Stacy Elaine Dacheux: I would like to talk abut your work: A Questionable Surface (above) and Visible Inclusions In An Obscure Plane (below). What is your process for pieces that are done in this vein?
Jason Willome: With that painting, I was thinking about the facture or artifacts of process that I’d been exploring in the snow paintings I had been working on up to that point (below). I love those moments in life where the edges become visible – like when you spot a continuity error or a weak special effect in a film. But, what I really love is when the viewer is actually complicit in the deception, where they willfully buy in to the presentation. You see this a lot in both cinema and painting because of the problem of creating spatial illusions and fictional situations.
Jason (Con.t): The snow paintings were made from these stills from It’s a Wonderful Life, where the scene called for more snow, and so footage of falling snow was double-exposed into the scene. I think it’s something that’s really obvious when you watch the film, but once it registers, you push the realization back down so that the narrative can go on. In the snow paintings, I emphasized this by building up material onto the stills of the image, because in painting that image-illusion has always been about denying the flat surface that the image is made on. But I wanted the two to coexist – I wanted to sustain the illusion and make its artifice available at the same time. The paintings you’re asking about came out of trying those ideas out exclusively with painting.
I was thinking about those snow paintings when I happened to be flipping though one of those tabloid magazines full of celebrities, and I discovered a photo of Lindsay Lohan getting glitter-bombed. It was really beautiful because there was this atmosphere of glitter all around the space of the image, and there were these great cast shadows being projected through the glitter onto Lindsay Lohan by paparazzi flash bulbs. I thought this would be a wonderful way to create a connection between an image and the surface, to kind of soften the painted illusion, but play into it at the same time.
Jason (Con.t): So, I called up a photographer buddy of mine, Matt Wright, up in Austin, and we spent an afternoon capturing images of me as I had a box of cotton balls dropped over my head. My plan was to paint from the photographs, but to assert the surface of the painting in those areas where the cotton balls were, so that the picture plane would actively play a role. Afterwards, I made similar images of my friends and family. Visible Inclusions in an Obscure Plane has my friend, David Alcantar in it.
Stacy: This is all so beautiful. I think you have this poetic heart as an artist and it’s really wonderful to read about your thoughts on abstraction in relation to these images. So, just to clarify, when you talk about “asserting the surface of the painting” — you are talking about the “flatness” of the paint being “thrown” at the figurative image, correct? In some of these, the paint looks “painted” like a photo realism piece, and in others it looks more 3 dimensional.
Jason: Yeah, when there is anything in the painting that calls attention to the surface, I think of this as asserting the surface, whereas, a realistic painting or a photograph denies that surface in favor of producing a spatial illusion. Visible Inclusions, and the other paintings like it, were painted as accurately as I could manage from the photographs I made, and then, where the image of a cotton ball would be, I used a cake decorator to apply a really thick, small pile of acrylic paint to the surface, so that it would appear to be casting the shadow that was cast by the cotton ball in the original image.
Jason (Con.t):At this point, though, I felt like the these acrylic objects weren’t separate enough from the image underneath – the thick paint was almost invisible, even though it was obviously sitting on the surface, because it fit with my expectations of how a painting was supposed to operate. Kind of like how the artifacts left by using lenses in Baroque paintings are invisible to us today, because we’re so used to seeing them in images.
So to push those objects further out of context, I flocked them to change their texture… make them fuzzy. Totally worked. The flocked paint-objects work pictorially, as they seem to be casting shadows on the figure in the painting, but equally they work to emphasize the surface of the picture plane.
During my show, there was a lot of animosity directed at those objects. I had a few people come up to me, quite upset, and tell me I had ruined those paintings. Those reactions were really great, really interesting to me, because those folks were coming up against that edge I was talking about last time. However, I think if you spend time with them [the paintings], it gets easier to move back and forth between image and object, and I really like that about them.
Stacy: Also, I would like to talk about your Technology series. What was the inspiration for those– and again, if you have any notes on process you want to share, please do! I find the work so very interesting and would love to learn more.
Jason: The Technology series comes out of the same idea inspired by the Lindsay Lohan Glitter Bomb, but I was focusing more on the atmosphere of the glitter bomb, and interpreting atmosphere as paint material. I used found images, which on the whole, had some kind of linear structure in them – like scaffolding or telegraph poles – and then used those parts of the image to structure the space of the atmosphere. I’m still thinking a lot about illusion and surface with these, but in a different way. The photographic images are transferred into a body of acrylic paint that I’ve poured into an ornamental frame – so there’s no canvas or other substrate, just paint. I’ve used this type of transfer a lot in my work, and I’m really interested in how the fluidity of the material transforms the images into objects.
The ornamental frames are made with pouring, too, as I’ve cast them out of cement. So, there’s a kind of fluidity to these pieces that’s interesting. The image overflows out of the frame, and the frames look soft and distorted. But then the Glitter Bomb alters the image space, too. I used another pour of fluid acrylic paint, and flocked it with nylon and glitter to liken it to what I had seen in the paparazzi image.
Stacy: Technology is so strange. It’s hard to know how much to share and how much not to. I think, we are unintentionally adopting multiple personas and somewhere down the line it’s going to get all kinds of confusing on a social and time experience level. For example, I was at a bar last night talking to friends and this one woman told me how she is friends on three social media platforms with the same person, but doesn’t know her in person, and finally they met in person after a show, and it was awkward– because you know them, but then, you don’t. It’s different face-to-face. This reminded me of how many times I’ve caught up with a friend in person only to realize that they already know what I’ve been up to because they saw it on Instagram or whatever. In those moments, I lose the sense of my own narrative. It’s already been shared in photography or– art.
