Jay Gaskill is a Portland-based abstract painter. Raised just outside of Washington, D.C., he received his education in New York City. He holds a BFA in painting from the School of Visual Arts, and an MFA in painting from Hunter College. In between SVA and Hunter, Jay worked for a few prominent painters working in Brooklyn. That’s where he learned everything he knows. His paintings have been exhibited in group shows in the New York City area, as well as in Baltimore, Seattle, and Vienna, Austria. He had his first solo show in 2014 at the One River Gallery in New Jersey. He is a founding member of the collective Same Same but Different. He received the 2011 Judy and Arthur Zankel award from Hunter College so that he could make a pilgrimage to the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX. Jay lives and works in Portland, OR.
My paintings are a mesh of color and shape, a semi-permeable interlaced world of disparate influences and formal concerns woven into an idiosyncratic and authentic image. They are not paintings of something, or about something, the paintings are something. They are an immersive abstract experience that exists on their own terms, typified by clean lines, sharp edges, and organic rhythms. In terms of painting space, I use brush control, color and form to clearly elucidate a mild confusion of the space. The characters blur into one another at certain points and pop at others, creating a quasi-hallucinogenic hazy reality of graphic subtlety. The colors in the work are perhaps the most important element, seemingly placid but slightly off key, with a dash of menace, in order to hint at a hidden meaning or intention within the work.
Q&A with Jay Gaskill
by Emily Burns
Hi Jay! Can you give us some insight into your process? How do you begin and how do you create your compositions?
My paintings are populated with versions of the same or related “characters”. These characters begin with a simple line drawing. I make hundreds of them before going back and selecting ones that stand out. I will take those and transfer them by hand to acetate, where I capitalize on the various uses and flexibility of acetate. Working in a 1:1 scale ratio to the eventual piece, I paint the images, double them, repeat them, recolor and rework them, cut them up and arrange them in different ways until the images coalesce into a satisfying whole. Then I transfer the image to the canvas using simple projection, and paint it by hand, making adjustments to the color and forms as needed.
Are you painting freely by hand or using any type of stencil/masking technique?
All freehand. No tape was harmed in the making of these paintings.
Can you talk a bit about the importance of color and value in your work?
It's probably the most important thing. I spend a lot of time mixing paint, massaging the colors to get them just "right". I am very invested in a kind of "lived" color, colors that feel as though they have lived in the world and are living on the canvas. Colors that that rely on their relationship to each other to exist. This is in opposition to what I think of as "paint" color, which are colors that live in a tube and are defined by their relationship to a manufacturer's pigments. Value-wise, lately I have been investing my energy into exploring the widest range of color within a very limited value range.
I can’t help but see a resemblance to camouflage in the abstract shapes in your work—is this intentional?
Ha! No its not intentional, but I am interested in a type of symmetry and repetition that is found in nature, and camouflage is an attempt to replicate certain aspects of nature, so there's bound to be some crossover.
From the photos, it seems like the surface is very flat, but in a few of the detail shots there seems to be a very rich and tactile surface texture. Can you tell us more about the importance of the surface of your paintings?
I like for the surface to be as clean as possible. No brushstrokes, no chunky areas with a ton of layers of paint. Its important to me for the image to feel like its part of the canvas, and I think the tooth of the canvas being visible has a nice quality that unifies the picture.
What is a typical day like for you?
I like a nice long studio day, so I'm usually up before 7 am. I might do a light meditation, have breakfast, and then hit the studio with a cup of coffee as soon as possible. Fortunately, I have a studio in the basement of our house so its a quick commute. I try to avoid emails, and getting bogged down in any sort of day-to-day stuff to keep my mind clear. Then I'll paint until about 5 pm or so, with an hour lunch break in there somewhere.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you have overcome as an artist so far in your career?
Outside of the never-ending struggle to figure out a healthy work/life balance, I would say my biggest challenge has been to learn to trust myself and to trust the paintings. Earlier in my career I would over-think certain painting decisions, and that was a big hindrance for me for a long time. I'm not out of the woods yet, but its getting better.
Can you describe your studio space? What are your most important workspace essentials?
I just moved in to my new one, but in general I just need tunes, my painting chair, walls, and painting supplies. I really like having older paints I've mixed up kicking around that I can use as the basis for new colors. Oh, and windows. I hate windows, they're just wasted wall space. I like to have a kind of bunker mentality when I'm in there.
"What do you listen to while you work? Is this an important part of your practice?"
Lots and lots of music. I don't do radio as I like to be in charge of what I'm listening to. If it's not full albums, its playlists. I make a ton of playlists for myself in advance to fit the mood of whatever it is I'm doing in the studio. If I'm doing something like just applying coats where I can zone out, I might listen to podcasts, but for creative work I have to be listening to music.
Has there ever been a book/essay/poem/film/etc that totally changed or influenced you? What are you reading right now?
Well, I just finished reading "The Man in the High Castle", which was fantastic. And while I do enjoy watching films that prize the visual over the narrative, I mainly draw inspiration from music. The album that changed my life was the self titled debut from The Stone Roses. The music and the message of the band changed my then-teenage idea of what was possible to accomplish in art.
What are some of the artists that you look at feel that your work is in dialogue with?
Oh man, this is the hardest question to answer, because I'm sure I'll leave someone out. Here's an incomplete list of people whose work I admire, and in some cases people who I've had the pleasure of being able to have in depth painting conversations with: William Gear, John Wesley, Bridget Riley, Frank Nitsche, Nicholas Krushenick, Chris Ofili, Keltie Ferris, Philip Taaffe, Carrie Moyer, Roger Brown, Xylor Jane, Art Green, Erik den Breejen, Halsey Hathaway, JJ Manford, Tom Spoerndle, Nichole van Beek, John McAllister and Zach Harris.
You mention in your bio that working for a few prominent painters really influenced your work. Who did you work for (if you don’t mind sharing!!) and what influenced you most?"
I was very fortunate to work with Lisa Ruyter, Erik Parker, and Glenn Ligon. It was a great education to see how each of them approached their work, their career, and their life. I learned more from them about how to be an artist than I could ever learn at school.
What was the scene like in NYC? What was the draw to move to Portland, Oregon?
The scene in NYC is bigger than it ever was! My wife and I wanted to move to Portland because we were ready for a new adventure, somewhere with a great quality of life and far from the east coast we had both grown up on. Portland has a very strong and cool art scene which was a big draw as well.
Do you have any advice for recent grads that are looking for teaching jobs, transitioning out of graduate school, or looking to begin their career as studio artists?
I would encourage them to move somewhere that has a good art scene and to get a job, ANY job in the arts. Whether its working for an artist, in a gallery, or whatever, to keep their minds in the game. And to keep making work and not put too much pressure on themselves.
Can you talk a bit about how you stay involved in exhibitions?
An exhibition is an extended dialogue with the space and the folks in charge of the space and the artist's involvement shouldn't end at the opening. If the artist is in town, its important for them to continue the conversation. They can visit themselves and/or bring visitors to the space to engage with the work, and the people at the gallery who believed in the work enough to hang it on their walls. Thats a big investment on their part, that you have to honor.
Do you have any exciting news or shows coming up?
Having the opportunity to show my paintings alongside Alyse Ronayne's sculptures at Underdonk in Brooklyn was a great way to start the year! Beyond that I have no new shows scheduled as of yet. I am focused on getting back into the studio after the move, and exploring the art scene in Portland!
Thanks so much for sharing you work and talking with us!
To find out more about Jay's work, check out the artist's website.