Epiphany: Jason Craighead
interviewed by Evangelina Mavrina.
The artist on his work as an invitation to a conversation with himself and the audience.
I was on the subway, reading an Interview book by Hans Ulrich Obrist. He asked Hans-Peter Feldman to describe “epiphany”. I didn’t comprehend the meaning of the word and while I was walking home I stared at my phone and searched for its definition. Once I realised what it means, I wondered – what is epiphany for me. I finally looked up from the phone screen. I asked a question and immediately got the answer. There were 3 types of clouds (stratus, stratocumulus and cirrostratus) hovering in the sky at the same time. It was a magical moment not only due to this natural phenomena. These celestial bodies reminded me of an abstract painting “Peacefulness” I set as a desktop image on my laptop at that time. I wasn’t even aware of its author. A few weeks after I was standing in Jason Craighead’s studio interviewing him in front of the works that touched my heart.
Evangelina: How would you describe epiphany? What is the first association that comes to your mind?
Jason: I think epiphany is something that’s only attainable by immersing oneself into something, whatever it is. It tells you there is something more behind what you are thinking. I don’t think of epiphany as an answer or the end all. Epiphany is probably just breaking the surface of something deeper.
Evangelina: Like what your paintings do. You make things that we don’t see visible. What do you want the viewer to see in your paintings?
Jason: I like to think of my work as an invitation to a conversation with yourself and the viewer. I want the audience to be engaged in a manner that they are not expecting. I’m not offering a real image to study. I’m asking you to think more about the space, energy and epiphanies. They take patience, and quiet and time. You can’t just walk by and be like “There it is!”. You have to be engaged.
Evangelina: In one of the interviews, you said that what someone could see in your paintings is “a man who is trying to find himself in his life.” Are you still searching for yourself?
Jason: Of course. If you find all the answers, then why bother? Finding ourselves is a deep task. Hopefully we all achieve it. For me finding myself is realizing that I have more questions, that there is something to live for. I’m always on a search. I’m always trying to comfortably find myself in present instead of worrying about future or wearing too much weight of the past. Making work makes me present and it’s about finding a channel for something that is a bigger human experience. I am just me and I am selfish, but I also believe that I share it with people and hopefully the world.
Evangelina: Take me through a day at your studio. How do you deal with inspiration?
Jason: I walk in here, turn the music on and I kind of relax into my space. I begin to study and move around the objects that are in the room and then I just do that until I’m done. I tried to develop a thinking process where there is no lack of inspiration because being alive is enough to want to express, move and feel. I don’t need inspiration. I’m inspired by everything and by everyone who is a participant in doing something that is thoughtful. You have to be inspired by things that are bad too because it’s a part of our life. It’s easy to be inspired. I wake up with what I left behind yesterday. I know where I left at the painting yesterday and I know I did the right things to it today. And I feel like a hero.
Photo courtesy of Evangelina Mavrina (taken during a gallery visit at Monica King Contemporary, New York)
Evangelina: And inspiration becomes your air.
Jason: It’s endless. When I die, it’s over.
Evangelina: Before starting, do you know what you are going to paint?
Jason: It’s intuitive. I’m just responding to what is there.
Evangelina: As far as I know you don’t only project your inner self onto a canvas, but you also leave the traces of your own body – the footprints. Right?
Jason: Yeah. I like that idea because it makes me more evident. I might not draw or put a brush on anything, but if I walk around in here for hours – I’m working, I’m making marks, the dribbles, the accidents. The part of the practice is to be in the space. Even if I’m not doing anything, I’m doing cause I’m there. I’m working on several paintings at the same time. There is a canvas on the floor, and I walk across it to get to the canvas on the wall. It’s incidental.
Evangelina: Is that natural dust? Or you walk on charcoal before?
Jason: It’s just dust, which means I don’t vacuum or sweep very often. [Laughter]
Evangelina: The combination of your literal body and what’s inside your mind – the concept seems very complete. How do you understand when the painting is done?
Jason: I don’t know. I just decide when that’s enough. For as immediate or fast that the painting might look, it takes a very long time because most of the process is just standing here looking at it and spending the time on the decision.
Evangelina: Do you prime canvases and what type of paint do you use?
Jason: Once they get dirty, I put them on the wall and I erase some of the footprints to some extent and then I prime them with clear gesso. Most of the paint is just acrylic. Otherwise, it’s mixed media like oil pastel, graphite, and charcoal. I have learned to manipulate it in certain ways to achieve a visual thing that I’m trying to get to.
Evangelina: There is always black, this pastel pink, deep blue… Is there a reason why you use these colours particularly?
Jason: I’ve been messing with this pallet for about a year and I’m using it right now. I hope that my voice comes through it. It keeps changing a little bit and I keep getting other ideas, which comes back to your first question of epiphany. I have to push it to its end to find out what it leads to. That will be the epiphany. And quite honestly, just truly – I love it. I think it’s beautiful. There is something about that pink and black to me. This is powerful! It’s sexy and cool and interesting and graphic and pleasant. And a lot of things.
Interview backstage – Photo courtesy of Evangelina Mavrina
Evangelina: They might be the colours of your soul.
Jason: Yeah. Really gentle and a little bit dark. All at once.
Evangelina: Peace, Beyond the Surface, Shooting Stars – all these words and phrases come from your works. Where do you take them from?
Jason: They are all over the place. They come from either things that I’ve read or things that I’ve heard, literature, music and directly personal stuff – just me thinking of myself. I find them to be interesting references on communication.
Evangelina: Tell me about the painting that you are working on right now.
Jason: It’s a period where I have started to slow down and I’m thinking of an idea of a river, not only a physical river, but a metaphorical river. A river has an origin, which is generally in the mountains, and ends up in the oceans. It’s pretty literal. The origin is just very interesting, it’s about where we come from…you are asking all these questions about my thoughts and those are origins. It’s me doing my thing and I’m following it like the river. If I flow and let it guide me, it may show me the answers, it may take me the wrong way, where I may heat shallow waters where it’s rough and difficult; if I fight it it’s even harder but if I just flow with it it’s even easier.
Evangelina: On your Facebook I found a series of work called Leaving Some Love. What was it about?
Jason: It was my effort at graffiti on the other side of the world. It was fun. All I did was just making little pieces on paper, 1 per each day, out of the flowers that were on the table, scribbled, wrote that phrase “If you love then love” and just put them all over the place in Prague and Barcelona.
Evangelina: What has driven you to do that?
Jason: It was me leaving some love, but the more important is the phrase. It’s a call to arms to all of us. If you think what love is or what it feels like… It’s the most important thing we can do.
Evangelina: Love is a good point to finish. If you could, what would you say to your past self?
Jason: Be gentler. [Laughter]
Photo Credits: Jason Craighead and Evangelina Mavrina
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