oakland's urbanview



"H-8." 72" x 56" Oil on canvas, baby.


I'm on a Plain

Jason Byers makes you look with Object in and of Eight Parts at Lucky Tackle

By Kelly Eginton

Between Heaven and Hell is, what? Earth? I guess technically, the question isn't what, but where. This is the question that kept coming up in my head while looking at Jason Byers's paintings of vividly rendered objects parked in a white desert of ... what ... I don't know. Where the hell is that thing?

A beltbuckle, a bicycle, a bottle of beer. Carefully executed oil paintings; casual subject matter. But, like I said, its not so much the what as the where; the quality of the white background that contains the objects. It's not a stark or virginal white. It is at once, warm, rich and flat, like a thought bubble. It has volume enough to contain, while remaining flat enough to resist. The object is somewhere, not here or there, but definitely somewhere. It is held, outlined in black, in a kind of suspended animation, a state of potential. The thing pops up in your mind later, detailed, yet generic.

Byers's work seems to reside precariously in the no-man's land between reading and looking, thinking and feeling. Yeah, the rendering is meticulous. It's cool. It is done carefully, lovingly in a Dick and Jane illustration style that tells me I am reading; maybe I'm supposed to be learning something. But the red on that deformed lollypop is giving me some strange vibrations ... and what about that thing in the picture? Do you want it? Do you want it bad?

Looking at a work of art and trying to read it (or worse, read into it) are two distinctly different activities. As the word implies, looking is a more passive endeavor, allowing things to reveal themselves to you, rather than trying to make it all come together and make sense, so you can move on to the next thing. Sometimes it requires a bit of patience. Fortunately, Byers believes in instant gratification. In other words, there's a big payoff for looking, even just glancing. It's seductive.

A vintage red bicycle, a yellow cocktail umbrella, a hamburger, a puffy baseball hat. I consider each painting, each object individually. I am compelled to try to understand all of the objects together, as a group of something more specific than just "things." The sum of these items conjures up a sense of belonging to the local subculture, other young artists, and people my age, I think. A bitchin' bike, a lowbrow/high fashion statement (puffy baseball hat), drinking paraphernalia ... Maybe these are all things that Byers just thinks are kinda neat; things that would look funny painted really big.

There's a certain freedom that comes from saying, "Fuck it, this is what I want to look at. I'm gonna paint my favorite baseball hat."

Moreover, he has found a way to impart a mythology of himself as an artist, without making him-self the center of attention in that creepy Jackson Pollocky sort of way. A restrained, or seemingly scientific approach of considering the world around him makes it comfortable to be personal. But then, this is nothing new for Byers, who recorded an entire album of songs he wrote, produced and performed while he traveled across the United Sates in a 12 foot travel trailer, living out his own myth as a folk singer. And get this, the album was called, Nowhere in Between ....

"Object in and of Eight Parts," at Lucky Tackle 6608 San Pablo Avenue, Oakland, Sept. 14-Oct. 26. Reception for the artist Saturday, Sept. 14, 6:30-9:30.

From the September 11-18, 2002 issue of Oakland's Urbanview.