I first heard of artist Brian R. Jobe at the most recent Pecha Kucha. I’d like to say that I immediately understood what he was up to and recognized his genius but, honestly, that didn’t come until later. Mostly I scratched my head at why someone would want to build a brick wall in a perfectly good natural setting. We talked later and agreed to meet at the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum, the site of his most recent installation. There I had a chance to get to know him and to understand his work more completely.
Born in Houston, Texas, in 1981, Brian grew up in Memphis, but considers Knoxville home. He attended the University of Tennessee for his BFA in sculpture and met his wife, artist, Carri Jobe. He lived in Knoxville for five years before returning to Texas and attending the other UT – the University of Texas at San Antonio where he received his MFA in sculpture. He and Carri have lived in Knoxville for over five years since.
Brian noted upfront the important role Carri has played in his life: “I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing if I hadn’t met her and started dating when we were nineteen.” He noted that she’s not only his color adviser, but also offers perfectly timed comments about his work. She has her BFA in painting.
Brian taught for a year in Texas and worked as a preparator (prepping exhibitions) at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum. His supervisor there was Bill FitzGibbons who happened to also be a UTK graduate. He credits Mr. FitzGibbons with teaching him the business end of art. Brian told me, “Through him I learned to watch audience reaction . . . to evaluate your work you have to rely on your understanding of art history and instinct.”
Audience engagement is an important part of the creative experience for Brian. “In a gallery, if one piece pulls you in, the artist did something right.” It matters if it is ignored or engaged, if it becomes a part of the public conversation.
In 2008 Brian and Carri moved to New York City to experience the artist’s life there. Friend and photographer Denny Renshaw, whose work will be featured in “Compound Lens,” at the Ewing Gallery starting next week, had lived there since 2000 and invited them to join him. It was a lean year as the economy fell apart, but he managed to work at the Guggenheim as an art handler, did some fabrication and had a couple of shows.
At the end of the year they wanted to move back to San Antonio or Knoxville and the later won out due to the fact that they had family in Tennessee and it was where their relationship began. Since returning, Brian teaches classes at Pellissippi State, Lincoln Memorial, Roane State and, of all things, the Art Institute of of Pittsburgh. Many of the classes are online and he taught nine of them this semester.
Still, he finds time for his art. He said deadlines help. For major installations he has a small window of time to complete the actual construction, so the preliminary design and accumulation of materials, site visits, planning meetings and so forth must be done before the construction date arrives. The work at the botanical garden is his first permanent art piece. He’s recently completed new (temporary) stacked brick pieces at Hanover College in Indiana.
His art is increasingly informed by architectural design. It may be a genetic thing. His father is an architect and his mother is a designer and photographer. He remembered watching his father build a carport, supervising workers and realizing a fairly simple vision, as possibly a formative experience.
He’s exhibited at the Knoxville Museum of Art and the work, “Turfside Passage,” marked a turning point. It was an exhibit which encouraged patrons to walk through it for the experience. It marked a turning point in which he turned from, “materials being the focus to the reaction of the user” and toward an emphasis on “path-based forms.”
As he became more design oriented, he wanted to work outside and on a larger scale. He did some temporary works in a series of three shows in 2013 at the University of Central Florida, Covenant College in Lookout Mountain and the University of Wyominng.
With his eye on the Knoxville Botanical Garden, he drew a concept, gathered commitments for materials and labor and approached Keyes Williamson, the director at the time, with a proposal to build a piece of permanent art. Keyes and the board agreed and construction began. Brian’s goal was to add interest and purpose to an already existing path system and to make a contribution to a garden that is still being discovered by Knoxville. When the greenway eventually connects downtown to the park his contribution will be there to enhance the experience.
He’s become interested in Greek Meander patterns and transforming them to a human scale. In his words, “for this work, it is an opportunity for people to slow down and become more aware of themselves and their surroundings.” The work and his description of it reminded me of the ancient practice of walking the labyrinth, which was adopted by early Christians and has experienced a resurgence in recent years. It’s a quiet and thoughtful experience similar to what he’d like his work to produce.
The parallel walls with repeated openings offer entrance and exit possibilities at numerous points as well as the potential to take the entire walk. The design forces a consciousness not demanded of a straight line. One must become aware. Small details built into the work offer further stimulation and complexity if a person is attuned to the nuances. He notes that “repetition offers comfort,” like a child being rocked. He connects with Richard Long whose work “A Line Made by Walking,” is easily connected to Brian’s work.
For the future, he’s interested in working with architects and incorporating his art into functional structures. He feels Knoxville has a good and growing art presence, in which artist’s work is valued and encouraged. Whatever direction his art takes in the future, his goal is simple, “If it makes you feel a little bit more alive it is worthwhile.”
Get out to the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum and check it out.