by TORI YOUNGBAUER Cascade A&E Feature Writer
Artist Jason Graham, MOsley WOtta (MOWO), has generated hype not only as a local visual artist, but as an internationally renowned performer, poet and educator. Through this variety of mediums, MOWO has created not just a persona, but a name that is ringing in the ears of Central Oregonians. “[The name] isn’t exactly a secret, as we are mostly made of water,” MOWO explains, “but it is a statement about my work; fundamentally we are the same. I want to be able to generate empathy and create a connection to sentiment.”
When speaking on the various mediums he uses, MOWO explains that they all go together. “One doesn’t stand out to me more than any other, because a song could be the inspiration for a painting which then leads into something else. It’s a lot like playing as kids; we are always dancing and singing and creating and one is never valued over the other because they are all interconnected.”
MOWO has always had a deep connection to music from a young age and in college he began to develop his skills as a painter. “The processes for writing and creating visual art are similar to one another,” MOWO explains. “Visual art, and specifically painting, has potential to be less literal and more subconscious than writing. There’s more of a physical push back when working with paint as a medium and that ‘struggle’ is what allows an artifact to be created.”
MOWO explains his connection to hip-hop and how it influences the way he works and the art he produces. “Hip-hop is just another way of saying alchemy or synergy or spontaneous invention. It is a common term for describing the ability to create something priceless out of something worthless. This is also, in its way, a divine or sacred practice—drawing inspiration from the unseen, such as spirits, emotions, ancestors, etc. to inspire form, color and concept. This is how I work, at least in part. ‘R.I.P. OFF THE DEAD.’”
His paintings have a distinct, eye-catching quality, both in color and subject matter. Perhaps drawing from the “R.I.P. OFF THE DEAD,” mantra, the painting Dumb Found has roots in various inspirations: from stories of the god Indra to historic minstrel shows using black face and how that later influenced the future of black art and music.
“In the story of Indra, Vishnu appears as a Brahmin boy critiquing the nature in which Indra strives for perfection and explains that even the procession of ants moving through the palace are equal in importance to the king,” MOWO explains. “This equality of position causes Indra to give up perfection and embrace and pursue wisdom. We all want to be heard, and we all feel that we have something to say and contribute, but it’s about pushing boundaries and position in order to achieve a balance.”
MOWO’s visual art is a combination of themes and uses text reminiscent of graffiti as well as imagery to speak to the viewer. “Graffiti is calligraphy, cave drawing, sand mandala, code, advertisement, protest and propaganda. The real deal graffiti artist is out in the fray of the public eye, seen or unseen they are exacting and rendering, whatever it is that speaks to them,” he explains. “Graffiti speaks out and some folks can read what it says and some folks can find conviction and conversation therein. I would challenge that we don’t have many, if any true graffiti artists who mean to attack or inform with art, as means to improve things here in ‘lil Aspen.’ The art in this town is safe and secure and rarely provocative. Personally, I love the aesthetic of the walls graffiti is often found on and incorporate that in my work, however, I don’t consider myself a graffiti artist, street artist or urban artist. I use words in my work to further clarify the concept and smear any separation between my music, writing and paintings.”
As an educator, MOWO works to have, “folks feel comfortable enough to be their most authentic selves. I think that comfort is what it takes to inspire people to be creative.” The authenticity of his own work no doubt inspires others to reach inside to find creative pathways of their own.
MOWO’s artwork will be displayed at Bluebird Coffee through May.