Embracing Mistakes and Discovering: Jason Asselin On His Process, Influences and Ideas

Project SCUM

“Project SCUM”, Watercolor, Graphite, 22″x30″, 2014. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Asselin is a multidisciplinary artist working within the realm of printmaking, drawing, installation as well as public art. He holds a BFA in printmaking from Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, MA and a MFA in Print Media from the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, MI. His works has been exhibited at many institutions and organizations, including Chandler Gallery in Cambridge, Seven Gates Gallery in Southbridge, MA, Traina Center for the Arts at Clark University in Worcester, artSpace in New Haven, CT and most recently at the Wifinsky Gallery at Salem State University in Salem. His MFA thesis “Continue the Tradition of Restriction” was exhibited at the Cranbrook Art Museum. If you live in Boston, you’ve most likely have seen Jason’s “You Are Here” in the mezzanine of the World Trade Center Silver Line stop of the MBTA. Jason has been teaching drawing at Salem State University for the past six years and has taught silkscreen for beginners class at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education since 2014. You can see more of his work on his blog or in the upcoming exhibit I am organizing for the Cambridge Center on recent work by the Center’s printmaking faculty.

Anulfo Baez: You have both a BFA and MFA in printmaking.  Of course, my first question has to do with being a printmaker. Have you always wanted to be a printmaker? If so, what attracted you to the medium?

Jason Asselin: Originally I had the intention of concentrating in photography, I did that for my first two years at Montserrat College of Art. I realized that I liked using different methods to create my art, so I gravitated over to printmaking. The printmaking department at Montserrat has a workspace that can accommodate experimentation, I discovered that the print environment is where I like to be when I’m discovering a new body of work, within an experimental mindset.

AB: Looking at your body of work, you’ve experimented a lot with different mediums within printmaking. You’ve done silkscreen, letterpress, woodcut and other techniques. Do you find yourself preferring one technique over another?

JA: Screenprint and etching are generally my favorite. Very different technology, image quality, and outcomes. It’s the content and ideas that drive the decision to use a particular medium.

AB: How has your work evolved as a printmaker?

JA: Early on my prints were more completed. I felt like I needed to control all aspects to get good results. I’m much more comfortable with “mistakes.” I use the mistake as just another part of the discovery process. The greatest part of this type of thinking is you’re liberated from your critical internal voice, you can make a mess and not have to be ashamed of your mark-making. You embrace the mistake.

AB: What artists or teachers have been influential in your work as a printmaker?

JA: Professor Ethan Berry from Montserrat, Professor Haig Demarjian from Salem State, Robert Rauschenberg, Christo, and one my favorite inspirations Chris Burden. Mr. Burden was not a printmaker, however, if I ever need some instant inspiration he is my go-to source.

AB: Chris Burden was an interesting conceptual and performance artist. I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘Shoot” his landmark 1971 performance in which he recruits a friend to shoot him in the arm with a rifle. It was one of the most insane performances I’ve seen and learned about. It was shocking for me as well as for many people who have seen and continue to see it to this day. So was much said in that piece about the political and social movements of the late ‘60s and ‘70s including the atrocities of the Vietnam War. Have you seen Burden’s work Light of Reason at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University?

JA: I have not been to Light of Reason, but I’ve visited Urban Light at LACMA. It’s a fantastic public art installation—day or night. I like seeing how children respond to it at first, There’s a feeling that it’s a sacred space. Children walk carefully at first through this space. It feels like a memorial to technology and the integrity of innovation. It’s hopeful, optimistic, and gives a sense of peace. Once children are used to it you see that they start to play within the rows of lights. It’s really special.

AB: This is a good transition into my next question. You’ve also made videos and films as well as public works of art. Learning about your work, I’ve noticed that there’s an interest on your part in performance art and I can see why you consider Chris Burden an influence. Did this interest in incorporating performance into your work start with your MFA Thesis show at Cranbrook Academy of Art in which you screen-printed 500 handkerchiefs and distributed to museum visitors during April of 2005?

