Painter, culture vulture, and Gawker artist Jason Chase is an American everyman. Like most of us, he was raised on a diet of TV shows and cereal. His mom managed the household while his dad brought home the bacon, and he went off to college and even did a stint in grad school. However, unlike most of us, his consumption of culture and the world around him manifested itself into some of the most peculiar visual art. But unlike the bulk of pop culture, Chase doesn’t aim to mock his suburban roots as much as explore them and his role within that realm. The results are vivid and deceptively innocuous, but never shopworn. As an example, flip through This Book Can Be Used as a Flotation Device, his collaboration with Caryn O’Connell. Then check out our interview after the jump.
Tell me a little about yourself. Where were you born? I was born in Colorado Springs and had a suburban upbringing with a stay-at-home mom and an off-to-work dad, manicured yard, the whole bit. I always liked drawing and really got into painting in high school … the same high school Elvira went to, by the way. I’ve always been proud of that one.
And what did you do up until the point you decided to start painting? How did you get your start in art? I worked in a screen-printing shop and painted on the side throughout high school. I started to focus in on painting and rented my first studio when I was 18. A local coffee shop put my work up, and soon after a restaurant did, and then a gallery, and then local group shows. By the time I’d finished my undergrad, I had established myself as a local artist; I liked that title more than “college graduate.” I came out to the East Coast to continue my education for what I lovingly refer to as my workers’ permit — an MFA from Boston University. Ever since then, I’ve been painting and showing in the area.
What artists inspire you? Are there any non-art world people whose perspectives or outlooks you incorporate into your paintings? Non-art world people inspire me more … in fact, just about every non-art person I’ve met inspires me more than art-world people do. Hell, non-people do a pretty good job of it, too. Ad campaigns, politics, and a drive around the block do wonders for me.
Has your work always been reflective of suburbia and its commercialism, or is this a recurring theme that surfaced later in your body of work? My work may be reflective of suburbia and its commercialism, but I’m also a product of it. I’m just being honest with myself about that in my work. The best work comes from filleting yourself openly. It took me a while to figure out that liking the design of a cereal box can be more complex than understanding fine art.
In relation to the term “fine art” or “art” in general, do you ever find yourself squaring off — either with yourself or with what others may say — in order to defend yourself? Not especially. I think the oddest question that I get that’s kind of in that realm is, “So do you make these for companies or something?” I’ve been asked that a handful of times, and I just say no, and explain the work a bit.
Was there a time when you found yourself compromising your own personal vision to fit in with a more generalized concept of “art”? Nope. I think that just because they’re oil paintings I’ve been able to dodge that one. The only time I’ve even been asked to compromise it usually comes when a painting is commissioned and the collector has requests. I can budge a little, but not much. I just nip it in the bud when I can sense that someone wants to have me make a painting they’d like to see, rather than a painting I’d like to make. I’ve lost a couple of commissions that way, but I don’t mind that at all.
What do you do in your spare time when you’re not painting? In my spare time I work on a Ford flathead V-8 I’m tearing down and rebuilding. (If anyone out there has spare parts, let me know.)
Having received an MFA degree at Boston University, how do you think that’s informed or influenced your artwork? Do you think that an academic setting is necessarily constructive for creative endeavors? Getting my MFA did improve my work. I think any time you take someone and stuff them in a box for hours and hours a day with one task for two years, they’re going to get better at that task (well, for the most part). Is that necessary? Hell no.
Describe your ideal workspace. Do you already have this kind of setting now? I work in a two-stall garage under our house. I have a large wall to work on, my dog gets to hang out with me all day, and I have enough room for the V-8 on the engine stand in the corner. I’m pretty content. Could use some better heat in the winter down there though.
Of all the venues where you’ve had your work exhibited, which space has resonated the best with you? The New Arts Center, in Newton, MA. It’s an old church that is now an art gallery. Two other artists and I put the show together and had free reign over the space. The show was called “Trans-am” … we played the music we wanted to play, put up the paintings we wanted to show, and added a Hot Wheels track just because we could. I especially liked that my painting of Jesus candles on a Wal-Mart shelf and one of a nativity scene under a McDonald’s sign were displayed on those walls.
Do you have any shows lined up for 2008 or 2009? Not yet. The gallery I was with has closed, as well as third of the Boston galleries over the last year. We’re going through a rough patch as far as galleries go. But I have commissions and my first teaching gig, so I just keep on working.
And finally, is there anything else you’d like to add? Yes, go to my website, and remember that owning a painting by me will make you smarter and more likable.