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[Chicago Artists] The Street Art Revolutionary: Jay Jasso

June 6, 2013 1 comment

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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Chicago’s Underrepresented Artistic Traditions

May 13, 2013 4 comments

I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.
–Frida Kahlo

Three years ago, I was part of a two-person team to start-up and manage “Art of Fútbol,” an artistic presentation of artists in the community who created pieces that dealt with soccer and all of its glory. As a partner with Arte y Vida Chicago and Chicago’s MLS team, this gallery exhibition was hip and cool. We went through plenty of submissions, got into some good arguments and eventually presented a successful event at the Puma store in a prime location in Chicago.

Of all of the artists who exhibited, I made a few friends, a couple of whom are great friends of mine now, three years later. The initial exhibition was free and got people engaged and involved. In its third year, it now belongs to a foundation, has lost our teams working on it and they are now charging for entry. I don’t know if anyone is being paid, but I’m sure the proceeds of the attendance all go to the foundation.

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Erick “Roho” García

I only attended the inaugural event, but what I saw was amazing. A friend of mine created a very large version of Javier Hernández Balcázar, famously known as “Chicharito” the Mexican soccer player, kicking a ball. It was astonishing. Urban, colorful and well executed it was no doubt that it won the people’s choice for their favorite piece. It hadn’t been the first time I saw art of this creativity or level, but it was the first time I had actually met the artist, only to find a fashionably dressed painter and soccer player who was a neighbor, and eventually became a friend.

The level of creative genius that exists in Chicago is not original, by any means. And more, I have come to feel that many of these talented masters of the brush, pencil, camera and spray paint can have been overlooked. It is almost a detriment to the art world to know that people of this caliber– talented, creative, inspiring, philosophical, insightful– are not being given the time and attention that they deserve as creators who make this world more beautiful to look at.

I have seen drawings before my eyes that happen as quickly as waving a magical wand. I have watched as lines on a canvas came to life, moving through a piece, creating words, figures and sparking the imagination. I have spoken to those who can and will one day be considered philosophers of the craft. I have watched as imagination has been ignited like wild-fire only to produce colorful explosions that I want to keep and frame, even if it is only for a newspaper. I have had pieces of art, inspired by these wondrous souls tattooed.

Recently, it was brought to my attention that many artists around the country come into Chicago to display and show off what they’ve been working on. Urban art. Street art. Mixing graffiti with fine art. Developing “new” styles to be exhibited and shown. However, as quickly as I noted that this was great, I also countered it with, “That’s happening right here.”

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“Jasso”

I also noticed that the cultural tie, the Latino artist tie, was not as prevalent around the country as I’d like to think. There are a few in other highly populated Latino cities, however, the blatant cultural, statement-making ties do not exist as much as they should and again, I have seen my fantastic city overlooked as a place where art is happening.

It’s time to start sharing what’s going on here. So what am I going to do about it? I’m going to write about it. This is the beginning of a series of articles and pieces that will focus and talk about particular artists making waves in Chicago. Whether it’s a movement or a statement, I cannot say, but what I will say is that Chicago has a tradition of beautiful, moving, cultural art that would make any person go gaga upon knowing they could shake hands and speak to the artist.

I’ve seen that. I met a woman at a bar who lives in Pilsen. Upon talking, we got onto the discussion of street art. She showed me wheat pastes that she had taken pictures of on her phone. She went through plenty and when I said I knew who had created them and introduced her, she was ecstatic. “I’ll be right back! I have to go tell my friend!” she said as she scooted out of the booth we were in. I was thrilled to help her make the connection.

So, the Chicago tradition lives on, especially on the South Side. Displayed on our walls, created in our homes, the waves of creativity and inspiration continue to happen whether we want it to or not and it will be a constant. It’s just time to start showing off what Chicago has to offer and as a grounded, rooted and staunch supporter of Chicago art and insight, I’m hoping to do that for you.

Over the next few weeks, you’ll be able to find insight into who is creating these wondrous works of art and hopefully you find value in it. Enough value to, let’s say, attend a gallery opening or even pay to see some art about soccer. At the very least, ask some questions of your own and get out to support the arts.