JA: Throughout my graduate school work at Cranbrook, I attempted to use some elements of performance. Many of my artworks at that time were interactive where the viewer would have to participate in the artwork. Sometimes the required interaction was simple like flicking a switch on to turn on the artwork, other times it required the viewer to completely compromise their safety. The thesis show was a continuation of these experiments. The good news about the handkerchiefs was that all 500 disappeared over about 2 weeks.

AB: What are you currently working on?

JA: I apply to public artwork projects around the country almost daily. Because there is so much competition for these projects you need to apply to everything, and just maybe I will be chosen for one. I’m also continuing to work on a series of drawing/watercolor/prints called “Pack of Lies” and it focuses around the world of cigarettes. The packaging, health effects, subculture, chemicals and a history of industry deceit.

AB: The works in your “Pack of Lies” serieswere the subject of a recent exhibition at Salem State University. How did this body of work come about?

JA: I started drawing different trash found on the streets. I liked the smashed beer cans and smashed cigarettes packs. To consolidate the content I decided to focus on only one vice, cigarettes. I like that nearly everyone has a story or opinion about this addiction. It’s relatable to many people.


“The Pyramid Scheme”, Watercolor, Graphite on Paper, 10″x14″, 2015. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

AB: How has your practice change over time?

JA: I originally believed that I would only make art for myself. Otherwise to make a living I would be a photographer or a graphic designer. In grad school I realized that I had the energy and the will to make public art. I focused my practice on that goal, to be a public art artist first.  Another factor in forming my art practice has been through teaching art. I’ve been teaching drawing at Salem State University for 6 years and teaching this information has heavily influenced my artwork.

AB: What is your process like?

JA: It’s painful to start with nothing, but I have accepted those feelings. I’ll start with some sketches and doing a bunch of reading and researching. I need to see other information and other ideas around the general subject. I need to see what came before me so I feel like there is a connection to what I’m about to create. I attempt to consolidate the sketches and ideas. Somehow the ideas find their way and come together on the page, it feels like magic when an artwork develops naturally.

AB: Where do you find the ideas for your work?

JA: I do a lot of research for my classes at Salem State. This research also finds its way into my artwork. There are some requirements that I impose onto my artwork: my art must have an element of interaction with the public or public space—this requirement alone helps to quickly frame up the ideas of an artwork—I also feel that my artwork should have a message about political, physiological, or social concerns.

AB: In researching this interview, I came across an article in the Boston Globe that talked about your public art work at the World Trade Center Silver Line stop here in Boston. You made a 68 foot lenticular mural of swimming goldfishes that become active by people’s movements throughout the mezzanine of the station. As I mentioned before, there is an element of performance and interactivity in your work which is one of the requirements in your work. Can you tell me how was the experience of creating a large scale public work of art like the one you created here in Boston for the World Trade Center stop?

JA: It was a difficult process because there were many parts of the project that were completely new to me.  It was also very exciting to think in such a larger scale with completely different concerns. Safety is generally not an issue when you’re making a screenprint for a gallery. This mural needed to not fall off the wall in the case of an earthquake. The mural needed to last at least 50 years without any maintenance costs. And what if pigeons could land on the mural, well now there would be bird poop all over the art. We had to make an aluminum roof and housing that kept the birds off the artwork to keep it clean. It needed to be UV stable and shatterproof. I needed to hire local union members to install the artwork. Wall fasteners needed to be approved for the weight of the aluminum frame. The wall needed to be checked with special equipment for hidden electrical lines embedded into the concrete so that the union guys didn’t get electrocuted when drilling the holes for the fasteners. The check list went on and on. It’s a lot to juggle but it’s totally worth it in the end when the artwork is up there for everyone to see. It’s really the best feeling.


“You Are Here,” World Trade Center MBTA Silver Line Stop/Seaport District, 2002-2004. Image Courtesy of the Artist.

AB: What was the last printmaking or non-printmaking show you saw and what surprised you the most about it?

JA: Recently, I visited the State House in Boston. In the center of the building, under the gold dome you will find a public exhibition in the Hall of Flags. Here they have some back-lit photo reproductions of different versions of the American flag. The history of our flag is really interesting and just being in this room in the State House will amaze you. The architectural details are something we never see day to day. It’s a very romantic and inspirational space. Also on the second floor you can visit the House of Representatives House Chamber. I also found this space to be very inspirational.

