conversation with jason teraoka

Dec. 2007 – “Conversation with Jason Teraoka”
Eiketsu Baba

[ ‘Heroes, Villains and Victims’, Jason Teraoka`s second solo exhibition in Japan at Tomio Koyama Gallery. Following conversation was between Jason and I on some thoughts about his new works. ]

Lets start with the title of your new show, ‘Heroes, Villains and Victims’.

Jason Teraoka (JT): Ah yes, it comes from one of the series I did called ‘Bystanders’. The idea behind it is that I think people are all just bystanders in life. We’re all heroes, villains and victims in different time and different situations. You know, we got to play those roles.

I realized some changes in your work, in terms of applications, compared to your previous exhibition, ‘Neighbors’. For example, the characters you depicted for this show are less comical. I’m curious to know the reason behind it.

JT: I guess it’s something unconscious that was happening. Maybe I had more drama in my life this year. It’s funny because I didn’t even realize it, like how tight these paintings were becoming. It wasn’t until I looked back at some of the older works. I was kind of like stunned when I saw them because some were so cartoon-ish, like totally comical and awkward.

Many of the characters look like they’re from the 50’s and 60’s, and it seems like you have a special interest in that time period. To me, somehow the works are not pointing towards future in historical sense, but like pulling out scenes from the past into the present in terms of something nostalgic.

JT: Yeah, total nostalgic. It’s like archeology and anthropology. I think that time period between the pre-war and post-war, so much change happened in the world: politically, economically, and even aesthetically. And I feel this certain relationship with that time period with things that’s happening now. Kind of like a distant mirror thing, being able to see the present by looking at certain time period from the past.

Are you using that time period as a means to make certain political or social critique of the present then? Many of the works offer a feeling of something dark, disgust, or even notions of anxiety.

JT: It’s something that I’m not consciously aiming for when I’m working on my pieces. But in some level, I’m sure there’s all that involved because they’re always on my mind. Cant’ help but cringe every time I watch the news. So I’m sure those things work their way in, like as tension and anxiety.

I also noticed a change in how you prepared the wood panels. To me, it seems like you spent a great amount of time working on the panels themselves. It looks as if you’re now working on the entire piece as an object rather than just the two-dimensional surface.

JT: Yeah, I probably spent as much time building those boxes as I did in paintings. That kind of change was probably because I was looking to do something new instead of mounting paper pieces on wood boxes like my previous show. And this change required totally different applications. It’s not just painting the surface, but also going through all the natural physical process to get the whole piece finished. I always wanted to try if there was any way to successfully incorporate painting with 3D somehow.

Lastly, what I find interesting about your works is that they seem like film stills at the first glance, yet it doesn’t have that freeze frame quality like when you pause a film. I think cinema works in drawing certain emotions because it’s moving; here I mean time. But when it becomes a film still, I think it loses that caliber of creating those emotions compared to actual film that’s moving.

JT: Yes, time is crucial. You need those in film for certain dramatic quality, where there’s some kind of tension pulling to you in direction where something is about to happen.

But I think your works draw those tensions incredibly because they’re different from ordinary stills about something that is going to happen, or what was happening moments ago. Rather, to me it’s more like something is happening, emerging there, now, while looking at the work itself. And my guess is that because it’s a painting. Unlike cinema or music where it needs a beginning and an end, paintings aren’t necessarily confined to those requirements. I think paintings as well as other concrete mediums are so static, but it also has its own tangible quality that makes them alive in a way.

JT: I totally agree with you. It gives its own richness. I’m glad you notice it, because that’s what I shoot for. I’m pretty biased, like I can see what I’m aiming for, but never know if it translates to other people. People nowadays aren’t very used to spending a lot of time looking at something so static. Television and soundtracks now are often just forced fed, where it gives you right emotions instantly. So it’s hard to make paintings come alive for people these days.