Drawing is ultimate trust. These sketches show the magic that comes once a line is made


A drawing of a nail-like objects meant to capture the shape of light on a stage.

Jasper Marsalis, “Untitled,” 2023.

(Jasper Marsalis/For The Times)

This story is part of Image issue 17, “Offering,” a special gift from L.A.’s creative community to a city that seemingly has it all. Read the whole issue here.

Sight has always been at the center of my art practice, specifically the desire in sight — having an obsession with something, being enamored by or being sucked into something. A lot of my paintings try to capture that feeling of staring at something or being looked at. A lot of the center fields of my paintings are just empty, so you have people staring into what they think is an event or something that’s supposed to be exciting. But then they’re just kind of left with this nothingness, which I hope is more of a place of reflection.

When I was in high school, I really got into making music, specifically hip-hop, with my friends. But I never was able to connect it to my developing art practice, so instead, I created this parallel identity alongside my art practice. In college was probably the first time I started to find ways for them to overlap and intersect.

A drawing of three eyeballs gazing

Jasper Marsalis, “Untitled,” 2023. A lot of Marsalis’ works “try to capture that feeling of staring at something or being looked at.”

(Jasper Marsalis/For The Times)

Process-wise, I’ll usually do a performance and then try to remember various details of it, like the closeness of one person to another person, or the loudness, or the lightness, or the darkness, and then try to translate that into a painting or drawing. And that in turn becomes an operative thing for the performance. At one point during the performance, I go offstage and interact with the audience members. In some ways, it kind of fulfills the painting, because people are just staring at an empty stage, which is an image I’m always thinking about.

My first visual expression was car design. I was very young, taking classes at a design school, over at a summer program, and I was drawing a car in a different direction — I guess there’s supposed to be one orientation that you draw cars, from the profile. And the instructor said, “You can’t draw it that way.” I think that limitation is what inspired me to get into art with a capital A, because the desire to want to know why things are a certain kind of way is what fueled my curiosity. And then I got really into drawing — drawing has always been the center point of my art practice, even though I’ll do a sculpture or performance or painting. I always have my sketch.

A drawing of a hand holding a mic to an ear.

Jasper Marsalis, “Untitled,” 2023. Marsalis, who is also a musician, tries to “translate” the experience of performing “into a painting or drawing.”

(Jasper Marsalis/For The Times)

Something that I’ve been kind of obsessed with when I’m performing is when there’s density or fog in the air — you can see the lines that lights make onstage. In my work, some people see those lines as physical objects. I’ve had people be like, “Oh, is that a plane or knife or something?” Then I’ll say, “What if the light is now just a nail?” So I drew this nail that’s face-up, and then this audience, which is in the shadow of the nail, wraps around it.

Drawing is ultimate trust. One of my first lessons in art was how to make a line. Especially using ink, what you see is what happened — it’s a very one-to-one relationship, with your body even. I think drawings are like studies. People will do still-life studies — I see these drawings as still lifes, but maybe there are no objects in front of me. I’m thinking about an experience.

A drawing of two eyeballs and two sets of teeth.

Jasper Marsalis, “Untitled,” 2023. “Drawing is ultimate trust,” says Marsalis.

(Jasper Marsalis/For The Times)

Jasper Marsalis (b. 1995, Los Angeles) lives and works in L.A. He graduated with a BFA from the Cooper Union, New York, in 2017. As a musician, Marsalis performs under the moniker Slauson Malone 1. He has an upcoming exhibition at Kristina Kite, Los Angeles this year. @thatboiakathatboi

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