Interview: Fabulous Oil Painter Timothy Jahn Dazzles.

“We’re living in this interesting moment when representational art is more acceptable.” Timothy Jahn’s 2012 comment about contemporary painting reflects his optimism about the art historical tradition which forms the foundation of his own work. He also noted that although his technique often captures viewers’ attention first, there “must also be some sort of narrative to hold their attention and engage them in the work”. In Jahn’s work, whether paintings or charcoal drawings, the images offer a starting point for further contemplation. Sometimes that might be an appreciation of an elegant, patterned still-life and sometimes, it might be a meditation on identity or mortality.

As a boy growing up in New Jersey, Timothy Jahn discovered that drawing and painting were not only his best subjects in school, but that they offered an opportunity to study the world in ways that consistently fascinated him. By the time he was in high school, Jahn was taking whatever art classes were available as well as spending one day per week studying art at the county college.  In 1995, just as he was completing high school, he showed his work in the Emerging Artist Exhibition at the Nabisco Company headquarters, then located in East Hanover, New Jersey.

Unsurprisingly, Jahn’s next step was to enroll in an art school where he could receive additional training in drawing, painting and illustration. The duCret School of Art in Plainfield, New Jersey, founded in 1927, provided a curriculum based on learning the techniques of representational art, which was already the foundation for Jahn’s work. With guidance from instructors J. Brian Townsend and Paul McCormack, well-respected representational painters, Jahn eventually expanded his studies at the Art Students League in nearby New York City.

The historic Art Students League was founded in 1875 as an organization run by artists for artists.  Today, it maintains the same open attitude toward curriculum that it established over 130 years ago, with a variety of instructors who teach in a diverse range of stylistic expressions. In the late 1990s, Jahn studied with Ronald Sherr and Mary Beth McKenzie, both of whom are part of a long-standing figural painting tradition in American art.  Eventually, Jahn also worked with McKenzie as a teaching assistant at the National Academy School of Fine Arts, introducing him to the challenges of being an art instructor while simultaneously continuing to paint.

Where are you from? Where did all of this begin?

I began oil painting at 10 years old. Being dyslexic, school was incredibly frustrating and drawing became an escape for me. Through painting and drawing I could delve very deep into my subconscious and allow my mind to wonder where ever I desired.  There was a boundless freedom to my imagination that was incredibly intoxicating. As I matured, the lasting effect of these daydreams became more important to me. To this very day all I have to do is pick up a brush or pencil and my mind is instantly back into a peaceful and luxurious state.

When did you realize that art is what you were meant to do?

While I was studying at the National Academy in NYC I was awarded a scholarship to continue my painting studies in Provence, France. It was an amazing four months of painting, drawing, visiting museums and, most importantly, self-inquiry. Before leaving to study in France I was very serious about learning; but there was something about walking in the foot prints of so many great artists that had a profound effect on me.

I remember going into a small museum in the center of a town that was filled with the most beautifully painted figurative works. In that moment two things stuck with me; first, no one was in the museum and second, while the works were astonishingly good I had never heard of a single artist there.  All the art history courses and books I had at home never mentioned even one of those painters. This was the moment that I realized painting has the power to echo in time. By this I mean even when tastes and styles change the artist was still able to have a conversation with me. Beyond their ability to render beautiful textures and environments, the intense human inquiry still resonates.

Who are your major influences, inspiration in life and in the art world?

Brian Townsend and Anthony Waichulis have had the greatest artistic influences. Brian was able to lay a very solid foundation and instilled in me a high degree of self-assessment.  He made me extremely critical of what I was doing and what I was studying.  

Before studying with Anthony Waichulis I was fortunate to have studied with many really great instructors and expose myself to a myriad of working methods and styles.  Through Anthony’s teaching I was able to refine my fundamental techniques, organize and clarify the many different methodologies I was exposed to and ultimately unlock my creativity.

Both Brian and Anthony possess an unrelenting demand for self-improvement which has had the most lasting effect on me. It’s been said that excellence is not a destination; it’s a continuous journey that never ends.  I am so grateful that they laid a foundation of never ending self-inquiry and self-improvement.

What are some essential tools that you consider a must have for every artist?

One thing that seems to separate successful artists is their work ethic and dedication. Many people say they want to be an artist but are unwilling to make the sacrifices that are required for long term success. Many artists possess talent but never push themselves hard enough.

What are you working on at the moment?

Maybe I am maturing or the Caribbean culture (I am currently the instructor at Ani Art Academies Anguilla) is seeping into me but my work is evolving from some very heavy dark themes to much lighter and amusing subjects.

My focus for my current and future projects is on narrative figurative paintings. Figurative work allows me the greatest opportunity to tell varied stories to the viewer. Let’s face it, people are terribly interesting, whether at play or rest we do strange quirky things that can be very entertaining to observe. With a narrative painting the viewer gets a chance to assess, study, gawk or laugh at the human condition, when in society this is often impossible or impolite. My hope is that people get to view these works and they are entertained. Painting is really fun so why not allow the viewer to have as much fun experiencing the pieces as I have making them.

A large portion of our audience are artists, like yourself. If you could give them one piece of advice – what would it be?

Stop making excuses. There is never a perfect time, studio, lighting, or gallery show. Too many artists are waiting on the sidelines painting studies hoping for a gallery to discover them. Why wait? Act as if you have arrived and get in the game. The only way you can succeed is to learn from your mistakes. Try things, learn from them and move on.

What is the best advice you’ve ever been given & by whom?

“Work smart not hard.” Mr. Hart 7th grade math teacher.

What has been your most rewarding achievement as an artist?

It is extremely rewarding seeing my former apprentices have success in their artistic pursuits including juried shows and gallery sales. Several of my former apprentices received accolades in the most recent Art Renewal Center Salon. I am extremely proud of Michael Ruple who has gone on to be the director of Arcadia Galleries.

Could you share with us your favorite quote?

“The only thing you deserve is what you earn.” Tom Brands

When you first started, what was your biggest dream? And have you accomplished that?

When I entered art school there were so many other students that were more naturally gifted than me. Part of my nature is to be extremely stubborn so I set out to be better than my class mates. It became painfully clear to me that to accomplish this I would need to out-work them in every way possible. I became so obsessive about improving that at one point I took a job working the midnight shift at a gas station. It allowed me to draw all night while making enough money to pay for gas and food for the week. Healthy competition in studios can serve as really great motivation. Slowly as my skills began to improve and as I learned about how galleries worked my aspirations and appetite for greater competition increased.  My first major goal was to get into a gallery on 57th street in Manhattan. It took 14 years but I accomplished it in 2011 and have had a lot of success working with Howard Rehs of Rehs Contemporary Galleries.

What are your hopes for 2013, and where do you see yourself in 5, 10 years?

In 2013 I would like to continue to refine my aesthetic and fine tune my craft. In five years I see myself continuing to refine my aesthetic figurative painting and having a one man show in NYC.