Painting & Drawing
“I am a figurative painter who works primarily with the human form. I have always been drawn to images of people (painting, drawing, photography, any type of image). After going to school in Italy, I found myself consistently creating works that focused on the human form above all else. Many of my paintings are narratives gleaned from life and/or from traditional Euro-American literary, mythological and religious sources. These traditions strongly influence our daily lives, the choices we make, our perceptions of situations and people and the essence of our value systems.” Quote from Lasher’s web site.
I don’t often truly express my heart felt appreciate for an artist’s work. I say I love the style, the use of color, the subject matter, but that doesn’t see like enough sometimes. Jim Lasher is an artist whose work doesn’t allow you the luxury of not having a reaction, try as you might. From the striking visual of the human body juxtaposed with hard core industrial images to the more subtle, but still powerful images of youth laced with experience.
In the painting above a woman’s soft, vulnerable body is seemingly intertwined with the piercing steel of serious farm machinery. This painting draws from your mind the comfort of touching someone’s skin, their body. It gives the impression of life among the cold, solid, unfeeling, uncomfortable harshness of the metal objects. And yet, the machinery has a life of its own. There is comfort in the strength, the power, the uncompromising nature of solid steel. Even the shapes are so overtly at odds with one another. The lovely curve of the woman’s body against the sharp, straight, pointed edges of the equipment. If a painting can stir all of this sensory stimulation, it’s quite an achievement.
Bringing a less obvious contrast to life would be a greater challenge. Through color, strong contrasts and illuminating light, Lasher finds the weathered, worn, aged essence of a young model, probably without even trying. The idea of flesh verses steel is one thing, but the reality of age verses beauty is quite another. I’m not a scholar of Lasher’s work, I only have my own interpretations to guide me. What I do know is that somewhere between the amazing brush work and stunning use of light I get lost in every line, shape and color. The brush strokes are often so strong you can imagine the paint brush in his hand moving in broad open, but deliberate strokes to find what brings his model to life on the canvas.
In “Conversation” this couple could be discussing anything. He could be trying to get her to sleep with him. Considering his state of dress, that’s quite a possibility. She could be telling him what a jerk he is and that she is leaving him. He could be listening to her confess to cheating on him, or telling him they are going to have a baby. They could be talking about grocery shopping. She could be the artist, he the model, and they are discussing his pose. All of this speculation from one moment in time frozen by Lasher’s keen sense of human drama and daring exploration of interaction between men and women. Some of his work is more provocative, depending on your sensibilities, even offensive if you are less open to the expression of human sexuality or visually appreciating the nude form. Be aware that several images on Jim’s site are figure studies, but also be aware that every life experience we have is an extension of our bodies. To visually appreciate the life, the shapes, the colors of the skin, the emotions and history that every person (body and all) brings to the canvas is liberating. Don’t be afraid of an exposed breast or penis…we’ve all got one or the other, why be embarrassed or intimidated?
Lasher gives a level of attention to the shape, details, and personality of human skin, muscle, even the fabrics that glide across his bodies. When he ventures away from the human form, that attention to detail is not lost. His palette and amazing brush find the same lively spirit in a leaf, a flower or a vegetable. All alive and supple, touchable, but beyond realistic. Again the full on, in-in-your-face contrast and dramatic lighting create a world that is teeming with life and yet full of shadows.
Drama is the word for Lasher’s work. A sense of darkness coupled with an undeniable affection for life, human interaction, individuality and self expression create a theatrical allure. A frozen moment in time, staged or real, either way his images have an impact that is hard to describe.
I’m extremely lucky to have contacted Mr. Lasher and he was nice enough to participate in my Featured Artist interview. I can’t deny that I’m always a bit awe struck when I get a chance to communicate with the artists whose work I admire. Thanks to Jim for his time and effort.
Cid: Where do you live?
Jim: For the past fifteen I have lived in and around Baltimore Maryland.
Cid: How old are you?
Cid: Do you have formal art training or education?
Jim: Yes, BFA and MFA in painting
Cid: When you were growing up, did you feel that your creativity got special attention?
Jim: My parents encouraged creativity; school did not. I didn’t even take art in 7th thru 10th grade. Where I went, art classes were only for students who were not planning to go on to college!
