“Emulsive Realm,” 2007, acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 24″
With two separate solo shows in September 2007-at Samuel Freeman (was Patricia Faure) in Santa Monica and Toomey Tourell in San Francisco-and at least three other major California galleries trumpeting his work, one might assume that Jimi Gleason is a busy guy. He is. “I’ve been painting hard core for years,” he explains. “I paint every day,” he adds, laughing.
While many painters attempt to transcend the limitations of the pictorial plane, Gleason’s work exudes an ethereal delicacy and ineffability that is very much his own. Working with shimmery pearlescent paint, he carefully builds up layers that shift subtly with the changing light. Many of his works in recent years have featured densely worked edges framing largely vacant centers, to keep the focus firmly on the quality of the color and light and on the viewer’s own perception of them. Yet while his works seem to derive from color field painting or contemporary abstraction, Gleason’s inspiration for his approach arose, in fact, from photography.
“Being a painter in SoHo, in the late ’80s, I kept seeing these Cibachrome prints, big shiny photos. I wanted to bring some of that back into painting, to steal it back.” Especially intriguing to him was the texture of Polaroid snapshots. “What I liked about the Polaroids was the edges, the way the emulsion got squishy: that melted quality. That’s a big part of where they began, where the edges came into play.” Gleason was also impacted by another unlikely medium: printmaking. As a student at UC Berkeley, he says, “I didn’t take any painting classes. I spent a lot of time in the printing room. That layering is still important in my work.”
Even now, Gleason applies his paint with knives, not brushes. “I paint from dark to light, using a black base: very thin,” he explains. Then he builds up layers of iridescent or pearlescent pigments that he thins down to create the sort of spectral beauty one finds on the surface of bubbles. What “I like about the pearlescent paints, I like the reflective quality. It’s what I call ‘taking the light through.’” He particularly favors the so-called ‘interference’ colors, which one can see through. “I think you should use colors that suggest, rather than declare. That’s what I like about the interference. They don’t bonk you over the head.” Formally, his works are not pre-determined but emerge gradually through an intuitive process. “I don’t apply the image, I let the image evolve through the painting activity. [But] they’re controlled. I’m not just slinging my knives around.”
For the last several years, Gleason has worked out of his studio in Costa Mesa. “It’s basically my garage, which I’ve completely outgrown. I’ve ripped everything out. I use the backyard to apply the base coats; they dry in the sun, which expedites the work.” Would he say his work has been impacted by that famous Southern California light? “Absolutely!” he replies. “These works are so Los Angeles.”
Gleason’s newest works are denser than before. “They’ve grown more to the center, so they’re not going to have that meditative space.” Yet they remain determinedly ambiguous at their core; it is left to the viewer to negotiate his or her own relationship to them. “They’re kind of a visual riddle,” he allows impishly. “When you can see people put their nose in it, then back up and tilt their head at it, then your task is complete.”
Jimi Gleason is represented by Samuel Freeman in Santa Monica, R.B. Stevenson Gallery in La Jolla, Peter Blake Gallery in Laguna Beach, and Lew Allen Contemporary in Santa Fe, New Mexico.