Jason Wright is an artist living and working in Vancouver. He received a BFA in Visual Arts from Simon Fraser University in 1997 and an MFA in Sculpture from the University of Regina in 2009. His recent work focuses on contemporary food culture. He recently returned from a three month residency in Iceland.
Glutton: The Art of Jason Wright
What medium do you tend to work on?
Whatever medium is needed. When I went to Iceland, though, I went to draw so I only brought paper and for three months I just drew. I built up a technique. I use a china marker and I use a fork and a spoon. They are silver.
So my drawings, they are silver hitting a grease pencil. I “carve” shapes out. I did this on wood, so the paper, it took the wood grain in. It has a feathery, light, physical air to it. It’s silver point, an ancient technique. But it’s mostly used in subtle ways. You are supposed to build up shading, it takes forever, but I don’t have that patience so instead use silver to mark quite forcefully the paper, there are huge, massive cuts on the paper, but at the same time it’s very fragile looking.
When I returned to Vancouver, now for the month or so, I’ve been making more drawings using the same technique with no use of color. So it’s very similar to some of my work in Iceland but it’s much more physical. It’s close to sculpting. I’m carving out massive lines into very thick paper, playing with the lines.
It’s unlike anything I’ve done before, therefore I have no idea how to present it.
How did you become interested in silverpoint?
I saw some pieces and I thought the technique was interesting, rare, and yet it’s the base for all drawings, sort of pre old Masters time, it’s what everyone did before lead and graphite. You’d place a silver point ground. I’m just bastardizing it.
How was Iceland?
It’s a beautiful place, I was in Seyðisfjörður, a town of 660 in the eastern part of the country. At the bottom of a fjord. And it was winter. It’s very isolated. I was in a residency there for three months.
Dieter Roth, an artist I really admire, he had a home and studio there. That was a big reason for me to go there, not an outright pilgrimage but kind of cool.
Let’s take more globally, what kind of themes do you like to explore?
I have a strong comedic impulse, so I start with something I see that makes me chuckle. For the last five years it’s been around food and food culture. Which makes me laugh, the dynamics around it, and how everyone talks about it. So I’ve been investigating that with simultaneously living, well, working, at a restaurant. Pardon the Freudian slip.
What was the first chuckle that got you started with the theme of food?
One of the pieces that people tend to gravitate to is this series of photos, the Saint Sebastian series, which is the saint inside sandwiches. Toothpicks go through the body and condiments are the blood. I had that image because I was thinking about how people purchase their food in order to feel good about themselves in an ethical way, they “sacrifice”, so they’ll go buy organic chicken or free range chicken. Somehow it absolves them of the guilt of eating meat or of being indulgent. Centuries ago, in Catholicism, if you paid up, you could be absolved of your sins, the sin of being a glutton. You
would pay a kind of spiritual tax called an “indulgence.” So I found that intriguing and funny.
From there I did another photographic series. I noticed that my nephew’s birthday they brought out a cake, he was turning one, and he stuffed cake over his face. I took pictures and I realized that is the norm. You take pictures of kids with stuff all over their face. So I did a series of photographs based on children with spaghetti on their faces, because on one hand it’s the most expulsive, joyful act of eating and on the other hand it’s such a grotesque statement. You are having your child perform this act for you, you know what will happen when you give your child a bowl of spaghetti. You just know. So there’s a performative aspect to the children, which is odd. And if you type inn “spaghetti eating children” there’s tons of kids with spaghetti on their head!
I also did a series called Dog’s Dinner. I was looking at the way restaurants plate the food. There’s a style now, not so much in Vancouver mind you, where they’ll send food out on a brick or a piece of slate, something odd. So I used these techniques to present a series of dishes using only commercially available dog chews. The tip- to- tail movement in food culture is actually a good one, and important, in terms of using an entire animal, but there is also something gross and macho about it too, right? So there were a lot of bones and bone marrow and meats. It was this idea of the presentation of bottom of the barrel stuff, but making it very pleasing to the eye. It looks like food one would be able to eat.
There’s the play of something high-end and fetishized, but at the same time grotesque and ridiculous. So there is a comedic and a grotesque aspect to my work, and how we think about food.
My work hasn’t always been about food but for a while now it has been about the body and how the body moves through the world. So, even the drawings, it’s about carving and sculpting even if they are two-dimensional because of how they are imprinted by the fork and spoon.
What’s it like being an artist in Vancouver?
Have you ever used Air B&B? First of all you are vetted. And then you may or not have enjoyed your time staying at a particular place, but you need to leave a review behind and the review needs to be written in a way where if there is any criticism it’s mild because you want them to say you are okay, you want them to leave a good review of you. That’s Vancouver, that’s contemporary art, where in order to be able to work there’s a sense that one needs to play nice. So it’s tied up to the politics of “friending.”
There’s also the fact that artist-run centres across Canada are less and less run by artists, but by those with MFAs or PHD’s in curatorial studies. Which is a shame, because artists tend to (but not always) , have a more intuitive way of curating, a more visual curiosity, how artists may look together. But as artist run centres have become far more professionalized and academic, there are people running stuff out of their basement, their backyard, and I think that’s very hopeful. I like the grassroots efforts. Artists’ centers were designed to be alternative to mainstream galleries, but they are harder and harder to crack into.
