Jamie Bollenbach seems to work backwards, starting in politics and moving to Art, starting in Alaska and moving East, "starting abstract and working to classical painting space. "

"Pushing around the mud to chase the temporal," he fully embraces painting traditions, but rejects the idea that painting has any special place in art except for its history. "Painting is art to the extent that it continues to create art," he says. "This most ancient of media, an almost curious shelter in the contemporary blizzard of pop images, still provides irreproducible processes for the exploration of our nature as visual thinkers, as cultural identities, and creatures half conscious of time and place. Painting, pushed to the limits of its capability, still asks urgent questions, and provides a hard visual step into persistent philosophical questions and methods of serious intellectual inquiry."

The son of a meteorologist who painted and a psychologist who helped pioneer Alaska's feminist movement, Bollenbach grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, which was still a wild city in the 1970s, as the Alaska Pipeline poured billions into a scruffy, remote city still recovering from the 9.2 earthquake of 1964.  With trans-global flights landing for fuel, it was a town where Bears, professors, coked-up welders and French stewardesses mixed, strangely frontier, strangely international at the same time.
From elementary school on, he worked on political campaigns. Always drawing as child, obsessed for a while with fishing boats, his career shifted toward a long interest in progressive politics. "Alaska used to be a progressive, even socialistic state but with a tremendous love of individual freedom. Oil changed that- I thought it could be fought. For that time, I was wrong."

Accepted at Reed College in Portland, he got his BA in Political Science, and returned fresh out of college to become the Executive Director of the ACLU for the state for five years. "A fantastic opportunity -fascinating work, but ultimately consitutional advocacy left me wanting to exercise freedom more than just advocating it."

Alaska had a curious art and music scene, big enough to produce aggressive work, but small enough that it "smooshed everyone together,"painters, rock and classical musicians, poets, dancers, politicians, all knew each other. "I threw a party once that started with few state Senators dropping by and ended with fifteen little punk rock kids cowering in the back, hiding from the police." Jamie also helped start "The Disastronauts," a band he wryly describes "as one of the top three original rock bands in Anchorage, Alaska in 1992."

Eventually, though Alaska's limitations caught up. "It was growing more Republican by the minute, the local art couldn't break out of moose and mountains for any length of time, and, in like the bumper sticker says 'In Alaska, you don't lose your girlfriend, you lose your turn.' "

Jamie moved to San Francisco in the early 90s, set up his first studio in East Oakland. "Annoying in reflection. I might have stayed permanently in that great loft, but my work was not up to what I wanted, and I had some trouble adjusting."

Back in Portland in the 90's he worked for an artist's non-profit and founded a work studio building, where he first "really started painting seriously- starting with a notion of muscular modernism and eventually becoming a decent colorist," making paintings that treated color with the same spatial rules of a landscape. It wasn't originally, but it was promising. After three years of self-taught work in Portland, he applied to the MFA at UW in Seattle and was, to his astonishment, accepted. "No Art degree. Just some half-way decent painting."

At U.W. he worked with Denzil Hurley, Norman Lundin, Ann Gale, Phil Govedare. "Denzil would take your brain, lift it above your head about six inches, and put it in backwards." Jamie knew he was finally on to something "the day Denzil started yelling a me."

He taught all the way through Grad School, getting a new competitive quarterly appointment each quarter. "Lucky for me, since money was most certainly an object. Fortunately, I love teaching, the atmosphere, the camaraderie, minds awakening. The problem with most adults is that their brains have ossified."

About this time he met Sara Graves, a Seattle actress and grad student who has worked for him as a model for years. "Sometimes, traditions work - here's a beautiful, bright, engaging woman and the simple fact is that in painting her she inspired me to return to the figure, to start asking that key visual question - what do we really experience being in a room with someone, emotionally, analytically, temporally. Giacometti got farther than almost anyone in this." Prof. Ann Gale at the University of Washington was a major influence.

Bollenbach works at different speeds, learning to follow where the painting "must" go. "I realize how archaic, almost romantic that sounds in an environment of endless Pop regurgitations and cute conceptual jokes. But when it stops feeling true I'll stop doing it. "

Yet Bollenbach considers himself contemporary. "Some of the better painters today don't work with paint: James Turrell, Gary Hill. But they have the same attentiveness to material, to space, to emotional specificity and to the implication of infinity which I believe the most powerful artwork depends on. "

Painting has spent decades now digesting Pop, but it's Pop that feels antiseptic, even cynical, despite the tidal wave of visual energy coming from popular visual culture. " While absurdly rich with a blizzard of images, The visual world is often pop, cold, uncritical, anti-poetic, often deliberately anti-humanistic. Our culture has become a marketing culture- we sing most often about products, we make most of our images about them, we dance about products, we think internally in products. We live in marketing culture  to the point that our identities erode.  This is a disaster, and I'm in the resistance."

In contrast, "the painter that moves me most now is probably Anselm Kiefer, his towering ambition, his way of incorporating all the rigorous conceptual experimentation of Josef Beuys back into what amounts to classical painting and sculpture, and his ability to cut his way through stuff to "Heaven and Earth."

"Which has me experimenting now with sculpture - as long as it involves specific spatial relationships and an implication of occupied infinity, it feels like painting to me. "  But he stresses that painting is art only as long as it makes art. "My only problem with new media has been the quality- which, I'm delighted to say, is rapidly improving. And by quality, I don't mean professional sheen- I mean substantive exploration of human imagination and experience, using the media chosen as a the tool of discovery."

Jamie Bollenbach lives in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle, Washington and keeps a studio at 1148 NW Leary in Ballard.

(all original images copyright 1998- 2011 by Jamie Bollenbach.

All rights reserved. Reproduction with attribution only by written request.)

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