Review Me: Jason Bassels: Visual Harmony
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Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Jason Bassels: Visual Harmony

Jason, Thank you for talking with me to get familiar with your art career and discuss all the awesome artworks you created or are creating. Tell us about your artistic background story and if there was a pivotal moment when you decided to follow your path as a visual artist?

As a child, I would draw on my schoolwork and made toys from trash – looking back ‘Art’ knew me before I knew it, as is with many children I think; it offered a way to adapt, and even escape circumstances beyond my understanding, circumstances that were the path to my art. The purpose of Art remained elusive throughout my childhood and early twenties even though it was something I constantly refined. I looked for ‘art’ in many familiar places, Art school, the church, the streets, comic books, wildlife, and though it served to refine my abilities it remained elusive. The point at which I recognized ‘my’ Art and its purpose emerged out of the circumstances leading out of my teens and into my twenties that led me to seek out Martial Arts as a way to manage feelings of anger and anxiety. The refinement of patterns and skills associated with Martial Arts progressively opened an extraordinary and multifaceted discovery of healing, ideas, philosophies, science, and culture that became more evident as my skills became more refined; I had found my Art and it began to speak.
Becoming the Artist has been an awkward merging of many undistinguished directions that pushed against the pragmatic familiar my talents may have been appreciated and recognized sooner, a unique gambit that has otherwise led back to recognize the elementary features of art so familiar it could not have recognized it any other way.

That is, like martial arts, art depicts many of the conflicts and obstacles of life. Art struggles against difficulties and frees artists from whatever captivates their souls. Was there ever a moment of doubt to question your art career entirely?

This may have happened for every artist even if she or he has been full of ideas and passions. Most of the time, new trends can come out of such moments. You can describe your various feelings and how you have overcome the situation and continue your journey. What has given you hope and strength to continue and not to give up?
I remember visiting the Art Gallery of Ontario while in high school and listening to a curator explains the context of a square, circle, and triangle painted in elementary colours, and why it was so profound. Many of my classmates offered insights, and then the curator asked what I thought. I said they paid too much for something I could have done way cheaper – to which I received a swat from my big Greek art teacher. I have thought often about this moment throughout the years leading toward my version of something so familiar it’s ambiguous. I have become the Artist pushing the status quo of something just as elementary as those shapes, and my ideas have met with many opinions just as apathetic as a ‘know-it-all high school boy’, and though I have wanted to quit many times, this moment has taught me that apathetic opinions are the very reason to create high art– to elevate people above them.

In a moment of hesitation, something may give you hope and strength to continue and not to give up. What is your daily routine when working in your studio?

The concept of a studio where I do my work has always been more of a setting than a place. My work stems from a fluid relationship with a fundamental medium of human nature that I explore through teaching, study, physical refinement, and the visual art themes of my work. The morning is a reflective time, a time to write, read and record concepts and alternative directions, and a time to refine my connection with the “abstract source” through Martial ‘Art’ as I see it emerging and speaking through my work. Late morning, I am ready to mould and shape whichever visual art theme I have begun or am beginning, usually with a cup of coffee or a warm green tea in hand. The rest of the day, and into the night I manifest through my work something elementary that I have pulled from the familiarly vague spectrum of natures affair with ‘fighting’; some days I am a sculptor, some days a painter, some days I am an Illustrator and author, but every day I live ‘my’ Art where it takes me.

An artist uses some techniques, brushstrokes, or color mix in the process of creating an artwork. Are there other elements involved in an artistic process? Take us through your process of making your artworks. How do you move from an idea to an artwork? Where does an artwork begin for you?

My process has evolved over the years to provide lessons, compositions, and installations that have been refined and are hosted in the features of body, mind, and spirit. Works that begin as non-fungible that I make evident at the recognizable threshold of tangible art. The materials I choose to work with are just as important as the composition. The medium, the canvas, the substance I use in a work represents an aspect of the ethos of a particular theme they are being used to convey. Black ink may represent a shade of human conflict, a coat hanger may be used to represent the threshold of human nature, a mirror may be used to convey the mind. During my “Source Abstract” period, I used Plastisol Printing Ink on Paper to paint Toronto Jazz musicians, which was like painting with glue on an involuntary surface. The source abstract concept I explored was to experience through the painting process a way that reflected the challenge to being a musician, to bond with your audience that is often a very fickle surface, and the innate struggle that comes with trying to become something unique among many versions created from the same thing.

Some artists believe that a sense of unity between the artworks or series clearly encompasses the idea and meaning of the work while others think that each work should have unique qualities and can just vary slightly because each one is created individually. Is there a central concept connecting all your works together or each series or artwork is unique?

