Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Art Space Talk: Jack Chipman

Jack Chipman is a graduate of the Chouinard Art Institute (now Cal-Arts) in Los Angeles and has exhibited his abstract paintings, collages and witty assemblages throughout California and abroad. His rippings series began in San Francisco in the 1970s soon after graduation from art school. At that time artist friend Lynn Hershman, writing for Artweek, dubbed him "Jack the Ripper." Knute Stiles, in an Art in America review, wrote: "The rhythms and accidents, like the grain of wood (or the surge of the sea), are perhaps the magic factors—the intuitive aspects that give these pieces their commanding presence." At one point Jack seemed to have vanished from the scene, but one can only stay away from his or her work for so long...

ADHARMA 2, 118" by 108", Acrylic & Dye on Canvas/Wood, 1969

Brian Sherwin: Jack, you studied at the California Institute of the Arts and the San Francisco Art Institute. Can you recall your academic years? Who were your instructors? What kind of student were you?

Jack Chipman: My time spent at the California Institute of the Arts was during the bumpy period of transition from the original Chouinard Art Institute. I recall that many of the students were quite reluctant to see the old school in Los Angeles be closed in favor of Walt Disney’s new model of interdisciplinary studies which he built in remote and undeveloped (at least then) Valencia.

I studied with many of the old-timers who had taught at Chouinard for years but my favorite was Emerson Woelffer. He was an inspiration to me because he was a real painter with an established reputation as an Abstract Expressionist at the time. He was one of the major West Coast practitioners but I think his reputation suffered at the time because he lived and worked in LA instead of NY.

BS: Can you tell us about some of your other early influences?

JC: I liked many of the prominent AE painters in NY like Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, but I was also aware of Californians like Richard Diebenkorn and Sam Francis. However, I was totally unaware of developments at the Ferus Gallery in LA then—something that I now regret.

ADHARMA 29, 104" by 120", Acrylic & Dye on Canvas/Wood, 1972

BS: You've mentioned that it was hard for you to shake the influence that Emerson Woelffer had on you in order to develop your personal direction. At what point did you find that direction? Was it a sudden burst of inspiration?

JC: I found my direction after relocating to San Francisco . I enrolled in Transcendental Meditation (because of the Beatles) and during an early session the concept of the "rippings" just came to me. I’m a believer in what is sometimes referred to as the "muse"—the universal creative force or energy that can be called upon to support ones endeavors (if you’re willing to accept it.) So, I guess you could call it a sudden burst of inspiration.

BS: Jack, at that time you were experiencing growing success-- collectors were starting to notice your work. However, by the 1980s you had-- for the most part --stopped exhibiting. Did you create any art during those years? Do you mind talking about those years?

JC: It all began innocently enough with my first visit to a flea market. I noticed some brightly colored pottery dishes that some of the dealers were selling and decided to buy a few. This unfortunately led to a pottery collecting obsession that consumed my energies for about 6 or 7 years. I also began to research the California companies that had produced the ware, which led to the writing of a succession of reference books on the subject. Meanwhile, I had moved back to LA where I met a fellow collector and artist who hounded me no end to get back to work. I finally caved in and rented a studio in an artists’ retreat located in San Pedro and set about to paint again. But it was difficult getting back in gear after an extended absence from my work. It was a real struggle!

RIPPING AFTERLIFE, 1, 32" by 42", Acrylic on Canvas on Metallic Bubble Pack, 2007

BS: How did you re-discover your artistic direction? Was it difficult leaving the research room for the studio, so to speak? Also, can you tell us about your series called "Loss Angeles". It was the first series you did after returning to your artistic practice, correct?

JC: At the San Pedro facility I produced one significant series called "Loss Angeles" which was about the many landmarks and attractions of the region that have disappeared over the years. As an LA native I had witnessed some of this demise—an unfortunate attribute of a "progressive" city. The series was especially important to me because it married my two competing passions—painting and pottery. I used an example of California Pottery as a signifier for each of the landmarks that I memorialized, including the famous Brown Derby restaurant and my old alma mater Chouinard.

BS: Did you ever feel like giving up during that time? What kept you focused on your creativity?

JC: No, I haven’t ever felt like giving up, even though it’s been tough trying to re-establish myself in the larger and more competitive LA art world. When you’re an artist, you just do your work even if the hoped-for rewards never come your way.

BS: At what point did you start to revisit the 'rippings' of your 1970s work? Why did you decide to return to aspects of that method?

JC: I moved from San Pedro to Long Beach and spent a productive year there in a large live-work space along with other artists. I just decided to revisit the concept that had distinguished my early work in San Francisco when Process Art emerged as a post-minimal development. But I did things differently by ripping (deconstructing) and reassembling completed paintings. Before, the process itself had been the key element of the work.

PORTAL, 23" by 28 1/4", Acrylic & Cardboard on Wood, 2007

BS: Jack, your newest work merges hard-edge elements with fluid abstract color-field paint handling. Can you tell us more about your recent practice? Do you still 'rip'?

JC: I’ve been trying to retire Jack the ripper but he keeps rearing his awful head. So far, my latest series of paintings are pure—no ripping has occurred.

BS: Philosophically speaking, how are the works that you create today different than the works you created in your youth-- do they reflect a change in time? In thought?

JC: Time changes everything. You can’t stay in the past with your work. It must progress and keep pace with what’s happening today in order to be taken seriously. I hope my current work, although not revolutionary, will be seen as a continuation of a painting tradition with roots in the NY and LA schools of the not-so-distant past.

BS: With these works do you return to your roots as far as your artistic influences are concerned? Or do you strive to focus on your own direction and set the influences aside?

JC: You follow the muse wherever it leads you and try not to look back.

FAMILY SCRAPBOOK REDUX #1, 36" by 36", Acrylic & Collage on Panel, 2007

BS: What do you hope viewers obtain from observing your work? Is there a message behind your work?

JC: I’m a believer in art for its own sake; not for the sake of critiquing society or changing the world. If there’s an underlying theme to my recent work it’s that we all have a better life to look forward to someday…but not in this world of turmoil and puzzlement.

BS: Jack, do you have any advice to emerging artists?

JC: Don’t get sidetracked. Keep at it no matter what. The reward is in the work itself.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

JC: I’m not opposed to selling. We do live in a commercial world.

You can learn more about Jack Chipman by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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