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Spring 2012

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Jacob Kassay, BFA ’06

Reflection of an Artist

Young artist stays focused on his work and ignores the hype of his sudden fame

Story by Mara McGinnis, BA ’97

Although he is one of the most significant new talents on the world’s fine arts scene whose paintings have generated six-figure auction bids and long waiting lists for interested buyers, 27-year-old Jacob Kassay, a graduate of UB’s photography program, says that he still is a “fan [of other artists] first and an artist second.”

After rising to art world fame in New York City (he was the subject of a New Yorker magazine “Talk of the Town” profile last October), Kassay recently moved to Los Angeles where he is setting up studio space not far from his apartment in Venice Beach. “It’s more calm here,” he says, relaxing outside on a 70-degree day in late December.

Kassay says he almost didn’t make it to college, but his mother, also a UB graduate, pushed him. “One thing that stands out from my time at UB is the encouragement I received from my professors,” he says, noting that Sylvie Bélanger and Gary Nickard, both associate professors in visual studies, and Biff Henrich, adjunct instructor, were among the most influential. As a professional artist, Kassay says that he continues to draw on what he learned in such courses as Structural Development and Visual Theory. He returned to UB’s Center for the Arts last fall to give a talk sponsored by the Department of Visual Studies during which he described his experiences and his artistic process.

“I look at painting and try to keep it experimental in nature,” he says, adding that he’s always been interested in things with a “minimalist appearance.” The works for which he is most well known involve stretching and painting the canvas in the studio and then dipping it into an electrified silver solution—a process that references traditional photography and was influenced by his time in the darkroom.

“The language of materials is very important to me,” says Kassay, who explains that, in this particular treatment, the result is a mirror-like canvas that implicates the viewer. “An object has to have a life. I wanted to figure out how to suggest that while exploring the formal painting process.” The arrangement of an installation and how his pieces interact with the built architecture— and ultimately their audience—are paramount to understanding the essence of his work. He’s currently working on an exhibition to open in April 2012 for The Power Station in Dallas, where he plans to show his first outdoor sculpture and other new work inside that he will create “specifically for the space.”

In the meantime, the buzz continues. Forbes magazine included Kassay on its 2012 list of “30 under 30” artists and designers with the opener: “Who, in short, under the age of 30, matters?” None of the attention, however, appears to have affected him or his ambitions as an artist one way or the other. About all the hype, Kassay says: “It doesn’t really matter. There are ups and downs in everything. When I was at UB, Sylvie used to say, ‘Fear having the perfect show because what will you do after?’”

Outtakes

Hometown

Lewiston, N.Y.

Favorite Buffalo hangouts

Pink Flamingo (“The Pink”) on Allen Street; Niagara Gorge

Most memorable Buffalo art show

“Extreme Abstraction” at the Albright-Knox in 2005

Gallery representation

Eleven Rivington in New York City and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels, which will present a solo show of Kassay’s work in May 2012

Downtime interests

Cooking, reading, television and film

Favorite emerging artist

Matt Sheridan Smith

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