"I am deeply interested in how human identity is developed and how the confrontation of a portrayed figure and viewer can interact to create an interconnecting experience. "
Jason John is a painter and teaches all forms of painting and drawing for a living. He was born in Detroit, Michigan USA and moved to the Pocono region of Pennsylvania at the age of 6, it’s about an hour from New York City where the Delaware River separates Pennsylvania from New Jersey. When Jason John was 14, he moved to Wilkes-Barre, a rust-belt city in Eastern Pennsylvania. Most of his teenage years were spent in a lower-class rustbelt city. Jason John thinks this really made him see his country from the perspective of the have-nots and experience a place where the American Dream was as good as dead. There was not a lot of opportunity there and many in the city lived well below the poverty line, but Jason John’s dad did everything he could to encourage a good education. After his undergraduate education, he went to graduate school near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During this time he made paintings that explored how the abandonment of certain regions of his country for better places in search for economic and social profit revealed delusions about functionality of the American way. He really got into post-apocalyptic representations and all that they symbolize. His work explored how capitalism promoted a throw away culture, where the entity being thrown away was a part of our population. Everything becomes about discarding something for the next shiny thing. At this time, Jason John's paintings were expressionistic landscapes devoid of humans. Eventually he wanted to incorporate figures into his paintings (he's still not sure today why he desired that). When he added figures to the work his motives became more about how identity development leads to our actions for good or bad. So, the work went inward.
Over the years he has been in over 200 shows across the world. He has had a solo exhibition at Silvia White Gallery in Los Angeles and Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati, OH. He was in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Jacksonville’s exhibition, Get Real, curated by Ben Thompson. Also exhibited at Arcadia Gallery in New York and Los Angeles. For years Jason John was represented by Principle Gallery in Alexandria, VA. His work was on the cover of Blue Canvas Magazine, Art Calendar Magazine, Artists and Poets Magazine and Arts Overture Magazine.
Jason John’s art and philosophy about art are reminders that we are not only this shell we occupy.
We are emotions and ideas and each one of those emotions and ideas shift depending on how we react to our surroundings. We are forever changing. Jason John studies all of these psychological aspects and turns them into beautifully wild and colorful paintings. Jason John passionately paints what it is to be human.
Q. What role does the Artist/ Painter have in society?
A. For me, painting’s role is no different than any other artist: A painter makes her, his, or their work to heal the world, or attempt to do so. I will say I feel that a paintings manufacture is slow and meditative, so contemplating the meaning of a painting tends to follow the same course. Paintings make me, as a viewer, slow down and contemplate quite a bit. It can take a long time to decipher meaning from a painting and sometimes meaning may never even be achieved, but that long meditative process is key.
Q. What’s your best childhood memory?
A. When I lived in Detroit, I have so many vivid memories of playing as a kid. They are all kind of crunched into one memory of swinging on a swing in the morning while my parents were setting up for a yard sale or something. I am not even sure if it is real, it was such an innocent time, so care-free. I think all one’s best memories come from a time before you knew the problems of the world.
Q. As a child, what did you wish to become when you grew up?
A. The strange thing is I wanted to be a teacher, which is what I am doing right now. The only difference is I wanted to be a history teacher, maybe because I always liked history. I do actually teach Modern to Contemporary art history from an artist or artist perspective/ not an art historian. It is kind of funny that I stayed on track, now that I think about it.
Q. Do you remember the first art you made? What was it and how old were you?
A. The first time I remember making art was with my mom when I was 4 or 5 years old. She would sit me down and give me paper and I would just work away. I really can’t remember what I made, but I remember never having a problem putting stuff on paper, whatever it was. I always remember back to this as a very warm time. My mother and father were always very supportive of my art, I never experienced them trying to dissuade me from this path. Honestly, if it wasn’t for them I might not have ever gone in this direction as it was my father that first suggested that I go to art school.
Q. How and when did you first become seriously interested in art?
A. I started at a local community college. Before college, I had no idea you could go to school for art. Nobody in my life prior to college had access to or knowledge of art and when I started college, I never looked back. I did whatever I could do to learn about my new field and better myself as I moved into this direction. My mentors were really diverse and ranged from an academic atelier to performance artists. I really wanted to know everything I could.
Q. Tell us about your particular style and how you came to it?
A. I don’t really know what to call my paintings. I guess a form of psychological-based realism. Most of my favorite painters tend to come from the highly psychological European figurative traditions from the 30s to present, although I have come to love so many different forms of art and art-making throughout history. Personally, I am not really interested in classical revivals, I think artists need to attempt to do something new and not dig up old traditions, even if their medium has been around since the beginning of history. It is one thing being inspired by the past, but not to try and re-live within past traditions.
