Doing what you are meant to do
A couple years ago painter Jamie Sloane was walking in downtown Point Pleasant when he saw a Visitor sticker on the ground.
He picked it up, peeled off the back, stuck it on his chest and kept walking, musing about our fleeting time on Earth and how we are all just “visitors” here.
When Sloane got back home (on the fourth floor of the historic 1901-built Lowe Hotel) — he and his partner Jimmy Hobbs struck up a conversation about a new idea to reinvigorate the art of portraiture.
After exploring the history of the formal Chinese portraiture in the Ming Dynasty and blending the influence of French painter Eduardo Vuillard’s intricate wallpaper patterns, Sloane and Hobbs embarked on a two-year odyssey to invite visitors (friends, neighbors and family) up to the fourth floor Lowe Hotel Ballroom to sit for portraits in a variety of parlor chairs, in staged attire and wildly varying backgrounds.
This series of 12 funky and fresh and large-scale paintings (each six-foot-by-seven-foot) titled, “Jamie Sloane: The Visiteur Series Presented by Jack and Angie Bourdelais” went on view Saturday, Nov. 17 at the Huntington Museum of Art and runs through Feb. 3. A free opening reception runs from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 18.
Into the ballroom
“After I had put that sticker on my chest and said aren’t we all visitors, I had that idea in my head and Jimmy was fascinated with parlor chairs, which were intended for visitors who were to be there for a short period of time,” Sloane said. “I was collecting them and putting them in my house and Jimmy said no one is going to stay in those very long, so that metaphor was there of the parlor chair and the fact that we are not intended to stay for very long in life, we just come here and we sit for a moment and then we leave.”
Because Point Pleasant, Gallipolis, and actually much of the Ohio River Valley was settled by the French, they used the French spelling of visitor (Visiteur) and began to invite visitors up to the ballroom of this historic riverfront hotel that has been restored by owner Ruth Finley.
The visitors or portrait subjects include a dozen people six male and six female. Nearly all of them from the Gallipolis, and Point Pleasant area, and all family and friends.
The visiteurs came up to the fourth floor ballroom where he and his partner, an interior decorator, would set up a scenario with a guest. In specific chairs, from the most ornate to simple 1950s clamback metal porch chairs, visitors would sit and in the style of those lavish Chinese portraits of old, Hobbs would drape them in flowing fabric (as much as 53 feet) or specific clothes for the model to be photographed.
Hobbs picked the chairs. When they couldn’t decide which to use, they had people vote and pick on social media which chair would be best.
From there Sloane made sketches, created facial studies and sometimes full paintings before then approaching the full-sized (seven-foot-by-six-foot) canvas for the final oil painting after sketching the figure on canvas using charcoal, graphite or paint.
“Just basically it was developing a new context to bring portraiture back,” Sloane said. “If someone wants to have a portrait done it would be cool to have it done in the Visiteur style. It is not just another portrait— it is an actual way to tell a story. I think that is the interesting thing too. I will be doing these for the rest of my life. Possibly at the end of my life there will be like a hundred visiteurs.”
Telling stories through the visiteurs
The super-sized paintings are filled with symbols and small details to use each person to tell a greater story that must be discovered.
“Working Midnight (Visiteur No. 12)” is a portrait of Sloane’s partner of eight years, Jimmy Hobbs paying homage to his father Virgil, a Logan County coal miner for the Alum Creek Coal Company.
Like the other portraits many things in the portrait are representational. Jimmy Hobbs is wearing a coal miner’s helmet, sitting in a metal Clamback chair like the one on their front porch growing up, and holding the lid of his dad’s lunch pail that sits on the floor in front of him.
The American flags flying behind him are the “Signing Off” flags used after television stations went off the air following the news and the late night talk shows.
“He fed me from the time I was born out of that lunchbox, at midnight, we would watch Johnny Carson and he would feed me out of the lunchbox,” Hobbs said. “We sent a little thumbnail to my sister and she started crying and said that it never occurred to her that I look like dad.”
Sloane also painted rings on both of Hobbs’ hands. Hobbs has always worn two rings, one given to him by his mother. But when his mother Alice passed a couple years ago, he slipped it into her hand and it was buried with her.
“Each of them are about projected images,” Sloane said. “There is a projected self socially and then there is the real self and I always see those two and I think it is my nature to do that. I see who a person might be and I see a person’s projected self. Sometimes there is this real obvious argument between the two — I am always fascinated about that — someone carrying the two sides simultaneously.”
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Jamie Sloane: The Visiteur Series Presented by Jack and Angie Bourdelais” art exhibit
WHERE: Huntington Museum of Art
WHEN: runs now through Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019
Visiteur No. 6 is Jamie’s mom Seena Adkins, who lives in Gallipolis, Ohio. It is called “A Seat at the Table.”
“When she was little she wasn’t allowed to get up from the table until she ate all her green beans but she refused to do that and that is such a significant character element of my mom is her defiance - and you can see how defiant she is,” Sloane said with a laugh. “She said she would never get up from the table until the sun set. I love that story because I was defiant, and all of us can be defiant. There is a point at which you choose to be defiant but it is a good skill to have if you use it for the right things.”
