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Jason Shawn Alexander: Body Image

0 Comments 11 September 2013

Interview with fine artist and comic book illustrator Jason Shawn Alexander.

by Daniel Barron

 

    We are proprietary to our bodies but few of us truly own them.  They break and malfunction, they in part assign how we are perceived.  They require constant maintenance and careful curating.  They are The Great Transience, the double-cross that is constant in all of us.  The shoe that is always waiting to drop.

     The subjects depicted by Tennessee-native Jason Shawn Alexander are intensely occupied by these frailties, vividly observed in states of undress both literal and figurative.  Using oil canvases mounted with paper sheets, he relies on muddy earth tones and thick, calligraphic ink lines to create stark portraits of figures locked in fierce inner battlefields.  Their eyes often sunken, their limbs slender, they inhabit their skins as if they are a size too small.  If the goal of art is to transcend and immortalize its creator, Alexander has chosen to birth visions that betray the creeping wear of decay.  His paintings evoke photorealism through imperfect brush strokes that drip restlessly from their surfaces.

Jason Shawn Alexander artist

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

     “One thing that won’t exist in any of my stuff is a comfort zone,” he says, “Because I don’t have one.  I wouldn’t even know how to paint a fucking comfort zone.  My wife constantly tells me to sit down and be comfortable and relax and I have no idea what she means.   I pace constantly, I watch TV and I stand.  Comfort and relaxation are just things that I’m clueless about.”

     These are important qualities to consider when electing to be Alexander’s latest muse, and he is quick to dash any romantic notions about the process.  “When models ask to pose I think, ‘Do you know what I do?  I don’t think you’re gonna like it.’  I’ve sketched in bars and stuff and waitresses have asked to pose and I just give them a card.  Then the next time I visit I ask, ‘Do you want to pose?’ and they go, ‘Ah, no thanks.’”  Vanity has no place in the glamour-free zone of the studio, which is why professional print models are off the list.  The ideal subject is able to surrender their inhibitions in complete submission to the requirements of the “scene” and for that he needs actors. 

Jason Shawn Alexander art studio

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

     “I’m jealous of the guys like Basquiat or Bacon that would primarily just use other photos or have someone else shoot their reference for them.  But my work is too personal.  I need to see that face, I need those glimpses that other people might not see.  That something else. “

     With a surrender of inhibitions must also come a high degree of patience.   In working to capture the “feeling” of a person, the extraction process is drawn out over a number of hours.  It’s difficult to find something when you will only know it when you see it.  As such, the first hour of collaboration usually means exploring an idea over coffee.  “Without expressing too much, there’s either a solitude or a longing or something that I kind of want to get across.  I’m never literal in the direction of it.  I try to phrase things where it allows [the subjects] to relate to what I want.  So the entire time I’m shooting it’s an ongoing conversation.  There’s very little silence.  Once you stop emoting how they want and then you start getting tired, your face changes and the subtleties come out.” 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

     No matter how long a photo session may last, Alexander will rarely end up using the poses he had intended for reference.   Out of five hundred images from a shoot only two may be utilized for the current show.  What he has assembled is a visual library of moods, physical traits, and emotions that he can draw from for years.  “It’s about these fantastic shots between the shots, where all of the sudden they kind of drop the façade.  For a moment, [the subjects] were kind of themselves thinking about a pose or thinking about their bills or something else, but then there’s that beautiful little face, that beautiful little emotion.”

      He still consults photographs taken four years ago, noting that they are representative of his present state of mind in a way they were not then.  The figures of his paintings are, after all, extensions of his subconscious.  “This is the stuff that I’m not going to necessarily put out there on my sleeve, but I’ll put these people in, whether it’s male or female.  There are paintings that are very awkwardly posed, very lonely.  It just seems a little narcissistic to do that as a self-portrait. “

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

     Through the process of creation, discoveries are made on both sides of the easel, but Alexander admits he isn’t always eager to see what he’ll find.  “Someone pointed out a couple years ago that my female figures were primarily all nude and my male figures weren’t.  And I didn’t even realize that, but I tried to express, ‘I don’t understand women’s vulnerability on that level,’ so it takes more drastic measures- full nudity, awkward situations- for me to understand or get the feeling that I want to out of models.  Men, I feel vulnerable and awkward all damn day and it’s easier just in slight facial expressions.”

     Luckily, when the fatigue of incessant navel-gazing becomes too much, he can always unburden himself in the heightened world of costumed supermen.  Not only a fine artist, Alexander is also a veteran of the comics industry, having taken commissions from flagship companies Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse.  His stamp has been felt on a number of iconic characters including Batman, Wolverine, Hellboy, his latest being a brief arc on Legends of the Dark Knight titled “The Beautiful Ugly.”  It’s a living dream for a man who was self-publishing his own comic books at age eighteen.  “I’ll probably do comics till the day I die.”

     Like a film unburned by budget or filming conditions the possibilities of comics as a storytelling medium are liberating for an artist.  “I’ve tormented myself about how big to make panel borders, because if you’re reading a comic pacing matters.  There’s a beautiful art form to it.  It’s fine art and great literature combined into one.”  But it also comes down to something pretty simple: “How do you not want to have drawn Batman at some point?”

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

     He’ll need that recharging of the batteries.  His latest project may be his riskiest, a solo show premiering next spring that will explore the world of erotic art.  It’s brand new material that will require a new set of photos and new comfort zones to abandon.  But there’s a reason to put the exhibition in exhibition.  “If you like flesh and the human form, how could you not want to? I’ve done enough pain.  Now it’s time for something different.”  For a move so adventurous, one can’t help but wonder if Alexander isn’t finally becoming secure in his skin.

      Yeah right.

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art studio

Photo by Ken Zoltan

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Batman by Jason Shawn Alexander

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Batman by Jason Shawn Alexander

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander Batman

 

Jason Shawn Alexander Batman

 

Jason Shawn Alexander studio

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander artist

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

Jason Shawn Alexander portrait

Photo by Ken Zoltan.

 

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander art

 

Jason Shawn Alexander portrait

Photo by Allan Amato.

 

View more Jason Shawn Alexander artwork on his website.

Follow Jason on Twitter and Instagram at @jasonshawnalex.

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- who has written 423 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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