By Gina Malone
Jeremy Russell can’t remember a time when he wasn’t an artist. “I thoroughly believe that my childhood was full of imagination,” he says, “and that the happenings in my mind at that time fostered the mindfulness that allows for artistic development in the present.” It didn’t hurt that he was surrounded by creativity, falling to sleep every night with the sound of his mother playing classical music on the piano. “She practiced constantly, and that might have influenced my persistent work ethic,” he says. His father, too, enjoyed creating things with his hands: elaborate Halloween costumes, model boats and American Flyer train layouts.
Russell spent his young years immersed in nature—visiting his grandparents in the country, fishing, hunting, scouting and combing fields for arrowheads with his mother. “I love the spiritual connection that I—and we all—have to nature,” Russell says.
That relationship was enhanced for him in his teenage years when he experimented with LSD. “The acid gave me a real sense of the connection between everything from the smallest atomic aspect to the whole landscape,” he says. “You can literally see the patterns from a minute scale in the dirt all the way up to the clouds and stars. I believe this is one of the most fundamental experiences of my life, and I also believe that you do not need drugs to get there, but it can get you there real quick.”
These days, he spends time in the forest with family and friends. He has a cabin in Nantahala National Forest and visits the western US mountains as well as the Lowcountry and coast of SC. “The relationship that the tidal currents have with the inshore rivers and marshes is simply overwhelming,” he says. “The cycles of life and death that occur in a never-ending struggle are so real and engaging. The death, the rot, the flow, the rich soil, the sunsets, the wind, the storms.”
Russell has taken his observations to the canvas, painting in a “very specific and realistic” way, but he has spent more time during his art career painting abstracts. “I enjoy the brash development of completely non-literal interpretations,” he says. “It takes a lot of nerve to paint nothing specific and then to form a criteria to determine its accuracy or worthiness to exist. I truly believe that is the heart of what is art.”
Bracken Sansbury is gallery director and consultant at Art & Light Gallery. “With a deft hand, Jeremy Russell can create gorgeous realistic landscapes and with that same hand, energetic and frenzied abstracts,” she says. “The thing that I find fascinating is that place where the two styles collide, making for an abstracted landscape that is uniquely Jeremy’s style and his alone.”
In landscapes, Russell explores the idea of chaos and order. “It’s the clash between the initial layers of abstract painting and the resolution layers of specifics that create the life-like energy of these paintings,” he says. “I create a tension between the conflicting layers that eventually reaches a state of harmony and, to a certain level, precision. I am mimicking the relationship between chaos and order that actually exists.”
He employs unconventional materials, drawing on his past work as a mural artist. “I do not use artist-grade paints exclusively; I also use some commercial-grade acrylics as well as oils and even sign enamels,” he says. “I use graphite and color pencils, and I apply paints with every tool imaginable, both bought and homemade. I save scraps of old paint skins and embed them into the liquid acrylics with my working palette. I consider my process to be more like sculpting because my approach involves so much editing and removing.… To be quite vulnerable, I often ride a rollercoaster of mania and self-criticism to a point of low confidence, leaving an unresolved mess of a painting, only to come back a week later and finish it with an economy of very precise brushstrokes. I admit that my favorite paintings are usually the ones that I struggle with the most.”
See Jeremy Russell’s work at Russell and Armstrong at 24 North Lexington Avenue, Asheville. Hours are Monday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 12–5 p.m. Learn more at JeremyRussellArt.com, and follow him on Facebook and Instagram. His work is also represented regionally at Blue Spiral 1 in Asheville, and Art and Light Gallery in Greenville, SC.