American Art Collector - - Contents - By John O’Hern

Ja­son Wheatley and I last met when I cu­rated an exhibition in San Fran­cisco 10 years ago. Since then, I’ve left the mu­seum world, sold my house and most of my “things,” moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to live in a con­verted adobe goat shed and to write full time for our mag­a­zines. The year af­ter the exhibition, Wheatley be­gan paint­ing col­lab­o­ra­tively with a group called the Oys­ter Pi­lots. “I also got rid of all my pos­ses­sions, closed my bank ac­counts and stream­lined my ex­is­tence to a suit­case and a roll of can­vases. I com­pletely fell off the grid and be­gan im­ple­ment­ing ideas I had been toy­ing around with pre­vi­ously,” he says. “My no­tion was that Art is Magic or more pre­cisely Alchemy, as the artist cre­ates gold from mud (pig­ment). I swore off money, be­gan living a cur­rency-free ex­is­tence and trad­ing art for time and space. This opened up a whole new uni­verse to me and took me to very unexpected places.” Some­how my abrupt change seems pro­saic.

I dropped the ini­tial “D” from my name and Wheatley changed his name al­to­gether.

An­i­mals have al­ways played an im­por­tant role in his life. He says, “I learned the un­spo­ken lan­guage early on from in­ter­act­ing and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with all the forms of life around me as I was grow­ing up. For me all life force (Élan vi­tal) is a divine and di­rect link to the All.” He iden­ti­fies with the monkey, the play­ful fool, whom he calls Ti Ku, which is now his Face­book moniker. Of­fi­cially, if there is such a state, he goes by

Ja­son Wheatley (tikunkit) which, graph­i­cally, can be­come a palin­drome. The idea is loosely based on Tikkun olam, He­brew for “world re­pair.” For him, a re­pair kit or “tikun kit.”

Com­fort­ably at home, it seems, in both the ma­te­rial world and the ethe­real, his paint­ings are a bit of both. He may set up a still life in­spired by his dreams but the paint­ing and he be­gin a di­a­logue. “I never do prepara­tory draw­ings. I started ap­proach­ing it from work­ing ab­stract and then finding the crea­tures emerg­ing from the back­grounds. That’s when I be­gan to un­der­stand that art is magic and magic is art. I ap­proach my art like a con­ver­sa­tion,” he ex­plains. “I try to cre­ate a

vis­ual trance so that I can en­ter into the void of my imag­i­na­tion. You never know where it may end up and that is the fun in en­gag­ing in it. For the viewer it is like over­hear­ing an in­ter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tion that leads the mind into un­fore­seen places.”

He says, “I be­lieve ev­ery­one can learn how to con­tort the harsh re­al­ity of mere ex­is­tence into a daily rou­tine of mean­ing­ful and mag­i­cal mo­ments.” We all bring our ex­pe­ri­ence of an­i­mals when we view his paint­ings whether it is di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence or an aware­ness of the ar­che­typal mean­ing of an­i­mals. “Peo­ple have dif­fer­ent re­sponses to an­i­mals,” he says. “Mice and snakes bring up fear but peo­ple iden­tify with mon­keys.” A dealer once told him “Paint more mon­keys!”

“Art is a vis­ual lan­guage,” he ex­plains. “It’s hard to say what your try­ing to say in the first place. I con­nect with the archetypes—more of the mys­ti­cal, mag­i­cal realm of re­al­ity, tran­scend­ing the soul en­cased in the du­al­ity of the body.”

The mag­pie oc­curs fre­quently in his paint­ings such as Chas­ing the Sun. Wheatley col­lects “mun­dane bits of re­al­ity” for his paint­ings, much as the mag­pie does for its nest. It is of­ten seen as an ill omen in the West and a good omen in the East—black and white and sig­ni­fy­ing op­po­sites.

“The mean­ing­ful and mag­i­cal are most def­i­nitely there,” he says. “We all nat­u­rally saw them when we were chil­dren but now it seems to take some un­learn­ing to get back to see­ing through a mys­tic/magic lens. Mag­pies are su­per fantastic crea­tures—the har­bin­ger of the Other Worlds, black and white du­al­ity rec­on­cil­ing the spir­i­tual and emo­tional op­po­sites. The cackle of the trick­ster as laugh­ter is the link be­tween joy and sad­ness.”

He ex­plains, “It’s bor­ing to cre­ate mean­ing. It has to be re­vealed. I tone the can­vas be­cause I don’t like look­ing at a white can­vas, and be­gin to trowel on pig­ment. I build up lay­ers and some­thing be­comes re­vealed. I com­pose off the tri­an­gle but the com­po­si­tions be­come su­per in­tu­itive. The less you think, the better. There’s magic to the way oil sus­pends the pig­ment and the way it re­fracts light.”

Paradise on the Edge presents a co­nun­drum. Will the dump truck drive the monkey and cre­ation over the edge? Wheatley cre­ates gi­clée prints of his paint­ings and ad­justs them for al­ter­na­tive mean­ings. The paint­ing it­self, how­ever, leaves us to won­der.

Wheatley sug­gests that his paint­ings come from his dreams and the dreams come from his paint­ings. To en­ter into his dream world is to let go of pre­con­cep­tions and to al­low the imag­i­na­tion to be free. Wil­liam Blake wrote, “The imag­i­na­tion is not a state: it is the hu­man ex­is­tence it­self.” The magic in Wheatley’s art is a ve­hi­cle to the real.

2 Dol­lars 4 Foo, oil on can­vas, 48 x 36"

4 Ja­son Wheatley (tikunkit) paint­ing in his stu­dio.

3 Food 4 Flight, oil, 29 x 24"

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