Home > Art, articles > [Chicago Artists] The Street Art Revolutionary: Jay Jasso

[Chicago Artists] The Street Art Revolutionary: Jay Jasso

I met people, made mistakes and tried to make better by doing what I love. Every artist is trying to do what they want to do and express themselves. –Jay Jasso

Walk down 18th street in Pilsen and the walls come to life. You’ll see murals and unique cutouts pasted to the exposed brick walls or on wooden boards keeping squatters out of foreclosed businesses. Look up and see a female face wearing black sunglasses and bunny ears. Glance across the street and see Emiliano Zapata, celebrated Mexican revolutionary, with a light saber straight out of Star Wars.

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Sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, you’ll find Frida Kahlo, famed painter, with her legs crossed in a skirt wearing fashionable red sunglasses and a Hello Kitty decoration in her bun– A firm example of iconic, contemporary symbolism in the streets.

The reaction from many is laughter—a smile at the very least—upon seeing something that speaks to them culturally with some sort of modern twist; mixing the pot, blurring the lines and defining a culture that lives in Chicago. Another example of these wheat pastes is Subcomandante Marcos with a Captain America shield.

The question is: Who has been revolutionizing the revolutionaries?

Known best in the community by his last name, the 23-year-old Jay Jasso (said Hasso) has been creating these forms of public art and posting them around Chicago’s south side for only two years. Not nearly as long as other street artists who have been leaving their mark for triple the time Jasso has. Yet, it is this young Banksy-comparison who has been turning heads, initiating a conversation and informing the public about something he’s very well-versed in.

Without any “formal” training, Jasso started with spray paint, tagging graffiti-style in the middle of the night. Eventually, watching graffiti videos and learning the art of wheat pasting – glue made from water and flour to paste paper to walls—Jasso found himself creating just to create and wanting to make a statement.

Upon meeting Ricardo González, who goes by “Naco” on his wheat pastes, the exchange of capabilities and ideas seeped into each other’s creations. González began on his wheat pasting adventures, while Jasso learned from González’s illustration and fine arts background.

“A lot of what I learned about painting, came from him,” he said.  “I had a lot of great classes just by watching and [the artists] don’t even know it.”

The street artist moved into developing his knack for the fine arts and abstract style, using paint and brushes on canvas or any other material that absorbed his paint—bed sheets, synthetic leather, fabrics.  During the week, Jasso not only paints in solitude, but builds his own canvases, heavier and sturdier than anything on the shelves of Blick or Michael’s.

While a student at Farragut High School, Jasso took art classes, though focused more on his graffiti work. After graduating high school and heading into the National Guard for three years, relief of tension came through art, leaving soccer in a distant past—another tension reliever for Jasso as a teenager.

Growing up in Little Village, the now Southwest Side artist grew up with expanded insight and education into the Mexican culture.

“I started posting in Little Village because I was from there,” he explained. “With time, I wanted to do stuff and relate it to the people that live there.”

Surrounded by Mexican education about those who made an impact for the people, Jasso absorbed every little piece of it. Spending time in Mexico, he grew to feel a connection to the country and felt the need for its exhibition now more than ever.

“I want to teach them a little bit. I’m not a teacher but I know my culture–at least the basics and everyone should know it,” he said. “I guess I try to connect with people. Nieces, sisters, brothers, nephews, those are the people I want to connect to.”

For example, Jasso’s most popular pieces don’t necessarily have a message but carry an idea. Taking on the Jedi Zapata was the creation of “a modern revolution for an old cause that’s still going on,” he said. Taking the image of Zapata who represents revolution and mixing it with the Star Wars light saber representing a futuristic fight for freedom, Jasso’s image represents the contemporary battles over the issue of immigration.

303064_522350381134370_1157627241_n The popular Frida Kahlo image that has been reproduced in different ways for decades was reproduced by Jasso in order to educate his nieces after realizing that they weren’t getting the same education about historic Mexican artists he did as a young man. He had gauged their interest after adding a Hello Kitty logo to her.

“Culture is very strong when I do my art. I do cultural or pop art culture,” said Jasso. “I create strong figures from Mexico or here and I mix them with a Pokéball so that the older generations can see it and say, ‘Oh, that’s cool’ and relate and then the younger generation can say, ‘Hey look, a freakin’ Pokéball. Why is it next to that dude with the bigote?’ So they investigate and find out who he is.”

However, once his art goes public it becomes a way to talk to the masses. The reason why pop art works is because it captures everyone’s attention regardless of ethnic culture; taking the images and making them relevant to society.

“I appreciate people who appreciate our art. I try not to make art for one group of people. I try to make it for everyone,” he explained.

Choosing the locations for his wheat pastes is a sticky endeavor. From experience, Jasso already knows where his art is welcome or not, whether it will get torn down or whether it’ll stick at all. Nonetheless, cruising around Little Village and Pilsen are common when on the prowl for an instant street gallery.

Although many have yet to put a face to the public art displays, community residents are starting to find out who Jasso is more and more. From meeting him at street festivals and piecing together the imagery with what they have seen on neighborhood edifices, or following his work on Instagram or Facebook, the public is becoming curious as to who the hand is behind the brush.

“If you can communicate with the audience then people are going to value your work. In a way, I force people to see it because it’s out there. It’s public art,” he explains. “The exposure that I’m getting from putting it out there, works. People are going to start questioning it and wanting to know more.”

Fortunately, they already are.

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