From the B-17 Project idea, this painting is a way of thinking about the spaces for the public sculpture idea. The clouds and sky are all imagined - the aircraft can just barely be discerned in the upper center of the painting. Astonishing to me is that about a third of the people visiting this painting in the studio recognize the type of aircraft - the B-17 of course - from the merest, tiniest little marks of graphite. The aircraft is a true icon.
This does I think successfully convey the enormity of the sky, and in spite of the war action, is intended to be full of foreboding and inexorability, not drama. When handling a subject as massive as the Second World War, it is nearly impossible to avoid romanticizing it or being sucked into problematic nostalgia for the Good War.
By removing the specifics- the unit, the place, the exact time period, I hope to convey the expressive truth of unstoppable, oncoming horror -and the strategic bombing campaign was the most complete kind of horror - with the shapes and spaces of the clouds light and air. We can say that it was worth it to defeat Hitler - that there may have been no future without this effort. I tend to agree- but the scale of it - what really happens when you fill the sky with aircraft and obliterate city after city- was a truth that even the airmen, undergoing tremendous stress and risk (20% of the bombers did not come back on some raids) could not fully confront at the time. I've been talking to some of these great old veterans lately, and also some people who saw the sky filled with aircraft coming straight towards their town.
On the left is a new piece about 60" by 72", with the working title of "Wilderness," just finished this June after a number of years. The painting named Patricia is another major recent work; more discussion is below. A couple of small pieces are coming out of the B-17 Project idea, and I will be returning to some political themes for a piece for show in San Francisco proposed for this fall.
Installation: I am working with UW on the possibility of developing a version of the large B-17 installation sculpture for the School of Art - this would be a major project involving grant fund-raising, calls for scholarship and specific technical assistance. I especially need help with metal wire and aluminum casting techniques, so please contact me if you are interested in helping out. More details on the concept are under "Initial Point."
The big process difference between Wilderness, above left, and Patricia is that the latter has a live model as a direct source. Wilderness evolved very slowly, mark following space following mark - one might be forgiven for thinking this is like surrealism, but a painting like this was built in a way that I hope exposes the imaginative process rather than simply illustrates the imagination.
Wilderness is a canvas that I started working way back in 2001, but this didn't really begin to develop until last year, when I drove toward a strong classical illusion of light and dark, but only in service of mood - this image is wholly invented, and is to me a consistent extension of abstract expressionist techniques. I simply kept driving until a landscape slowly emerged, populated with Archile Gorky-like figurative stuffed into specific allocations of space. The color and light in the impossible sky (no moonlight and sunrise would work like this) is verging dangerously on the surreal, but I'm not exploring a subconscious dream-image world, or front-loading an image with any sense of internal purity.
I hope that the mood emerges naturally; if there is any specific referent (and this is a recurrent theme) it is that in the midst of the contemplation of emptiness, it is impossible not to want to see people, but our experience of this, while emotionally strong, is visually fleeting, always in motion, beyond grasping.
Are the swirling lines and forms sinking into and out of the dark gendered? Yes - you can think of a Picasso line, it's weight turning and twisting and arguably sexualized even while dissociated from the body.
Patricia is in oil, about 60" by 72", and began with my most common process of two or three sessions with a model. Like the last major painting, there is a distinct implication of perspectival and atmospheric distance that the figurative forms occupy. Here, the connection to a real person, and a much more specifically conceived invented landscape are more apparent.
I am flirting with surrealism here, not to mention eroticism, but these evolved out of working with it. To me, it's closest affinity is with Excavation, by DeKooning. It has the same figurative sources, the same push to all-over abstracted form tiling, but re-embraces classical painting's spatiality.
Which may be why these are taking so long - I have to decide where every abstract bit hangs in space, without much of a mimetic guide other than skin in light and shadow, and there almost no sketches. It was worked like a high modernism - trial and error, excavating the form.
The model's relationship to the image grew particularly stretched in terms of imagery, but her compositional positions were critical and largely survived. I have several earlier versions I may post later.
