Interview and words: Alex Khatchadourian
Change is always going to happen, and artist Jason Redwood is all about embracing it as it comes.
The Los Angeles-based painter, graphic artist, pin-maker, hand-embroiderer, jack-of-all-creative-trades, has an innate knack for abstracting his version of our culturally commodified world and its lightning-speed evolution, with acid pop colors, intricate psychedelic patterns, and reminiscent imagery on canvas. Redwood's paintings attempt to make sense of our place in this interconnected, image-saturated world. His paintings are about describing a world, a view or an idea and inviting others to respond, share and continue with that thought. It’s a perfect example of the original open-source language.
From his childhood summers spent absorbing imagery at his grandparents' Native America art store, to his early interactions with trippy concert poster imagery, Jason has contracted a somewhat obsessive attraction to patterns and unique typography that he continues to infuse in both his fine art paintings, and commercial works that have been adorned on t-shirts and other wearable garb for brands like Kill City, Shorty's, and Lucky Brand.
Using a kaleidoscope of fluoro colors, Jason's weird figures and abstracted images flourish in their even weirder surroundings. A hanging tie-dye Jesus banner, tear drops dripping from a blue gem, and chains floating amongst cobras and dice, Jason's scenarios are varied but the constant is his ability to condense his wild ideas into unique, imaginative paintings and illustrations.
Havoc caught up with the Los Angeles-based artist to talk about early MTV logo animations and VCJ graphics, growing up with hippie parents, and his susceptibility to regularly zoning out on natural patterns around him to incorporate in his bright paintings.
Tell me a little about your background; what were you like in high school? Did you grown up in Los Angeles?
I feel like I was very similar to how I am now, except maybe stoned and drunk more often then. Bleached and dyed hair. The occasional mohawk. I had friends in the various cliques during high school. I just wanted to draw and leave school early.
In what ways did music and skateboarding play a role in your initial interactions with art? What were some of the first places you discovered artwork that you liked?
Music and skateboarding were huge influences! I remember being blown away by album cover art and concert posters. When MTV was really music television, their logo animations and other videos were mind-altering. Heavy Metal magazine and the movie, WOAH. The movie Wizards, all of those are life-altering influences there.
Growing up in the 80s there was nothing better than the Powell Peralta and Santa Cruz graphics. The saturated colors and patterns. The crazy perspective and characters that ended up on the boards were out of this world for my kid brain. Or they were just right.
Some of the influencers from my childhood are VCJ, Jim Phillips, Pushead, Ralp Bakshi and Robert Crumb to name a few.
Was there a particular skateboard graphic that got you hyped when you were younger?
I dont know what graphic in particular got me pumped on art but any of those Jim Phillips and VCJ graphics were the shit. I could just stare at them for ever. As a kid things were tight, so I only got off-brand skateboards until a skate shop opened up down the street from my house that sold second hand boards for $10. I bought a warped Steve Caballero deck that is probably still in my parents backyard returning to the earth.
How did you start designing for Shorty’s? What was the first graphic you designed for Shorty’s?
My friend Noe worked for Shorty's and said that they were looking for a graphic artist to work under his cousin, Dave. I gave them my sketch book and some vector art that I had done while working at a trophy shop. Super stoked when I got that job and to this day it was the best job ever. Best group of derelicts and good times for sure. The first skate graphic I did that went to production was the eyeball graphic I did for Steve Olson. It was based off the flying eye art Jim Phillips was known for.
You incorporate a lot of varying and awesome lettering and scripts in your graphics. Have you always illustrated unique typography and lettering? What do you love about hand-lettering?
Yeah I have things I lettered as a 10 year old. I'm not really sure where the influence comes from, but if I had to say...all those awesome concert posters were pretty impressionable.
It's pretty satisfying when you land on a letter form that suits the illustrated graphic. Also incorporating it into a graphic is fun too; enough to where the type doesn't get lost, but doesn't act as a sore thumb.
Does your commercial work and personal work ever conflict? I feel like your paintings are a statement on the commodification of culture, and your commercial work is based on creating designs and illustrations that appeal to the masses visually - essentially commodifying trends and cultural imagery in order to make money.
