“It is about exploration and experimentation, pushing the boundaries.” The writer A.M. Homes first met the “wickedly fun” (in work and in person) Yaddo artists James Esber and Jane Fine at Yaddo in the late 1990s, a story she recounts in today’s excerpt from “Friendships in Arcadia.”
James Esber and Jane Fine met when James answered a “roommate wanted” advertisement in The Village Voice. James decided he wasn’t interested in being one of the roommates, but accepted when Jane asked him out on a date shortly thereafter. Flash forward fourteen years—
“Jane was the first person I met who was a serious artist. When we first met, our work was much more similar than it is now,” Jim recently told me, “living together helped us define ourselves—in opposition to each other in a more extreme way.”
“Jim is the planner, process oriented, very deliberate,” Jane tells me. Jane is the more free-form and casual of the two. They are each other’s keenest and most devoted critics—showing each other work sometimes daily, sometimes hourly, sometimes not at all.
I met Jim and Jane several years ago, during separate visits to Yaddo—first Jane, then Jim. In person and in their work, they are both wonderfully spirited, deeply thoughtful and wickedly fun.
For both James and Jane the work is at once playful and serious, formal and then throwing away the formal. It is about exploration and experimentation, pushing the boundaries.
For James Esber, it is the finger pressing of the plasticine, the intimate gesture of the hand pushing at the material, working close up and then stepping back and watching an image stretch, distort. The parameters of pop culture are pushed out in a sometimes psychedelic mind-bend, a transgression that explores what happens when you break the rules. Esber takes familiar images, politically loaded icons that echo back to the artist’s childhood, and treats these hallowed images as objects, distorting and then recreating them in new material.
For Jane Fine the process of making art is about invention, getting away from conventional ideas of painting. In her works on paper, formal decisions about painting combine with the informal nature of pop culture. A spill of paint splashes, oozes, slips over a structure that has been pressing up from below, building on something, and then there is more paint—layers where every gesture, every mark, shows.
She is taken with the idea of optimism, at once childlike and intellectual, a belief in the notion of newness, making something fresh rather than constantly appropriating—although everywhere there is the echo of Pollock, Richter, DeKooning. And then there is also something more modern, abstraction stemming from a center form with limbs—a new kind of being. The images have the anthropomorphic quality of transformer toys, cars, people, airplanes that are first one thing and then another, morphing, mutating, constantly re-inventing.
For both James Esber and Jane Fine there is always cultural cognizance, there is awareness of both self and what has come before and there is always something deeply wry and ironic, poking serious fun.
By A.M. Homes, from an exhibition curated by Barbara Toll as part of Yaddo’s centenary celebrations.
Copyright © 2000 by The Corporation of Yaddo