This working title of "The Everything Painting" was due to it's somewhat futile attempt to find a sweet spot between figurative realism, all-over abstraction, classical landscape (there is an ocean and a ground and a distant mountain range under there) and I'm afraid to say surrealism, in the sense at least of dream imagery. I generally dislike surrealism, with the exception of Yves Tanguy, because it tends to feel false and forced to me.
What I do like is any painting that successfully creates an embracing idea-atmosphere, where the emotions and the logic of the work are inseparable, powerful, and specific to the terms of painting.
The source of these paintings developed during my MFA program at the University of Washington in 2001 from a traditional figure drawing experiment where a model moves and new drawings at each movement; these are superimposed on the previous drawing. This idea of still image as a description of the passage of time was famously used in Marcel Duchamp's Nude Descending a Staircase, which itself was based in early motion capture photography. In my work, the direction is reversed; where the early moderns - including the proto-fascist Futurists - were embracing technology, metal, speed, time and, apparently, the future, this work tries to stuff the 20th century back into observational painting traditions; the notion of time employed is organic and human, photography rejected, the marks gestural and muscular but pushed back into pictorial space, the synthesis of mood, process and image elevated over an illustration of external philosophical concept.
My paintings argue that the dynamic of vision, illusion, and painting process is intellectually serious activity, that concepts which illustrate language are incomplete, that conceptual art's jokeiness wears thin and that Pop Art is over-exhausted, often indistinguishable from its hollow, ubiquitous and uncritically capitalist subject matter. But it is not a defense of painting as paint - paint and painting processes are only useful inasmuch as they enable intellectually rigorous art. If little pots of mud still teach us about the nature of being, identity, philosophy, love, hate, politics, and blue, wonderful. It is true only as long as it is true.
Each painting, each drawing, every image and object created by an active human consciousness connects to all other such objects and their formative processes.
Art is simply a refinement, more ambitious, putting out tendrils of sensing into the most delicate and fleeting of concepts and experience. Painting allows, demands in fact, awareness of each element which creates the painting, both technical and in terms of subject and subject matter. Done well, it extends the possibilities of what all people can become aware of; done well, it adds to collection of all art works and processes, making available a bright little packet of new information to anyone who cares to examine it. It is the peculiar pressure of painting that each brush stroke is in a way connected to every brush stroke ever made in the 40,000 year history of painting. Whimsy, pretty and decorative aspects aside, this work is good if and when it meets this test, if it attaches to the body of all Art, sensitive to a new, ephemeral yet inarguably describable experience.
The paintings here represent artwork from 2002 to the present.
Jamie Bollenbach seems to work backwards, starting in politics and moving to Art, starting in Alaska and moving East, "starting abstract and working to classical painting space.
"Pushing around the mud to chase the temporal," he fully embraces painting traditions, but rejects the idea that painting has any special place in art except for its history. "Painting is art to the extent that it continues to create art," he says. "This most ancient of media, an almost curious shelter in the contemporary blizzard of pop images, still provides irreproducible processes for the exploration of our nature as visual thinkers, as cultural identities, and creatures half conscious of time and place. Painting, pushed to the limits of its capability, still asks urgent questions, and provides a hard visual step into persistent philosophical questions and methods of serious intellectual inquiry."
The son of a meteorologist who painted and a psychologist who helped pioneer Alaska's feminist movement, Bollenbach grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, which was still a wild city in the 1970s, as the Alaska Pipeline poured billions into a scruffy, remote city still recovering from the 9.2 earthquake of 1964. With trans-global flights landing for fuel, it was a town where Bears, professors, coked-up welders and French stewardesses mixed, strangely frontier, strangely international at the same time.
From elementary school on, he worked on political campaigns. Always drawing as child, obsessed for a while with fishing boats, his career shifted toward a long interest in progressive politics. "Alaska used to be a progressive, even socialistic state but with a tremendous love of individual freedom. Oil changed that- I thought it could be fought. For that time, I was wrong."
Accepted at Reed College in Portland, he got his BA in Political Science, and returned fresh out of college to become the Executive Director of the ACLU for the state for five years. "A fantastic opportunity -fascinating work, but ultimately consitutional advocacy left me wanting to exercise freedom more than just advocating it."