Cid: Are Art and Design the way you make a living?
Jim: Yes, I work as an art director during the day, teach computer graphics in a local university and paint at night.
Cid: Have you been a part of the “art scene” where you live? Do you attend gallery openings, check out the latest offerings of local talent, hang out where the creative community migrate to? How would you describe the art community where you live?
Jim: Occasionally. The community is relatively small in this area and local support for the visual arts has dwindled in recent years.
Cid: Do you have any children? If so, do they show an interest in artistic ventures?
Jim: I have no children which is one of the few regrets that I have in life so far. I expect that will be fixed one day.
Cid: As an artist, do you feel people see you in any certain stereotypical way?
Jim: I doubt that anyone would pick me out in a crowd and say “hey, look. He must be an artist.” I do not go out of my way to look like an artist. I’ve never been particularly interested in fashion or trying to look cool.
Stereotypes come into play in my world after someone knows what I do or becomes familiar with my work. It is then that they make assumptions about my relationship with my models based on how they interpret the paintings, their own baggage and how many cheesy movies about artists they’ve seen on late night cable television.
Cid: Do you feel there is a stigma or blessing attached to being an artist amongst the “normal” people of the world? Hahaha
Jim: Generally, I think that people in the fine arts are assumed to be different from normal people. Even insanity can be tolerated, provided it is charming. Of course, there are those who find many forms of contemporary art objectionable–including my work. There are those who lump all art and artists together without considering the ever present fratricide in the art world. It’s much the same as the way many folks see Sadam Hussein and Islamic fundamentalists as exactly the same. They are both enemies but they are not at all the same; secular strong man versus religious totalitarian fanaticism. There are those who see all artists as sick and sinful freaks, however, there are far more people who are intrigued and fascinated by something that they can’t even begin to do.
Actually, where I see the stigma is in the world or graphic design. There are a lot of people in the corporate world who are loathe to accept artists as professionals. They see artists much the same way they see athletes: being paid to do something that you truly love and that is not work. Typically visual people do not keep their offices and work areas in the same manner as non-visual people which adds to the perception that art people are not to be taken seriously. They are all a bunch of wild punk kids who need to be reigned in like a flock of unruly children.
Cid: Are you an adventurous artist, trying new tools, mediums, ideas to keep your passion for creating alive? Or, are you reserved, preferring to stick with what you know, what makes you feel comfortable and safe in your skill “zone”?
Jim: A curious question. Yes, I am an adventurous artist, but not in the need to keep trying new tools and mediums. I am more interested in challenging myself and my audience with the imagery, composition and ideas; paint is merely the vehicle which I have elected to use.
Cid: Are you interested in computers and the internet? If yes, how does the technological world come together with your creative thinking?
Jim: I use computers everyday and I teach computer graphics courses. I’ve always been more interested in print media rather than web design. It’s just a personal taste kind of thing. As for using them in my fine art endeavors, well, no I don’t see much of a connection with my work.
Cid: What plans do you have for the future? Any new mediums or areas of the artistic world that you would like to explore?
Jim: At the moment I am working several pieces that are quite different in terms of scale. They are faces. Faces only but not like Chuck Close. The painting are so new right now that it is difficult to say more about them.
About Your Work:
<Cid: I’ll get right to the point and state the obvious. A lot of your work has a strong sexual content that can be interpreted many ways. Have you been criticized or praised more for your honest exploration of sexuality?
Jim: Yes, I have often been criticized for the sexual content. I try to approach sexuality in a neutral or positive manner. There are innumerable pieces of art that depict the world in a sex-negative light; a holdover from our Puritan heritage. Watch a teenage horror movie. All the people who have sex in the movie die horrible deaths, only the good girl survives and defeats the attacker. There would be no weight to this observation if there were only one or two examples, but for the literally hundreds of these movies. Our culture is obsessed and repulsed by sex. Ironically, if the same paintings were done with a strong male homosexual content there would probably be no difficulty with them. In fact there are numerous male homosexual painters who deal with similar subject matter from their point of view.
Cid: Some of your work can be seen as borderline violent, even difficult to look at for people who cannot see past the initial physicality of the images. Do you feel compelled to explain or to define your own interpretation so that your work does not get unnecessarily categorized or pigeonholed as being “uncomfortably erotic”?
