Images courtesy of Asa Jackson
“I can see what’s going on in the world by looking at myself.”
That’s Asa Jackson’s take on his evolving artwork. Asa is a 23-year-old painter from Hampton Roads, Va., but recently he could be found on Greenwich Avenue where he held a solo exhibit of his large-scale, Expressionistic portraits at the Samuel Owen Gallery.
Among the diverse, enthusiastic art aficionados at the exhibit’s opening reception were Asa’s aunt and uncle, Tamara and Allan Houston – he’s a former star and now assistant general manager of the New York Knicks – who proudly display their nephew’s work in their Greenwich home.
“I didn’t go to art school, so I really am not prohibiting when it comes to my work,” says Asa, who majored in sociology at Boston University. “I do what I want and if I have an idea, I’m not afraid to try it out.
“When I paint I’m not necessarily going for a specific picture in mind, but I know I’m intending to make a good picture. …I’ve found over time that it’s better for me to work on a larger scale, because I can really get out what’s inside of me.”
Asa paints self-portraits, portraits “loosely based” on family members and images of the face of vanity and the “Elemental Man” who encompasses all natural elements.
“When ‘Elemental Man’ came about, I started to think of a grand figure that would embody all of the elements of the earth and what it would look like if somebody had volcanic energy with the energy of the air and trees. Basically in that picture you see fish in one eye, man in another part and beast in another to show that this guy is encompassing everything. It’s a double meaning, because man does encompass everything. Our bodies are like a smaller form of the universe.
“The paintings are not realistic portraits that anybody would identify with and in actuality, if they saw something like that in real life, they’d probably get freaked out,” Asa says, joking.
For him, art has always been the answer and his dream has been to be a full-time fine artist. (He says sociology comes into play when he observes but won’t be his career.) When the constant traveler hangs out with young artist communities in New York, Boston and Virginia, he’s almost guaranteed to be the youngest in the room at major art events.
Of his young artist comrades, Asa says, “There’s no one really doing it like this yet. I’m kind of like the pioneer of the group and not in an arrogant way, but I am kind of taking the first big steps,” and those steps involve a tremendous level of responsibility, production, organization, networking, pressure to sell and business know-how.
Asa also talks about the artist’s dilemma of “making it” with one style and then taking his work in a new direction and hoping the audience will follow. His new body of work focuses on “the story of temptation and arrogance and virtue.”
He acknowledges it’s “actually really different than what people are used to from me,” but adds, “I don’t think for the artist it’s right to hamper the creative flow, because it comes out so naturally that you don’t want to stop that flow for somebody’s opinion, you know what I mean? If people like your old work, maybe you might do something similar to that, but you want to keep growing.”
Rooted in art
“It doesn’t feel weird to get paid to do what I love, because I knew I wanted to do this since I was little,” he says.
He grew up in a house that served as a gallery for the work his mother collected from her travels plus her own creations and his grandfather’s art, which ranged from oil paintings to woodcarvings to watercolors. Asa remembers his grandparents taking him to museums and a class field trip to the Rodin Museum in Philadelphia where he fell in love with the sculptor’s works.
“I had this weird thing,” Asa says, pausing to let out a good laugh. “When I was really young in elementary school, I didn’t think that I was a great artist per se. But I would really get jealous of all the kids in class who teachers would call ‘good artists.’ And that ‘thing’ stayed with me until high school. My a-ha moment came in ninth grade when one of my art teachers saw me drawing one day and told me I should sign up for a class and I did. From then on my love with art was crazy.”
But he’s quick to add that, “I was an athlete in high school….I played football, basketball and ran track. I was the captain of all the teams, so I was really into it.”
He never spent much time shooting hoops with his uncle but remembers an exciting game of Horse the two played when Asa was 9. “I won on a three-pointer and he bought me a pair of kicks.”
With a demanding sports schedule in high school, “I would always go to practice with my team every day. But when I came home, I was painting for the rest of the night.”
He became such an art fanatic in high school that at 16 running out of canvases became a common problem.
“And canvasses aren’t the cheapest thing in the world so I would paint on scrap shoe boxes, whatever I could find, and eventually the last thing I had left to paint on was my own clothes. So I started painting on my clothes, not really in an attempt to wear them either or to look at them as clothing. But after I painted them, I wore them one time and people liked it, so I started doing it here and there and in college my buddy started to like it a whole lot so I gave it a name.”
Asa’s clothing line, “True Face,” is a project he’s constantly working on, mostly in fall and winter with heavier sweaters. He’s building a website with the goal of eventually offering his art-driven fashion to the public.
And he hopes to put together another show later this year. But for now, Asa’s back at it in his studio in Virginia, delving into a fresh creative direction.
“I actually did a new self-portrait and I did it realistically and it came out really nice. But it kind of freaked me out a little too much and I had to paint over it.”
To view more of Asa Jackson’s art, visit samuelowengallery.com.