Jason de Graaf is a fantastic artist whose work clearly speaks for itself http://jasondegraaf.blogspot.com/. However, that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to chat with him immediately after seeing it.  His paintings seem very photorealist, but he’s not married to that term.  What inspires him?  Read on and find out …

“… I get a lot of feedback from people who are looking at my work online, who are looking at photographs of my paintings. It’s a real benefit that people can see my work so easily, but I hope it doesn’t replace going to actual galleries or museums and seeing the work in person ...”

MICHAEL: Hello Jason.  Your work is exquisite.  What especially strikes me is your juxtaposing of dark, light and shadow. Black and white, dark and light seem to be strong themes.  No?

JASON: Thank you Michael. It’s the stage. It may not be so much thematic as it dramatic. I want the objects in my paintings to really appear touchable, like you could reach into the painting. So I find ways to do that, one of them being emphasizing light and shadow. I used to have a more flat, graphic style in college. One of my teachers said to me “you have a really flat style, which is okay.” I’m not sure why, but her saying that triggered a realization that that wasn’t what I wanted. Or maybe I just wanted to be contradictory. So, I usually strive to get this almost sculptural effect with paint. You know, I never really thought of light and dark as being themes in my work, but now I wonder if, at least subconsciously, they are.

MICHAEL: I understand.  It's stage drama.  Cool.  You also do a great job of creating depth and perspective, almost like 3-D. Very theatrical.  Are you recreating what you've actually photographed or is it straight from your imagination?  

JASON: It depends on the painting. Some require more imagination than others. Paintings with surreal elements for instance. Like the ones with reflective spheres that show no reflection of me or the viewer. I would say every painting is a reconstruction based on photographs, the actual objects, and my imagination, to varying degrees. I do like to leave problems to be solved as I paint, to have room to make things up as I go.

MICHAEL: When you're actually involved in the process of creating art, what's that like?  What are you thinking?  Are you even thinking?  Is it meditative?  Emotional?  Spiritual?  What's the driving inspiration? 

JASON: A painting can take me up to two months to finish so when I’m actually working on one, it can be an ordeal. My girlfriend and I joke that there are predictable stages I go through in making a painting. When I tell her where I’m at, she’ll say “oh, so you’re at that stage.” The first stage is excitement and hope over starting something new, full of promise, but that thing has no real form yet. I have to make those first brushstrokes in order to see what must be done. It’s commit then correct. Then there is the very long and difficult stage where the painting goes through an ugly adolescence. Finally, if things go well, I can see with relief that things will be ok and I rush to get that sucker to adulthood and move out so I can start the whole thing over. 

MICHAEL: And so, is creating art more emotional, intellectual or spiritual for you? What's the major driver?

JASON: I think it’s emotional, intellectual, spiritual and then some. And now that it’s my profession, I’ve also entered a feedback loop where I make a living at it, which means I get to keep painting. 

There’s a drive to see how far I can go, what I can achieve both in the art world and in terms of pleasing myself with what I do. How long can I keep this going? I’m always reevaluating what I’m doing and what I really want to do. Getting bummed and then enthusiastic again. It’s an ongoing process.

MICHAEL: Most people seeing your work would likely say that you're gifted, but how much of what you do is just plain hard work and trial and error? You know, the old nature vs. nurture question?

JASON: I would say it’s mostly work. But I guess I’ve always had a proclivity for spending long hours by myself, doodling. I’ve always enjoyed drawing and I stuck with it for the most part my whole life. I was always one of the couple of kids in class who had a penchant for drawing, but I wasn’t always the best. I didn’t really apply myself until I enrolled in Illustration & Design in college. That really lit me up. 

I think the most important gift as an artist is to be able to persevere through self-doubt, failure, rejection and other hard times. But also to be realistic with yourself.

MICHAEL: Half the time when I'm visiting art galleries and museums, I see people looking at their hand held devices.  How do you think mobile technology is affecting contemporary art from the audience standpoint?

JASON: I’m really behind on mobile technology. I spend most of my time in my studio so I don’t really need a smartphone. I have had moments where I see something by an artist and I want to know more about them and thanks to technology the answers are not far away. I think for an artist it can be a powerful tool, to have examples of your work available at any time.

I get a lot of feedback from people who are looking at my work online, who are looking at photographs of my paintings. It’s a real benefit that people can see my work so easily, but I hope it doesn’t replace going to actual galleries or museums and seeing the work in person.

MICHAEL: How would you say photorealism is different today than from the '70s?

JASON: Photorealism in the ‘70s was brand new and exciting and now it’s been around for more than 40 years. Early photorealism seemed to be more about the concept and now it seems a lot of current photorealism, in painting especially, is more about technique. And there’s a lot of it now, some of it is very exciting, like artists who are using some of the methodology of photorealism, but also inventing their own rules or using different mediums like embroidery and textiles. But a lot of it is very redundant and derivative, so it’s harder to find the good stuff.

MICHAEL: What do you think about the contemporary art world/art market and how they function?  What do you think needs changing?

JASON: It’s bewildering. I find that trying to understand the art world is like trying to grab fish out of a pond with your hand. It’s difficult to understand why some art is valued the way it is. But ultimately I think it comes down to demand.

I don’t really know if I see a need to change the market. It is what it is. I hear rumblings from artists who take umbrage with the art market because the art that they like or make isn’t as valued as much as the art that they discount or just refuse to recognize as art. Everyone has their own criteria from which to judge art. I try to keep an open mind, part of me wants to make sense of it, but it bums me out sometimes too. So I usually try to push it aside because it’s something I can’t really control, I just lock myself in my studio and focus on what I can do and hope for the best. But part of me wants to understand.

MICHAEL: I understand.  Finally Jason, along those lines, so many people don't understand art or they think they need an art history degree to do so. What would you say to people who look at your work?  Do they need an art history degree for it?

JASON: Well, some art becomes more rewarding the more you know about the artist and art. I do know the frustration of trying to wrap my head around a piece of art and not being able to. I think my work is accessible because there’s a big element of craft to it. At the end of the day, I do want my paintings to be beautiful. I hope they’re not too accessible because I think that can become boring as well. I don’t have one defining subject matter and I can have different motivations for creating each painting. But there is usually an idea behind each painting. Not that there has to be!

MICHAEL: Thanks Jason.  Cool chat.

Check out Jason de Graaf at http://jasondegraaf.blogspot.com/.