Nostalgic, film-like portraits and contemporary iconography by Jason Bryant

Dive in to the visually striking paintings of Jason Bryant, who uses an amalgamation of classic cinematic imagery and bold skateboarding iconography to create his compositions. An accomplilshed artist with an MFA in painting from Maryland Institute College of the Arts, Bryant finds inspiration in the work of other artists that focus on portraiture like Chuck Close and Kehinde Wiley. Using bold colors and graphics often found in the skate world in his foregrounds, a remarkable contrast is formed with the black and white portraits underneath. As skateboarding has always been an important part of the artist’s life, it continues to influence various elements of his work. His unique style of nostalgic, film-like portraits and contemporary iconography makes for a strong aesthetic that you will not soon forget. Join us in conversation with Bryant as he discusses the joys of skateboarding, the intrigue of ‘the portrait’ and his upcoming exhibiton in NYC.

AMM: Tell us about a bit about your background as an artist. What sparked your interest in creating art—did you always have a creative mind?

JB: For as long as I can remember I’ve been surrounded by the creative process from crafty decorative arts to graphic design. What sparked my interest in art really happened when my uncle, who is an artist and graphic designer, took a toy figurine I had, looked at it, and drew it in action as if in a comic book. It blew my mind as a 5 year old, so I started trying to recreate that moment then. Drawing was there from the start so I’ve always had the mindset to try and be creative and explore the possibilities of drawing and painting at a very young age.

AMM: Have you always worked in painting, or have you experimented with other mediums in the past? Take us through your artistic process.

JB: I’ve always been mainly a painter, but drawing is also a crucial part of painting so in undergrad and graduate school I studied drawing extensively, but I did use my skills as a painter and incorporated that to sculpture, and various other materials such as painting on skateboards and Nike shoes for example.

AMM: How much trial and error is involved in a single painting of yours? 

JB: There can be a good amount of trial and error in the drawing aspect of laying the image out on a canvas. As a hyperrealist, the scale and proportion of what you will be painting is very important. For this reason many artists over the years have projected the source material onto canvas. This is a great and economical way to achieve exact scale. My approach in life is that nothing is perfect so I’ve always just free handed my source imagery in. I have a deep love for drawing and this always kept me close to this process.

AMM: What is it about the image of the human figure that continues to intrigue you?

JB: The portrait will always continue to intrigue me and be a part of my work. The face can be interpreted as a road map of ones life and I try to show that threw various themes in my work.

AMM: What affect does the concept of ‘identity’ have on you as an artist? How does this come across through your artwork?

JB: Identity and the portrait have always played a crucial role in my development as an artist and a person. My love for film, like many of us, is an escape from the everyday. We get immersed into the characters we watch, we become a part of that world for 2 hours. Most of my imagery is of film stills, where people are playing a role. I try to capture the dichotomy of the fact that all of us play a role in life, in front of camera or not.

AMM: Many of the figures in your paintings have a cinematic aesthetic. How important has film been on your artistic development? 

JB: Just as skateboarding, film has always played such a crucial roll in my development as and artist. I can remember my mother watching all the great black and white classics, and right behind TV, was a window looking into our back yard, which had a beautiful green forest that seemed to stretch forever. Many years later when I started the Merging Icons series, it occurred to me that it was those early visual moments of seeing a black and white image juxtaposed with vibrant, visceral colors played a huge roll in the birth of me mixing my love for painting, skateboarding and film.

AMM: Many of your paintings include iconography from the skateboarding world, such as Jim Phillips’ infamous screaming hand. How has skateboarding influenced your artistic direction? Has it attributed in shaping your current style? 

JB: Skateboarding is and always will be a life force for me. I started skating in 1987, and although at 41 I can’t move as well as use to, I still roll around. Skateboarding, art and film all saved me. Skateboarding has opened so many doors for me and I have so many great friends who are basically family because of it. The influence of the skate graphic has always been there. There was a moment when I was watching a skate video while painting. I missed not being able to physically skate at the level I once did, so I decided to merge all of my great loves: painting, film and skateboarding. I would merge iconic skate imagery with iconic film imagery, creating my own cinematic translation.

AMM: Are their any fellow artists you look to for inspiration? What artist’s work motivates you and why?

JB: Chuck Close is my hero as far as an icon of painting the portrait. His work continues to inform my development as an artist. I look to Kehinde Wiley, Karel Funk, any street art or skateboard graphic draws my attention and I try to use that urban form of work to infiltrate the pristine, polished look of a classis black and white film still from old Hollywood. It’s a dychomity that beautifully mixed for me. I skated for 17 years very seriously and still do, but Father Time is undefeated so I can’t move as quickly as I did But my love for skateboarding naturally evolved into merging with my cinematic paintings.

AMM: Describe what you would consider to be a successful day in the studio.

JB: A perfect day in the studio for any artist is being in full time, sometimes it doesn’t work that way but when it it does, 9-until whenever! Living in New York, full studio days are rare and artists have to adjust, but having breakfast in your studio and finishing up with dinner is a very good day!

AMM: What aspirations for your work do you have for he future? What direction do you see your work going? 

JB: I’m so excited to be a part of this very conceptual two person show coming up with this wonderful photographer Charles Cohen, which will be at Equity Gallery in the Lower East Side, NYC. It is about the age of appropriation vs. mass commercialism vs. the original. We are still fine-tuning the language of how the show is presented, but it’s going to be super exciting!

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Text written and interview conducted by Christina Nafziger for artMaze Mag.

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