About Jason Kaufman

Jason Kaufman is a husband, father, backpacker, sculptor, poet, and fiction writer. He is a proud member of Mansfield, Ohio's artistic community. He has owned and/or been the curator of various local art galleries and is an active participant in writing groups, art critique groups, poetry readings, and many other collaborative projects. Jason is a co-editor of Voices from the Borderland and the assistant editor of Semaphore Literary Magazine. He is the set designer for the Renaissance Theater.

Welcome to the End of History: a review of Neil Yoder’s paintings at Relax, It’s Just Coffee

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, October 2016

I first became aware of Neil Yoder’s work a few years ago, when he submitted a painting into the May Show at the Mansfield Art Center. The outer edge of the canvas had been carefully plastered with pornographic images and it caused quite a stir within that conservative venue. I took him to be a provocateur, out to shock us. I don’t disagree with this approach. In fact, in our saturated media landscape where even the most heartbreaking images of drowned Syrian refugee children are reduced to memes, flattened out into pure spectacle, hijacked and turned into shorthand used by clowns for political theater, an artist must sometimes become a visual terrorist in order to break through the digital hypnoglare of our lives. I’ve been sizing Yoder up, gauging his sincerity, and trying to get a grip on just what the fuck he is up to.

The work that Neil is displaying at Relax, It’s Just Coffee covers a broad range. There are paintings of Mansfield’s old industrial buildings, hallucinatory surrealist landscapes, dayglo gardenscapes, and brutal Baconesque figures. My review will be limited to the paintings of local industrial buildings, though the reader may find that the observations that follow are applicable to Yoder’s work in general.

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Detail of the frottage-like technique from Pulse/Release

The paintings of Mansfield’s industrial buildings are aglow with radioactive light, sickly and oversaturated, but beautiful in their own way. At times Yoder has even embedded glitter in the paint, which pushes the work to the edge of kitsch, but I think appropriately so considering the themes, which I will attempt to tease out in due time. The buildings are rendered convincingly and it’s against the realism of the buildings that the sky, landscape and figures take on an otherworldly quality. There is something realer-than-real about the figures in all of Yoder’s paintings. Not because they’re rendered realistically, but because they possess an irresistible palpability due to the Max Ernst-like frottage technique that Yoder has used to render them. Their reality is not the reality of our world, but of some post-nuclear world of molecular confusion.

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)

In “Warehouse @ 200 Block E. 5th ST (facing Southeast)” there is a concentric shock wave emanating from the middle of the image. While the other industrial building paintings seem to capture what remains, quietly and peacefully, after the apocalypse, this painting captures the precise moment the bomb erupts. The precise moment of imbalance, when the atom splits and all of that potential energy, once bound by strong or weak forces (I’m no physicist), is released. In that initial flaring up, a chasm is opened and we glimpse a kind of Gnostic realm beyond the material world. Within this rift a wolf gnashes its teeth and a cloven hoofed beast seems to challenge us with its battering-ram horns. It’s the moment the cosmic egg cracks and all of our terrors and delights flicker in the white-hot magnesium light. 

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Warehouse Building “A” (Facing North)

So what is Yoder up to? What does it mean to paint the now demolished Westinghouse building in a post nuclear setting? What does it mean to hang these paintings in a coffee shop just blocks from where these buildings stand or once stood? The correlation is simple enough to any Mansfielder who has stood on 4th and Bleckner and surveyed the wasteland of our old industrial district. We are living our own economic post-apocalypse. The nation was just waking from its Cold War fatigue when NAFTA was signed, signaling the wholesale capture of our Republic by Neo-Liberalism. And our shift from an industrial giant to a crippled service economy has a direct relation to those trade policies.

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Ghosts of the Demolition Zone, August 2016

It’s for these reasons that, for me, Yoder’s work is entangled with the nuclear threat and deindustrialization. Our apocalypse hasn’t come in a white-hot instant, but has been slowly unfurling for forty years. The buildings he portrays, these husks of our once thriving industry, illustrate the genealogy of our present historical moment. This Trumpian moment, where truth has been supplanted by reality television and the kitsch simulation of truth. Yoder seems to be saying, “welcome to the post-truth, post-American moment. Welcome to the end of History. Welcome to Mansfield. She’s beautiful in her own way.”


Jason Kaufman is a proud member of Mansfield, Ohio’s artistic community. He has owned and/or been the curator of various local art galleries and is an active participant in writing groups, art critique groups, poetry readings, and many other collaborative projects.

Jason is a co-editor of Voices from the Borderland and the assistant editor of Semaphore Literary Magazine. He is the set designer for the Renaissance Theater.

To read and view more of his work, visit Jason’s personal blog, follow him on Facebook, and Instagram @jasonkaufman_artist.

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​William Trent Pancoast: an excerpt from the novel The Road to Matewan

A note from the editor:   William Trent Pancoast will give a reading from his newly published novel The Road to Matewan at Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio on Friday, April 7th, 6-8pm. The novel can be purchased at Main Street Books.


