Hound of the Baskervilles cover, Jamie Chase, Dark Horse Comics

Santa Fe artist Jamie Chase of the Matthews Gallery presents a new Dark Horse Comics graphic novel “Hound of the Baskervilles” based on the classic Sherlock Holmes story.

In Jamie Chase‘s opinion, painting and cartooning sit on opposite ends of the art arena. “In my life, I’ve always experienced a sort of conflict between illustrated work and fine art,” he says. “Illustrated work is to service a story, while fine art is a path to self discovery.”

The dichotomy is certainly evident in Jamie’s work. His oil paintings feature abstracted female figures who seek transcendence within glowing color fields, while his new 63-page graphic novel based on the Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskervilles is driven by a steady stream of cloak-and-dagger action.

The lifelong artist is well aware of the long list of creatives who’ve successfully navigated both paths. From Matisse to Picasso to Warhol, many a fine artist has also dabbled in the business of illustration. “In the work of those artists, I saw the perfect marriage of cartooning and fine art,” Jamie says. This Friday from 5-7 pm at Matthews Gallery, Jamie’s diverse works will come together under one roof for CHASING THE TALE, a special exhibition of original art from The Hound of the Baskervilles. As the event approaches, the artist has been pondering the ways one medium influences the other.

“I bought a lot of comics, and I guess I read them, but I really liked them for the art,” Jamie says. Throughout his early life in Sacramento, CA, he was compelled to focus on fine art. His grandmother, who he calls his guardian angel, first recognized his talent when he was five years old and signed him up for his first of many art classes.

After high school Jamie enrolled at San Francisco Academy of Art but quickly moved to the San Francisco Art Institute because of its greater emphasis on fine art. One semester later, he dropped out and traveled to Europe to educate himself. He moved to San Francisco in the early 1970s, and then to Santa Fe in 1980, where his fine art career took off.

Jamie’s turn as a graphic novelist is a more recent development. He’s done a few self-published projects, but his big break came when he heard that Dark Horse Comics was looking for an artist to illustrate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous story. Suddenly he had a contract with the largest independent publishing house in the graphic novel industry.

“They sent me a script that was very similar to a screenplay,” Jamie says. For a fine artist who abstracts his figures down to the most graceful forms, the leap from word to image seemed strange at first.

“The serial nature of it is one thing, and then the single panel can get really complicated depending on what the scene is,” he says. “I’m always surprised when a writer says in one sentence that there’s an army of a thousand people standing there, and then the artist has to think of every soldier.”

Even so, Jamie sees many commonalities between his canvases and his comic book panels. He focuses more on the gestalt of the image than dense details, and says he see the visual vocabulary of his abstract paintings in the shadows that creep through his drawings of turn of the century England.

“I think my painting makes me a much looser cartoonist, and that’s a liability sometimes. Comics fans are often impressed by highly rendered images, and I don’t necessarily fill in all the corners,” Jamie says. “But those more gestural lines create the pattern of the black and white.”

Jamie has been consumed by cartooning as of late—he recently completed a 90-page graphic novel that’s the first in a series of five—but he still finds time to put brush to canvas. “I’ve done a lot more abstraction lately. I just feel like the figurative thing has reached a certain moment where I need to step away from it,” he says.

Jamie still meditates quite a bit on the figure in his cartooning. “There’s a simple reason people like comics, or ballet for that matter,” he says. “It’s a simple human form moving gracefully through space.” Whatever hat Jamie’s wearing, that’s a universal truth.

Jamie Chase will be signing copies of The Hound of the Baskervilles on Friday, March 1 from 5-7 pm, and a re-creation of his studio with original panels from the graphic novel will be on display through the weekend. Some of his latest paintings will be on view as well. Like us on Facebook and follow our Twitter feed for more information.