My art explores a pervasive theme we often can’t see for no other reason than it is so familiar.
Looking back twenty-five years ago my work has gone through five distinct periods that I inadvertently began with the “Beginners Mind”period, where I initially drew the elementary feature of fighting as I first recognized it. The skills and patterns themselves, essentially the physical fighting skills all of us first recognize. The second period was the “Guardian Kings”, where I began to study the spiritual and philosophical undertones of ‘fighting’ through the lens of Zen, Buddhism, Bushido, and other eastern modalities, which I expressed and explored through ink and charcoal depictions of various deities and idols. The second was the ‘Shades of Fighting’ period where I explored the image of fighting as a medium more than an explicit action, through a monochromatic theme, where ‘fighting’ became a medium represented by the black paint manifested through us.
The third was the “The Source Abstract” period, where I painted without any black as though it was intrinsically present in a musician, a fighting JAZZ abstract narrative. The present period I call the “I Am Dapo” period, where I am focused on the features of a dynamic relationship through which we each shape and mould each other as though we are all ‘art’ and the ‘artist’ in one.

Artists tend to obtain feedback from the audiences about their work and see how they feel when they look at the artwork and what message they perceive. Would you like to give a particular interpretation of your work to your viewers or you prefer to leave the whole interpretation to your audience?

When I was about twenty-eight, I rented some space in a church and began teaching Martial Arts. A mother came to the Church to inquire about classes for her child and asked a question, “how will studying ‘fighting’ help my child become a better human being?”, to which I provided some generic answers about how learning to fight will make her child more confident, which was the answer that got me a knew paying student but said nothing about the art. By my late thirties I had arrived at a much deeper context to meet some version of this same question that supported the ‘art’, how studying fighting begins with where we recognize it so that in time we can liberate ourselves from the unconscious exploitation of it; a goal of the training that primes us to become better individuals through each other. A response that most often didn’t lead to a new paying student. I think about what has become the premise and direction of my art and how it aims to open a viewer’s judgment and opinion of something as intrinsic to their reality as the night sky they first recognize as a child, just as they do fighting, and how each viewer first recognizes it in terms of what is closest and most evident to them. A viewer does not need to be a paying Martial Arts student to benefit from what I have discovered from my journey beyond the familiar features of fighting as they first know it, just as they do not need to be an astronaut to benefit from what was discovered beyond the stars they first recognize. The interpretation of my Art is a direction I share through a composition with each viewer uniquely, and though I do feel it important to provide some context as to where it may take them, what is discovered along the way is paramount to where they are looking from and willing to go.

Inspiration is basically that strong and sudden emotion that makes you want to go and create. How do you get inspired, Jason? How do you seek and use inspiration for your works?

I am inspired by the risk, want to know what’s beyond the familiar I see and feel, as though each composition is the result of leaping into the ambiguous ether beyond the dogma of status-quo – I attempt to speak through my art, “look I am a bird just as you are, and we are not meant to live safely in the proverbial nest we first recognize as who’s right, who has more, who belongs, who was their first, who wins, who loses, or who’s to blame, yet where else does a fledgling strengthen its wings if not the features of the nest it recognizes. I am inspired to create art that gives purpose to the threshold we enter and know the word and ourselves in such a way that we do not adopt or pass on the beating of our adolescent wings as the nest, but rather a process that with guidance and understanding can lead to the courage and ability to leap from it and fly together.

What about your favorite subjects? How do you select your artworks subjects? Where they come from?

My Art and I are like the wind and a sail that propels a theme that’s course is not decided by ether, and yet it knows its heading. Subjects are arrived at and explored like a new destination, and what is discovered there decides the next direction the art and I take it.
A significant shift in the direction of this theme took place following an interest in drawing instrumentalists back in 2015, a subject matter influenced by my introduction to the music scene in Toronto through my sisters’ gigs. At the time I had no idea drawing musicians would lead to a whole new way of looking at the direction I was going. A year later, following one of my sister’s gigs, she pointed out that she was playing with some of the best around. She briefly shared their trials and struggles, some worse than others, and yet here they are, she said, playing with me in a nightclub for almost nothing. I began to look at the instrumentalists I was drawing as something we see and hear and yet cannot go unless we travel that road as one of them. How we see them in one place and yet only the fa├žade, the super-fiscal is familiar, and so from this the theme of my work found a new path and I fallowed it to see where it would go, and as I did it became my “Source Abstract period” from which my work majorly pivoted.

I think an innovative art creation is like a roller coaster ride of ideas and emotions. When the high comes, it’s that of pure joy and enthusiasm for exhibition. Is there an artwork or series that you would like to be remembered for? And if yes, what is it?

