Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A Conversation with Jason Smith

Rob Faucette: The one thing that I've always admired about you and your work is how you seem to get your humor into your work without it being overbearing, if that makes sense. Not that your humor is overbearing.

Jason Smith: I think my feeling about humor in art is not the same as many people- I think most serious art (and literature) needs to have a sense of humor- Not necessarily being clever but something stemming from a sense of absurdity and some kind of anti-despair force. I think too much work these days is self consciously ironic - about layering poses. I really don't like that kind of thing. Plus puns can be funny but are also serious because they play with meaning in unexpected ways. I think visual punning and the ambiguous language paintings can develop have the potential for humor that is also rich with meaning. Plus painting is a somewhat pompous undertaking and needs a bit of self-effacement to make it bearable.

Jason Smith, "Throw Till-U-Win"

I wanted to talk about your painting in the show and if this is a part of a series or not. Really, Could you expand on the attraction to carnival games and how it relates to the landscape?

The visual language of games is all about rules and boundaries- setting up a system that can be completed. To fuse that language with the landscape tradition for me is about generating tension between containment and the uncontained, something wild with something tired and teleological. But the language of games also reinvigorates the empty desire for transcendence that haunts the landscape and abstract traditions of painting. Who wouldn't want to be able to put a button on the side of a Rothko that let you dissolve up into the next level?


At the same time it mocks that desire. Also the whole structure of games is kindred to the exploitation of the landscape. Think of the lines and numbers on a football field, it’s somehow like comodifying the land. Drawing a grid on a field.

Jason Smith

Last spring, we had a discussion regarding what it meant to paint, and was struck by your interpretation. I actually think that's the most important thing. It's not for shows, it's certainly not for glamour and fame, but what is it? Why do you paint and why do you still paint?

I remember when I started painting seriously, back in high school, it seemed like the only adventure I could get behind. It seemed like the only thing I could do that (through a purely personal process of elaboration) could surprise myself and take me someplace new. Plus I was in love with a beautiful girl whose painting seemed like magic to me. I spent so many years trying to get someplace special through painting. At Bennington Amy Sillman said that painting is the only thing you can do that you cant explain- described as the last refuge of the non-rational. Of course we have plenty of irrationality around and I don’t think painting ever really brought me the kind of transformation I sought but something of that feeling stays with me.

Amy Sillman

I do not usually produce paintings for shows but I do think painting is fundamentally done for viewers. You can play an instrument for yourself but I think music is really about an audience- painting is the same, except you can delay showing your work for as long as necessary, even wait until after your dead (if that kind of drama appeals to you). In addition to admitting the necessity of showing, I must also admit to some vainglories notions somewhere. Do I really want lots of attention? I guess sometimes I do. I don’t care much about selling paintings for money though. At least I’m free of that need for validation. At the moment, since I have accepted the necessity of a full time job, my time for painting is limited, but I don’t need to worry about selling. There are lots of interesting spaces to show outside the commercial system. I’m not interested in academic settings or artist run spaces that I’ve shown in in the past- I hope to explore public spaces. There are interesting galleries in nyc in parks, botanical gardens, and other kinds of public - the Buffalo airport has a little gallery that always intrigued me.

So I still didn’t say why I still paint. I guess that Idea of elaborating the self is part of it. Kiki Smith said something about making the internal external and there's something there as well but it’s not quite right, especially because my work is not really about any inner vision. It is a way to make something very personal in our very standardized overproduced world. And something that is personal in a really profound way like not just -this is my style- but this is how I see things and think when I try to see and think in as startling a way as possible.

Kiki Smith, "Born"

Really, where can you find room to do that and make a visual record of that? There is something else though that is more passive- painting can be more than just about the self- I really like the way John Berger thinks about art. For him it's all about conversations- between artist and subject, artist and viewer, viewer and subject.

It’s about actually submitting- opening your consciousness to others. Looking at Cezanne looking at the mountain.

Cezanne's Mountain

I think we’ve lost the sense of how important that can be. Art is not about executing a plan. It has to involve this act of submission, listening looking, opening up. That’s why I always like to continue working from life, It keeps me honest.

Jason Smith, "Sweetgum Branches"

I think a really good reason to paint now is simply to liberate our minds from photographs. Photographs and other derived ways of making images are very different from how we see or how we could see. They really tyrannize our imaginations these days. Painting will never take the place of the movies but it could be a small antidote. Like slow food or something. The world is richer than one way of picturing it. Unfortunately so many painters have forgotten that and work from photos. I have no problem using photos as a reference but the vogue for using photos as a subject is very limiting. I think Richter is a great artist but his influence is rather pernicious. I think Polke is also a great artist but sometimes I think everyone today who doesn’t paint versions of Richter paints versions of Polke.

Sigmar Polke

Gerhard Richter

Myself I’d be happy to paint like Morandi for ever but I keep forgetting that and trying to become a version of Guston.



Not to imply that I have no voice of my own. I think this late in life I'm actually finding it.

Jason Smith, Season 5

Jason Smith lives and works in New York.

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