World-class artist gives generously to his community
Story written by Jeanne Anderson | Photography by Camrin Dengel
Meet Jason Borbet in person (he uses his real name in all things except art), and you quickly learn he’s a down-to-earth guy, with a contagious energy, who could have chosen anywhere to live and work. But he doesn’t just live here; he gives here.
“Creativity is my passion, but the biggest compliment I’ve ever heard here is, ‘You’re a good addition to the community,’” Borbay says. And it’s true. Since moving to the Tetons in March 2016 with his wife, Erin, and young family, Borbay has made a positive, visible, and near immediate impact.
You’ve probably seen his art, even if you don’t recognize his name. In a typical year, he donates something monthly—a painting, ideas, or time—to nonprofits in the Tetons. Dine in The Grille at Teton Springs, and you can’t miss the giant, four-by-eight-foot Golden Eagle, “The Alpha,” by Borbay; he has been the Artist in Residence at the resort for the past two years. For the Victor City Park stage, he created the mural that’s now a permanent backdrop for Music on Main. And not one to limit himself to two dimensions, Borbay appeared in The Christmas Carol at Pierre’s Playhouse, and has served as auctioneer at many local fundraisers.
“I’m a very involved kind of guy,” Borbay says. “I organically say, ‘Yes,’ to everything. I pay it forward as much as I can.”
In his studio, a converted two-hundred-square-foot bedroom of his home in Teton Springs, the latest in his long string of neon-inspired paintings is drying. He’s been working on the gradient
of a piece featuring a Radio City Music Hall facade. Large empty canvasses are stacked against one wall; completed works crowd the wall space elsewhere and are placed along the floor. One of the smallest, of the San Marco Cathedral in Venice, was painted during a weeklong trip to Milan. He made the trip to deliver the very first painting he ever sold, an image that became his first in a series capturing The Guggenheim. (He learned it was cheaper to deliver the painting in person than to ship it to Italy.)
After that first sale he found himself drawn to paint the famous museum again. “I didn’t want to just paint it to sell it,” he says. “I had to paint it in the most epic fashion.” Borbay decided that meant to paint The Guggenheim every year for twenty years, during the same time of year, using the same size canvas and same composition. This personal commitment serves as a litmus test of his style and as a commitment to himself that he is going to paint as a professional.
But art wasn’t always his direction. Check out the artist’s website (borbay.com) and you’ll find he’s had a fascinating creative journey, full of colorful layers and vivid details, just like his paintings. Borbay made a name in the corporate world after earning a BFA from Boston University; he also had brief stints as a stand-up comedian and in a TV reality show. His pre-art career included time working within the Trump Organization. While balancing clients in Stockholm and Tribeca as an advertising executive, he experienced an “aha” moment: “The world doesn’t need another jerk selling ads,” he says.
“July 2, 2009. That was my Independence Day. That was the day I decided to commit to being an artist. I wanted to do it full-time, and very publicly.”
Two series of paintings, “The Kings of Hip Hop” and “Kick Ass Actors in Kick Ass Roles,” featured big-name personalities. His portraits of superstars include one of Serena Williams, and, for the cover of a best-selling biography of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. Eight of the interpretive pieces he’s painted yearly of The Guggenheim Museum have already sold.
After being named the “Most Creative New Yorker” by Time Out New York magazine in 2009, he started thinking, “Maybe we could survive outside of Manhattan,” and he began exploring a more nomadic life, which ultimately led a few years later to the Tetons.
Borbay’s work reflects two distinctive styles, collage and neon, often fusing the two with brilliant East/West flair. (Example: Gary Cooper from 1940’s The Westerner juxtaposed with the New York City diner made famous in television’s Seinfeld.) “This is my legacy,” Borbay says. “But my best art is wrapped up in the closet.” And one piece he won’t sell, and rarely lets anyone
see, is a portrait of his wife Erin, which hangs in their bedroom.
The most important drivers to his commitment to art and life in Teton Valley surround him—Erin and their two daughters, Coraline and Vega, and son Esser.
What could possibly be next for this ultra-cool, modern-day Renaissance man? “I love the people here, especially those who are different from me,” Borbay says. “It’s super chill and a supersafe place to raise my kids. But I’m an opportunist. We’re open to everything, but my heart hurts to even think about moving from the Tetons.”
And for those of us lucky enough to rub shoulders with him? Well, let’s all hope this gifted, enthusiastic, generous guy sticks around for more than a little while.