Jasmine McMasters is an artist and maker residing in Milwaukee. She is a co-founder of After School Special; a studio/gallery collective in Riverwest, and an active fine artist. In March of 2016, Jasmine founded Jasbo; a unisex polymer clay accessory line. What initially started as a studio exercise, Jasbo has expanded into a small business and can be found featured in several Milwaukee fairs, galleries, and online at etsy.com/shop/shopjasbo.
Where are you from? Was there an art scene there?
I’m originally from Texarkana, TX, which is a small town on the border of Texas and Arkansas, and then my family moved to Arlington, TX when I was in 4th grade. Arlington is in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, which has an art scene, but not one I’m too familiar with since I moved away right after high school. The art scene I was exposed to in high school was pretty quaint and commercial, but it was enough to pique my interest beyond my suburban town.
Where did you study and what was it like there?
I studied at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design, earning a BFA in Painting and a Minor in Art History. My time there started kinda rough - I moved to Milwaukee with no family or friends here, just straight out of Texas and right into this foreign place with real winters.
I’m now glad I took the plunge, but it took me a solid two years of doubting my decision to finally find my place here. After that, it’s all been golden. I loved my time at MIAD and think my education there really fostered a sense of confidence in my work and self. In a very short summary, MIAD and my professors there gave me permission to be the artist I wanted to be.
What media do you use? What’s your favorite?
I studied painting in school and definitely have used oil paints more than anything else – I guess that’s the only medium I’ve ever mastered. I still really love painting, but at this point in my career I don’t delegate my art by medium but rather by idea. Lately, I’ve been writing a bunch, planning some zines, making videos, and exploring food in art.
In the past year, I started really delving into polymer clay and now run a business called Jasbo where I sell handmade jewelry and accessories. It started as a studio exercise to get myself to be more active after graduating from school. I’d make new beads every day and composed them much as I did my paintings - mixing my own colors, applying patterns by hand, experimenting with different techniques. Eventually it bloomed into a side project of its own and I’ve been selling through Etsy, fairs, and on consignment! At the moment, I’m focused on bringing this commercial endeavor into my fine art practice more so it doesn’t feel so separate from the rest of my portfolio.
How would you describe your work?
Hmm…narrative, temporal, shifting. My work tends to focus on myself and my experiences, kind of like a diary. I hardly plan my work past the present moment, so therefore it’s not very archival or everlasting. I use cheap materials, and often repurpose past projects into new projects. My work is more of a conversation. For example, on the night of the election and Trump’s win, I ripped apart a big painting of mine out of anger with a bunch of friends, and I’m planning to take those pieces and rebuild them into a new painting.
Even my work with Jasbo is ever-changing. I’m constantly hopping between styles and ideas. It’s really hard for me to stick to one thing. One day I’ll be in the studio making all black and white jewelry, the next day it’s all patterned neon.
Where do you grasp your inspiration from, on a day to day basis?
All over the place. I was traveling a lot for work last fall, and I was inspired by a lot of things I saw then – the landscapes from outside the plane window, the tacky carpets in the hotels I was staying in, the cheesy keychains for sale in souvenir shops. I filled my phone’s storage space with 1000s of photos of random shit. I don’t just look at art for inspiration – I’m actually pretty terrible at keeping up with contemporary art and big name artists. Instead I follow tons of young, emerging artists on Instagram. It’s like a whole underground community of people that you can tap into.
What is the most vivid triumph as an artist? And, what was your biggest challenge?
Hm, this is a tricky question because it’s hard to just pin point a certain moment. What I consider my artistic triumphs are more gradual – like starting a studio collective right after school to building a gallery with friends to running a successful Etsy. If I had to choose one thing though, I completed a student residency in New York in 2013 – the now defunct New York Studio Residency Program. It was the first time I was given total independence as an artist and it was both super rewarding and also really challenging. Somedays it felt like I was facing a deep void, and others I felt incredibly inspired. Freedom is tricky.
How would you describe being an artist in Milwaukee?
So far, being an artist in Milwaukee has felt more or less amazing. I dove head first into things after graduating. Myself and seven other MIAD Alumni started up After School Special, a collective studio/gallery space in the Riverwest neighborhood of Milwaukee. Since beginning almost two years ago, we have worked with artists locally and nationally (and in 2017 – internationally!), established a grant program for students, exhibited in group shows, and worked with neighboring institutions and museums to provide talks and programming.
The fact that we’ve received so much support so quickly speaks a lot to the arts community in Milwaukee. It’s very no frills – the opportunities are there for you to take if you put in the effort. Milwaukee is full of gritty, homegrown, sneaky art projects. You just have to know where to look. I have friends that operate galleries in their basements, in garages, in public spaces, on street corners, in their own bathrooms. Milwaukee is like a playground for art projects before they become a more polished finished project.
If money, time, and ability was no object, what is your dream project?
If I could do absolutely anything, I would love to own a museum. More realistically, my ultimate goal is to run a live/work retail art space with a gallery/museum component. I’ve always thought it would be a fun thing to do, but with starting my Etsy the idea has become a bit more solid for me. I also collect a million weird objects and local art and have always adored museums. I think owning an old house, with a nice backyard, and a porch, and space enough for a gallery/museum, and a studio, and a retail space, would perfectly tie together all my wants as a Southern Texan girl, artist, collector, and maker.
Interview by: Kristin Peterson
Edited by: Jerrod Johnson