By John Martin Tilley
The figures of Jonathan Lyndon Chase’s pictures have prepared a performance for us — but we’ve stumbled upon them during rehearsal. Theirs is a dance of shapeshifting voyeurism — they’re not quite ready to be seen but relish in our gaze nonetheless. Caught in a moment of nudity between costume changes, they cast coy glances that are accusatory and inviting at the same time.
Stylized like Picasso-meets-Paris is Burning, these sexually charged and yet innocently rendered pieces have captured a modern day Degas ballerina: the queer black boy vogueing in glitter paint. They romp and gallivant, splitting through the kaleidoscopic lens of the artist’s curiously fanciful eye, landing somewhere between gruesomely fabulous and fabulously gruesome. office had questions, Jonathan Lyndon Chase had answers.
What is your opinion of the art world and wider cultural popularity of “queerness”?
The fabric of society is in flux motion. There are a lot of social changes that will seemingly (and literally) be the end of the world for some, and for others it will be the type of world they have always dreamed of. I use queerness as a term to describe myself — for others, I think it is a way to affirm and describe the complexities of an individual's identity that, in many ways, are undefinable.
Queerness or the queer culture has similarities to the appropriation and fetishization of black culture, which happens when something becomes popular. Of course, I think it still has meaning but it is important to make sure to keep the history centered on the voices of those who have experienced it.
There is a voyeurism to your pieces that feels dangerous but also performative: is there any inspiration from hookup app pic swapping (like what goes on on Grindr / Jack’d / Scruff)?
Danger and performance are both significant to the black and queer experience. Our bodies are endangered in many arenas, especially in instances when our race and/or sexuality are being use as tools for political engagement. James Baldwin, Marlon Riggs, W.E.B. Dubois, and Toni Morrison all examine the performance of gender and race and how the body moves through physical spaces — so I wanted to point to that. Voyeurism also functions very much like double consciousness — the feeling that your identity is divided into several parts, making it difficult to have one unified identity. Similarly, my works illicit to onlookers a sense that they are both being viewed as well as viewing something private and tender. I remember dial-up AOL, A/S/L (age, sex, location), chat rooms, MySpace when it was a thing way before the age of the smartphone. A lot of queer youth both then and today use cyberspace as a means of self-discovery, friendship, experimentation, and freedom. I think of cyberspace as another fabric of society, another space where our bodies and identities can visit and be subjected to social constructs. Apps like Grindr / Jack’d / Scruff show how racist, fatophoic, and femme-hating sectors of the LGBTQ community can be.
Can you talk about your incorporation of athletic brands in your work?
I was thinking about how gender expression is performed in masculine ways as well as femme ways that are local to my hometown of Philly, and how this masks identity. It’s all drag in a way. Clothing— things like Nike and Adidas— mark our time, reference music, and also are just things that are attractive to the person wearing them and people around them. To me, athletic clothes and sweats are an indicator for boyness, comparable to a peacock flexing, or can be used as a means to blend in or camouflage into spaces with a masculine overtone.
What is your opinion of the “tribes” on Grindr and in wider gay culture (such as bear, otter, jock, twink etc.)?
I think they're cute and not inherently bad until they become a prison or means to prevent the development of personal identity. As long as “tribes” respect love and look out for one another, it’s all Gucci right? People should be able to express themselves in whatever way they feel affirmed. We all know that isn’t always the case concerning non-binary, black and brown bodies, for example. My husband and I periodically use Growlr and it’s so vexing and ugly that there are users who are on some nut ass shit talking about no fats or femmes or blacks. Noise.
If you were an office supply, what office supply would you be and why?
A hole puncher. I like circles. A number two pencil would have been too predictable.
If you had to pick a cartoon character to represent the spirit of your art or yourself or both, who would you choose and why?
Garnet from Stevens Universe. She’s made up of 2 characters named Ruby and Sapphire, who love each other deeply and have fused together to make a new experience and identity — Garnet ! Their bond is so strong, one is hella butch and the other is a femme, one is a hot head, and the other calm and gentle — it makes me think of aspects of myself and my life as an artist with bipolar disorder.
My work deals a lot with extreme highs and lows and at times balance or imbalance. Contrasting states of consciousness are present in my work and my real life as a husband, son, lover, friend, artist, and gaymer. I married the most amazing man ever and I’m in love with our story. Ruby and Sapphire have a beautiful love story as well.