Sunday, October 13, 2013

Behind the studio door with James St. Germaine

James St. Germaine makes art with a rare earth element, a colorless, odorless gas that is produced in the solar system by a fusion process of stars!

And, indeed, this artist gets stars in his eyes when he talks about his passion for “painting with light,” where he incorporates the monatomic gas neon into his paintings and sculptures.

The West Wareham artist was washing up at a sink one day and accidentally splashed water onto a mirror above the sink, when a beam of sunlight illuminated the water dripping down the mirror. He describes being so excited by this effect that he wanted to capture it on canvas with paint.

Paint alone didn’t satisfy, so he experimented with electric light shining through his paintings from behind the canvass, which gave him some satisfaction.

But one lucky day at a flea market, St. Germaine saw an old neon sign and, as he describes it, “a light bulb went on and now I’m crazy for neon, trying to find it everywhere.”

Each of the old signs is a length of glass tubing filled with neon gas and bent and twisted into a kind of cursive script that may, for example, say ice, open or camel. Often the words themselves are the inspiration for a new work of art.

The artist also collects quantities of discarded wood and metal that will be incorporated into his work. A bowling ball he found rolling down the road now tops a yard sculpture

St. Germaine’s studio is a trim little building about the size of a one-car garage behind his house. There’s no mistaking its purpose. There are giant painted wood letters over the door shouting “Jim’s Studio.” The front wall of the little building is covered with giant images of camels. A visitor is instantly intrigued by the energy and scale of the outer decoration and is eager to see what is inside.

The studio door opens to a lively space full of tall sculptures and paintings, a room so full of paint, shapes, letters and words that it seems like a party crowded with interesting people having conversations. Jim introduces the pieces with an almost breathless excitement, giving details of the inspiration, materials and evolution of each one.

“Have you seen this one lit up?” he asks as he begins to plug in the cords and transformers that  hang all over the studio. On one wall is a humorous self-portrait that is lit from behind by blinking lights that outline his face. On another is an abstract painting with the illuminated word “priceless” running down the side. Attached to this painting is a shelf with three objects – each one is something handmade by his three granddaughters. Jim handles the small objects with care and says with a catch in his voice, “priceless!”

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