A Closer Look in Jason Bryant’s MirrorShare
An interview with Jason Bryant on his new body of work and exhibition "Smoke & Mirrors".
Born in 1976 in Wilson, NC, Bryant moved to New York City after receiving his MFA at the Maryland Institute College of Art and began work with such notable artists as Kehinde Wiley and Bjarne Melgaard. Bryant’s paintings have been exhibited and collected worldwide.
Jessica L. Porter (JLP): Let’s start with your current exhibition, “Smoke & Mirrors”, what do you hope people get out of seeing this exhibition?
Jason Bryant (JB):-“Smoke & Mirrors” has been 2 years in the making and the most ambitious, most conceptually cohesive show that I’ve ever created. The show was a personal pilgrimage for me to explore all of the facades everyone uses, essentially to survive, and like my paintings, present a glamorous, un-cracked surface. All of the glamorous paintings are from film stills of people either smoking or having their reflections conveyed by mirrors. I try to be a social "mirror”, reflecting back to people what they see. They view the work with their own first glance, and leave with their own interpretations. Ultimately, I want the show to be seen as a "reflection" and investigation into ourselves through the filter of the glamorous Hollywood paintings that we all recognize, see the flaws then to celebrate or change them for the better.
JLP: Where did the idea for this exhibition start? Can you share a bit about your process?
JB: Narrative, cohesion and concept are very important elements in to creating my exhibitions. I work in a reverse process of painting, by coming up with titles and an overall vision for an exhibition, then the research starts for finding the source materials that will eventually become paintings. I think of a concept for an exhibition as one large work, consisting of several paintings being components that make up the show. Like a movie, there is a seamless connection with the works. Basically, once all that is done, I build my canvas, sketch the film still image onto the canvas in pencil, then I start to paint.
JLP: Do you have a routine that you follow in your process?
JB: Strangely the studio must be spotless. I’ve always believed that if my work space was clean and minimal, then it would help sift through the mayhem going on in my mind, clearing a way for a fresh start. A blank canvas is like a new beginning, a new journey. We all want a fresh start and painting gives me that. With my space bare, it is just me and the painting, no distractions. I am pleasantly forced to engage into creating the piece.
JLP: What motivates you to paint?
JB: EVERYTHING! The desire to get better, anger for how unfair or unjust life simply can be, love for the support I get and all the relationships art has given me, if I’ve had a good/bad day at work. Simply everything!
JLP: For the paintings that incorporate skateboarding graphics, how do you choose the graphic? or do you have a graphic and choose the film still? How does it work?
JB: I first create the painting of the black and white film still. The film still I choose must translate well out of context of the movie, so when it becomes a painting, it has its own identity, its own presence. From there I go to my bible of old iconic skate graphics from artists who helped in the evolution of skateboarding. I spend hours and hours investigating and exploring how these vibrant, colorful aggressive graphics can work with the black and white image to create a complete painting. Once the graphic is chosen, it really feels effortless in merging it with the image through painting, moving in and out of the space of the black and white image. Upon completion it has its own identity, one separate from the film or skate graphic that is being celebrated.
JLP: In the past your paintings involved cropped images of vintage film stars and models only and you used the canvas to crop the image by simply only painting that which you wanted to be seen. Now, in the last 3 -4 years you've used other methods like pixels and skateboarding graphics. Why the change? Did something specific prompt this change?
JB: This was a conceptual model I created to explore the ideas of identity, loneliness, and celebrity. The cropping of the eyes is about that, creating a mystery to who we are, how we see ourselves, how others see us. There is so much more to our identity than what is interpreted when we see each others face. The natural progression was to find more conceptual ways to show the whole face yet hide just a little of who we are. The skateboarding graphics and pixilation of the eyes was the perfect conceptual progression to convey this narrative.
JLP: What's next for you?
JB: My next body of work is in its beginning stages and I must say it is going to be the most comprehensive exploration in my opinion of the greatest era of film. I won’t give it away, but the paintings are going to be gritty, beautiful and honest.
Jason Bryant’s “Smoke & Mirrors” exhibition is up through October 20 at Porter Contemporary, 548 W. 28th Street, NYC
Featured Image: Installation view of A Crack in His Faux Finish (2012) by Jason Bryant, oil on canvas, 60" x 50"