September 15, 2017

Pockets of Inquiry
The Art of Jason Jägel

Jason Jägel's been making art for over twenty-five years. Taking influence from EVERYTHING, as he made sure to emphasize—from the world of comic artistry to the rebellious, sick-of-it-all music of 80s and 90s hip-hop and punk rock — Jägel has found his footing crafting a body of work that is somehow both populist and challenging all at the same time.

That says a lot for art that might be taken for cartoonish merriment by the uninitiated.

We visited our good friend back in June, as he was putting the finishing touches on a massive mural in Terminal 1 of the San Francisco International Airport. The expansive work and its amazing cast of characters watches over the queue of the dreaded TSA security line. Bold in its use of color and ever approachable, like most of his art, one can only surmise that the massive painting was commissioned to lighten the hearts and minds of the thousands of travelers who encounter it daily.

Jason Jägel
“I want to see what happens when I mix orange and purple together. Yellow and black. I want to see what happens when you do things that are wrong. It's usually those kinds of unexpected results that are the most exciting.”

These days, many of Jägel's large-scale projects originate with the San Francisco Arts Commission, a civic body tasked with beautifying any and every aspect of the city through public art, broad support for the city's community of artists, and a public policy which considers the two essential to a thriving civic space.

There's hardly a moment of the day when Jägel isn't creating art. There's the fence mural he just wrapped up outside of Hamilton Families, San Francisco's first shelter for families experiencing homelessness, located on one of the roughest stretches of the city's streets. There's the temporary mural he's creating around the city's now-under-construction Central Subway Terminal, that will one day revolutionize public transit in the very heart of the city. There's the commission he just won to replace his own SFO painting with a permanent installation when construction wraps on the new terminal in a couple years' time.

Sure, racking up an impressive body of public art must be exciting for Jägel, who has called the Bay Area and San Francisco home since he moved here from Boston to attend the California College of Arts and Crafts (now CCA) back in 1990—but it's more than that. Jägel likes to speak of his work in musical terms: pattern, rhythm, vibration, instrumentation. As he explains it, there's a palpable degree of both harmony and dissonance in his work that lends a certain ambiguity to its interpretation, that provides for great little "pockets of inquiry" as to the meaning and the many characters who populate his work—ambiguity of race, ambiguity of gender, animals often anthropomorphic in nature. His art consistently invites the viewer, any viewer, to identify with a certain recurring figure, a certain emotion of color, a certain flight of fancy in his work.

Jason Jägel
“I use abstraction and narrative in combination in a similar way to how comics use words and pictures in combination. Ways that they have harmony, and ways that they have dissonance.”

At the end of the day, the driving force of Jägel's painting is his indelible intuition and his stunning ability to wield an immense color palette of his own creation. It's this almost lyrical intuition and infusion of color that finds near-perfect simpatico with the records from the insanely variable collection you'll hear blasting from his studio. The waves of Peruvian rock band Traffic Sound enliven his instinct. The stylings of KRS-One and the Boogie Down Productions crew occupy the brushstrokes. The holy flow of fellow New York progeny Rakim soundtracks the mixing of a new color from gouache.

You can't help but get the sense that these cats are right there with Jägel, rocking steady with him in his studio as he creates his latest piece.

Jason Jägel

Jason Jägel's mural will be on view until spring 2019 in Terminal 1 of SFO, after which Jägel will create a permanent mosaic once construction of the new terminal is complete.

Words by Garrett W Brown