The following is the transcript of an interview I gave to Michael K. Corbin for his website artbookguy.com his third book on art and its relation to the culture around us.
JAMIESON FLYNN: WARRIOR ARTIST
Jamieson Flynn is an artist and art dealer I met a couple of years ago in Chicago. He doesn’t look or behave like the “stereotypical” art dealer. To me, he just seems like a regular, nice guy. He’s an Irish-Catholic dude from the Southside of Chicago. What else would he be? Anyway, my chat with him is really two interviews in one. I’m especially struck by his art and how he sees it as his take on stained glass windows of cathedrals www.jamiesonmichaelflynn.com. But first, here’s our chat …
MICHAEL: Hey Jamieson, First of all, I have to remind you that I met you when a couple of friends and I wandered into Gallerie MK where you had literally just opened the place. I don’t think the gallery had even had its grand opening yet and you were very busy, but took time to chat with us and show us around. What do you remember about pulling the place together? Was it drudgery or fun?
JAMIESON: Yes, I remember meeting you and your friends when you came in around July 2009. You were some of the first people to check out the gallery after we opened. As far as whether it was drudgery or fun, it’s hard to say. It was a dream of mine to have an art gallery in downtown Chicago that provided a space for emerging local artists as well as established ones. I wanted to have a “Chicago” gallery. So it was exciting to have the opportunity right in front of me and to have the responsibility of building it and putting it all together. The gallery was my idea and my effort even if it wasn’t my name on the rent check, so I felt like it was an extension of me artistically. It was hybrid between fun and drudgery I suppose.
MICHAEL: How did the gallery come about?
JAMIESON: We took the gallery over from the previous owner due to the fact we discovered he was a criminal and a con-artist who was ripping off all the artists in the gallery. Not paying them when he sold their work, all kinds of other people suing him for assorted scams, etc. We forced him out of the lease and took over, retaining a few of the artists and making sure they were paid in a timely fashion and ensuring they were comfortable with us and happy with the direction and potential of the gallery. We opened three days after taking over the lease. In those three days, I put in the wood floors, designed the logo and all documents, built the website, painted the place and hung all the art. Then we opened. So it was an insane amount of work, but I didn’t run out of gas through it all. This was my baby and it was gonna work. I would not be denied. Not drudgery, but overwhelming in many ways. Not always fun, but striving for one’s dream is usually a lot of work. Opening the place was the fun part.
MICHAEL: Wow. Why does everything in life have to be a struggle? That was also around the time that the economy tanked. That must have been “fun.” What was that like?
JAMIESON: Yeah, when we decided to take over, the economy was already in the toilet. By the time we opened, it was flushed. Most people thought we were out of our minds opening an art gallery when we did, some thought it brave. Byron Roche a gallery owner at the time on the same block as us and a 20 year veteran of the biz told me that this was the worst economy for art he had ever seen, and he told us that if we could get through this, we could get through anything. All I know is there is no “perfect” time to open anything let alone an art gallery. I knew the space, the location and the biz so I decided to strike. We had the opportunity to take over a great space and make it a legitimate gallery in the biggest art district in the city. You don’t hesitate with that kind of opportunity in front of you, especially being an artist. I could bring in the kind of art and artists I wanted and could hang my own work as well. It was an adventure, but the first 6 months were quite the struggle.
MICHAEL: I definitely want to talk about your work as an artist in a moment, but first, you’re really in a unique position as both an artist and a dealer. What would you say to other artists who are so frustrated with dealers and the dealer/gallery/artist model as it currently exists?
JAMIESON: That’s an interesting question because I think my answer has shifted all over the place during the last 10 years. I’ve been in a gallery in some capacity since I graduated college. I have seen it at its worst and I have seen it at its best. I used to think that the only way to make it as an artist was in a gallery, which I don’t really think is the case anymore. I think the potential of an art gallery to really be a great environment and important to the art community as a whole is a beautiful thing. I think many artists would like to be a part of that. But with the galleries comes the gallery scene … business, money and bullshit. There’s a compromise you have to make with yourself in order to make a living off your personal artistic expressions. And it’s the business of sales and the business of galleries.
MICHAEL: What do you mean when you say compromise you make with yourself?
