Born in Waseca, Minnesota Jaron Childs is an artist living and working in Tomahawk, Wisconsin. His paintings and drawings of the natural world have been shown in solo and group exhibitions in galleries and museums in the U.S. and Europe.
I make paintings and drawings of the natural world based on my own photographs and direct observation. They range in finish from gestural studies to the photorealistic. Drawing on landscape traditions, my work looks to make visible the beauties and complexities inherent in our kinship with the rest of the living world. I see my practice as a way of being present to the relationships around me, of listening to through looking. — Jaron Childs
1. What are 1-3 books that have influenced your life? What are you reading or watching right now?
Some the books that have most influenced my life are: On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scarry, On Photography by Susan Sontag, Landscape & Memory by Simon Schama, The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, Braiding Sweetgrass and Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer, Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane.
2. What are you currently working on? Are you able to create during the pandemic? I’ve been drawing a lot lately which is fairly unusual for me. Creating has been a little challenging for me during the pandemic. My wife and I have been homeschooling our children and working from home. The rhythm of our life is so much different. I’ve been able to make time for drawing in a way that I haven’t for painting. It feels really fresh and direct for me right now.
3. How has failure set you up for later success? What was your favorite failure?
Due to a number of challenges I was unable to finish my BFA, twice. I finished my Freshman and Sophomore years with a ten year gap between them. For a long time I saw this as a failure, but it’s also a story of success. I succeeded in finishing two years of art school. I’ve reached a point where I believe that we are always doing the best we can. If I could have done better I’m sure I would have.
4. What is your most unusual habit?
Playing 1 minute bullet games of online chess.
5. If you could have any painter, living or dead paint your portrait who would it be and why?
Ben Shahn, or Andrew Wyeth. I admire Shahn’s fresh economic style, and Wyeth’s patient attentiveness. Or my wife or children because they know me and I love everything they make. Or anyone who knows me who would be willing to take the time.
6. What is the most indispensable item in your studio/workspace/office? Share an image of your studio.
My focus, which I am forever misplacing. And small fan brushes.
7. When you feel overwhelmed or uninspired what do you do? What do you do to get out of a funk? What questions do you ask yourself?
I almost always feel overwhelmed. A regular meditation practice has been very helpful, but going outside never fails to inspire or replenish me. Our son was born in the summer and we noticed that whenever we took him outside he stopped crying. He taught me that going outside is the cure for emotional distress.
8. What do you see as the artist’s role through this difficult time?
I think part of what is happening is that our stories are breaking down. We are a story-telling species who evolved in very small communities and I don’t think our cultural and emotional evolution has kept pace with our technological progress and exploding population. We’re savannah people living in a technological world for which we are not prepared. I think we need new stories to keep us connected to each other and give cohesion to what is now a global society. We also need stories that connect us to our non-human relatives and acknowledge their personhood. We have so many stories about what comes after collapse, but I’d like to see narratives that model the kind of cooperation that might help us avoid it altogether.
9. Do you collect anything?
Rocks, fossils, feathers, nests, shells, bones, minerals, etc. and books and records. All without any sense of order or organization.
10. What words of advice would you give to artists during this time?
Treat yourself gently. Don’t get caught up in unrealistic ideas of what you should be accomplishing or producing. Just be present to the world and to your practice and you’ll find what is useful and meaningful. You are enough.
11. In the last five years what new belief, or habit has most improved your life or studio practice?
The belief that humans are part of the natural world rather than separate from it. We belong to the world and the beings we share it with are our kin. It seems obvious, but it took me a long time to learn it and internalize it in a meaningful way. I think on some level I saw our destructiveness as proof of our separateness. But I believe the world needs us. Our larger family needs us to come home. As an artist who has always worked with “landscape” this change in perspective has been a significant one.
Also meditation and taking steps to become more organized in how I spend my time and arrange my space have improved my life and studio practice in noticeable ways.
12. Share an inspiring image.
Tasting the Wild Grapes
The red beast
who lives in the side of these hills
won’t come out for anything you have:
money or music. Still, there are moments
heavy with light and good luck. Walk
quietly under these tangled vines
and pay attention, and one morning
something will explode underfoot
like a branch of fire; one afternoon
something will flow down the hill
in plain view, a muscled sleeve the color
of all October! And forgetting
everything you will leap to name it
as though for the first time, your lit blood
rushing not to a word but a sound
small-boned, thin-faced, in a hurry,
lively as the dark thorns of the wild grapes
on the unsuspecting tongue!
The fox! The fox!
—Mary Oliver, 1978