Jace Whitaker welcomes all reactions, even visceral ones, to his paintings, which are not loaded with any message, just a spectrum of emotions conveyed by color and line.
“I just want people to feel what they are feeling,” he said.
Whitaker’s style is abstract expressionist in the tradition of Jackson Pollock. The canvases are covered from corner to corner with paint – discarded and drained. The largest is approximately 12 feet long and 4.5 feet tall.
A decade ago, fascinated by the avant-garde mid-century style, he began to experience “controlled chaos” on his own.
The culminating solo exhibition, “Drippings of the Soul and Seasons,” at the University of Montana’s University Center Gallery, was not initially supposed to open so soon.
The plan changed on the fly, with a reception on Friday, Jan. 7 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., and it will remain visible until the end of the month. Whitaker and gallery director Amanda Barr rushed to show it earlier than planned as it would be gone on a short-term deployment to Greece. (He now thinks that probably won’t happen.)
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He is a US Navy master-at-arms, the equivalent of a military police officer or security force, he said. Here at UM, he is the Acting Deputy Director of Residential Education; he has been working at UM Housing since 2017.
Along with these two careers, he cultivated creative hobbies such as poetry and painting, in which he is largely self-taught.
He calls his work “post-idea”, in that he doesn’t have a message he wants to convey, but rather generates a response in the viewer.
“As I design, create and release things change during these moments and emotions change, don’t they? ” he said. Someday he might need to ‘let me bleed in’, and another day might be more relaxed.
Painting them requires laying the canvases on the ground and running the paint over them, which does not lend itself to repeats or even prior planning other than a mental mockup and a set palette. He has to follow his instincts, layer by layer, “making sure there is a rhythm or a symmetry for them”.
Reflecting the title of the show, there is a set of two narrow canvas diptychs, one for each season. Spring and summer are dominated by yellows, greens and blues hanging vertically. Autumn and winter, oriented horizontally, are in muted minimal browns and grays. With the softer tones, the line widths and color stand out even more.
For him, colors are an opportunity to work with emotion, with varied atmospheres and decorations. A room can be constructed from a calming beach that seems to refer to landscapes; another might be a stark black on white; others sport austere primaries skipping through the tangle of lines.
A path to college
Whitaker enlisted 14 years ago at the age of 17, straight out of high school. He grew up in a low-income family in Southeast Idaho and was drawn to service as a way to pay for his education as a first-generation student.
It was also the chance to “be a part of something bigger than me,” he said.
“From there it just gave me the opportunity to meet people and continue to grow and develop, travel and experience the culture and have a global perspective, or a global perspective, on the world. world.”
It took him across the country – Georgia, Indiana, Virginia, Rhode Island and Washington and the world – Greece, Iraq and Kuwait.
He received an associate’s degree in marketing management and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, both from Boise State University, followed by a master’s degree in higher education and student affairs from Boise State University. Indiana. His return to UM, where he has worked for UM Housing since 2017, was an opportunity to return to the Northern Rockies.
He has a regulated administrative job, so painting is an escape.
“Art is my opportunity to get out of my traditional, incredibly structured environment that has day-to-day ins and outs,” he said.
As the canvases are large, he searches for space to work with friends – car shops and barns.
Some of his family and friends don’t even know he paints – working in solitude gives him energy again – and this is his first exhibition in the Missoula area. The friends he has shown them often have the same polarized reactions that have accompanied Abstract Expressionism from its earliest days, and he is open to all interpretations. After all, art is the realm of subjectivity, an escape from the objectivity of everyday work.
Barr said the gallery’s schedule this year has had a wide variety of work – abstract art isn’t that common in Montana as a whole. It fits in with ceramic sculptures, forest fire photography and native art.
The offers are not static, which benefits students and the community, which the gallery is free to do since it is not a retail operation, she said. It is also a reminder that submissions are open to UM as a whole – students, faculty, staff and alumni.
She felt it was especially timely because it’s so color-focused at a time when time has turned monochrome, she said.
Whitaker’s exhibition “Drippings of the Soul and Seasons” will be on view at the UC Gallery from January 7 to 28. There is an opening reception on Friday, January 7, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Regular hours are Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Masks are compulsory inside the MU.