Campbell North ’17
Sitting under the fluorescent lights of the Art Studio, Jason Symonette ’14 looked very natural in his home away from home where he spends “10 to 12 hours a week.” Looking down at one of his currently in-progress pieces, Symonette recalled his foray into the artistic world.
“For my whole life I’ve sort of been doing art,” states Symonette about his primordial roots in his current passion. When he was younger, his two older brothers and he always used to “mess around with stuff” and “created with whatever was around” in his hometown of Philadelphia.
Symonettes’ high school was rooted in the Quaker tradition, which played a large role in his life. His curriculum was very artistically focused, causing Symonette to branch out as a result of which he was originally not planning on incorporating art into his college experience.
His initial plan was to major in the social sciences and play soccer for Trinity, which he did for three years. However, a series of unfortunate, but ultimately prolific events, changed the direction of his path. After his mother passed away from cancer in 2009 and he battled with depression, “All [Symonette] felt like [he] had left were [his] hands.” His natural efficacy in art and his success in studio classes at Trinity pushed this feeling forward and helped him realize what he wanted to discover through his art. “After all I had gone through,” says Symonette, “I wanted to investigate my head and try to understand my reality.”
In his work there is an underlying notion of transcendence, the idea that societal institutions can corrupt the purity of a person and that human’s are best when they are independent, and defining reality on their own terms. For example, in your parent’s reality you’re a child, and in your cousins reality you are a cousin but in your reality you are just you. His personal journey exemplified these ideas and has been a main source of inspiration.
These concepts are at the crux of Symonettes’ artistic message. He attempts to understand himself by understanding the world around him in terms of composition, color, materials, and subconscious imagery. “I’m always riffing off different artists and ideas while trying to investigate my own potential” says Symonette about his insatiable curiosity and desire to constantly draw from different areas of society, like music and history. “I want people to understand that realities are completely individual but we share society,” Symonette concluded.
The transformative nature of art has also been a keystone for Symonettes’ progression as an artist. For him, a piece can never be completely finished because it can be used as a jumping off point and inspiration for others. Art acts a mechanism to express an individual’s train of thought or stream of consciousness. Nothing in the world is ever truly static, and therefore art should not be either.
In Symonttes’ eyes art has always been “a metaphor for a metaphor.” In a lot of his pieces he arranges inanimate objects in a certain way to try to establish a mood and let the audience see what he sees. “Even if they do not sense the mood I attempted to create, the object itself is still going to be transformed and hold new meaning.”
One of his ‘dream’ projects that would encapsulate this idea would be to create a documentary that centered on his old job, which was to drive around and pick up boxes around Philadelphia for the archive center at the University of Pennsylvania.
He found it to be particularly interesting because essentially, he was following these inanimate objects, on their journey around Philadelphia. The drivers that traveled this route were also very diverse so it would be interesting to talk with them about how they all ended up at this job, because “it’s kind of crazy how all the possible different combinations of life paths and circumstances can ultimately share a kind of common ground.” Additionally, he felt that Philadelphia itself was very unique because it has such an eclectic mix of people and neighborhoods in very close proximity to each other that in just one day you can see a very wide range of perspectives on life.
Symonette has observed this theme in other aspects of life as well. He believes that “we need to be aware of the other, because sometimes it’s not as different as we think.” Symonette has personally experienced this in terms of his friends. “I am friends with such a diverse group of people who think they would normally never get along, but I kind of am a common denominator between them,” he says. “We need to see that other people may have different realities and perspectives, we need to be less afraid and confused by things we don’t know or understand,” he advocated.
One way Symonette wants to affect this change is by following in the footsteps of his mother and becoming a teacher. He wants to affect a change in the youth through art, specifically in the way art has the ability to draw from many different aspects of life. For example “you can teach literature, you can teach history, science, political science, sports all through art. By gaining perspective Symonette feels we all can better our place in life.
Symonette is currently focusing on the near future and his senior thesis, will focus on this idea of color, Dadaism and the New York School art movement. It will include a little bit of abstract expressionism, pop art, some contemporary comics, anime, and post impressionistic techniques. For the show he, “is really looking at the past eras in art by applying [his] own perception and incorporating [his] own world and to try to show through visual mediums the common ground we all walk on as individuals.“
So get ready for what is sure to be a very eye-opening and perspective-changing show that will be open in the late spring.