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Jason Brammer: Fusing Past, Present and Future

René Romero Schuler

Brammer's "Time Machine LI"

I recently had the pleasure of crossing paths with Jason Brammer in the Klein Artist Works group that Paul Klein started up last year.  Every artist in that group was individually dynamic, but I felt compelled to bring a little extra attention to Jason, because it was immediately clear to me that he is just a little bit different.

What first captivated me was that Jason does “live” exhibitions of his work.  Meaning he will actually create a work of art in a live setting, with an audience.  In fact, during the opening reception for Jason’s upcoming solo exhibition at Jackson Junge Gallery on Friday, May 6th, he will do a live painting performance so that guests can get an inside look at his creative process. (Which is something I don’t know if I could muster up the nerve to do, unless there was free beer as part of the deal!).

I also noticed that Jason is very active in truly working the Chicago art scene.  I went and saw his work at the Jackson Junge Gallery on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park, and I thought the message he is conveying with the sculptural paintings in his Time Machines series is utterly fascinating.  By fusing antique parts into his artwork, Jason simultaneously creates a sense of nostalgia mixed with a vision of the future.  According to Brammer, vintage hand cranks, old gauges, and tubing play a key role in his creations, which he makes to look like “old ‘Time Machines’ that have been discovered from 1901.”

"The Future is Recording Over My Pasture" at I.V. Lab Recording Studios

Beyond all that, I’ve also met Jason’s manager.  His wife Erin quit her job as a project manager at a well-known financial company a few years ago to be Jason’s full-time business partner and manager.

I recently got the chance to ask Jason some questions about his artwork and future plans:

René Romero Schuler: What can we expect from your upcoming exhibition at Jackson Junge Gallery?

Jason Brammer: My show at Jackson Junge Gallery, Futura Obscura, will be both a painting exhibition and live art event.  I am working on a new series of paintings, also called “Futura Obscura,” that will debut at this show. With this new series, I was inspired by the unique metallic coloring of “daguerreotypes,” which are early photographic images first produced in the 1830s by an optical device (and a precursor to early cameras) called the “Obscura.” I’ve been painting a lot of seascape imagery, which I’m drawn to because of its timeless quality. I like the idea of looking at a painting that could be from the past, present, or the future. I am also designing a mixed media painting installation for the show that will be in the front window of the gallery and will do some live painting during the opening reception on May 6th.

RRS: What have you been working on in the studio these days?

JB: I just finished a mixed-media installation for the social networking company LinkedIn, which is in a conference room in their downtown Chicago office.  I painted a 6’ x 4’ canvas in my studio and then hung the canvas on a wall that I treated to look like rusting metal.  I mounted real 3-D wooden spheres to the surface of the canvas and to the wall to give the illusion that these connected spheres are flowing out of the canvas and into the room. I am also busy working on paintings for the Futura Obscura show and have been experimenting with imagery that appears to be folding, like a Japanese screen or accordion.

Brammer's "Time Machine LX (Entering the Pasture)"

RRS: What inspires you?

JB: I am inspired by surfaces around the city, especially the “El” tracks around town.  I like to recreate surfaces that appear to be in a state of deterioration.  I am also inspired by the architecture of Chicago and in particular, architects from the late 1800’s and early 20th century.  In recent years, I’ve been particularly fascinated with Louis Sullivan and other great minds that came together to create the “White City” in 1893.  I am also inspired by the rural landscape, the ocean, historic photographs, Art Nouveau ironwork, audio recording gear, antique machinery, japanese screens, and the ideas of time travel, among other things.

RRS: How did your Time Machines series come about?

JB: My Time Machines have evolved over the last few years and are based on the ancient trompe l’oeil technique (meaning, “to fool the eye”) that was used by the Greeks and Romans to visually create space where there is none.  Traditionally, a window would be painted to create the illusion of space and I got the idea to take that basic concept to the next level by adding 3-dimensional objects that integrate with the painted imagery. I’m not just painting a window, but a portal that recalls different time periods by juxtaposing futuristic or mechanical elements with an aged texture and real antique parts.  As the story goes, a time traveler was renting a room from my great-grandfather in 1901 and one day disappeared. These machines came into my possession through an inheritance and I am rebuilding them, bringing them back to life.