Stacy (Con.t): I don’t have anything to say or add because it feels redundant and then confusing. It’s like the present tense me is in battle with the past tense computer portrait of me in terms of story and redundancy. It’s weird. A weird time to be alive and a great time to be making art about it all.On that note, I find it interesting that these two series are inspired by the glitter bombing of Lindsay Lohan, or an ephemeral act of protest or form of activism against a pop star. I feel like your paintings do this remarkable thing where they quote from mainstream culture without commenting on mainstream culture– the intention runs deeper, feels more guttural, like down to our roots. Abstraction is, in a way, not forced on the image, but exorcised from the image and the result is something haunting/beautiful about the everyday human condition. I wonder, outside of the gallery or paintings, how do you see abstraction in daily life?
Jason: Abstraction is definitely central to my methodology, probably because I think of it as a great way to frame/define perception. How we see the world is limited by how we choose to see it, both consciously and subconsciously. I suppose that’s how I define abstraction – distilling an idea down to its essential parts, or at least the parts that are essential to our point of view.
I’m fascinated by the places in our lives where our abstract notions bump up against each other, and this certainly frames how I sample from the world around me in my work. Celebrity and entertainment culture is rich in collisions of abstraction, and that’s probably why I occasionally draw ideas from it, although I think I tend to emphasize my relationship to it, rather than comment on it directly. This is maybe akin to the difference between poetry and anthropology – poetry usually admits to, or is all about the author’s relationship to the reference, and anthropology operates within a kind of conceptual environment that is supposed to be objective and separate from its subject, but both are still completely informed by a human point of view.
I think it’s ultimately more useful to explore it personally from the edge, as that is how we all actually encounter an idea, no matter how deeply we are involved. Even celebrities are on the edge of celebrity, even though they are the focus. You see this in how they react to and use celebrity as individuals, and when the relationship breaks down. It’s those edges that give us a clearer picture of what is going on. Edges are everything.
Stacy: Jason, I love how you say that even celebrity is on the edge of celebrity. This sounds like a Gertrude Stein poem or something. Celebrity as an outsider: an unobtainable concept, even to those who are trapped or enraptured by it. The same thing goes for our online personas on Facebook or Twitter. Even our everyday Internet projections are flat outsiders. A string of jokes or events. A list of accomplishments. We don’t know what to do with the flatness in our personal lives, outside of the gallery. It’s overwhelming. It is not just intellectual or about art theory– it’s emotional and primitive.
I don’t know. I guess, in a way, I do feel that so much of art is connected to our primitive mind. I don’t think this is a popular belief, but it is somewhere I go to when looking at why or how we are building what we build: be is celebrity, Facebook profiles, sculpture, house, abstract paintings, etc. It’s all some strange walk towards death. God, I sound morose. Sorry! I think it’s all this horrific news– the bombings and explosions. It weighs heavy.
Jason: Oh, yeah, technology abstracts everything – particularly the Internet. If anything, the Internet has brought all of the artifice of contemporary life out into the open, and emphasized just how central fantasy is to being human. What I mean is, the internal fantasies and perceptual biases that are a part of how we connect as human beings, get extended out into our technology, where suddenly we can see them, and they are strange to us. Those illusions are built-in to being a human being, but since the internet, and technologies like it, offer a new way to interface with these fictions, all of the social architecture that’s in place suddenly fits very awkwardly, even as it appears to streamline everything in the main. Even this interview is an interesting case: you’re in California, I’m in Texas, and our conversation has been emerging out of several weeks of day-to-day busy-ness, which is probably not evident at all in the finished product. It occurred to me in the shower a few mornings ago, that I’ve been keeping track of our conversation in the back of my head this whole time, reassembling it whenever I get a chance to write back. Not to show the man behind the curtain, too much, but there’s a conceptual space that I go to, where I am talking to you – we are having a conversation there, and it is seamless, even as I am rushing to close the seams in anticipation of the final form. It’s totally functional – otherwise I lose track of the conversation – but it’s right in line with the misalignments you were talking about before – the Facebook relationships that are awkward in person. Ultimately, though, I think that illusions are the part of that human, primitive self that you are talking about, and that they inform all of our ways of interfacing with the world around us. In fact, maybe they are the frame that holds it all together.
Stacy: On another note, perhaps, I wonder if you could tell me more about how being a father and husband (having a family) has influenced your work as an artist– or how you see yourself in the art and everyday world? How you confront or build?
Jason: Having a family – a partner and two kids – is GREAT. It clarifies everything, even as it becomes more hectic. There’s less time to dwell on this and that, so you cut to the essential. This has been very important for my work. I’ve been the kind of person who makes the things I do, for other people. I am sure it would be devastating if I ever stopped making art, but if I was suddenly alone, and the last person on earth, I doubt very much that I would feel a need to make anything anymore. Having a family provides me with a constant reason to make things, which keeps me whole. Maybe because when I make something, I am saying something more clearly than I can say otherwise. Or maybe because I feel that it gives me value – gives me something to offer – a reason to be around. Either way, it’s a form of communication. Having a wife that I love to death, and kids that are extensions of the deepest part of me, makes this whole thing much more intense and much more worthwhile.
Stacy: Thanks so much for talking to me, Jason! Your work and thoughts on art or abstraction always proves to be a big inspiration to me. I love our conversations and hope to have more in the future.