Artist shows his love for Louisiana with 50 years of art
Posted 12:01 a.m. Sunday
Updated 8:23 a.m. Sunday
BATON ROUGE, La. — The world behind the bronze cypress gates is Jim Jeansonne's vision of paradise, where pelicans soar at angelic heights and thistles form mystical forests.
And he has spent a half-century creating art that reflects the love of his native Louisiana.
The Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge is celebrating Jeansonne's career with the retrospective show, "50 Years of Jim Jeansonne," through June 29 in its Firehouse Gallery. The exhibit highlights his diverse styles from printmaking to wood and bronze sculpture to painting.
And while his art spans the decades, all are tied together by Jeansonne's love of the state's landscape, its wildlife and the magic of its tropical atmosphere.
It's hard to believe that his first solo show would be a retrospective, but that's exactly the case.
Arts Council Curator Kesley Livingston says it's overdue.
"He's one of the founding members of Baton Rouge Gallery, but he's never had a solo show," she says. "So, we made that happen here."
His bronze relief, "From the Pirogue/The Gates of Heaven," is positioned at the entrance of the gallery to catch the eye. It depicts a stand of cypress trees along the banks of a Louisiana swamp, with wild turkeys, whooping cranes, shrimp, ducks and lots of crabs. "People are always asking me why I have so many crabs in my work," Jeansonne says. "I tell them that that's my disposition."
Disposition or not, crabs are everywhere — in his woodcut prints, intaglio work, even carved into sinker cypress slabs. These crabs are animated and colorful, and they've become a favorite subject of collectors of Jeansonne's work.
Speaking of sinker cypress, the show includes several carvings on this ancient wood. Jeansonne buys cypress logs in French Settlement from a seller who pulls them from waterway bottoms.
"In the 1800s, when the lumber companies couldn't pull up the logs from the bottom of the water, they left them," Jeansonne says."They've been in the mud for 200 years, so they're filled with holes and barnacles."
These imperfections enhance the surfaces into which Jeansonne carves his intricate art.
At 75, Jeansonne shows no signs of slowing down. He maintains a door-hanging business, and he knows that his strength is limited in that area. But his studio work never stops.
"I started out as a graphic artist at LSU, but I got tired of doing repeat contract work," Jeansonne says. "I've sold my pieces at the Arts Council's monthly Arts Market. I've been talking to Kelsey, and we decided I needed to have a show."
Jeansonne says he is an Acadian Louisiana artist.
"Although born in Monroe, my family roots are in the south Louisiana French Acadian culture that has had so much influence on my life," he writes in his artist's statement. "I'm not an artist that does art in one sitting. I create a project over time. I think of something I would like to do and then proceed to go in that direction. I try to make my art tell a story of a captured moment, incorporating some aesthetic movement."
J?eansonne is a graduate of LSU, where he started out studying zoology, which led him to the university's Natural History Museum. The museum hired him as an artist to paint reptiles and amphibians. That's when he took his first art classes.
"I really liked those courses and got to know some great teachers," he writes. "I took the last class in printmaking that Caroline (Durieux) taught at LSU. I enjoyed printmaking so much, that it became an obsession. She became part of my family, and I cherish the time I spent with her."
Jeansonne was a printmaker without a press when he graduated LSU, and he could no longer use the school's equipment. So, he joined a group of artists in founding the artists' co-op, which would eventually become Baton Rouge Gallery.
"I was the first manager, but eventually had to find work that paid," Jeansonne says. "I went to work as a graphic designer for WBRZ, Franklin Press, the state highway department and the LSU Office of Publications. I left after six years," he says. "I wanted to do art for myself, not what somebody else wanted me to do. If I sold something, it was fine, but from then on, I produced only what I wanted."
And the artwork that interested him most was the wildlife, terrain, people and stories behind those cypress gates.