EYES WITHOUT A FACE: A Q&A With Artist Jason Edmiston

Mondo's Art Director sits down with the artist to talk his upcoming gallery opening. 

Mondo Gallery’s next exhibition is titled Eyes Without a Face, 150 pieces featuring the eyes of characters in modern popular culture by Canadian artist Jason Edmiston. Mondo Art Director Rob Jones sat down with him to discuss his inspiration and approach to the subject.

Q: Well, off the bat, from the name of the show are you more a fan of Georges Franju or Billy Idol?

A: I’ll have to say both, but I’ve heard more Billy Idol songs than I’ve seen Franju films. Billy’s “Eyes without a Face” actually takes its title from Franju’s film - they sing the original French title in the background of the song. It was the first thing that came to me when I tried to think of a name for the show. Something about that title always seemed intriguingly mysterious to me.

Q: What spawned the idea? I remember you first told me about it around the time of your last show.

A: I had the idea when I was working on my last solo show for Mondo. I was driving around town with my wife bouncing ideas off of her. I checked my rear view and had the idea. I just saw traffic, not my face or anything, but the shape of the mirror made me think of just using a tight cropping of eyes for the basis of a show. You know, the same type of view if you looked at someone through a mail slot. I’ve always enjoyed seeing shows like Mike Mitchell and Olly Moss have where there are a ton of pieces all at once. I always wanted to have a really big show like that, but the large scale of my usual paintings precluded that as an option. I knew if I kept it to mostly small 1:1 representations of just eyes that I could finally pull it off. I also kind of wanted to see what it would feel like to be in a gallery surrounded by eyes staring at you.

Q: What do you think it’s going to feel like? A Panopticon?

A: I don’t know, I guess it depends on what you’re carrying in your head. It could be an audience or a jury. We're all a little voyeuristic at times, but in today's culture of social media, reality shows and Youtube, we are also constantly becoming much more narcissistic. We idolize a great number of people from film, or music or politics, and aspire to be worshipped just as much, sometimes without having much to offer in return. This show should give visitors the feeling of being watched by their heroes. It should be quite an experience to stand in the center of the gallery and slowly rotate 360 degrees.

Q: Talk about your stylistic approach to these. There’s some variance in technique, correct?

A: Yeah, it’s dictated by the subject and my attitude towards it. Some demand a looser brush, with more expressive strokes, to add some aggression or movement to the character. Keep in mind that the cropping on these pieces is very tight, and doesn't leave a lot of room for body language. Cold, robotic features (both literally and figuratively) are handled more tightly, and cleanly, with hard edges and hot white gleams adding drama or mystery. I don't actually consciously plan the styles out ahead of time as a whole. The individual subject matter determines where to go with the technique. I feel that as a whole, they all still feel like my work.

Q: Can you comment on paring down the potential subject list for the show?

A: It was hard, and as you know it’s a gigantic list. I think the initial count was over 500 personalities. I wanted to be able to grab subjects from anywhere. I admit a preference for films as they are a big part of my life, but there’s plenty from other areas like music, comics, video games, toys and just history in general. The gallery and I pared down my initial list to a more manageable 150 portraits, including our favorites from the list. Each piece will be presented at a 1:1 ratio, from tiny plastic toy people, to humanoid actors, to giant beasts. I felt that the variety of subject matter would be the most enjoyable part of the show for me, as I love all of these characters, and their common feature allows me to collect them together in a show that makes sense.

Q: There aren’t a lot of groups of characters, and that’s on purpose. Can you expound?

A: It’s just a recognition of the time available and my desire to keep the show as varied as possible. There are a few pairings and a couple of groups I couldn’t resist, but I think overall people will be very surprised by some choices. This is a chance to focus on some really interesting character studies, without having to worry about representing each property completely. Some properties are so rich with visual history that it was difficult to choose just one or two subjects, but I leaned towards the most physically interesting and recognizable characters, ones that would be fun to paint, but also those that would connect the most to viewers.

Q: If you had another six months how big do you think you could make the show and maintain enthusiasm for it?

A: I’ve been having a lot of fun and the approach really stretches my skills and captures my interest. I could do these for years probably and still feel like I’m leaving folks out. I'd love to continue the series into as many genres of pop culture as possible. I see potential in product mascots, or political figures, or famous statues...the list is endless. I also really love the research aspect of this concept. It satisfies my need to play as a forensic detective, scouring the internet for height data, and pictures of actors in monster suits next to the average human to determine actual size relationships, so I can accurately portray these characters in their real-life sizes. Each stage of the creation of these pieces is a new challenge for me.

Q: Can you tell me a few examples of folks you wanted to paint but definitely won’t make it into this show due to time?

A: I had to draw the line at a point, but some personalities that just missed the cut are the prawn aliens from DISTRICT 9, The Green Hornet, Charlie Brown and King Tutankhamun. It would be incredible to include a life-size interpretation of the statue of David by Michelangelo as well. I'm also a huge STAR WARS fan, and that franchise is so visually rich, that most all of the characters could be included, but I will only be able to have time for two or three.

Q: I know you have a lot plans for opening night. You want to hint at any of that?

A: I’d rather not, but I do want to make it a great show for people who come to the opening. Working with Mondo to make sure that this exhibition is a full, engrossing experience, has been very rewarding. They are detail-oriented, and a great supporter of artists across their roster, making sure the artist's vision is fully realized. I've never had a more pleasant or productive experience as an artist, than working together with these people. I feel that visitors to my show will have a fun time dissecting the show, and seeing if they can pick out all 150 characters.

A: All right, I’ll see you in March with drunk bells on. Let’s all agree to keep eye puns to a minimum at the show.

A: Aye-Aye!

This was originally published in the March issue of Birth.Movies.Death. Mondo Gallery Presents: “EYES WITHOUT A FACE” runs from March 13-April 4 at the Mondo Gallery, 4115 Guadalupe Street, Austin. The opening night reception is Friday, March 13 at 7pm.