JIM GRAFSGAARD Profile

email: jimgrafsgaard(at)yahoo.com

See Curriculum Vitae

see more of Jim's work on: www.jimgrafsgaard.com .

Biography

Born in Fargo ND, I grew up in a Norwegian-Lutheran family, the first of two sons with five older sisters. I learned the disciplines of craft from my mother, a weaver and fiber artist who began her creative career in earnest only after raising us seven kids. Thinking of studying engineering, I started college at North Dakota State University, but I went on to the University of Minnesota, and then earned an art degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a focus on life drawing and sculpture.

Following graduation I moved to Guam, where I began to teach art in the public and parochial schools – and to seriously explore painting.

The tropical islands of Micronesia – Guam, the Marianas Islands, and Palau - opened my eyes to light and color, and my imagination to the forms and rhythms of marine life and rainforests. I realized the universe is an unimaginably large living opera where every tiny particle is vital. I found new teachers who led me into the expansive practice of Yoga and meditation, and new friendships with several young artists who were also exploring their surroundings and seeking their vision. These inspirations encouraged my passion for technical and expressive experimentation.

After six years, I returned to the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, Minnesota. There I found work as an Emergency 911 Dispatcher full-time, at first, and later part-time for ten years. This allowed me to continue exploring painting, drawing and printmaking in my free hours – exhibiting in many alternative venues in the metro area and beyond.

Soon I found opportunities to create and direct a number of public murals on themes of social identity - as I had been doing with students on Guam. Working with adults of all abilities and kids of all ages and backgrounds in community centers and institutions, parks and schools, we made portraits of each other and the land around us, on walls, free-standing panels, canvases and floors.

Teaching art as well, among the hothouse gardens of the Como Conservatory in Saint Paul, I continued my connection with tropical colors and jungle forms. I made a series of large acrylic-and-oil paintings on canvas, based on the Como gardens and on Minnesota's natural ecologies. At the same time, I experimented more with hand-made printmaking – making linoleum and woodcut relief prints, and devising a versatile method for making monotypes without a press. Forest and city views were my main subjects – building on the expressionist style of my paintings. For kicks, I also began making small erotic ink drawings and watercolors – humorous, satirical, naughty and sweet.

As always, I sought to share my energies with other artists. I joined a number of artist-run organizations, volunteered at the Babylon Cultural Center and became a founding member of the ArTrujillo Multicultural Art Collective. The power of artistic collaboration and creative activism became clear to me. Together, we organized exhibitions of local, international and immigrant artists, made galleries, workshops, concerts, public art projects and great parties. It's a great adventure to brainstorm ideas, then pitch in together and make them reality - no committee meetings - just leap in with whatever resources are available, and make a big splash!

One day, while working on a monumental series of abstract-expressionist works based on the I-Ching, I encountered another kind of “splash”! Dripping different viscosity oil-paints into each other, a strange organic-looking splat occurred on the surface before me. The suggestive cell-like image was so true to nature: “grown” so to speak - obviously not brushed or drawn in the usual sense - and with an intense contrast of tone and color; I was intent on pursuing its descriptive potential. Trying various surfaces and grounds, mixing oil media and application techniques, my idea of Geo-Expressionism slowly began to emerge.

As I explored, the individual drips accumulated and built life-like connections with spacial dimensions. I began to manipulate them into all kinds of dynamic shapes expressive of biological energies, creatures and communities. The experiments grew, from note-book sized panels to wall-sized pieces larger than a man. Then the spiritual side of the images began to exert itself, and a compelling body of work began to take shape. “What makes these cells a Self, and this Self a Soul?”, “What are the boundaries between Skin and Sky?”, I asked. The answers ineffable, mysterious yet beautiful, began to emerge: “Sea of Consciousness”, “Insane Membrane”, “The Cosmic Egg” and “Mortal Coil”.

Following the events of September 11, 2001 I quit my Emergency Dispatcher job, and from 2002 to 2004 I explored Europe. I lived in the Spanish city of Sevilla, becoming fluent in Spanish, painting a series of canvases based on Flamenco, and a mural in an Italian villa. I also showed my Geo-Expressionist artwork in tapas bars and art competitions, and had a prestigious exhibition in a finca-turned-art-center in southern Portugal.

Returning to Minnesota, I founded BrightBlueEarth multimedia-arts studio with jazz composer P.J. Tracy and his wife Jody, a wood turner and jeweler. There, Geo-Expressionism has taken on new life, as P.J. and I collaborate on Visual Music projects, animating my newest paintings to his experimental music. These videos have found audiences internationally, in festivals from Napoli to New York, and locally from the Minnesota Museum of American Art to the Walker Art Center.

My writing has found audiences in our Minnesota arts press, in print and online – essays on local art history, creative protest and the process of progress, for instance. Recently I have been offering small editions of auto-biographical mini-comics. And I am about to self-publish 2 books – one a graphic novel “Midas Rat and ME” illustrating a short story written by my elder son, and “Sexy Senryu” a collection of my erotic ink drawings accompanied by haiku-like verse.

Finally, since 2006 I have been spending winters exploring Mexico, making paintings and photos along the way. I have been across the southern states and Mexico City (Distrito Federal), spending time with my Yucatecan girlfriend, studying Pre-Conquist and contemporary culture and collaborating with muralists: Jose Luis Soto, Isa Estella Campos, and Gustavo Lira of the Taller de Investigacion Plastica; Patricia Mendoza of La Causa de Cultura; and Rigel Sauri of The Telchac Puerto Project - among others - in Michoacan, Oaxaca and Merida, Yucatan.