Meet 5 Frisco-Area Visual and Performing ArtistsMar 01, 2022 ● By Amy Richmond
Amid the sizable sports stadiums, sprawling office parks, world-class shopping and dining venues and numerous residential developments that dot the local landscape, Frisco’s arts scene is not only growing, but thriving.
From the more than three dozen inspiring works that inhabit the Texas Sculpture Garden, located within HALL Park, and the colorful murals that adorn buildings throughout the historic Rail District, to the live performances staged at the Black Box Theater inside Frisco Discovery Center – just to name a few – there is certainly no shortage of artistry to be seen, experienced and appreciated in our city.
And there’s more to come: Currently under design is a multimillion-dollar, state-of-the-art performing arts center. When completed, the facility is set to host performances by Frisco ISD students and possibly Broadway-style shows as well as concerts in its 1,000-plus-seat performance hall and a smaller community theater.
For a city that already boasts a healthy number of arts-friendly venues and events – with more on the way – it’s no surprise that a good many artists call the Frisco area home. From painters and actors to singers and dancers, each is working to hone their crafts and exhibit their works here.
Frisco STYLE recently sat down with several local artists who shared stories about their personal and professional journeys and explained the passion they feel for their respective artforms.
Barbara J. Mason - Visual Artist
As she worked, her passion for art continued to burn. “I used the funds I had squirreled away from my main career to pursue and fuel my passion for art,” Mason explains. These days, she owns her own business, Dragonfly Studio Creations, and only works one day a week while spending the bulk of her time focused on creating art.
While shifting the scales from her radiology career to art, Mason says she did not anticipate the breadth of skills that the latter required. “I was surprised by the number of hats you need to wear to be successful. I had to become familiar with marketing, graphics, networking, finance, time management and how to stay true to myself but yet be relevant and current in creating my art.”
The Frisco resident says she gained international recognition by partnering with “national organizations that are affiliated with other international organizations, galleries and competitions.” This has “allowed my artwork to be viewed by an audience I would not have exposure to individually.”
According to her website, Mason is a member of the Pastel Society of America, the Pastel Society of the Southwest,
the Degas Pastel Society and the Arizona Pastel Artists Association. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States. She says she delights in using her art to take something small and enlarge it to show off its intricate details as well as the tiny flaws that make it unique, realistic and beautiful.
“Art is a universal language and a natural healer. It’s a form of cohesive narrative that sparks dialogue and breaks down barriers so we can all relate, even from different perspectives,” she says. “As an African-American female, art is also important as a documentation of our story, our struggles and our history.”
Mason says she hopes her artwork serves as a visual documentary from an African-American female perspective that shows complexity, boldness and beauty. “That’s why I compete so heavily, because oftentimes, I don’t see people like me in those competitions or winning circles. I want to break down those barriers and maybe carve out a path for someone that’s coming up behind me. It can be done.”
She advises up-and-coming artists to “study your craft, find a mentor and stay focused. What are you trying to say? Let your art brush or pencil be the tool that creates the narrative you want to tell. Do it because you love it and enjoy every step of the process. And by all means, pay it forward every opportunity you get.”
Jasmine Mathew - Dancer and Adaptive Dance Teacher
Dance has been part of Frisco resident Jasmine Mathew’s life since she was 6 years old. She grew up a fan of dancer and pop star Paula Abdul and watched choreographer-actress Debbie Allen on the television series Fame. She also learned, performed and has taught Bharatanatyam, a classical Indian dance, as well as Bollywood-style dance.
In high school, Mathew joined the drama club and discovered that she enjoyed singing, dancing and acting on stage. “I think that combination helped me figure out that I wanted to be an artist,” she says.
In college, she pursued a degree in recreational therapy while continuing to choreograph and teach dance on the side. Upon moving to Texas seven years ago, she began working as a therapist and came up with an idea: “I thought, why don’t I combine my passion and what I went to school for and create this (dance) company, because there is nothing like it around here.”
Mathew says adaptive dance, which is specifically tailored for children and adults with differing abilities, is “a necessity for quality of life and not a luxury or a hobby.” With accommodations such as one-on-one assistance in dance classes, lowering the volume of the music or brightness of lights to accommodate sensitivities and providing additional assistance for those attempting to learn choreography, students with special needs can gain confidence through their achievements in dance, which then helps them to feel more confident in other areas of their lives.
Jasmine’s Beat, an adaptive dance company, was born. Mathews is its founder and CEO.
In the company’s early days, “I needed to understand budgeting, marketing, social media – all the legalities, limitations, how to make it better – and then also understand the needs of all the various disabilities and all the different types of populations that I would be working with,” she recalls. “It was a lot of learning and a lot of networking, but I gained a lot of friends.”
The positive impacts that have resulted have made all the hard work worth it, Mathew says, noting that a parent of a student once said that her classes were “the first time he saw his son genuinely smile with interaction outside of school. I was so touched to hear that. You might not think much about a smile … but he was genuinely having fun and interacting.”
The pandemic has presented new challenges, she says, as “going virtual does not always work well with children of special needs,” but Mathew has made adjustments to accommodate her students appropriately.
Looking toward the future, Mathew says, “I want to achieve a change in as many communities as possible that promote health through the art of dance. I want to show that the process of inclusion … in the world of dance in particular should have every kind of possibility available. So, having someone one-on-one to support them in a neurotypical class, or having a sensory-sensitive session of a recital, or even having the option of creative moment from a medical bed or facility should be a possibility for everyone. It should be a no-brainer for a community to set that up.”
David Gaschen - Vocalist, Stage Performer
David Gaschen didn’t plan to become a Broadway star.
