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Artists Among Us: Artist Profile - Jim Gingerich

Originally Posted: June 10, 2008

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"Forcythia By The Sea" by Jim Gingerich, 2007, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches Photos by Gary Mamay

Continuing with our artist profiles of artists both living and working in the Hamptons, our next artist is Jim Gingerich, who lives in Sagaponack.

Born in Waco, Texas in 1952, and raised in both Texas and Oregon, Jim Gingerich attended Baylor University in Waco from 1970 through 1972, receiving his B.F.A. from the University of Oregon in Eugene in 1975. And to most everyone's amazement Gingerich can pinpoint the exact date he arrived in New York City - May 1, 1976.

Gingerich's works are included in the public collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Yale Art Gallery, the Duke Museum of Art, the Dallas Museum of Fine Art, the Art Museum of South Texas, the Arkansas Art Center, and the Richmond (VA) Art Museum, among others. Gingerich maintains Gingerich Studios in Bridgehampton, and has participated in a plethora of solo and group exhibitions throughout the United States for over 30 years.

A select list of some of his private collectors include Jimmy Buffett, Eric Clapton, Robert DeNiro, Melanie Griffith, David Gruber, Mariel Hemingway, Don Johnson, Kurt Vonnegut, Glenn Frey of The Eagles, and Roy Scheider, among others.

A participant in the "Traveling Museum Show" as part of "Rock & Roll Currents in Contemporary Art" at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, OH, Gingerich has also designed the poster for the Hamptons International Film Festival (2000) and participated as a visiting artist and guest instructor at The Art Barge (Amagansett), The Studio School (New York City), and the Center for Creative Studies (Detroit).

"When She Like To Be Carried" by Jim Gingerich, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Gingerich ponders thoughtfully and deeply the question of why and when humans first began to make art stating, "Though painting and drawing are obviously visual arts, optically perceived, I believe the deeper impulse to make art springs from the sense of human touch - the desire to touch."

"To touch is to pay homage - the reverence with which you touch your newborn, the hair of a child, your lover, your dying mother. The making of art is a way for the artist to make the touch last - to enable one to take it home, so to speak."

"Even touching the artist's material is sensual. When I'm painting at the beach, and children gather around my palette, their first impulse is to stick their fingers in the wet paint. For the artist, a massive amount of touching goes into making paintings, drawings or sculpture."

"There's no known button to push to make the art instantly appear in the studio. One 5' x 8' canvas may hold a 100,000 brushstrokes - each one a touch."

Although Gingerich believes that since these are, perhaps, "unanswerable questions," adding "countless books of scholarly conjecture on the subject already exist," he nonetheless feels compelled to pursue answers.

"My probe back 20,000 years into pre-historic art was stimulated by questions that pop up daily in the studio when I'm working. Why am I doing this? What is my motivation? What's the point?"

"Archaeologically, the first art coincides with evidence of the first burial of the dead - the dawning awareness of love, loss, compassion and the soul," Gingerich expounds. "Awe, longing, desire and wonder bubbled and brewed in the human psyche and, mixed with a handful of anger, fascination and excitement, eventually burst out as art. Then again, since the first Paleolithic images were of hands, animals, females and phalluses, perhaps the first artists were merely hungry and horny," he quips.

"By painting the great beasts on the cave walls at Lascaux - the bulls, wild oxen, wooly rhinos, ibex - and making some of the images larger than life, the artists were inviting the animals into the cave, at least figuratively, as if the cave was a shrine to the hunt - a means to corral and hold the beasts by capturing and holding their images," he recounts. "And the images have been held beautifully now for 15,000 years. After such endless speculation as to what prompted Cro-Magnon men and women to make art, we can safely assume that they were not thinking about the potential profit of flipping the cave at Lascaux for a spacious loft in Tribeca."

"Disappearing Man" by Jim Gingerich, 2007, oil on canvas, 36 x 48 inches

"Oil paint, in the right hands, is very sexy. Velasquez's 'Venus At Her Mirror,' in the National Gallery in London, is probably the sexiest painting I've ever seen, but the painting is not about sex. To me it's about the breathtaking beauty of the female form."

Rembrandt, Carravagio, Reubens, Titian, Bonnard, Manet, even Bouguereau - all could render mouth-watering flesh. But the desire to have and hold certainly reaches beyond corporeal images.

If the artists were prioritizing elements of their psyches, animals came first, hands second.

When did you start making art and what medium(s) did or do you work in or consider to be your roots in art?

