LSU MOA curator, Courtney Taylor recently spoke to Semblance: The Public/Private/Shared Self artist, Jonathan Lyndon Chase about his artistic process and the content of his paintings now on view at LSU Museum of Art.
CT: How does your use of art historical forms like the odalisque figure in Peaches and Cream (pictured below) and the three graces in Three Graces of Olney confront or intervene in the canon? Can you talk about the tension and power in both confronting the gaze and inviting the gaze?
JLC: Most people aren’t used to seeing black or Queer bodies in the spaces that I work with. They are less direct responses formally. The are conceptually addressing how non gender conforming bodies are policed, how Black bodies are policed in public and private spaces. We think of a pose and the symbolic power it carries in ways I think are mostly binary in odalisque figures—this is what a woman does a female presenting body does horizontal like a landscape or laying in responses to the male viewer.
I am not interested in passive notions or energies, but expanding the ways we know blackness and Queerness that are not always in responses to white heteronormative gazes. Artist 112 wrote a song called “Peaches and Cream” I often think about and reference music videos and music lyrics. Raunchy sounds and intimate sounds. I like R&B.
CT: Your work invites viewers into a very tender—often emotionally and/or sexually intimate—spaces. It at once holds space for non-conforming bodies to live, love, and desire by inviting the viewer into vulnerable space, but also protects that space by limiting access. Can you discuss this and how sheets and other symbols operate in your work?
JLC: Sheets are commonly used in my work because there are lots of beds in my work. Sometimes I think of beds as a stage in some ways. I use symbols and mask a lot to create coded signifiers through black and Queer culture. These can be fruits that reference an ass.
Watches art historically reference Salvador Dali. Time plays an important role in my work because I am always thinking about how bodies wade through time and autopilot ourselves through spaces. Is time linear or is it more like a web or solely a construct of human invention? Watches as gay male communication non verbally. ICE, GOLD, BLING, FASHION—gold as a color that's of the earth, brown skin crackling tiger stripes on an arm pit or wrapping around an ass. Reality as an umbrella, but questioning the realities in the small individual worlds that our bodies are. Perception as protection.
The sheets I use are polyester and cotton—sometimes there is more cotton—for me the surface as a space and how the paint and mark making materials soak and stain into the woven fabric or grid makes me think of African Americans relationship to cotton fields.
Lamps recur because I love interior design, and also because I see them as bodies in a way—an aura or evanescence. Light in a dark tunnel or space that floods out. They are fragile, but also are potentially to symbolically to enter another plane a metaphysical space. They are also a sexual object, TURN ON-TURN OFF.
CT: The figurative works in Semblance highlight how identity is constructed and performed, often from moment to moment, depending on what the public demands or based on people we’re sharing space with—Can you talk about Man with Heads and what the different heads symbolize?
JLC: The heads in Man with Heads is about a person leaving one space (time unknown) night time by the use of cooler colors against their warmer skin. They are carrying their heads for performance into a more open public space, almost a wilderness. Some faces are more specific and then some more of a type. Thinking of W.E.B Dubious and Judith Butler and multiple consciousness and performance through how we adorned ourselves exploring masculine, femme, and abstract ways. We switch roles and are made up of so many elements.
CT: How do you use stereotypically racially and gender-coded imagery to take charge of narratives and affirm Queer and Black bodies?
JLC: Sports clothing is from a lived experience like all my work. I do not make work to respond directly to whiteness or heteronormativity or cis gendered binary being. I, however, am aware of the contextual power of my work out in to the world. Those gazes that project limited and violent expectations on our bodies are sometimes identified by the figure through eye contact. I think the artist comes from one direction and then the viewer as well, each bringing our own perceptions to the space/art.
I think it can be a learning experience for some but I believe Black and Queer bodies “jobs” are not to educate the privileged. Reflectiveness and learning do occur through the ways we are all human, although I think in our current public sphere, specifically the narratives of society on social media, are pleading and thinking of our human connectedness. I am wary and encourage people to call out color-blindness or digestible Queerness. Where is the equality and equity in navigating in interior and exterior spaces and what does it mean to be unapologetic versus seeking acceptance. I am not interested in seeking acceptance. Whiteness, cisgenderedness, heterosexualness, the privileged must learn to either shut up and MYOB (mind your own business) or learn to accept that we are indeed all different. We bleed the same color, yes, but I don't think the problematic individuals seeking to destroy lives and erase people from history understand that, or perhaps don't care which is a cold reality...
CT: Can you talk a bit about your process--how drawing, photography, and collage operate in your practice?
JLC: Drawings for me are not in a competition or hierarchy with painting I use photographs to work from. I have lots of drawings that operate on their own and aren't always in service to a paintings construction. I am so interested in abstraction and fluidity so I use lots of different materials in paintings and drawings, sculpture and video. Even poetry. I switch modes through my work, often drawing at home, painting and sculpting in the studio. I read a lot and watch films like horror and science fiction. I love Jazz,Rap, R&B and Hip-Hop to name some musical influences. Everything from 90s to mid 2000s fashion and sound.
I draw influence from lived experience now through childhood and even the future, what I mean by the future is the “potential” to do and be and create anything in our culture and how I see my people expanding and flourishing. Sometimes ideas start from a memory, or maybe something I saw in the world and I record it through pictures or poetry. I work with traditional collage such as ripping and tearing and pasting and then also digital college as well. Colors were intuitive sometimes or because I work from photographs the colors are cheated on in the reference photo and adjusted through the collage process.
The work I do is very emotionally labor-intensive, so meditation is done 2 times a day. I generate larger sketchbooks, files, binders, and sort and archive material. I think of my work kind of as a time capsule.
Below is a poem written by Chase representing his closing thoughts on his work being in Semblance: The Public/Private/Shared Self at LSU MOA.
Music in our mouths
Stretch marks glittery melon
We’re happy we can stay in your funk
Smell you under our voice
Even when your jawn is away
Take one last look at Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s work at the LSU Museum of Art before Semblance: The Public/Private/Shared Self closes on Sunday, October 6, 2019.