Jim’s Big Four-Oh
My friend, the artist Jim Winters turns 40 years old today, and over the weekend his partner, Jeff, threw a big party to celebrate at Jim’s place in the Mission. I have to take some credit for the party because a few months back, Jeff was saying he wanted to do something unique and special to commemorate Jim’s upcoming birthday without doing the usual big party where everyone comes and gets drunk and hands over wrapped presents they bought without much real thought and more out of obligation.
So I suggested, spur of the moment, “Most of his friends are also artists, right? So, why not instruct them that they need to bring something they created, a piece of art, that honors Jim? Like, LiteBrite portraits or Play-Doh models or whatever, y’know, make it fun and don’t put a lot of rules on it and everybody gets to show off but it’s still honoring Jim?”
Which is exactly what happened.
The variety of pieces (51 in all) was astounding. Someone made a pillow with Jim’s likeness in felt, someone made a very elaborate Tibetan mini-temple with Jim’s face superimposed on a variety of Hindu Gods, there was a miniature bust of Jim, several painted and pencil portraits, his mother’s collection of photos of “Jim Through the Ages,” and my own addition, which I called “Three-Layer Jim.”
It was very high-concept. I wanted to honor Jim in a method that mimicked his own style of art, which uses silkscreen techniques and is often portraiture of friends or people he admires, but also diverged from his chosen media into one that I use most often, a lit screen like the one you’re looking at now, but I didn’t want to haul a laptop there and show some pixel image or simply print out a Photoshopped version of Jim in a frame.
My plan was to take an image of Jim’s face and reduce it to the least amount of colors possible, separate each color onto a different layer, print out each separate layer onto a sheet of transparency film, line those up with about an inch separating each slice so that if you looked at it from any angle other than straight-on, it would appear abstract. Jim’s face would emerge only when viewed from a perfect viewing angle.
It all sounded so simple and in my head, it worked out perfectly. Put in practice, however, the process took five days of tests using different combinations of color, different images, and different numbers of layers until the right combination presented itself. Going from screen to art was more difficult than I imagined. Then I spent three more days figuring out the mounting technique that would allow the layers to float above each other over a lighted tracing panel.
A trip to Flax, as usual, solved nearly all of my problems. They had light panels of various sizes and thicknesses, and the salesgirl recommended that I use bookbinding pegs glued to the panel and to each other as a method of floating the layers above the surface. The bookbinding pegs were genius, because they screwed into each other and I could chain them into as many layers as I could want or need.
The reason it took three days to perfect that method was the difficulty of finding an adhesive that glued metal to metal and metal to plastic and still retained some flexibility after drying (FYI, Elmer’s Stix-All finally did the trick, along with some filing and patience. Don’t use Krazy Glue or any of those other super glues, they failed miserably.)
One thing I always forget about making art — for me, it always involves a lot of sweat and heartache. I rarely do anything the simple and easy way, and I am never satisfied with the results. I think it’s why I gave up art after High School and only took up creative endeavors again when the Web presented itself. Here, playing with pixels and colors and straight edges, I was given enough restrictions that I had to settle for some results, and I also like the idea that within the computer and on the screen, nothing actually exists.
This type of art and design is illusion, and thus temporary. At least, that’s how I see it. I know there’s a drive to save everything that happens out here, but I sort of like the idea that it could all be wiped clean in an instant with a few keystrokes, that what you see and read is created out of nothing and can become nothing just as easily.
When you make art with your hands and you’re assembling and attaching and designing and waiting for the ink to dry, there’s something so final about it all that, for me, is unsettling. I’m not sure why I attach so much more importance to that type of art than I do of what can be created with a computer — particularly since this type of creativity is becoming more and more prevalent and it allows a greater number of people to realize their creative potential than ever before….
Which reminds me of a conversation I had with Jim’s mom. Alone in the kitchen before the other guests started to arrive, I asked her whether her or her husband were also artistic, where did Jim’s creative bones come from, was there an uncle, maybe, or an aunt or someone’s brother? Did anyone else in the family demonstrate this artistic talent?
No, she answered, no one. And she in no way considered herself creative, and she could never do what these “artist” did. And I always reject that premise, because I believe that everyone is creative in some capacity, but we only tend to reward and recognize creativity in some narrow demonstrations. “Do you like to cook? Do you follow recipes or are you making up your own?” I asked. She said she was a good cook and she had some recipes of her own that she made. “There you go, you are creative! You should sit down at that computer you have at home and write down your recipes and them maybe have Jim do some illustrations and you could print it up! You could print up your own book! Everyone’s doing it.”
Anyway, I drank too much vodka, I flashed my privates at a tranny who wanted to see them, I tried to come on to one of my oldest friends and I woke up the next day feeling absolutely dreadful — so as far as I’m concerned the party was a fantastic success and I think everyone had a great time.
One constant comment was that everyone wanted to have a party like that. It allowed all the guests to show off and share the spotlight, it still paid tribute to the guest of honor, and all the art sparked lots of conversation and humor and no one that I saw was just standing around at any point with no one to talk to. You could break the ice immediately with a request to see someone else’s art, and then they wanted to see yours.
I can’t take complete credit for the idea, I’m sure lots of poeple have done the same thing, but my inspiration was my brother. Some years back, long before the Web, Scott used to invite an assortment of friends over for Creative Parties, and the price of admission was “one thing you made.” It could be anything. People sang songs, people made desserts, people brough their college film projects, people made art right at the party with crayons and construction paper. No one was left out or made to feel they weren’t creative and interesting and talented, and they were always great fun.
I think it may be time to start up that tradition anew, with one important addition — guests not only have to provide something they created, they must also bring with them one other person not already on the invitation list. Mix it up, bring in new blood, and provide everyone with someone new to talk to, rather than the same old gang again and again.
August 8, 2005