A Man with Vision
Art challenges us to look at the world differently. For Jim Stevens, that sentiment generates something truly visionary.
“A man with a vision is never truly blind.” These are the words Jim Stevens lives by. At age 51, he walked into the Shaolin Kenpo Tournament of Champions with a vision to become the oldest victor ever. Three cracked ribs and a broken nose later, he hoisted the victory trophy above his head.
Not a bad day for someone of any age—much less someone legally blind.
Jim Stevens is a man who defies convention. Shot in the head during a combat mission in Vietnam, the bullet fragments lodged in his brain suddenly shifted in 1993 and rendered him legally blind, 23 years after the fact. The remaining vision he does have is a pinhole, through which he meticulously constructs his master works. “It’s a slow process of scanning back and forth, of piecing together the elements,” Stevens said.
Take, for example, his monofilament paintings that have garnered national and international acclaim. Each of the eight rows contains 129 strands across, staggered several millimeters apart. The result is a pseudo-holographic viewing experience that clicks into cognition as the viewer nears it from the periphery.
And the inspiration? His grandson’s fishing pole, brought to him as a knot to be untangled that now hangs in his workshop, a testament to finding vision in the most unexpected of places.
After five months of trial and error, Stevens settled upon a strategy to perfect this peculiar pastiche. He creates a layout board and envisions the portrait’s pose before painting each row, strand by strand, securing it in the display case. Stevens’ sculpture background helps him map these fields of depth through layering. “Each row has slightly different shading,” he said. “It grabs the the eye and pulls it through.”
Another aesthetic Stevens has pioneered is a form of abstract linear: Parallel strokes of varying thickness applied on a clear acrylic surface are sit atop a contrasting backdrop. Stevens slides a piece of paper in between the two surfaces to make the image disappear, highlighting the lifelike abstraction created by the shadowed effect of negative spacing. He likens it to the aesthetic of street art: “I asked myself, ‘How can I bring it into the studio? How could I paint a stencil?”
Questions like these inspire Stevens to continue testing convention and searching for what comes next creatively. And as Director of the Veteran’s Art Council for VFW Post #1, he’s commandeering what The New York Times profiled as a new direction for veterans’ services. Hosting a combination service member/civilian rotation of featured exhibits, the space is a celebration of service and community, redefining what it means to both an art gallery and a VFW post.
That takes vision, though it doesn’t stop there. It extends to community. Or as Jim Stevens puts it,”It’s about the art, but it’s more than that. It’s also about coming to the gallery to have a good time.”
An artist’s reception for Jim Steven’s “Captured Shadows” exhibit will take place Friday, November 18 from 6-9 p.m. at the Georgia Amar’s Habitat Gallery & Studio, 828 Santa Fe Drive.
-Story by Cory Phare