Q. What does your art aim to express?
A. I am deeply interested in how human identity is developed and how the confrontation of a portrayed figure and viewer can interact to create an interconnecting experience. At this time, I am exploring (through portraits) the transition from one stage of identity to another and how the viewer reflects on this.
Q. If you could work with any artist (past or present) who would it be?
A. There are so many, but when I think about it, most of my favorite artists would be terribly difficult to be around and you wouldn’t learn anything. I am going to have to go with Manet. I think his paintings did so much to shift the direction of painting, historically speaking. The time would have been super interesting and would have been so insightful to see the change in the artwork at this time from the inside. Not to mention he is one of my favorite painters.
Q. What is your favorite artwork of all time?
A. So hard! So many! I will go back to a question I got in art school. I had a teacher that was really tough and asked us during a seminar if any artwork ever made us cry. We all kind of looked at each other because we were in the middle of going over readings of art theory, which sometimes can be the most distant place from emotions. A few years later I was in Rome for the first time and I walked up from the back of the Pantheon where the back looks like a pile of bricks. I turned the corner, not knowing where I was and quickly went inside with everyone else. I was hit like a ton of bricks. That was the first time I cried when I saw a work of art. It still happens when I go in. It is even better when they are burning incense or it is raining.
Q. What inspires you?
A. I love music and reading. I find I’m always reading a few books and my taste in topics are eclectic. I have to do a lot of research in art for teaching and my field, so usually pleasure reading does not involve art. I would say music (of all kinds) interests me the most in the studio.
Q. What medium(s) do you work with?
A. Most of my paintings are oil paint based. I have done many different things in art school including performance and instillation, but always came back to painting. There is something about the process and materials that keep me coming back.
Q. What personality trait has gotten you in the most trouble?
A. I can’t keep my mouth shut when I feel that something is not right. I get this from both of my parents. They never stood back if someone was treating someone wrong.
Q. What have you had to sacrifice for this career?
A. Nothing that I can think of. I think one should know what they are in for when they get into this field. My teachers gave us the truth from day one. I am always thankful for that. There is always lots of rejection, but that just comes with the territory. I don’t know if I could do much else to be honest.
Q. Who are your biggest influences Are you inspired by the work of your peers or anyone else in particular?
A. I have two artists who live by me who really have been quite an inspiration. Their names are Jim Draper and Ron Gibbons. They are both a bit older than me, so I always found their perseverance and never-ending inspiration of life and making to encourage me. Nothing slows them down. They are both incredible artists and painters.
Q. Is the artistic life lonely What do you do to counteract it?
A. Not really. There are times when you have to work alone in your studio, but I have a great network of people and other artists I can call. Teaching also helps here as I always have the classroom and students to interact with. Deep down I really don’t mind being alone.
Q. Apart from your art, what do you love doing?
A. I’m a terrible guitar player when I am not painting.
Q. What is your philosophy in matters of art?
A. If art-making and it’s role and purpose is bigger than the maker, then it will need to exist and be made even if you are not feeling up to the task. There are a lot of things in this field that could make you stop making; I see it happen to artists all the time. Maybe such creatives put money or power as the first priority and when that dries up, there is no reason for moving on. Money and power are much easier to achieve in other fields, so don’t waste your time here: go be a politician! We as artists make art for others. Once our work leaves our studio, it goes into the world and is no longer ours. Students always ask me when their work is done and I say: when you can’t work on it anymore.
Q. What does 'success' mean to you?
A. Success is when your art inspires somebody. At the highest level, art is successful when it changes someone for the better.
Q. What are the biggest things you've learned in life thus far?
A. Always be open to other ideas. Most of the best things I’ve learned in my life were contributed to someone else. We grow as people/ not as a person. I have also been wrong many times in my life. It doesn’t hurt to get that out of the way… sometimes you will be wrong, just learn from it.
Q. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given, and by who?
A. My father would always say: “Love what you do and the rest will follow”. So far, so good!
Q. What advice would you give to the next generation?
A. Don’t do what you are doing for power and money. In this career, you will fall hard many times and you have to pick yourself back up. I’ve seen many quit because they were fueled by the wrong things and when they fall, they can’t get back up again, they just move onto something else. I think resiliency is as important as creativity in this field. But resiliency without a positive desire for growth is just existing.