Making Something That Matters

By Skylla Mumana

Waco-born artist Jim Gingerich talks art, inspiration and the Big Apple

When Jim Gingerich was 7 years old, he entered his first art contest. He was brimming with pride at the Crayola drawings he had made, and he felt in his bones that his drawings were the best things there.

“I felt really good about it. I felt the translation between what I was feeling and what I was producing — there was a harmony there,” Gingerich said. “I just thought I was going to win the contest.”

He was right. He won the contest later that day, and unbeknownst to him, this moment started him down on his path to becoming an artist.

Born and raised in Waco, Gingerich is a prolific artist whose works have been widely exhibited in the United States, and have found homes in major galleries such as the Yale University Art Gallery which features the works of artists like Jackson Pollock and Claude Monet, and The Church, a nonprofit arts organization in Sag Harbor that has been featured in The New York Times. His artwork also hangs on the walls of notable figures like Eric Clapton, Robert DeNiro, Roy Scheider and Kurt Vonnegut, to name a few.

While growing up in Waco, Gingerich’s father worked as a physics professor at Baylor University doing research for NASA during Project Mercury. Gingerich notes that his father played a large role in his artistic journey, despite early reservations about entering the art world.

“He was a big influence on me,” Gingerich said. “He was a physicist and I kind of did a 180 going into the arts. He bought me my first paint and brushes and little did he know I was going to make a life out of it. He wanted me to be a dentist or something like that.”

When Gingerich was 15, his family left Waco and moved up north to Oregon, where he later attended the University of Oregon. While he was there, his father signed him up for a night art class where he had what he described as his “eureka” moment.

“My dad took me to an adult education night painting course when I was up in Oregon,” Gingerich said. “The assignment was to turn our easel to somebody else in class and paint their portrait. While I was making that painting, I just had one of those eureka moments of insight. The lightbulbs were going off and flashing. I realized that’s what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I was a philosophy and drama major at the time and I changed all of my classes to Fine Arts. After I got a degree, I moved to New York City.”

For Gingerich, New York was an adjustment, to say the least. It was a different world from both Texas and Oregon, but it was one filled with opportunity.

“Moving to New York was a big event in my life,” Gingerich said. “For a Texas boy, New York was a wonderland of different cultures and different ethnicities. It was like a different language. The intellectual stimulation was fantastic. It stands to reason that an artist should be in New York because, per square mile, there’s more wall space, more art collectors, more museums, more artists and more galleries than any place on earth. So that’s why I went.”

Gingerich mainly defines himself as an oil painter, however he’s also produced a number of pastels, cut-outs and sculptures. He finds that light influences his work and he looks to other artists as creative role models.

“I draw inspiration from light. I know that sounds rather broad in general, we all live with light every day, but my relationship to it is beyond inspirational — it’s sustenance. My favorite painters are [Diego] Velázquez, John Singer Sargent and [Édouard] Manet. Their handling and mastery of light is impeccable,” Gingerich said.

His love of light can be seen in many of his works, such as “My Beating Heart”, and “Befriending Dukkha”. Others often depict more rural and natural landscapes, such as “From the Rockies Down to the Sea”, “Bridal Veil Falls” and “Maroon Bells”.

Despite his love for light, Gingerich also notes that inspiration is a tricky thing to grasp. Even with how prolific he has been throughout his career, inspiration is something that he, along with other artists, have had a hard time defining and capturing.

“I’ve lived around other artists my whole life, but none of them can really answer with assurance and accuracy about what inspiration is. Nobody can define it — they know when they have it, and they know when they don’t have it,” Gingerich said. “You can’t just demand it to be there, and luckily, for most creative people, it’s consistently available yet it’s still unpredictable. You can’t really work without inspiration.”

But in the grand scheme of things, what is art? If inspiration is an unpredictable, undefinable thing that creatives have, then can we even define art? To many like Gingerich, it’s subjective, but at its core, Gingerich believes that art is about truth, simplicity and pure creation.

“Art does not have to be sophisticated,” Gingerich said. “You do not need a degree, and you do not need to be an intellectual. Sophistication or quality does not matter. It’s the act of making something that matters.”

In the future, Gingerich will be working on an artist residency at an institution in the Hamptons where the bulk of his work will revolve around the theme of unity.

“My theme is going to be Ubuntu,” Gingerich said. It’s a Zulu phrase that loosely translates to ‘I am because you are’. It’s very much about sharing and honoring the integrity of other people.”