As a young boy, Jason Wheatley loved animals as much as drawing. In fact, he couldn't decide whether to be a veterinarian or an artist.
When his cat got sick and was put to sleep, his mother explained that vets occasionally had to do this--and Wheatley picked up a pencil to develop his drawing skills.
Today, as a successful artist whose work is gaining lots of attention, Wheatley wants to "celebrate animals." He even shares his studio with a free roaming black rabbit named Shadow and a large, rather raucous parrot named Chico. Wheatley also has dozens of goldfish, which he won't name because they die too quickly.
As props, Wheatley's animals fill his canvases--along with assorted inanimate objects--to create representational still lifes that are visually sumptuous but often cryptic.
As tasteful as Wheatley's paintings are (his craftsmanship is astounding), one does need to take more time with them. There is so much begging to be understood. "A lot of it is personal narrative," Wheatley said. "I really don't expect the viewer to understand or relate to it, other than to sense that they've come upon the middle of a story. They don't have to figure it out, just know that something is taking place."
Sometimes there is no meaning whatsoever behind the use of his props. When asked about the significance of rabbits in his paintings, he said, "I wish there were something to tell you. I like the form of the rabbit." That's why he painted them, and for no other reason.
However, when pressed, Wheatley confessed the significance of the ever-present stones in his paintings. "For me they represent sentimentality," he said. "They're just non-precious things that people collect as they go through life." When he stacks the stones, almost always in an unnatural fashion, they 'represents the precarious nature of collecting and stacking sentimentality. It's all going to crash down."
While such reasoning might suggest a negative approach to life, it couldn't be further from the truth. Wheatley is in love with life and all things created. He is, albeit, a little wary, but it makes for still life paintings that resonate with the subtle complications of life.
For Wheatley, the still life creates a stage upon which he can move the things of life about. "I become like a director of a picture," he said, moving his hands in the air as if dressing a stage.
Recently he's developed a fondness for Gustauve Courbet's realism. "I think it's incredible," Wheatley said." That's the realism I'm trying to get after. Courbet claims it was realism, but to me it's more 'fantastical' realism. A lot of it is sort of vague, also."
Other living artists that impress Wheatley are Claudio Bravo, the Spanish realist, and the art professors at the University of Utah, his alma mater: David Dornan, Paul Davis and Tony Smith. "I really got into Dave Dornan's work," Wheatley said. "You know? He showed me what a still life can really accomplish."