Oil and water
Lincoln Lounge302 E. Fourth St.
Reno, NV 89512
Even though he hasn’t had a local exhibition in five years, you’ve probably seen some of Jaxon Northon’s work around town. There’s the portrait of beloved Reno legend Beau Shaver hanging in the Pneumatic Diner, and the one of Abraham Lincoln at the Lincoln Lounge. Both are painted with his signature realistic, black and white style.
Since his last exhibition, Northon has been doing professional commissions, making portraits of people’s husbands and kids. Now, he has decided to show his own artwork again.
“I was getting sick of painting monochromatic portraits,” says Northon. “They are just kind of becoming the same thing. I hadn’t really done anything for myself in a long time. I just needed a change.”
After high school, Northon says he didn’t really know what he was doing. He followed some friends to Colorado to go to school for computer animation.
“After the first semester, I realized I didn’t want to sit in front of the computer for my entire life. But I really liked the drawing classes,” he says. When asked about other influences on his work, he just shrugs his shoulders. “I don’t follow contemporary art too much. There are a few people out right now that I think are really good. Other than that, Rembrandt,” Northon says with a laugh. Although his compositions take cues from classical portraiture—his subjects tend to be placed in traditional poses and command a sort of respect from the viewer—Northon has his own definitive style. The influence of illustration is apparent in his portraits. While they are realistic, they are more flat and stylized, with a lot of line work.
Something else that veers from traditional portraiture is the expressions on his subjects’ faces. They are startling, if not disturbing. Northon is drawn to the human face. “[It] is the strongest physical representation of human emotion—the strongest way to express human emotion to humans, for me.” The paintings he has been working on for his upcoming show at Lincoln Lounge embody this sentiment. He has chosen images that are a bit unsettling.
“I like the caught off-guard, more real expression,” he says. “Just to convey something off-putting or upsetting a little bit.”
His paintings have a presence to them, and there seems to be a story behind each one. For instance, the self-portrait of the artist before a dark background has an air of mystery to it. His intense gaze implicates the viewer and the mix of styles alludes to a bygone era, while creating a confusion of place and time. (Some of this might be because of the impressive full beard adorning the face of the artist.)
Used to working with watercolors on canvas, Northon decided to try painting with oils. Most of his older portraits tend to be in grayscale. Since he began painting with oil paints, he has been experimenting more with color.
“I never liked the look of [color] in watercolor,” he says. “I layer these so much it just kind of gets muddy.” The results of the oils work well with the subject matter. One of the portraits, an image of a man after brain surgery, wouldn’t quite have so much impact in black and white. His face turned to the side, mouth contorted, and the stitches on the top of his head occupying most of the frame look eerie and washed-out in the cool colors Northon has chosen.
The setting at Lincoln Lounge, with its high brick walls, will complement Northon’s large-scale portraits. He has built his own dark wood frames to surround his paintings—some reaching six feet across. The show, held in conjunction with a CD release party for Blackyear (see page 23), represents a new direction for Northon. “I’m excited about painting. I’m excited about where it’s going. I haven’t really found my style with the oil paintings yet, but I’m searching through it.”