Sure, he had played the lead roles of Danny Zuko in Grease and Jesus in Godspell in his high school’s productions of the musicals, but those had merely been an avenue for him to meet new friends. In college, at Texas Tech University, he was focused on earning a marketing degree and signed up to sing in the choir for fun.
During a 1989 trip to New York with his parents, he saw a performance of The Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. From that moment on, Gaschen knew he wanted to play the Phantom. He returned to college and, the next semester, changed his major to vocal performance. Six years later, he was cast as the Phantom in a production of the musical in Switzerland.
Following two years of performances there, Gaschen was cast as the Phantom in Hamburg, Germany and, after completing another two-year run, he moved to New York City in 1999. Three days later, he was asked to audition for an opening on Broadway and on November 8, 1999 – nearly a decade to the day after he had first seen The Phantom of the Opera in the Big Apple – Gaschen began playing the Phantom on Broadway. “I was living the dream,” he says.
Gaschen continues to perform as the artist in residence at Frisco’s Stonebriar Community Church, as a distinguished alumni at his alma mater Texas Tech as well as at numerous other venues. Some of his career highpoints include having performed for President George H. W. Bush at Walker’s Point, the Bush family’s Maine estate, and having given a TedX talk in 2020. He also enjoys his work as a private coach for up-and-coming vocal artists.
Gaschen credits God for his vocal talents, his amazing career journey and his recent triumphant battle against lymphoma following a 2017 diagnosis. He also names his family as his biggest blessing. Through his art, he says, he attempts to glorify God and encourage others to follow their own path in life.
Whatever path a person chooses, Gaschen says, the measure of one’s of success is entirely subjective. “I think making it big in life is doing what you do and loving what you’re doing. Now, getting paid on top of it is an extra bonus – I’m not going to lie. … Follow your dreams and don’t let anybody ever tell you there’s something you can’t do.”
Desmond Blair - Painter
Desmond Blair was born without fully developed hands and missing fingers. However, his mother and grandmother refused to see this as a disability. Instead, he was raised to view his difference as an opportunity to experience the world in a way no one else could.
Although he was given prosthetics while a patient at Scottish Rite for Children, Blair’s mother encouraged him to find ways to live without them. For each new obstacle, she would say he had five minutes to be upset about it and then had to figure out what he was going to do about it. So, at an early age, Blair became a problem solver.
After conquering the challenge of learning how to write to complete his schoolwork, Blair discovered he could also draw. Cartoons captivated him. A summer program at the South Dallas Cultural Center expanded his exposure to different types of media. “For me, being born without hands, art gave me a place I could go where I could create my own world. I didn’t have any rules. There was no disability in my sketchpad,” he says.
In high school, when he had an assignment that required architectural drawings, he tried to freehand the entire drawing. The folks at Scottish Rite created a drawing table especially for Blair. ”Each of the precision tools I needed, such as a T-square and a triangle, had electromagnets in them. I could hit a pedal that was attached to each device to lock it into place to complete these drawings,” he recalls.
In college, at the University of Texas in Dallas, Blair created digital artwork and graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree in art and technology. He planned to become a 3D modeler for either a game or film studio, but life took an unexpected turn when, after completing 80 hours of work, one of his files became corrupted. That’s when Blair realized he simply wanted to paint.
His love for painting experienced a revival. A professor learned Blair was hoarding his artwork at home and encouraged him to exhibit it. Following his first collaborative show, additional opportunities surfaced and Blair’s artwork took a bigger stage in his life. These days, his work can be seen at Pencil on Paper Gallery in Dallas, and adorning the walls at J. Theodore Restaurant & Bar in Frisco.
“I try to capture moods,” he explains of his art. “For me, that’s important because my love for art started with animation and the ability to tell a story in an animated short or film. How do I tell the story? I don’t have an hour and a half or a series, I have one frame to tell a story or evoke an emotional response.”
Noel Iverson - Vocal Artist
Noel Iverson has proven, despite all odds, that it is never too late to pursue your artistic dreams.
Music has been a strong current in his life, and Iverson credits his mother for that. “My mom loved music and, when I was 5, I would watch her brush her hair while she listened to Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and The Beatles.” After her death the following year, he says, “Music was a coping mechanism where I could let myself go and process all that emotion.”
The death of his mother was just the beginning of a long list of unexpected turns throughout his life. But, Iverson says, “It’s those unexpected turns that really define you. The important thing is how you react to the unexpected. I didn’t expect my mom to die. I didn’t expect to drop out of college. … I didn’t expect to go into sales and sell tape for seven years. And I didn’t expect to resign from that job and jump into the deep end of musical performance.”
Iverson sings jazz songs and standards because “there is something authentic, something pure about these songs,” he says. “They penetrate deep within the soul.” He is accompanied by the Noel Iverson Orchestra. “I didn’t want to go on this long and difficult journey alone. I wanted to share and create music with others who feel the same, and we want to do it in a way that influences this world for the better.”
Eight months after its inception, the Noel Iverson Orchestra is a sought-after group, with performances booked at private, corporate and charity events. Last New Year’s Eve, the group played at Fort Worth’s Sundance Square. Iverson croons a wide range of songs – from Feeling Good to Watermelon Sugar – with the hope that his performances spark positive change.
“Art has this ability to break down barriers, regardless of our differences and beliefs, and enable us to connect, have a conversation and seek understanding,” he says. “Music pierces through the armor that we use to protect ourselves from pain. To me, the true purpose of performing is the conversations that happen between sets or after a gig. There is an openness and vulnerability that comes from the art, the music. … (It) allows us to share emotions in a way that is more unifying and peaceful and empathetic.”
Introduction by Lisa Sciortino
Profiles by Amy Day Richmond