Meet One of the Small Works Project Artists: Jason Montgomery

Jason Montgomery is one of twelve artists selected as a Gallery 263 Small Works Project artist. This project presents artwork in flat files at the gallery and on our website for the duration of one year. All artists are based in Massachusetts. Visit Montgomery’s Small Works Project page>>

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Jason Montgomery, and I am the co-founder of the community arts and engagement collaborative Attack Bear Press in Easthampton, MA. I am originally from El Centro, California…don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of it! Not many people have been there. We are a little town at the border right across from Mexicali in the Imperial Valley. In the kumeyaay language it was known as the Trail of Birds. My family is still in the Valley and I considered it my forever home.

Although El Centro is my forever home, I grew up in Los Angeles county, and have lived all across Southern California. No matter how hard I try I find that my work seems to go back to these places.

Along with being a digital artist, I am also a poet, playwright, and performer. In 2021, I along with my partner at Attack Bear Press, Alexandra Woolner, were named the Poets Laureate for Easthampton, MA.

What kind of art do you make? 

I work in a variety of mediums, but when it comes to visual art my primary focus would be collage and installation. I say collage, but I really would say that I am a traditional collage artist. My collage work is really a three step process–collage, painting, and digital manipulation. I start all my work by creating a large free flow abstract collage piece. Unlike many other collage artists this isn’t intended to create any kind of surreal image, or really any recognizable image at all. This is simply the background for the painting overlay. I then will paint symbols and other iconography over the collage. These symbols are largely taken from cave paintings that I found as a child in and around Campo, CA. I have taken to incorporating some modern symbols from street art as well. What I end up with is something that I like to think of as a guided synthesis as an answer to colonization. From there I take high resolution photos of small sections of the collage and digitally alter them to produce unique works. This includes the large collage installation pieces as well. I tend to work some form of this process into all my work.

What concepts does your art explore? 

My work engages the cross-section of Chicano/Indigenous identity, cultural hybridization, post-colonial reconstruction, and political agency. Through my visual art I try to bridge the aesthetics and feel from the early cubist collage movement and the Russian abstract movement of the 1920s with living and historical Native/Indigenous Californian and Chicano art traditions to explore the Post-colonial narrative through active synthesis and guided (re)construction.

Can you tell us about the work you have on view in your flat file drawer at the gallery? 

The work in the flat files comes are all examples of the 3rd step of my work–the guided synthesis. These digital prints are intended to have an aesthetic beauty that is lacking in the chaotic and at times aggressive feels of the original collages. My hope is that the digital piece can communicate the “what comes after” of a decolonial mindset. In works like “Neon John”, inspired by the first Native American astronaut Commander John Herrington, or the work “Alice Bag”, inspired by Chicana Punk Rock legend Alice Bag, I hope to show how this process of combination, and liberation are already at play in our culture.

Where do you make your work?

My studio is located in the Eastworks building in Easthampton, MA. At this space we also operate the newest Attack Bear Press venture: 50 Arrow Gallery. This gallery space is designed to be a free to use BIPOC led gallery and community space.

What are your favorite materials to use? Most unusual?

I work nearly entirely with found materials. I try to limit my collage materials to no later than 1978, which was the passage of The American Indian Religious Freedom Act. I will work with materials that come after that date from time to time but there is something about the material before that that truly speaks to me. In my installation work I tend to work with labor intensive materials and processes.

What historical and contemporary artists inspire you? 

I am a HUGE fan of Robert Rauschenberg. There is an Untitled sculpture piece at the LA Moca that I find myself drawn back to again and again. I also am incredibly inspired by the theatre of Luis Valdez, and the Teatro Campesino, almost all the stuff out of the Self Help Graphics and Art group going way-way back, Jimmy Santigo Baca, and I am huge comic book fan and LOVE the work of Bob McLeod back in the New Mutant days.

When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? 

I still haven’t made this decision. Let me get back to you!

Is there anything else you would like to share? 

YES! There are some amazing artists at work in the Connecticut River Valley of Western Mass that need your love and support. Chelvanaya Gabriel, Justin Beatty, Anthony Melting Tallow, Amalia Fourhawks, Ella Nathanael Alkiewicz, Vick Quezada, Nayana LaFond, Liz Rodriguez, Diana Alvarez, Adam Garbowski, Mike Mederios, Nicole Young, Nathalie Vicencio, Iohann Rashi Vega, Neftali Duran, Alvilda Sophia Anaya-Alegría, JuPong Lin, and so many others who I wish I could shout out here make our community as diverse and incredible as anywhere in the world. Support and celebrate all these voices because they are doing the hard work of change.