You have to be careful following Jason Chase back and forth between works in progress in his studio. It is difficult avoiding light bulbs and toys rolling around among stacks of art books and photographs while giving Chase's work the attention it deserves. In the basement of the Warehouse Gallery and Restaurant, the 23-year-old Chase is busy working on two paintings at a time, getting ready for his "going away party" scheduled for this weekend.
"When I get frustrated, I walk over to the other painting," he said. "It's like taking a break."
The reason for the bulbs and photos is that they serve an important purpose in the artist's process. "Everything I do is based on my own photography," Chase explained. Indeed, many of the photographs bear a startling resemblance to paintings in the gallery. As Chase is quick to point out, he is not an abstract painter, preferring to use his considerable talents to reproduce largely representational pieces, with a twist.
The vast majority of the paintings in Chase's body of work utilize the distortional effects of glass to expand the character of the painting. But even though a light bulb shows up a lot, he doesn't see it as metaphor. "To me it doesn't mean anything," he said. "But the interesting thing is that it means something different to everyone who looks. Everything from an idea to technology."
Even the Weebles series that makes up a portion of Chase's portfolio is linked to distortional effects. "The original ones by Hasbro had a clear plastic ring," Chase said. "So it fit right into the rest of my work." Now Chase seems to be trying to make a break with the Weebles, depicting them in his latest painting as the victims of a crash landing at sea. "I don't know if it means death or what," he said.
The other important characteristic of Chase's work is the vibrancy of his palette. For example, in "Russian Explosion" Chase uses a background made up of a vivid representation of a Tide detergent box as a juxtaposition to an apple pie and bottle of vodka overlay. The boisterous oranges and saturated blues of the box frame the more modulated hues of the piecrust. The Stolichnaya bottle provides a stark white and red focus point in the center of the painting.
With icons of commercialism like Coca-Cola labels and Wonder Bread packages, Chase is clearly making a statement about commodification and the distortion it engenders in society. But Chase is intent on creating an image that grabs the viewer more visually than emotionally. "I'm not trying to change anybody's life," he said. "I'm lucky if I can change their day."
Artistic influences make an interesting subject to talk about with Chase. After you get past a few that you might expect, like Rauschenberg and Brancusi, Chase settles in on one who is a bit of a surprise, his older brother. When Brad Chase was killed in a motorcycle accident ten years ago, Jason decided that following his father's dream of getting him into engineering school was a mistake. "After my brother died I decided that you don't have that much time here and you have to do what you really love," he said. "I'm not going to sell out and do something just for the money."
But his brother's influence goes further than that. Brad was the first one to put a brush in Jason's hand, allowing him to repaint several Dungeons and Dragons game pieces that hadn't come out right. Brad also gave Jason the artistic advice he values the most. "He told me if you want to be a painter you need to learn to make any stroke with any brush you are going to use," Chase said, squiggling a fine brown line with the biggest brush in his repertoire.
"I miss my brother a lot," he said. "He is a huge part of why I do what I do."
Chase is preparing to leave Colorado Springs for graduate school back East in the fall. He applied to four schools, and Boston University seems to have won out based on a combination of location and the brutal honesty of department head John Walker. "The other schools kind of sucked up to me," Chase said. "But this guy called me from his house and said, 'Boy, you have a lot to learn.'" It is clear that Chase relishes the challenge. "I know I'm going to get my butt kicked up there," he said with a smile.
Having attended University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and Palmer High School before that, Chase is a hometown boy. And as you would expect, he has mixed feelings about leaving an area that has done its best to provide him a solid start. "I really appreciate what Colorado Springs has done for me," he said. "I'm going to miss it a lot." But Chase recognizes that El Paso County is not exactly a mecca for pop art and that the East Coast might provide him with an impetus he hasn't had before. "I still have so much to learn," he said, "I'm not even half way there."
And with paintings already hanging in homes and galleries from Los Angeles to Nuremberg, Germany, it will be fun to watch Chase's progress in the art world even if it's from a distance.