Yes, while it’s true that music runs in his family, another less likely creative impulse sets Jasper Marsalis apart from his kinfolk. In this week’s Family Swank, we caught up with the 17-year-old visual artist and producer as he prepped for his first solo art show in New York City. Read on and see what Jasper has to say about inspiration, identity, and the law of opposites.
Mass Appeal: Jasper, first of all, how’s Cooper Union treating you? Has it settled yet that you got in though you’re just starting?
Jasper Marsalis: You have no idea. I feel so privileged to be apart of one of the last American institutions that values art as a staple of our culture. It’s sad to see that the free tuition is being lifted…but all good things come to an end, I guess.
MA: Your swank is in both the music and the visual art world. Is there any one person who has had the greatest impact on your work in either realm?
MA: Do you incorporate music into your paintings?
JM: Not really. I try to incorporate the concept of music rather than music itself. I find it fascinating that music exists as time in space rather than just an object in space.
MA: Would you say your art has more of a Neo-expressionist vibe like Basquiat, or a more innovative vibe like Hammons?
JM: Neither. I take elements that I find effective and try to incorporate them in my personal practice. I cringe when I hear the word “Basquiat” just because I would never put him in the same realm as Hammons or in the “African-American” artist category. To me he’s just a pop artist who was aware of his exploit and exploiter.
MA: When I paint, ______…
JM: I experience the process.
MA: What do you want people to feel when they look at your art and listen to your music?
JM: Music has been more of a popularity thing for me, a way for me to “know” other people, but every now and then I try to incorporate similar narratives. Art is an expression I feel, that I can’t put into words—when you look at my art, you’ll understand. Though, I do try to get at popular narratives that transcend culture.
As an artist, I think it’s important in terms of personal identity, but in practice, it’s ignorant to categorize artists by cultural identity.
MA: When I peeped your iTunes, I saw you dig a wide variety of music, from Digable Planets and De La Soul, to Billie Holiday and Fela Kuti. Who’s your favorite musician to sample?
MA: Do you feel pulled more toward visual art or music?
JM: Visual art, no question. I am just fascinated by the mechanics of sound rather than music production.
I hate hip hop though… low key.
MA: They say Capricorns are ambitious, determined, and hard workers. Do you agree?
JM: [I’m also] sensitive and a recluse.
MA: If my art could be featured in any museum, it would be…
JM: I have no idea. I think that’s up to the future to decide. I never really liked the idea of museums other than the fact that they are amazing resources and historical documenters.
I think a lot of museums, especially in New York City, suffer from severe exhibitionary-complex rather than displaying “new” material beyond Western Imperialism.
MA: Favorite quote or motto?
JM: The law of opposites:
Where there is dark, there is light.
Where there is hate, there is love.
Where there is death, there is life.
Where there is sex, there is violence.