Article

Arabella articleJerry was recently interviewed by Arabella Magazine.  You can read the full article here and see additional questions below from the interview.

TO FIND WHAT YOU LOVE

Published September 2016

Written by Brett Anningson

When it came time to decide what to do with his life, Jerry Markham took to heart some great advice from his stepfather, Stuart, who had made his living playing in a band for many years. Jerry recalls, “I told him I wanted to be a painter and Stuart said, “Find something you love to do and the money will come.” That stuck with me when I told other people I wanted to be a painter and they asked if I could make a living doing that, or if I had something to fall back on.”

Jerry was born in Innisfail, Alberta, and lived in northern Alberta until moving to Airdrie (near Calgary) at age 13. “Playing hockey, high school football and any other sport that would get me out of class was my focus for the most part,” he admits. “And, although I took art class in school, it was not my intention to make it a career – until grade 12. Following high school, I attended Alberta College of Art and Design for one semester, then stopped painting and became a commercial roofer for a few years, which was definitely good money for an uneducated 18-yr old, but also hard work.”

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Pucker Up - Painting of lemons by Jerry Markham

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Being a roofing contractor was a seasonal job and obviously not a long-term goal. One year, while he was off work from construction during a particularly cold and snowy Calgary winter, Jerry did a little painting. He notes, “That is when I met Doug Swinton, owner of Swinton’s Art Supply & Instruction. I went into the art store for supplies and came out with a job. Working there got me excited about painting again and I started to think that maybe doing this for a living could be possible. My wife Leah was working full time, and we had managed to pay off her student loans, so I thought it might be time to take another crack at this “being an artist” thing.”

Doug Swinton introduced Jerry and Leah to Jean and Dean Geddes – Jean is also a professional artist from Calgary. Jerry says, “Jean and Dean taught us about the business of being an artist. We learned how to price paintings, approach galleries, form relationships with collectors, and so much more. Jean was also my painting teacher. She taught me how to paint what I see. In fact, Jean taught me to ‘see’ for the first time, which was a huge moment in my painting process. She also taught me about mixing and applying paint, but the biggest thing she taught me was to take painting seriously; if I wanted to make it my job I had better treat it as a job. This is when I started painting eight hours a day, whether I liked it or not.” The journey then began in earnest.

Jerry painting at Mount Athabasca
Jerry painting near Kimberley BC
painting at Bow Lake in Alberta
painting at Lake O'hara
painting in Arizona
painting in Stuart BC

 

Struggling Through To Success
Then came the hardest five years of Jerry’s life. A time filled with self-doubt, little success and a lot of painting. There were painting trips and excursions to the mountains, time spent in contemplation, and the continuing support of Doug Swinton.

jerry-bill-fran“Doug and I decided to go on a road trip to see artists Bill Reese and Clyde Aspevig in the United States,” says Jerry. “Meeting Bill and his wife Fran changed the trajectory of my painting journey again. They had done it – they were the first people I had met that had made a life and supported a family by creating pictures. They were also very welcoming and happy to show us their collection, including paintings by Matt Smith, Ramon Kelly, Richard Schmid, Sergei Bongart, Bob Kuhn, Edgar Payne and many others. It was awe inspiring. We ended up staying for dinner and meeting again the next day, which was the beginning of a mind-expanding relationship. It was the freedom that really appealed to me; being able to carve out one’s own lifestyle, even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy.”

Jerry returned home with renewed vigor to create the lifestyle he wanted as an artist. He continued to paint and did some teaching from a converted garage, while Leah started an online marketing company working from home.

 

Seeing It Through
studio1Today Jerry’s studio is separate from the house, in a quiet rural neighborhood overlooking Lake Okanagan in BC; the kind of place that allows him to get into the right frame of mind without many outside influences. Except for the deer, bear and other wildlife that wander by on occasion. The studio has a scenic view in all four seasons, close to the mountains, and inside it is filled with paintings by other artists.

studio2“There are a lot of painting props in the studio, such as pots, fabrics, jars and whats-its,” says Jerry, “as well as art books, vintage goalie equipment, sculptures, and photos of family and friends. I guess the most special thing I have in there is my Grandfather’s chair and a sweater he wore whenever we did woodworking together in his shop. It reminds me of his integrity and the hard worker he was, and that inspires me to be better.”

 

His Process
48x36“My process is dependent upon inspiration and the desired result for the painting,” says Jerry, “meaning the process itself changes based on what I want to say and how I want to say it with each piece. Painting from life or outdoors may require a faster, more direct approach with little or no pre-planning or preconceived ideas. Other times, I have an idea in my mind which requires hiring models, or traveling to a specific location, or taking photos to develop the idea. Sometimes the inspiration is a color, an application of paint, or making marks, and the subject becomes secondary. As for the painting process, in general it is fat over lean – starting with thin paint and building it up to thicker paint at the end; trying to balance form and content that is aesthetically pleasing, yet creative.”

The content tends to be as varied and interesting as the man, himself. It truly is whatever captures his interest and artistic eye. Jerry says he likes to continually push himself and the work, experimenting with compositions and lighting, and the way paint is applied. He explains, “I like to start out quite loose and somewhat abstract, allowing the picture to evolve in front of me. Trying not to get too bossy with the paint; allowing it room to move while pulling out the form of the whole. I feel this helps keeps the painting from getting too tight or content driven. For me, a looser painting allows the viewer to access it through their own filter, rather than dictate to them what to see. I have found paintings like this more interesting to view, so I try to paint that way. It is a challenge to keep it loose, yet keep the drawing accurate without getting too tight with the process, but I am learning. It is the struggle to balance form and content.”

