Jason Chase: With Eyes Wide Open

Jason Chase´s Movement 7, 16 x 20 oil on canvas, 2003. - Photos by Mimi Yeh

Jason Chase´s Movement 7, 16″ x 20″ oil on canvas, 2003. – Photos by Mimi Yeh

MiMi Yeh

Things aren’t always what they seem, especially for artist Jason Chase, whose work may seem to be a cutting critique of corporate America but is, in reality, a fascination with the world under glass. “I’ve always been into distortion, whether it’s glass or light bulbs,” says Chase, in reference to his show “Stars and Strip Malls” now in the Harbor Art Gallery through March 24.

This fascination is apparent in Batter Whipped and Bubble-Wrapped, which depicts the Sunbeam girl eating a slice of bread under layer upon layer of plastic packing material. “I thought the bubble-wrap was a nice, transparent distortion.”

Chase has sharply focused his vision on suburbia, drawing on his roots. He says of his hometown, “Colorado Springs is the nation’s capital in suburbia and franchise businesses.” He left two-and-a-half years ago to pursue a master’s degree in Fine Arts at Boston University. Armed with myriad images that mess with the mind and the eye, Chase has had his own studio since he was in high school and shows no sign of slowing down.

Although he presents middle America with a somewhat scathing slant, his work also displays a playful side. For instance, Katie’s Gummies was a Valentines’ Day gift to his fiancée in honor of her favorite candy. Despite the quotidian subject matter, the technical manner in which it was executed is brilliant, demonstrating a talent for depicting light and shadow surprising in one so young.

Chase laughed as he said, “After a while, I had to be the gummy bears. I held them in my hand and stared at them.” What’s most striking about this picture is its near perfect realism. “All my work is based on my own photos. The first photograph got all the dark tones and the second photograph got all the highlights.”

Chase had started Katie’s Gummies over a year ago but set it aside to work on other pieces. “I’ll always have a huge project going and smaller projects that I can get finished,” he commented, as evinced by the many detailed, larger-than-life vistas counted among his work.

His pieces cover the magnificent, like Carousel, and the mundane, such as a price tag. “I’ve always been interested in things that can get overlooked. Painting a bread clip is just as interesting as painting a strip mall.” One of his paintings, Suburban Landscape, which features the latter framed under a picturesque blue sky with its many windows reflecting endless subdivisions, is based on his hometown.

“I hate suburbia,” Chase stated bluntly. But he admits, “As much as I want to say Wal-Mart is a huge, horrible corporation, the shit’s cheap and I like going there.”

However, it is his Harm and Hammer piece that has garnered the most comments from UMB students. “It’s aggression towards commercialism. The fist with the sickle made me think of fascist symbology,” said one. The painting is the fourth in a series. “That painting is like my soup can,” he said, referring to pop culture artist Andy Warhol’s famous creation.

While most of the work appears to have a certain anti-commercial theme, Carousel seems to be the oddball, quasi-whimsical with somehow nightmarish undertones. “It’s a painting I’ve wanted to do for the last two years. There are all kinds of weird relationships.” Chase confesses to being fascinated by carnival-like themes. “Carousels always had loud music, spinning, some screaming, some yelling. It’s heaven and hell for children. I’ve always been into sideshows and circuses.” He envisions doing a series down the road based upon his fascination.

“A lot of people make art to escape or create something. I like to go through life with my eyes open.”