Winona-based artist Jamie Harper works on a painting in his garage studio on a cold winter afternoon.
by NATHANIEL NELSON
Over the past few weeks, the walls of Ed’s (no name) Bar have slowly been overtaken by dozens of splattered doors. The paintings, ranging from scenic views of Minnesota, to portraits of birds and fish, to abstract designs rife with color are part of Winona artist Jamie Harper’s ninth annual winter exhibit.
Harper, who also operates under the name Salvaged Medium, has been painting for almost a decade. He explained that his work is environmental, using only reclaimed materials, including recycled latex house paints and hollow-core doors, which makes his work not only sustainable, but also gives it its most unique quality.
“It’s sloppy, Jackson Pollock-esque but with subject matter, and part of the sloppiness comes from the type of paint. Latex paint is liquidy, and the end product mirrors that,” Harper said. “It’s easier to be sloppy than not be sloppy. It gets spilled on, and splattered on. So when I’m done painting, I add more to balance out the mess.”
Much of Harper’s work takes influence from nature. Common subjects in his work include the Mississippi River, herons, birch trees, canoes, various types of fish and even the occasional loon. The subjects are painted on in a messy, yet sharp manner before he adds on an extra layer of splatters of color to give each piece its own unique mood.
“Once I start painting, it’s fairly fast. I’m a quick worker in that regard,” he said.
His new exhibit features more than 60 individual paintings, with more than half painted over the last several months. Unlike many other artists, who produce their work first and then plan the hanging later, Harper works in reverse, first examining the space to see what he can fit.
“A lot of times I’ll just come down [to Ed’s] and sit and stare at the walls. And I’ll think to myself, ‘That right there needs something, so what can I put there?’ And then I go home and the next day, I’ll size up the doors, measure and cut them, and then paint,” he explained.
Harper’s artistic career traces back to more than a decade ago in his other job as a teacher at Riverway Learning Center. Earth Day was just around the corner, and a parade called the “Procession of Species” was set for the holiday, where people would come to the event and march together as different species. Harper explained that he was trying to figure out how to get more of his students involved when he remembered a previous activity where students learned about Jackson Pollock and threw paint on a large sheet.
“I had this idea where I could get a lot of students to make things and be in the parade. The idea was basically to cut out cardboard silhouettes like fish and birds and paint them, using all recycled material,” Harper recalled.
He began to cut out the shapes of animals for his students, including the kind of fish and birds which frequent his exhibitions today, and gave each of them one to paint. Some, he recalled, neatly tried to paint an exact fish, while other splattered the canvas into what could barely be recognized as a fish. In all, dozens of students participated, marching in the parade as a smorgasbord of colorful creatures.
After all was said and done, the extra material had to go somewhere.
“The stuff was at my house, and I decided to paint something for the heck of it. That was the beginning of starting to paint for fun,” he said.
He started making some pieces later that year, practicing techniques and finding his own personal style. Before moving to full doors, he used cabinets and other materials as his canvas. Eventually, Edward Hoffman, the owner of Ed’s, asked him if he would do a show at the bar that summer. But to do that, he had to get working quickly.
“That summer, all I did was paint. I really didn’t know what I was doing,” Harper said. As a result, he explained, his style quickly developed and in no time he was cranking out paintings left and right. Today, Harper paints between 50 and 100 paintings every year. “I’ve painted a lot to get where I am. My style is the same, but the subject matter has gotten more refined,” he said.
Over the years, Harper has worked on numerous large projects, including a collaboration with the Commonweal Theater in Lanesboro for a play about Jackson Pollock, a poster for Great River Shakespeare Festival, an album cover for Duluth blues master Charlier, multiple works for Boats and Bluegrass and exhibits from here to the North Shore.
But every fall, he returns to his roots and spends his time working toward the same exhibit that kick started his career in the first place.
Harper will host an exhibit opening at Ed’s (no name) Bar, 252 East Third Street, Winona, on Friday, November 16, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. The exhibit will continue to be up through the end of December. For more information, contact Jamie Harper at 507-452-3128.