Studio Visit: Jimi Gleason

PC Eric Minh Swenson
Jimi Gleason; Photo credit Eric Minh Swenson

Jimi Gleason: Materiality and the Ineffable

“The surface of things gives enjoyment, their interiority gives life… I don’t want pictures, I want to find things out.” ~Piet Mondrian

Written by Gary Brewer
As painters, when we create, we conceive of a set of problems to solve. This impetus of finding the resolution to a problem that we have conceived for ourselves is an ancient impulse. The problems of the world at large are beyond our control, but within the rectangle of a canvas- through a certain set of relationships- we have the power to find a balance. It is a private utopia, a universe of one’s own creation, where chaos and order have found a balance, or where they revel in the complexity of imbalance.

In abstraction, finding this resolution is a naked epiphany- these relationships are laid bare. When the simplest set of interactions of color or form trigger a singular gestalt, and convey the feeling of some kind of truth being expressed, it is a form of alchemy.

Using a simple set of geometric formats; squares, rectangles and diagonals, Jimi Gleason creates lush, sensual paintings whose materiality and the physical process of their creation, are ciphers of his journey. Surfaces of silver create mirror-like paintings reflecting the world in front of them, suggesting the winter light shimmering on the surface of the Pacific Ocean. In some works, opalescent hues are introduced onto these silver paintings- creating a rich iridescence. In another series, nacreous and interference pigments create subtle perceptual color and light interactions, the colors shifting as one moves past the paintings. The physicality of his mediums is richly expressed. Jimi builds up layers of incident and process through the methods that the pigments are applied; through texture and the physicality of painting, image and object are balanced.

When I asked Jimi what he was doing as an artist, he replied, “It is the journey; exploring and discovering how to make each painting work. When I was starting out I was all over the place, exploring, trying to find what was true to me. I had my Joan Mitchell phase, my Jackson Pollock phase, and slowly found something that was true to me. When I lived in NYC I worked as a studio assistant to several photographers. I would take large format Polaroid’s to be printed, and always loved the chemical incidents and irregularities at the edges; these visual details took root. Also, the early encaustic paintings of Brice Marden, with the bottom margin revealing the process of creation in the drips from previous layers, both of these had an influence on my work. The edge became an important element, it was a way to show the layers of process and to leave a record of the journey in the realization of the painting.” In his newest paintings the edges reveal exquisite details, unexpected accidents of process and layering.

Beauty, sensuality and visual pleasure can often be criticized and demeaned as eye candy, or a simple trick to evince a wow response. However, humans since our ancient past have been drawn to the sheen of gold, the golden glow of amber, and the iridescence of abalone. These are not simply ornamental qualities, but catalytic openings of the imagination, reflecting an expression of our need to create meaning through a symbolic language. Beauty has been much maligned in contemporary art, but it is a fundamental quality of human consciousness, not an arbitrary cultural construct, but a quality that is at the heart of an existential truth; beauty exists and we are moved and drawn to it.

Jimi Gleason; Photo credit Jimi Gleason and courtesy of William Turner Gallery

Jimi Gleason creates unashamedly beautiful, lush and sensual works that convey joy and a deep love of painting. His many years surfing, experiencing the light effects on water, the sparkle and sheen of the sun’s reflection; the subtle disappearance of the horizon line on overcast days- all experienced in the physicality of being in the water and feeling the deep rhythms of tide and swell- have shaped and influenced his work.

In his newest paintings from his last solo show, CROSS/REFERENCE, at William Turner Gallery, the materiality of the surfaces, the rich opalescent fields shimmering in the shifting light and his mastery of material processes, have added a whole other dimension to the paintings. At the edges there are complex accidental details created through layers of process and incident; it gives them a look almost like 19th century photographs, where the chemical process leaves a residue at the edge of the image. In these paintings he has added a material beauty to the work that translates into an emotional depth, warmth and a psychological engagement that is a marvel to see. The surfaces oscillate between rough textures to smooth areas of translucent nacreous pigments applied with trowels and other tools, that leave a luscious record of thick viscous paint spread out in luxurious passages. At the edge is a slender area taped off, going around the corner of the canvas to create an L; it allows one to see the very first stage of the process. The ground color is revealed when the tape is pulled, and like an archeological dig, we can see the depth of layers that have accumulated in the process of realization. This small detail also sets off a scale relationship to the overall composition. A large field of color with a diagonal division becomes subtly activated by these small details. Reductive and lush, he has achieved a form of minimalism activated by a sensual maximalism through the use of the materials he chooses.

We spoke about his history and the journey that bought him here. “ I never expected that the experience of photography would find its way into my work. When I was at UC Berkeley I was intensely engaged in printmaking, a process where layering, chemical processes and the incidence at the margins were a rich source of visual details. When I first thought of creating a chrome painting, I bought cans of spray paint for mirroring surfaces. At first it had a high reflective sheen, but it dulled to a matt surface in a few months. Then I learned about a process developed in the automobile industry for chroming. I had moved back to California by then and found that there was one machine for doing this in Santa Clarita. When I first made a painting this way it brought to mind silver nitrate photography. There was a similarity to the process of bathing a print in different chemicals to bring out the image. The chroming process also has different stages of coating the surface in different chemicals to prepare the surface and to adhere the silver. I could see this connection to my early years as a studio assistant working in a dark room. Also the chemical incidence at the edge of the large format Polaroid prints that I assisted with, makes a big circle- all of these influences organically finding their way into my paintings.”

Jimi’s paintings can be seen through the lens of several different southern California schools of painting, such as the Fetish Finish and Light and Space artists. His attention to surface and the use of reflective materials align him to these histories, but unlike many of these artists, there is romantic warmth to his work, a desire to create a rapturous moment where sensual exuberance is released and held in a poetic whole; the utopian impulse to create a moment of balance and beauty in the world.

Mind and memory are often thought to exist solely in the brain. But experiences that permeate the body and soul: deep experiences in nature, feeling the oceanic swoon of life enveloping us, leave a memory embedded in one’s flesh. The endless stream of information that the capricious swirling twists and turns of life brings to us- the experiences that were unplanned but came through a chain of cause and effect to leave their mark- all of these memories exist in the body as well our brain. Painting gives one agency to unearth these neural pathways; indeed painting is the most supple material that allows our consciousness access to parts of being that cannot be touched through other language forms.

Jimi Gleason uses the reductive language of abstraction as a vector to unfurl a record of his journey. Each painting is a palimpsest of the myriad influences that have forged his aesthetic. His process is to find a space that brings together all of these experiences into a singular gestalt, an epiphany that shimmers with light and sings the body electric.

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