Jim Arendt is an artist whose work explores the shifting paradigms of labor and place through materials that resonate with work and the people engaged in it. Influenced by the radical reshaping of the rural and industrial landscapes in which he was raised, he investigates how individual lives are affected by transitions in economic structures.
Jim Arendt is an Associate Professor of Visual Arts and Gallery Director at Coastal Carolina University. He received his BFA from Kendall College of Art & Design and his MFA from the University of South Carolina. He has participated in residency programs including The Fields Projectin Illinois, Arrowmont’s Tactility Forum, andFrom Waste to Art VIin Baku, Azerbaijan.He’s been invited to teach at Penland School of Craft and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. His work is exhibited internationally in numerous group and solo shows.
Recently, Arendt was short-listed for The 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art and a 2018 finalist for the Elizabeth R. Raphael Founder’s Prize, Society for Contemporary Craft, Pittsburgh, PA. In 2014, he received the South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Artist Fellowship and his work received the top prize at ArtFields 2013. He has exhibited in Fiberarts International 2013 & 2016 & 2019, and the 2013 Museum Rijswijk Textile Biennial, Netherlands and has work include in the Arkansas Art Center’s permanent collection of contemporary craft.
He has juried numerous local, regional, and national exhibitions in support of the arts across the country.
When I was young, I remember my father sitting at the sewing machine patching his Wranglers in the evening after work. The farm crisis had reached our place near Flint, MI and he was making do: A concept of thrift and pragmatism that dictates you work with the materials at hand. That memory mixed with the stories of other working people, leading me to denim as a material. It is a universal fabric born in the dust of the cotton field, made supple by the sweat of garment workers, and embedded with the fading of second shift evenings. Its qualities amplified my own ideas about materials and class, providing stronger coupling between content and form.
My practice is rooted in understanding how we relate to labor. My close proximity to the manufacturing and agrarian landscapes of America, as well as the dramatic shifts in both of those sectors of our economy during my lifetime, have led me to continuously pursue an understanding of its people and craft. Making has brought with it an understanding of the complexity of forces that drive our contemporary economy. The cultural practices that unfurl as a result of those relationships taught me strategies for crafting a working life that embraces wholeness and integrity as antidotes to estrangement from objects and one another.
Persistence in difficult times is the art I’m most interested in. I continue to be inspired by the ways in which people make do for themselves. Whether it was a trip to the scrapyard or the back of the pantry, there was usually a way to work around material deficits. I use the shared memories and skills that those around me do out of a need for function, beauty, or survival to honor them, mixing memory and materials to create something of value from nothing. “Fix’n things up” prolongs their worth and I still find some life in the materials, methods, and motivations of those I grew up with. Although separated by distance and time, the people I come from reemerge in my studio to remind me of our shared struggles and resilience.
I still sew at my mom’s Kenmore, patching-up and manufacturing relationships with people I know and care about. I spend far too much time oiling the aging fleet of industrial machines that find refuge in my garage studio, squinting at hasty sketches executed on the drywall, and wondering how to assemble them into patterns of meaning. Yet I couldn’t do my work without my co-conspirators who bring short stacks of jeans and their stories to my endeavor; some hand-delivered neatly-folded, others jostled from far corners of the country in cardboard boxes, all greatly appreciated.