Jason Tomme, installation view, the Locker Plant, June 2008

Jason Tomme

Jason Tomme is a New York-based artist who makes works in a variety of media that explore materials and space. For several years he has been making a series of “crack paintings” (as the artist informally calls them) which take as their starting point the backgrounds or backdrops of Old Master paintings. To create these, Tomme isolates the space behind the sitter in a portrait by Rembrandt, for example, or an interior by Vermeer. This area of rich, indeterminate space becomes Tomme’s subject, so that the usual relation of figure to ground is neatly inverted. Tomme carefully applies layers of oil paint until he achieves the density and luminosity he’s looking for, then varnishes the canvas so that it emits a burnished, 17th-century-like glow. The artist next paints “cracks” onto the surface of the paintings depicting the effects of four or five centuries’ worth of wear and tear. Focusing on the unoccupied areas in hallowed old paintings, making the effects of age part of his subject, Tomme in the crack paintings creates his own portraits of time and space.

Tomme also makes sculpture, examples of which he exhibited as well at his show at the Locker Plant. Stairway loomed in the front room: a ziggurat-like work constructed from plastic doggy steps. Nearby stood Cig Scale, a T-shaped piece with semi-smoked cigarettes inserted at each end of the crossbar. Upon close inspection, the cigarettes proved to be meticulously handmade. Also meticulous was Grass Crack—a furrow of grass planted in a gap in the concrete floor. City Slicker hovered by the grass as though to warn people away—a stubby wedge of wood, Styrofoam, resin, and enamel propped on three wheels. Compared with the labor- and time-intensive crack paintings, Tomme’s sculptures evinced a more spontaneous and playful approach—a sense of workshop exuberance, or the slightly cracked enthusiasm of an inveterate tinkerer.

Complementing these varied investigations into time and space was a hybrid sound work/sculpture which allowed visitors to listen to an audio feed from outside the artist’s apartment on the Bowery in New York City. Traffic sounds, air-conditioner rattles, and snatches of sidewalk conversation merged into an ambient hum, an urban susurrus broken only by an occasional police-siren wail.

Jason Tomme was born in Las Vegas. He has a BFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a MFA from Yale University. He had his first solo exhibition at BUIA Gallery in New York in 2006, with his second scheduled for this fall. He has shown work in a number of group shows and was included in the exhibition Las Vegas Diaspora: The Emergence of Contemporary Art from the Neon Homeland, curated by Dave Hickey, at the Las Vegas Art Museum in fall 2007.