I meet Jonathan at Giovanni’s Room in the Gayborhood of Philadelphia, the city where I have lived and worked for 11 years. This is our second meeting. I’ve seen the paintings for his upcoming show. Before we talk, I gaze upward to the chandelier above his head. It holds an early paperback edition of James Baldwin’s 1956 book Giovanni’s Room, the store’s namesake. I immediately think of the poet Essex Hemphill’s framing of Baldwin’s text, if only briefly, in his poem Heavy Breathing from his 1992 book of poetry and prose, Ceremonies.
“I am looking for Giovanni’s room in this bathhouse I know he’s here…..” – Essex Hemphill
In cruising – a perfect storm of sorts, there is the body, the space and the structure. You are your own tool of navigation and you have the power to disrupt all three.
…an intersection between something really raw and romantic and something really wet and dirty and bodily…I’m not interested in making work that’s false, where I’m not talking about the areas of the body that sweats, shits, curses, identity… I’m going to do what I want in this space.
There are certain things one can benefit from happening to them, at the will of their own hand – with full control. Even the space of allowing oneself to experience melancholy, as opposed to it consuming them, and hitting them out of nowhere. This becomes a kind of thing to tend to. With sex, it’s something to tend to. With anger. With the polarity of emotion.
…the storm as symbolizing or standing in for society and then there’s like a balance movement and the navigating through something that’s very natural and being content. Even on things like gender, right? Like being able to be with your emotions, right? And how society, or these outside forces, outside the safe place, try to tell us how to dictate…to navigate our own storms.
Storms are a destructive phenomenon. A destruction that is needed to cleanse to provide a residue that something can benefit from. A storm processes things, to put them back as they should be, without compromise. They are inherently selfish and unyielding. Chase’s paintings are just as selfish. A storm is a natural occurrence sometimes forced by toxic means, like a response in cleansing. Storms disrupt navigation. Storms are to be submitted to in order to guarantee a certain safety. You cannot fight them. When a storm is over, you are placed in a reset, in a new place to navigate from. I feel the same quiet pleasant disorientation from looking at Chase’s paintings.
[In Giovanni’s Room it was always dark…]
When it storms in the South we turn off the lights, sit, remain quiet, and let it pass over. In these moments the rumble after the lightning is a sort of relief as it is the measure of the distance of the more violent aspects within the storm. It is a timestamp.
Like the storm, painting is indeed a time-based medium, and I feel that the best painters are the ones who think about time. The timestamps featured within the work are tools of subjectivity. A timestamp is used to cite a direct quote – a visual or text within a moving image or sound. The power to stop time is a gift, a superpower. It prompts the viewer to think about possession in what came before and what will come after.
I tell Jonathan that I often heard my mom listening to the Quiet Storm in Greenville, SC where I grew up the oldest of four, and how I thought it was something that she used to calm herself down, to be held, as a lullaby of sorts. She was a single woman. It was how I knew not to enter her room, because she was by herself, holding herself. We knew it was time to be quiet.
All of us are in the eye of the storm. We ask each other “What do you do to center yourself? What do you do in terms of your desire? How do you see yourself? How do you make that the core, the baseline of you?” This is important in thinking about Black bodies, Black queer bodies, Black gay bodies, Black explicit sex and Black desire. These paintings ask the same questions. They center our collective queries.
The figures mirror each other, touch each other … reach through each other. They are layered, they are tender and have a necessary roughness. Lovemaking, or rather loving oneself is like this. There is the way he allows a reversed negative x-ray transparency to look through certain parts of the body. The way he suggests something that has happened in the past, something that’s happening now, and something that is yet to come inside of the figure(s).
Quiet Storm. For Jonathan, and after Melvin Lindsey.
xTiona Nekkia McClodden, 2018