Currently my work stands at the intersection of vanitas, portraiture, popular culture, stand-up / sketch comedy, pro wrestling, celebrity, memory, sad clown paintings, and the ubiquitous aesthetic of digitally processed imagery that permeates how visual information is recalled, reiterated, and remembered today. Much of my work are reprocessed iterations of a film, video, or photo image documenting a performance, repeating the actualized figure-ground / performer-stage illusion of presentation. Moments of image de-stabilization reveal veins of intuited abstracted logic in visual flux. Static-filled and ephemeral, each subject's existence is now relegated to the half-life of memory, perception, and data.
This body of work stands along a continuum of lifelong interests that I have since developed a critical relationship with. Some of the available options going forward include further explorations into imagery associated with stand-up comedy and pro wrestling as well as the paranormal, talk shows and more. These subjects are united by their traditions of presenting fictions as reality, fictions that at one time or another I personally took for granted as the truth.
Interview with Jason Ramos
Questions by Beatrice Helman
Hi Jason, Thank you so much for talking with us. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what drew you to both painting and becoming an artist? Do you remember some of the first instances in which you felt a need to physically make something with your hands?
My father, grandmother and some other relative were all painters. I grew up around my father painting, and I wanted to draw comics when I grew up. I started drawing my own comics by age 7 at least.
How has your past and present physical location influenced the way in which you work and to some extent, what you are interested in creating? Have you noticed that Los Angeles influences you one way or another?
Being close to the entertainment industry in LA has influenced my work, especially the dead comedian paintings. And in a more general way, with the pro wrestling paintings. I have always been influenced by popular culture, and LA is where a lot of it is produced in America.
Do you have different relationships to different media? For example, how do painting and to writing differ? In what ways do you see them interact and in what ways do they serve different functions? Or, how does drawing relate to painting for you?
I think of myself primarily as a painter. Writing for me is a responsibility as an educated person to do. But I approach it like painting, in that I do it on my own terms.
You seem to work on a variety of works referencing the same subject. For example, figures 1941 and 1942 incorporate the same color palette and seem to be related content-wise. Can you talk about that, and the ways in which the second and third time you observe something it can be completely different, leading to an entirely different painting?
Those two paintings, (JYD I and JYD II) are based on images of deceased professional wrestler Junkyard Dog. Many of the wrestling paintings are done as pairs, beginning with this one. They are both based on stills from old wrestling videos, only a few seconds apart. So they are similar, but different. I like doing multiples because it reinforces the internal logic of how they were painted, instead of seeming like a one-off or a fluke.
Can you talk about your relationship to space—particularly empty space? I’m thinking primarily of some of your other work, such as Oldowan I-II.
In Oldowan I and II, those works were based on stills from a documentary about human evolution where they feature rotating skulls of human-like primates on display. The effect of the skull on black surface makes it look like its floating in space. "Oldowan" is an archaeological term for the name for the earliest widespread stone tool archaeological industry in prehistory.
How do you choose a color palette for a painting, is it based on mood primarily or instinct or a physical representation?
In the case of the pro wrestling images, which are based on black and white images, the colors are drawn from the paint pigments I associate most with flesh. Otherwise I take cues from the source material.
You said that your work “stands at the intersection of vanitas, portraiture, popular culture, stand-up / sketch comedy, pro wrestling, celebrity, memory, sad clown paintings, and the ubiquitous aesthetic of digitally processed imagery that permeates how visual information is recalled, reiterated, and remembered today.” What drew you to those themes? What do they all have in common, and how you explore them through the medium of painting?
When I was younger I either wanted to be an artist of some kind (mostly comics) or a stand-up comedian. And I was a big pro wrestling fan when I was 11–12. Stand-up comedians and pro wrestling were things I believed were real and took at face value, not knowing that both are performance-based. I engaged these things almost entirely through images – specifically television – and, as explained above, grew up around oil painting and image-makers.
When you reference pop culture, what is it about pop culture that stands out to you?
Its ubiquity and how it reflects larger trends.
When did you develop an interest in pro wrestling and related imagery?
Around 11 or 12 years old originally. Around November of last year I began watching contemporary wrestling again, and eventually acquired some old pro wrestling magazines on Ebay, and enjoyed the character of those images more than what I was finding online, or with present-day wrestling.
At what point did some of these turn from general interest to something you’re critically interested in and want to explore through your work?
I’m interested in what you said about how some of these intersect — that they “are united by their traditions of presenting fictions as reality, fictions that at one time or another I personally took for granted as the truth.” Can you point to an example of a something that you took for granted as the truth and how you unpeeled that fact to potentially reveal it as fiction? I find this to be especially fascinating in relation to talk shows.
