IAN CHASE, a strange thread in the Jacksonville art scene

by Erin Thursby
In an artist’s profile like this, you might expect a simple definition what Ian Chase does as an artist–so you can say “ah, yes, I understand what he does.” But I can’t say he’s a child of Lichtenstein like Mark George, or that he paints Florida landscapes like Jim Draper because Chase is slippery and he can’t be nailed to a particular style. His art can be three dimensional sculpture–or it can be a video of three dimensional sculpture. It can be flat graphics and glass with three dimensional elements or it can simply be light and color.
Acknowledging his diverse mediums and styles, Chase calls himself a conceptual artist: “You work with whatever medium you feel fits the concept. So I’m dedicated to concept.”
As I speak to him in his studio, Chase is almost manically calm. He slouches into relaxed sharp angles as he talks about art and his latest excursion to Miami’s Art Basel. “The first time you go and tentatively feel it out… You go to New York or Miami you kind of feel like a bumpkin. Everybody’s so beautiful and determined looking, going places… in New York they’ve got their black pea coats on and in Miami they’re so buff and rich and beautiful. I’m human you know,” says Chase. But each time, Chase modified his expectations of Art Basel. This time, he knew where to go and what to do, but he’d let go of any expectations.
He doesn’t bring his art to Art Basel, though other Jacksonville artists such as Mark George have been successful hawking their wares on the city streets. For four years Chase has gone there for the vibe, for the artistic juice. He speaks excitedly about some of the “crazy parties,” celebrities and interesting work. But he talks more about the people. He attended Kehinde Wiley’s annual fish fry during the festivities. The fish was even cooked by a Top Chef competitor. The party was filled to the brim with interesting and offbeat celebrities. Scoring an invite to this key “underground” Art Basel event is quite a coup. Meeting people like Wiley, who’s mainly known for painting portraits of contemporary hip-hop culture with a Renaissance slant (this year he sold a portrait of a blood-stained Michael Jackson riding a white horse for $175,000), and other artists, educated or not, got Chase to talk about collaboration–connecting with other artists. “I met some real cool people. It just fell into place. I met some folks that are going to be really, really awesome for what I’m going to do, which is work with other people and blow it up nationally.”
Chase has been a strange thread in the fabric of Jacksonville’s art scene. Everybody seems to know him or know of him. Epicureans here in Jacksonville are most likely to know Chase because of his restaurant, the Fox. On its walls are some of the folk art Chase has collected since he was 15 years old. The folk art he’s collected isn’t just something he’s picked up at auction, he’s hung out with the artists. For him, each piece is grounded in his relationship with the artist.
It seems odd then, that such a man would ever try to be an art hermit, except that it’s what he thought art had to be. “For a long time I thought my art should be the opposite of…[collaboration], a solitary kind of practice. ‘This is my mediation; I’m going to be floating around in my underwear.’ I did that for a long time, but the more I started to do the art that I want to do, the more I realized that I am that person that needs to be around those people and I need to incorporate that into my art.”
Huge curving neon backlit animal shapes. On a TV, an Edwardian bust, changed with hairbrush, other shapes and tape, spins and spins. Chase was responsible for all of these displays in various spaces.
As of late, Chase’s work has most definitely been collaborative. His most current projects have been a collusion of art installation and music. During Artwalk, After the Bomb, Baby played on the loading dock of the old Hayden Burns Library. Behind them was a crazy, organic curving mass of reclaimed neon. A drum beat incessantly as neon sign proclaimed “THAI LUNCH BUFFET” while lights below it flashed.
Directing performance art as part of music is something he did with After the Bomb, Baby and National Dairy. In November, he put a big screen visqueen plastic screen up in front of National Dairy and hit them with lights from behind for an Artwalk performance. He also gave the lead singer spray paint and a knife so that she could change the screen herself–painting and slashing during the performance. (There was even fire involved). As After the Bomb, Baby was also playing that night at the MOCA, at the end National Dairy’s set, they deconstructed things down to drums and lead a parade from the Hayden Burns to the MOCA, where National Dairy’s music melded with After the Bomb, Baby. A hundred people poured into the museum and saw the florescent light installation behind ATBB as they performed.
“If a band wants to enhance their performance with visuals, that turns me on,” says Chase, “It’s just my way of giving back. I can relate to those cats because I was the young dude in a band forever and ever.”