Saturday, April 1, 2017

Visiting Artist: Sandy Jamieson

Had the distinct honor + pleasure of hosting a show & tell from artist Sandy Jamieson to the advanced drawing class earlier this week. It had been almost forty years since his last visit to the art department: he graduated from UAF back in 1969, and teaching drawing classes as an adjunct the following year.

Personally I rank him as one of the quintessential Alaskan artists, arguably a member of the trinity of iconic creators - alongside Chad Carpenter & Ray Troll - who have left an indelible impression on the 49th state - especially with regards to pure popularity and renown, and their longtime presence on the regional scene (think Led Zeppelin, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones except everybody’s wearing beards + Carhartts). Jamieson is a one-man institution represented by any number of local establishments that bear his signature imagery associated with their places (ex: the landmark Chena Pumphouse and annual Arctic Man event), and his trademark paintings, prints and cards are enjoyed by many thousands of fans, both locals and visitors from around the globe. He’s represented in many galleries across the Pacific-Northwest, such as Washington and Montana.

His style is a wonderful blend of representational + humorous anthropomorphic depictions of wildlife in the context of outdoor recreation and wilderness themes. Hunting, fishing, flying, snowmachining and hot-tubbing, from the streets of downtown to mountaintops and saloons are among the many settings he employs, along with the occasional political commentary.

He brought in a couple portfolios of original work, including two fresh paintings and the consequent work involved in having them appear as a design on apparel (showing samples of garments that had been printed just the night before), and examples of prints on high-quality stock + canvas and an assortment of cards. Of interest to me - and of particular importance for our class - were the meta-lessons he shared dealing with his experience in the realm of business. He gave us a frank and blunt assessment of the many considerations and practicalities of being a successful artist with a foot in both Fine + Commercial Art, and how the logistics of marketing and merchandise can have an effect on one’s career. Of course one huge factor in any venture such as being an artist is the second job, and/or supportive partner: Jamieson can claim an equally outstanding reputation as a bush pilot/guide + builder of log cabins. Hence the unofficial label of making "art that has hair on it."

Legitimate sourdough cred aside, Jamieson also has many titles in his bio as an illustrator, and we got to flip through a couple volumes of books that I had not previously seen before. After getting my copy of his coloring book signed (“Alaska's Automobile Pioneer: Ride Along With Bobby Sheldon” with author Nancy Dewitt), I got to flip through “K'aiiroondak: Behind the Willows” by Richard Martin (as told to Bill Pfisterer), which according to the Alaska Native Knowledge Network:
“…in the Gwich'in language means "something behind the willows." In the north country willows often grow in areas that were once cleared for settlement. When viewed from the river, the willows screen any sign of human inhabitation. Yet, these places were home to many and still live in the memory of a few. Trade and life prospered along the Porcupine until after World War II. But by the early 1950s, the settlements of the Porcupine were deserted or inhabited only seasonally. Richard Martin's stories bring back this busy time in Alaska history.”
The second title Jamieson illustrated was “Shandaa (In My Lifetime)” by Belle Herbert & Katherine Peter. From the Alaska Native Language Center website:
“Belle Herbert lived all of her very long life -- perhaps 128 years -- in and around the village of Chalkyitsik on the Black River. Belle’s lively memories of life in this region of the upper Yukon River before she met any white person are captured here as she told them to her grandchild. She tells of the hard nomadic life as her people moved camp and set up heavy moosehide tents while the men hunted. She talks about marriage, religion, traditional cooking, the first airplanes, and the conveniences of modern ways. Belle’s stories are presented in Gwich’in with English translations and are illustrated with many photographs by Rob Stapleton and drawings by Sandy Jamieson. Includes illustrations, photos, maps.”
He told us a couple stories that tied in to the history and adventures connected with researching the books , which made me almost start a campfire right there in the classroom (somehow I don’t think OSHA would have appreciated the moment). His is occupational three-part harmony has proven a rich source of inspiration and insight, for example: how the practical experience of field-dressing countless critters tends to give you an intimate, hands-on understanding of animal anatomy in league with Audubon.

For years now in my beginning drawing class for the linear perspective segment I’ve utilized a snapshot taken while Sandy was restoring the historic Dunkel Street cabin outside of the Morris Thompson Center. It’s of a little drawing that I noticed tacked up on the wall of what the eventual layout of the interior was going to look like. What really got me excited was how his preparatory concept sketch – visual note-taking - served as yet another real-world example that having a practical, working understanding of linear perspective can be applied to situations outside of the classroom. So I always make a point to show the picture to my students along with Christo architectural renderings, illusionary sidewalk chalk-art festival pieces and comic book covers of Spiderman et al swinging through a metropolitan scene.

Image ©2017 Sandy Jamieson/posted by permission of the artist

Definitely for us one of the highlights of Jamieson’s show & tell was passing around a handful of his sketchbooks. Pictured here are several of the stages in the process behind his seminal “Beaver Pilot” print, right down to counting rivets + measuring the spaces in-between them. Again, the pun on a popular aircraft in the Alaskan Bush dovetail with his dual occupation as a pilot, which informs the aesthetic of his artwork in turn.

Image ©2017 Sandy Jamieson/posted by permission of the artist

Given that we were a small group gathered around a big table, it was an informal and intimate opportunity to check out some truly amazing drawings, on par with the work of Bill Berry, another renowned Interior Alaskan artist of regional significance.

It’s hard to explain the feeling of flipping through them and geeking out seeing the concept sketches of some of the most classic, recognizable imagery that symbolizes our home here in the far North. Once again driving home the crucial and recurring drumbeat of my insistence that students use their own mulch-piles or compost heaps of ideas in the process of developing their own pieces. Jamieson’s reference sketches reveal both the meticulous, exacting level of detail and playful humor that infuses his unique and wonderful work. What an exceptional treat for the department - many thanks from myself + the students for the chance to learn firsthand from such experience and skill.

“...everything I do starts with a pencil”

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