The Arts Company | June 3–23
WORDS Margaret F.M. Walker
Imagine you are running on a wooded trail, ruminating over something but trying to keep aware of your surroundings: a rock here, a ditch there, a branch to dodge. Thinking about this gets me in the right place to understand Jim Jobe’s incorporation of highly realistic natural elements into otherwise abstract paintings and drawings. An avid hiker, the artist describes this phenomenon in his work: “A lot of that imagery comes out of peripheral perception. When you’re hiking, you can stop and frame a bucolic setting, but that’s not how you experience it. In reality, imagery comes in constantly from all sorts of directions.” This is a way for Jobe to approach abstraction while intuitively drawing on his surroundings and experiences.
“In our hurried world, Jim Jobe’s work invites one to slow down, to trace the threads as if a maze, and in so doing to contemplate the connections within the art and within our lives.”
Take a minute (literally) to observe this in Indigenous. The greater part of the painting is occupied by negative space, areas that are primarily studies in tone and brushwork. These unobtrusive patches allow our eyes easily to trace the many lines—realistic and abstract—that create unity in this painting. The composition is framed by portions of two tall trees while two similar ones in the exact center give the impression of being farther in the distance because they are shorter. In the foreground, though, is a greenish area faintly outlined as an irregular trapezoid. This abstract shape connects the distant portions of trees with the more present ladder that leans off to the left. It’s very realistic branch rungs are stabilized by simple lines that relate more closely to the fully abstract ones.
While a mature artist will continue to experiment with new techniques and imagery, similar hieroglyphs often will appear among a group of canvases. For instance, it is evident that Jobe’s imagination is caught more by bare branches and rocks than foliage and animals. Even in I Wish I Was the Sparrow in Your Child’s Eye, a birdhouse is perched on a post, overgrown by a tangled branch-like vine; we imagine it has not been inhabited for quite some time. Absent from this realism and yet connected by their incorporation into the same scene are a flattened background evocative of color field painting and a quadrilateral, faintly outlined in blue, that weaves through and frames the central, abandoned birdhouse.
Jobe has created art over the course of his career that visually varies widely. In the words of Anne Brown, owner of The Arts Company, “It is as though he takes elements from all over and creates his own innovative world. It is like nothing I have seen before.” Constants throughout his oeuvre, though, are a love or the power of lines, a focus on surprising connections, and often a neutral or cool color palette drawn from nature.
Alter is highly complex and fractured with curiously suspended rocks at the top and in the middle. The strings that harness them and even the varying degrees of realism with which the rocks are depicted draw them into and out of the almost overwhelming number of linear relationships within the painting. A labyrinth for the eye, this painting, like so many of his, reveals different paths and connections with each viewing. Particularly in person, this work and others feel almost like collage, achieved through a buildup of paint in one section, sgraffito (a scraping technique) both to erase and continue line, and optical illusions that weave shapes over and behind each other.
Lines are the predominant focus, subject even, in Jobe’s art. He expresses fascination at how “just putting a mark across a certain part of the picture plane can so dramatically affect things visually.” Drawings from the Sanctuary series provide excellent opportunities to ponder this. In Sanctuary 20, the trellis-like structure appears again. Its central triangular shape anchors the composition. Semi-realistic shadows nod to perspective. This grid is one of the hieroglyphs that appears often, and it belies a fascination for how structures grow from simply a series of lines. In these drawings, particularly in Sanctuary 5, lines also carry light. This piece is populated by faint, white whiskers that create movement and draw the eye to and around the more voluminous branches.
For a few years, in an effort to refocus his work or perhaps to see if it would go in another direction, Jobe stopped painting altogether and tried to re-teach himself how to draw. Admiration for the craftsmanship of woodworkers and ceramicists led him to approach drawing more as a way of achieving mastery with a pencil as a tool than as a way to produce imagery. This led him more deeply into abstraction, studying the interplay between line and shape and color.
Guided by these formal elements, Jobe’s artwork always incorporates a web of sorts; “It’s how I see things. Everywhere, I see these puzzle-pieces of interwoven connections.” Most intriguing are the threads of these webs that so easily morph between the real and imaginary, visually speaking to how the connections we experience in this world take many forms: physical, metaphorical, philosophical. In Remnants, wooden boards are nailed together in a manner not particularly practical and further joined along different pathways by white string. This string unites the wooden planks with other non-realistic lines such as the frame of a cube in the lower left. In this painting and so many others, Jobe believes, “The line that looks like a piece of string is the same as the line that is not,” creating a sort of trompe l’oeil effect. In other works, such as Sanctuary 20, the branches literally become the abstract frame of the drawing.
In our hurried world, Jim Jobe’s work invites one to slow down, to trace the threads as if a maze, and in so doing to contemplate the connections within the art and within our lives. It is clear just from looking how much time goes into the creation of even one canvas. Their playful titles are more about linkages than interpretation, thereby adding another factor on which we may pause and ponder. Like the thin lines that easily connect the real and the abstract, the titles, often drawn from literature, lay out further pathways for the artwork to reach off the canvas and connect with us.