Memorise the name Jack Greer now. You’re going to need to know it, because some time in the not-so-distant future he’s going to be a big deal. Greer lives in New York, where he makes art while designing for both Nike and Opening Ceremony. He’s also the most terrifyingly hell-bent, industrious person I have ever met — and, at just 24 years old, he thinks he’s running out of time.
The hour-long bike ride from Manhattan to Red Hook, Brooklyn can be a hairy one, especially while (in my case) battling a brutal wind on a Buick-sized single-speed lady cruiser. Jack Greer does the return trip a few times a week; not on a girl’s bike, I might add — he’s more of a fixed-gear kind of man — but nonetheless it’s a long journey to make. Greer has good reason, though: out here is Still House, a space he and twelve other young artists have set up. Here Greer is able to do what makes him happiest: make art — although the space offers much more that that. As well as building their own gallery, the group have set up a monthly residency program, bringing in more-established artists to mentor and impart wisdom to the younger artists. “We didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, it’s a bunch of kids who have another studio — cool, whatever,’” says Greer.
Still House is in an old warehouse that sits on the edge of the Hudson. The studio itself is enormous. A large gallery space sits to the left of the entrance and, behind that, there are a dozen or so partitioned studios. Sculptures are scattered throughout and paintings cover almost every wall. There are several young dudes mooching around, all slim, well-dressed and with the requisite amount of facial hair. Greer is with them, though he’s clean-shaven with tanned skin and short hair. He bounds up to me and introduces himself, a grin cracking across his face. From the get-go Greer bursts with pride and excitement, but one gets the impression that he is generally excited about almost everything. It’s his secret, and it’s catching.
Growing up in Palms, LA Greer was always a wonderkid, blessed with many gifts — the most important being confidence and ambition. This is not to say he isn’t a talented artist, it’s just that the former traits are what set him apart from the next talented artist. Greer knows how to make things happen: at the age of just 15 he marched into Fred Segal with a batch of customised hooded sweatshirts and proposed that they take them on consignment. “It was so weird,” he says, “I don’t know how the fuck I got the courage to do it. I understand that once someone takes interest in a project of mine I’m 100 percent willing to flush it out, but it’s really hard to take that initial step.” Not only did Fred Segal take the hoodies, they also asked Greer to create a line of custom-illustrated sneakers after they noticed the pair he was wearing.
Comprehending how a 15-year-old had the guts to spruik his first fashion line to a major department store is easier than you think, once you get to know him. Greer is the only child (“it’s kind of apparent”) of very supportive parents. He was encouraged to do anything and everything he wanted, and for the most part that was drawing, skating and sewing. This could have been the start of a career as a prodigious fashion designer, but at the time Greer just wanted to be a kid. “I was like, ‘I’m over it, this is cool, but…’ I didn’t really need the money, ’cause what was I going to do? Buy another skateboard, or a PlayStation? The goal had already been reached. I didn’t really understand the potential beyond it and that was OK, because I was young and it was cool.”
After graduation, Greer moved to New York to study at Pratt Institute, where he enrolled as a drawing major. He describes his drawing style as “extremely meticulous and real — like, almost photorealistic.” Greer’s fastidiousness seeps into all parts of his life, and he characteristically (and amusingly) holds messy materials in great disdain. “I hate nothing more than charcoal. I hate it, I hate it, I hate it. There is no such thing as creating a clean line out of charcoal.”
From drawing Greer switched to painting, and then took on sculpture. However, after only 18 months at Pratt, he got kicked out for threatening to kill someone after they stole a pair of his sneakers and threw them in a dumpster (yes, you read that sentence correctly). “Here’s the thing,” he explains with a wry smile. “A girl sent me a message on Myspace and asked me out on a date. I said ‘no’ in a funny way, she took offence, came to a house party of mine, stole a pair of the shoes that I’d drawn on and threw them in the dumpster. I found out it was her, and this is where I really fucked up: I wrote her the most heinous, comical-yet-very-ridiculous death threat, and got kicked out of school for it.” Greer was 19 at the time, but he kept up his drawing. “I’ve never been the sort of person where I needed an assignment to make a piece.” Eventually he was accepted back into the school.
Greer’s ballsy attitude, which invariably gets him into trouble, also landed him a job at Nike working in custom apparel. Greer was first recruited as a freelance graphic designer but kept visiting the store to follow up on his work, becoming so invested (read: persistent) that he was eventually offered a job. “The woman who was responsible for the creative direction of that space asked me, ‘What do you even do? Do you want a job?’” Initially he worked in production, but for two years he worked his “fuckin’ ass off” to get a promotion. Now he is “Lead Designer, Creative Direction — though it should be, ‘The Guy On Salary’.” Greer’s not one for letting PR get in the way of his scruples. “You have me 11 am until 7 pm and I’ll work my fucking ass off,” he says of working for the sportswear giant, “but my heart is by no means associated with sport and the brand. I care about making things.”
Greer also makes custom pieces for Opening Ceremony: denim jackets that are studded, patched, embroidered and generally macked-out. Although the personalisation is the all-important element, it’s also the main setback — short of cloning himself, growing the business is impossible. “To be completely honest, I’m stressed-out right now. I’m, like, sitting there with bloody fingers, trying to figure out a way that I can expand this operation. I have this greater idea of what I would love this to become, and I’m a little nervous about how to go about doing that. Everything I’ve always done has been one-to-one … It’s hard to imagine anyone in the world caring as much about something that I wanna make.”
I personally don’t think anyone cares about anything as much as Greer cares about his work. He talks in hyperactive bursts and leaps out of his chair at regular intervals during our conversation. He has so much energy. “I know so many people who don’t wanna work, but they also don’t really wanna do anything. That’s so gross to me,” he says. “I’m so excited about making, about doing. There’s just not enough time for me to really see through all of my ideas, but I could make them bigger — and more — and I just wanna do that so badly.” Greer’s rule of thumb seems to be that when he wants something, he goes for it — and he generally gets it. As he walks me out to my bike, he explains how he managed to secure the grant to set up Stills House. “It’s one of those things that seems unattainable, therefore no-one goes for it. But realistically, in New York, I’ve been lucky enough to find that every single thing is possible in that regard. It’s just a matter of motivation.”
Words: Alice Cavanagh