In Show Us Your Space, we visit with various Redbubble artists in their workspaces to see where and how these talented folks create those amazing things that they create.
"If you do decide you can’t do anything else, you have to be very disciplined and work really hard. You have to get up and paint, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing."
As I entered the studio and home of Melbourne painter Jason Moad, it became apparent he thrives on visual inspiration and cues around him. Jason lives in a cool and dark beautiful art deco house, making for an inspiring period setting. His studio was filled with books, posters, and figurines — all positioned to catch your eye and function as a constant source of provocation. Jason is an established painter with a plethora of exhibitions under his belt and a commercial gallery representing his meticulous paintings. I was fortunate enough to sit down with him to talk about his love of fiction and realist paintings.
Can you talk about how contradiction works in your realist paintings? What kinds of conceptual frameworks have you applied to your paintings?
Well, I think contradiction is at the heart of all realist painting. Ideally, what I’m aiming for is a suspension of disbelief in the viewer. I’m not at the photo-real end of the spectrum but I want my pictures to be realistic enough for people to lose themselves and forget that they’re looking at a painting. Funnily enough, I think this is actually easier with a painting than it is with a photograph, which, traditionally at least, has been a document of “the real.” People are so clued in to the fact that every photo they look at has been altered or tampered with that the viewer is constantly questioning what they’re looking at. I think paintings can sidestep that reflex. Despite that, the contradiction in realist painting exists in the simple fact that a painting may present what appears to be a window on the world but is actually just cunningly smeared oil and pigment on a two dimensional surface.
From what I can tell the locations and places in your painting aren’t real, they’ve been rendered through imagination and other sources. Can you tell me if this creates a kind of temporal occasion for the viewer, and what draws you to non-existent places?
Ultimately, what I’m trying to construct is a strong image. To that end, I feel completely free to rearrange the real world to suit my needs. I might make drawings and take reference photos in multiple locations that, for whatever reason, catch my interest or suggest the mood I’m trying to convey. A single real location is often too specific and might not make a good picture. I pick and choose elements from different places to both make a painting stronger in terms of its composition and also its effect on the viewer. They’re completely synthetic in that sense.
Can you tell us about your use of animals in your paintings? They seem to exist as static symbols and are incongruous with their often urban or suburban surrounds.
The animals are about a few different things. They are intended to work as symbols in the way animals often do in folk tales. In medieval stories, for example, you sometimes have someone following a mysterious stag through the forest for whatever reason. When I was making those paintings I didn’t analyze it too closely but I did think of them as emissaries or messengers of some kind — maybe from the natural world or maybe the subconscious. One painting, for example, had a figure in a concrete, underground car-park, completely divorced from the natural world, looking at a tiny Fairy Wren sitting on his finger. Realistically, there’s no way for the wren to be there. Maybe it isn’t actually there and is just some kind of mental projection. Throughout history, people have always seen all kinds of strange things. I’m really fascinated by stories about ghosts and UFOs, for instance. It’s not their objective reality that interests me — unfortunately, personally, I’ve never seen anything anomalous. What I find interesting is that the experience is very real for the witness.
Your sharks, giant bunnies, and animals in urban spaces have been wildly popular on Redbubble, can you tell us about these works, the inspiration behind them and what they represent to you? The scale of them intrigues me!
The “White Shark” paintings are based on a model in Melbourne Museum. I spent a lot of time there drawing. They’re part of a larger series I was making of museum interiors. Sharks are another fascination of mine. Sharks, ghosts, UFOs, snakes, dinosaurs — when you get right down to it, I’m still an eleven year old boy at some level… I just think that white sharks are magnificent and those paintings were about the fact that many people would be happy enough if the only place they existed was in a museum. As far as I’m concerned, you go in the water, you take your chances. But, as I was saying, the animals in the other paintings are largely symbolic and I messed with their scale to give them a greater presence and maybe an hallucinatory edge.
One of my favorite series of works by you are the paintings depicting books, can you please tell us about these works, and also about your relationship with books and reading? Which authors have most heavily influenced your art making?