JAMIESON: The trick I find is to try and make it in this kind of biz while always retaining your “self” and to never compromise you work … ever. It’s difficult to achieve this balance, especially nowadays. Admittedly, I am losing my faith in the importance of galleries, after being a part of so many for so long. Many street artists now have figured out how to get around them by just showing their work anywhere around the world; literally making the world around them their gallery, their museum. I love this movement. I have always said that to be a great artist, one must in many ways be a criminal. To do what’s not allowed, or not accepted, to be an iconoclast of sorts. Galleries, dealers and business ultimately don’t matter to the art, at least they shouldn’t. One should not be an artist for hire if they don’t have to be in my opinion. Now in the internet age, everything is online and available with a click. But seeing art in person is always gonna supersede a computer screen, so that may be the most important function left for the art gallery scene.
MICHAEL: How did you pull off managing a gallery while simultaneously being an artist?
JAMIESON: It is tough to be everything at the same time and actually consistently produce work. I have been doing my own marketing, sales, promotions, framing, etc., and also running an art gallery at the same time. All that time and energy dedicated to these aspects of trying to make a living and I have yet to mention what goes into my art itself. I often found I didn’t have anything left in tank to dedicate to my art once I got some time to myself at home in my studio … so ultimately, trying to do everything at the same time at the cost of my own work defeats the purpose of trying to make a living from and through my own expressions. I guess my advice to other artists working with galleries and/or dealers would be use caution and research everything before you commit to anything. Never compromise your art for anyone or anything. Always get it in writing and work on your art as often as possible.
MICHAEL: So far Jamieson, I’m really sensing this fierce, fighter spirit in you. This is also the same vibe I get when looking at your art. Your work is very sharp edged and while it’s modern, it also makes me think of “Fight Club” or medieval warriors. Am I off track?
JAMIESON: I don’t think that’s off base. I have been told that I carry an intensity about me, or a presence and that is definitely translated in my work. Infinite tension is one of the concepts I attempt to achieve with my work. As far as a “warrior mentality” or what have you, I guess that has been there in a way since I was little. When I was very young I thought that there were really only two things I wanted to do, two things I truly believed I could excel at. Art and soldiering; always drawing pictures and always wanting to join the military, odd dichotomy, I know. I came very close to being an enlisted man in the Marine Corps when I graduated high school, but got accepted to Florida State University at the last minute and I didn’t get in anywhere else. So I decided to try to go to school for art rather than the military. Seems like ages ago. I do not regret my decision at all and am a very different person now than I was then, but I still believe in my heart I would have been a dedicated and committed soldier, for what it’s worth.
MICHAEL: It certainly shows in your work.
JAMIESON: A lot of my work does have a kind of curved/hard-line feel to it and some of the imagery is violent or intense. Many are worked on at first with quills. In a way, it’s sort of like drawing ink cuts with a tiny blade on the paper. Then I dive into them with assorted other fine point pens and markers to eventually figure out where the piece is going and what it may become. Sometimes they are campaigns of a couple months, sometimes a couple weeks. They are labor intensive and at times, exhausting, but it’s my way of keeping an element of “stream of consciousness” in the piece as much as possible. I do think this is a modern way of drawing forms, historical figures and classical narratives, etc in a different way. A complex visual essay this way, at least I haven’t seen much like it. That was one of my favorite things to hear about my work when I was with the gallery. But sometimes I just draw forms that stay as forms and don’t find any representation but will retain a tension and intensity based on formal qualities alone. I want to draw everything in this way. As far as Fight Club, I do love that movie. I actually watched it in an art history class entitled, “Art, Film, Sex and Power.” That movie is aces all around. How much I see the aesthetic comparison between us, I don’t know, but I do know that I have felt like both sides of Durden at points in my life.
MICHAEL: Interesting. I also see a lot of religious and redemptive overtones in your work. Is this an ongoing thing for you?
JAMIESON: It has been thus far and I guess will be in some way here and there forever. I grew up in an Irish Catholic family, but we were not overtly religious. Our trips to church took a typical gradual decline as I got older; every Sunday, then every month, every once in a while, only holidays, etc. I was in Sunday school for while when I was young. By the time I reached my later teens, my parents were divorced. I started not really caring about school or much else for the most part viewing things as pointless. “I don’t even have to know how to read to be able to draw,” I would say as if it were profound and not stupid. But, I began really examining what was considered love, education, valuable, and faith or religion and what it really meant … what it really was. Is it true, is it helpful, is it dangerous, is it ridiculous? I think all these are accurate, some much more than others. But the sheer scale of such an institution of religion baffled me and the stories and tales were amazing to me, such fantastic adventures and allegories. So I really was affected by the existence of the epic concept of religion and really mythology as a whole (I consider Christianity, Islam and Judaism as the last remaining globally prevalent mythologies left in society). The influence of these ideas and concepts that attempt to define nature, immortality, divine redemption and sacrifice and the influence through history alone is mind-boggling.
