Jason Maloney walks out of his bedroom with his bundles of joy wrapped tightly in his arms, proudly displaying the fruits of his labor. “I bought them on eBay,” he says gushing. The Newport Beach-based artist known primarily for his pop surrealist, cool-yet-creepy social commentary is temporarily caught up in the minutia of 1980s Iron Maiden concert T-shirts.
The Inland Empire-bred painter has a new freelance gig as Hurley’s summer artist, the result of which is a line of board shorts and T-shirts with pictures of lambs just seconds from imminent death (Screwed) and broken-hearted ducks (Back For More). “Translating oil to a shirt, you have to switch your gears,” he says with a nod to the nearby, other-Jason inspired Amber Alert, a large scale painting that touches on the terror of child abduction using 2-D and 3-D perspective to create a Friday the 13th keyhole worldview. The surfwear giant known for its lean toward artistic endeavors recently flew Maloney to San Francisco’s upper Haight district to paint a mural of a drunken teddy bear in the skate shop Villains before setting him up with another mural at Newport Beach’s American Rag Cie.
But for now, we’re talking about buying Quiet Riot records at Licorice Pizza on Mountain Avenue in Upland, eating pizza grinders at Pipeline Skate Park and his first public work, keg party Fliers while attending Laverne’s all-boy private catholic high school, Damien High School. Childhood is a constant issue for Maloney, for better and worse. The highlights fuel his love for old Jeff Grosso and John Lucero skate decks, the lows haunt him and shaped his life as an artist, recovering addict and reformed ne’er-do-well.
Today he’s an upstanding citizen with a day job painting sets for the Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted House rides at Disneyland, and with a promising career as an up-and-comer in the lowbrow art world. Maloney is perfectly poised for the cross marketing now offered by action sports companies that are gravitating toward artist support in the wake of the phenomenal success of RVCA, the OC clothing brand that spearheaded the trend of supporting emerging artists as well as athletes.
Maloney’s work teems with tension. He spends his days absorbed in images on CNN and newspaper front pages. School shootings turn into teddy bear horrorfests morphed with images from his affinity for old school horror films like Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween. It’s at once visually stimulating and stunning in its technical clarity.
One could guess that growing up on a steady diet of Derek Riggs’ Eddy from Iron Maiden and whacked-out skateboard graphics could be the genesis. But talking to Maloney, it’s clear he’s just like so many of us who never really got over our parents’ divorces or the requisite clusterfuck that ensued.
Maloney does his part to repent. He talks to art students a couple times a year at Corona del Mar High School to help guide them through life’s tumult. Although the intention was altruistic, the payoff turned out tenfold. The art teacher, John Gunnin, also writes for lowbrow art bible Juxtapoz. He pitched a story on Maloney on the heels of three of his paintings showing at La Luz de Jesus gallery in Los Angeles. A year later, Maloney got the sort of art peer attention that helped kickstart his professional career beyond Jack Sparrow.
Next, June 22–October 5, Maloney will be part of the Laguna Art Museum’s “In the Land of Retinal Delights: the Juxtapoz School,” a 10-year retrospective of some of the magazine’s best-featured artists since the mag’s inception. Out of the 750 artists who found the spotlight through Juxtapoz, the mag whittled it down to 150. And Maloney is ecstatic to have made the cut.
“It wasn’t like it blew up all at once,” Maloney says. “It’s been a slow progression, which is good. If it all came at once, I’d probably just fuck it up.”
In between, there have been a few Quiksilver shirts. He contributed two artist-series skate trucks for Grind King. And now, Hurley has him jetting around to paint murals, and his boardshorts will hit the waves this summer. “I thought as an artist I had to just be a painter,” he says, bemused by his own newfound career direction, as well as excited by his new “canvases.”
But all the outside-the-box success has inevitably led to more demand for his paintings, which in turn has him thinking bigger. His newest painting, The Devil Made Me Do It, is the first in a series. “School shootings just didn’t happen when I was a kid,” he says explaining the impetus behind the jacked-up teddy bear packing heat. “Are these people evil? I’m just scratching the surface.”
Surrounded by his macabre, the good-natured Maloney gives a shrug. “I have more to say. I wish I didn’t. I’d rather not paint little girls being abducted. But art directly reflects the world you live in.” And his world doesn’t look like Laguna plein air or a Thomas Kinkade watermill. “Nothing ever goes wrong in a Kinkade. Why isn’t there a guy pouring gas on the cottage?”
Maloney is resigned to his panic attack worldview, and quite comfortable with his demons. “The cuteness combined with the terror creates a good tension,” he says. “It’s like a Dick and Jane book from hell.”
Jason Maloney’s paintings are part of the “Modern Day Characters” exhibit through May 3 at the J.Flynn Gallery, 2950 A Randolph Ave., Costa Mesa, (724) 708.3504; www.jflynngallery.com