Each year, the Gibbes Museum of Art and Society 1858, a young Gibbes patrons fundraising group, award the 1858 Prize for Contemporary Southern Art to an artist living and working south of the Mason-Dixon line. This year, seven artists made the short list: Jim Arendt, Sonya Clark, André Leon Gray, Jackson Martin, Jason Mitcham, Damian Stamer, and Stacy Lynn Waddell. We'll be posting a short Q&A with one artist each week.
Jim Arendt is an assistant art professor at Coastal Carolina University, and his work explores the shifting concept of labor. He paints, draws, and sculpts, and is best known for his works in denim — one of his denim pieces won the grand prize at the 2013 Artfields Festival in Lake City, S.C.
How did you start working with denim?
I remember my father patching his jeans at night after work with the sewing machine. In school, this memory of thrift and pragmatism was one direction I explored around larger themes of work and labor. To "make do", or manage to get along with the means available, meant you solved problems with the materials at hand. I wanted to speak to work
and labor, and denim called out as one possible material among many. I usually work in long arcs that involve me experimenting with various approaches to solving my (often competing) problems of delivering meaning, visual appeal, and technique.
: What appeals to you about the material?
: I like denim because it reinforces my ideas with its own strengths. I believe materials have their own lives and, if properly ferreted out, can reveal what they desire to tell us. Jeans contain the work of growing cotton and indigo, the sweat to the garment-makers, and the stories of the people who wore them out. Jeans mix well with my own memories of work on our farm and the surrounding factories. Art allows me to transform denim and expose the stories it contains. The
qualities of the material and my ideas around our relationship with labor self-assembled after that realization and compelled me to begin working in this material. In the end, no other medium solved the complex problems of work and memory I wanted to solve.
: What are you currently working on?
: Currently, I’m developing work in cement, leather, and motor oil. Of course, the problem of working in multiple materials and techniques is that it takes time to learn what they can say and to make sure that I am not breaking them over my own ideas.