Although he is reticent to directly define his style, preferring to leave that for others to decide, Jerry admits that his wife would say he is defined by a determination that borders on obsession. He adds, “Often, a problem I am trying to overcome within my work will inspire a lot of paintings, as I try to get better at that specific part. The journey to the perfect picture, which I know does not exist, is what inspires me to paint again and again. The subject or content is often not the inspiration, it is the form of a thing, and how to depict it in a picture that is creative and aesthetically pleasing.”

ADDITIONAL INTERVIEW QUESTIONS

What advice would you give people who are just starting to explore your craft?
I would tell them the same thing I was told when I first started out, but did not truly appreciate until much later and still have a hard time following –  Enjoy the process!

Is there something or someone who inspired you to start painting?
As long as I can remember I liked to draw, color and create in general, but no one I knew inspired me to be an artist.  I was more interested in sports and there were many people who inspired me to do that, mainly my dad.  Like most young Canadian boys I thought I was going to play in the NHL.

Who are strong influences and values in your life and work?

Jerry and Leah in JasperThough neither of my parents are artistically inclined, they both worked extremely hard and I think my work ethic must have come from them.

I could not do any of what I do without my incredible wife Leah who runs the business end of things and has been so supportive on this journey.  She is a fantastic travel companion through life.

As for painting influences, I have had great mentors: Doug Swinton, Jean and Dean Geddes, and Bill and Fran Reese.

 

Jerry and Doug

Doug Swinton, owner of Swinton’s Art Supplies in Calgary, was the one who got me painting again after a brief and disenchanting experience at art college.  He showed me what I call the ‘nuts and bolts of painting’.  I worked at his store and I learned a lot about art products and different materials.  He also allowed me to tag along to his workshops where I learned so much about about painting, but more importantly he would point me in the right direction to get the information I needed to continue to learn and grow on my own.  He always said “Practice does not make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.”

 

Jerry and JeanDoug introduced Leah and I to Jean and Dean Geddes – Jean is also a professional artist from Calgary.  They taught us about the business side of being an artist and Jean was also my painting teacher.  She taught me how to ‘paint what I see’. But the biggest thing was to take painting seriously – if I wanted to make it my job I had better treat it as a job.  So I started painting at least 8 hours a day. At that point I still had another job working at a hardware store evenings and weekends and didn’t yet make money through painting, but Jean and Dean encouraged me to keep it up.  Dean would say “Keep your pecker up” – I learned that meant to keep your chin up.

 

Jerry and BillBill Reese and his wife Fran showed Leah and I it was possible to have a successful living as an artist.  Bill had been a full-time painter and supported his family doing it.  He also fully embraced life and continued learning and growing until he passed away in June 2010.  He played music in a band, painted, sculpted, carved leather, wrote a book, and did all kinds of things.  It was encouraging to us even though they were honest about the difficulty of the art journey as well.  Bill taught me to think and ask ‘why’ a lot.  He was interested in why I painted paintings. This was not something I thought too much about at that point.  I had been so concerned with learning how to paint and always getting better at it, that I had not stopped to think about why I painted.  He challenged me to go deeper about what I was doing – that if you know why, it will often tell you how.  This has been a lesson I use in everything in life – slowing down and asking myself why, and to challenge conventional thinking.

 

What impresses you about other artists’ work and who impresses you today?
The things that impress me about other people’s work is often the creative way they handle paint that represents the subject.  After an artist has honed their craft it becomes about the way a subject is depicted and unique ways of doing this is interesting to me.  Other times it is artists that paint subjects or styles that I have no interest in painting myself but I appreciate the craft of what they are doing.

Recently, I have been looking at Ilya Repin, a Russian painter from the late 1800’s. There is a painting called “The Surgeon E. Pavlov in the Operating Theatre”.  Unbelievable!   It’s a beautiful example of subtle value and color exchanges, loose enough to allow the viewer in and yet drawn perfectly.  The contrast of the softness of the painting with the hard reality of what is going on is really compelling to me.

the-surgeon-e-pavlov-in-the-operating-theater-1888‘The Surgeon E. Pavlov in the Operating Theatre’ by Ilya Repin

 

When you are not working and creating, where can people find you?
I am usually in the garden or working on projects around the house.  I enjoy building things.  In the last couple years we have redone the kitchen, and built a table and writing desk for Leah.  This summer we have also been creating a flower garden – I am hoping to grow inspiration for future still life’s.

desk

garden

kitchen

Where is the one place people would never find you?
Omaha – I have a fear of corn fields.  Just kidding, not sure where, I hate to say never to anything.

What other types of art and materials have you explored and what is your favorite medium?
I started painting with oils and they just seemed to fit me best so I haven’t worked much with other mediums.  I have played with sculpture a little bit and enjoy that process. It helps with my drawing and understanding form which helps my paintings.  I may return to do some more work with that in the future.

What is the hardest thing about your art or craft?
For me, as a perennial student, the hardest thing has always been the relentless pursuit to create a better picture.  I figure if God has given me this ability, it is my responsibility to cultivate and nurture it to become the best I can and share it with others.

Do you prefer to do commissions or mostly what inspires you?
I prefer to paint subjects that inspire me, however sometimes I am more interested in exploring what I can get paint to do using different marks and/or colors, and the subject itself becomes secondary so commissions can be an interesting exploration.

What is your favorite thing to do on a Friday night?
Relax and hang out with my wife or work on creative projects around the house.

Favorite food?
Hmm, there are so many choices.  I would probably say a good steak and potatoes.

 

“The individual passes, living his life, and the things he touches receive his kind of impress, and they afterwards bear the trace of his passing. They give evidence of the quality of his growth.” – Robert Henri from “The Art Spirit”