Jim: No, I rarely feel compelled to explain a piece. If the painting comes off as erotic or violent or both that was probably intended. Look at our culture. We are fascinated by sex and violence; it’s everywhere.
Cid: Rebar, Persephone and Demeter are three of my favorites posted on your site. The combination of the powerful sensuality of a woman’s body juxtaposed with the cold unforgiving shapes, lines and implications of industrial equipment and objects is semi disturbing if one cannot see past their own hang ups about nudity, sex and ideas of femininity. How did you come up with the concept of these types of images and how would you describe these pieces to someone who just doesn’t “get it”?
Jim: The summer before last I watched as the farm machinery pulverized the corn fields that surround our yard. The corn seemed so big and impenetrable but the acid yellow blades of the Kemper heads on the tractors just shredded the fields and threw the corn and stalks into the wagons as silage. What I didn’t realize at the time was that field corn gets much taller than the six or seven feet it was in the summer of 1999 (no rain here). This past summer the corn towered over my head by several feet. This time they used different machinery to harvest the corn and separate it from the stalks and the cobs. With my interest in mythology and its attendant imagery, I found I had a whole new understanding of harvest imagery and allegorical figuration in mythological art, both ancient and that of the past five hundred years. The choice of the female form to represent earth, growth and seasons, as well as, the source of life was, of course, clear to me in the past. However, the experience of living on a working farm brought that awareness to the fore. The correlation between the machinery of farming and the male seems obvious;
I chose not to include an actual male but rather a male avatar. The human female to represent the earth, growth, life and the organic and the machine to represent the human male, clearing burning, plowing, cutting and the inorganic.
Cid: Technically and stylistically your work is incredible. Your consistent treatment of flesh, bone structure and muscles is a prominent feature of your works with nudes. The controlled, yet forgiving brushstrokes do not pretend to be recreating photorealistic images. How long did it take you to develop your specific style, or do you feel you still have more learning and evolving to do as a painter?
Jim: I think, like many people in any of the arts, that art making is an ever evolving growth process. The manner of my painting has changed over the years and continues to change. If you look at the brushwork in paintings such as Christa or Pasiphae you will see a rather different approach than in the more current pieces such as Rebar, Demeter or Persephone. The brushwork that I am currently using has probably been with me for the past three or four years. I expect that it will eventually give way to something else in time.
Cid: Do you consider yourself a student of traditional painting/art techniques and ideas, or do you try to break free from those “old fashioned” restrictions and invent new ways of creating as you go along?
Jim: Actually both. Traditionally paintings were started with a thin value study on the canvas in either burnt sienna or burnt umber (with the exception of Titian who tended to use black) at which time drawing and compositional issues were addressed. Then color was laid in followed by detail and any additional refinements that the piece required. Generally I follow this approach. I start with an idea and burnt sienna and build image on the canvas. I have no fear of changing something or wiping it out and starting over–it happens. Where I depart from tradition is in my approach to composition and, of course, subject matter. Look at the old masters. Rarely will you ever find an artist crop the main figures in a painting. If at all possible they try not to crop the human form at all.
Cid: “Christa” is disturbing to me, at first glance, and then as I look at it, study the surroundings and goings on, I am not disturbed anymore, just confused. I try to put together a scenario in my head what is happening, why she is on the cross amongst what seem to be unimpressed or at worse disimpassioned by standers. What is the origin of this painting? If I may be so bold to ask, and how was it designed?
Jim: I know this may be a disappointment, but I am not going to explain this piece. It’s too difficult write about because it requires a dialogue rather than a thesis statement in order to understand it. The idea for the painting has been with me for a long time. I will say that it is not to viewed as a literal image but rather a metaphor about women and their position in our society. Before you leap to any easy conclusions, remember that there are three main female figures in the painting, not just one!
How was it designed? I am presuming that you want to know how the central figure was created and about the shape of the canvas. The central figure was real. I built a cross in the studio and the model hung from it–no nails or ropes of course. Then we put a box under her to support her weight. To get the figure exactly right we shot some pictures with her literally hanging on the cross, but most of the modeling was standing with her hands holding onto some ropes at the top. The canvas was constructed to fit the crucifix.
