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Art, Hold the Artifice


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Tim Jag has a thing about honesty. His current work--represented by eight brightly colored pieces at Melanee Cooper that juxtapose panels of mass-produced fabric or paper with his own abstract painted patterns--is the result of the reading he did when he started grad school at Montana State in 1990. As an undergrad, influenced by artists like Eric Fischl, he'd been doing what he calls "psychological paintings of people in rooms." But after reading Frank Stella and Ad Reinhardt he abandoned the attempt to create illusions. "They were just calling bullshit on anything that had art talk attached to an image," Jag says. "Stella said, 'What's there is what's there, and nothing more.' It was a stance that made sense to me, so I quit all this symbolism and stuff and made work just about the paint." He found that all but one teacher objected to the shift, asking him how he could flip so easily: "All I could say was that this was the kind of painting that made sense to me--in the others, there's a lie." By the end of grad school, influenced by Rauschenberg, he was buying sections of patterned carpeting and collaging them onto his canvases, painting panels next to them.

Jag says that after reading Stella he "didn't want to be ambiguous about what the painting is trying to say." He thinks the reason is that, "as a kid, I didn't have a lot of honesty around me." When he was ten, in the early 70s, his parents split; though he'd been raised Catholic and attended Catholic schools, the family stopped going to church then. "It was like having the rug pulled out from under me," he says. "Why did I go to church for ten years if it didn't mean anything? I was very bitter about the breakup, even as a ten-year-old, and became very suspicious of parents." Each of his remarried three or four times; one of his stepparents was schizophrenic, and another regularly stole on the job. When Jag was 12, he and his siblings were sent from his dad's place to his mom's; they learned later it was because his dad's new wife had said, "It's them or me."

Jag's mix of carefully selected found materials with his own painting revitalizes mass-produced designs generally. During grad school in Bozeman (he now lives in Santa Fe), he was attracted to the patterns on wallpaper and commercial fabric. "This is a better painting than I can make," he thought. "I want to put it into a painting." He decided he wanted his art to relate "less to art history and more to who we are as a culture. There's good art everywhere--we shop with it, we walk around in it, at Home Depot, at the supermarket." At a grocery store four years ago he saw a massive display of oranges with photos of oranges underneath the bin. It reminded him of his own work, and after asking the supermarket to give him one of the photos, he juxtaposed it with a panel painted all in orange.

Jag's works in this show are from a series in which he makes both a large, somewhat mysterious painting and a smaller, simpler one as a "response." In The Begin he juxtaposes collaged flower-pattern wrapping paper with two of his own painted striped patterns and a smaller panel bearing the cryptic title. The Begin Part II has only two elements, not four: the same paper on one panel and yellow stripes on the other. In both works, Jag painted the center of each flower to make it brighter--but since the addition is obvious, he reasoned, it isn't dishonest. (He's also used fake fur, which he doesn't consider a "lie" because he doesn't represent it as fur.) In each "II" piece the paint is thicker and more apparent, calling attention to itself, and Jag usually omits the texts in the smaller works--it's as if he were reenacting his own elimination of psychology once he discovered Stella's and Reinhardt's writings. "I'm trying to define what might be an honest way to make a painting," Jag says, "not relying on trickery or illusion."

Tim Jag

When: Through 8/31

Where: Melanee Cooper, 740 N. Franklin

Info: 312-202-9305

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