by Marianne Menditto
Marianne: What drew you to make a career in Art?
Jim: Well, as you know my background is in engineering and I was originally going to be an architect because I liked to draw things and I was good at art. But, I also was a tinkerer, I liked to take things apart and put them back together to figure out how they worked. So I decided to go into engineering after about a year of architectural work and had a very successful career and I was lucky that they sent me all over the world for the projects I worked on. But, I was always drawn to the best galleries in the world, such as in London…Paris…Italy. During that time I was drawn to particularly the figurative art work and I loved to look at the statues and since I liked working with my hands, and said, “Boy I would really love to do that, I would really love to sculpt the human figure.” Then I just decided to quit my engineering and start sculpting. So that’s kind of how the transition happened.
Marianne: That was a pretty big step.
Jim: Well, I was very fortunate. At that time, I didn’t know what kind of sculptor I was going to be in particular, whether it would be metal or stone, glass, so I was exploring a lot of different things. One day a neighbor knocked at my door and said “I know a guy who’s building his house and he’s got this wonderful landscaping that he wants some artwork for.” I said, “Well, I’m not really done studying it yet, I’m just kind of exploring different avenues.” But, he said, “Oh, just go talk to the guy, he’s a nice guy, you never know what might happen.” So, I went over there and was met by 2 totem poles at the front of the building. This was in the Northwest. So, I thought, well, this should be a Native American theme. And there in the garden was a waterfall with a rock outcropping. Then, this vision came in my mind about a Native American woman and a little child. You know, they used these woven baskets for their daily endeavors, so I thought of her with a basket full of water, pouring it over the child’s hair and the water going back into the stream. So, I talked to the owner about that and he said “Well, that’s really interesting.” But, I told him, “I’ve never sculpted anything before, so what I’ll do is, I’ll make the model life-size in clay of the child and you can see if you like it.” Well, he did! So, we went on and finished the project in bronze. So, that became my first life- sized piece. Because it was a water-feature, my engineering background helped out…so it all became a real nice piece of artwork which then helped to launch my career.
Marianne: That’s quite a story! What brought you to Vallarta?
Jim: My wife, Eva and I love to travel. We’ve visited over 50 countries. We also like a warm climate and there’s just something about the ocean…so we’ve always felt we would be at some stage in our lives in a warm climate near the ocean. She’s from Finland & I’m from Chicago, so we grew up in these cold climates and so we had traveled to different parts of Mexico before, but never to Vallarta so, I was looking at a travel magazine and on the cover it had the artwork of the Malecon, the bronzes. I said to Eva, “This looks like a place where they appreciate artwork, bronze in particular, so let’s go visit.” When we came here we fell in love with it and on our second visit we bought a place here… we’ve been here 14 years now.
Marianne: Nice. Tell us about your workspace.
Jim: Well, actually, I have two places that I work. One is in the state of Washington, where I have a large studio. Here in Vallarta, I have a small studio it’s about maybe 10 feet by 10 feet. So, that’s where I do my small pieces. The Dancers for the Malecon, was done in the courtyard of our condominium. I set up a tent, so people could come by, get involved, put some clay on it, work with it and feel a part of it. With the Burro project, I worked overlooking the river Cuale. In the gallery above Oscar’s Restaurant, Cuizas, they let me use a space up there which was great because a lot of people would see it as they walked across the bridge there and they would come and see what I was doing would get involved…use some clay. I like to get the public involved.
Marianne: Wow, what a nice place to work! Speaking of public involvement…Art in public spaces, what role does it play in society?
Jim: To me, all great cities have artwork. That to me is what defines a great city, is the artwork…and the variety of artwork, is very important If they have a large variety of artists with all the different medias, the styles, that to me defines great public arts.
Marianne: What inspires your subject matter?
Jim: Most of my subject matter is because of our love of travel. I’m always struck by something that I see that makes me happy or makes me sad, or whimsical. I love doing things with children, I love dancers, ethnic people with different backgrounds, so it’s just a little bit of everything. I really enjoy doing the children most of all because I like to see the smile on peoples faces when they see the artwork. But also,I feel that a lot of what I do is to preserve…a lot of historical pieces… a lot of the different cultures. In our world as things change so fast, it may be that suddenly a lot of the things that we see now, say, 10, 15, a hundred years from now, may not be here, if I can preserve those aspects of history and culture, then I’ll feel like I’ve accomplished my work.
