EK INTERVIEW: JAMIE VASTA
BY THE BLIND ARCHITECT
MAY 24, 2014
Jamie Vasta will be bringing her amazing glitter art to the Empty Kingdom Summer Art Show. Her work crosses renaissance fables with modern say subjects, creating entrancing work. Check out her interview:
Who are you? Where are you from and where are you currently?
I’m a painter who works mostly in glitter and glue, making figurative and landscape works that deal primarily with beauty and power. I’m originally from upstate New York, but I’ve been in the bay area for about a decade. I live in Oakland.
Do you have formal training? What different media have you worked with? What about glitter struck you, why does glitter suit you as a medium of expression? For beginning artists, would you suggest an experimentation in different media, and which media do you think are important to try out to become more balanced?
I have a BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and an MFA from the California College of the Arts. In undergrad I worked in quite a few media- the Museum School has a really interdisciplinary approach- painting and drawing and photo and print, plus some embroidered pieces, crocheted pieces, a little bit of everything 2D. The majority of my training was in oils, although eventually my work in glitter took over, and it’s been my primary focus since 2002. I have a fascination with the reflective quality of glitter- the way that it interacts with the light and flickers and dazzles and disrupts the image. I like to play with the disconnect between the connotations of glitter as a material (kitsch, femininity, childishness) and the physicality of glitter as a stand-in for paint. I think it’s great for beginning artists to work with a lot of media- I’m always drawing on skills from my undergrad classes. Although the end result of my work is glitter, the technique behind it comes from my painting training, and I couldn’t craft the painting without the drawing underneath it, the photograph that I take for source material, the digital manipulation of said photograph before I start to work from it, etc.
Have you hunted? Where did you get the subject matter for The Hunt? Are you vegetarian? Omnivorous? What emotional and ideological significance does that series hold for you? How do you hope/expect the viewer to react to the series?
I haven’t hunted. I have some family members who hunt. I do sometimes fish. Hunting is something that I have very conflicting feelings about, and that series was partly about my exploration of those feelings. I was planning to do a series of paintings with mythological themes, thinking about Artemis, and started finding images online of pre-pubescent girls hunting. It was fascinating to me- partly because in my own experience, hunting was a boys-only activity. For a little girl to kill is so far from the sugar-and-spice–and-everything-nice notion of girlhood that I found the pictures really compelling. The idea of hunting for sport is pretty repellant to me, especially hunting predators like bears or wolves. But I do feel that hunting for food is a much more honest interaction with meat-eating than buying it at the supermarket. I eat fish and poultry and very occasionally rabbit. I feel pretty dishonest eating animals that I’m too squeamish to kill, but I try to be mindful about what animals I do eat, how they were raised, and I keep chickens (for eggs, not meat), so I have to at least look them in the eye after I’ve eaten one of their kin. I tried to position the paintings in that zone of ambivalence so that the viewer can explore their own reactions. I had some interesting responses to the work at the opening- one man, who was a hunter from I think Wyoming, told me that he thought the pieces were lovely, apt portraits of his community. At the same time, a woman came up to me and told me she thought the pieces were successful as brutal portrayals of the way that our society desecrates the relationship between women and the natural world.
Your series Femme features a combination of burlesque dancers and drag queens. How do these two disparate groups of individuals represent femininity to you? Do you consider sexual expression to be empowering? How would you describe burlesque shows as separate from strip shows, what separates them?
I don’t think that the burlesque community and the drag community are particularly disparate, especially in the bay area, where some of the same women perform burlesque routines at one venue and as “faux” queens in the drag scene. Both burlesque and drag performances are riffs on vaudeville acts, and they utilize camp and irony to perform femininity in a saucy and powerful way. Both show feminine glamor in an exaggerated manner that reveals its constructed nature, puts it out there in a flashy surface (like glitter does.) It’s hard to generalize, though- the drag world in the bay area particularly is such a varied realm of performance that when you’re out at a club you’re just as likely to encounter a restaging of a Carolee Schneeman performance piece as you are to see the classic diva-in-a-sequined gown. I do think that the sexual expression in burlesque can be very empowering. A burlesque show I think has a whole different attitude toward sex than a strip show- burlesque is about humor and the tease in a way that emphasizes how fun sex can be. And you see all different kinds of body types being celebrated in burlesque- you don’t have to be a Barbie doll to be a burlesque performer, you just need charisma and a good shimmy. I think in the face of social pressures on women to look and act a certain way, it can be a really empowering thing.
How long does a piece take you on average? What kind of process do you go through? Where do you get your subject material?
Once I get started on a painting, it can take anywhere from a few days (for a really small piece) to a few months (for the 6-footers) to complete. I start by taking photos of my models (for The Hunt, I reconfigured found photos, but that’s been the exception) in my studio or outdoors. Then I spend some time fiddling with the photos, both digitally and also sometimes cutting them up into paper dolls until I come up with an image that I’m pleased with. I use an old-school overhead projector to blow up my drawings to the size of the panel- it’s hard for me to make major changes to the painting once I start putting the glitter down, so I need to get the drawing really solid. Occasionally I’ll do some sort of underpainting with wood stain, but more often I work from a simple pencil drawing. Then I start in with the glitter and glue. The process is a bit like making a mosaic- lay down a line of glue with a cheap little craft brush, shake on a color of glitter, blow away the excess, repeat with the next area of color. I have a collection of several hundred glitters, all sorts of brands, some finer, some chunkier. On any given piece I use a working palette of about 50 colors. Mostly I lay down little areas of color next to each other like a paint-by-number, but sometimes I’ll lay down a big swath of glue with a calligraphy brush and sprinkle several colors onto the wet glue to get a washier effect. When a piece is done, I clear-coat it with krylon to make it a little more durable.
Tell us about After Caravaggio, how did you select the pieces to reimagine? How have you changed the soul of the images? How do you think reimagining the pieces in the same poses but with modern dress and tattoos alter them? How true do you seek to be to the subject matter? In what ways do you deliberately alter the image and in what other ways do you in-deliberately alter them?
Taking inspiration from art history has always been of huge importance to me. Caravaggio has been a major influence on me for as long as I’ve been a painter. His use of light, of real people, the queerness of the images- it all speaks to me. The series of pieces that I made reimagining his works was on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of his death. It seemed like the right time to pay tribute. I love the way that Caravaggio used the framework of religious subject matter, but was radical and subversive with his models- the sensual young boys, the grimy fingernails, a famous prostitute modeling as the Virgin Mary, etc. Some of the elements of my portraits are very personal to the subjects, who are mostly close friends of mine. Some of the poses had to be shifted because they’re not anatomically possible, but I wanted to stay true to much of the original content, while at the same time creating a portrait of my San Francisco queer community.
What is your next project or show?
At the moment I’m working on some landscape paintings, inspired by the Hudson River School. I needed a little break from the figure. And it gives me the excuse to go for walks in the hills. It’s good to get outside. Those pieces will be going to Miami for the art fair with the Patricia Sweetow Gallery.
What is your favorite book?
It ‘s a tie between Jeanette Winterson’s “Art and Lies” and Lynda Barry’s “100 Demons”.