“By the time I was 3 years old, I had personified all the crayons in my 24-count box of Crayolas. I was convinced that individual colors would feel slighted if I didn’t use each crayon equally.”
So artist Jim Dryden, who created this year’s stunning cover piece for our Lavender Yellow Pages issue, fondly recalls his first love – color. However, he continues, “Even at such a tender age, I recognized that this wasn’t workable color theory or an artistically sustainable strategy.”
Now, although every dollop of paint on his palette doesn’t have a pet name, they crowd the canvas in abundance; if one were to hazard a guess, one might preceive an early horror vacuae—a fear of empty spaces. Dryden himself gives credence to this armchair analysis.
“I feel that growing up in North Dakota is explanation enough for my deep appreciation of minimalism,” he says, “and, at the same time, my frequent, compulsive need to fill in every available, empty space. This lends a somewhat schizophrenic quality to my work—at times peaceful and contemplative, but more often, noisy and chaotic.
“Narrative is important in my work,” he says, a tendency strengthened by his years working as both an illustrator and as a fine artist. “In my mind, these are not exclusive, separate things; they use much the same skill set. Illustration is when I’m telling someone else’s story; art is when I’m telling my own.” He continues, “When I’m creating my own artwork, it is often about my life with my partner. While as a gay man I have a deep appreciation of gay erotic/sexual art, the area I feel is most neglected is art representing gay male intimacy; gay men’s everyday lives. These are the areas I like to explore in my work.
When asked how his parents related to his art and his sexuality, Dryden notes that he was particularly fortunate in his family. “My parents have always been amazingly supportive of all of my endeavors—music, art, and my life with my partner Wayne. When I informed them during my second year of college of my intention to be an artist and of my impending gayness, their reaction to both pronouncements was the same—’We’re concerned for you, but only because we want you to be happy.’ “Frankly,” he adds, “I think they were more concerned about the art part.” His parents are now living in San Diego, where they are charter members of a PFLAG chapter.
His cover piece is interwoven with themes important to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), partnering this year with Lavender, many of which relate to his own life as a gay man in the United States.
“I’ve tried to represent a range of issues that HRC addresses that affect our community, but the items that resonate most strongly with me personally are those relating to partnership and marriage. Wayne and I have been partners for 26 years, and we acutely feel the lack of recognition of our relationship in society while, at the same time, being denied the many benefits that are afforded to others in ’sanctioned’ relationships.
“We traveled in Spain this fall and had the opportunity to stay with a Spanish (male/male) couple who had been together for 22 years. They’ve now been legally married under the new Spanish law for the past two years. I truly hope to see (and experience) this in my own lifetime.“
The cover is one example of Dryden’ being a storyteller at heart. ”I see storytelling as a means of finding, or creating, new meanings or understandings about the story that is told. For me,“ he explains, “telling a story about something is a means of framing or contextualizing an event or experience in order to examine its various possibilities.
“I like to afford both my viewer and myself the freedom and opportunity to find new, different and unexpected content in a piece. “For example,” he continues, “I donated a painting to the Jean-Nickolaus Tretter Collection at the Elmer Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota. The painting was titled La Play de los Muertos, (The Beach of the Dead), which is the gay beach in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, otherwise known as The Blue Chairs. This painting is an abstract work that depicts this exciting, highly sexual environment, but also includes undertones of risk and possible danger.
“When Jean first saw the piece, he immediately noticed that all of the abstracted chairs in the painting had only three legs. He asked if I had done this intentionally, as a way of showing difference or instability, and I had to admit that I had not painted it that way with conscious intent, but I truly welcomed his interpretation and now consider it a part of the work.”
From March 13 through April 17, Dryden’s exhibition Persona/Partners will run at Form+Content Gallery (210 N. 2nd St., Mpls.), featuring a series of abstract male portraits, Faces, shown throughout the issue, of both individuals and couples. “These paintings are intended as intimate studies of imagined individuals and partnered couples,” Dryden explains, “at once mysterious and evocative of possible personal histories. I’m hoping to create images that invite the viewer to see the work through the filter of their own personal narratives an experiences.”