People with Passion
Laura Lee Junge, of Wicker Park’s Jackson Junge Gallery
Interview October 22, 2010
Located at 1389 N. Milwaukee, the Jackson Junge Gallery celebrated their year anniversary on Friday, October 22nd. In this pair of interviews, Jack M Silverstein speaks with husband-wife team Chris Jackson, 43, and Laura Lee Junge, 41, about their gallery, their interest in promoting the arts, the effects of aging on artistic exploration, and their hopes for the Jackson Junge Gallery in Wicker Park.
I’d like to think that as you age, you become clear in what your vision is, but I don’t think that’s the case. You find some answers in what you’re searching for, and then you open a lot of other doors, a lot of other questions, as you go along. I thought that as I explored things, it would give me closure, but it doesn’t. It’s almost that it opens up more and more questions. And I find that as I probably can handle more things emotionally, you can dig deeper, and that’s maybe where the doors opening up comes from.
I don’t feel like I’ve answered anything – I feel like I’m less afraid to explore. That maybe it’s not such a horrible thing exploring demons, or good things, both ways, but knowing that there’s not going to be resolution in it, or answers. For a long time you think you’re going to find that, and you don’t. And you get frustrated with that. And when you become comfortable with that, it lets you go deeper.
A lot of things that I think for a long time you think are “you,” and then when you learn that maybe it’s other influences that you can’t control, that let’s you dig deeper. Because “it isn’t me that’s caused things to happen.” It’s other people or other life that’s out there. So I don’t feel so – and this is hard to explain – I don’t feel like I’m wrong anymore. Like maybe I’m the right person in it. I used to always blame myself for everything that went wrong in the world, and in my life. But I feel like in a lot of ways I’m doing the right thing, I’m being true to myself, I’m following what I feel I should be doing in life with relationships, with people, and trying to heal and grow. That gives me a little clarity about what it is that I can do.
You’re dealing with personal issues, and personal experiences, but they’re coming out as Mr. Entertainment, or as the warrior that’s over here, or the magician.
Oh, Gilbert. Gilbert. That’s a painting of my dad.
Oh, okay. So yeah – interesting. You’re dealing with personal experiences but they’re manifesting themselves in these fantastical images. How do you go from dealing with your dad to producing the painting that’s based on him…
There’s a strong desire in me to want to connect. I know that if I paint completely what it is, that’s not going to be so interesting to other people. So what is interesting to somebody else? I don’t paint just for myself. Yes, the issues might be personal. I try to step beyond that and say, “What can a viewer bring to it that doesn’t necessarily have to relate to what my story is?” It’s my story, but not so clean that it has to be just that. A person could maybe find that connection, or could completely find their own story in that image.
For me, Mr. Entertainment represents the world of entertainment. He’s an homage to a lot of the artists and things that make up that world, but there’s a sadness to him. There’s certain things that maybe other people wouldn’t see, but they shouldn’t. A lot of times, by creating that fantasy world, it’s what the viewer brings to it.
From Day One, I was never a small painter. A large canvass does not intimidate me. It feels right. A small canvass almost intimidates me. When I studied painting, I studied just painting the figure, because it felt like the way that I could learn how to paint, but I knew that some day, I wanted to tell a story through my work. The bigger the piece, the more I could put in there, the more that works for me.
Here at your year anniversary of opening the gallery, you are a full-time artist. Does it feel like a day of victory today? Not just having the gallery, but knowing that you get to paint, and that’s your life.
It’s bittersweet, because now I have less time to paint. The goal is that you open a gallery and some day you have all this time to paint, but there’s this whole world of “How do you make money at painting?” We still travel and do shows and keep that side going, and I also make all my own prints. My painting time has gotten so fractured. It’s a year, and I celebrate, but okay, I have to figure out how I really get a hold back on painting again. It’s just amazing how much of the time goes, a whole year goes by, and it’s probably been my least productive year. That’s always the hard part. People say, “Oh you’re successful now.” But to me, success was the hours that I could paint. And that’s that weird juxtaposition.
You have to have money to live in America, and you get caught in this thing where certain things sell better than others, and you have to make those works, and it’s maybe not truly where your heart is at. And god, I don’t mean to sound bitter or anything, but there’s all these weird things. You think, “Ah, that would be so great,” but when you’re there it’s a different set of problems than you had otherwise.
I’m doing this for who, and for what? I struggle with that constantly. Sometimes the work that you do for yourself does become your strongest work, and sells. But then there’s the other side, where the more commercial work ends up being true. The bar theme stuff – I was just telling somebody tonight – that’s still my best selling stuff.
It’s funny to me. It’s a world I still enjoy. I bartended many years ago, and people look at these and say, “Oh, you must be a drunk. You must be…” And all those things I’m not. But that work does sell very well for us. It helps. I always say, “Do a painting for that, and then do…” That’s helpful too: when you age, your body of work gets much bigger.
So many of the art things have been knocked out of this neighborhood. They’ve moved to a different direction. And every neighborhood needs that in it. I hope we bring an excitement and a love of the arts to the neighborhood, a place where people want to come in, but there’s not a feeling of “art is only for a certain lifestyle.” Art should be for everyone. That’s what we really, really try to be about.
Jack M Silverstein is a freelance writer covering music, sports, and community in Chicago. His first book, “Our President,” is available at Amazon.com. Say hey at twitter/readjack or facebook/readjack.
Click here for more on the Jackson Junge Gallery
People with Passion: Michel Balasis (another Wicker Park artist)
People with Passion archives