Artist Jason Bly tricks the eye with “magic” of art

All Birds Return To the Ground (center), Suspension of Disbelief (top left), The New Curriculum (bottom left), Neropinephrine (top right), Climb Higher! Into the Sun! (bottom right). Grace Everett | Photographer

By Tyler White | Reporter

“Curriculum for a Better Tomorrow” is currently on display in the Martin Museum of Art, containing works from artist Jason Bly where he conducted a lecture at the to share his process, techniques, inspiration and meaning behind his paintings.

Jason Bly, an assistant professor of art at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, utilizes a style called “trompe l’oeil,” meaning “trick of the eye,” a highly realistic artistic style that gives the perception of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. His works are often vibrant and colorful with multiple layers and fine details full of imagery and symbolism, giving the illusion that it is more than a painting.

Bly said the power of art is important for both the audience and the artist themselves. He gave insight on what makes a magician great by sharing a quote from author Brad Meltzer, saying that the best magician reveals their trick so the audience can see the mastery unfold. He concluded his lecture by emphasizing the necessity of a painter showing their mastery to their audience, too.

“In terms of magic, you know, we are practitioners of it,” Bly said. “It gets better the more we do it… we don’t do it once. It’s doing it again and again and again, so that those audience members can believe it.”

Accessing the Arcology (2014). Grace Everett | Photographer
Accessing the Arcology (2014). Grace Everett | Photographer

Throughout the years of trial and error and experimenting with new directions, Bly said he began to work towards that “trompe l’oeil” style to make his art as realistic as possible through depth and perception. In one instance, he said one of his studio friends had asked him if he was mixing sculptures and painting when they saw the piece from a distance because of the realism.

“I started to ask myself, ‘Why am I not just doing the simple thing? Why am I beating myself over the head trying to make a wire feel real when I can make a wire just attached on? I can use glue!’” Bly said. “But what I started to think about is … bottles, cloth, flower arrangements, figurative painting. Why do a painting when a person is already there? What we eventually appreciate is not necessarily the objects but the fact that someone cared enough about the object to spend time with it themselves.”

Elisa Crowder, education coordinator at the Martin Museum of Art, said Bly’s artistry is unique in how he utilizes multiple techniques to give the sense of realism.

“His techniques are really unique — the fact that he uses panel instead of canvas to give a very smooth image, a realistic image,” Crowder said. “The way that he uses oil paint is so thinned down the way he applies it.”

Identity Crisis (2022). Grace Everett | Photographer
Identity Crisis (2022). Grace Everett | Photographer

Bly said he was influenced particularly by the era surrounding the 1950s. He drew inspiration from the various predictions about the future from that time, such as science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein’s 19 predictions for the year 2000.

“I thought about coming out of World War Two, and where we go from here and where’s the world heading,” Bly said. “There’s a lot of predictions about the next step, the next step being the year 2000.”

Bly said a lot of his work is based on these possibilities for the future, focusing on both the positive predictions as well as the critical, dangerous outcomes. Through the themes of hope and fear presented in his art, Crowder said this contrast challenges audiences to really think about what Bly is attempting to convey.

“I think even if you don’t have the artistic background, I think you can read his text and look at his art and be challenged,” Crowder said. “I think you can have really interesting conversations with his art, regardless of your background.”

Transmission: Alpha Omega (2012). Grace Everett | Photographer
Transmission: Alpha Omega (2012). Grace Everett | Photographer

In his art, Bly mixes different kinds of imagery, blurring the line between the modern and the classical to bring together the past and the present. He describes this impact as the “magic” of art, bridging the gap of timelines and opening up a deep and powerful conversation between the different eras.

“[Painting] allows us to tell stories, to invite others in to have dialogue and to also talk to others that are in different timelines,” Bly said. “When I go to a museum, I feel like there’s a conversation with someone who I’ve never met, that I’ll never meet because they’re from a distant time and passed on.”