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Jim Tanner

January 2011

Jim Tanner

UBC painting and drawing professorJim Tanner may describe himself as a “two dimensional artist,” but he stands out as anything but two dimensional. Having been instructing students since UBC was Okanagan College, Jim Tanner has shared his knowledge and helped develop the talents of countless students.

Having grown up in Calgary, Alberta, during the 1950s, Jim didn’t get the chance to experience art in galleries or museums. Instead, his first encounters with art came in the form of illustrated children’s books. These books filled with colourful and exciting illustrations instilled into Jim the idea that art was about description and storytelling, an idea that would stay with him though his childhood, into his university years, and that would be reinforced after visiting Europe in his twenties, finding himself attracted to artists like Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Velasquez.

Jim received a scholarship to study art at the University in Calgary during his high school years; however, he decided that it would be hard to make a living as an artist, so Jim decided to follow his best friend into studying engineering. It was after two years working in Calgary as an engineer that Jim made the decision to go back to school to study art. After receiving his Master’s degree in Fine Art, Jim obtained a position as an art instructor at Okanagan College, taking him away from his childhood home of Calgary to move to Kelowna. Having been drawn to teaching as a way of making a living as an artist, Jim found that the profession not only granted him a fair amount of time to practice his craft, but also allowed him to surround himself with art and the people who love art.

For inspiration, Jim draws upon a variety of sources, but he consistently finds a muse in three particular subjects: the works of his favourite artists, his personal experiences, and his interactions/adventures in the natural world (mountains being of particular interest.) It was in Europe that Jim was introduced to the work firsthand of such artists as Caravaggio, Vermeer, and Velasquez, painters who created works that reflected a realist view of our world. These artists put emphasis on reproducing what we see with our eyes. Being a mountaineer and outdoor adventurer, Jim has drawn upon his experiences with nature for many of his creations, be it from climbing a mountain to spending time with his family on a deserted island, the relationship between man and nature remains a recurring subject in many of Jim’s works.

One painting that Jim holds as being the overarching example of his work is a self-portrait. In the image, Jim sits on a couch dressed in his mountaineering clothes (shabby and worn from hard use) holding a paint brush in one hand and a palette in the other (the pallet holding each colour used in the creation of this particular portrait). Behind him on the wall are two paintings of mountains, replications of paintings by Carl Rungius and Lawren Harris (one of the Group of Seven). Both of these depict mountains that Jim has climbed. On the floor in the foreground is an issue of a newspaper entitled The Times, a name that Jim selected in order to reflect that this is a contemporary painting despite its many references and similarities to pre-20th century paintings, and that it remains relevant to our modern life. On the cover of the newspaper is a picture of a dog, taken from the Velasquez painting The Maids of Honour. The portrait is an extremely intertextual and multifaceted artwork that reflects what Jim considers to be his essential ideas.

Jim Tanner - Self Portrait

A particular tool that Jim utilizes quite frequently is a hardboard support, a display board that Jim had constructed out of a panel of Masonite with a length of wood running along the panel’s width, dividing off a third of the board. Jim tacks photos and images onto the hardboard, drapes fabrics and clothes, rests objects upon, and arranges everything until he finds the image that he desires to reproduce. The piece “Hats” is a great example of Jim’s use of the support. The oil painting features two images of a young girl (a member of a friend’s family) working with a pen and pad of paper and reflecting on a deserted island in the summer. These two images are placed in contrast with a bucket hat (wrapped with a long orange strap) and a pair of sunglasses. Jim has clearly painted the support, showing the grain of the wood, nail holes, and the various spots of paint that lie scattered along its surface.

At the time of this interview, Jim expressed that he was set on further exploring this process, finding that his use of the support serves the purpose of building upon inspiration drawn from member and imagination. Jim describes the process as creating a theme, finding images and objects to add until he has constructed a compelling image. These images are almost always inspired by specific experiences from Jim’s life.

During his years as an artist, Jim has observed how visual art has become extremely diverse; so many different approaches and methodologies have been developed, leading to pressure upon institutions and teachers to accommodate students who wish to practice a wide range of modern art. “You can’t really dictate a singular approach; you need to recognize that there are so many different things happening and you have to try and see the value of them, try and understand them and see the value in them,” stated Jim, explaining how he realizes that he does have a specific skill set (drawing and painting) that he can teach to others, but he is called upon to do more than that. Knowing the importance of being able to find value and meaning in art, Jim builds appreciation for the works that he is unfamiliar with by seeing objectively, commenting, relating it to the world (both the art world and the broader world), seeing where the artist is taking their creation, and providing encouragement where it’s needed.

Old Sarum

Jim remains strongly connected to his passions: exploring territories important to himself, finding experiences and moments to put on display in watercolour, oil, and charcoal, creating scenes and images that Jim hopes his audience will recognize and connect to on a level that goes beyond the act of just looking at a painting in a gallery.

Article by Wyatt McCrae

Last reviewed shim11/14/2014 3:19:36 PM