Jasper Marsalis prefers to do things the hard way. “Most of the things I gravitate toward, I don’t like,” said the soft-spoken 26-year-old good artist and musician said in a recent interview, before bursting into laughter.
It’s an unorthodox approach to confronting fears and prejudices through artistic expression. This is what led him to painting, a pursuit he first the thought was “stupid”; how he ended a hip hop producer working in a genre with which he has a real antagonistic relationship; and why he started playing the acoustic guitar, an instrument he had associated with the mundane and Ed Sheeran. Not just an exercise in challenging his own snobbery, his commitment to the revealing power of discomfort has led to explorations of self, society and existence in his work.
“Things that stick in my mind are things that I don’t like,” Marsalis said. “They kind of put a hook in my brain, and I can’t stop thinking about what I don’t like.”
Born in Los Angeles and currently living there, Marsalis cut his teeth as a designer in New York. He moved to the city as a teenager, attending Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts and later Cooper Union’s School of Art. Jasper, the son of famed jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and actress Victoria Rowell and grandson of the late legendary pianist Ellis Marsalis, chose not to follow their giant steps.
Instead, he started his music career as an electronic music DJ. He became a hip-hop producer under the name Slauson Malone and was a founding member of the post-genre collective Standing on the Corner, before becoming the experimental artist and musician he is today. His penchant for confrontation shines through in the paintings and sculptures which address dichotomous concepts such as absence and presence, freedom and fugitiveness. His music uses melody, rhythm, dissonance and cacophony to express emotions and ideas meant not just to be heard, but also felt.
On Saturday, September 24, at the Abrons Art Center on the Lower East Side, Marsalis invites an audience to hear and feel his brand of art exhibition therapy in “Slauson Malone 1: The Stone Breakers.” Marsalis wants to retain the element of surprise for attendees, so it’s tight-lipped about specific performance details. But he is clear about his intention to blur and even disintegrate the line between spectacle and spectator or audience and performer through music, speech and noise. In the historic Playhouse Theater in Abrons, Marsalis and a band of musicians on alto and bass clarinet, sheet metal, tuba, guitar, cello, tuba and a specially designed sound system metaphorically plan – and literally – to shake the structures.