When my daughter was one-year-old, I placed a piece of charcoal in her tiny hand and she scrawled marks on a piece of handmade paper. Then I dated the drawing and saved it in a flat file, but I'm sure she has no recollection of her first artwork, just as I have no memory of mine. Like most young children I was an enthusiastic artist - pencil, crayons, paper and my imagination provided countless hours of entertainment.

In my first grade class I made a crayon drawing of WW II paratroopers leaping from a C-47 Transport plane. To keep from falling out of the sky, one man, whose chute had malfunctioned, grabbed onto the pant legs of a trooper whose parachute had opened. The pants came off in his hands and as I was drawing in the top trooper's underwear, the girls in class around me began to giggle and titter. Annoyed by the ruckus, the teacher confiscated my drawing and as punishment for disturbing the class, forced me to put my nose in the corner and count to 100.

Clearly, I remember thinking, 'I'm onto something here,' as I dutifully counted in the corner.

What is it about the Hamptons that brought you here and enticed you to stay, work, and pursue your art here as opposed to some place else?

When I look out to sea, I can see the curve of the earth. Since 1976, after I found a small loft for $150 a month on the Lower West Side of Manhattan in the deserted neighborhood that was to become Tribeca, I began driving out to Montauk for occasional weekends because the stimulation was opposite that of Manhattan. In 1985, my friend, Terry Elkins, rented a huge studio in a renovated potato barn near the railroad tracks in Wainscott, and when visiting him, aside from admiring his paintings and marveling at his extensive collection of squished metallic objects he'd placed on the train tracks, I became mesmerized by the beauty of nearby Sagaponack.

"Red Dress" by Jim Gingerich, 2005, oil on canvas, 40 x 30 inches

Soon I rented a house on Parsonage Lane overlooking the gorgeous farm fields which stretched to the sea. The flat ploughed earth - the crops of corn and potatoes - visually resembled the area where I grew up in Texas. I'd found the perfect haven to recover from the constant stresses and abrasion of New York and whenever it was time to drive back to Manhattan, I balked. Since I was happy in Sagaponack, why leave?

In Sagaponack, the gentle hiss of the sea, the salt smell, the vivid moonlight, and the fabled island sunlight refracting off both the Atlantic Ocean and Long Island Sound, worked their subtle seduction and I became blissfully intoxicated. The trance hasn't worn off yet. I've made 99 percent of my plein air paintings in Sagaponack and I'm there daily for medicinal purposes.

How do you support yourself as an artist?

Since I started painting when I was 19, I've held the following jobs - musician (rhythm guitar), nude model for art classes, demolition worker, furniture mover, sandblaster, concrete worker, forklift operator, sawmill worker, ditch digger, plasterer's helper, ranch hand, farmer, electrician, house painter, art trucker, carpenter, actor, architect, photographer, illustrator, and art instructor. The only job I did not enjoy was in 1972. My father, who was teaching physics at Baylor University, in Waco, TX, suggested that I work programming computers in the basement of the science building. Fluorescent lights, windows that did not open, a time-clock, sitting at a desk all day and a boss telling me what to do - all were unacceptable. After two weeks I quit and swore I'd never do that again as long as I lived. Since 1985, I've lived exclusively off the sale of my work.

Why live and work in the Hamptons as opposed to elsewhere?

Up until lately, I never considered living elsewhere, but it appears, in the last decade it's as if the Wall Street firm, Greed, Hubris & Excess, handed out handsome bonuses with the stipulation that the money only fund the building of obscenely huge houses that, by decree, must sit empty 300 days of the year with the heat and air conditioning set on auto at 72 degrees.

What local environmental or historical aspects of The Hamptons do you relate to that may or may not be reflected in your medium?

Along with their father, Johnny and Jeff White still work the family farm in Sagaponack established by Ebenezer White in 1690.

Also, today, Marilee Foster offered to shine up one of the Foster Farm plows that I've admired for years. If the plow is idle and the light's right, I'll paint it this week.

What artists do you feel have influenced you and or your work?

Every piece of art I've ever seen has influenced me - especially if it told me what not to make or saved me a lot of time and trouble. I'm thankful that I'm not compelled to have my assistants screw three-quarter inch plywood into rectilinear boxes and then attach them to gallery walls, or gang wire row upon row of eight-foot fluorescent light fixtures.

"Her Dazzling Psyche" by Jim Gingerich, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 40 inches

Until recently, somewhere between Matisse and Velasquez I could find what I need. Now I'm also looking as far back in art history as I can go. For the past two years, although they remain nameless and we cannot find most of their work, I've been studying all I can find about the humans who were the first artists.

