but I keep it fast. I can slow it down by backing up and looking at where it’s going. Making the creative decisions as they happen. The closer you can put the action with the thought, the closer you get to the true channel of yourself and your art. So, that’s the reason for the large canvases. It’s kind of like facing something that is the size of you or a mirror and sort of working with it, almost sculpturally. The layers and the meaning kind of pile up and then the piece just starts to vibrate at a certain point, and I start to say, “Okay. It’s getting close here.” Once I get to a certain point, I’ll kind of walk around it for a couple of days and decide if it’s truly finished or if something else is starting to take shape, take form. When it finally gets there, it just feels complete. And then I sign it. That’s an exciting moment.
Janes with his piece "Holy Smokes"
AAR: The two pieces you mentioned before, “Greetings from One World” and “One World Spins Together” are pieces that are too big for you to work on in TSS. So you’ve been using the new studio space at Mammal Gallery. Tell me about your experience going from such a private work space to such a public one?
FA: I am an artist-in-residence at Mammal Gallery. I have a beautiful, large studio to use. I’m surrounded by all these amazing artists and musicians. It’s really, really exciting. TSS here in East Atlanta has been a dream, but in terms of being around other artists throughout the day, it’s kind of empty.
AAR: Has Mammal has any artists-in-residence before?
FA: No, I’m the first. I just lucked out. They have a really neat building that they’ve had for two years. Three guys came together and started it. They created a place where all kinds of art was happening constantly. They were getting a lot of attention and at some point a movie came in and rented the space. They put a hole in the wall, into the building next door, and that became the studio I’m in now. I’m the first one, so they are just feeling out the program and the idea. I’m kind of like a test run at the moment. They’re really excited about my work.
AAR: Speaking of Mammal, there have been a recent influx of new galleries, spaces and endeavors, many of whom exclusively support local Atlanta artists. How do you feel about these changes within the art community?
FA: It’s exciting. There’s a lot of awareness that’s growing from a whole number of things. A lot of artists are coming together. There are personalities in the community that create platforms for artists and festivals for artists. Exhibits from The High Museum have really inspired the local scene to believe in themselves and continue pursuing art. We’re having a good time. It seems to be reshaping parts of the city. Living Walls absolutely did some wonderful things for us, in terms of putting us on the map and bringing an awareness to people that otherwise might not be coming in contact with art. Hopefully it’s all building up to the international collectors coming around and starting to realize that there’s some valuable stuff in Atlanta.
AAR: What is your favorite gallery to visit in Atlanta and why?
Obviously, I’ve got to say Mammal Gallery, and it’s the truth. For a long time, I’ve wanted or dreamed of finding a place where really truly creative and experimental and contemporary things were happening, everything from showing visual art to music to film to computer gifs. So for me it’s very inspiring and gives me fresh energy to jump back into what I’m doing.
Of course, The High museum. I’ve been a member since I’ve been here, and I go there at the most random of times and sometimes spend two days in a row there, just wandering around, getting close to paintings that you’ve seen in books and realizing how much more they are than what you find in books or looking at it as an image on your phone. As you get up close to a real piece of art, you can really start to understand what it is and what it is doing and how it’s made and why it’s made and that it’s made. When you look at it in books, you can’t really comprehend. To see the texture of it, you really start to see it.
AAR: You are among a few other select artists who first showed their work at the gallery inside Paris on Ponce (POP). This gallery gets a lot of foot traffic from the Atlanta Beltline. Has the exposure impacted your artwork? Or you as an artist?
FA: I love that the space at POP. The owners there really enjoy creativity and art and what it does to a place, the energy that it brings in, the tension and the excitement. I really am open to any outlet to have my creativity, my message, my art out there for everybody. I want everybody to see it and enjoy it, to have it continue to grow. The POP gallery is really special in a way, because it was quite the Atlanta institution and it has thousands of people come floating through every day, not necessarily looking for art. Most of the time they’re looking for some mid-century modern pieces and they kind of walk through the art and it gives them a true experience. So there’s a good opportunity there to sneak up on people when they don’t really expect it. It’s a great room and it has a real authentic feel. I’ve met a lot of people through the experience and sold a lot of work. Those two things alone will change me.
AAR: You’ve hosted a lot of community art events at your studio, The Secret Spot, located in East Atlanta. Why do you feel it’s important to involve the community in your work?
FA: I don’t think it’s the fact that it’s important for me to involve the community. TSS became TSS because I just hid out here and did whatever I wanted to do. That slowly made its way to the outside, and TSS has evolved. When I started, I had a vague understanding, a vision, but I didn’t know what it was going to look like. It is pretty vital to be engaged with the street. Through engaging with the outside and the public realm, I sort of became a part of the community. I have events to invite people into TSS and around it. To me, one of the big goals is to create a place that is a portal to some sort of state of being, and it surprisingly works really well. People really let go of themselves here.
AAR: Do you have any experience with, or connections to, the film industry?
