Artist Jason Edmiston is a master of the portrait. It’s a classic format — one that can be as straightforward as a photograph, but Edmiston creates patiently rendered artifacts of character. His work is a search for what binds an audience to a character, the sentiment.
Edmiston has explored the world of horror and science fiction, and with his latest solo show ‘Eyes Without a Face‘ he expands into the broad universe of pop culture. Ever prolific, Edmiston paints non-stop, taking chances with collaborations and pushing through the norm of the portrait.
The creative minds behind Mondo have given Edmiston reign over the gallery walls for ‘Eyes Without a Face,’ his second solo show at the Austin, Texas gallery. Ever the gentleman, Jason took time away from his preparing for the show to talk about his process, the show, and the nature of buying original work.
The show opens the SXSW festivities on Friday March 13th, 7PM – 10M. The show runs through April 4th.
(For Reference: This interview was conducted on Friday March 6, 2015.)
ETDC: So are you working on the show right now?
The show is first announced on February 5th. How much of it was finished at that date?
At that point, probably half of it. No, two thirds.
Two thirds, really?
I know it sounds like I left it for the last minute which in some respect it is, but I’ve been working on it for the last year and a half. I’ve just been painting seriously for the last four months.
How long after your first solo show at Mondo (A Rogues Gallery) did you and folks of Mondo decide to do another solo show?
I conceptualized it for about a year and a half, right around that time when I was finishing up the first show. I thought this would be an interesting idea for my next show. I talked to Rob Jones (Mondo Creative Director) about it when I was down there (in Austin) and he thought it had some legs so he told Mitch Putnam (Mondo Creative Director) about it and Mitch thought it was good, so we just started developing it and I’ve been working on it slowly gaining reference and getting themes. Well not themes, you know like subject matter. I didn’t start drawing and painting until just after MondoCon.
I had so much work to do, I kept getting all these jobs I didn’t want to turn down so I just kept delaying it. I have been working on it, it’s just seriously painting not until the last four or five months.
I saw you at MondoCon and I saw you did another convention the following weekend. I want to say it was a horror convention?
I do my horror conventions in the spring usually, that one was Leeds for Thought Bubble.
Oh, right. I was just surprised and totally in awe of the fact that you were doing conventions back to back, plus keeping up the pace on your paintings.
Right after that came Texas Chainsaw Massacre print for Grey Matter Art, then the Rocky IV print came out from Skuzzles, then the ‘Eyes Without a Face’ show was announced. For having a style that demands so much time and patience, you’re incredibly prolific.
Yeah, that’s more my insanity of not wanting to say no to jobs, but I do work really long hours. For this show I’ve been working probably eighty hour weeks for the last couple months.
So are you starting on concepts now for Comic-Con?
I got some ideas for prints for Comic-Con, but a lot of it is going to be bringing my archive, things that have come out throughout the year, saving a few prints for that. You’ve probably heard by now that there won’t be prints at the ‘Eyes’ show.
Yeah. Is that something that you wanted to have happen, to have the show be 100% paintings?
That was another idea of the show from the beginning when I talked to Rob and Mitch. They wanted to have me back for a gallery show, the first show went really well. I basically sold out of the first show, I have a couple paintings left but I sold 90% of the paintings and the drawings that were for sale for that show but at the same time a lot of collectors couldn’t afford most of the paintings, because there were three and four and five thousand dollars, and even me, I couldn’t afford that kind of painting.
Usually when I buy paintings from artists they’re usually up and coming artists and $100 to $1,000 usually. I wanted to do a show that was more accessible to the average collector, and maybe get them into starting to collect more originals. So that was the double concept of the show, was to also bring the affordability aspect to my gallery shows.
It’s going be really interesting to see how people receive it when they come to the gallery. A lot of the poster collecting crowd are expecting prints, or even these guys that line up that aren’t necessarily real collectors. You know that crowd. It’s no secret that that exists. And a lot of the times they ignore the art on the wall and they make a b-line right for the checkout and buy prints.
They’re completely missing the point of the show, to enjoy the work and maybe then go home with something that you really like and not just turn it into a consumer product. It shouldn’t be a merchandised show necessarily. I’m really looking forward to the opportunity of showing some art that people would enjoy and take some time a choose one that they like and go home with a little treasure if they like it that much.
That’s a great concept. I’ll go to a show and I’ll buy four or five posters, but I could never afford the original pieces.
I didn’t start collecting till I had already amassed a lot of posters, and that was the next logical step. I really like Rich Kelly‘s work and I have an original pencil drawing from Rich that he did for the process show that Mondo put on, and I love it, I look at it every day in my studio, it’s a little ‘Planet of the Apes.’ It was affordable so hey, it’s great and nobody else has it.