In fact, I'm writing the text and making the drawings for a graphic novel featuring a Cro-Magnon Man as a main character who grew up in the magnificent cave at Lascaux, France, who invented the bow and arrow, who blew paint through a hollow bone onto the limestone walls of the cave, and who now is 15,000-years-old. He's not immortal -- he just hasn't died yet and he's here among us as a Shaman/Automobile Tire Salesman living in Sag Harbor.

About Matisse - the childlike luminosity of a Matisse, seemingly simple, yet formed by a deeply profound sensibility. As he aged, suffering for 40-something years from the pain and humility of diverticulitis, instead of becoming dark and heavy, he became even more luminous and light as paper. He did not deign to share his pain in his work, not even while his wife and daughter were held and tortured by the Gestapo during the German Occupation of France.

My daughter was a babe in arms when I took her six times to see the massive Matisse Retrospective at the Modern in 1992.

If I ever lack inspiration, I simply pick up a Matisse book and immediately I'm refreshed - my faith restored in the possibilities of paint.

From the moment I first saw Velasquez's exquisite brushwork - the sophistication of his surface quality - I knew no human could ever surpass him. Even in a lifetimes work, one could only hope for glimpses of such greatness. Manet, after he first saw the Velazquez paintings at the Prado in 1865, said to a friend, "He is the painter of painters - He has astonished me, he has ravished me." In 1989, when the Velazquez show came to the Met, I too was astonished. Standing as close to the paintings as the guards would allow, I marveled at the microcosms throbbing in the paint surfaces. This was his world. He touched this canvas 349 years ago, and it was still tingling - the energy shot through me like an electric charge. I was standing in a pulsating auric field, but I know it is just paint and canvas and light. Every day I use them. The paint comes in tubes, and the canvas comes on a roll. And he did this magic with material? The Master was speaking to me, loud and clear, and he'd been dead for three centuries.

"Daddy, Why Are Men So Weird" by Jim Gingerich, 2008, oil on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Other inspirations and references around the studio - I look at Rodin's sculptures and drawings almost daily noting the solidity and fluidity of the human form, as well as the nobility and pathos of human suffering and desire. Remington, if I'm painting a horse or a moonlit nocturne. Homer, if there's a sea. In Francis Bacon's book, "The Brutality of Fact," he speaks of trying to make images off his nervous system as accurately as he can. Magritte, for spin. Van Gogh, for maniacal enthusiasm, cadmium yellow pale and the Mistral born bugs and weeds embedded in the wet paint of his plein air landscapes. John Singer Sargent, for how to make a brushstroke count. Monet, for painting his wife moments after her death. Franz Halls, if there's a smile. Vermeer attained immortality with only 50 paintings. Once I took the train down to D.C. to the National Gallery just to lay my eyes on "The Girl With A Red Hat," which measures a mere 9" x 7" and proves that size does not matter. Gericault, for "The Raft of the Medusa" - proving that size does matter. Munch, for refraining from rising from the grave and haunting whoever marketed the "Scream" as a blow-up plastic doll that snaps back upright after one smacks it.

Goya, for being the first to make an etching of a fart, in the "Caprices." He painted some of the most powerful images in the history of Western art - "The Disasters of War," "Saturn Devouring His Children," and "The Black Paintings," - nothing was taboo for him. Degas, for his pastels of women bathing. Cezanne, for his early palette knife paintings, "The Three Green Apples," in the Musee D'Orsay, and for making the small painting, "The Bathers," which Matisse bought for 1,300 francs in 1899 and used as inspiration for many of his early figurative masterpieces such as "La Joie de Vivre," "La Danse," "Nymph and Satyr," and "Bathers With A Turtle."

If I had to spend eternity in one building on earth, I would choose the Musee D'Orsay in Paris.

A shared thread runs through the artists mentioned above; they were all master draftsmen. Deep aspects of their humanity are revealed through their hand-drawn line - the sensibility with which they touch the paper.

What advice would you give an emerging artist?

"Woman Tied To Bull" by Jim Gingerich, 2008. Drawing for
graphic novel. Photo by Eileen Casey

Don't mow the lawn wearing flip-flops.

What gives you an edge(if any)?

Almost everyday, from April until December, I swim a half-mile in the sea. This past winter, for the first time, I swam through January, February and March. My thinking process was, perhaps, made viscous, like the sap in the trees, and slowed to hibernation speed by the dreary days of my 16th East End January, but somehow, I wanted to attack winter. To fight cold with cold, I reasoned, pry apart the frosty jaws of winter and take the plunge. Logically, if you get as cold as you can possibly be without actually dying from hypothermia, anything after that will feel relatively warm. Right? So - suited up with hood, boots, mittens, 3.2 wetsuit, flippers - into the sea I go. In late February, the ocean temperature bottomed out this year at about 38 degrees, Long Beach at 36 degrees, according to my pool thermometer. Yes, the water is shockingly cold at first plunge, but within a minute the 98.6 degree body heat warms the thin layer of seawater inside the wetsuit and once snugly cocooned, the 20-minute swim is tingly and invigorating.

