David Jon Kassan’s paintings flicker in a liminal space between the real and the hyper real, narration and transformation. Displaying a virtuosic penchant for technical craftsmanship and mimetic likeness in the style of Caravaggio’s conceptual realism, Kassan’s works hearken back to the Old Masters. Yet, Kassan cleverly updates the paradigm with a contemporary twist; not unlike the American realist painters of the Ashcan School, Kassan’s endeavors distinctly reflect the urban detritus of our contemporary cultural landscape. Kassan directs his to the everyday subjects around him, and us-- elevated from a mundane world, through his hand, into manifestations of raw humanity. Set within the unique backdrop of weather-worn, graffiti laden walls replete with peeling paint and layers of torn down flyers, the paintings reference abstract expressionist tropes—whether the powerfully graphic paintings of Franz Kline, or Raushenberg’s combine paintings.
Kassan’s images reflect a love affair with the medium of oil paint itself. Paint’s presence oscillates within Kassan’s works; at once asserting itself with a luminous tactility and physical sumptuousness, and, bowing gracefully, conceding to the grandeur of the painting’s transformative power-- even if for an instant--to materialize human likeness. Kassan builds layers of veins, blood and skin through strata of color and paint strokes within a lattice structure, so that patches of color break through translucently, finally seeming to become skin itself. Like Prometheus turning clay to men, there is an element of alchemical magic that imbues Kassan’s bare pigments with an unexplainable spark of life.
Though the paintings verge on trompe-l’oeil, Kassan does not merely recreate a simulacra, or an impossible double. They are meta-images of sorts that celebrate their own inherent complexities and contradictions. Far from the cold-technical capability of a mechanical photographic replication, Kassan creates not merely a dry equivalence, but imbues his subjects with feeling, memory, reflection- a likeness and a mental image collapsed into one. The concept of representation, here, reinforces the literal term it contains; “presence”—presupposing the presence not only of the sitter but Kassan himself, as well as the viewers, by whom and to whom the representation was made. It is this distinctive sub-narrative that makes Kassan’s works so seductive- as Jacques Lacan posits, we are naturally enticed by that which is obscured within the paintings.
Ultimately Kassan’s works stand both as mementos moris and monuments of sorts, alternately celebrating the timelessness of the human condition as well as our own mortality. Like the paint used to mold these visages, the human condition both asserts itself and with poise, recedes, reinforcing both the magnanimous and humble nature of the human soul.