Opposites Attract in Life and Art:
Q & A with B. Emerson Kitsman and Joseph S. Jenike
With their show, “The Passionate Journey,” opening on Saturday, October 12 at ART123 Gallery (from 7- 9pm), we sat down with painter B. Emerson Kitsman and her husband, printmaker Joseph S. Jenike, to learn more about their work. We discovered that it’s true (at least in this case!): opposites attract. While Kitsman’s work is all about the big picture, Jenike hones in on details; while Kitsman attended art school and has had a career as an artist since age 7, Jenike’s interest in art as a child was dissuaded and he has no formal training; while Kitsman is constantly creating and paints mainly for herself, Jenike has experienced periods of creative block and is most inspired by the opportunity to share his work with others. Together, their two different perspectives create a unique synergy and a absolutely stunning art show, which also includes magnificent stone sculptures by their son-in-law.
1. Tell us a little bit about your artist background.
B. Emerson Kitsman: I’ve been painting for my entire life—my mom first bought me paint when I was little and I haven’t stopped since. I sold my first piece when I was 7 years old. I attended the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) the University of New Mexico and the University of Colorado. I’m a photographer, printmaker and writer, but my primary passion is plein air landscape painting. I’ve traveled the far reaches of the Navajo Nation painting everywhere from remote vistas to people’s backyards. I’ve been a teacher too—I taught at IAIA and I’ve done many workshops for kids in the community.
Joseph S. Jenike: I’ve always been artistic. I built models as a kid and used to doodle all the time in school. I’ve always been drawn to printmaking and one of my high school teachers introduced me to etching. But growing up, while my talent was appreciated, I was told I needed to pursue something “real.” I attended schools with printmaking programs and fully equipped studios, but I didn’t pursue my interest even then, feeling under-prepared. It wasn’t until I met Bobbi [B. Emerson Kitsman], who is a great teacher, that I delved into printmaking. It’s the perfect medium for me—I’m into super precise, fine, detailed work. I focus on wildlife in my art because animals and bugs have always been my “thing.”
2. What is your creative process? How do you choose what to paint/print/create? Or what gets you started on a piece? What steps do you follow? How do you know when a piece is finished?
BEK: I paint to escape from the world and find solace. I put in my headphones and ignore everything but what I’m painting. I really go for it—sometimes I have to be harnessed and tethered to a rock or tree because I paint from such precarious positions on clifftops or mountains. When I’m not painting, I’m sketching. I carry a small sketchbook in which I’m constantly drawing what I’m seeing. The key to my creative process is to never stop producing.
JSJ: I’ve spent the last decade in a creative funk. This show at ART123 has renewed my creative fire—the opportunity to show people my work has reminded me how excited I am by printmaking. I haven’t exhibited my art since moving to Tohatchi—it’s been tough as an artist to transition from the pace of a bigger city to a rural environment. But with this show coming up, I’m cleaning out my studio, reframing my work, finding plates for which I never ran an edition…my creative juices are flowing again.
3. What do you hope viewers get out of your art?
BEK: I hope they gain an appreciation of the land. There is so much beauty and history in the land of the Navajo people, and that’s what I want to convey.
JSJ: I hope my pieces help people see the beauty in the world’s minutia—to stop and appreciate how incredible bees and birds and bugs are.
4. Do you have any tips for up-and-coming artists?
BEK: They have to be disciplined. We have so many talented young people in this area, and I think they can make it as artists if they put in the work. It’s a lot of work, and you have to be willing to do it.
JSJ: You need to be persistent. There is a lot of B.S. in the art world and a lot of challenges to overcome, but if you stay with it, it’s very rewarding.
An apt metaphor for The August Show at ART123 Gallery–opening Saturday, August 10 from 7 – 9pm (during ArtsCrawl)–is an illuminating prism. Showcasing 22 local artists and over 70 artworks in a variety of media, it provides an array of diverse perspectives into Gallup’s past and present.
Importantly, two-thirds of the featured artists are Native, representing the first peoples to call what we now know as Gallup home—as Diné artist Clint Holtsoi’s painting “We Never Left” reminds us—by sharing stories, beliefs and imagery from their cultures.
Zuni artist Dennis Dewa Jr. is quick to point out that the Zuni people are an essential part of Gallup’s history, diversity and community: “As I deconstruct the ‘diversity’ in the area, I find myself part of it,” he says. Dewa’s paintings reflect Zuni values.
For The August Show, Diné artist Adam Maria explores a new (for him) medium: pencil drawing. Maria’s drawings recreate historic photographs of Navajo people. “The people in the photos have stories to tell. The drawings hopefully show a bit of these tales,” he says.
Diné artist Adam Maria Indigenizes Gallup’s history by recreating historic photographs of Navajo people in pencil sketches and drawings. “The people in the photos have stories to tell,” he says. “The drawings hopefully show a bit of these tales.”
Diné artist Sage Addington also re-imagines historic photographs in a series entitled “Memory Lane,” combining past and present in digital art. “My Cheii told me about how much he has seen Gallup change through the years; dirt roads now pathed, bridges now made, and caves covered up,” she says. “I always wondered what it would be like to walk through old Gallup…the stories the streets could tell, the things the walls have seen, the Gallupians who have walked where I’ve walked, lived where I’ve lived, and strolled through the same memory lanes.”
A highlight of The August Show is a collaborative painting by the Gallup Art Club that speaks to the spirit of the Show and the heart of Gallup. As the
Club explains, “The artwork is a collaboration between four Gallup artists of four different ethnicities. It is done in a variety of styles, showing three different animals enjoying spring blessings and leaving in peace together in Gallup.”
To that end, Native artist Demetria Dale, who uses color to access emotions and lines to explore different perspectives in painting, sums up The August Show saying, “Art can bring many diversities together to create an inspiring community from our history.
Hear directly from The August Show artists in an artist talk at 7:00pm on Tuesday, August 27 at ART123 Gallery (as part of the monthly 2nd Look on 2nd Street event, which runs from 6 – 8pm).