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Inside An Artist’s Lair: Interview with Jason Brammer

When I walked down into the “art dungeon” that is Jason Brammer’s studio, I was struck at first by the immensity of different materials, paintings, and objects that were scattered throughout the space. It was an underground getaway tainted with the remnants of his artistic expressions- a room that could only belong to an artist of Brammers skill and artistic elasticity. The Ohio native started off painting young and then pursued music for many years with a band called Old Pike, but finally returned back to his roots and has been painting in the Windy City ever since. After grabbing a quick cup of coffee and being introduced to his machete that he appropriately keeps in his couch, I sat down with Brammer to pick his brain on the creative process and to find out what lies behind vast and intricate pieces.

Jason Brammer shows off a large knife in his studio, on October, 5 2011 (Photo Credit: Andrew Roddewig)

JB: I was born in Ohio and I grew up in Indianapolis and I was painting and drawing when I was growing up. I took an airbrush class in high school, so I started airbrushing and my Mom would do residential murals, so I started helping her and we would collaborate on murals. We painted purple satin ninjas and a double headed dragon while I was in high school. My uncle also got me into decorative painting and antiquing things. I have these brushes from him. They are lilly haired stipple brushes which I use to pound out the glaze to give it that antique look. The last placed I lived [before Chicago] was on a horse ranch of 80 acres in southern Indiana. We had no neighbors, and a drum set in the kitchen. We all lived together [the band Old Pike]. So going from 80 acres in the middle of the woods to Wicker Park in the 90’s, it was like WHAT, but once I got settled in here, I mean, I can’t imagine not being here.

RF: It’s funny because you sort of led into this but in your work there seems to contain a lot of contrasts, whether it be 3D objects and their painted counterparts or the clash between rural life and industry or its byproducts. What is the appeal in juxtaposing those together in your work and what do you feel your work gets out of it?

JB: On a visual level, contrasting the intensely rough with the really smooth element just gives you a visual space. It creates a separation; there is the natural and then the manmade. For me, I am trying to create depth and illusion and it helps with that agenda.

I like to trick the brain, trick the eye, the trompe l’oeil concept. You can see something and there are visual cues that you can give the brain that they can see the reality. What I try and do is send the brain those cues that tell them there is space there, then you have to get up on it and you realize that is not real. It all has to do with perceiving your reality-how you perceive reality.

How I started with the rural thing is the pasture, it was symbolic to me of the past. The idea is that you are going back to the past, to the pasture, and then the future to me is typically a seascape. It comes out of the idea that time is a plane of reality, a planar surface that can go back and forth. Time is one flat plane and then what the work is doing is going through that surface into another time.

If you set something in motion [concept/idea] it begins its own inertia then you just get more ideas like, “What if I do this?” You just do the work and the ideas improve.

RF: Since we are on the topic of time, it seems that time is a huge puzzle piece in your work; almost all of your collections include some aspect of it. What is it about time that is so enthralling and why do you think it is such an influence?

JB: Well, we are trapped in time. We live on a linear idea, but it stemmed from the idea of Time Machines (the title of his new exhibition-view video for more information). The idea is that I am finding these machines and there is a time traveler that stayed with my great grandfather that disappeared and I am finding these machines. For the piece I am working on now, the big mural, [in Rogers Park] it opens up a space-an expansion.

I like to see what time does to an object and the elements or what time will do to surfaces, weathering wise, and really look at that and study that, then replicate it. I look at a lot of Art Nouveau which is based off of nature and how it is in this constant growth cycle and then put it into the art. The ideas of the Art Nouveau, the really fluid line work appeals to me. You have these heavy, boxy, weighted objects and then a sensuous line breaks that up.

RF: As a music lover myself, I find that it constantly plays a part in everything I do. How does your relationship with music influence your work?

JB: I grew up playing bass guitar in junior high and I am always listening to music when I work. Just on a visual level being around music, being in band rehearsals and starring at cables on the floor and thinking to myself that I would rather be painting them then playing this song again. Being around music gear in studios; I recorded a lot of records and spent a lot of time in studios and seeing how that stuff works. My bass amp, I have an Ampeg SVT and when you turn it on it glows, the tubes glow. So some of the pieces have this glowing, this warmth, juxtaposed with the rough, gnarly exterior, I like that look. I have been painting tape for years (points to some paintings on the wall); these are all tape things- this is a sonic deity coming in.

Musically though I have been listening more to electronic type stuff in the last few years. I am a big fan of Radiohead. When we were a band, OK Computer came out and it was our generation’s Dark Side of the Moon. It undid what music could be.

RF: Your work often bends reality in that some of your themes include a “sci-fi” element (Time Traveler, aliens in the IV lab, and Remembering the Future). What entices you to go, creatively, in that direction?

JB: The first one of the series “The Future is Invading My Pasture” was, I felt, like a monster movie in the 50’s, just insane and over the top and it’s developed [since then]. Now the work is not so science-fictiony, I guess. Every once in a while I find myself dropping a UFO in there. I feel that I have all these different streams going and they almost have their own rules. For example, a time machine proper to me is one that opens up and is a window. Then you get into time boxes, they do not have an opening but they wrap around the painting and go around the sides. It gets really elaborate.

In those invading pieces there will typically be an eye, and that specified a certain series. I was doing a lot of floating octopuses and stuff. There are all these different subgenres in the series so you just keep going. I will typically do a piece and then see where it lands. What phylum? How do I categorize this piece? If I try and force something to happen it usually doesn’t work.

RF: When I first met you, you were at the Lakeview East Festival and you were doing a live painting. You also did a live painting installation for your Futura Obscura piece. What do you get out of live painting that you do not when working in your studio and is there a difference in the finished product?

JB: I get a piece! But ya, I do feel that it is a little different. I think I am a little bit more productive painting live because I don’t stop, I just keep it flowing. I hit it real hard and it is really concentrated. It gives me a sense of something to do, like I am there to do something so I concentrate much more. It also is a way to tune everything else out and just focus on some minute little thing amongst all these people.

It depends on the atmosphere, I did this one in a club called Vail and it was a full on performance where you had 20 minutes in a glass box and then this velvet curtain comes off and it is like go! There I knew exactly what I was doing, I had everything prepared, my moves were all choreographed. I know what had to be done to finish the painting. That was kind of weird actually.

RF: So what keeps you in Chicago?

JB: Well my wife is here. She is my manager and “the brains” of the operation, setting everything up. I definitely would not be able to do what I’m doing without her involvement in my career. She keeps track of the numbers, runs the website, and reminds me what day it is.

I am really influenced by the architecture and the institutions here as well, the Cultural Center, the Art Institute. Logan Square is my neighborhood and I love it. I am real into it. It’s a great town, hard to beat.

RF: I guess we will close up with some artists that inspire you and some upcoming artists that you dig what they do.

JB: I like the career arch of Klimpt and how he started as a decorative painter and painting murals and then got commissions to do his own visions and then got so weird and so far out. Some local artists I like are Keelan McMorrow (painter), Jason Hawk (sculptor), Jared Joslin (painter) and the murals of Jeff Zimmerman.

You can check out Jason Brammer in an upcoming exhibition in late Febuary at Tony Fitzpatrick‘s gallery called Firecat Projects. Learn more about Jason’s work by visiting his website.

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