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This week, Jonathan Lyndon Chase debuted a series of new paintings at the Rubell Family Collection (RFC) in Miami. The works are part of the space’s annual “New Acquisitions” exhibition, and a result of the artist’s participation in a 2018 off-site RFC residency. Last week, Whitewall visited Lyndon Chase in his new Philadelphia studio to talk about making his largest works yet and what he’s showing in Kohn Gallery’s booth at Art Basel in Miami Beach.
WHITEWALL: Tell us about the off-site residency with the Rubell Family Collection.
JONATHAN LYNDON CHASE: I went down and met Don and Mera [Rubell], saw their beautiful space and the new space they’re working on. We spent a few days with them in Miami, getting to know the space, ideas about where the work would be installed. My work has to do with weather, mood, and emotion, so I took these elements from a different kind of habitat—Miami—while thinking of so many things I saw there.
One of the paintings is called ride or die boy. It’s these two men on a motorcycle. There were people zipping and driving down the street. Usually you see a man and a woman, and the woman is holding on for safety. I also saw a lot of men doing the same thing, but their bodies’ relationships are different. You’re not sure if they’re a lover or a friend. There was something romantic and dangerous about the situation.
I’m interested in presenting queer black male bodies and a more open conversation about love and tenderness. I’m interested in psychological, sexual, mental, and emotional landscapes and how they affect the inside of the body and outside.
WW: Is it both a representation of the physical as well as the feeling of it?
JLC: Yes, absolutely. When I think about gender when I work, it has a lot to do with performance and how the body’s relationship to itself changes with the space. The figures that are on the beds are more of like an interior. There’s a de-masking.
When we’re in public spaces we’re putting on a sort of drag to navigate through dangerous spaces, safe spaces, and everything in between.
There’s this other painting of two men sitting in open space on a couch. The two figures are engaging with each other in a relaxed way, their arms and their hands are touching through each other.
The paintings have this quiet anxiety to them. I think a lot about the five senses and how things happen at the same time, just at different volumes.
WW: Do you use color in your work to evoke those feelings or moods?
JLC: I like to use water a lot, so blue is one of my favorite colors. It could be calming or sadness or despair. The one of two figures is mostly all blue, more atmospheric. They are becoming one or camouflaging; really embedded in the sheets and the bed. They’re in their own world.
WW: For these works, did you explore something new?
JLC: The whole experience was about learning from my body. I feel like I grew a few inches or matured, in a way, because I had never painted that big before. Being in this new studio and working at this new scale was a sort of rebirth in getting to know my body in different ways.
WW: Can you also tell us about the new work you created for Kohn Gallery to show at the fair?
JLC: The work that’s at the booth is titled butt naked dressed in nothing but pearls. It’s a Lil’ Kim lyric. Music is one of the things that really influences the atmosphere and a lot of the spaces that my figures are in. The painting is pretty gaudy. There’s lots of gold and there are these figures in more of a squished-in space. They are in an interior, in a safe place, and they’re embracing in sexual ways but also tender ways. They’re wearing makeup, they’re just enjoying their time.
WW: How do you like to incorporate texture into your work?
JLC: I’m really obsessed with sparkles and rhinestones and those kinds of elements, thinking about feminine ideas and about rap, hip-hop. These feminine things are also very masculine at the same time. Certain bodies are allowed to navigate and be involved with these items that are sort of genderless, but are also gendered at the same time.
WW: How do you choose cotton or canvas to work on?
JLC: When I think of cotton sheets, I think about the complexities or intersection of the bodies; slavery and American history, too. A bed sheet is a sensual space, a loving space. The works for the Rubells are on canvas and also muslin. This is so important to me, the sensitivity of the line. A lot of it has to do with the way the paint or the mark is absorbed.
What’s important to me is the softness and tenderness of these bodies, thinking of all of these ways in which masculinity could be and is very toxic.