Jaz Harold is a fine artist / illustrator who has a taste for surreal, pastel worlds with a hint of the grotesque. Originally working in 2D, Jaz has been actively pushing her work into the physical realm, creating abstract 3D sculptures that are subtle due to their colours yet striking at the same time. Over a late night coffee at SuperCore, I met up with Jaz to chat about what she’s been up to.
Photo: Youngjun Koo / I’M KOO
eepmon: Tell me about yourself.
Jaz: I studied at the School of Visual Arts as an Illustration major. Right after graduating I did some illustration jobs, a bunch of photo retouching, and ended up doing work for photographers and fine artists. Eventually my own work turned more towards fine art than illustration. I guess it was based on the influence of the people I was working with.
eepmon: When I first met you, you had done a lot of illustrative work and now you seem to be moving towards a more three dimensional level.
Jaz: I like three dimensional better. I think it is easier to work with. When I work in 2D, because of my background in illustration, I always feel it has to have a specific narration to it which ends up making it a bit clichÃ©. I give too much information. Working in 3D I feel I don’t have that same inclination and an artwork can just be what it is. So I can make art that’s a little more interesting because I’m not over explaining it.
eepmon: So with your sculpture work, please describe one of them. How about the one of the head pieces. What is the name of that piece and medium?
Jaz: Geode. The majority of it is a rubber resin…
eepmon: It’s a cast of your face right?
Jaz: Yeah, it’s pieced together from a few casts. It was a cast of my face, a cast of the back of my head and ears, and a cast of my neck and torso. All frankensteined together. The whole thing was left hollow, so when I was casting it I was really just rolling the resin around in the mould several times to make a thick shell, not filling it through. The other materials are thread, yarn, some plaster and quartz crystals.
eepmon: What were you thinking when you made this piece?
Jaz: I’m not sure… the whole thing was based on a small sketch I made. It was a of very delicate looking torso with over sized hair, half the face missing, and crystals inside. The name Geode is literal. A cracked open exterior that reveals crystals inside.
eepmon: Interesting. It is almost a play of beauty, softness, but very grotesque in some ways. It’s an amalgamation of many things.
Jaz: Grotesque is accidental but tends to show up a lot.
Jaz: I made the inside hot pink because I didn’t want red, since red would be too gory. But the hot pink still reads as red, unfortunately. Maybe I should have just made it all white, but I wanted there to be a contrast between the white and ivory exterior and colourful interior.
eepmon: I would say that when I looked at your sculpture work, there are certainly some influences. Even though if you say that your 3D is different than your 2D I can see that your illustrator work, at least the colour that you use, does translate into your 3D objects. It’s very pastel. Why pastel?
Jaz: I think people don’t really think about colours. They just like them. …You know Misaki?
eepmon: Yea she was the photographer you introduced me to when we were walking around East Village that time?
Jaz: Yeah! So Misaki was shooting a portrait of me for her project, and while she was shooting it, she was making a joke that I was the same colour as my artwork… and I knew that was sort of true. People usually do resemble their own work. But when I actually saw her end photo, it was amazing how dead on the colours of my hair, skin, and shirt were to the artwork directly behind me. It was like a pantone colour match and I didn’t even realize it.
eepmon: On your Facebook banner photo, is that you hanging? Who took that picture?
Jaz: That was my project, in a sense that I was the one who wanted to do it, sketched it, and asked my friend Holly to be the only other person involved. Because I wanted to keep the photo project small scale. Otherwise, well at least for me, I get annoyed that you have to depend on five people to come through. Two out of the five phone it in and then the whole thing suffers for it. So I did it with just one other person. I could do almost all of it myself. I had very detailed sketches of the styling, hair and makeup and Holly did the execution. Holly is a hair and make up artist. The end result was the two pictures, one with her as the model and other is me as the model. We took turns taking each other’s photos. I went to Connecticut where she lives and we actually set up a clothes line. While it is Photoshopped, a lot of it is real. There was actually a clothes line, and we were pinned to it. That was last Fall.
But you know it is funny. It goes through phases which are visible in that exact way. A year or a little less before that I did another personal photo project that was six images. That time three people were involved, me, Holly and my friend Tracy.
eepmon: It’s better if it’s smaller. More manageable that way.
