Vancouver born artist Jason Dussault begins most mornings in his SoHo apartment by breaking things. Tiles, stones, plates found in thrift stores, and even those figurines of animals that may have lined your grandmother’s mantle. In speaking to Dussault, there’s no hint of anger or aggression related to deconstructing these materials, but rather a meticulous process to mine the sources for his modern mosaic artworks. So yes, he makes things too.
On a recent morning I met with Dussault at his Soho apartment. His first solo public exhibition was quickly approaching at the Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery in New York City, titled Deconstructive/Constructive. A statue of an elephant blocked the walkway in his space, half covered in red, white, and blue shards, slowly bring life to the sculpture. His works are truly animated too, as the matte and gloss pieces radiate in light, interacting with each viewers shadows–a radiance and personality that cannot be translated through still photography.
Dussault’s work may be in a ancient medium, but his subject matter is mostly unfamiliar to it. A 3D replica of a Stormtrooper’s helmet, classic ‘80s skateboard graphics, and perhaps what he’s most passionate about: the comic book superheroes of his youth. The vibrant pages of the Marvel and DC comics of the ‘70s and ‘80s still resonate and inspire him, as they represent the childhood excitement that you rarely reconnect with as an adult.
“As you get to my age you feel like you discovered everything and there’s no mystery left,” he said. “I’ve lived so many lives and traveled so much, that I’ve always been looking for that high–now I’ve found it. The high I get from recreating these characters of my youth bring me back to being that kid and opening that comic book.”
Part of that intimacy began as a child, raised by young parents in Vancouver, isolated geographically, spending a lot of time by himself. Comics were much more than an escape from the suburban malaise, but an entry point into art for Dussault “ I spent a lot of time alone, learning to draw” he said. “The only thing I could draw from would be Star Wars figures and characters from comic books. I’d also recreate characters from the funny pages in the newspapers. When I see comic book art, I view it as fine art–they have such a small area to work with, but the depth they get and how they can recreate such a small scene is fascinating.”
Having spent many a night at my desk as a boy, studying the book How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way in the late-’70s, I immediately understood the magic they invoke. We also shared the love of another activity that helped define his independence in skateboarding. Whether it was alone or with his local skate crew, it was about building things to ride, exploring, and meeting other kids. He mentions that a skateboard was one of his first real possessions–something that he owned and was an extension of his personality. What stickers you put on it, how you designed the grip tape, and even what scuffs and marks on the board’s surface told a story. He later translated that idea into a series of skate themed mosaics, as both an homage to his roots and commentary on the graphics and decks actually represented to him.
Despite his interest in art, it wasn’t until his 40th birthday that the attraction was strong enough to become an unwavering pursuit. After two decades in Vancouver he decided it was time for a sabbatical from his work in the financial sector, and was drawn to the Mediterranean island of Malta. Seeking a location more conducive to travel, Dussault chose Malta for its close proximity to Sicily by ferry and the large amount other adjacent countries accessible quickly by a short plane ride. “It was the perfect place for me to go and conquer Europe,” he said. But his largest awakening was in the historically travelled town’s streets itself, specifically the beauty of its many Catholic churches–more still standing in Malta than days of the year.
With a renewed interest in his Catholic heritage, Dussault began searching for tiles and discarded bits he could repurpose into art. His first work? A 200 pound image of Jesus Christ. One of the first people he showed his inaugural work to was a Maltese woman named Diane, who lived in New York City. He was invigorated, in love, and had a new direction, leading him to his dream of moving to New York City to become an aritist.
Throughout our conversation that morning we discussed the state of modern art and the commodification of street art, which Dussault feels has reached its saturation point. He pointed to some of the drawings of hulking black figures his son had sketched that morning, mentioning that much of it resembled those very expressive, yet primitive sketches. He praised the work of Banksy and KAWS, mentioning their craft, wit, and commentary, but also felt that much of modern art was lacking context or intent.
Intent is something absolute in his work. He won’t be out stenciling the streets of Manhattan or turning a pop art icon into his own work via wheat paste. And if he tried to go guerilla and take his art to the streets, much like the Mosaic Man of the East Village, he joked that as a Canadian citizen it’s dangerous and that he’d only get three tiles down, before being thrown in jail. Dussault’s invested in his work and message, specifically the comic book heros he renders at a scale they’re rarely seen at, cementing their likenesses as real life objects.
“There’s something about comic books that are very fragile,” he said. “In my pieces there’s a certain permanence–they’re made of stone and cement. I’ve taken these strong characters that are initially presented in a very fragile state, and make them the most permanent art form you can have. These stones aren’t changing.”
The Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery presents the opening reception forDeconstructive/Constructive, a body of iconic mosaic works by Jason Dussault hosted by legendary founding Interview Magazine editor / GQ Magazine writer Glenn O’Brien and Bullett Magazine on Thursday, 19 March 2015 from 6pm – 9pm at the Hoerle-Guggenheim Gallery located at 527 West 23rd Street in New York City. Sponsored by Billy Farrell Agency