Last month, I spoke with Jeff Jamieson about his work making furniture for Donald Judd, but our conversation ranged far beyond just Judd and I couldn’t fit it all in last month’s post … so this week we continue our discussion. Jeff is a California-based artist and gallery owner who has worked for a variety of artists, including Judd, the Josef & Anni Albers Foundation, Robert Irwin, and others.
I invited him back here to discuss working with Irwin, and how this work has influenced his own art practice.
RM: How did you first get involved working with Robert Irwin?
JJ: I met him through the Chinati Foundation. Chinati has long been interested in having an artwork by Robert Irwin made at the Foundation. This goes back to Bob being on a short list of artists that Donald Judd wanted to have create an artwork in Marfa, TX.
Some time ago, Chinati offered Bob a space down there—the former U.S. Army hospital—and they’ve been going back and forth figuring out what to make for a while now. Today the project is really close to being started; in fact, we just went down a couple of months ago and worked on it.
But I first met Bob when he sent me his initial plans for the Chinati project. His early designs involved a lot of really crazy woodworking in the roof. I was studying these plans and I couldn’t quite figure it out, so I made a really detailed model so I could see what he was talking about.
I took pictures of the model, sent it to Chinati, and then they sent it to Bob. And then he called me and said, “I’m coming up to see you, I’ve got to see this model.”
I put the model in the middle of my shop, picked him up at the airport and brought him to see it. He looked at the model and then said, “you should go do something else, get out of here so I can look at the model.” Of course, he said this in a friendly way.
RM: So he kicked you out of your own shop?
JJ: Oh, yeah, but it was fine. He wanted to spend time looking at the model; he wanted to contemplate it. This was the start of a great working relationship.
As you know, he’s the best.
RM: And that this led you to working on other installations?
Yes, in 2006 we installed a temporary piece at Chinati that I made in my shop and drove down there. We re-assembled it there and pulled the white and black scrim together.
And this project led to my working on the IMA’s piece in 2007, and then at the White Cube exhibition in 2008, and then back down to San Diego to work on Robert Irwin: Primary and Secondaries at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
RM: I think Robert Irwin is amazing. If he ever called me, I’d drop everything I’m doing to go work for him.
JJ: It’s funny, this fall I’m going to start teaching sculpture classes at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and I made a deal with the school. I told them that occasionally Bob Irwin calls me, and whatever it is I’ve got to go. Whatever it is, whenever it is, I drop everything and go work with him on the project.
So, I’ve even worked that into my teaching.
RM: How did you get started making art?
JJ: I went to the San Francisco Art School and then moved to New York to be an artist, like many ambitious artists. I worked as an artist’s assistant to help pay for my own projects.
Also, I run my own gallery here in San Luis Obispo called Compact Gallery, which has exhibitions every month with artists from all over.
RM: You’ve worked with a lot of very-well recognized artists. Can you talk about how this work has shaped your work and how you perceive the exhibition process?
JJ: Bob’s interesting to me because he’s constantly changing things up to the last second. He’s never sitting back. He’s always pushing and trying really hard to work out his ideas.
When I was working for Don, his artworks were being made all over the place from a variety of different fabricators. Work was rolling in, you know; but what’s interesting is in the early 1990s he wasn’t able to sell a lot of it. It was kind of bleak for a while, and I think some people forget that.
It’s humbling in some ways to have worked closely with those two guys, but I just make my own stuff and march ahead.
Unlike Bob, I’m still concerned with the object. I still like making things and Bob doesn’t necessarily do that always. Don did. The two of them are so different.