In pro wrestling, a "mark" is someone who believes its real. When I was younger, I believed pro wrestling was real, that all comedians were talking extemporaneously in that instant, that talk show hosts were that person in real life, that ghosts, psychic powers, UFOs and Bigfoot were real and more. Though I know better now, I crave being caught up in such things – the suspension of disbelief – and feel that being an artist has burdened me with a kind of self-consciousness that inhibits such suspension.
What talk shows do you watch? What is your relationship to video? I’m also fascinated by the things that we see in video stills, or even just by hitting the pause button.
I watch the Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Seth Myers, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, The Norm MacDonald Show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore (cancelled), The Charlie Rose show (cancelled), lots of other cancelled things and lots of political punditry. I find the image degradation associated with analog and digital video processing very painterly, and take many of my paint handling cues from how video images are processed.
How do you do research for your work? Do you research?
I watch a lot of pro wrestling, stand-up comedy, and anything that I feel an intense interest in. I read a lot about contemporary painting specifically. My favorite art writer right now is Isabelle Graw.
Can you talk about this idea of the ‘moment of de-stabilization’ and what it reveals?
A moment where an image looks to be in a process of becoming instead of being.
When did you become interested in the concept of performance, and how has that interest changed or developed over time?
In some ways all artists are "performing" – as we know too much to work completely authentically or genuinely, whatever that means anymore. In pro wrestling, the term "kayfabe" relates to the portrayal of staged events within the industry as "real" or "true", specifically the portrayal of competition, rivalries, and relationships between participants as being genuine and not of a staged or predetermined nature of any kind. A variant of this concept has corrupted the current political and cultural climate, as “fake news” is insisted upon and Instagram “influencers” present fake real lives. Much of my work depicts performers "in the act".
Do you have an affinity for certain shapes? I was struck by how present and dynamic your work is, and thought some of that might be a result of this intense brush stroke and the use of different shapes in your work.
I tend towards rectangles with familiar media aspect ratios—3:4, 16:9, etc.
In what ways have you noticed your work evolve over time, or perhaps how has your relationship to it changed?
More conceptual, more focused on cohesive bodies of work.
Are there any concepts that you’re excited to explore and haven’t yet?
The "paranormal", horror films, political punditry.
Whats a normal day like for you? Are you a person of routine, and if so what is it?
I prefer unstructured time to structured, but am mostly a homebody and require several hours of TV watching, online interaction, and reading everyday.
Do you look to other artists for inspiration? Or do you find that your creative process is renewed by looking outside of the art world? Or both?
I am mostly inspired by the community of working painters and artists in the artist-run community of LA, and whatever I see when I travel.
Who are some artists that have influenced your work, or even inspired you to turn in a new direction?
Efrain Ramos, Michelle Carla Handel, Leon Golub.
What are you reading? What are you listening to? What are you watching?
For the Love of Painting by Isabelle Graw
Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work by Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams
Men, Women, and Chainsaws by Carol J. Clover
Kamasi Washington, Spyro Gyra, Neon Dreamer, lots of retrowave/outrun/sythwave music
See talk shows above and Westworld, The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs, WWE Monday Night Raw, WWE Smackdown, NXT, New Japan Pro Wrestling, Better Call Saul, CNN.
What do you do when you need a break and have to let off steam?
Watch pro wrestling.
Can you tell us a little bit about your studio space, and how you like to get work done? What are some of the things that are important to you in your day to day process of being in the studio— for example, can you work among chaos or do you need to have everything in its place?
I like to have a million things going on in the studio at once. I spend a lot of time doing "unproductive" things in the studio to prepare or distract myself because its all part of the process.
What are some of your other great loves outside of art?
Michelle Carla Handel. Our doggies.
Can you tell us more about your project Eastside International?
Eastside International (ESXLA) is an artist-run contemporary visual art kunsthalle and international artist residency directed by me and my partner Michelle Carla Handel. It was founded in 2014 by Ramos and artists Michelle Carla Handel and Molly Shea. Eastside International’s artist in residence program hosts up to five visual artists to live, work, and immerse themselves in the Los Angeles art community. ESXLA’s parallel exhibition program features the work of local, national, and international emerging and established artists in a non-commercial, alternative venue. Eastside is also one of the EMERGE Projects fiscally sponsored by Fulcrum Arts
Do you have any projects, shows or residencies coming up?
Just this Maake Magazine issue right now.
To find out more about Jason and his work, check out his website.