AB: Your answer to this question involves a work of architecture rather than an exhibition. I asked the same question to Selma Bromberg—one of the other printmaking faculty members at the Cambridge Center and her answer also involved a work of architecture she had seen in Taiwan. Sometimes we are so involved in the hustle-and-bustle of daily life that we forget to look at the buildings and spaces around us. I think this is something you continually try to explore in your work—activating spaces with people in mind.

JA: I definitely think about that a lot. I’ve have many plans in mind about activating spaces for future projects. Recently, I was invited by the Urban Culture Institute to submit a Request for Qualifications for a project at Boston Children’s Hospital—this would be the next potential public artwork project if all goes well. Fingers crossed.

AB: Fingers crossed here as well. Good luck!

AB, November 2015

The American Textile History Museum Announces It Will Close Its Doors as Part of a Restructuring Plan

On November 4, 2015, the American Textile History Museum in Lowell announced that it will close its doors on December 31, 2015 to undergo a “significant transformation.” The announcement, which came in the form of a press release, was posted on the museum’s website. Citing a significant deficit that has been depleting the museum’s shrinking reserves as well as on-going financial problems for almost 20 years, the ATHM is also citing low attendance and high operating costs.

The museum is no stranger to closing its doors and restructuring. In 2005, it permanently closed the Textile Conservation Center and sold part of its Dutton Street building where it is currently located for conversion into mixed-use space. Following a successful fundraising campaign, the museum reopened to the public in 2009.

The Smithsonian Institution affiliate boasts of one of the finest collections of textiles, clothes, tools and machinery as well as books and ephemera in North America. The ATHM has hosted a number of critically acclaimed traveling exhibitions which included Artist Textiles: Picasso to Warhol and High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture among others. It has also organized some very outstanding exhibits such as Grace and Glamour: 1930s Fashion and Color Revolution: Style Meets Science in the 1960s drawing exclusively from their own renowned collection.

The museum, which is very difficult to get to using public transportation has vowed to keep its research center available on a limited basis. It is unclear when the American Textile History Museum will open its doors once again or exactly how large is the current budget deficit, but with this announcement also comes a new fundraising campaign that will, according to the press release, “help preserve and protect the Museum’s unparalleled collection of American artifacts, as well as enable ATHM to effectively transform and continue to fulfill our mission for generations to come.”

I’ve obviously been a fan of the American Textile History Museum—I’ve written about their exhibits numerous times and have been a cheerleader for them on social media, but as an outsider I sensed their financial struggles which were reflected on their lack of social media presence, outreach and marketing. I wish the museum the best and hope they can come out of this a much leaner and stronger organization. I’ll look forward to visiting the museum before it closes its doors on December 31, 2015.

Featured Image: Evening Gown, Label: Christian Dior, Gianfranco Ferré for Christian Dior, Autumn-Winter 1989-1990, Silk Crepe, Silk Organza. Gift of Mrs. Alfred Bloomingdale. FIDM Museum Collection. 2006.116.113 Detail. From the exhibition High Style: Betsy Bloomingdale and the Haute Couture.

Wingate Studio at 30, Celebrated with a Retrospective At Boston University’s Stone Gallery

The Stone Gallery at Boston University is quickly becoming one of my favorite college art galleries in the Boston-area. In the last ten years, gallery curators have organized an impressive list of exhibits on printmaking—from the 2008 Chikanobu: Modernity and Nostalgia in Japanese Prints to the excellent retrospective on the prints of Joan Snyder in 2011, I find myself returning to the BU campus exhibit after exhibit. Currently on view at the Stone Gallery is another retrospective commemorating thirty years of artistic production at Wingate Studio in Hinsdale, New Hampshire. Founded in 1985 by master printer Peter Pettengill after briefly having worked and trained at the world renowned Crown Point Press in San Francisco, Wingate Studio specializes in intaglio etching. Like Crown Point Press and many other presses of its caliber, Wingate Studio works in collaboration with contemporary artists to produce hand-printed, limited edition works of art that have become part of many prestigious public and private art collections throughout the country.