To get an idea of Sloane’s dedication to detail, just stare at that sunset — it is a pointillist painting that took Sloane three months to paint.
Sloane said it was worth it and feels wonderfully full circle to be able to put his mom into the museum, a place she treasured as a child when she was in a children’s home and got to visit on outings.
“The coolest thing about the piece with his mother is that when she was a little kid she would visit her and it has been the most amazing thing in her life to be able to put her hanging in the museum, because they were really poor little kids who came up here with her class,” Hobbs said.
Composing his painting voice
Visiteur No. 7 in the series is Sloane himself — wearing a French military motorcycle jacket, a red scarf (draped in a seven) and most notably a pair of green Nike shoes. Appropriate for a painter who seems to be running at twice the pace to make up for lost time.
“My dad got me these green shoes and he would always get me a kite when he got me shoes and he would say in order to keep the kite in the air you’ve got to be able to run fast, and so that has always been a metaphor for me to keep a project in the air I have to be aggressive and quick to do it,” Sloane said.
It has only been in recent years that Sloane has thrown himself madly into painting.
A 1991 graduate of Huntington East High School, Sloane, who can play piano, viola and cello, among other instruments, is a classically trained musician and composer who studied musical composition at Marshall and then in Columbus privately for several years.
He moved to L.A. to work in the film scoring industry but after two years trying moved back home defeated.
“I had to give myself a break, mentally, I couldn’t sleep at night because I was constantly composing music,” Sloane said. “I spoke to a woman and she said just quit doing it for a while so I gave myself a year to not compose, then I started drawing, so that is that creative nature, like it is going to find itself in some other way.”
Sloane, whose dad and brother also draw, said he taught himself how to turn drawings into paintings.
“I did it for fun as a hobby for years, but when I met Jimmy (eight years ago) when I brought him into my home, he said, ‘Are you a collector? These are wonderful paintings/and I, of course, had them behind furniture and under the bed because I was running out of room, but he pulled them out and said ‘I am going to take you where you need to be and put you into the galleries.’”
Sloane said he felt like Hobbs’ arrival in his life was divine intervention.
“Two weeks before I met Jimmy I was in mass and there was a lesson about Moses and Aaron and God had this thing that he wanted Moses to do but there wasn’t anyway for him to do it because he had this missing element and so he prayed for someone to come into his life and God sent him Aaron, and Aaron was his voice for him,” Sloane said. “I was very shy and backward and introverted. I prayed that same prayer for an Aaron to come into my life and maybe it was a week later I met Jimmy. He is amazing. He can open any door.”
Into the museums
In the past few years, doors have flown open as the couple has ventured out to show Sloane’s work.
“I actually drove up in front of gallery one day, and he said, ’What are you doing?” and I said, ‘You are going in and talking to these people.’” Hobbs said with a chuckle. “He didn’t feel any of the paintings were ready and in two months we had them framed and everything ready and we had his first show.”
That first show was at the French Art Gallery in Gallipolis. His second show was at the Gallery 409 in Point Pleasant. Both sold out.
His third exhibit was the three large pieces in the cutting-edge 2017 San Quen-tin exhibit at the Huntington Museum of Art. One of Sloane’s three pieces in that show, “It Ain’t All Roses” (Visiteur No. 2) is a portrayal of an inmate George Herbert Tarver. It was exhibited in both the San Quentin exhibit and the new “The Visiteur Series.”
“We have been so blessed everyone at the museum has had this open arm policy with us and they have been so kind, and Ruth Finley has been wonderful and Jack and Angie Bourdelais have been amazing,” Hobbs said.
Huntington Museum of Art director Geoff Fleming said at a time when portraiture in the classical sense (painted, drawn or sculpted) has gone by the wayside replaced with digital imagery, Sloane’s exhibit shows how in the right hands a portrait painter can be a surveyor of souls capturing people’s essence, as well as a sense of wonder and mystery.
“Jamie Sloane is someone who literally draws a story out of his subjects bit by bit,” Fleming writes in the Foreword. “Like the best portrait painters, he is a surveyor of souls, capturing people, however, briefly, at one particular moment and place in their lives. In ’The Visiteur Series/Sloane takes this one step further by enhancing his subjects with the trappings of wealth, work, play and mystery. Completed, these portraits are not only beautiful, but insightful, complex and curious. It is this last aspect that makes them so compelling and difficult to ignore, absorbing the viewer into the story each image tells.”
While Sloane is already bustling ahead (he has been working on four different collections) that are coming up, he said that he, who shares a birthday with the late, great iconic painter, Georgia O’Keefe, and Hobbs shares a birthday with O’Keefe’s husband, photographer and manager, Alfred Stieglitz, are counting their blessings and savoring the magic moment of this collaboration.
“I always wanted someone to do something special with,” Sloane said. “I have this book about all of these dynamic duos throughout history that did creative things together, like the Coen Brothers and I always wanted a partner to just have something on the outside of us to make work and I got my dream ... I have been very fortunate There is this whole saying that if you are doing what you are meant to do, that the universe will open itself to you, it is waiting for you to do what you are supposed to do. The moment that I stepped out to be a painter it has been forward momentum at a tempo that always signifies to me that I am doing the right thing.”