FA: I have a lot of friends who work in the film industry. A lot of my inner circle, who have been with me since my first fire here at TSS, are in camera and props and set design, any number of things within the film industry. I, myself, have made a film called, The In Between. It was a super-8 film in 2006 and it went through a couple of festivals. I love film. It’s a big part of what’s helped open my consciousness and made me aware. From Fellini to Hitchcock and Kubrick, some of the more obscure film makers Béla Tarr, a Hungarian filmmaker and Tarkovsky, a Russian filmmaker who is an absolute poet. There’s a film called Soy Cuba, which to me is one of the most amazing pieces of art. All the time spent watching films has been a big part of understanding art.
AAR: How did you hear about Action Artwork Rental? Why did you decide to sign up?
FA: My friend who is in the industry, she’s an actor and also an artist. She had heard about the opportunity. She’s an advocate for what I’m doing, so she told me I needed to check out AAR. So I discovered you, and any opportunity to have my work get out in different ways, I’m jumping on.
AAR: You said you made your film a while ago. Did you use your own artwork as the set dressing?
FA: It was a little bit more real than that. We jumped barbed wire fences and shot a scene inside a power sub plant. I would bring objects from my studio and I created all the props. One was an 1800’s water tower. I spent the day before the shoot, building a throne out of bricks and making a candle holder that looked like it was from ancient times. I pretty much created everything. I didn’t have any scenes where there was framed things on the wall.
Janes adding to the mural on the side of his studio, The Secret Spot
AAR: If you could imagine a movie being made that would feature your artwork in it, what would that movie look like?
FA: One of the scenes I’ve had in mind, I don’t know if it will ever happen. So, there’s a young kind of wide-eyed artist, showing up coincidentally at the opening of a gallery. He’s just kind of walking down the street. He sees this red carpet going in through a gallery door and he wanders in and there’s security, but they don’t pay him any mind. He’s a little Oliver Twist-y kind of kid. On either side of this red carpet are these giant art pieces, and the paintings are like one million dollars and four billion pounds, and they get bigger and gaudier as he goes along. He sort of walking in, going through the opening crowd. Kind of a Fellini thing with all these rich people dressed up in artistically fashionable, weird and ridiculous ways.
And the waiters are serving food and this waiter comes around and he’s got these living turtles. “Are those the endangered ones?” someone says, biting into this turtle. “I only eat the endangered ones.” Coming up at the end of the red carpet, sitting in a chair, is the artist. He has a martini and these glasses and he isn’t talking to anybody, kind of just holding court. He looks down at this little young artist and they have a little thing and the kid turns around and walks back out.
AAR: If your art were a film, what film would it be?
FA: The Neverending Story.
AAR: What is on the horizon for Future Ancestors?
FA: In spring, I am also wrapping a film project. I’m doing a music video that I directed it for Cousin Dan. We approached it sort of like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, it has a five to six minute film as a lead up to the video. “Something’s in the Water” is the title of the collective piece. It starts at Cousin Dan’s house and he’s walking around and talking to the music industry in his curlers and he’s frustrated. He throws the phone and ends up drinking this glass of water and everything starts shifting and changing around and he lays down and has a dream and the dream is the music video.
AAR: I’ve seen pictures of him with the piano on fire. Where did you film those?
FA: The locations are scattered all around the city. We had him on a jet ski out on Lake Lanier. The culminating parts of the scene, where he’s playing a flaming, burning piano, and the keys are on fire, and he’s screaming his song to the air, were filmed at Urban Sprouts Farm. They were kind enough to let us go for it out there. We labored to figure out where we were going to shoot that. We packed that piano up, and I torched it with a flame thrower. And all of a sudden it’s on fire, and it’s like get in there and play. All that comes through in the footage. That was really, really wild one.
I like to make film by bringing things together. I kind of create an energy and start to get going and everybody catches the wave. It’s really like, now is the time, and we’re not stopping for bagels and having drama. Everybody is in tune. We’re going to make this happen, and we don’t really know how it’s going to happen, but we catch it as it happens.
I hope that with all of this, the opportunity to do a big film project kind of surfaces. I’ve shown some of the raw stuff to a couple of people in the music industry, and they really appreciated it. When you’re making a piece of art, I think that it’s going to be appreciated on a whole other level. So if that can create a buzz, hopefully it garners Cousin Dan his own private plane, but I also think it would be great if it opened up the opportunity for me to get some sort of backing and put a team together to do an independent film. That would be a great way to spend some of my energy.
Janes painting his mural for Forward Warrior, 2015
In addition to the release of the music video he directed, Carl will be debuting his newest pieces at his closing residency show at Mammal in April. If you can’t wait until April to see more of his work, be sure to check out his recent murals in Cabbagetown and on the side of The Secret Spot. Just be sure to give a hearty hello, because as Carl says, “Engaging with the streets is how you make friends and build community and build the human chain that we are forming. And you get great energy back. It’s all about the mood you’re in and the vibe you put out.”
That’s a wrap!
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