Monday, October 7, 2013

Jim Arendt - Art As A Career? That's Crazy Talk

cut and appliqued denim
Jim Arendt

The year of 2013 will certainly be one that artist Jim Arendt will never forget.  Jim lives here in South Carolina and is the Director of the Rebecca Randall Bryant Gallery on the campus of Coastal Carolina University.  He is a devoted husband, father and a productive and prolific artist.  Recently his work Jamie was selected Best of Show at Artfields in Lake City, SC which carried a prize of $50,000.  Please check out the bio section of his website to read about his many other achievements.

Jim's current work focuses on figures made with denim fabric.  There is currently lots of interest in figurative work in the textile field and many times it just doesn't work.  I feel there is often too much reliance on the direct transfer of photographic imagery and not enough evidence of the artist's hand.  This is not the case with his work.  We didn't talk about his actual technique but you can see in the photograph of one of his work areas that it takes a lot of sorting, cutting, evaluating and hands-on work to find just the right piece of fabric to transform this humble material into his well-conceived objects.

The work is not only the representation of a figure but of specific people in his life. 


Terry -   When did you begin to make art and was it a difficult decision for you to commit to art as a career?  Was your family supportive when you were young?

Jim - Always! Drawing, making, and designing were always part of how I entertained myself as a child. It echoed the work that engaged my family in the house, fields, and barns of our farm, and helped to pass the long winter months when slush and mud kept us indoors.  I always had plenty of pens and paper growing up, but I think my parents thought (or hoped) that my interest in art might be just a phase.  However, while they might have scratched their heads at my decision to pursue it in college, they always supported and helped me.  Now that I am older I can see how different aspects of my parents' own talents manifested in me.  (My father was a bit of a Daedalus, always making and modifying around the farm.  My mother provided windows into a wider world of culture and the arts, especially musical theatre, through movies and performances.  I can still sing most of the Rodgers & Hammerstein catalogue.)

But art as a career? That’s crazy talk! Working class boys should grow up to be skilled trades-people or preachers or anything respectable that draws a salary. A career as an artist should have been the furthest thing from my mind, but it wasn’t. I had the bug. I literally had to beg on my knees to be let into art courses in middle school. I had little to lose.  Art conspired against me and lured me into an ever tightening circle until I was blind to any other options. I flirted with any career that would have let me draw, (architecture, drafting, illustration; oh, your promised fruits were so tempting), but the freedom of fine arts and the blending of life and work was the most tempting offer of all.

storage and work area.

 TerryIt is my understanding that you studied painting in college.  How did you begin making sculpture?

Jim - Curiosity. I am a broad-spectrum enthusiast for many different techniques and processes. I learned some metal-working from the automotive culture I grew up with, and took classes in sculpture in undergrad. I think I often feel less constrained by my training when I am trespassing in other disciplines. It can be very good for experimentation! I have no idea where the fences are anymore…

cut and appliqued denim

Terry - What spurred the idea for your current series rendered in denim fabric?  What other materials do you use in your work?  

Ian - detail

Jim - I remember my father patching his jeans at night with the sewing machine. In school, this memory of thrift and pragmatism was one direction I explored around larger themes of work and labor. To "make do", or manage to get along with the means available, meant you solved problems with the materials at hand. I wanted to speak to work and labor. Jeans contain the work of growing cotton, the sweat to the garment-makers, and the stories of the people who wore them out. It mixed well with my own memories, and I could transform it through art into something better. The qualities of the material and idea self-assembled after that realization and forced me to begin working in denim. No other material solved the equation of Content + Form = Time.

I usually work in long arcs that involve me experimenting with various approaches to solving my (often competing) problems of delivering meaning, visual appeal, and technique. I believe materials have inherent metaphoric properties that if properly ferreted out can reveal what they might most want to be. Currently, I’m developing work in cement, leather, and motor oil. Of course, the problem of working in multiple materials and techniques is that it takes time to learn their vocabulary and to make sure that I am bending the things they communicate all on their own and not only to my own ideas. I want to use them to reinforce my own intent, and not bend them to my will.

Installation in solo exhibition at The Pickens County Museum of Art.

Terry - Does your work usually begin with concept, process, material or something else?

Jim - My work has always been a way for me to communicate and process my ideas. Although the means to accomplish that may change from time-to-time, I’ve always used art as a vehicle to cast my world into solid form.
cut and appliqued denim

Terry - You have had great success with your work in shows that focus on textiles as a medium.  What other type of juried shows and exhibitions do you regularly enter?