Jaz: But in that case I was going through a long phase where everything was really desaturated. My clothes were desaturated, my whole apartment was grey, and the whole photo shoot was very pale blue-grey, with a few light pinks mixed into it. I think that anything that I’m doing, I do to everything.
eepmon: Again… why the pastel colours? What gets you connected to them?
Jaz: I guess that they are just soft and innocent and cute looking. But I don’t know if there is that much logic… when I was in the desaturated phase, it was because I didn’t have to put the effort into matching things. If everything is grey, everything matches. Nothing is too loud.
It’s also the fabric, I’ve been working with fabric and yarn recently.
eepmon: Yea tell me about that!
Jaz: Even the last project I worked on, it’s a hanging moon with layers of clouds and below is layers of waves. It didn’t need to be sewn because it’s not a malleable plush… none of it is stuffed but everything is covered in fabric because I like how fabric absorbs the light. Fabric makes everything look softer. Even if you don’t touch it, it doesn’t have to feel soft but it just looks soft. (Jaz shows me an image of her photo on her mobile device)
eepmon: Let me see here… Yes there are indeed a lot of layers.
Jaz: Yeah, the canvas is an eight inch deep box that is also covered in fabric.
eepmon: So when did you start using fabric into your work?
Jaz: Well I sewed a bunch of stuffed animals for a while during my senior year in college. Those are okay but…
eepmon: … I’d say that is where it all started for you.
Jaz: That’s when I started sewing more but at some point I realized that I liked to use it as a sculpture in the end.
eepmon: While they are pastel colours, plush fabric takes it to another level of expressing a sense of innocence don’t you think?
Jaz: Yeah but it’s nice that if you do that, then anything else you do is softened. So you know I have that 5×7 foot piece on my wall that has boobs all over it, but they don’t seem sexual or perverted whatsoever. They are soft and cuddly.
eepmon: That’s right. On the topic of your large piece. What got you started with this installation?
Jaz: Actually I ended up doing that piece because I’ve been drawn in by certain fiber art I’ve seen. The ones that have yarn that is layered, textured and dripping down. I think those are really cool. Looking at those I wanted to something like that, maybe a combination of that and fabric. I was sketching a composition that I would like and then figuring out the material. Getting a lot of samples and figuring out which ones I liked.
eepmon: I assume it would be very process driven right? You have to sample the material, sketch it out, trial and error with what works and what doesn’t…
Jaz: Yeah, well what takes the longest is not the prep though… the prep was pretty easy as I already had a pretty good idea of what I wanted. Samples aren’t so hard because you order a lot. You order more than you need and then you narrow down to what you want. What takes the longest? I don’t know how many little balls are in there… I’d guess a thousand… so it’s the cutting up the circles, sewing the circles… each one is really simple but there are so many of them… that what takes the longest.
eepmon: Your next piece, the one that was pictured next to your large installation was in a recent exhibition. Where was this?
Jaz: It was at Toy Tokyo Underground. 1st Ave and 5th Street NYC.
eepmon: Explain what that piece was about?
Jaz: The exhibition was “Buddy’s Den,” it’s supposed to be fantasy Taxidermy. Not your standard taxidermy, more like mythical creatures, or something along those lines, that Buddy had captured in his travels. Or for a 2D artist it would be photo mementos from Buddy’s travels. I went this route because I had an obsession with Greek Mythology when I was younger. I was really nerdy about it. So I created The Queen of the Harpies, based on the harpies in Greek Mythology.
eepmon: What is inspires you? What makes you do what you do? Influences?
Jaz: Well I obsessively save images that I find and like. If I have a moment where I’m looking for an idea for something I’d flip through whatever is saved on my computer. Tons of files, and lots of folders.
eepmon: A digital mood board.
Jaz: Basically, but I rarely have to look at that… I usually have a sketch book that I use to jot down ideas. By the time I get a chance to start a new project I’ve got 10 lined up and ready to go and I pick the one that is strongest. I have a lot of time where I’m already working on a project, but I’m thinking about new ones. It’s bad to divide my attention too much, so I just jot it down into my sketch book for later. So it’s been a long time since I waited for inspiration for something. Even the last one I did was based off a sketch I did at least a year ago.
eepmon: Japanese pop culture influences your work?
