Big Ideas Reap Rewards

May 23, 2018
3 mins read

Jacksonville-based multidisciplinary artist Jeff Whipple is on a roll. This spring, he applied for and was awarded a $25,000 Pollock-Krasner Foundation grant. Just last week, the Jacksonville Jazz Festival unveiled a series of Whipple-designed promotional posters, splashing his signature three-line motif all over town.

These milestones are the latest in a career spanning 40 years, 84 solo exhibitions and 18 public art commissions across the state, not to mention more than two dozen original stage plays. Whipple recently spoke to about the life of a working artist in Northeast Florida.

Whipple and fellow artist and partner Liz Gibson moved to Jacksonville in 2012. They were drawn by the freshness of a rising regional arts scene, untouched by big-city cynicism. According to Whipple, the charm hasn’t worn off.

“Liz and I continue to enjoy the enthusiasm of the cultural audience in Northeast Florida,” he said. “That’s not as evident in other communities and we should all be proud of that.”

Despite all that promise, however, Whipple finds that Jacksonville still falls short in one crucial area. There’s not enough private money in the arts.

“There is, unfortunately, a profound ignorance in this region of the vital role that art patrons must perform by collecting progressive art and being philanthropists for thought-provoking art venues,” Whipple continued. “No community anywhere, ever, became known as culturally significant by the work of artists alone. Business leaders and real estate investors need to realize that if they become patrons of the arts, there will be remarkable financial benefit for helping the region become recognized as intelligent and sophisticated.”

Whipple’s $25,000 Pollock-Krasner grant will help him continue to create in the absence of these private patrons. The grant “supports the artist’s living and working expenses for one year,” according to a statement from Pollock-Krasner Foundation program director Caroline Black. The brainchild of abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock’s widow Lee Krasner, the New York-based Foundation has been supporting working artists since 1985, disbursing a grand total of more than 72 million dollars in grants among 4,460 artists in 77 countries.

Grants like this are, according to Whipple, crucial to his art.

“As a progressive artist,” he declared, “most of my artwork is far beyond what local art collectors can comprehend, much less desire to own. And some of my work, like performance and installation, cannot even be purchased by a collector. Non-restrictive artist grants allow extra time and materials for making this type of artwork, which is very expensive to create. The grant will also support some of the costs for presenting my artwork to the public in nonprofit exhibition venues.”

Whipple’s latest work-a paid commission-can be seen all over Jacksonville. His two Jacksonville Jazz Festival poster designs celebrate not just jazz artists, but the fans who support them. In fact, he originally planned to feature only the music-lover, not the music-maker.

“I wanted to pay homage to the audiences who enjoy jazz,” said Whipple. “Musicians are, of course, essential, but no art is complete without someone experiencing it. There are 36 years of Jax Jazz Fest posters featuring musicians, so it seemed about time that the recipients of their great talents would be the subject this year. And, as an artist, I highly appreciate audiences engaging in my work, so I was happy to focus on them. When high-up city administrators saw the ‘audience’ painting, they said there needed to be a musician, too. That’s why there are two posters.”

The featured musician is Grammy Award-winning jazz drummer and Jacksonville native Ulysses Owens Jr. The featured fan is none other than Whipple’s fellow artist and partner Liz Gibson.

“Liz only agreed to be in the poster because it supplements her own art themes,” said Whipple. “As an artist, Liz challenges our perceptions of human limitations. Her performances and exhibits take audiences from tears to laughter and ultimately to self-empowerment. One of her themes is society’s notion of perfection as beauty. She’s told stories about how she couldn’t be a ‘perfect beauty’ because of the birth defect that caused severe deformities in her right arm. But her audiences realized the total opposite was the truth. Liz thought she’d never be a poster model because she wasn’t perfect. And I believe no one but she could be a more perfect model for this poster.”

The Jazz Festival posters also showcase Whipple’s signature three-line motif. The design has been tying together his body of work for decades. It was, he suggests, a particularly inspired choice for a music festival.

“Over the past 40 years, all my art has had the same very distinctive, highly recognizable style,” he said. “The main thing is a three-line motif that I created to make my compositions appear planned and organized. I use three lines, because three repetitions of an element are a pattern and that implies a definite design. Think of it like a bass player repeating three notes to hold a jazz song together.”

Folio is your guide to entertainment and culture around and near Jacksonville, Florida. We cover events, concerts, restaurants, theatre, sports, art, happenings, and all things about living and visiting Jax. Folio serves more than two million readers across Jacksonville and Northeast Florida, including St. Augustine, The Beaches, and Fernandina.

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