Sculpture and evolution

Once dimmed by Los Angeles’ muddy skies, Elaine Jason’s sculpture lit up after coming to Nevada

Elaine Jason shows some of her artwork at Gallery 516, 516 S. Virginia St.

Elaine Jason shows some of her artwork at Gallery 516, 516 S. Virginia St.

Photo By David Robert

“I discovered infinity in 1949 on the back of a box of corn flakes,” Elaine Jason says in her artist’s statement. “On the box was a picture of a boy and a girl looking at a box of corn flakes, with a picture of a boy and a girl looking at a box of corn flakes, and on and on.”

Jason copied the picture on the box and discovered that she could “draw infinity.” And that was just the beginning.

On a recent visit to her residence/studio, Jason took me on a tour of her sculpture-laden walls, wearing a sleek black sweater, black pants and shoulder-length, jet-black hair. Direct and dryly funny, she looks much younger than she is, but Jason carries herself with all the sophistication and grace that her experience would suggest.

“Art is always an evolving process, just like life,” she says as she leads me into her studio. She shows me a piece of early sculpture, born out of a time when she was moving from the two- to the three-dimensional, and still a bit hesitant, perhaps, to pile various wooden shapes, found objects and neon tubes atop one another as she does now. The early work is a bas-relief, or low relief, abstract sculpture, without the bulk and depth that characterize her later works.

She has also abandoned the subdued, monochromatic shades of this early work. Jason grew up in Los Angeles during the time of its rapid post-World War II expansion, attending Chouinard Art Institute, now the California Institute of the Arts. As a Los Angeles sculptor, Jason says that the heavy smog and claustrophobic atmosphere of the growing city worked their way into her art.

Jason moved to Sparks in the early 1980s and bought an airy, ranch-style home that doubles as her studio. It was then, Jason says, that her sculpture lit up.

“Having big sky and light definitely had a huge influence,” she says of her change in scenery.

After moving to Sparks, Jason’s pieces developed a sort of Malibu Beach glamour, with their blacks, blues, purples and yellows, their arresting blend of fluid and jagged shapes and their Pollock-esque splatters of paint. Perhaps, had she not moved to Nevada, she would never have produced works so classically L.A.

And then came the neon. She began incorporating neon tubes into her work in the mid-'80s—reluctantly at first, and then with enthusiasm. A whole new epoch in Jason’s career had begun; by 1990 she was showing at the Museum of Neon Art in Los Angeles, landing a solo show there in 1996.

Jason says that many of her neon and non-neon works are a “combination of architectural forms and forms that are found in nature.” The leaf is a reoccurring motif, but found objects, from piping to molding, pervade. This somewhat tense amalgamation of city and country in her sculpture harkens back to Jason’s childhood environment, where she witnessed the continual destruction of California farmlands to accommodate freeways and buildings.

“It was the beginning of my love/hate relationship with architecture,” she says in her artist’s statement. “I was fascinated with the patterns made by mile after mile of homes under construction, the skeletal frames forming structural vanishing points against the horizon.”

This tension is still played out in her work, although in an increasingly minimalist fashion. After a long romance with color, many of Jason’s most recent works are stark and black, exhibiting both the modernism of art deco and the minimalism of today’s architecture and decor.

“I continue to learn," Jason explains as I examine her newer works. "You know, I’ll be doing this until I can’t move anymore."