Well, I’ve always loved books and I’m usually reading two or three at any given time. Those book pictures are my current series. They evolved out of two earlier paintings that featured books more peripherally. The books in both of those paintings were incredibly frustrating to paint, mostly because they weren’t very big and the titles on the spines of the individual books required such painstaking work. I don’t know whether I’m a masochist or whether I just liked the end result but the idea of narrowing the focus down to piles of books suddenly seemed like the way forward. I also liked the idea of finding my subjects in my own living-room. The book paintings work along two lines. Firstly, they’re my ludite protest at the way the digital revolution is progressing. I love books not only for what they contain but also as objects. I like physical media in general — books, CDs, DVDs. If I download something it doesn’t feel quite real to me and I don’t feel like I really own it. I hate the idea if e-readers. Give me a scruffy, dog-eared paperback any day. I make physical objects, after all. I don’t spend my days sculpting with pixels on a screen. It’s not tactile enough.
Secondly, like all of my work, and fittingly enough for paintings of books, they’re heavily narrative. As I got more involved in them, it occurred to me that I could have some fun. Each painting features not only books but an object that is designed to act as a key to the work. One painting, for example, features a pile of monographs on my favorite painters and the object on top is a toy dinosaur. I called it “Dinosaurs” as a bit of a dig at doing something as seemingly archaic as painting in this day and age. Another has a stack of books dealing with the Holy Grail. They range from quite serious titles to something as ridiculous as The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail. On top of them I’ve painted a figurine of Eric Idle as Brave Sir Robin from Monty Python’s The Holy Grail. It struck me as both apt and really funny.
I’ve also noticed that your paintings feature many places on the periphery, that look easy to forget or skim over. Places such as suburbia, back alley ways or ordinary looking streets. What is it about these marginalized or common (or uncommon) places that you’re attracted to? I think it’s so interesting and wonderfully strong in your work and am keen to hear more about your relationship with places, spaces and the public vs. private intimacy we bring to places.
I called the series “Liminal Spaces” as a way at hinting at some of the things I was saying earlier. I remember, in his Sandman comics, Neil Gaiman had this idea he called soft places. These were locations where the walls between our world and other dimensions were particularly thin and porous. Liminal spaces are threshold or doorway areas. If you were going to be confronted by bizarre, confronting visions, it made sense to me that they would be in atmospheric, out of the way places, like back alleys. Later, I began setting them in suburbia because I wanted to ground them in everyday places. I’d also decided that I should try to source all of my settings from as close to my house as I could. Often from just down the street. I’ve finally taken that to its logical conclusion with these new pictures. Now I find everything a few steps from my easel!
You have a very successful painting practice and an impressive resume. What advice would you give to a young emerging artist?
That’s really nice of you to say. I feel like I’m getting somewhere with my work, especially with this new series, so I do feel successful in that sense. Financially, so far it’s been a different story. Being an artist can be very expensive. Good quality paint isn’t cheap and linen is over a hundred dollars a meter. Competitions are generally thirty or forty dollars to enter, whether you are selected to exhibit or not. I couldn’t have gotten this far without my wife, Peggy, who also works in the Arts. I don’t want to sound negative and I certainly wouldn’t expect anyone else to follow my advice but I’d have to say, if you can possibly do something else, if you aren’t really driven, you should. It has to be said, however, that I wouldn’t have listened to that when I was starting out!
If you do decide you can’t do anything else, you have to be very disciplined and work really hard. You have to get up and paint, even when it’s the last thing you feel like doing. Each of my paintings takes about a month of full-time work. It sounds boring but I keep office hours — although I can’t imagine there are many jobs where you put in a 40 hour week with no clear expectation that you’re going to be paid for it! If you want to be a painter you should get used to laying awake at night, wondering how you’re going to make the next rent payment. Sad but true.
Any advice you have on entering awards/prizes (of which you have won or been shortlisted for so many, congratulations!)?
They’re an essential part, for better or worse, of any contemporary practice. If you are lucky enough to be selected for a competition, a broad audience gets to see your work. That’s important. Competitions can also stretch you as an artist, in that you might tackle something you ordinarily wouldn’t. I entered a self-portrait in The Archibald this year. I don’t consider myself a portraitist and I worked on that painting, on and off for maybe six months. It ended up in The Salon Des Refuses, which was a great result. But this is an example of how competitions can be a double edged sword. If you’re not careful, you can warp your whole practice around trying to get into these prestigious prizes. Also, if you don’t make the cut, the rejection can be crushing. It’s a real struggle not to take it personally.