|Sophie Hill: I find the idea of “portraits” through something material interesting. What inspired you to create the Symbolic Portraiture series? Jason Bryant: Well, as long as I have been drawing and painting, I have always been fascinated with capturing nuances and expressiveness of the human face, so naturally one of my biggest influences has been Chuck Close. That being said, I wanted to find a way to explore the idea of the modern portrait without dealing with the face at all. So many things make up a person’s “identity,” a favorite color, word, or food. In exploring many different avenues of what could make a person’s “portrait,” I simply asked several of my colleagues what their favorite album was, since music is ultimately one of those intimate parts that combine to complete a person’s portrait.|
Jason Bryant, interviewed by Sophie Hill
Sophie Hill: I find the idea of “portraits” through something material interesting. What inspired you to create the Symbolic Portraiture series?
Jason Bryant: Well, as long as I have been drawing and painting, I have always been fascinated with capturing nuances and expressiveness of the human face, so naturally one of my biggest influences has been Chuck Close. That being said, I wanted to find a way to explore the idea of the modern portrait without dealing with the face at all. So many things make up a person’s “identity,” a favorite color, word, or food. In exploring many different avenues of what could make a person’s “portrait,” I simply asked several of my colleagues what their favorite album was, since music is ultimately one of those intimate parts that combine to complete a person’s portrait.
SH: You say the model is only a “platform” for these portraits, so not directly involved. What then provoked the rather intimate viewpoint of the back of the model’s neck in I Live for That Look?
JB: One of the paintings in this series is of a female from the back with a Dinosaur Jr. album cover painting on her shirt, her hands tucked in her back jeans pocket, and a star tattoo on the back of her neck. My work is always grounded or constructed around the figure. With the Symbolic Portraiture series, I worked with a source image of a model from the back as my platform to build the painting. I wanted there to be a dual “entrance” to the painting for the viewer. Because my work is rooted in photo-realism, I stay true to my source image by replicating every detail; so painting the album cover on her shirt as if it was a part of the original image changes the dynamic of the painting. The intimate viewpoint of her neck is used as a hook to bring the viewer in to explore the figure. With the Symbolic Portraiture paintings, all components—figure, image, and title—are equally important in reading the work. When the viewer reads the title of the piece, all the components come together to complete the painting.
SH: An altering of viewpoint also seems to be omnipresent in the second series Rubric, where film stills are cropped, and your own subtitles are imposed. What perspectives do you hope to alter here?
JB: My love for film has always carried over into my work, so with this series I used film stills from the 1940s and 50s, like Crisis and Bringing Up Baby, and cropped them to enhance the cinematic narrative and add a bit of mystery to the figures in the paintings. I wanted to take these images a bit further to bring the viewer in, so I created my own subtitles to talk about and explore modern-day issues. I’m not trying to change a person’s perspective, but by seeing a recognizable image that draws the viewer in, and combining that with the subtitles, I offer a new way of perceiving the familiar. In a sense, I re-edit the past, and inject it into a modern way of dealing with things. I really like working with images from this time in film because it was a less diluted form of today, a purer form of life and film. When I add the subtitles to these images it blatantly states something contemporary and pulls the film into today.
SH: You say the “romantic process of painting” is important to you, rather than using superimposed methods for constructing images. I have to say I agree with you. What does this bring to your work specifically? Do you think it affects the quality of your work as a painter?
JB: I stress the importance of observation and translating that onto my canvas, so when I build my paintings I do not project or grid out my composition, but simply take my source image and draw it in. This method allows me to embrace the flaws of the translation of the image because I know that I’m not going to draw the image as a perfect reflection of the source. There is an abstraction that occurs when I translate from a three-by-five-inch source image to a four-by-five-feet canvas. Although the abstraction is subtle, a slight elongation of a neck or an overly extended hand, it nonetheless becomes an integral part of the process and the ultimate conveyance of the image.
SH: You take a lot of care over the integration of skate cartoons into your third series of paintings, Merging Iconography, through the realism of the painted “holes” in the canvas or by allowing them to mimic pattern or react to the original image. Would you say this ties in with your concern for the traditional methodology of painting?
JB: Definitely. I found myself experimenting by physically ripping canvas and photographing it, and creating my own source image for the first time. I ripped small pieces of canvas, visualized how the graphic would break through the film and then translated that onto the final painting. In general, I’m just not a “computer person,” so to use something like Photoshop or some other software just isn’t in my nature. I simply create my paintings in the most traditional way by using my instincts as a painter, through composition, background, and foreground. I would take the source image of the film still together with the source image of the skateboarding graphic, and mess around with them for hours and days until I found something that worked. It would have been much easier to come to a final composition using Photoshop, but that would have taken the fun away. The journey of how an image finally comes together is so important to the process of how I make paintings. The fact that people ask if the work was Photoshopped, or if I’m actually using decals or stickers on top of my paintings shows that something is working for me!
SH: Your determination for us to approach your images cinematically stretches to their literal presentation, in the size and density of the “screen”-like canvases to their high sheen screen-like varnish. Is this a way of making them more accessible? Or to present them as a more diverse exploration of painting, one that allows an affinity with the silver screen through their presentation?
JB: Yes, it is very literal. When I’m painting, I most likely have a film on in the background, so it is no surprise that I build my own stretchers with a certain level of thickness to the wood so that the canvas itself becomes an object, almost as if it is an LCD screen on a wall. The varnish ultimately serves as the completion of my process offering a flattening effect or layer, as if it were a screen. The varnish pushes up the darks and pushes back the lights, to create more of a balance. As with everything else in my work, title, source images, it is an equally integral part of my process.
I’m bringing these three narratives together in my upcoming solo exhibition, Trilogy, at Raandesk Gallery, to convey a cinematic journey of portraiture through my paintings. I think more than any show I’ve had, this one is the most personal and the most revealing for me as a person, not just as an artist.