RRS: How did you get started doing live painting performances? Don’t you get nervous?

JB: I’ve really enjoyed painting live over the last few years and I like to let people see how I create my work.  Oddly enough, it’s kind of a family tradition of sorts.  My grandfather used to do live chalk paintings and then my mom would create live work as well.  I remember, when I was a kid, she had this really cool light with a slowly-turning, transparent color wheel that would throw different colors on the surface she was painting.  I don’t really get nervous at these events, maybe because I played in a rock band during the 90s called “Old Pike” on Sony Records. We toured the country off and on for several years and I loved performing.  My motto is “you can always paint over it” and that gives you a bit of freedom to go out on a limb.

Brammer's "Soundscape IV (Sonic Diety)"

RRS: Has your musical background influenced your artwork?

JB: I have loved music since a young age and began playing bass in junior high, so it’s had a big influence on my life.  Last year, I started a series of work called Soundscapes where I paint alien-looking recording machines and sound-transmitting devices, which I enjoy making up.  I’ve also gotten some music-related commissions and I have fun creating imagery to convey the vibe of bands I like.  Lately, I’ve painted a couple of concert posters for the band “My Morning Jacket” and an album cover for Chicago electronic artist “LoBounce.” My largest permanent installation is actually a 6 canvas full-room piece, titled The Future Is Recording Over My Pasture, that I did for the I.V. Lab Recording Studio in Chicago.

RRS: What is it like working side by side with your wife?

JB: It’s been really great having my wife as my manager and the “brains” behind this operation. She has a background in the corporate world and brings a level of detail-oriented scrutiny that I would probably overlook.  It’s been crucial to have someone keep track of the numbers, promote my work, keep my website updated, and remind me what day it is. It has really allowed me to focus on just creating work, which is what I enjoy the most.

RRS: What did you take away from Paul Klein’s “Klein Artist Works” course?

JB: Paul’s class was a real eye opener to the Art World. Hearing successful artists talk about their approach to creating and sustaining a career in their own studios was a really valuable experience that will stay with me.

"Connecting to the Future" at LinkedIn, Chicago

RRS: What else is on the horizon for you?

JB: Next on the horizon will be a large outdoor mural on a CTA underpass in Rogers Park, which I’m looking forward to starting when it warms up. I see myself doing more exterior public work to bring a little color to the streets on a larger scale.  In terms of my paintings, some of the studio pieces are becoming progressively more sculptural, and it’s interesting to watch that transition come about and to see where it takes me.

We recently participated in the Verge Art Brooklyn show in New York with Tony Fitzpatrick’s gallery, Firecat Projects. We had a great time and after getting some good feedback, I’d like to build more of presence for my work out there. Also, this summer, I’ll have an exhibition in my neighborhood, Logan Square, at the Comfort Station in conjunction with the Milwaukee Avenue Arts Festival (July 29-31). Then, I’ll be doing a solo show at Firecat Projects next year, which we’re really excited about.

RRS: If money and time were no object, what would you most like to create?

JB: I would like to create a giant Time Machine that has functional gears and pulleys and would somehow be able to be cranked open to reveal different levels and layers of artwork inside. I would love to have something like is in a public setting, maybe site-specific permanent installation in downtown Chicago.  That sounds pretty fun to me.

See a live painting performance by Jason at Jackson Junge Gallery (1389 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL) during the opening reception for his “Future Obscura” exhibition on Friday, May 6th from 6 – 9pm. The exhibition will then be up for viewing through July 3rd. You can learn more about Jason Brammer and see his artwork on his website, or contact Jason at jasonbrammer@mac.com, on Facebook or sign up for his newsletter.