Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Artist of the Week

Jason Amos Oaks

The statistics on child abuse are hard to track down mainly because many cases of abuse goes unreported. However, no one can deny that children are abused on a daily basis be it physically or mentally. As a father of four, I quickly understood the high level of trust that young children place in their parents. Children look to their parents for the essentials and so much more. They need a stable, loving environment to flourish, and abuse destroys their this balance and everything they ever thought to be true and trustworthy. It is hard to comprehend a bigger crime then the abuse of a child.

April is national child abuse month, and I couldn't think of a better artist to feature this month than Jason Amos Oaks. Since entering into fatherhood he has focused on two goals, being the best father he can be and creating quality art. His early work focused more on this subject then his current piece, but still the original thought behind the Chocolate Shores in intact. Looking through Jason's work I feel at times as though I have entered into the dreams of an abused child. With illustrations, spray paint, exposing bunnies, and so on, all speaking out, searching a world of fantasy that never quite escapes the violence.
Recently, Jason Amos Oaks was kind enough to answer a few of my questions.

Orange Alert (OA): How would you describe your work?
Jason Amos Oaks (JAO): I believe the root of my work is storytelling. The south is rich with it. My father is a storyteller and a minister, but unlike him I'm not verbal. I don't express myself well at all in conversation, explanations, or debate. My work is often viewed out of context. I think of myself as an installation artist. I know I'm not in the traditional sense, but I love to create an environment for a viewer to walk into and through. I combine drawings, paintings, structural elements, found objects, audio, and sometimes photo and video. These create vague story lines that I hope overwhelm and consume the viewer. Unfortunately I don't get the venue to do this often. The work ends up separate as a show of drawings or any other individual grouping. Regardless they stand strong as a story to be told.

OA: There seems to be elements of graffiti in your work, especially your "Honeycomb Series". Is there a connection in your work? Do you feel graffiti has played a role in the current art world in general?
JAO: Though I work in a variety of media, I get recognized for my cartoon based illustrations. Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, and frequent trips to Disney World were huge influences on me, unfortunately. I say 'unfortunately' because of the saturation of 30ish white male artists pursuing the same thing as me. I'm guessing quite a few from my generation had the same influences, because the market seems to be overflowing with it. Much of it is garbage, but the select that are great at it make it hard to push one's work. I think the art world is an exciting and diverse community right now, and I'm thrilled with it. I really hate getting lumped in the Juxtaposer Category though. I like to believe I'm not in a trend. This is something I've developed over years and years. It isn't a style I decided to jump on board with, so I think that help makes me legitimate... I guess I should give you a direct answer, sorry. I'll try to shorten this part of the answer even though it's a long story: Graffiti in the urban/street sense doesn't have any relevance to me at all. I'm from the gut of the south. I was never exposed to it. I certainly saw it on K-Tel Breakdance Records and in previews for movies like 'Beat Street', but that was it. I am however a lover of crude graffiti. The "I love you Jane!" on an overpass, bathroom stall scrawl. I love old desk tops from gradeschool. I like finding faces my daughter has drawn on the baseboard behind the couch. And I even like arms ruined by homemade tattoos on tragic southerners. I started writing in my work. I was scared to be bold and expressive with it though. I started using spraypaint and stencil letters as another element of word writing/storytelling just to add somewhat meaningful atmosphere in the background of my drawings. Later in the year I fell 16' from a ladder and shattered my wrist on my drawing arm. I was, of course, unable to draw at this point. I started to fall back on the spraypaint and discovered the use of my left hand. This pushed my work in a completely new direction. So, my accident was the real reason spraypaint came in. I don't really see it as urban/street graffiti influence though. As far as its influence in the art world? Most certainly. It's in every art publication from Artforum to Hi-Fructose. It has trickled to the masses in advertising, design, and clothing. Everywhere you go, man.

OA: Do you work with a set color palette? Do you ever use color to express a certain emotion in a painting?
JAO: I do tend to gravitate to a palette. I like muted and washy colors. I studied watercolor, so that's what I know. I'm very colorful with reds, pinks, blues, greens... I use quite a bit of color. The overall taste kind of goes...hmm...I guess I could describe it as terra-cotta? I do have a custom color I mix that I call bruise. It's a peachy-bluish-grey, and I'm quite fond of it. For emotion, red is the big one. When you have all of these dead or muted colors all over and you throw in faint touches of red, it really seems to create uncertainty or unease. And in a simple drawing, just one lone color with the black and white gives a nice empty feeling.

