Jim Arendt is an artist whose work explores the shifting paradigms of labor and place through narrative figure painting, drawing, prints, fabric and sculpture. 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. His work has been exhibited internationally in numerous group and solo shows. Recently, Arendt was short-listed for The 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art and received the South Carolina Arts Commission Visual Artist Fellowship. His work was awarded the $50,000 top prize at ArtFields, Best in Show at Hub-Bub Gallery’s Emerging Carolina and was included in the 701 Contemporary Center for the Arts 701 CCA Prize 2012. He was awarded Best in Show during Fantastic Fibers at Yeiser Art Center, Paducah, KY, included in Fiberarts International 2013 & 2016 and the 2013 Museum Rijswijk Textile Biennial, Netherlands.
Jim received his BFA from Kendall College of Art & Design and his MFA from the University of South Carolina. He participated in residency programs including The Fields Project in Illinois, Arrowmont’s Tactility Forum, and has been invited instructor at Penland School of Craft and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts.
Art making is a way for me to explore our changing relationship with labor. My research focuses on transitions in macroeconomic structures through the lens of their effects on individual lives, communities, and worker’s relationships to the structures of labor itself.
I’ve paid witness to the demise of opportunities to engage in meaningful work and seen cities ravaged by the absence of industry. As the landscape of work and labor continue to shift around us, I use art making as a way to investigate how the division of labor and alienation from work has impacted individual lives. My early engagement with work that was whole and undivided has left me with a persistent feeling that our present economic configuration has alienated most of us from the finest use of our skills.
Art is labor made visible. The order, planning and execution of art making serves as a memetic bridge to the work I engaged in with my family as a child. Our farm bound us to it and to one another. The labor put into the land, livestock, and implements was our investment in our collective future. We gambled that the rains would come, that the market would demand a fair price for our crop, and the bank would not foreclose. Labor became a tangible expression of our hopes.
Unfortunately, hope fails. Despite our work, innumerable low-level disasters plagued the land my great-grandfathers broke and spread my family like chaff. Our plight was mirrored in countless households as the entire region dissolved under the prolonged economic hardship brought about by a new paradigm in labor. Work was retreating beyond our ability to follow and emptying the landscape of the people who once called it home.
Making is a way for me to echo and understand the cycles of seasonal death, unemployment, natural disasters, and loss I’ve witnessed. The physical labor involved in the creation of these pieces mirrors the work I engaged in with my family. The scale and application of materials evokes in me memories of the time when there was promise for our endeavor.
Casting the people I know best into the center of my work, I explore how the changing landscape of labor has defined them, not as they were or are, but as I know them to be. Our lives, separated by years and distance, remain entangled around the work we left unfinished.
I choose materials to work with while seeking to create a greater relevancy between content and form. Denim seems created to be abused, worn out, patched, stained, and burnt through. Its characteristics are mirrored in the individuals I choose to represent. Yet, jeans remain supple, and with the right pair of boots can still go to the ball. I like that.
Still, it’s damn hard to make pictures out of it.
I guess I like that, too.