Wednesday, March 28, 2012


Jerry McMillan photo-etching, photo source: CSUN Web Site

I started making art seriously—with intention, around my mid to late 20’s when I stumbled into an Intermediate Photography class being taught by Jerry McMillan at Cal State, Northridge. This was pre-Photoshop era. Jerry began his classes with his famous, impassioned spiel about how a true artist must understand Art History and then attempt to move past it—he was all about “breaking the bounds of the medium.” I was working as a production jeweler at the time and saw this as an invitation to combine solid plate, pierced silver with oil painted photograph montages. This was the start of my experimentation with material, process and concept. (A few years later, when I encountered the work of Michael C. McMillen and John Frame, my work began evolving 3-dimensionally.)

Today, as we are enmeshed in the tools of technology, a budding artist/student might consider it tedious to spend long solitary hours tucked away in a cramped, smelly darkroom located in the dungeon basement area of the University. But seeking out some elusive, magical reaction with toxic chemicals and silver—that stained the fingers and burned the skin became my obsession for several years. There was something about that time that set the precedence for my work, and brought me closer to understanding the potential of alchemy and expression inherent in all material and hands-on process. The time I spent studying with Jerry became my springboard into becoming an artist.

In hindsight, I realize it’s not so much innate talent that identifies the fate of an artist—but the inclination and determination to process thoughts and feelings into material and form. At some point we have to acknowledge and honor this inescapable need. Once we begin to learn the skills of how to make art, we have a vocabulary that becomes a gateway to expression. From that point it takes a lot of courage to remain true to our vision and our sense of honesty—sometimes to the detriment of career choices, gallery relationships and security. I recognize these traits in a few of my students and am excited for them as they embark on their own personal journey as budding artists. I have come to know it as an existential discovery, that thrusts beyond the mundane side of responsibility. I cannot imagine a day without making Art. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to spend time learning from Jerry McMillan.

This is the last week to see Jerry McMillan’s retrospective at CSUN Main Gallery curated by Steven Peckman. It is a rare opportunity to see the breadth of his work. The exhibit is beautifully organized and reveals the eloquence of an artist who stayed true to his vision and commitment to breaking the bounds of Photography.

Visit: a video of Jerry McMillian's Retrospective

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