Interview: Jas Petersen

Create! Magazine was excited to catch up with Chicago painter and muralist Jas Petersen as she prepares for her solo show “Not a Still Life.” Known locally for her street art works that feature cartoonish characters of glamorous, urban women, she has recently completed a new series of paintings that will be featured in her first major exhibition to be presented at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers. Read on to learn about the life-changing moment that led Jas to pursue art in earnest post-graduation, the story behind the “FastGirls” who appear in her work, and a teaser of what to expect from her upcoming showcase.

Header photo credit: Rose Kaz. Additional photos courtesy of the artist and Allan Weinberger.

Tell us briefly about your background. Were you always interested in art? Where and what did you study and when did you decide to pursue being an artist as a career?

My parents put me in an art class at the age of 4, and even then, were always encouraging me when it came to painting. My mom let me paint on the walls of my house as a kid. One of my first memories is my dad showing me how to draw a Mickey Mouse head just with circles. I took on pretty quick and in school, found painting and drawing to be unique and useful.

In high school, I had an amazing art teacher who changed my life. Mrs. B was her name. She put me on all kinds of art, music, literature, world news, and ideas that I probably wouldn’t have crossed otherwise. She made me see that I could paint and make something out of it, go to college and even focus a career in the arts.

I attended The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and studied Architecture, Animation, and Arts Administration. School was an investment, so to make the most of it I studied more technical subjects.

Within a few months of graduating, my apartment was robbed and my computer with everything I had ever made was stolen. I lost all of my work - everything, except my paintings. I was devastated. How was I going to make money and survive? Even prove that I went to college? I picked up more paint brushes as a result. Whoever that robber was, thank you. You were a huge influence on my career.

Wow! What an intense experience. I’m glad to hear that you were able to turn it into something positive. From there, how did you develop your style? What are some of your influences or sources of inspiration?

Roy Lichtenstein, Chuck Jones, Takashi Murakami, Stephen King, Robert Rauschenberg, Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Williem De Kooning, Pose, Hebru Brantley, Dabs Myla, Craola, 90’s cartoons, 80’s music, 70’s pin up girls.

My Danish and Ecuadorian roots in comparison to my American upbringing is a strong influence too. I find a lot of my day-to-day inspiration for my characters through friends, family, and immersing myself in whatever city I’m in.

How did the character FastGirl come about? She takes various forms throughout this series of work. What does she represent? Are any of the versions of the character meant to be self-portraits or are they more of a reaction to your experiences and environment?

In 2011, I painted my first FastGirl, who’s my signature character. It started when I painted my friend’s mother in the way I knew her and saw her. I felt that the exaggerated and satirical component to the painting showed her in her true light. That made me want to explore this idea further.

These girls are made up of all the girls who enter my life, not really me specifically. They’re not self portraits, although I get that a lot.

When people think “fast girl”, they immediately think promiscuous but that’s not what it’s about. These girls capture both confidence & hedonism. All of my work documents the experience of a modern day girl in an urban landscape. Consumption, opulence, rebellion, temptation, being on the move in new America; these are all elements that make up the FastGirl.

I’ve been working on these pieces since early February. I was in New York City during this time and I decided to use my environment as a catalyst. The allure, grit, impulsive nature, and raw aesthetic of the city resonated with me as I developed my pieces. I looked at girls that were out at night, bathroom make up conversations to living their heart out - they became my muses.

I paint what I see and how I feel… it’s all I know.

As both a painter and muralist, your work can run the gamut between smaller gallery friendly paintings to large-scale wall pieces. What affect does scale have on your work? Do you approach each differently?

Oddly, paintings on canvas takes significantly longer than walls. You’d think it would be the opposite, but it’s not at all. The largest canvases for this coming show are are made of a mixed media and can take me weeks to complete. On walls, I use exclusively spray cans and can bang out a 25 foot in about 4 working days.

Jas Petersen, on the top floor at Google Chicago

Jas Petersen, on the top floor at Google Chicago

Your upcoming exhibition “Not a Still Life” at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers is a new venue for your work. What was the process of preparing for this show like for you?

This is a learning experience. This is the largest show of my career thus far, so the pressure is daunting but exciting. There are a lot of people coming to see these paintings and it’s a good test for myself.

I’d like to give a huge shout out to Adam Holzrichter, who’s an amazing artist in his own right. He assisted with stretching & custom framing all the work for this show.

Can you give a brief description of the paintings that will be on display? What was your intention behind giving your show the title “Not a Still Life”?

The paintings portray the clique of girls that you see every day. Whether on Instagram, in magazines, or in your neighborhood.

Well a “still life” refers to a work of art depicting an inanimate subject matter - plants, food, flowers, vases, jewelry, glassware, dead animals. My characters are very much alive. They take on a lot of movement and color, and are by no means dead. I wanted a title for the show that would convey that while paying homage to the name of my character, the FastGirl. My manager wanted a title that would reveal my fast paced and typically unplanned behavior. Cheeky and true, “Not a Still Life” fit both perfectly, and it’s what being a FastGirl is all about.

Thank you to Leslie Hindman Auctioneers for providing a venue for this body of work. Thank you to Young Chicago Authors for the support over the years, its contribution to Chicago’s youth and cultural fabric, and being part of my first solo show.

Jas Petersen’s “Not A Still Life” will be presented at Leslie Hindman Auctioneers from Thursday, August 24th-Saturday, August 26th. There will be a reception on August 24th from 6-9pm, with a charity auction benefiting Young Chicago Authors and comedy performances by Tyler Snodgrass & Allan Weinberger. For full details & RSVP instructions, please click here.