MICHAEL: And so, I must say you do a great job of translating all of this onto paper. Your work is very layered and multi-dimensional.
JAMIESON: I wanted to do the visuals of these stories my way, in my style and intention, almost my versions of the stained glass windows of cathedrals, it was my favorite part of church. Conversely, most of the religion themed pieces are done in black and white to illustrate the inherent and rampant dualism found in nearly all dogmatic belief systems and contain no other colors, unlike the windows. It’s the odd, visual and conceptual ideas I have that usually engage in merciless combat on the voyage from my mind to the hand to the paper. At least it ends up looking that way much of the time until I get things in order. I know a lot of my work looks to primarily exist in classical mythological themes, or religious narratives, some criticism, but I am also working in other epic concepts now such as quantum field theory, time, and nature in general. If there are redemptive overtones in the piece(s) then they’re there as part of a story, as are so often woven into religious tales, more than a facet of myself. Salvation from a version of a book written in a savage time will not take my sins from me. They are mine.
MICHAEL: You know … competition exists in almost every sector of American society. There’s even a trend toward competition between artists on some television reality shows. What do you think about this?
JAMIESON: I think reality TV is equally awful and it is useful as a mirror to what we as a culture deem “cool” or “valuable” or “reality.” I think it is shameful for the corporations to turn art into an “American Idol.” It automatically turns art into anything that is marketable to a mainstream mass of consumers. It is useful for the companies to do this to everything that is cool, thereby controlling what is cool and controlling what people will buy. If art work isn’t a product now, it certainly will be after it turns into American Idol.
MICHAEL: I think it also makes up and comers think that everything is about competition.
JAMIESON: I have no problem with accepting that there exists a competition with artists in a capitalist/modern world. If one’s work sells, it sells and that helps artists exist. If it doesn’t sell, it’s tough to live without doing something else and usually you work will suffer. It is the reality, which is a shitty thing to accept, but in these times, you’ve really got to have a handle on the business end of getting your work out there and getting sales on your own, marketing, keeping books and invoices, all the things you would rather trade to be doing artwork instead … unless I suppose if you have a representative who takes care of all that for you and you just have to work on your art. I don’t know what that’s like, but it sounds like heaven to me.
MICHAEL: Well, maybe everything is about competition. If nothing else, these shows are certainly tapping into that to create interest.
JAMIESON: I wouldn’t be on one of those shows, but I can understand why artists are lining up to be on them. Ultimately, it’s exposure to a good amount of people, so I can’t really blame them. It’s an opportunity of sorts. These kinds of shows will really not be remembered. They’re mostly the same couple of ideas at this point, just different kinds of people or products plugged in. It’ll be the same with one about artists.
MICHAEL: The common perception out there is that New York is the center of the art world. How has this affected your work as a dealer in Chicago?
JAMIESON: My family moved us all down to Florida when I was about nine years old and I ended up living there (mostly south Florida) until a few years ago. Then I moved back to Chicago to help with some family issues. The rest of my family ended up moving back here after me. We all missed it and were perfectly happy here before Dad moved us down. My intention upon moving back here was to join the art world of the city, get work as an art handler and try to work my way up through the gallery world and eventually direct or own my own gallery focusing on Chicago area artists along with a collection of strong, established “professional” artists. The concept was to make the gallery a destination for people from all over the world. If the gallery was strong enough and gained importance in the community, then its reputation would spread; people from all over the world would look to Chicago first when it came to American art. If I could not get the gallery, then I would try to be a part of something artistic that put Chicago on the map in a big way. The way architecture did when this city started having the building and design boom.
MICHAEL: So, in other words, Chicago is a world class art city too.
JAMIESON: Architects from all over the world came to Chicago to design buildings and other structures and the result is what we see around us every day, a beautiful city. Not that New York isn’t deserving of the epicenter status for American art. A great portion of the great American art came from or through New York, but they’ve had that unofficial title for a long time now. It would be beneficial to all if more areas gained focus for a time. There’s a lot of amazing art out there from people who never get a chance or a gallery to show their work in a serious art district because of where they are geographically or economically. When I got to run my own gallery a couple years ago in the River North Art District, I tried to get this idea started. Art gallery for artists, by artists.
