Fan Mail

Fan Mail: Jason Kearney

Jason Kearney’s collage Untoward (2015) juxtaposes one figure against another, creating an ambiguous relationship. A man sitting at the wheel of a car gazes through the windshield at a man on a fainting couch. The man at the wheel has a perplexed look on his face (viewers can see him reflected in the rear-view mirror)—or maybe he is simply squinting from the sunlight. Untoward is part of Kearney’s ongoing book project, The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language, which is based on American linguist Robert Beard’s list of words with the same title. In Beard’s list, “untoward” is defined as “unseemly, inappropriate.” If the collage is a visual interpretation of this term, how does it correlate to the dictionary definition of the word? Perhaps the unseemly element of this collage exists in the voyeuristic gaze of the man in the car—or of the viewer who peers at the awkward space between the observer and the observed.

Jason Kearney. Untoward, 2015; digital collage; 9.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Untoward, 2015; digital collage; 9.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

The Dublin-based Kearney also works as a carpenter, and collage initially provided a creative release during his formal education in photography. In contrast with the technical limitations of working with a camera, Kearney found that collage offers a less restrained realm of artistic practice; the challenge in collage comes in the infinite number of possible configurations of the subjects. “You have to wait for the image to come to you,” Kearney says, “and usually that involves sifting through dozens and dozens of images.” Kearney has a collection of 200 National Geographic magazines dating from 1988 to 2008 that he uses as his main source material. The older editions of National Geographic have been especially popular in recent years, perhaps due to a nostalgia for the pre-internet aesthetic of unsaturated imagery and subdued tonality. This probably explains the sense of wistfulness that characterizes much of collage work today; collaging, as Kearney describes it, is a “form of escapism” or an attempt to create vignettes for a realm of fantasy that does not otherwise exist.

Jason Kearney. Assemblage, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Assemblage, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Collaging is also a form of collecting, of accumulating an extensive archive of images from which a wide range of compositions become possible. For Kearney, the act of collecting extends beyond the visual to include the textual, and in this case Beard’s list of words. The textual component of the 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language acts as a parameter that defines Kearney’s process, somewhat narrowing the typically unrestricted approach to collage. However, Kearney does not to adhere to a literal interpretation of the words he chooses; his intention is not to create a pictorial dictionary, but rather an intuitive rendition of what the words evoke in his mind. The result is a series of alluring configurations that, when combined with their associated words, present a visual-linguistic connection that is oblique and peculiar.

Jason Kearney. Desuetude, 2015; digital collage; 8.2 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Desuetude, 2015; digital collage; 8.2 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Some collages in this series are more direct in their representational approach. In Desuetude (2015), which Beard defines as “disuse,” Kearney’s interpretation shows an interest in the political and economical reality of modern society and the ailments of mass production and waste. The two main visual components in this work seem to mirror one another. The repetitive pattern of uniformed bodies carrying placards of countless tires becomes a reflection of the grim, albeit poetic, connotations of desuetude. This collage speaks to the contemporary cycle of production and disposability, and in an inverted way harkens back to political posters from the socialist era, which sought to reflect labor in a favorable light. In Desuetude, we see the interchangeability of humankind and object in an almost literal depiction of this condition.

Jason Kearney. Beleaguer, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Beleaguer, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Kearney began The 100 Most Beautiful Words in the English Language book as a backburner project, but the open-ended process has enabled him to gauge the change in his perception over time, as well as assess his subjective interpretation of each definition. Kearney recently began working with film, and has found in the stitching process of this medium yet another process of layering that resembles the technique of collage. For Kearney, the space that exists between language, narrative, and the ambiguous is one that is rich with possibility, informing his practice through various selected mediums.

Jason Kearney. Becoming, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney. Becoming, 2015; digital collage; 11.8 x 11.8 in. Courtesy of the Artist.

Jason Kearney constructs surreal pieces of modern digital collage art under the name CUTS. He also creates polemical mixed-media art that deals with current issues that are considered to be misrepresented in contemporary politics and the mainstream Irish media. Recently he has begun to utilize film and archival footage to create music videos. The first of these he has produced is the video for Lisa O Neill’s “Pothole in the Sky.” Kearney is also a member of a multidisciplinary arts organization in Dublin, A4 Sounds, where he frequently shows his works and also has a studio.

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