Jason Stout will be showing a new body of work at Ground Floor Gallery November 5th, 7-10pm. This is a series that Jason began around a year ago after searching for ideas through some traditional still life painting. He was working on vanitas centered in a domestic setting, all of which included a cloud-filled window. Through time, the repeated appearance of these windows revealed something to Stout – a metaphor for “domestic turbulence.” He saw that our home lives can never be unlinked from the turmoils of the culture outside. As if stepping into the painting and out of the window, Jason found a solution – clouds.
There were many political and social issues that Stout was trying to address in his paintings. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that moves on from a disturbance as quickly as it developed in the first place. The ongoing election, continued military efforts, and Black Lives Matter movement are certainly headliners in the media, but before the paint had dried on Jason’s canvas, the media had moved on. Painting takes longer to process. Clouds became a basis that allowed him to have a dialogue with these issues in a way that could keep up. They are metaphors on their own terms – fight clouds in a cartoon – as well as a form for these cultural problems to move in and out of, reacting to one another and drawing connections. Stout says, “It wasn’t about the issues, it was about all the overwhelming information and the tension and anxiety that comes from that.” He also talked about The cloud, befittingly calling it the “storage cloud super center.”
Stout said that “you hit this cloud and get spun around the edges of a square.” When looking at these paintings, this couldn’t be more true. Using a high pigment count and a sharp understanding of temperature and value push, these images vibrate almost like the work of Op Art. This makes sense after speaking with Jason. He absorbs and studies formal abstraction paintings more than just about anything else. He said, “You have to be aware of your audience, which is mainly artists, so what is their value system, how do you keep them interested?” He has successfully merged abstraction and narrative in a way you do not often see. Dana Schutz and Cecily Brown come to mind. The vibrancy and cartoon quality of his paintings make the cultural turmoil easier to stomach. At a certain point however, the formal candy that originally drew you becomes dizzying on its own account. Stout condenses the media frenzy into one swift moment.
Below, is an interview with the artist.
Your show is titled “Thrown From the Storm” -What is behind this choice?
I think all experiences, good, bad, young, old shape us in some fashion. Since this series of work started as a play on fight clouds as a vehicle for metaphors of social and political conflict, the idea of a storm was always present. But as the work developed, things started shooting out and being discarded, just like in stories from the news. We rest on one issue then suddenly moving to the next, often with the conflict or issue being left without resolve. Through my experience I often feel compelled or drawn into this conflict, and then thrown out when the media or nation moves, so in a sense, conceptually, thrown from the storm. But as I’ve been making the work, that phrase kept coming up in my mind, “Thrown from the Storm…”, like a part of a song you can’t quite remember. Then I placed it, Rimbaud!!! It’s actually part of a line from Rimbaud’s poem The Drunken Boat, “Thrown from the storm into a birdless sky.” The poem is about pursuing life only to find out that you are limited by and bound to the conditions you are born into, your government, its position in the world, etc., and the poet’s response to that. I haven’t read the poem since I was 20, but somehow it still resonates, and has been quite often lately.
There is obviously something quite significant about your identity as a southern artist and your work’s identity as southern art. Can you talk more about this? What is the significance for each?
I think every artist has a conflict of sorts with where they are from. Being an artist and being southern when I was younger seemed to be an impossibility. It just wasn’t valued, more so, it was humored. Not only that, I really had no other other artists to identify with. Music however was valued, and its history, especially in Tennessee, and I always worried that the South would be purely a musical region and never invest in the visual arts heavily, because historically, that had been the case. I remember then feeling the need to move away from that identity, wanting to be anything other than some west Tennessee kid, because there weren’t any in the art world. But you can’t escape it, and ultimately, the things that you experience, the things that make you who you are, are the best things to make work about, because they are yours and no one else’s. So at some point I just embraced it.
Do you have an idea of the image before the painting begins, or is it more of a set of ideas? What sort of planning goes on beforehand? I usually start off with a set of drawings. I’m always drawing, and when I find some drawings that gain momentum, either formally or conceptually, I develop a body. Then I try to paint them, taking the best drawings from the set and converting them. But I’m not bound to pure description of the drawing, and often, there are parts of the drawings that don’t translate into paintings, and those non- translatable parts are what really advance the paintings into something else. Then I work on those, and when I exhaust the possibilities of the paintings, I take what advancements I get from the paintings and use that to start the next drawings. Its cyclical for sure.
There are pretty specific images and symbolism in your paintings. Is there something for you that is unifying them all or is it more of an invitation for the viewer to draw their own conclusions? I have a plan or an idea what the painting is about, but I leave areas where the viewer can infer their interpretation as well. A lot of the objects in and outside of the storms in these paintings all have a duality, they are selected because for me they have several meanings and several purposes that are tied to our current time and narrative. The beauty of this series is that people place different connotations on the objects and parts, and when they connect those connotations and weave a narrative with the compositional arrangement, that’s when the painting reveals itself, and the revelation is usually always different.
What role does abstraction play in your paintings?
I respond to abstraction because ambiguity is an element to the narratives, and that sometimes I just have certain instincts and interests as an artist that aren’t bound by depiction, and I obey those instincts. Abstraction is a very basic and primal appetite, and I indulge it. My paintings are primarily semi abstract, but I always wanted to make pictures that could be appealing to purely abstract painters and to people that loved narrative work or who responded to some imagery. I think these paintings really balance those responsibilities well. Plus my generation comes from a distorted period visually. From cartoons, to video games, to plastic surgery, everything is saturated, especially with television and advertising. We are definitely in a post human era.
To me, your paintings appear as though they are nebular and explosive. Is there
a reason behind this?
Sure, because it’s an extension of the metaphor. Some of the works early on looked like explosions, and I was thinking of how the media gives a star quality to conflict. So naturally I started thinking of nebulas, exploding and dying stars, and how the clouds could transcend to be more, how the clouds could have an extended duality to their presence and not be just earthly. One of the contradictions of our time is that we understand more of the universe and earth than we ever have, but in contrast, there is a resentment of that understanding in some circles. Plus we are in an atomic age, and I was thinking of that too.
These images bring to mind hip hop, graffiti, and political cartoons. Are these influences for the work? If so, why?
I grew up in the rise of rap and hip hop in the early 80’s and 90’s. I always connected to the stories, the poetry, the attention to class issues in the hip hop. It was new, it was fresh, and is resonated with me. Plus there was an anti authority aspect of it made me question institutions I was taught not to question. Graffiti was part of the visual aesthetic, plus, in some respects, the first real abstraction I experienced. I grew up in a railroad town, and the trains that came through, usually from Chicago and other larger cities, would be covered in images and tags. I’m sure I assimilated it somehow, though I’m not consciously aware of it when I work.
You are interested in power structures within our culture. What specifically do you think draws you to this subject matter?
It dissects everything we are, most of what we do, and how we consume. In a capitalist society, I think we have to constantly be questioning and re-evaluating our power structures or we risk falling victim to a slumbered existence. I would like to avoid sleepwalking.