Marianne: What’s the most technically challenging part of your work?
Jim: The technically challenging part is really the start of it. and what I do when I start out, I build an armature. That’s made of wire. Everything I do rests on top of the armature, the initial form so, if I get that right everything else just flows easy. So the armatures are real important.
Marianne: Do you work on multiple projects at the same time?
Jim: Most of the time I’ll work on one project to completion. I don’t like going back and forth, some artists work that way. I like to start something and complete it.
Marianne: So, do you sketch the pieces out before you start building them?
Jim: Yeah, the first thing I do is, well, these visions come into my mind and I’ll do some really quick sketches just in pen and ink or pencils and then I’ll do a real quick model, just to look at it in the 3rd dimension and see how it’s working out. And usually when I do life-sized I’ll get models and then I’ll do measurements and take pictures and get all the details correct so that when I do the life-sized piece or even the smaller ones, I’ll know that anatomically, it’s correct.
Marianne: How do you know when the work is done?
Jim: Well, the work, to me, is never done. At some point you just have to say, “It’s done enough.” You just have to stop, it never, ever will be better. I could be working on it every single day, given the opportunity. It’s just me, when I go back and look at my work I say, “ Oh, wow, I could have done this better, or that differently, so, to me, it’s never done.
Marianne: In what ways do you stretch yourself to make your work grow?
Jim: My work is pretty much on the realistic side…but I’ve been slowly exploring more contemporary aspects, for example the Absinthe Fountain…more contemporary, more stylized. I’m a detail person so for me to get away from the details…I just want to keep working out more and more details it’s a real push for me to start doing more stylized work and being more free with my work, but that’s a new area that I’m going to explore more and more.
Marianne: So, then once you’ve pronounced the piece ‘Finished” it has to be transported all the way out to El Pitillal, to the foundry, right?
Jim: Right. The foundry people come and they take some pieces off…(gasp from me)…they cut it…because they have to do it anyway. So, whatever they can’t get down the stairway…they cut off. They cut off arms and heads in order to work on it in small sections. The parts get all welded together after they’re cast in bronze.
Marianne: Whew! How does the foundry produce a bronze from your clay?
Jim: The master mold maker makes a silicone rubber mold of the clay sculpture. Hot wax is poured into the mold and when it cools, I have an exact wax copy of the sculpture. The wax is covered with ceramic slurry and sand. After the ceramic hardens, the ceramic mold is put in a hot oven where the wax melts out. The bronze metal is heated to 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit and poured into the ceramic mold where it solidifies. The ceramic is chipped away, and finally you have the sculpture in bronze. It is cleaned up and the final patina color is applied.
Marianne: Do you have a new project that you’re excited to start?
Jim: Actually, it’s an old project that’s going to be starting up again. The Elizabeth Taylor/ Richard Burton piece I’m doing for Casa Kimberley. For Janice Chatterton, who bought Casa Kimberley she’s turning it into this boutique hotel/suites and she commissioned me to do Liz and Dick almost 3 years ago, then the project was put on hold. I had sculpted it and it’s molded. So, now I’ve learned that they’re going to finish it up and so, I’ll have it cast in bronze and it’ll go in the entranceway of Casa Kimberley.
Marianne: Well, that’s good news! And, what do you like to do when you’re not making art?
Jim: I enjoy my walks on the beach in the morning, it’s the way I start my day. We happen to live close to the beach so I’ll walk the sand all the way down to the end of the beach where the other statue of the seahorse is and I’ll climb up the stairs to get my exercise. I enjoy music a lot, we go to the Jazz Club here, called El Patio de Mi Casa. We’ll listen to the jazz. Then a lot of times we’ll sit out in front of Roberto’s Restaurant where my Vallarta Dancers statue is on the Malecon and watch people and watch how they react to it.
Marianne: Quite a reward. Thank you for sharing your vision with us.
Limited edition commemorative sculptures are available at Gary Thompson’s Galeria Pacifico Calle Aldama #174 col. Centro, Puerto Vallarta http://www.galeriapacifico.com