Pencils, Snakes, And Cowboys

Photos by Jason Triplett

Jayson Triplett, Starkville-based artist and one half of roots-rock duo Superstar Donkey Donkey, has a child's imagination with a grown-up's sophistication. Triplett discussed his creative beginnings, the importance of street art (which Triplett's style heavily draws from) and some of the secrets behind whimsical characters like the "Sad House" that the artist portrays in both still and animated form. Triplett's multimedia exhibit "The Continuing Ballad of Franco the Kid" opened at the Ink Spot Gallery Friday, June 1, and will be on display the entire month.

How did you first get into art?
I have drawn ever since I can remember. As a kid I was obsessed with snakes and cowboys. … I would draw snakes with gun holsters and cowboy hats. My parents framed and saved several of these paintings. As I developed some skills, I went through a phase of being embarrassed by their crudeness and threw most of them away. Now, I think those early cowboy snake paintings were the most creative and energetic work I did for years.

How would you describe your art?
A documentation of what interests me as well as the relations or situations I'm a part of. The issues I'm addressing revolve around taking life one day at a time … the dreams we have as thinking beings and the weight we all experience at some time when life confuses us and seems to forget about us. It's about holding on to the intense feelings and spirit we have when we're young, which many of us become numb to with age. It's hard to maintain youthful ideals as we get comfortable with our routines, but for our spirits' sake we need to be reminded at times.

What inspires some of the characters and words you put into your pieces?
Inspiration comes from people I know, situations I'm involved in … snippets of overheard conversations. I got a great idea just the other day while standing in line at the Family Dollar Store. I overheard a lady talking about how hard it was being the sole provider, which I visualized as "soul provider." I started thinking about graphics for that phrase and the many ways it could be interpreted. Characters such as the "Sad House" and the "Mad Diner" are exaggerations of traits belonging to friends of mine, which I put into more universal situations. Though my work is graphic and owes a lot toward comic-book culture, its roots are more personal than one might think at first glance.

Why did you choose to include animation in this show?
I wanted to see the work move. … I'm exploring contemporary media strategies that I feel are a cause of our ever-shortening attention spans. In some cases content isn't even a concern as long as you jolt the viewer around enough with the "quick edit" … confuse them enough and they'll think they've seen something. I'm interested in exploring this, and I see video as a way to do this.

What do you think about "street art," what some might call graffiti?
I see "street art" as a contemporary form of folk art in that it has the ability to speak to a broader public, rather than art created just for a gallery setting. A lot of contemporary street art employs the same techniques that large corporations use when advertising, like the Nike "swoosh" symbol and McDonald's "golden arches." It's amusing to me that many see "street art" or "graffiti" as ugly or as garbage when in some cases it is no different than a product's advertising jingle polluting your mind for a few days, or all the graphics along our roadways.

Is there any connection between the music you make in Superstar Donkey Donkey (with Nashville cousin Eugene Donkey) and the art you create?
I take the same approach to writing songs as working visually. I'm interested in the narrative, but I try to make sure the writing isn't too self-indulgent. The text that appears in some of my pieces is taken directly from my song lyrics or an offshoot of reoccurring imagery I work with when writing songs.

Who are your influences?
I would say Picasso, Jean Michel Basquiat, and the narratives found in Mexican folk art. And the Reverend H.D. Dennis, the creator of Margaret's Grocery located about a couple of miles north of Vicksburg. The store is awesome to see and has a great story behind it. … Everyone in this area should see this place; it's what I love about the South and Mississippi.


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