Thoughts with Jason Appleton

One late night at Illiterate, I got to know an artist who I might go so far as to say is my favorite painter in Denver. I was in the studio painting feverishly around 2 am, while Jason Appleton was upstairs measuring wall space for his upcoming solo show. I went upstairs to take a sneak peak at his work and was absolutely amazed by his meticulously erotic line work in his large-scale paintings and ceramics. We began to talk about art and life and I was intrigued by his incredible insight.

Appleton in his studio. Photo by Randall Bellows III

Jason Appleton in his studio. Photo by Randall Bellows III

Recently I sat down with Jason and asked him a few questions:

Where are you from?

Born in Chicago, IL. 12/14/73. Grew up in upstate New York (6 hours north of Manhattan).

What is your art background/training?

I found out I could draw very realistically when I was about 6 years old. So, every Friday after school, I would get on my bike and go and do paintings and watercolors and drawings at this guy’s house, Mr. Dsyzek. He was of European origin and had this thick accent. He was in his 60s and had this house/studio stuffed with his paintings. He actually never taught me technique or anything or gave me any guidance. He would just give me a subject to paint – like a statue of a pirate, for instance, and I would paint it. Before I went home that Friday evening, we would frame it. That was from ages 6 to 8. He died when I was 8.

When I was 15, I decided to become an artist. I had had absolutely no art education up to that point. Even though my dad was an aspiring contemporary artist, I only saw him a few weeks a year and we would just do vacation stuff. My stepfather and mother had no books about art or anything. I remember distinctly some wine coasters that had some images of Delacroix on them that my mother owned and also a tin of bath salts that my mother had gotten as a gift when I was 11 that had some of Picasso’s images on them. That was about it.

So, when I jumped into the game at 15, I just taught myself. I went to the artists that instinctively spoke to me: Warhol, Picasso, Van Gogh, Jackson Pollock, even though it took me years to fully appreciate their accomplishments. Ever since about that age, I have been a fiercely independent autodidact. I just never understood the need to listen to teachers in a school when the greatest teachers were at my fingertips- all these artists throughout history and the penetrating writers who have written about them. And then the other great teacher is doing art. Through the act of doing art you gain your own creative wisdom, a wisdom that cannot be taught in a school.

How long have you been painting?

Since I was 6, but seriously, as an occupation, since I was about 19.

Briefly describe your painting style:

I have literally hundreds of painting styles floating around in my brain. When I have a certain idea that I am starting out with, I simply adjust the painting style to suit that agenda.

But, for instance, I am doing this hand-painted card series for Illiterate gallery to promote my show there which opens June 5th, 2010. I am doing 1600 cards on 8 1/2 x 8 1/2″ gessoed card stock. In this case I just let the creative process flow and myriad numbers of styles just kind of pour out. There really is no agenda except that all of the individual pieces work and feel finished.

Briefly describe your painting philosophy:

1. My philosophy is total freedom. How do I or does anyone break through to a new plane of meaning, expression and enlightenment?

2. Originality. Art is not static. 3,000 years from now people will still be coming up with original, innovative work. 5005 A.D. will not even begin to foresee the breakthroughs that Andrea Macdouglas (a.k.a. some future artist) has in 5010 A.D.

3. Creating art that has a rich dialog with art history, our past.

4.The concept of timelessness. Art should sting us with delight in the present moment and sting us with delight in its contemporaneity, and should weigh us down with its profundity and greatness thirty or a hundred years down the road.

What is your background in the Denver art scene?

My first solo show was in the tiny room at Pirate called The Treasure Chest. Though it was small, it led to my big solo show at Gallery Sink in August, 2000. I was a member of the co-op Pirate from 2002-2007 where I had three solo shows in the associate space and three in the main space during those years. My other big solo shows were The Soup Gallery in 2002 and Gallery Sink 2004.

How do you feel about the current art scene in Denver?

I think Denver is a saucy little up-and-coming scene. It was great to grow up here as an artist. I was 19 when I moved here in late 1993, and the city gave me opportunities to show and helped nurture my creative growth. And, new venues just keep popping up here like popcorn.

Yet, I have to admit that for the past 6 years I have really been pining for the next big step and that would be New York City.

Then, out of the blue in November, popped up this brand new gallery (Illiterate Gallery) with these bold, fresh faced young cats running it. They invited me to have a big full gallery one-man show opening Saturday, June 5th, 2010 and I could not be more jazzed and excited. So, I guess you never know what can happen in this city of miracles, right?

My conceit is that this show will open me up to any opportunities that I could possibly want, including getting a foot in the door of a New York gallery. Illiterate is a new gallery so I am promoting it above and beyond the norm with an army of hand-painted cards in three sizes, and copious amounts of hand-painted posters in 5 sizes. If you do great work but there is no one there to see it, does it make a sound?

When is your next show?

I have some smaller group shows leading up to the big solo show which opens at Illiterate Gallery on June 5th 2010. I am showing my giant ceramic vase (49 x 23″) at a group show at Redline opening March 5th, 2010. The other group show is a 7-person show selected and curated by the well-known Denver artist Jeff Starr. This will be opening on Thursday May 28th, 2010 at PLUS Gallery.

Any other comments or words of wisdom?

This would probably go out to any young artists out there. If you are in your 20s, put your nose to the grindstone, put as many hours as you can into your work. You’re going to be tempted to party a lot and get swept up in socializing, or even get tied up in some whack job, but try and avoid it: art should become the prism through which you see the world. And, to get to that special place, you will probably have to turn art into a 24-hour kind of thing.

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