At Large  May 22, 2019  Megan D Robinson

Art Talk: Jim Shrosbree

Courtesy the artist

Jim Shrosbree, WORB (polka), 2017, 6.5 x 17 x 5 inches, ceramic, cloth, paint, pushpins

Iowa-based artist Jim Shrosbree is one of 25 visual artists from the United States and Canada awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship this April, for the Guggenheim Foundation’s 95th competition. This rigorous, highly competitive annual competition awards grant money to exceptional scholars, artists and writers. 168 recipients were selected from almost 3,000 applicants. Fellows are considered the crème de la crème of their field. Influenced by Catholicism and Eastern Indian philosophy, Shrosbree’s work has an elemental, mysterious quality. Using quintessential forms and an architectural sensibility, he creates wonderfully organic, tactile abstract drawings, paintings and sculpture that reveals the sacred in the ordinary.
Shrosbree’s sculptures, paintings, and works on paper have been exhibited nationally and internationally, including important collections in the Los Angeles County Museum, Detroit Institute of Art, Des Moines Art Center, Ely and Edythe Broad Museum and University of Iowa Museum of Art. He has two upcoming shows in Detroit, a solo exhibition at Paul Kotula Projects, and a two-person exhibition with Gyan Shrosbree at NX.O Gallery this September. He had two recent shows in conjunction with the annual NCECA Ceramics Conference, NHELD, in Minneapolis: Jim Shrosbree: Slo (roll), at Augsburg University’s Gage Gallery, Feb-March, and The Form will Find Its Way, a group international exhibition at Regis Center, Katherine B, Nash Gallery, University of Minnesota, Jan-March.

In addition to the Guggenheim Award, Shrosbree has received numerous awards including grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, a Wege Foundation Grant, the Iowa Arts Council and residency awards that include fellowships from Macdowell Colony and Yaddo. His work is represented by Paul Kotula Projects in Detroit. Shrosbree is an Art Professor at Maharishi University, in Fairfield, Iowa. We recently spoke with Shrobree about this prestigious milestone in his career.

Megan D Robinson: Getting a Guggenheim Fellowship is a major accomplishment. What was the process like?

Courtesy the artist

Jim Shrosbree

Jim Shrosbree: The process involves submitting an application that has a few parts. The most important part is the group of visual images that are sent. You need to write a work plan and an overall arc of your development as an artist over the years. Four recommendations from people who can speak to the quality and nature of your work.

MDR: Do you have any special plans for your Fellowship?

JS: My proposal was to continue to develop the work I have been doing. I want to explore materials and larger scale in the work. I can do a lot here but that may involve some travel and/ or working with studios or industry that have those facilities. 

Courtesy the artist

MDR: You started out studying painting and shifted to ceramics. What lead you to change your focus? What are the similarities and differences of working in these mediums? Does working in different mediums allow you to express different things?

JS: Painting is important for me because of color and surface. My work is driven by drawing. I see so many things in terms of drawing and in that respect, shapes. Sculpture cuts into space to form shapes that we can move around and through. Redefining form through painting and drawing creates another level of activity.  Surface is critical because, as a skin it communicates an interiority that is present in the form. In the end, it all must fit together into a situation that makes a certain degree of sense and most important becomes alive beyond the faculty of reason.  

MDR: Is your creative process planned or intuitive? How has your process evolved?

JS: This leads to the other part of the previous question. I am obviously involved with the visuals of the work but I am also embracing ideas. My approach is intuitive in that it involves a lot of watching and listening to what the visuals are saying. They trigger associations and a certain psychology in the work–they spark ideas. Particular ideas can then be pursued or not, depending on the moment.  A series or string of pieces allows ideas that present themselves to be explored more deeply. 

Courtesy the artist

MDR: Many of your pieces are wall-mounted sculpture. Are your installations site specific? How does the site affect your installation?

JS: The wall is a part of the work. It creates a situation, a context for the work to live in. The wall becomes that specificity. The placement of each piece, wall or floor, is considered in terms of the architecture. 

Gravity plays a big role here. For a few decades I have worked with a dynamic of push and pull that develops between the wall and the sculpture. Pressing onto the wall while pushing off the wall; falling while lifting. Painting, drawing and wire connections that extend the sculpture onto the wall create a ground for the sculpture and serve as a bridge to bring the two entities into one. Many of the wall works relate to the idea or set up of a still life. So, there is a relationship to the tradition of painting. 

MDR: How important is color?

JS: The sculpture calls up a color. It can fit the form and accelerate its power in terms of scale. So, color is a visual tool. If a form is beginning to take on an associative or psychological reference there is an opportunity to emphasize or to reverse that reference, with color. 

Courtesy the artist

Jim Shrosbree, Ous (cu2), 2018, 45 1/2 x 13 1/2 x 10 inches), ceramic, copper plate, nylon, acrylic, wire, enamel, steel stand

MDR: You work with abstract organic shapes, is there significance to your choice of shapes? What do you seek to express or connect with through your art?

JS: Most of the sculptures start with a cylinder. I respond to figurative and biomorphic forms yet, at the same time, they have an industrial element. They are almost always hollow. The hollowness is significant, especially to clay forms, because they are fired and in order to make it through that process they cannot be too thick. It also refers to utility, as in the potential to hold. Perhaps the most interesting part of the equation is the actuality and implication of an inside to outside relationship in the form. Matter is literally supported by non-matter. This relationship is at the heart of these sculptures, not because it is there but because it is pushed and manipulated to be actively engaged in the form, in the material. And this meaning has a direct relationship to life’s constant interplay of consciousness and matter.

Courtesy the artist

Jim Shrosbree, UB (slo roll), 2017, 3.75 x 13.5 x 8.5 inches, ceramic, ink, acrylic, cloth, plywood

In order to be in tune with what I do I need to set up a situation, a condition. I have a structure that I work with and let that take me on a path of discovery. The important result is found between, in an area of potential and not a fixed or literal meaning. I don’t need to imitate ideas in my head but to “find” new situations. The finding is the thing. I like what Picasso said about research–that it had nothing to do with his painting. He said he was not searching but finding. If you think about it, there is a world of difference between the two viewpoints and it becomes a solid reason for continuing – it is the discovery of new life.

About the Author

Megan D Robinson

Megan D Robinson writes for Art & Object and the Iowa Source.

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