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Jason Innocent: A Black Artist Innovation and Experimentation

Conceptual artist Jason Innocent is becoming increasingly popular in the art scene for his powerful message, both visually and audio-visually. His art is characterized by the deconstruction of language, emphasizing typography and the power of words. From his beginnings, “39 Drawings” combines drawings and phrases that he made throughout his youth whose lines denote a childlike character. Based on primary colors, words crossed out or joined together as in Scrabble play with language rules. Based on the first avant-garde movements of the 20th century, this logic is found from cubism through Dadaism, Russian constructivism, and the Bauhaus school of design.

The quasi-infantile and primitive style of his writing and drawing can be traced to Brut art’s characteristics, mainly Jean-Michel Basquiat. Naivety can be interpreted as a way of detaching oneself from the strict rules of realistic art. This places him on a threshold between the limits of conceptual art and aesthetic minimalism in all its forms. Innocent face the tyranny of the established traditional artistic canons; his works are a battle cry, poetry, and plastic art, rightly mixed in the still of the counterculture.

But the expressiveness of his strokes also bears reminiscences of the German neo-expressionism of figures such as Willem de Kooning and the calligraphies of Cy Twombly. The latter’s trace is evident: the abstract expressionism influenced by the tribal, the gestural, sometimes colorless, made with gray scribbles or very long lines. Those works are the starting point of a protean and mysterious artwork, full of comings and goings between figuration and abstraction, past and present emptiness and writing, creation, and destruction. In this sense, as a result, Innocent achieves a great mastery of gestural expression that, at times, can simulate unfinished actions. His works distort fundamental elements to express different emotions and give rise to energetic compositions.

These movements, along with new theories of language, can be considered influences in Innocent’s work. The power of the literality of words can be seen in “American Flag” and in his most recent productions RADIO RADIO RADIO, HOLY SHIT, and Burning the midnight oil. In the first case, the artist re-signifies and questions the American flag’s role through social criticism. As well, the capital letters highlight the contradiction between American pride and socio-political issues. Innocent’s social commitment has also been demonstrated in “Ego Maniac,” in collaboration with photographer Alex Wong. This performative intervention involved various cities’ public space during Donald Trump’s election campaign to raise awareness among passers-by about the vote’s importance.

His public actions allow us to reflect on art in situ and the ephemeral nature of contemporary art. Innocent’s interventions attempt to make space habitable, going out into the street to claim it as a place to exchange ideas and conceived for the citizens. With this type of work, he breaks with the notion of cities’ privatized and impersonal space and instead generates a horizontal and transferable relationship between artist and spectator, where the transmitter-receiver/artist-spectator channels are at the same level. This also breaks the barrier of the individual artist’s image who produces material work to pursue plurality. What are essential here are the concept and the interest in contributing and improving something to the community?

Public action is conceived as a sign of a presence. The territory is a social construction product, heterogeneous, and dynamic that implies possession, domain, exchange, negotiation, collective, and individual projection. The part of the public space is a scenario of social relations, where the population’s actions and the regulation of the State converge and the (unequal) possibility of creating and recreating the territorial reality. The territory is also a physical and symbolic action, in front of a current context and time. The work is constructed as a unique, unrepeatable experience built from the dialogue between the territory, the artist, passers-by who have become spectators. We think of these interventions as a mark, trace, sign of a presence, an “I have been here” that is projected into the present and the future. It is a mark that knows it can be erased, that can disappear, and yet it stands and is inscribed without tribulation, as a reminder of the land we walk on any of us who inhabit it.

Innocent’s versatility leads him to explore other languages. His experimentation ranges from the exploration of documentary film to video art. Although his audiovisual productions cross the contemporary world’s social problems, we can observe an evolution toward artistic experimentation. Video art is among innovations, searches, and creativity. It proposes, exploring the resources and means of the image and the electronic sound, new forms of audiovisual representation that, at the same time, can be considered as a continuity of the cinematographic experiences of the vanguards of the beginning of the 20th century. His practice is characterized by the narrative and visual exploration detached from any formal or institutionalized discursive heritage. Due to its electronic nature, video art generally constructs its non-linear rambling structure, formulated in layers, from the interior of the image, deactivating the strategies of continuity, linearity, and outside the cinematographic field.

The concept again becomes the most critical part of the work, since when an artist uses a conceptual art form; it means that all the planning and decisions are made beforehand. The execution is a simple matter, and the idea becomes an art-making machine. Following these precepts, video art emerges as a resource based on the critical spirit, the attitude of rupture, innovation, and experimentation inherited from the artistic and cinematographic avant-garde, which uses new supports such as digital media.

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