MICHAEL: Cool. As you know, so many people still view art as elitist. What kind of reactions do you get from people these days when you tell them that you’re an artist and art dealer?
JAMIESON: Well, the common misconception by some when I was running the gallery was that I only had interest in selling my own work while dismissing all the others. It was as if all of the work in the gallery was some kind of ruse to only sell my stuff. That was complete bullshit and I sold far more of others artists’ work than my own. I think people sort of look at someone being both artist and dealer as a double agent, working both sides of the struggle. Some people look at it as proactive … as an artist who actually does have some semblance of accepting and using the business end of the art world to one’s advantage. Many galleries and parts of the art world are viewed as elitist I think due to two main factors: 1. Many people in the arts, especially galleries have a bourgeois, pretentious attitude towards the public. 2. I think the term “elitist” is misused as a pejorative term towards someone who excels at things that most people in the culture do not understand or don’t think they have the ability to do themselves. I mean, being the elite at something is not a bad thing. The Rangers are the elite soldiers of the army, the Force Recon of the Marines, the SEALS of the Navy and so on. The people who are great at what they do should not be demonized for being regarded as such. When it comes to my drawings, I would prefer to be called elite among artists rather than a hack or a pedestrian, run of the mill artist. Anyway, most working artists are in despondency for most their lives and don’t feel like they are above everyone and sometimes they’re eventually lucky enough to make a living at it. I don’t know how people’s minds work most the time. If someone wants to label me or any other artist that’s their problem not mine.
MICHAEL: You’re right. Elitism isn’t bad, but snobbishness is. Ironically, artists carry the entire art world on their backs and I haven’t met many snobbish artists. The attitude tends to come from other sectors of the art world. What do you think about this and what are your future plans?
JAMIESON: Yeah, it’s an unfortunate reality and if you’re gonna be in the arena of the arts, any arts, you will have to deal with pretentious people who think they know everything about everything. And the truth of the matter is that it really doesn’t matter. Their snobbishness is their problem not ours. It’s a hell of a lot easier to criticize than it is to create. I’m sure the art snobs of the world revel in their learned attitude towards others. I have met my share through the years. Many of them run galleries or curate exhibitions and actually serve a purpose in the arts, so you have to accept it as a necessary evil. There’s nothing gained by fighting it, or letting it affect you. Just work … all the time. And never compromise your work for anyone, especially art snobs.
MICHAEL: You’re clearly not one of them!
JAMIESON: As far as future plans, I am electing to stay out of galleries and really exhibitions in general for the year. I need to produce. I have fallen behind in a bad way in the past year and I have too many pieces that are almost finished. I will unleash a slew of new work this year starting with my piece inspired by my recent trip to Ireland. A group of us traveled all over the Northern and Northwestern countryside of Ireland. It was majestic … the trip of a lifetime. I drew tons of inspiration especially in Belfast and out at hunger striker memorials at certain locations in the rural areas where we spent most of our time. I can’t wait to finish it.
MICHAEL: You have Multiple Sclerosis. What role does that play in your life?
JAMIESON: I organize a Multiple Sclerosis Fundraiser annually at Galway Bay Pub, a bar I work at near my studio in Chicago. I intend to double my fund-raising efforts. I was diagnosed in May of 2008 and have been participating in the MS walks and fundraising events ever since. It’s an odd kind of outlet for me. I love fundraising and I love overcoming things. The first time I had a really bad exacerbation I couldn’t really see clearly and had no balance, causing me to fall and break and dislocate my right trigger finger. After I went to the hospital, I got back home to my studio and ended up starting and finishing two pieces, mostly with my left hand. Those pieces are special to me in a different way than the others. When I moved here, I decided to make a real go at functioning as an artist, by which I mean making a real living. I told myself I would succeed even if it killed me. I will not be denied. I think that is an important sort of code to live by for anyone who desires to make a living by one’s expressions. Many times the line between achieving and falling short is drawn with dedication. Above my drawing table I have letter blocks that spell out the word T-H-R-I-V-E. My future plans are not much different than my current plans, I Strive to Thrive. After I get a serious amount of new works done, then I’ll look into exhibiting again. Until then, it’s just me and my pens, so I’m gonna run with the ink.
MICHAEL: Jamieson, this has been a great pleasure. You’re run of the reasons why I remain committed to trying to help emerging artists. Peace. Thanks.
December 19th, 2009