Cid: Alison and Conversation are perfectly captured moments in time where a slice of life is happening right in front of our eyes. It seems in each scenario that there is so much left to the imagination, and yet it seems so clear. These young ladies are in over their heads. They are growing up too fast, or wanting to anyway, and are in that brief calm before the storm. I could be reading a lot more into these images than is really there. Does it frustrate you when people invent meanings for your work? Or do you believe it’s all in the eyes of the person looking in from the outside vs. the original vision of the artist?
Jim: No, it doesn’t bother me if the viewer arrives at a different interpretation than I intended. Ideally, I would wish that they would see it the way that I do but that is unrealistic. I recall one time a young woman came up to me to tell me how Christa much meant to her because it showed that Jesus died for women as well as men. Although that has been the meaning of Christa paintings for the past five hundred years it was not quite what I had in mind. There are times that the viewer will point something out to me that may have been in my subconscious that I was unaware was in the piece.
Cid: Where do you get your ideas? What motivates you to delve in areas where most artists do not tread. Rape, Dorm, and Pasiphae are challenging to the viewer. The subject matter can become more the center of attention than the quality of the craftsmanship. How does that, if at all, affect the work you do?
Jim: The paintings that you refer to above and others grew out of or are a reaction to contemporary American views on the subjects. These pieces, too, require a dialogue rather than a thesis statement. Rape in particular has a very different reaction from men versus women. That was intended from the beginning. Actually, I want the image to be the center of attention; craftsmanship should not get in the way of the narrative. For me paint is a vehicle to convey the idea. Ideally the two should fuse into a unified whole. If I may use an analogy: I am more interested in winning the Oscar for best picture rather than best costume design!
Cid: It doesn’t not seem that you hold back from creating images that you must know will be subject of harsh judgment, poor interpretation and just pure ignorance. Where do you get your bravery, or confidence, whatever the case may be?
Jim: I’m not sure that I call it bravery. Frankly, I don’t think too much about it. I paint whatever I am interested in and see what happens. Although I am not interested in shocking the audience, I do want them to have a reaction. Most artists will say that there is no worse reaction than no reaction.
Cid: What has been the most surprising reaction to your work, positive or negative?
Jim: Probably that women tend to respond more positively to my work than men.
Cid: Your paintings and drawings are all so unique and interesting. How do you design your compositions? Do you begin with the model posing in real life and then conceiving the ideas for the environment later? Or do you see the entire work in your head first and then just put the elements together?
Jim: I start with an idea in my head. But the problem with the way that I see things in my head is that they are often not two dimensional (sometimes they are three or four dimensional). When I start to draw it out, the image often changes. Other times an idea will come from working with a model or models. There is no hard and fast rule.
Cid: I noticed that many of your works on paper are the same models featured several times. You depict each of them with such reverence, such intimacy. To get this kind of open, honest, comfortable relationship between you, the model and the finished work, do you paint women you already know well, or are they freelance models?
Jim: I work mostly with people that I know. I generally consider myself to be a people painter rather than a figure painter. Therefore, knowing the model is helpful. The model and artist relationship is a rather intimate (do not read sleep with model). Some artists require that subject sit perfectly still and not move or speak. I feel weird spending many hours with someone and trying to pretend that they are nothing more than a vase! My models move, stretch, scratch, drink, smoke and most of all: talk. I am one of those people who can paint and talk at the same time. So, spending many hours with another person talking, it is bound to lead to a rather intimate relationship.
Cid: In contrast to the more mature work that you do, you have a collection of painted flowers, an underwater scene, a three headed dog and a Gecko up close and personal. I get the feeling that along with the serious bruiting artist in you who can create such powerful work with live models and with such strong content, you have a relentless sense of humor. Do you have times when your “mood” drags you one way or another in your work? In other words, are there days when you just really don’t want to paint or draw images of nude bodies, any bodies, in compromising, sexual, intense positions, and you just want to work with pedals and stems and leaves?
Jim: Sure. The plants came from a recent interest in gardening. The dog is my old dog when she was young. She was hyper and loved to eat empty Pepsi cans. The water pieces are actually part of a much larger series that were never put on line. They were done just prior to the highly sexualized paintings. Some were nudes also. The newest pieces that I am currently working on are faces. Just faces–many times larger than life-size.