Yeah, it’s super exciting having something like that.
Yeah, a lot of fun, so I’m hoping to bring that kind of excitement to the collectors. The thought is once they get used to having my art, seeing it around, seeing the originals around, they’ll desire it more, and maybe one day down the road they’ll be in the mood for something bigger.
I have a lot of collectors that they buy one and then, oh, I got to comeback and get another one. That’s how an artist builds his client base. His patron base.
It’s amazing that you even consider that part of it. The career behind it.
Are there going to be sketches?
Yeah, there will be pencil sketches for all the paintings in the show and they’ll all be available. We’re going to have them in a book or multiple books I believe. I’m not sure how I’m going to display them quite yet, they won’t be up on the wall, but they’ll be available for purchase. They’ll be very inexpensive. But those will definitely all be available.
That’s another thing, it’s another little souvenir. I don’t maybe have a few hundred dollars for a painting, but I have $25 for this sketch, you know what I mean?
Yeah, and that’s one thing that you do at conventions like Comic-Con, I’ve noticed that you always have all your sketches out. Prominently on display. For the ‘Eyes’ portraits, you can look at each one and you feel the rest of the face. The full character. Did you start with a full portrait drawing and work back from that?
They’re cropped in a way that it shows the minimal amount, but it shows enough that you can get their likeness and kind of get a feel for the characters.
When I was first conceptualizing we tried a whole bunch of different close crops, just right around the eyes or showing as far as the ears, going to the sides of the head. This crop that I decided to use is a three to one ratio, just stopping it at their ears, it really just had enough meat on it to show enough of the character. If you’re looking through a slot in an exclusive club or something, like with a password kind of deal, it’s kind of that amount, like a mail slot. It was a bit of a challenge to get the right amount of visible face image.
A lot of these are compiled from a variety of different photo reference. Most of the time it’s based on more than one photo, but I already know what the face looks like. I don’t really have to envision the whole head. It’s more like a movie director where you’re choosing your shots. Exactly how much of this character do I want to show in this scene? I want to do a close-up of this character but how close?
I want to just focus on their eyes and their expression and what they’re thinking about the other character or what they’re looking at, and then I get into how do I want to light this, do I want to add some colored light to make it pop or to add some ridge lighting? A lot of that stuff is added after the fact, so it’s enhancing the photo reference to make it better than what’s out there.
With your Jason Voorhees ‘Eyes’ painting I think this is the first time I’ve actually seen his eye.
Yeah, that’s the thing when you get that close on these characters, you don’t want to necessarily just black it out, even though a lot of times it’s like that.
Maybe in the movies it’s always shown like that, but I have seen some really cool photos of cos players dressing up as Jason and custom made masks and that got me thinking that I would be cool to show more of the face. Actually show the human behind the mask, it makes it a bit scarier.
The ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ print where it’s just the eye, It’s kind of inline with what this show is about.
Well, I’m sort of obsessed with eyes these days. I didn’t know that Jay Shaw was going to do the same idea for his ‘Friday the 13th‘ vinyl. It was just a coincidence, but neither one of us thought the other one was ripping them off. It was just the both of us had the same idea, and nobody even compared those two together, so I think they looked different enough.
You find some huge opportunities to explore within a portrait, even in the same film.
I like the variety, I don’t think that once you’ve done them once that’s it, you can never do them again. I’ve got an idea for another ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre‘ poster that I’m hopefully going to be working on with Dan Danger in time for MondoCon, but that’s a completely different idea. These movies have a lot of visual touchstones to go to, so I feel like there’s a lot of meat on that bone so to speak.
They’re spawning from me, well Mike liked the first one that we did and I suggested it to Mike the first time, I can’t remember, I think it just came up in conversation, ‘Oh, it would be funny to see you render one of these in your style’ and I’m like ‘Oh, that’s a great idea’ and I took him up on the idea. I can’t remember whether it was mines or his, it just came up in conversation.
I said ‘Hey, this is a very popular print, it’d be fun, what’s your favorite JLU?’ and he told me that one and I’m like ‘Oh, I love Star Wars, would you be into it if I were to create a painting of it?’, and we collaborate and do prints and we’ll split the costs or the profit, whatever. He’s like ‘sure’ because why would you do it without cutting in the other artist because it’s based on work, based on their sweat.
So I would only do it if they were cool with it. He’s into it, we did it, it was very successful so we did ‘Doughnuts‘ and that was great. We’d like to do another one hopefully at the next show. I talk to Jock every now and then and he really liked the collaboration.
