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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 Artists] The Educator: Naco

June 4, 2013 1 comment

I take a lot of influence from a lot of artists around this neighborhood and Little Village. I’m always getting new inspiration from people.
— Ricardo “Naco” González

Wearing a blue-grayish hooded sweatshirt, Ricardo González’s nose was red from the cold. He stood next to his table of pieces of artwork as people walked by, glancing and admiring the work.

“Are you the one that puts up those pieces on 26th street?” one woman asked.

The people who walked through Mole de Mayo on an unusually cold day in May in Pilsen already knew González for his work without knowing who he was. Among the various pieces wheat pasted to the exposed brick in Little Village and Pilsen neighborhoods were giant paletas, cupcakes, a Ninja Turtle and ice cream cones all signed by the artist “Naco.” Clones of the pieces made by hand are put up every few weeks, whenever the weather gets nice enough to walk around the neighborhood.

However, that’s somewhat typical of González’s character. He’s the guy that is always there, commenting on art, talking to artists, smiling and being a lively, positive figure to be around. Then the question comes: “So, what do you do?”

People have met him not knowing that he is the one brushing glue onto cupcakes in the middle of sunny afternoons, the same ones they admire on their daily route to work.

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González, a native of suburban Blue Island, didn’t start as a wheat paster. In fact, his wheat pasting work was inspired by another street artist who goes by the name of Jay Jasso. No, instead González carries the capacity and desire for murals; telling stories, educating a community through art and making an impact. Small acrylic pieces, like those sold at street festivals, are only a small sample of the large-scale pieces this artist has exhibited throughout Chicago’s South Side.

A thorough communicator when it comes to art, González has been teaching classes right out of college. From water-color classes for adults, to murals with the After School Matters program, the thought behind his process and explanation without a doubt comes from the formal training. With a BFA in Illustration from the American Academy of Art, the broad pieces that this artist creates come with extensive amount of admirable detail.

Though quiet and always welcoming, the ambition to move projects is innate. However quickly he is known to work on particular art pieces, González takes his time to make sure the research for the pieces are accurate, representative of the community, rooted in culture and open to interpretation of the audience at hand. Maintaining and respecting the community is of utmost importance to him, as is the cultural significance behind canvas, murals and even his wheat pastes.

However, a few of his wheat pastes are just for fun like an ice cream cone with a bomb or a Ninja Turtle.

“You put that up?” asked another passerby at the Mole de Mayo festival, while pointing at the grimacing turtle head. González nodded.

“Check this out,” he said. He lifted his iPhone and unlocked it to reveal a photo of González’s wheat past as his background.

“Oh, cool,” González said smiling and nodding, in his own way appreciative each time someone acknowledges his art, especially in such a personal way.

Growing up, the 29-year-old artist wasn’t surrounded by his Mexican culture. Art pieces as a child were drawing cartoons even before he could speak. Yet, as he explored the Chicago area more and more, he found the Mexican neighborhoods on the South Side that he grew to love: Pilsen and Little Village.

“For the majority of the work that I’ve made, I’ve specifically created Latino or Mexican imagery and concepts. I speak to that audience just out of a service,” he explained. “I feel responsible. If I’m making artwork, I should make it something that matters to people of my culture.”

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Photo images by Israel Reza

Deciding that he wanted to go to art school wasn’t hard. Unlike those who may take two years to choose a major or second guess their college education, González was never confused on what he was going to do.

“I needed to figure out for myself as to what I wanted to do with it, but I never felt that I was wrong for it,” he said.

While exploring the city, González met many other artists, building his network around Chicago and making a name for himself as a hardworking and talented creator.

Additionally, González decided to take it upon himself to collaborate with various artists with different capacities. Creating a mural with Erick “Roho” Garcia and working with photographer Israel Reza for wheat pasting materials are only a few of the collaborations in which González has immersed himself. Challenging himself with new projects, (for example, teaching students to create public service announcements for a journalism class) is part of his repertoire.

Over time, González has fallen deeper into his work with creativity, following a path that has been laid for him. Regardless of the recognition that González has received for his street art, his large paintings and murals, he has kept a humble and distinctive personality, which he claims, came from his life in art.

“For me, it has guided my life. For each era of my life, I’ve been able to tie it down to artwork or things I was creating at that time,” he said. “Most of my lifestyle comes through that or with that. I feel that it’s guided me toward positive place. I’m still putting things together like anyone else.”

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