OA: I've read the Chocolate Shores came about when you entered into fatherhood. What is the significance of the title Chocolate Shores, and has fatherhood changed the way you look at art in any way?
JAO: It came from worrying about being a good father. I noticed other fathers that really shouldn't be fathers, or others that just pretended to be. Oh! The tragedy of what their kids will become! One day I ran across a statistic about abuse and kids. It specifically addressed sexual abuse. I don't remember the exacts, but it was unbelievably awful. Just terrible. My heart is still heavy about it. What fathers (and mothers) are capable of doing to their children is unacceptable. I did a lithograph after that called 'A Man, the bear and his family.' It was a huge piece that told the story of a hunter transforming into a ravenous predator and consuming his family. It's really a poor piece now that I look at it, but it was the springboard for Chocolate Shores. There is so much symbolism that I forget what it all means. Every mark I make in a piece symbolizes something. The chocolate girls and licorice boys are victims of abuse. Chocolate bunnies are somewhat like excrement, but not really because there is still a sweetness to it. It is a product of a kid's demise though. The chocolate bunnies turn into 'ghost bunnies' that work their way through the Licorice Forest helped by various characters along the way to make it to the Chocolate Shores. The beehive is a holy of holies type icon. It stings you, but it coats you in sticky sublime, and heals all wounds. And I'll quit with the Shores. It's a purgatory of sorts for victims to wait on the Ship of Gold. It's a very obsessive-compulsive tale. Fatherhood has confirmed my obligation to creating art. It has increased my appreciation for everything. I get annoyingly excited to expose my family to museums, galleries, and other art-related events.

OA: A main theme in your work is the various abuses you have observed in the lives of children. What was it that lead you to chose this issue to focus on, and how do you feel your work speaks to these concerns? Have you considered donating proceeds or pieces to organizations that address the same concerns?
JAO: Abuse at this point is no longer the central theme, although it's still around. The ideas are never really pleasant though. They are about being broken, lost, empty, desolate, thirsty, tired, and all guilt that may crawl into your mind when your head hits the pillow. I have absolutely considered donating proceeds to such an organization. The brutal truth though is that I'm lazy. I've often considered looking up the statistics that moved me originally and posting them on my website, or handing out information at my shows. I have such a hectic life that I never get around to it. Now that you've exposed my illness, I must go cure it!

OA: What's next for Jason Amos Oaks?
JAO: Next, I'm drawing again. I'm working on my first group of drawings since the accident. This body of work is for a show in Sacramento, California with artist Annie Owens. She draws beautifully and uses watercolor also. I think our work will compliment each other well. I'm doing raccoons and possum interacting with Licorice Boys and Chocolate Girls. I'm uncertain of the storyline. It's vague as usual. These creatures are so mysterious and I'm certain I'll pair them with some symbolism. I just don't know what yet. I also have several products coming out this year. I have greeting cards that should be out by the end of the month. After that there are shirts, journals, stickers, a felt Chocolate Girl Doll, and other kitsch in the works. It will post on my website as I work through it all.

Bonus Questions:
OA: Coffee? If yes, what is your favorite type of coffee and where is your favorite coffee spot?
JAO: Yes, and straight no chaser...strong. Bitter, black, mmm! I don't do the local haunts for coffee. At the risk of sounding artsy, I love drinking it at a diner in Astoria, NY. There is a diner down the street from a friend of my brother's apartment. It's under the subway tracks. I don't know if it's just the atmosphere and the fact that one is in New York, but that is one dem fin cup'a cafe! My other spot is the back yard in early morning while letting the dog roam.

OA: Do you listen to music while paint? Who are some of your favorite musicians while painting and in general?
JAO: The music goes with the theme. Sad, sad stuff. Mark Kozelek (Red House Painters, etc.), Damien Jurado, older Black Heart Procession, etc. I'm also into emotional stuff like Mum, Sigur Ros, Mogwai, Explosions in the Sky, Arab Strap, etc.

For more information on Jason Amos Oaks please visit the Chocolate Shores, and for information about the prevention of child abuse visit Prevent Child Abuse America.


Nobius said...

I always wished I could draw/paint/and the like. Alas, I can't even draw a good stick figure. Good for you for giving these artists exposure.

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