Direct observation leads to deeper meaning for Columbia artist

J.D. King’s 14 still life paintings will be on display at Orr Street Studios Saturdays until Aug. 27.
Sunday, August 10, 2008 | 9:02 p.m. CDT; updated 10:09 p.m. CDT, Sunday, August 10, 2008
J.D. King touches up one of his paintings in his home.
Event Info

WHAT: “Direct Observation,” an exhibit of still life oil paintings by J.D. King
WHEN: Through Aug. 23. Open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturdays
WHERE: Orr Street Studios, 106 Orr St.

J.D. King's mother was a singer, and his father met her while he was an accompanist at MU.

"They very much knew what it meant to be an artist," King said.

King said he has been an artist "pretty much from the get-go" and attributes a lot of his passion for art to his parents. Back in the ninth and 10th grades, though, he would draw nothing but trucks.

Now, he has come back to those vehicles, which he said portray strength and power. He is working on a set of 20 to 25 paintings of trucks as part of a group exhibit called "Spring 2009 Exhibit" at Perlow-Stevens Gallery. Jennifer Perlow thinks his new series captures the heart of the Midwest, with his paintings of old, busted-up trucks.

"If you drive down the highway, you'll see remnants of eras gone," Perlow said. "He does a good job of catching the spirit of these things."

King, 54, has a part-time job as a security guard, but his true vocation is with the canvas. After exercising first thing in the morning, he paints for a couple of hours. Then, after doing a few things around the house, he again paints for a couple of hours - painting on and off all day, for anywhere from four to 10 hours total. He said he needs to follow his rhythms and his circumstances, and he needs to have some discipline.

"Being passionate, I have to have a balance in life so nothing takes over," King said.

He learned this type of discipline when he worked for eight years as a welder, a 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday lifestyle that taught him to have a good work ethic.

King has other jobs under his belt, including as a teacher for an abstract expressionism class and as a potter for 11 years. But, for him, making coffee cups and other stoneware did not have the same aesthetic as painting, and abstract expressionism dug a little too deep. He has since found a middle ground.

"You don't decide to be a surrealist or abstract expressionist," King said. "You don't decide, you discover. It comes from inside your heart."

He said he paints in different styles but always comes back to the basics, which for him is still lifes with oil on canvas. King takes common objects such as light bulbs, sunglasses and dice, sets them up and paints them.

"When I set stuff up, it is a function of how I perceive them," King said.

His current exhibit, "Direct Observation," at the Orr Street Studios consists of 14 still lifes. His exhibit will have a free opening reception Saturday at Orr Street Studios. King has worked on the paintings since 2001, on average doing two a year.

All were done from his direct observation of objects rather than from a photograph, painting "an interior world that connects with other people's interior worlds." King looks at an ordinary object and sees things he's never seen; the color or texture might remind him of something from his childhood, like the neon green of a water gun, whereas it might evoke a different image or memory in someone else.

"Painting brings out stuff inside us that we didn't know was there," King said.

He compares painting to writing a mystery novel. What makes a good story? Danger. King thinks there is an element of edginess one needs to become a good painter, and he believes he possesses this. He said he doesn't try to hide any emotion or be obscure in his paintings; they could be equally translated no matter what language a person speaks.

King considers himself proficient in his technical abilities and a mature artist and said that from now until he can't paint, he will be the most productive. He likes not being obligated to paint anything specific and rarely takes suggestions, except occasionally from his wife, Sally King.

"Oftentimes if I listen to Sally, the painting turns out better," King said.

King thinks that sometimes people overlook the kind of preparation and skill that goes into a painting and have a hard time with the price. The paintings in his current exhibit range in price from $1,500 to $2,800. He acknowledges that he would not be able to afford one of his own paintings, but he appreciates the work that went into them.

"Paintings give you insight. They are not made by machines," King said. "And they are intimate in terms of perception of reality."


J.D. King creates an abstract painting.
J.D. King poses in front of some of his paintings.

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