I reached out to him and said, ‘How would you like to do something for Thought Bubble, because I’ve never been to the UK for a show before and it introduced me to your fans and I can introduce you to mine,’ that sort of thing. He was into that so I took one of his most iconic images and I rendered it out, and that sold really well.
Then I approached Dan at MondoCon and said ‘hey, we should do something together’ because he had commented on a piece that I had done that he liked and I said, ‘hey if you ever want to do something like that together I’d love to,’ so he’s into it, and I just talked to him the other day about plans for it so he’s way into it.
And as you saw from his X-Men print of the Mondo artists, he like to do stuff in his free time just for fun, so it’s not like I only do stuff if it’s a guaranteed payday or I only do my stuff I don’t mix with other artists, he was totally cool about it. He was like yeah, sure let’s do it. Hopefully come out for MondoCon. It will be the cross promotion.
Are all the paintings for the ‘Eyes’ show in your house at the moment, just sitting in a studio?
I shipped the first half already. They’re already at the gallery. The second half I’m shipping hopefully tomorrow. That’s what I’m planning on. I’m bringing a couple paintings with me, just some small paintings because I’m finishing up a few this weekend. It’s right down to the wire.
Are you flying out on Monday or Tuesday?
Yeah, I’ll be there Tuesday. Also, you can tell your readers to look out for a large painting for outside the gallery.
It’ll be installed outside the gallery. So if anybody is driving by, it should be probably be up maybe a day or two before the show.
I heard the paintings were actual size. Is it actual size per character?
Yeah, actual size for each character. So say it’s Catwoman, it’s human size.
E.T. looks a bit bigger.
Yeah, E.T.’s bigger but E.T. is the same size as the actual puppet. It’s physically the same size as it is in reality.
Probably tough to guess how big Frankenberry is.
Some cartoon characters I’m guessing at how big they are in reality. How big is Mickey Mouse? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s a mouse size or if it’s a human. Bugs Bunny from Space Jam. Well, you know how big he is relationship to Michael Jordan. So you can use that as an example.
Those aren’t necessarily in the show. Not to say they didn’t make my initial list. I had an initial list of over 300. We had to narrow it down to 150. If I do continue this series, I’ll be pulling from that list because there’s a lot of cool ones that I just didn’t get time to, or it’s just too many to do in a year. Hopefully people will dig the show and I’ll be able to do some follow-up pieces.
I was thinking about how you had three portraits in the ‘Nothing’s Impossible’ Disney show. At first I thought, ‘How is Jason Edmiston going to be in a Disney show unless he does a monster from a live action film?’ Your picks were incredible. I think that Ursula painting is possibly the sexiest Ursula.
Oh, thanks. Ursula, I believe was designed, the initial cartoon design, was based on Divine, the crossdresser. I’ve got Divine in this show, so there is a connection.
But, thank you. I take that as a compliment. I wanted her to have some sex appeal but at the same time that menacing character she is in the movie.
That’s like your bread and butter, too. Your ‘Bride of Frankenstein’ has the allure and magic of an early Hollywood star. It’s gorgeous.
I’m pretty much a realist painter, but I like to describe it as clean realism or ideal realism. It’s bright colors, highly saturated. Almost as if they were Photoshopped to the nth degree, in a good way. That’s how I view art, though. It’s like idealized reality.
Have you thought about how you’re going to display these? Like, this character should go with this character?
That’s an interesting point. I have to discuss that when I get down to the gallery. I was toying with the idea of maybe just linking them by size and then randomly spreading them out. I initially thought we would link them by property because there’s a few repeating characters. There’s a few Batman world characters. There’s a few, say, Disney characters. That sort of thing.
I was like, ‘Well, if I put this character over away from this character, will buyers know that they even exist?’ But that’s kind of the fun. It separates them so you don’t just look at a whole block and say, ‘Oh, I’ll go past this area because I know what to expect.’
Oh, here’s his Disney wall. Here’s his slasher wall.
Exactly. So don’t you think it would be more interesting to maybe shake it up a bit and kind of spread that out?
Yeah, because then you’re guiding people through the whole show rather than just like, go straight to the ‘horror’ section and ignoring the rest. It’s going to be interesting to see how opening night goes, with no prints for people to rush to buy, they’ll have to take their time and take it all in.
I hope so, yeah, then that’d be really great. I know what you mean. You don’t want them coming in and immediately going to a certain section. ‘Oh, I’m just going to go to the horror section because that’s all I care about and then I’ll pick the one I want and run.’ It’s kind of take your time, mill about.