With more than fifty prints on exhibit, Printer’s Proof: Thirty Years at WingateStudio gathers an absorbing group of prints by both established and emerging artists such as Robert Motherwell, Sol Lewitt, Louise Bourgeois, Walton Ford, Tadaaki Kuwayama, Ahmed Alsoudani and Meghan Brady among others. Curated by Lynne Cooney and Josh Buckno, the exhibit nods at Boston’s deeply rooted history in printmaking. The work of current and former Boston University professors Gideon Bok and Richard Ryan are exhibited alongside alumni Matt Phillips and Meghan Brady among others. Not only that, because printmaking has always been considered a “man’s job,” Cooney and Buckno superbly highlight the work of many female artists currently living and working in New England, including but not limited to, Laylah Ali, Barbara Takenaga, Karen Gelardi, and Xylor Jane.

Untitled (from Daughter of the East), 2008 six plate color etching, aquatint, spit bite aquatint, drypoint, and chine collé 19 x 25 inches edition of 30 published by Wingate Studio Courtesy of the artist, Wingate Studio, and Carroll and Sons, Boston.

Untitled (from Daughter of the East), 2008 six plate color etching, aquatint, spit bite aquatint, drypoint, and chine collé, 19 x 25 inches, edition of 30 Courtesy of the artist, Wingate Studio, and Carroll and Sons, Boston.

Among the many highlights for me included the work of Ambreen Butt, Karen Gelardi, Meghan Brady and Sebastian Black. I was immediately attracted to Butt’s incredibly labor-intensive work years ago at an exhibit of her work at Carroll and Sons Gallery in Boston’s South End.  In this retrospective of the work of Wingate Studio, Butt presents a suite of etchings, Daughters of the East, that form part of a larger body of work titled Dirty Pretty. Ambreen Butt trained in Pakistan in traditional Indian and Persian miniature painting (also holds an MFA from MassArt) and borrows from this painting tradition to create work that explore the feminist, cultural and political issues of her time. The prints, five in total, respond to the 2007 political unrest between students and government forces that culminated in the deaths and injuries of many students in Islamabad, Pakistan. Similar to miniature paintings with their incredible attention to detail, epic subject matter and often opaque jewel color tones, Butt’s etchings create a space for the viewer to get lost in for hours—pondering the power and symbolism in her imagery, which she often juxtaposes with tiny pretty flowers and geometric ornamentation.

Saco Bog, sugar lift aquatint 23 x 23 inches Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

Saco Bog,
sugar lift aquatint
23 x 23 inches
Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

Untited, 2005 Set of five, softground and spit bite aquatint, 21 x 18 inches. Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

Untited, 2005
Set of five, softground and spit bite aquatint, 21 x 18 inches. Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

Rhode Island School of Design graduate Karen Gelardi and Boston University MFA graduate Meghan Brady both worked on Constructions, a body of work that resulted in two separate etchings at Wingate Studio following their two-person show in New York City in 2010. Gelardi—who is interested in the resiliency of nature and industry as well as the versatility of textiles, often incorporates materials such as fabric, ink and papier mache into her works. Brady, like Gelardi, is also interested in the nuances of the vernacular and industrial worlds, however, the etching on view in Printer’s Proof is not part of their collaboration at Wingate Studio. While Brady’s print in this exhibit is a departure from the artist’s interest in geometric abstraction with the incorporation of oblong, curvilinear lines, both Gelardi and Brady demonstrate an attention to the bold patterns that recalls some textiles and quilts.

Period Piece Peepers (**), 2005. Color etching and aquatint, 11.75 X 15.75 (bleed), Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

Period Piece Peepers (**), 2005.
Color etching and aquatint, 11.75 X 15.75 (bleed), Edition of 20. Courtesy of Wingate Studio

One of the more conceptual younger artists in the exhibit is Sebastian Black. Working with everyday objects in his practice and weaving in and out of painting, sculpture and installation, Black created Period Piece Peepers (**) at Wingate Studio. A color etching and aquatint, Black used vinyl letterset sheets and a blade to cut incisions set in Helvetica to mimic those seen on actual vinyl sheets. For me, Black’s print was among the most delightfully surprising works in the exhibit and made me wish I had seen more of his works in other places prior to seeing this print in Printer’s Proof.