Alaska had a curious art and music scene, big enough to produce aggressive work, but small enough that it "smooshed everyone together,"painters, rock and classical musicians, poets, dancers, politicians, all knew each other. "I threw a party once that started with few state Senators dropping by and ended with fifteen little
punk rock kids cowering in the back, hiding from the police." Jamie also helped start "The Disastronauts," a band he wryly describes "as one of the top three original rock bands in Anchorage, Alaska in 1992."
Eventually, though Alaska's limitations caught up. "It was growing more Republican by the minute, the local art couldn't break out of moose and mountains for any length of time, and, in like the bumper sticker says 'In Alaska, you don't lose your girlfriend, you lose your turn.' "
Jamie moved to San Francisco in the early 90s, set up his first studio in East Oakland. "Annoying in reflection. I might have stayed permanently in that great loft, but my work was not up to what I wanted, and I had some trouble adjusting."
Back in Portland in the 90's he worked for an artist's non-profit and founded a work studio building, where he first "really started painting seriously- starting with a half-assed notion of muscular modernism and eventually becoming a decent colorist," making paintings that treated color with the same spatial rules of a landscape. It wasn't originaly, but it was promising. After three years of self-taught work in Portland, he applied to the MFA at UW in Seattle and was, to his astonishment, accepted. "No Art degree. Just some half-way decent painting."
At U.W. he worked with Denzil Hurley, Norman Lundin, Ann Gale, Phil Govedare. "Denzil would take your brain, lift it above your head about six inches, and put it in backwards." Jamie knew he was finally on to something "the day Denzil started yelling a me."
He taught all the way through Grad School, getting a new competitive quarterly appointment each quarter. "Lucky for me, since money was most certainly an object. Fortunately, I love teaching, the atmosphere, the comraderie, minds awakening. The problem with most adults is that their brains have ossified."
About this time he met Sara Graves, a Seattle actress and grad student who has worked for him as a model for years. "Sometimes, traditions work - here's a beautiful, bright, engaging woman and the simple fact is that in painting her she inspired me to return to the figure, to start asking that key visual question - what do we really experience being in a room with someone, emotionally, analytically, temporally. Giacometti got farther than almost anyone in this." Ann Gale at UW was definitely a major influence.
Bollenbach works at different speeds, learning to follow where the painting "must" go. "I realize how archaic, almost romantic that sounds in an environment of endless Pop regurgitations and cute conceptual jokes. But when it stops feeling true I'll stop doing it. "
Yet Bollenbach considers himself contemporary. "Some of the better painters today don't work with paint: James Turrell, Gary Hill. But they have the same attentiveness to material, to space, to emotional specificity and to the implication of infinity which I believe the most powerful artwork depends on. "
Painting has spent decades now digesting Pop, but it's Pop that feels antiseptic, even cynical, despite of the tidal wave of visual energy coming from popular visual culture. "The facile won. The world is pop, cold, uncritical, anti-poetic. I'm in the resistance. "
In contrast, "the painter that moves me most now is probably Anselm Kiefer, his towering ambition, his way of incorporating all the rigorous conceptual experimentation of Josef Beuys back into what amounts to Classical painting and sculpture, and his ability to cut his way through stuff to "Heaven and Earth."
"Which has me experimenting now with sculpture - as long as it involves specific spatial relationships and an implication of occupied infinity, it feels like painting to me."
Jamie Bollenbach lives in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington and keeps a studio at 1148 NW Leary in Ballard.
original images copyright 1998- 2010 by Jamie Bollenbach.
All rights reserved. Reproduction with attribution only by written request.)
Art on Facebook
All Artworks copyright 1998-2010 by Jamie Bollebach. All rights reserved. Free, non-commercial use of images with attribution by written request only.
GROUP ONE - Sketches
This series of photos below is from creating the commission to the left, "Eroded and Anticipated, Forms of Man and Woman in a Cyclic Landscape," 71" by 60", oil on canvas, Collection of Borlease and Bayer, San Francisco.
GROUP TWO -
GROUP THREE - Painting in stages