I was fortunate to be in school at a time when taking art classes and music classes was encouraged and valued, said Gates. In general, today we dont look upon visual artists with the same esteem other countries do. I think this has somewhat to do with the dummying down of our appreciation for art.
Gates isnt angry and he doesnt want to appear too cynical, yet his observations over the years have led him to believe that to a certain extent, the arts are headed in the wrong direction.
Visual art takes concentration by the participant, unlike going to a concert or listening to pop music; no thought is really required for those things, said Gates. Most people today are unwilling to stand in front of a painting and spend the necessary time appreciating it and understanding what the artist has captured. This appreciation for art is not being taught like it used to be when I was growing up.
He chuckles at the attention that pop musicians and actors on the big screen are given by society while many other great artists practically go unnoticed. However, he feels fortunate to be working as an artist in Northern Michigan, an area that he feels is one of the pockets in the country that does have an appreciation and willingness to celebrate its artists.
Gates began his career as an art teacher in Elk Rapids, where he lived until he returned to college to pursue a Masters in Fine Arts.
I went to Central Michigan where I became the first person who graduated from their new MFA program, said Gates. After graduating, I took a position at CMU as an assistant professor of art.
Frustrated with departmental politics, he left CMU after a couple of years and returned to Northern Michigan. He took a counseling position with the Northwest Michigan Council of Governments. Yet he still painted when he was not working.
I never stopped my art, said Gates. Art chooses the person, a person doesnt choose art.
His work, primarily landscapes, became quite popular with collectors and gallery owners. His name is always mentioned in the same sentence with the regions other top artists. Gates is happy to see what he calls the silent progression towards the region becoming a cultural destination, but he would like to see even more being done to foster this.
Cultural tourism has proved itself elsewhere, in areas that are not as desirable as Northern Michigan, said Gates. People like Bob Strait at the Twisted Fish in Elk Rapids and Christie Minervini at Gallery Fifty get it - there are others as well - but the process has been slow. It is frustrating to see that the arts council here has virtually disappeared. Hopefully the business community will figure out the importance of art to economic development.
Gates doesnt mean businesses asking artists to display their work for free on their walls either.
I quit doing that a long time ago. People would say to me, it is good exposure for you, - my response to them was that its free decoration for you, said Gates. I dont paint for commercial purposes, I paint to express and create. I like selling my work, but I dont paint a piece from the perspective of making it commercial enough to sell.
He also does not want to be labeled.
Sure my landscapes are identifiable, but I dont want to be known solely as a landscape artist, said Gates. Recently I have been exploring neo-industrial constructions for my inspirations. I will exhibit several of those.
Not unlike the Romantics of the 18th Century, I have attempted to capture both the beauty and the sublime, said Gates. Something fleeting, but still in stasis, something inwardly understood in a universal sense. It is this collective consciousness that I try to tap, a soul-tweaking if you will.
Gates explains that he likes getting beneath the surface with his works.
Someone once said art is a lie that enables us to see the truth, I believe that when one unearths what is beneath their own aesthetic, they become enlightened to the infinite possibilities of the creative endeavor, said Gates. It has been my goal to represent this philosophy by testing my curiosity in different media and subject matter. This has helped me to codify my own existence as silent observer, participant and explorer.
Gates isnt planning on getting completely away from his landscapes, though.
I get out in the woods a lot and down rivers and streams where people dont often get, to draw inspiration, said Gates. I try to paint places that will remain untouched by man.
FULL TIME ARTIST
In 1995, Gates returned to teaching, taking a position as an adjunct professor of art at Northwestern Michigan College where he won the Adjunct Professor of the year award in 2003. He retired in 2005, and has devoted his time fully to his art since.
I like to challenge myself, said Gates. Why shouldnt an artist experiment? This isnt supposed to be safe; to be an artist, you have to be willing to explore.
One may explore the works of Jerry Gates during the months of November and December at Gallery Fifty, located in the Mercato level of Building 50 at The Village at Grand Traverse Commons. A reception with the artist will take place on November 15 from 6 to 9 p.m. For a sampling of Gates work online, visit www.galleryfifty.com.