Jim - I began building a “family” of work from the outset of these pieces in denim just over three years ago. I imagined that they’d be seen together and act both as individuals constructed in different manners and techniques, and as a group, interrelated, but different from one another, much like my own family. Currently, I’m focusing my efforts on preparing proposals for solo exhibitions in college and university galleries in an effort to share my work with as wide an audience as possible. I also watch for opportunities that resonate with the artwork around its content of work and labor, exhibitions specific to the human figure, and in specific geographic locations.

Exhibition at 702 Center for Contemporary Art, Columbia SC

Terry - As a teacher, gallery director, husband and father, how do you schedule time to work?

Jim - If any truism has ever held up it’s that art is NEVER made under ideal conditions. I have to make time to make my work. I don’t have hobbies (sailing, beekeeping, learning Spanish, and woodworking - sorry, you have to remain a fantasy.) I also chose a wonderful partner, my wife and artist, Yvette, who has ensured that I could do these things through her exhortations of, “Don’t you have work to do?” We work together to make sure we both have studio time, that the kids are read to, and that we enforce the discipline of work on each other. Once the kids are in bed, it’s time for work: typically 9pm-1am.  I enjoy long hours of podcast and audiobooks and feel the best when I am working and being productive. I wish I could say that it didn’t require some sacrifice on all our parts, but for us it is what normal looks like.

Meghann - detail of upper torso - full figure can be seen in installation shot above
cut and appliqued denim

Terry - 2013 has been a very reinforcing year for you regarding your work.  As a recipient of one of the South Carolina Artist Fellowships and the top award at the Art Fields Competition in Lake City, SC, how will you factor in these events as you move forward?

Jim - This past year will be hard to top! The support of the people of South Carolina in the form of these honors has opened many new and exciting possibilities for me and my work. I’ll have to work hard to prove that I am worthy of such honors and praise. Already it has opened doors to new exhibition and teaching opportunities and interest from art professional outside of the state. I hope that the faith South Carolina has put in me will help me to carry news of our great artists afield to new venues and audiences. It really takes a whole constellation of different people to prop up the career of any artist, and I have had many boosters who have helped me get to a position where I could even dream of competing for both of these prestigious honors.

Meghann - detail of rivets

Terry - Do you belong and participate in any art groups?  If so what is the benefit of the affiliation?  If not, how did you arrive at the decision to not join in this type of activity?

Jim - Groups can be great ways to find out about opportunities and exhibitions. While I prefer the 19th century version of the tortured artist, you must engage with others to make things happen. I’m a member of several professional groups, such as the Surface Design Association, Association of Academic Museums and Galleries, American Alliance of Museums, and several internet based groups on the local and national level.

As a result, an entire network of professional artists, venues, and teaching opportunities is accessible. These groups often act as the first notification of what shows, jobs, and opportunities are available. I’m able to discover new artists and techniques and engage in advocacy for art related causes that impact how our profession is seen and funded.

I developed many great friendships with other artists and found that artists, together, are capable of creating fertile ground for our ideas to take root.

Jim Arendt 

You can see examples of Jim's work as part of Connecting Concept & Medium: South Carolina Fiber Artists at the Pickens County Museum of Art in Pickens, SC through November 14.

Thank you Jim!

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  1. Terry- great interview with a compelling guy. I have loved his work since I first saw it and this only cements it further in my mind- now I *need* to see it in person!

    1. Thank you Sandy. Yes, seeing in person is always best. Seeing one of his solo shows really brings the work to life.

  2. What a great interview! I loved his remarks about his background and development of his ideas.

  3. Thank you Lynda. I too always enjoy hearing about the source of artists ideas. Thank you for commenting.

  4. I agree with Sandy and Lynda - great interview! I hope someday to see his work in person.

    1. Thank you Mia. It's very unique and well conceived.

  5. You are a sharp interviewer and Jim was thoughtful with his answers. Nice.

    1. Thank you Christine. You are correct about an interview being a two person activity. Jim gave thoughtful solid responses to the questions which makes a good read.

  6. Terry, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Thank you! Have you thought of publishing a book of interviews with artists? I'm serious. As a non-artist, I usually can't understand what artists are talking about when they discuss their work (it's all so cerebral!), but this interview made it very accessible - and interesting. Well done!

    1. Thank you Jeanne! Jim was a great interview. Not so sure about a book but appreciate the thumbs up.

  7. What an excellent interview! Jim's work is wonderful and I'm a big fan of how articulate he is in describing his life as an artist. I particularly like he describes himself as " a broad-spectrum enthusiast for many different techniques and processes". Thanks for introducing us to him. He seems well deserving of the accolades.

  8. Thanks Vivien! Jim is very down to earth and I think that comes through in his work as well as his way of talking about his work and his life. I'm sure we'll all see much about him in the future.

  9. amazing talent, great artworks