WM STAFF, MAY 2018
28-year old, Philadelphia-based artist Jonathan Lyndon Chase is everywhere this past year. His mixed media portraits of contorted, sexually-explicit figures drawn from Chase's day-to-day experiences as a queer, non-binary, black artist have made their way into numerous museums and gallery exhibitions across the country.
As he gears up for his first major solo show in Los Angeles, titled Sheets, opening June 1st at Kohn Gallery, he agreed to speak with Whitehot about his latest body of work and what we can expect to see at his upcoming exhibition.
WM: Several of the works in your exhibition Sheets at Kohn Gallery use actual bedsheets as a canvas or base material. How did you choose this subject matter, and what approach did you take in creating these works?
JLC: My process is a combination of traditional and digital collage, drawing, photography, poetry, archiving and research. When I’m working on a body of work, the art often tells me “what's next” as far as subject matter. I choose materials and themes that remind me of places or memories as well as fascinating, affirming, and healing for both myself and people with similar human experiences. To me, sheets represent an intimate, familiar, and safe place for a body to inhabit as well as the body as a landscape, folding and forming into its own unique shape and pattern. A sheet can be a portal to a more emotionally secure environment— through dreaming, intimacy, or just the safety of privacy.
WM: The characters in your work are often seen in various environments including a pool hall, gym, car, and house party. What is the significance of these places?
JLC: The figures in my work resemble characters but these are real stories, bodies, and people. Some of the subjects are people I know personally, intimately, or on different levels and, at times, their faces are more-or-less mask-like. The places I depict are created from my memory of places I've been or remember from a story. Sometimes they are mundane events where I experienced a daydream or panic attack which effected my perception of the space and my body's relationship to whatever the conditions were. Being in a queer black body requires a certain amount of performance in various situations— safety and security are large concerns. Our emotions and experiences fluctuate greatly between familiar, private spaces and shared or public environments.
WM: What role do elements like clothing, make-up, and hairbrushes play?
JLC: Some of the fashion elements are inspired by artists like Kehinde Wiley, Kerry James Marshall, and Barkley Hendricks who use clothing to elevate the status of figures in their work. I like the history of clothing as armor, an indicator of class and identity, as well as the role it plays in how the body performs gender.
Clothes and make up help us create new forms of gender expression and show the ways we love, value, and protect our bodies. Queer and Black fashion has and always will be admired, stolen, mocked, feared, hated, and sought-after because we're innovative in a way that's ahead of our time. Nikes, Adidas, FUBU, Rocawear, and sweat pants are all ways of expression. Nikes enter into my work a lot because they serve as camouflage for some Queer black stories. I also include high heels and fetish objects as a nod to male drag and the purpose of expressing yourself on your own terms. I’m claiming back the freedom of expression to where lipstick, dickies, Timberlands, and a fuckin hoodie.
Hair brushes are part political and part poetic symbols. Hair brushes are hard and soft at the same time. Everyone brushes their hair sort of differently. It's beautiful to watch. There are beauty rituals within the black community like those dudes who always carry a comb in their back pocket. I also see the brush as an oar for a boat referencing biblical connotations with water and baptism, the Atlantic slave trade, or stereotypes of black bodies sinking.
WM: Which, if any, artists have inspired you?
JLC: So many artists have inspired me including Romare Bearden, Alison Saar, Marlon Riggs, Robert Colescott, Alice Neel, Kerry James Marshall, and the list goes on. I live for the 90s and the late 80s. I think a lot about the black future, the future of gender, and the Queer future. I’m a nerd, which surprises some, but I love Afrofuturism and science-fiction in relationship to black and queer narratives.
WM: You’ve had your art exhibited in a lot of different cities and locations. What has been your favorite city so far? How long have you been living and working in Philadelphia, and what has it been like for you there?
JLC: My favorite has to be NYC! A lot of my friends work and live there and it reminds me of my hometown. I was born and raised in Philly so I’ve been here all my life. What has it been like? Home. It's a beautiful and magical city that's so diverse in many ways. I feel proud to be from a city that birthed so many great artists, thinkers, and institutions. It has been really interesting seeing Philly change so much over the last 6 or 7 years. Gentrification is getting loud but other changes in how people express themselves, their joy, and ambitions for the future are louder.
WM: Besides opening your solo show at Kohn Gallery in June, any exciting summer plans?
JLC: I see a beach in my future! WM