There’s also the fact that the audience of artist run centres, well, it’s almost entirely artists and art students. In other cities it feels like a broader community goes to the openings, but here it’s so much about going to openings hoping other people go to theirs. That’s okay…but I kind of want to see other faces. I want to see everybody!
It could simply be that art doesn’t mean much to a general public anymore. That sounds nihilistic, but I’m still hopeful. People are trying to create community-based projects. Although I worry about that too, the use of the word “community.” A lot of artists who are trying to work with community-based projects tend to ape things that are already working well in our culture. So, dinners, parties, and other social functions and activities. You cannot get funding now with out using the word community in the proposal. The city, the province, they love the word “community.”
But it’s so classed, it’s so urban. Truthfully if someone wanted to create an environment where a large group of people from all kinds of different classes and ethnic backgrounds got together: well, go to a hockey game. If that’s what they want, those things are available to us. There’s a snobbery from the art world towards sports, and I think the snobbery comes from the fact that artists see themselves in sports and that both are kind of “extras,” or a bonus of living in a city. Both get funded heavily, both are auxiliary to our lives, they are taken very seriously, written about and talked about, but I think the arts would like to be where sports is. More talked about. If you look at discussions around the new Vancouver Art Gallery the same conversations and rhetoric came up around building stadiums. Community, community, community.
Can we talk about the process of exhibiting your work?
I actually don’t show my work very often. It’s the least interesting part for me, showing it. I enjoy the process of making far more than showing the work. It’s something I’ve been trying to get over. I do like it, but when I am at an opening for myself it doesn’t even seem it’s my work, it’s over. It’s not that interesting for me, maybe because of the feedback issue. I don’t feel people are honest about their feedback. The amount of people who have given me a full critique has been tiny. You have an opening, people drink their beer around it and then you take it down.
But other people are able to put up work constantly. That’s why I admire Dieter Roth. My favorite artists have tended to be prolific. bpNichol is someone else who has influenced me, he did everything. He wrote music for Fraggle Rock. He was a scholar, educator, poet, and he had that sense of everything could be art. Not everything is, but can be, and he put it out into the world.
I guess I can’t ask you then when is your next show?
No. I’ll do things like set up what a show would look like and the pieces included, I’ll do sketches. But the way that the arts centers are run, everything is set up two years in advance. Right now I’m looking for a smaller place that will handle some of this experimental work with my drawings, which I find beautiful. In Iceland I did two group shows and people were excited about the direction I was going in.
Note: Jason Wright has a show August 20 at The Bakery Gallery in Vancouver.
Going back to Iceland, you were in a very small town. So everyone knew you were there.
The residency is called Heima, and yes, everyone knows Heima. It’s not like everyone knew me, because people still go to work and then they go home. There was one bistro, which Dieter Roth started. It is a very art-minded town. Someone there started a light festival, so from her thinking about it to pulling it off it was five months, anywhere in the world it might be two years. But there it was “Of course we’ll do this! What can we do to help?”
Heima also has an art school with around 30 people, so the town knows the students. They wear full, white jumpsuits. When people asked me where I was staying I’d say “Heima,” which means home, so, the Home House. Everyone knew what I meant. It’s definitely an artist utopia. Especially in the winter, you just work because there’s four hours of sunlight. You work, you make friends, you eat, you tell stories.
Did you know before you left you’d be working with this silver technique?
No. I went thinking about figurative work. I love the body and movement so I was doing work with images of dancers. I love the dialogue between drawing and dancing. But then I realized the illustrative quality of drawing a person wasn’t as interesting as the physical act of drawing. For example, I drew on this long piece of paper, it goes on forever, so I had to go up and down all over it. A lot of scratching, using the spoon to burnish the image. I was pounding the hell out of some of these drawings! I was on my hands on knees, dragging things around.
The end result is some of these drawings are too lovely. I’m not sure how to react to them.
You mentioned the grotesquerie and how grotesquerie attracts you.
I’m interested in how it surrounds us and it’s my job to point out things like that. At the base of everything there is humour and trying to figure out how I interpret the world. When something like my drawings doesn’t occupy a comedic impulse, there’s a sincerity there that I’m having difficulty with. I’m having difficulty with negotiating something that is beautiful, that I made. I can understand beauty in the world, but in something I made myself? It’s relatively foreign. The next step for me is to figure out why it’s so foreign and alienating.
All artwork and photos courtesy of Jason Wright or JMLR.
Interview conducted spring 2016.
All artwork and photos courtesy of Jason Wright or JMLR.
The Jewish Mexican Literary Review
- Glutton: The Art of Jason Wright
- Like a Coin Entrusted in Faith
- כשכר בכף יד נאמנה
- Ex-voto (English)
- Exvotos (Spanish)
- An Incomplete Guide to Understanding the Rose Petal Infestation Associated With EverTyphoid Patients in the Tropicool IcyLand Urban Indian Slum
- Eve and other poems
- Nahuatl Nightmares
- Beauty’s Confusion
- Consumption, or, The Decay of Dreams (1988)