REALLY good question. Yeah, they totally conflict. It sucks but I'm not sure what to really do about that. I was laid off in late 2015 and have to say that I have not felt better. I do have a family to help support so... who knows. I have some side projects right now that could offset the need for a full-time gig, but time will tell.
Cultural commodification will always be there. Even in art, all artists are doing are abstracting their version of culture that moves them; either because of the money, social status or pure art drive. It's not a bad thing most of the time. I saw pineapples started to trend last summer in apparel, what the fuck.
What are some of the prominent themes you explore in your paintings?
I'll let my friend Sue Whoot answer this through text, "You are all over the place theme wise, I would say disillusionment and what-everism"
Walk me through one of your paintings, from start to finish. How do you come up with idea and how do you execute it?
They start with a spark of inspiration or an idea, but really none of the pieces eventually turn out with the initial idea or intended composition. They seem to evolve through the process. I think that was one of the best things that I discovered about my process in art school. I love the process. Not so much the final product or showing the bullshit, but rather the things that led to that final piece.
How and when did you get into hand-embroidery and creating patches and pins?
I had bought a kit from the 70s years ago, based on the design of the packaging. When my son was born in early 2014, I had some time to kill in-between taking care of him and the rest of the house, so I opened up the kit and started doing hand-embroidery. It got hooked. I also have memories of my mom hand-embroidering my name onto a denim backpack she made for me. I was so embarrassed of the backpack as a kid, but looking back that was really cool of her. My parents were hippies and I think that stained my brain. Creating patches and pins came about just because some people wanted some of my art, but couldn't afford the hours spent on the art and the hand-done embroidery. I recently picked up an old chainstitch machine from the late 1800's to speed up the embroidery thing for people to be able to afford it. Still not cheap though.
Where do all of the patterns in your work come from? Is there anything/anywhere in particular you go to for pattern-inspiration?
Patterns just interest me. You can see patterns in trees and plants, light refractions, rocks, etc. I'll just zone out for a bit on a distant tree sometimes to admire the natural patterns. Once again the drug-influenced concert posters and optical illusion illustrations play into that. Old cultures also use patterns to adorn their clothes and tools. My grandparents ran a Native American art store when I was a kid. I would spend a summer here and there with them copying the patterns. I think that lead to admiring other cultural patterns from the past.
In what ways do you think your background in design and illustration for apparel has played a role in your exploration of tangible/wearable art…embroidery, patchwork, etc.?
It's given me tons of resources to produce things, and maybe an eye on what will work and what won't. I like making rad shit though and sometimes the rad stuff doesn't sell. In the end it's kinda like leaving a mini-legacy behind. Maybe in 5,10 or 20 years someone will come across one of my pins, patches or embroideries at the Rose Bowl flea market and be super pumped on it. That would be awesome.
Do you have a favorite patch that you own?
I have a few but I would say that my favorite is from a guy I made friends with who owns the Fox Hole LA. I went in there one day to see what kind of denim jackets they have. We got to talking and he told me about his days in the circus, in the Iraq war, and train-hopping. Some time and visits passed and we ended up trading patches. The patch he gave me is specific to his train-riding days. It's just rad to have a patch with a back story of a person that made this small legacy patch.
In what ways does Los Angeles – the city, the people – inspire you and your work?
Without a doubt there is something always happening in LA that can influence you but I would say the people in LA with minimal inhibitions inspire me.
From their clothes to their eccentric thoughts. I think you can really find that just about anywhere nowadays with the World Wide Web, but in the largely populated areas you can come into real contact with those people or even have them as a best friend.
Let’s play a game, I'll name the reoccurring themes in your work, you name the inspiration:
skulls – been drawing them since I could draw
chain – Break 'em, social norms are the biggest chains to deal with
dice – Love gambling
tear drop – So LA, and takes the edge off of things
webs – I was the kid with snakes, lizards, scorpions and spiders
For more from Jason Redwood head to www.jasonredwoodart.com.