Artist Jon Wassom attended art school for 5 years before flunking out. Ironically enough, he spent too much time painting, preferring to master his craft on his own time.
“I’d be painting in my studio and my friend would say ‘Jon, come to class!’ Even during painting class, I was in my studio doing my own thing,” he reminisces, laughing.
His formal education proved valuable, but his self-taught style speaks louder. A renaissance man, Wassom’s curious nature saw him dabbling in everything from music to “flying through the air” with gymnastics and figure skating; he was drawn to the “artistic physicality” of both sports.
His love of movement shines through in his unique paintings and very aptly reflects his vibrant personality. He jokes that he tells his Amazon Alexa to play any song it wants – he notes that the random songs weirdly capture the “synchronicity in the universe” – and he’s off to his creative sphere, letting his hand flow to the beat as he produces colorful portrayals of what some may deem simple scenes: men on bikes and electric scooters riding curiously through a crowded boardwalk; old-timey, dreamlike city centers in their dapper heydays, complete with pork pie hats and three-piece suits.
Leisurely Pleasures, 24”x24”, mixed media
Hues of Civilization, 36”x36” mixed media
But simple is not how Wassom sees them. By his account, beauty is never hard to find. In fact, it’s everywhere – that is, if you’re willing to pay attention to it. On evening walks, he brings his camera to snap pictures of orange and pink sunsets, flower beds, and tree-lined streets. He may bring these photos back to his studio to recreate them on canvas. Better yet, he may even physically incorporate them into his work, using flower petals to add much-desired texture to his topographical creations.
Savage Passion, 30”x40” mixed media
Desert Dusk, 24”x24” mixed media
Wassom is in love with texture, and proudly describes himself as a “texture freak.” He keeps no secrets as to the materials he uses, or the process he goes through when he creates his signature pieces. He wants the world to know that art is meant to be discussed freely in open spaces, not selfishly locked away, unable to be shared with inquiring minds like his own. He mentions Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, who famously quipped, “lesser artists borrow; great artists steal.”
“I like sharing my secrets and process with other people. I’m not opposed to telling everyone exactly how I do everything that I do… I don’t think anyone can steal my style… because they’re not me. They’re going to paint like the best version of themselves.”
Strict rules and formats are tossed away in Wassom’s studio. He has absolute freedom to play by his own rules and leaves no stone unturned. And though he paints from photographs, he still shies away from absolutes. Portraits of unknown individuals become part of a brilliant, alternative reality where faces are overlaid with monarch butterflies, geometric lines, color blocks, and language. His interpretation of the world is king.
Courage to Change, 40”x30”, mixed media
Affirmation, 24”x24”, mixed media
“My style is very spontaneous. It’s kind of like a controlled accident, where I’ve calculated risks but there’s a surrender to it. It’s spontaneous, and there’s this idea of sacrifice and resurrection: beat it up and bring it back until it becomes something that’s beautiful.”
Resurrection is key. Wassom seldomly throws away a canvas if the painting isn’t going according to plan. Instead, he opts to bring it back to life, using what’s already there as a building block to betterment. It’s not merely a matter of preventing waste – it’s a philosophy, a guiding principle for how Wassom perceives life.
“If a painting has just sat around for a while and simply needs to be painted over, all of that texture and paint can be utilized,” Wassom explains. “It’s almost like this idea that no matter what kind of mistakes happen in life, those things can be beautiful. It’s about not shutting the door on the past. There are so many parallels in life and art. How can I make a mistake into a beautiful thing?”
Thunderstorm, 30”x40”, mixed media
Ocean Front Nostalgia, 36”x48”, mixed media
The past to which he refers is filled with trauma and pain, but his optimism has the ability to make even putative pessimists second guess their half-empty glasses. He speaks his experiences through his brushes and palette knives, and makes it a special point to mention his affinity for a paint-caked one that he affectionately dubs the “Elder Wand”, a reference to the Harry Potter series. He always begins with the darkest colors on the bottom, finishing with the lighter ones on top. It serves as a gentle reminder that light and love will always break through and emerge victorious in the end.
“By experiencing a lot of darkness, it just makes the joyful moments of life so much more pure.”