Confucius said that if we want to know what will happen in five years plant a tree, but if we want to know what will happen in one hundred years teach a child. I have come to feel that children possess our greatest treasure - the future, and though we have remarkably changed many things in our world through them, that treasure often gets left in the past.
When I was a boy, we had an old couch that was held up on one end by a stack of poetry books. Sometimes before bed my mother would say pick a book, and we would usually pick the blue one because it had a poem called, “Winken, Blinken, And Knod”, you may know it, but if not, it is about a little boy carried by his mother’s voice beyond what some believed is impossible; that the treasure in him is real. My mother lifted the corner of the couch and slipped the book out, and each time she read to us by that crooked green couch the future became brighter, and the impossible plausible, and though nothing seemed to change the future was made better by three.
If there is a body or series of work I hope is remembered it is my children’s stories, illustrations and poems, and though most who may benefit from them may not recall who I am anymore then I was interested in knowing all the names of the authors, illustrators and poets that helped me find my treasure when I was a child, I can’t think of a better way to be remembered.

And creative work isn’t done forever: it won’t be too long before the entire cycle begins again! So, our readers are waiting for your future artworks. Any upcoming works or future projects that you would like to share with our readers?

The theme of my work is moving towards large instillations that can be walked through and interacted with, instillations that feature how we are made through each other, and allow us to explore that familiar yet vague fundamental of our existence. I see the work continuing to emerge and grow through what I call the “source abstract”; that ambiguous and extraordinary point when light and dark meet, and from which we are manifested and natured from that friction. I suspect this theme will become the premise for years to come, and I feel it has been the leaping point I have been living towards.
“The Source Abstract”, which will be reproduced on a much larger scale, so that it can be moved through. The initial piece is made from coat hangers intertwined to create a 3’ cube in which are suspended the torqued two-dimensional bodies of three figures that reveal each other from yarn that appears to extend from their abdomens. The larger piece will stand 8’ and be made of steel and thin coloured aluminum will replace the yarn. I see this installation being transformed each time the public interacts with it, some of the connections being broken and new connections being made.

Jason, let’s talk about your influences. What are your art influences? Who are your favorite contemporary or historical artists and why?

My artistic influences are as peculiar as the source of my art I suspect. I was never one to be a fan, to remember who did what, or who said what, I have always walked to the beat of my own drummer, and yet my work is the bi-product of so much I could never itemize it all. I think the first real solid thing that influenced me was ‘not having’, which gave me so much. Sometimes nothing on my bread for lunch, so I would eat a pretend sandwich with whatever I wanted on it, drink whatever flavour I could imagine from the water fountain, make whatever I wanted from the garbage dumpsters in our neighborhood, or teaching myself to drive in an old beat-up van that I rebuilt at fifteen with nickels and dimes. T.V. programs like, Mr. Dress-up, Mr Rogers, The Friendly Giant, and of course Sesame Street planted many valuable seeds in me as a child. I remember the colours, the music, the characters, and the way social concepts were shared and explored indirectly and head-on, topics like having one parent, or feeling sad, or being honest with yourself, and how the world isn’t always what we want so that it can be something for everyone. When I look back at the stories, poetry, and illustrations in Dr. Seuss, Where the Wild Things Are Where the Sidewalk Ends, Sharett’s Web, and Le Petite Prince, I see with new eyes an extraordinary and complex theme, high art that has elevated and refined the way I approach and explore the themes of my own work. There was a significant period in my youth and into my teens where East Coast HipHop, and of course break dancing and graffiti had an influence. The various ways to lay down letters, cityscape’s, subway trains, buses, sneakers, caps, intercity parks, and of course the hoody are all influenced from this time. In my late teens and early twenties, my interests turned to Native Art and culture. I began to explore the spirit of life through Wildlife painting and drawings, which moved me out of a non-secular view of life and the god I was raised with. During my twenties, Martial Arts are where everything intersected, and the catalyst that opened my attention to a world of influence through the portal of Eastern Philosophy – the lessons and Art of Confucius, Lao-tzu, Bodhidharma, Kukai, and Musashi, which led to an interest in Western Philosophy, science, and Art, The Greek Classics to the Renaissance, and the Humanism movement from which I drew a correlation to the study of fighting as a threshold in the world, initially recognized and explored as the elementary physical features of a spectrum that is intrinsic to the experience of life self.

If you could meet one of your ideal artists from the past, who would it be and what will you ask about?

There are many ideal artists I would like to meet from both the Western Genre the Eastern and in-between. I can imagine sitting at a table long enough for us all to sit, and the grand debates and disagreements that would peel back something new - Kukai and Morrisseau discussing natures will, Vivaldi and Musashi debating the value of silence. I would write a letter and place it under the plate of each to be found when their meal was done - that we may discuss my topic over the desert.

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