by Kevin Muente

Recent Paintings by Jason John at Manifest Gallery

Manifest Gallery is entering its tenth season in Cincinnati and its reputation continues to grow both nationally and internationally.  Their website states that Jason John’s solo show of eleven works was one of six proposals selected from a pool of 165.

John delivers. When first entering the gallery I noticed figures that were well proportioned, accurately drawn, and colored in fields of gestural paint handling with slight references to the landscape. These figures inhabit a mystical surrealist world that in some cases allows for floating fruit and flowers or schisms of abstract patterned shapes that perhaps exist in the figures’ subconscious. To create more interest many of the figures wear veils or helmets constructed of cardboard or brown craft paper.

The world that John creates is bizarre and intriguing. I kept asking myself, where are these figures? Is the landscape some suggestion of a real place or are these environments projected from the minds of the figures? Looking at John’s paintings we encounter different personalities in his men and women. The men in his paintings seem dazed or unsure of themselves. In the painting Bird Boy a young man in a blue collared t- shirt points with one hand at what appears to be an exploding sunflower next to a few dead birds. His other hand awkwardly points to himself. His eyes quizzically ask the viewer if he faces the same fate as the flower.

Jason John – Bird Boy

Another male figure in the painting Lift frightfully fights against a serpent like blindfold of an enormous quantity of brown paper. Wearing a dark gray shirt that matches the color of the impending sky above he attempts to lift the veil, perhaps only to other harbingers of dread. Next to the figure, sits a skull on a desk with the top of its cranium removed emitting a red forceful light. In the far background we see smoke on the horizon. This guy has a hard road ahead of him. His left hand seems to swat a combination of tempting fruit and flowers with a glistening pomegranate near its core. If that’s not enough to contend with, the lower half of the man is vanishing akin to Marty McFly’s photograph of himself in Back to the Future.

Jason John – Lift

At the opposite end of the gallery as if oblivious to this guy’s predicament is a painting of a man relishing and perhaps entranced by his sense of smell.  The bearded man with eyes glazed over channels the essence of a flower placed under his nose by an angelic hand. His makeshift helmet of paper bags and cardboard are no match for the flower’s powerful scent. Sniffer, as this painting is entitled, allows John to show us what smell looks like. He brings synaesthesia to life. Surrounded in cool violets, abstract yellow shapes denote vapors floating through the air. After looking at this painting for some time I noticed myself becoming conscious of my own breathing as it is often times linked to inhaling a fragrance. Sniffer is locked in the moment forever, breathing in but never breathing out.

Jason John – Sniffer

As troubled as John’s males are in his paintings, many of the women take on heroic gestures, or appear more sure of themselves in their own skin. In the painting Fissure, two young women hold arms as if caught in some bizarre form of hand holding. Beneath a makeshift cardboard visor, a show falls on the face of the figure on the right. Written upside down we see the word “smile”, but this figure is having none of it. Her lips are closed with no trace of a smile. From her mouth a yellow wisp of light sits disrupting the picture plane. Hovering next to her face and just under the canopy of her visor are a few floating fruits, this time with two beautifully painted peaches. It seems the other young woman in this painting has played this role before. She gazes out at the viewer, caught in some weird ceremony of initiation. Her painted skin acts as a tapestry of identity and here John does a nice job of painting her colorful tattoos, allowing paint to be paint and simultaneously skin. She will pull her charge through this ordeal regardless of the paint drips that flow over their arms and divide the canvas in half.

Jason John – Fissure

At times John interrupts his paintings with splashes or drips of color. In the painting Fae, John cuts the topless figure with a slash of red. Her wound just underneath her breast gushes crimson that reads both as paint and blood at the same time. She cups her laceration tenderly while the other hand makes a graceful gesture of thumb and finger almost touching to form an inverted OK sign.  While this red head maybe reflecting on her duty, her love, or her life, she carries with her the peace of a martyr.

Jason John – Fae

Across from the painting of Fae we have the vertical painting entitled Fierce. Clothed in a white gown a female figure stands like a heroic Greek sculpture. At top left a purple curtain ripples and behind her on the right a folded brown construction paper form resembles a wing.  A dead bird hangs vertically above the figure. Across her chest and on another level we see the word “FIERCE” in all caps.  This woman carries a stately appeal. The curtain and wing behind her launch associations with the Winged Victory of Samothrace .

Jason John – Fierce

As stoic as this figure is, I find the ambiguity of the female figure in V-3 most arresting. She wears a cardboard box fashioned in the manner of a miter( a hat worn by the pope) clearly marked with”V-3.” Her gesture is not easily read. Her palms face the viewer, offering both a continued surrender, blessing, and charade. The title also keeps me guessing. The V-3 rocket program designed by the Germans in World War II was aimed at the destruction of London, but was never realized. Are we looking at its allegory? Cotton candy like half-formed mushroom clouds float around her head as she reigns comfortable in her passive aggression.

Jason John – V3

Manifest picked a hot show to take us through the cold months. Energetic in their execution John’s paintings mix good draftsmanship with expressive marks and gestures. With their combination of representation and abstract elements the paintings are a nice fusion of two often separate spheres of the art world. The characters in John’s paintings search for their own sense of identity in his painted realm. Full of color and signs with figures on the brink, the world he creates alerts us to our own personal journeys and makes us ask ourselves the resounding question, “Who am I?”

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