One thing you usually miss in art galleries and museums is the artist. That can be one of the pleasures of being a good collector, to gain entrée into the homes and studios of creative souls. I was lucky enough to search out lots of art in Vietnam and Cuba where the artists were more readily accessible. Many times .I visited the home of Dang Thao Ngoc in Hanoi, and watched Dinh Q Le spread his woven photographic images across the flloor in Ho Chi Minh City, and. helped Jose Bedia pull prints out from under an old mattress in Havana.
And one habit I fell into by accident (it probably started when I was just trying to document the work I’d seen) is photographing the workspaces of the artists. And though Birmingham may offer only a pale imitation of Soho, many fine artists make their home here and have their studios hidden away above the sidewalks normally trodden on the way to Chik-Fil-A with no notice of the lofty subversion going on above.
In addition to the chance to talk to the artists about their art, the studio visitor has the chance to see works in progress. And through my many visits and photographic sessions I documented works at several stages from start to finish and the course of new works starting and styles and techniques evolving.
Another benefit to visiting the atelier is the discovery of accidental art made in the process of making art, the wash on the walls, the Jackson Pollack floor drips. And the materials themselves can be found art, the paint-covered mixing pallets, the boxes of pastels, even the bucket of brushes in Dick Jemison’s studio that appears on the cover of this edition of the Birmingham Weekly.
Seeing these materials also gives a better understanding of how the artists creates the work, not to mention watching the artist in the process. Dick Jemison created very dark, opaque art when he came out of the Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia in Athens. But he was already sculpting relief into his paintings and using more sculptor-like materials such as sand and glass.
He was also beginning experiments in collage, including embedding concepts hidden in the canvas—for example tapes of music that were covered up under the paint where they could be neither seen nor heard.
Jemison continues his work with collage, adding manmade fabrics and textiles to the earthen matter, including one work in his studio that contains all the contents on his studio floor that day, including mop strands that follow the flow of his brushstrokes.
But many years spent in Santa Fe opened his pallet up to rich sun and desert hues. The works are sometimes geometric, latticed, and even linear, sometimes washing down in a painterly flow--and sometimes both on the same canvas. Like the changing designs of the desert lights, Jemison feels himself led more by color in his painting.
But now he finds himself more objective.
Jemison has collected a vast array of artifacts- -aboriginal masks, Latin prayer boxes, and African bowls, many of which were recently given to the Birmingham Museum of Art. Nowadays he is working on his own collection of created objects, painted wooden sculptures inspired by ceremonial poles from the Australian desert.
But Jemison’s pallet has changed from the rich azures and vermilions of Santa Fe to mud browns—much like our runoff-silted rivers— and bile-yellows and vile-oranges that remind me of a bad girlfriend’s inner vomit. And now I can actually see what Faulkner meant by arsenical green.
Says Jemison, “ Right now I am just working with the ugliest colors I can find and going with it.” And applying them to imbalanced, sometimes angular, sometimes distortedly swollen, shafted dangling amulets.
There’s something unseen, like an embedded tape of music, in the concept.