Jason 'JSUN' McCarty, Boundary-Pushing Sound Artist and Illustrator
Jason McCarty, known to the Bay Area art scene as “JSUN,” was a multi-talented visual and sound artist who didn’t shy away from creating confrontational art experiences. In intricate ink on paper drawings, he depicted scenes of frenetic, uncontainable activity. His sound performances were described as electric, visceral bombardments of pure energy. “Rock was a fad, electronic music is forever,” he once wrote in a tweet.
A 2008 graduate of San Francisco Art Institute’s (SFAI) post-baccalaureate and MFA programs, friends and former classmates remember McCarty as a boundary-pushing artist with a warm, welcoming personality.
Friend and fellow SFAI classmate Jeremiah Jenkins remembers McCarty as a fixture at the school’s Third Street studios. “He didn’t have a place to live, so he lived in the studio,” Jenkins says. “He was there when I would leave and when I got there early in the morning. He was 100 percent committed.”
In October 2008, McCarty participated in The Weather Reconnaissance, a show curated by artists Jenna North and Peter Foucault as part of The Garage Biennial, an experimental exhibition program hosted by fellow SFAI grad Justin Hoover in the garage of his family’s Pacific Heights home.
McCarty’s piece centered around an enormous globe suspended over the mechanic’s pit in the garage. A network of electronic nodes attached to the globe connected to mixers, consoles, amplifiers and effects pedals strewn on the floor.
North says McCarty and his collaborator dressed like members of a secret underground militia. “The was a sense of this covert operation he was conducting,” North says. “I honestly believe that he believed he was communicating with higher forces in his attempts to control atmospheric forces through sound. He had a sign next to the hole that said, ‘Shhhh -- I’m talking to God.’”
If McCarty expected silence from his audience, he filled that vacuum with more sound than any gathered crowd could ever possibly produce. “It was really wild and loud and abrasive and he didn't give a shit,” Hoover says of the two-hour performance for The Weather Reconnaissance. “He intentionally pushed buttons. People couldn’t handle it.”
Oakland-based filmmaker Cyrus Tabar remembers meeting McCarty through the Artists’ Television Access community. He relished the sensory overload of McCarty’s performances. “I always knew when he was sitting with his gear that I had to prepare myself,” Tabar says. “Sometimes it was so intense you’d want to be going to the door. It was just like this intensity, this electricity he had. He wasn’t the kind of guy who would just press play on his laptop.”
Former classmates at SFAI remember McCarty sampling sounds in the studio hallway. They would often find him hitting a drumstick against any reverberant object. “He was the noisemaker,” his friend Will Barclift says. “He didn’t do it for anyone else. As an artist he was someone who pushed the boundaries.”
After SFAI, McCarty connected with the Oakland warehouse scene, living and performing in spaces like the Ghost Ship warehouse. He remained dedicated to his practice. “10pm is always such a tragic time for me,” he tweeted on Sept. 22, “cuz that's when my neighbor starts banging on the wall and I have to discontinue making music.”
As raw and wild as his music was, McCarty is remembered by friends as a tender and compassionate person. “A lot of artists get this voice and they use that voice to challenge other people to hear that voice,” Jenkins says. “But with Jsun, he was just inviting. It’s really hard to find people like that in the art world.”
“He was so secure in his own skin and it just made everybody else want to be that way," says artist and friend Gera Lozano. "He believed in himself. And I think all of his friends believed in him too. We were just waiting for him to blow up, it was a matter of time.”
Since Dec. 2, both Jenkins and Barclift have found themselves reminded of McCarty in unlikely sonic spaces. For Barclift, it’s in the discordant mess of car radio static. “That was something he could listen to and actually create meaning out of it and use in his art,” Barclift says. “It was just so perfect, it made me grin immediately.”
Likewise, in the wake of the Oakland warehouse fire, Jenkins attended a community vigil, and “the only place I could find to stand was next to these humming generators,” he says. “I couldn’t hear anything else. I thought, this is the space that he would be fine with and that he would want to occupy: an uncomfortable space.”