|Artist, Jonathan D. Wallace|
Artist Jonathan D. Wallace has been painting for almost four decades. He divides his time between his studios in Chicago and Montana, working at various scales, and primarily in oils. A classically trained painter and printmaker, Wallace considers himself a philosopher first and foremost: “A philosopher and a journeyman. Leaving traces for people along the way, to help them I hope, in their own journeys.”
An ethereal quality permeates Wallace’s works, which are luminous with vitality. Fertile forest environments compose the setting of his paintings, which are laden with a rich language of symbolism and motifs that can be followed and unearthed throughout his career. His pieces present a juxtaposition, featuring recognizable everyday objects within a dreamlike milieu, and are fixated around the internal experience – in his words, “the transitional moments of the mind, that pause between breaths.” However, he says, “truly, what I want the paintings to do is to be really beautiful. It makes no difference to me if somebody looks at the work and doesn’t understand the journey I took. I believe that if I am sincere about my journey, it will come across in some form to the person in front of my work.”
Since the mid-seventies, Wallace has exhibited frequently at museums and galleries across the country. His most recent museum showing was at the Butler Institute of American Art as part of the 2008 exhibition, Things I See, which featured five of his oil pastels on paper, a series which the artist was moved to create following the death of his father. “I was working maybe twenty hours a day at that point, desperate to get it all down, not to lose anything.” The dramatic works vibrate with energy and depth. Each of the pieces in the series focuses on one key moment in life, “those fleeting moments where we grasp an essential truth about our existence.”
Wallace describes the act of painting as orchestral, and often works on numerous pieces at one time. This allows him to layer his focus, concentrating on one canvas, glazing and moving to another, before returning to the first piece, bringing the works to completion in rotation. He paints in a spectrum of sizes from small canvases up to pieces of over 12 foot wide. In creating his works, Wallace will often begin with a few words or a line of poetry. “Sometimes that will trigger an image, it will be the seed for a painting. Other times I already see the painting before the first word is written. It’s all part of the same process for me – a fragmented thought, a thumbnail sketch.”
Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1951, Wallace has a long and colorful history with the art world. During his early twenties, he was featured in his first museum exhibition at the Burpee Art Museum in Rockford, Illinois. Shortly afterwards, he helped build the Galveston Island Art Center in Texas, and later, was the Interim Director at the Rockford Art Museum, launching them into their new space as a regional art museum.
For eight months of the year Wallace lives and works in his studio in a 1920s factory building in Chicago’s Humboldt Park area. In 1990 when Wallace bought the building, the district was extremely troubled and rife with gang warfare. The factory was derelict at that time and had been completely trashed, the plumbing and structure ravaged by neglect. These days the building, which Wallace renovated by hand, is occupied by 17 artist studios. Wallace and his wife, interior designer Deborah Rogers, live and work on the top two floors. Their space is a 10,000 square foot light-filled loft, in which huge looming canvasses and smaller, intense studies compete for space. He estimates that around 90 completed works currently hang in the studio.
During the summer months, Wallace retreats to his studio in Trego, Montana, which he built in 2005. He says that Montana has influenced his work in many ways. “There’s no pollution at all, and so the light goes on forever. It imbues everything you see. In Montana I live with a constant sense of awe and reverence. It informs everything. It’s in the air you breathe. It compels me to paint.”