SEEING SIDEWAYS: Jamie Chase’s “Figurative and Landscapes”
Posted on August 29, 2013
The front door of Jamie Chase’s house opens to his studio, a sprawling room that’s furnished with a squashy couch, a drum set and an easel. Leaning near the door is a small painting that looks familiar. It’s one of Jamie’s old figurative works, but the woman on the canvas is partially buried under a fresh nebula of white paint.
“Much to the chagrin of anyone who tries to keep track of my inventory, when I get pieces back in my studio I’ll paint over them,” Jamie says. “Until a painting leaves my house for good, it’s not safe.”
This fearless impulse to destroy and reinvent his images is Jamie’s creative engine, but the process isn’t one of chaos so much as measured evolution. For his new show, opening Friday at the Matthews Gallery, the artist painted landscapes for the first time in nearly three decades. His challenge was to tie the new work to the visual language of his figurative paintings, and the solution was as simple and elegant as tilting his head.
“It’s kind of circular in a way, because when I was a kid my grandmother took me to a private teacher to study landscape painting,” Jamie says. The artist grew up near Sacramento in the 1950s and 60s, painting in a style that had its heyday nearly 200 years before. “I thought I was going to be an illustrator in the style of N.C. Wyeth,” he says.
Jamie’s artistic identity crisis came during two short stints in art school in San Francisco, when he saw other students with illustration skills switching to conceptual and abstract art. He was already feeling unglued from the romanticism of the classical landscape, but he wasn’t sure how to portray the modern world without getting too cerebral or losing a sense of spirituality.
A trip through Europe sent Jamie’s head spinning in many different directions, but he was still painting in the style of N.C. Wyeth when he landed in Santa Fe in the 1980s. It was here that he started seeking a balance between his illustration skills and his new knowledge of modernism.
“I thought, if I can bring all of my understandings of art aesthetics… into some weird handwriting of my own then that’s my purpose,” Jamie says. A seed of the artist’s new direction had taken root back in California, when he fell in the love with the work of Nathan Oliveira. Jamie rid his canvases of landscapes altogether and started painting abstracted figures immersed in glowing color fields.
In his studio, Jamie’s figures hover on the walls all around him, many of them only partially finished. When he’s working on a canvas, he’ll paint the figure in detail and then cover it with broader strokes, pulling the image in and out of focus using dozens of layers of paint. The artist is keenly aware of the challenges he faces when painting the female nude—of balancing sexuality and sensuality, of capturing the humanity and spirituality of his abstracted beings in an authentic way.
“Part of why I moved in this direction was to get rid of all the particulars, like the ethnicity, the fashion of the day or the context of the environment,” Jamie says. “I try to get rid of all the trappings that go with the specific moment in time and find something more infinite. I want it to seem more like a human being and not a human doing.”
When he started painting landscapes again for the new show, Jamie had to fight the impulse to place figures within them. Working through this temptation forced him to connect the two bodies of work in an innovative way.
“The thought was that I could turn my figures sideways and make them landscapes so that people would still say, ‘Oh, that’s how Jamie Chase would paint a landscape,’” he says. “Landscapes are highly erotic. You could hide all kinds of subliminal things in there that are all organic and figure-based, but it’s also a landscape so it gives you the safety of thinking, ‘Oh, I’m just appreciating nature.’”
This realization helped Jamie take the new landscapes—even ones based on famous places, like Abiquiu’s Pedernal mesa—to the transcendent realm he’d created for his figures. Painting the new works became a familiar process of adding and removing details, taking the paintings from depictions of real places to abstract color fields and back again.
“There are so many narratives underneath the final painting,” Jamie says. “It starts out as something really dark or really dramatic in contrasty colors, and by the end it’s almost neutral colors, but there’s something moving under the surface.”
If you attend Friday’s opening, keep in mind that those stories could be but a sideways glance away.
Join Jamie at the artist reception for “Figurative and Landscapes” on Friday, August 30 from 5-7 pm, and see the show at the Matthews Gallery from August 30 to September 12. Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest for more information.