Jaz: I very much like that for what it is. A lot of it I don’t think I can draw from directly because… well take for example Rilakkuma (famous Japanese bear cartoon). I love Rilakkuma… really I have this weird obsession with him and I own everything he markets. But… I would never make a character like Rilakkuma because he is more marketing genius than anything else. He’s just something that translates really well into many products and is cute, adorable, and he has a very simple personality that sells well. But I cannot make something like that. He’s not actually a strong idea, he is just great marketing.
eepmon: I see.
Jaz: Still I love that… and while I might take small inspiration from aspects of it… the idea as a whole can’t transfer over because it’s needs to be used by a certain person in a certain way. But there are definitely Japanese artists that I love. Yayoi Kusama is touring the world right now which is the most exciting thing ever! I can’t wait until she is in New York.
eepmon: She’s going to come here soon?
Jaz: Her works are going to be at the Whitney.
eepmon’s note: Yayoi Kusama’s exhibition at the Whitney runs until September 30th, 2012
Jaz: Her retrospective has been already traveling the world and we are at the end of the list in her itinerary!
eepmon: That’s surprising, I thought New York would be a main destination of her work.
Jaz: I think she is bigger in the East and Europe than she is here.
eepmon: I’ve seen her work certainly in Tokyo at the Mori Art Museum… but I thought she would be more…
Jaz: She lived in New York for a while too. Certainly people here who appreciate Modern Art will know her, for sure. But in terms of Pop Culture in America, the people who aren’t into Contemporary Art don’t know her. Anyway I’m so excited!
eepmon: Tell me some pieces that you like from her work.
Jaz: I really like her fabric works… not surprising. Also her piece Fireflies on the Water. Looks like fireflies into infinity. Last time I was in Japan there was a small retrospective of hers somewhere in Aoyama, Tokyo. They had a small room with an installation of her larger white and red polka dot pieces. That was good, but I felt the original one would have been better. The ones I don’t like as much are the ones with the pumpkins and flowers… They’re still nice but I find the installations are more interesting.
eepmon: Interesting. So what’s next? Any new projects coming up?
Jaz: Currently I’m working on some resin bracelets both to sell and as a personal project. The first prototype is multicoloured, pastel, soft-resin boobs with cherry blossom claps on the end.
Jaz: And if that goes well I’ll do different variations and maybe have one that’s entirely cherry blossoms. I do want to do another cast face sculpture. I have a good sketch but I’m not sure if I want to use myself again or find the right model. And I really want to do an installation of cherry blossoms. I have a drawing for how it will look installed, and have around 100 cherry blossoms made thus far to go into it. But for the actual installation I would need at least twice as many. Before making them I am looking for the right venue to show it.
eepmon: Any last words?
Jaz: Everyone can and should form their own ideas and find your own voice. With time, the goal is self discovery and finding what is true to yourself. I don’t think anyone is going to be that interested if you are looking for what people are interested in already. Artists should create. People should not get stuck doing something because they’ve done it before and it was successful. Some artists end up making the same painting their entire life, and maybe it never stops selling and it makes a great career but… it’s sad for them if it could have developed into something more, but they got stuck for the sake of money in one place.
eepmon: That’s true. That is something that we as artists have to look at our past, internalize it and ask ourselves what we an do to push ourselves further and grow from that…
Jaz: I think it’s a great thing that every five years you hate what you did five years ago. That just means you’ve grown! Haha.
eepmon: But what if someone comes up to you and says, “Hey I really like this style and I want to commission you a large sum of money” But it’s a piece that you’ve created awhile back and you feel you’ve moved beyond it?
Jaz: I mean unless I desperately need that money, I’ll either A) try to find the happy middle ground, combining what they like about the piece with things I like now or B) pass on the job and use the time to create work on my own.
eepmon: Very insightful. Well I am looking forward to your new creations Jaz. I want to see your install works in it’s entirety! Thank you for your time.
Jaz: For sure! Thank you.
More at Jaz Harold.