 

In late May 1920, the news spread quickly of the gun battle in Matewan in which Sid Hatfield and several other men had taken on the Baldwin-Felts detectives. It was a victory for the miners. Hatfield was the police chief of Matewan. The Baldwin-Felts men were from a Bluefield detective agency that supplied some of the strike-breakers and guns-for-hire for the coalfields. The detectives had just finished evicting a group of miners from their camp homes, a task that Hatfield refused to undertake. Few men could fight the operators on their own terms. Fewer still could stand up to Sid Hatfield, who shot coins out of the air with his forty-five. How it all started remained a mystery, but seven of the feared Baldwin-Felts men were dead, five with bullet holes in their foreheads, and the Matewan Massacre became a story to be told and retold in the tent colonies that sprang up in the mountains.

Richard was on the first train through after the battle. “Folks were quiet but you could see their pride that someone had finally stood up to the Baldwin-Felts men,” he told Thomas during a June visit after he was laid off from the railroad. “I’ve never seen a war up close, but that’s what this is.”

The tent colonies housed the striking miners, who had, with the help and money of the United Mine Workers, in April struck all of the southern coalfields to settle their grievances once and for all. It made no sense to the southern West Virginia coal miners that they were the only ones in the country not to have the benefits that the union could bring them; they were finished living under the feudal system dictated by the companies. Southern West Virginia had become a battlefield. Continue reading

Jerry Lang reading at Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge

Voices from the Borderland is kicking off our Featured Artist Friday series with Jerry Lang reading at the Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge. This reading took place a few years ago, but has never been made public. We hope you enjoy it. Stay tuned for more featured artists.

Cosmic Egg for President: a review of John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition by Jason Kaufman

The gift that keeps giving this holiday season is Cosmic Egg for President, John Lucas Hargis’ exhibition in Main Street Books’ Book Loft. The show closes at the end of December, so make sure to stop by and see the work. If you’d like to meet the artist, there is a closing reception on Wednesday, December 28th, 5pm-6pm.


airbrush_20161226133705.jpgThe Book Loft is small, the wall space spare, which usually limits the number of pieces exhibited, but Hargis has packed every inch with art. As I ascend the stairs– bypassing a number of supermarket-cellophane collages, which offend my senses in much the same pleasant way that the hedonism of the supermarket offends my senses– I am greeted by a sign giving me permission to touch everything. So I touch everything. I pore over the pages of writings that are scattered about the room, flip through sketchbooks, dig through the ephemera contained within makeshift attaché cases, drag my fingers over the paintings, and rock a tiny horse.

picsart_12-26-01.45.52.jpgUnfolding the instruction card for a piece titled Convertible Diaries Mini Series, I read the words “Kitchen Sink” and think, “that about sums it up.” Hargis has thrown the kitchen sink at us. There is so much information presented in Cosmic Egg that you could spend hours digging through it all. At one point, looking around to ensure nobody is watching, thinking I might be pushing the invitation to freely explore a bit too far, I take a painting off of the wall because I have a suspicion that even these regions, off-limits to all but the most handsy viewers, will contain information. And, sure enough, the back is covered with writing that was never intended to be seen by anyone. But being seen doesn’t matter, the writing is essential to the painting even if it’s hidden. It’s similar to the way in which the previous inhabitants of a house are essential to the current mood of the house. How their lives still speak to you, as if their stories, imbued into the plaster-lathe, radiate from the walls long after their names are forgotten. Continue reading

Nick Gardner & Susan A. Sheppard reading at Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge

November 19th marked the final Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge reading of 2016. Featured were Mansfield native Nick Gardner and West Virginian poet Susan A. Sheppard.

Nick Gardner took us on a wild ride through his struggles with drug abuse. It’d be easy to overdose on the dark themes in these poems, but for the Narcan of his startling images and subtle lyricism. This set of poems proves the redemptive power of giving oneself over to the creative impulse.

 

Susan A. Sheppard is a self described Appalachian poet. Her poems gaze toward her youth and are full of recollections of Indians, bootleggers, and banshees. Where the words of other Appalachian writers unfold like copses choked with bramble and draped with Old Man’s Beard, Sheppard’s work is delicate, tightly worked, and shimmering.

Borderlands: poetry on the edge takes place every 3rd Saturday, 2-4pm at Main Street Books. Each month Mark Sebastian Jordan invites two of the best poets from Ohio and the surrounding States to be featured. The reading is followed by a short open-mic.

Dennis Loranger reading at Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge

Dennis Loranger teaches music and literature at Wright State University, and writes poetry when he gets a chance. He has published in Rubbertop Review, Abyss&Apex, and elsewhere.

Borderlands: Poetry on the Edge is a monthly poetry reading hosted by Main Street Books in Mansfield, Ohio. The reading is curated by Mark Sebastian Jordan. Each month he invites two poets from across Ohio and the surrounding states to give extended readings followed by a short open mic.