The problem arises with the wind chill when you step out of the sea and all the warm water drains out of the suit - like standing wet and naked in a snowy gale. So I disproved my hypothesis. If you get as cold as you can possibly get, you can still get colder. But, once I'm dry and out of the wind, I always feel better than when I went in. The sea rearranges my molecules like a benign aquatic microwave.

What are you working on now, and are you involved in any upcoming shows or exhibitions?

Earlier I mentioned the graphic novel. Last October I began the work, but the idea has been percolating for about a year. It's not built like a comic book, with numerous panels on a page as illustrations and bubbles for dialogue. The text, at present, runs 60,000 words, which I am ruthlessly cutting, like an alter-ego who doesn't even want to know the original author, like trying to train somebody else's bad dog. Never have I encountered an endeavor where I throw away 60 percent of my efforts.

"The Breeze Blew Her Door" by Jim Gingerich, 2008. Drawing
for graphic novel. Photo by Eileen Casey

I'm easily seduced by tangents in the studio. In fact, the freedom to follow them with avid curiosity adds spice to my work-day. The travels of the mind, however, don't always stay on message. Consequently, drastic shifts in tone, time and setting were bogging the story, so I began writing the screenplay for the novel, thinking strict economy and a bare bones approach would demand harsh discipline and cure me of philosophical meandering. But since the format for a screenplay is cold, unpoetic and callous, eventually I came to miss the cozy, rambling, fireside chats I'd had with myself over the winter.

The drawings continue to reproduce, like some mutant organism on steroids, one idea giving birth to another and another, multiplying exponentially with no end in sight. The story of a two-hour motion picture is told with something like 10 million 35mm stills - a daunting factoid for a lone artist, and I also found myself envying Walt Disney's illustration staff - hundreds of accomplished artists churning out the countless hand-drawn watercolors for his early animated features, like "Fantasia" and "Snow White."

The book's working title is "Eros and Thantos" - accepting the fact that humans invented the mythology and all the bizarre antics of the gods and goddesses, I saw that the Cro-Magnon Man, with a shaman's powers, could have conceived Eros in the caves of Lascaux and then championed her as the goddess of love and lust-- 15,000 years later now, together they've taken up residence in The Hamptons at the turn of the 21st century.

"Eros On The Prowl" by Jim Gingerich, 2008, oil on canvas, 30 x 36 inches

Eros, who has evolved into a female Centaur, a Centaurette, prowls the Sagaponack beaches with her bow and a quiver of magic golden arrows looking to smite the lovelorn with her amorous potion. Opposing her attempts is Thanatos, god of gravity, decay, dissolution and contention. He produces a sinister potion of his own, mixed with a pinch of Murphy's Law - whatever can go wrong between lovers, will go wrong. And he shoots clandestine, before and after videos of his work, over which he is obsessively compulsive.

The book is graphic and it's a novel so I've decided to call it a 'Grovel' because I've found how humbling and painful writing can be. Who said, "I hate writing, but I love having written?"

In three good work days I can establish a solid, satisfying dialog with any painting, but with writing I may have to re-think entire chapters and three weeks work ends up on the cutting room floor.

I've always known how painful it can be to make a beautiful painting - I've simply gotten used to it over the years and either by necessity or delusion, have learned to transmute the pain into pleasure.

Also hanging on the studio walls are the drawings for a children's book I wrote and illustrated last year, entitled, "What D.B. Firefly Can Do With Half A Rainbow."

In addition, I've made a mock-up for a third book, called "Gingerich Paints The Hamptons," a retrospective of open air landscapes executed from 1988 to the present.

On July 24 through Aug. 3 I'll be hosting an Open Studio showcasing my recent work at 9 Tradesman Path, which is two blocks north of the railroad overpass off Butter Lane, Bridgehampton - next door to Plum TV.

To view more of Gingerich's work visit his website at www.jimgingerich.com
or email at jimgingerich@gmail.com, Gingerich can be reached at 631-871-1605.

Eileen Casey spent many years working in the television and music industries in New York City on the "ABC In Concert" weekly series, as well as several prime time network and cable television specials. An award-winning journalist, editor, and artist, and former Editor-in-Chief of Hamptons.com, she enjoys staying warm in Charleston and cool in the Hamptons.

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