The dramatic chipmunk, the Star Wars Kid, Mentos in Diet Coke.... They’re the memes you’ve seen online, and Jeremiah Palecek has painted them all. Heather Champ asked him why.

Nerdkore Painting

Painting by Jeremiah Palecek

Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I started painting very young. My grandmother was an eccentric painter who lived outside of a small town in Kansas. She made these huge paintings of rotting wood and other very natural themes. She was a very hardline atheist and strong woman. She also told everyone in my family to shut up if they ever talked to me when I was painting. So I learned very quickly that if I was painting I didn’t have to answer to anyone. I liked that.

I grew up in North Dakota, in Bismarck, which is like the Siberia of the North. My father was a anti-nuclear-war activist and classical radio DJ, and my mother was a feminist who started safe houses for battered women. So they were very supportive of painting and strangeness.

My first real hardcore studying in painting and drawing started when I was, like, 19, when I moved to Connecticut to a school called the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. This school was totally conservative, but I am very happy that they taught me a very strong foundation in color, paint application, and all that other stuff. So I studied here for a while, but (sorry to say for the school) I felt a bit constricted, so I chose to transfer to The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Once there, I was blown away by the museum. Growing up, I only saw paintings on TV and in books, and seeing them in real life made no sense. Anyway, I toughed it out, spent a year abroad at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland and then squashed my remaining credit into a winter term and snatched my BFA up from SAIC.

Painting by Jeremiah Palecek

I love your meme paintings. What got your brain firing about memes as subject matter?
It was just a natural continuation of how I’ve been painting for years. There wasn’t any certain video which popped out. I paint virtual media. I started painting scenes from Ricki Lake and Top Gun over ten years ago. Then I was painting video games, and I was watching a lot of videos so I was like, “Hmmm, there’s a painting in this,” and so I made it. That’s a problem I have. I just see paintings everywhere, and I can’t keep my ideas bunched up. Sometimes I write them down and just do ’em. Others time they stagnate on the barstool with one of my friends.

Painting by Jeremiah Palecek

Which of your subjects would you most like to go out to dinner with? What do you think you’d talk about?
I could definitely chill with the Star Wars kid because you know, everyone is awkward at age 14 and 15. I feel bad that he transferred schools and was made fun of for his video. I guess he probably wouldn’t see my side. But I think about the Star Wars kid the same way I think about goth kids: they just perfectly embody what its like to be that age (sorry, older goths). I don’t understand why people would ridicule them when their style fits so perfectly. What would we talk about? The age difference would probably screw up a normal encounter. Yeah. Probably be hard to talk with the Star Wars kid. I guess I’d be more likely to start doing shots of tequila with La Pequena, the Chilean transvestite midget. I’m sure that s/he would be fun as hell to party with.

Painting by Jeremiah Palecek

Paint is an interesting respite from the speed of life online. Why paint?
I love paint. It’s physical and sexy. I think virtual media is in the proverbial ’90s of its existence. It’s like watching Fresh Prince or playing Sega. Totally clunky. It’s going in the right direction, but I think sites like YouTube and Digg and all the bloggers are just babies in something which is going to become something we can’t envision yet. I just hope it doesn’t become completely overwhelmed with ads.

It’s like my parents. They like newspapers. They like holding the paper in their hands and having that experience with the newspaper, so they may be more likely to respond to someone making newspaper paintings. The thing with paintings is that when you paint something, people think its true. It’s immediately given more credence, just by switching the medium in which the viewer experiences it. That’s why I think I’m pretty safe. It’s a medium which has stood the test of time and still remained relevant. For better or worse. People like shooting films on 16mm and seeing DJs spin records. I know, it’s the 21st century, but it’s hard to fall out of love with extremely sensual mediums of expression.

Heather Champ is a professional cat herder in San Francisco and is a geek for old cameras because film is not dead!

Jeremiah Palecek can be found at