Elaine Cromie/ Courtesy of Library Street Collective
Jason REVOK creating one of his pieces for 'The Artist's Instruments."
Jason REVOK creates a mechanical mandala of repeating shapes as he guides an elliptical gear around in an eight-foot circle.
It’s like watching a dance of sorts — like a gladiator moving a boulder in some strange physical rite of passage. As paint drips down the canvas, the once-perfect geometrical shapes become imperfect, and more human.
This is the process behind many of the works REVOK created for his upcoming solo at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, titled The Artist’s Instruments
. The show will be on display from Nov. 5 to March 25, 2023.
“A lot of the work involves this almost kind of merger of man and some kind of crude machine where it’s powered by the movements of my body,” the Detroit transplant by way of California says. “It’s a very crude and imperfect kind of mechanical process where the shortcoming and failures of my body and ability to continuously repeat these motions over and over again create these little errors that are out of my control, and break up these mathematical patterns.”
REVOK has fashioned a large-scale Spirograph-like device to create the work in The Artist’s Instruments
. Remember the little plastic shapes you might have used to draw geometric patterns as a kid? Yeah, that thing. He says playing with Spirographs with his daughter inspired him to try and make one as big as humanly possible.
“One is like 96 inches, which is like eight feet, and that’s like the absolute maximum I could really power with my human-size frame,” he says. “I basically just created a massive, oversized one that uses spray paint instead of a ballpoint pen, and as far as I know, nobody’s ever done anything like this before.”
After spending nearly the last four months creating new work for the show, REVOK tells us he’s exhausted.
“I have been working til three or four in the morning for like the last two months, like four to five days out of the week,” he says. “In four months, I’ve made 35 new works.”
The Artist’s Instruments
includes several distinct series, which recreate a sense of assembly line production. REVOK associates them with Detroit’s history of industrialization.
In his series of what he calls “tape loops,” REVOK strategically places tape onto paint rollers, which he uses to create more repeating patterns that he likens to music.
“I make these little unique tools that kind of have a phrase embedded in it and then that phrase just loops over and over creating these continuous looping patterns," he says. "They’re kind of like meditation objects, but they’ve also always had this kind of musical sound element to them in my head. It’s almost like a phrase in the way that hip-hop artists over the years have taken a drum break or a breakdown from some classic song and sampled that one little bit to create these repeating beats.”
Elaine Cromie/ Courtesy of Library Street Collective
This is REVOK's first solo museum show.
His inspiration for the tape loops comes from avant-garde composer William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops
recordings. In trying to digitize clips recorded from the radio on cassette tapes, Basinski noticed the tapes became noticeably degraded and eventually crumbled.
For the show, REVOK collaborated with software engineer Gabriel Valente Ferrao to create a program that reads his paint strokes like a record needle, giving the exhibit an element of sound.
“So what you hear is a direct reflection of what you see, and what you see is a direct visual representation of the sound that you’ll hear,” he says.
Then there are REVOK’s “self-portraits.” Rather than a painting or photograph that depict the artist as he appears in the physical plane, these are linen drop cloths from his studio floor that have accumulated layers of paint over the years.
“Over the course of years and years or months and months of me working, all of the excess material, every color that I use and every layer that I’m applying … all the excess material from those works is falling in this very circumstantial way onto the cloth beneath me,” he says. “I view them as almost like long-term exposures or like recordings of me.”
He adds, “I’m making all this work kind of consciously and deliberately and meanwhile, simultaneously, while I’m making that this other body of work is happening that I have no control over.”
REVOK says he has lived in Detroit for about six years. The self-taught artist grew up in southern California and began creating as a graffiti writer back in the 1990s.
“I came to learn and be interested in art through years of years of painting on the street,” he says. “All of the processes and tools that I both created or adopted into my practice are almost entirely industrial tools, construction materials … stuff that you’re more likely to find at Home Depot than an art supply store.”
He says the MOCAD show marks his return to painting after years of working primarily with reclaimed materials.
“So a lot of the work that I've created for this show here at MOCAD is kind of my last 10 years of coming back to painting but with an entirely new approach that is very mechanical and process-based,” he says. “It isn’t about this free, kind of romantic, emotional way of painting really loose or with big gestures, it’s really restricted and limited to this system of different tools, and machines, and instruments that I’ve created.”
MOCAD is located at 4454 Woodward Ave., Detroit. For more information see mocadetroit.org
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