Black Mountain College has been on everyone’s radar lately, all thanks to the Institute of Contemporary Art’s groundbreaking, exhilarating and super nerdy exhibit Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957. This wasn’t the first time that John Cage made a print, in fact, Cage made a series of prints every year at Crown Point Press prior to his collaboration in 1986 with Wingate Studio. In the print shown in this exhibit, we learn of Cage’s practice of burning clumps of paper on the press, then covering the fire with dampened paper when the smoke accumulated. This print is definitely not to be missed.

Printer’s Proof: Thirty Years at Wingate Studio is on view until December 13, 2015 at Boston University’s Stone Gallery, 855 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA.

Observations: On the #SneakerCulture Exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t consider myself a sneakerhead. I don’t collect, have boxes of unworn kicks in a basement or resell my sneakers. I also don’t camp out and stand in line for hours hoping to get my hands on limited, rare and exclusive sneakers. I do possess some knowledge of sneakers and wear those that I like, which may not be the most coveted sneakers out there, but that doesn’t matter to me.

I recently checked out the Brooklyn Museum’s The Rise of Sneaker Culture exhibit, which is organized by the American Federation of Arts and the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. The exhibit is billed as “first exhibition to explore the complex social history and cultural significance” of the sneaker and with almost 150 pairs of sneakers on display��many as beautiful and iconic as the next one—it is underwhelming in social and historical context.

What the exhibit lacks in depth and scope, it makes up for in the number of pairs of sneakers on display which for the “bro sneakerhead,” that might be an excellent thing. I am obsessed with sneakers, but my obsession is more about the history of footwear than about spending $800 on a pair of sneakers so exclusive only a handful of guys can get their hands on them. In spite of feeling like a kid in candy store, The Rise of Sneaker Culture left much to be desired, especially for those of us wanting more background on the social and cultural movements surrounding many of the iconic sneakers on display.

There’s too much emphasis on sneakers as design objects and very little on their cultural and historical significance. One part of the story missing for me was that of the influence of female sneakerheads. I did read a short, three-question interview with designer and illustrator Sophia Chang and head nodded to Missy Elliott’s 2005 music video “Lose Control,” but aside from this, most of the sneakers in the exhibit were designed for men and or popularized by men. One of the very few women’s sneakers on display is the iconic Reebok Freestyle (in pink) from 1982, but other than these, you’ll just have to imagine women’s contribution to sneaker culture.

Other parts of the sneaker culture story missing for me include an in-depth look at the early years of hip hop and its influence on sneakers and streetwear. Also the contributions of renowned design companies such as Marimekko, Commes des Garcons and Missoni with companies like Converse, is left out of the narrative. Yes, the exhibit features the Run-D.M.C. signed Adidas Superstars and Damien Hirst’s “All You Need is Love” red print with blue butterflies Chuck Taylor All-Stars, but this goes to show that placing a sneaker inside an acrylic box and expecting people to know the story and history behind them, adds very little context to an exhibit.

One of the more interesting elements of the exhibit was the wire hung from one end of gallery to another. Flung on it were what many consider to be the cream of the crop of high fashion sneakers—Rick Owens’ Geobasket Sneakers, Balmain high tops and another pair I regrettably can’t remember at this moment. The accompanying wall text mentions that hanging sneakers over a wire is considered to be a form of celebration known as “shoefiti,” but that it is also seen as a symbol of urban crime. This installation could’ve connected this history and reception of many of the sneakers in the exhibit as well as sparked conversations surrounding the murders over Nike Air Jordans in black communities across the country, but maybe I am asking for too much.

Other highlights included seeing local artist Josh Wisdumb’s gorgeous collaboration with New Balance, Pharrell Williams’ joint effort with Adidas: the Stan Smith Polka Dot (I was wearing a pair of polka dots during my visit) and the Geobasket sneakers, because oh, they’re some of the most beautiful sneakers I’ve ever laid my eyes on.  Another highlight was meeting in person after all these years fellow shoe, museum and twitter lover @MarkBSchlemmer