Artist Jayson Musson Speaks at POP Montreal

On Blackness, Politics and Art

Jayson Musson, American multimedia artist. Photo courtesy of POP Montreal

Jayson Musson’s art is decidedly influenced by his “blackness,” hip hop, and pop culture. Sarcastically, he uses cultural stereotypes to push the boundaries of—the mostly inaccessible—world of art.

“I think that the political aspect of the work is ingrained for me in the humour,” Musson explained. “My politics always comes out through the humour, you know, and the state of the world, the state of politics—it plays a role in it.”

Art Pop and Pop Montreal Symposium held a discussion and screening for New York-based artist Jayson Musson that gave audience members an in-depth look at his 14-year multimedia career.

Musson’s creations satirize pop culture and the institutionalized world of fine arts—while also providing a commentary on African-American identity within a political spectrum that he smears with humour. He does so by using popular content, whether it be a video of Kanye West proclaiming his genius on zoom repeat to ridicule the world of high fashion, or his commentary on Sept. 11, 2001 in his column entitled, “Black Like Me: The State That I Am In.”

Musson has had many successful solo exhibits that include word, paint, drawing and sculpting. His most popular creation is that of his alter ego, Hennessey Youngman.

The project, Art Thoughtz, is a serialized performance art piece in which the video character of Hennessey Youngman bitingly criticizes the art world.

The event took place at Art Pop on St. Urbain St. in a small room with absolutely no lighting except the gloomy gray natural light coming through the windows. The room was mostly filled with members of the press and some art enthusiasts.

Musson started making art young, dreaming of life as a comic book artist. It’s what pushed him to go to art school. He completed his BFA in photography in 2002 at the University of Art in Philadelphia and went back years later to complete his MFA in painting at the urging of a former professor.

On studying art, Musson said that “the idea of going to school twice for art—I didn’t know that was a thing—that sounds like a horror movie.”

“The idea of going to school twice for art—I didn’t know that was a thing—that sounds like a horror movie.”— Jayson Musson, artist

et living and studying in Philadelphia ended up being the perfect place for Musson to develop his craft.

This was not Musson’s first time in Montreal. Back in 2012, he gave a lecture at Concordia University.

This latest event was co-hosted by Roxanne Arsenault, the program director of Centre Clark, an artist-run centre “dedicated to the dissemination and production of contemporary art” based here in Montreal.

Musson said that because Philadelphia is not known as an “art city” or hub in any way, it allows the artist to create and thrive more freely outside of the constraints and criticism of the art world. His solo exhibits include Too Black For BET and Barack Obama Battles The Pink Robots. The latter he said was his reaction to the “mythology” of the first black president and the fallacious idea that he could really save us all.

About the process of selecting a platform for his artwork, Musson said “some projects just seem to lend themselves naturally to certain platforms. But that has been a problem in the past.”

“You hope that as you work on it and think about it and develop it, that it will take its natural form. You hope but it’s not always the case,” he explained.

It is clear that Musson’s work is impacted by politics, but he said his work aspired to more than that.

“For me, I think humour is always primary. Because I think that’s one of the great vessels for dealing with trauma, it’s humour. There has always been a comic morbidity to my work. That’s how my politics manifest.”