Jason Thompson is one of the artists featured in Looking North, a new exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery that presents work by artists from the North-West of England.
Jason was born in Liverpool and still lives and works there. He studied painting at Chelsea College of Art and Design London both for his BA (1990-93) and MA (1993-94). Jason currently works for National Museums Liverpool and is based at the Walker Art Gallery.
Where did it all begin for you as an artist?
I was always drawing as a child but the idea that you could actually become an artist seemed very unreal and remote. No one in my family made art or anything. It was probably discovering William Blake as a teenager that opened my eyes to the idea that making art isn’t really a job but something that, unless you are extremely fortunate, you can only do despite the weight of the practicalities of life and jobs and such. At 15 I consciously decided that I would put every effort into the making of art as the centre of the rest of my life
Paintings exist in the world in ways that other art forms don’t and their nature suits the way I think. I am especially interested in the way we can see the whole of an image in a single moment but, in a good painting, that moment will continue to unfold and reveal itself over time. I consider paintings to have a double nature; they are a physical object and they are an image. The object “embodies” the image and the image gives identity and “meaning” to the object.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
Everything and everything else. I make my things out of a desire to make things. I make things best when I have a momentum of making other things. I work in a way that is not about having individual ideas or making things that are “about” subjects. I think of making art as a way of continuing the process that made me. So, the mechanisms of natural creations and the forms of created machines are things that pop into my head while I am making things.
Tell us about your work process?
I like to use a phrase by Richard Dawkins to describe my process: “The non-random survival of randomly varying replicators”. He used it to describe the evolutionary mechanism by which life came to exist, I use it to describe the way my images are encouraged to evolve. Each painting is a long process of many layers of short bursts of work with the only goal being to build an image but I have no idea what that image is going to be. I have no plan or intentions when I start an individual painting, and I deliberately work on many paintings at the same time so that any ideas or intentions that occur are easily distracted or lost. I make unplanned, doodle-like marks which I then carefully copy, repeat or echo. Then make more marks on top of that which build on or bury the previous marks, and then copy those. It’s a continuous process of adding, destroying and copying and it eventually evolves into a structure that can be very complex but is totally un-designed.
What do you hope visitors will take away from your works in the exhibition? Do you hope for a certain reaction?
I have no right to hope for anything or expect anyone to give me or my paintings the time of day. Having said that, though, I suppose the point of making them for me is to be alive and in the world and a part of the world. It would be good if maybe someone reacted to something I made in a similar way. If it made someone go away and make their own things then that would be wonderful. But, to be honest, I’m delighted if someone just says they like them. If they like it, it has touched them in some way and it has opened a little pathway in the world.
Looking North focuses on artists from the North West. Do you think it’s important to highlight artists from the North?
It’s definitely important that people know that life exists outside of London but being from, and living in, the North is not something I spend any time thinking about. I did spend years at art college in London though so maybe that’s why. I think it’s more important to consider “class” and economics rather than geography. I think being “working class” restricts access and involvement with art more than where you are from.
What does having your work in the Arts Council Collection mean to you?
I cannot say how much it meant to me to have my work included in the Arts Council Collection. I am pretty much unknown, I have only ever had one solo exhibition and I very rarely sell any work so it’s a huge honour to be part of that collection alongside virtually every British artist who I admire. They were only acquired last year and already they up on the wall in the Walker and another painting is part of touring exhibition (Ryan Gander’s “Night In The Museum”) with so many great artists. So I’m very grateful.
You’ve worked at the Walker Art Gallery for quite some time. What’s your favourite thing here?
Apart from the staff, my favourite things have always been in Room 1 – the medieval and renaissance work. Northern Renaissance paintings are probably the paintings I love most in the world. That the John Moores Painting Prize is held here every two years is also of extreme importance to me. When I was an attendant I was once asked to choose a painting to talk about and I chose Millie Smith by Ford Maddox Brown (in room 6) as it is such a simple and perfect little painting. I chose to talk about it because I couldn’t think of a thing to say about it that wasn’t redundant. Paintings aren’t about what you can say about them, they are silent and you have to shut up and look.
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