By Wallace Baine
Visiting the Aptos studio of painter Jeremiah Kille this weekend during the second weekend of the Open Studios tour, you might assume that he is sharing his space with another talented painter. After all, there are two distinct bodies of work on display "" the first a series of bleak, portentous landscapes usually only populated by elephants; the second a collection of abstract collage-like images that mixes photo-realistic images, patterns and vivid colors.
Kille, 34, is indeed the artist behind both approaches, and, as such, is not a big believer in the notion that artists must choose a single stylistic path for reasons both personal "" to hone one's vision and craft "" and commercial "" to create a lasting "brand" in the public mind.
The elephant paintings have proven to be quite popular with Santa Cruz County artists, said Kille. Paintings he has shown at the Verve Coffee Roasters shop on 41st Avenue in Capitola have garnered much attention and, in some cases, sold right off the walls.
Visitors to his studio will gather around the elephant paintings and, he said, "walk right past the others."
On the other hand, Kille has been offered a show at White Walls, a San Francisco gallery, to open in the fall of 2012. When the curator visited Kille's studios, he was drawn to the abstracts. "He didn't want any of the elephants," said Kille.
For several years, Kille "" rhymes with "Billy" "" made his living as a surfboard shaper and, though he still makes surfboards on the side, he decided to move away from that potentially hazardous profession to pursue a career as an artist, enrolling in the fine art program at San Jose State University.
His elephant landscapes may be popular because they express certain ideas, through their imagery, about the American future. The landscapes are often severe "" desert sands or flat, featureless coastlines "" juxtaposing an elephant with some symbol of American imperial ambition and industrial might "" an airplane, tank or ship.
"I like this idea of these elephants in this post-circus era," he said. "They're basically loose in the world because all the circuses are gone. They're unemployed."
Kille expresses some misgivings about becoming known as "the elephant guy," and says that he enjoys the outcome of the paintings more than the work itself, which is often meticulously detailed and has to operate within the confines of naturalistic imagery.
He doesn't have a ready answer to the question "Why elephants?" though he said it could be an unconscious preference. He said that he recently found a box of items from his childhood and discovered a blanket that he used to sleep with as a toddler. "It was covered with elephants," he said.
The abstracts, said Kille, give him more of an opportunity to enjoy the process of art, allowing him to indulge in impulsive creativity and more sophisticated artistic ideas. The abstract paintings are layered with a variety of approaches from real-world images to faint background text to patterns that suggest wallpaper or linoleum. Exaggerated paint drippings and thick smears of paint give the works texture. The "noisy" jumble of imagery is, Kille said, designed to reflect what's going on in the artist's mind.
"I really find myself gravitating to these," he said of his abstract works. "I like to go back and forth between the two styles. I mean, why not?"
The 26th annual Open Studios Art Tour, presented by the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County, takes place throughout Santa Cruz County for the next two weekends. Last weekend featured artists from Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and the San Lorenzo Valley. This weekend features South County artists from Live Oak and Soquel to Watsonville. The third weekend is an encore weekend for all artists who want to participate.
The event includes more than 300 painters, printers, sculptors, photographers and other artists. To participate, you can purchase an Open Studios calendar which serves as your ticket and map/guide to the studios all over the county. The calendars are $20 and are widely available in retailers and other businesses around Santa Cruz County, or online at www.ccscc.org.
IF YOU GO
what: Open Studios artist no. 240
when: Saturday and Sunday, and Oct. 15-16, 11 a.m.
to 5 p.m.
where: 800 Estates Drive, no. 207, Aptos
cost: $20 for Open Studios calendar, good for 300 artist studios county-wide