Jason Sherry was the kind of kid parents and teachers might refer to as a tinkerer. As a youngster, he liked to take stuff apart and put it back together, except instead of rebuilding gadgets in their original form, he'd create totally new objects and machines. Now 32, Sherry has combined his mechanical inclination and creative abilities to become one of San Diego's most notable young artists.
He was always artsy, Sherry recalls, drawing constantly when he wasn't busy dismantling things. Throughout school, he took every art class he could, including advanced-placement classes, before going on to study fine art at San Diego State University. Sherry's a San Diego native—he grew up in Escondido, Rancho Bernardo, Poway and Lakeside—but he also spent three of his formative years in London, where his parents worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, teaching high school to Air Force kids.
“We went everywhere in Europe,” Sherry says. “All of my friends were military brats, so we played war all the time.”That time spent on Air Force bases might explain his fascination with weapons and politics. They show up regularly in his work, which consists primarily of collage, photography and mechanical installations. He's equally fascinated with pop culture—a piece from 2004 is titled “Johnny Depp Versus the Ancient Mystic Order of Freedom Fries”—and religion (check out 2004's “The Bible: It's the Bible of Warfare” and other works at www.jasonsherry.com). There's also a whiff of European sensibility in many of his pieces.
Sitting on the deck of his South Park apartment, sipping Diet Coke and smoking American Spirits, Sherry has a slightly serious air about him. He's slow to offer information, but he answers questions about his work carefully and occasionally cracks a smile beneath his bushy strawberry-blond beard.
“There are two different ways that I do things,” he explains of his artistic process. “Either I have an idea and have to accomplish it—.”
He pauses, and then cites as an example an extraordinary piece that sits next to a vintage couch in his living room, upstairs from the cluttered garage that serves as his studio. It's a miniature working piano—the keyboard has just one complete octave and all three pedals are still attached at the base. It looks like it's supposed to be that size, but Sherry actually deconstructed a full-size piano to achieve these results.
“Or,” he continues, “the other way is that I find objects and work from there.”
One of the pieces included in Metahistoriogrammetry Rahl Rahl, his current show at Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects in Little Italy (through Nov. 24), was inspired by an old Russian Disney book Sherry found in a thrift store. He then scoured eBay—a routine activity—where he found Mickey Mouse ears from the 1950s and letterhead from Mrs. Disney.He frequently uses found images in his work, including vintage negatives, which he blows up and alters (he says he rarely uses a camera). For Sherry, vintage objects hold a certain allure.
“They already have a meaning that I'm going to change,” he explains. “But they still carry the weight of the meaning they already have. It's building layers of meaning and importance.”
Also of significance to Sherry is the attention to detail involved in his work. The piano he constructed is one of his proudest accomplishments, as is creating the bamboo machine gun that hangs framed in his living room. Sherry studied technical illustrations of the MK-47, as well as an actual gun, which he dismantled. He kept the wood pieces intact, and replaced all the metal parts with hand-carved bamboo. To the left of the gun is an engraved plate with a quote from Lyndon B. Johnson that reads: “This is What We are Up Against.”
A lot of work went into those pieces, he says. “The craftsmanship came out very well. It's pretty amazing that I was able to do it. I kind of surprised myself.”
Sherry's been an active part of the San Diego art scene for years, but his name became synonymous with a certain blip in time. Back in 2002, when The Muse gallery in North Park was in full swing, Sherry and his friends Tim McCormick and Joshua Krause came to the forefront as a trifecta of local talent, often appearing together in group shows. Sherry remembers that period fondly, though he says it wasn't ideal for his style.
“That was when lowbrow art was very popular,” he says, referring to the artistic movement associated with underground Southern California culture—think comics, hot rods, punk rock and skateboards. “I didn't like that part of it. The Muse was awesome, but I wanted it to be more about art. It was kind of hodgepodge. But it was definitely fun.”
This past year has been good to Sherry, who still has a day job as a picture framer and side jobs building props for friends' music videos and movies. In addition to his current showing at Seminal Projects—a gallery he has high hopes for, saying it's more akin to La Jolla's reputable Mark Quint than many local spaces—he was recently one of 17 emerging-artist nominees for the San Diego Art Prize. The new annual competition invites local arts writers to nominate established artists, who in turn nominate up-and-coming talents.
Although Sherry didn't win, he says the curated event drew a large crowd and introduced a new audience to his work. He was excited to work with Doug Simay, the curator at the Art Institute of San Diego's Simayspace, who helped the young artists select which pieces to submit for the show.
Patricia Frischer, coordinator of San Diego Visual Arts Network, is one of the three “Art Girls” who organized the SD Art Prize (along with Ann Berchtold, curator of the Omni Hotel's L Street Fine Art Gallery, and Joan Seifried of Angel Appraisers). She continues to be impressed with Sherry's talent.
“I like very much his new show on India Street,” Frischer says. “I like the larger-format pieces. Much of what I've seen previously—at Radioactive Future, for example—had been smaller pieces. The pieces [for SD Art Prize] were superb. They were chosen by Doug Simay, who has a great eye. It is extremely strong work.” Metahistoriogrammetry Rah! Rah! will be on view at Seminal Projects, 2040 India St. in Little Italy through Nov. 24. www.seminalprojects.com or www.jasonsherry.com.