Because they might find something surprising in that experience, or in the show. They’re going to be like, ‘Oh, I did not see that in Jason, but here it is.’
Right, right. There could be one where you don’t know what property it’s from. There’s a few that are kind of like, ‘Oh, I’ve never seen this movie or I don’t know if this is from music or whatever.’ You have to think about it for a bit. If it’s right next to something else that you know is horror and they’re all horror, say, you’ll be like, “it’s obviously a horror movie.’ Now I just got to guess which one.
If you make it more of a guessing game I think it’s more fun. It’s going to be great to see them all up together because if you stand in the middle it’s really going to be like you’re being stared at.
You know, like in that episode of Star Trek when they go to the planet where it’s overpopulated and they’re literally standing on top of each other. Kirk sees the vision of all the eyes staring back at him. All these millions upon millions of eyes just staring at him.
I get that feeling, like it’s going to be like that once we get into the show. Not to mention I’ve got a 7 and a half foot wide painting in the show that will be a surprise that those eyes are mesmerizing when it see them in person. It’s hypnotic they’re so big.
People are excited. You have a ton of dedicated fans online. Some I’ve met at Comic-Con and stuff like that. Quite a pool of avid collectors.
Oh, cool. You never know how people react to you outside of a convention. They might just be nice to my face and then you never know if they actually like the work. To hear independent views is cool.
I know some avid collectors of your work online.
Oh, that’s great. That’s super flattering. That’s what I’m in this business for. It’s cool that if I post something where somebody’s kind of bootlegged my stuff or whatever. It’s been suggested to me from other artists that I shouldn’t worry about that stuff because they just pop up like Whack-A-Mole.
To me I feel like it’s kind of empowering because it allows your fans to be heard. A lot of people that follow my art, they’ll speak up and say, ‘Oh, this is bullshit,’ and they’ll share it. They also contact these people and get them to take it down. It’s kind of like a team behind me that will support my work and they don’t want me to be ripped off at the same time. Flattering.
Exactly, yeah. Even if the artwork doesn’t come down, you get these people to share it and they get to be involved.
I’ve done it too. I’ve seen you or somebody else post something and I contact Etsy or whatever, which, I feel like your work gets ripped off the most.
Yeah, it does a lot. I think it’s just because it’s clean. It’s like I just said, bright colors, high contrast. It prints well. It makes for good t-shirts or whatever. That’s happened a lot. I think it’s the same reason why there’s a lot of tattoos out there. I would say at least once a day I get somebody sending me an Instagram picture of a new tattoo, which is super flattering, but it’s also really weird to see somebody else draw exactly what you’ve just drawn like a week ago on somebody’s body.
It allows people that like your work to get involved and they feel like they’re more invested in your career. I have people that I follow, that I’m fans of, that I actually feel like I’m in it with them because we chat at Cons or they interact with their followers.
Then there’s other people that are like, untouchable, that you never hear from. You don’t hear people chatting with, I don’t know, say the Shepard Faireys of the world. They’re too huge, they’re too busy. They’re always flying around the world. It’s not the same type of social interaction, but I like the socialness of it.
Even just thinking about the podcasts I listen to, I always try and donate or pay for a subscription. I don’t know if they need my subscription fee but the fact that I get to participate somehow by subscribing to this thing makes me feel a part of it. A comic book comes out from an artist that I follow on Instagram or Facebook, I’m going to pre-order all issues.
Right. You’re supporting it. If an artist comes out with a poster I like instead of trading I just buy it. I used to trade with them. A lot of times now I just go to their site and buy it and then I let them know that I bought it because it’s like, ‘Hey, I really like this. I liked it enough to put money on it.’
Then they always inevitable say, ‘Oh, I would have traded you. I would have given it to you.’ I’m like, ‘No. I want to support you. That’s the whole point. I want you to know that I like your stuff so much I’m giving you money for it. I like what you’re doing.’ Good for you kind of thing. The artists need that in their career.
I think as a fan, it’s a privilege. It’s a gift whenever someone like you kind of let people know, ‘this bootlegging is annoying. I want to fix this.’ We, the fans, get to act up and be like, ‘Cool, yeah. I will email eBay, I will contact the seller, I’ll do what I can.’
For sure. I make sure of tagging people and say, ‘Hey thanks, so and so for the head’s up’ or ‘Thank you to you guys who got it taken down.’ ‘Good for you or good for us,’ or whatever.
It makes people actually feel like I give a damn about them, which I do. It’s not like a faceless mask that just gives me money. It’s people that they work for that money and they choose to give me money for my art. That means a lot to me. I don’t want to just make it all about commerce and take the social aspect of it out.