Rafts: Jason Milburn at BAYarts
As an object, a raft is simple: a flat object that floats on water. To some, it is a platform for recreation. You lie on it in a pool or lake to relax and get some sun or you do cannonballs off of it. To others, a raft is a vehicle of necessity built out of desperation in order to escape. Whether trying to get oﬀ a deserted island or cross a border river, a raft keeps the traveler out of the water, still exposing them to the elements. It can be relatively simple to build from found objects, but dangerous to actually use.
In artist Jason Milburn’s latest series of work, the people seem to rely on the wooden rafts they’re placed on, but we aren’t sure how or why.
Did they find these structures or build them? Are they stranded or just trying to get from one place to another? Do they have control of their vessel or are they being carried wherever the currents take them?
Influenced by literature, illustrations in a childhood Bible story book, and the cinematography from the movie Jaws, Milburn uses rafts as a way to explore how people escape from uncertainty, deal with crises, and just try to survive daily life. Things like religion, therapy, self-help and medication influence the existential exploration in the images. These institutions can aid in mental and physical preservation but can also cause isolation and anxiety, and often raise just as many questions as answers.
Milburn’s working methods have changed in the last couple years. Eschewing a collection of fashion catalogues he’d come to rely on for previous work, he’s begun referencing the illustrations in a Bible story book he read as a child to create the figures in his drawings, often combining several diﬀerent figures to create exactly what he needs. “I like the idea of using these white-washed religious figures placed in undefined secular settings,” he explains. “These archaic sources are still a source of guidance for so many of us. It’s funny to see people dressed in robes interacting like the people we see everyday.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is how the drawings are made. Milburn works in ink, ballpoint pen, and ink wash primarily, but there are no preliminary sketches put down in pencil first. “I’ll get an idea, from an image or something I’ve read, and I start working it out in my head. When I’m satisfied with the mental image, I go straight to the paper with a pen. I like using the indelible mark.” He continues, “I make changes or corrections with a razor blade, then continue to draw over or around that. The history of the drawing being visible is important. Memory and change are an integral thread in all my drawings.”
Milburn received his BFA in drawing and printmaking from the Cleveland Institute of Art in 2003 and his MFA from the painting and drawing department of Kent State University in 2017. He primarily works in ink on paper, with collage and found objects often being incorporated as well. Rendered figures are placed in environments made of flat washes of color to create ambivalent, but humorous, often irreverent narratives of existential themes. He cites Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Neo Rauch, Wardell Milan and Amy Cutler among his influences. He has exhibited widely throughout Northeast Ohio and the surrounding region, including at the William Busta Gallery in Cleveland. His recent exhibitions include TROPPUS Projects in Kent and the University of Mount Union in Alliance. Milburn lives and works in Kent.
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