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Meet Jim Stevens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jim Stevens.

Jim, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I first began drawing and artwork in general when, as a child, I stole into my Grandmother’s studio and “borrowed” a piece of her charcoal and sketching paper. She was a brilliant watercolorist. She caught me. But instead of being angry, as I feared, she sat me down and taught me how to draw and paint.

Years later, I had the opportunity to study with and help American master sculptor Ed Dwight with his 12 foot high bronze statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. that stands today outside Morehouse College’s King Chapel in Atlanta, Georgia. His work inspired me to devote more practical time to my art. That made my mother happy. She had always wanted me to be an artist.

Over the years my work was commissioned and sold to private collectors around the country and was also shown in galleries in Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan. Before the Russian/Ukrainian master stone and gem carver Vasily Konovalenko died, he saw my work and invited me to study with him. Unfortunately, the time we had was cut short by his death.

While a Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol leader in Vietnam, I was shot in the head during a combat mission. The wound left bullet fragments in my head and resulted in severe migraine headaches, which I still endure today. In 1993, I suffered a migraine that caused a stroke which, in turn, took my eyesight in just 30 minutes. After losing all but a pindot of my eyesight, I found myself divorced and the blind single parent of two preteen daughters. I was also unable to continue teaching at the University of Colorado and lost all confidence to continue with my art.

I was also angry. So angry in fact that I destroyed my motorcycle with a crowbar and trashed my unfinished art pieces with a baseball bat and ripped up most of my notes, drafts and records. It took many years to accept being blind.

In 2000, at the encouragement of my children, I began to produce art again. Slowly. For friends and family as gifts. But the more I did, the more I felt I could do. I kept working and re-learning the craft – learning how to do my art without the eyesight an artist so desperately needs. It was a long process but I finally remastered the skills – using a variety of special lenses, but the art and the quality were finally there again. After years without art, once again, I love what I do.

What sets your work apart?
I’m always thinking about pushing boundaries. Even when I’m working on a project, I’m thinking of possibilities. Today, I have three books published on art and I’ve developed two entirely new award-winning painting techniques. I’ve received numerous honors, including the VA National Gold Medal for Fine Art, the Sargent Art Supply Company National Award for Art, many Best of Shows and I have been honored as a Kennedy Center Registered VSA Artist in both the visual and literary arts. But I’m always asking what’s next?

My painting techniques are unique. My monofilament and abstract linear paintings float in empty space. Based on the position of the viewer, the art seems to move, change; forcing the mind to impose sense on the influence of space and elements within the painting, continuously challenging the viewer’s interpretation of the subject. Legally blind, I paint the way I see the world – through empty spaces. I create solid painted images with empty space.

What else should we know?
Outside of my art, I enjoy my children, my writing, and my continued study of the martial arts. In 2002, I became the only legally blind man, and oldest man, to ever win the men’s fighting competition at the Martial Arts “Tournament of Champions.” In 2004, I most humbly achieved the rank of Shodan – a Shaolin black belt.

My additional joy today is my work with veterans and veteran artists in the community. As the Director of the Veterans Arts Council and Senior Vice Commander of VFW Post 1 in Denver, I enjoy the responsibility of working with our veterans and their families and developing a greater understanding between our veterans and the community in which they live.

The Veterans Arts Council works to promote, showcase, mentor, and support veteran artists and expand opportunities for veterans in the greater arts community. We are not an art therapy program. Instead, we are that next step, working with veterans to further develop their artistic and business skills and provide a place through our art gallery at VFW Post 1 to showcase their work to the public. Eighty percent of the art in our gallery is by veterans and twenty percent is by invited civilian artists. The interaction between veteran and civilian artists in the gallery creates a unique setting for understanding, development and sharing between both groups

Whether it’s my art or my work with veterans, my goal is to create and bring something of value to those I can reach. Three-time Emmy Award winning screenwriter Paul Cooper found out about me and has completed a working screenplay about my life. In his words, “It’s a story that needs to be told.”

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
I lost all but a pindot of my eyesight from combat wounds and becoming a professional artist has been a unique challenge among the many in relearning how to see the world. One challenge along the way was a desire to create something new in abstract realism, something no one had ever experienced before. The trial and error of that effort resulted in months of frustration and trash cans full of failed attempts, but I finally succeeded in developing a form of abstract realism that engages the viewer in exploring the canvas, or in my case, combined canvases of both a realistic and abstract paintings that combine to create a single work of art.

In my abstract linear paintings I paint a realistic image or portrait on a clear acrylic panel that floats over an abstract painted on a komatex panel. The portrait is painted without shading and it is actually the abstract painting that creates all the shading in the realistic portrait. Two paintings – one image.

The other painting technique I enjoy is working on a canvas of hundreds of strands of monofilament line. The strands hang in space inside a clear acrylic case and the result is a painting solid in appearance yet floating amid gaps of empty space between the strands.

My art, my family, or my work with veterans – whatever the challenges, I wrote a personal motto that continuously reminds me “A man with a vision is never truly blind.”

We’d love to hear more about your business.
My business is my art. In addition to my paintings and sculpture work, I am also a master scrimshander. My work in scrimshaw includes the restoration of broken or damaged ivory carvings and sculptures. I do restoration work for individuals, companies and museums, carefully restoring broken or damaged ivory antiques to their original appearance and beauty. Restoration work is an art that requires maximum patience and knowledge of materials and their reaction to the techniques required to bring them back to life. I have had three books on the art of scrimshaw published by Schiffer Publishing.

My background in precision restoration work combined with a lifelong love of creativity and a physically different way of looking at the world have made my paintings unique and when on display, they draw the attention of fascinated viewers and have won many critical awards in public competitions.

What were you like growing up?
I was a different sort of kid. While my friends played cowboys and Indians together, I was driving motorcycles and breaking into army surplus stores at night for parts to build crazy motors and other inventions and using my chemistry set to blow up my mother’s kitchen or jumping from strange heights and places to practice being a stunt man. But while my childhood activities were fairly solitary, I also enjoyed watching others as they interacted. I would watch and write down my observations and reactions and I made drawings to illustrate the text. I learned early that if I could write, draw or create something new, I was happy. I wrote my first book of illustrated poetry in elementary school and my first book of illustrated short stories in junior high. Art and writing were fast becoming what I enjoyed more than anything else.

But at the same time I was discovering my love for art and writing, my father asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I proudly told him I wanted to be an artist and a writer, he beat me black and blue, screaming all the while that no son of his was going to grow up to be a starving artist in an attic somewhere. His opinion that day was impactful and resulted in a lifetime of various professional occupations until the day I lost my eyesight. In that devastating and impossibly difficult moment, I finally found the courage to break free of the past and embrace my lifelong love of art and writing.

Contact Info:

“The Rescue of History – John” abstract linear 42”x48″

“The Dancers” abstract linear 24″x30”

“Neil deGrasse Tyson” abstract linear 24″x36″

“Embers” monofilament painting 21”x28″

Viewing “Apache Tears” monofilament painting 21”x28″

“Snow Leopard” charcoal 13″x17”

Image Credit:
Jim Stevens
Marla Keown

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