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Visual arts > Sketches in Grit

Jimbo's circus

He's a punk rock artist, Dickensian roustabout, budding psychic and a 'dead animal' creator

MT Photos: Travis R. Wright
Jamie "Jimbo" Easter: "The most brilliant artists are self-taught."
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Published 2/18/2009

We step down a small set of stairs and each creaks beneath the feet. Making our way past Kafka and Castaneda, who keep company with spines that read of psychic powers, of mushrooms and fungi, and Men, Ships & the Sea, my mutton-chopped host points out an essential member of his assembly: Dungeons & Dragons. Liquor bottles stand guard on the floor, as to permit (or hinder) our entrance into this artist's "sacrosanct" ground. On one side, an array of drums, synths, effects pedals, guitars, amps and various recording gear make for what could be an art installation titled: Rick Rubin, 1978. But its use is more practical than that. The other, more immediate side of this space hits the senses like a psychedelic hurricane of saturated colors; a disorientation fascinating as a first-time high. Between these two spaces there's a small, wobbly table. On it, an anonymous animal — bloody, disboweled, dead. Welcome to Jamie "Jimbo" Easter's world.

"It's called Gristle," Easter smiles. "When I see an animal that unfortunately got hit by a car — when it's laid out there, right after the hit, that's one of the highest forms of art there is."

With brown, slightly belled slacks and a denim button-down shirt, his mop falls on 'burns that are as thick as his wit. Easter looks like a youthful Neil Young today, inside his Ferndale home preparing for an upcoming art show. Seemingly inspired by bogs and swamps as much as Absinthe and the Doors, Easter's work is an amalgamation of often monstrous, sometimes sexually inspired drawings, paintings, sculptures and Claymation video installations.

A slinky figure in Detroit's music scene, Easter (ex of the Piranhas) now fronts Druid Perfume, whose sound resembles how you'd think it'd smell.

"It was whispered to me in a dream," Easter says of his band's name. "I debated whether or not to tell you about this side of me," he says. "I was hoping you weren't an asshole. You're not. I have some sort of ESP thing going on with my brother and I have some sort of psychic dream thing too. Like I have dreams that come true the next day. And ideas come out of the abyss; I have dreams where I see [works of art] in their complete form. All I have to do is wake up and make it."

METRO TIMES: Are these pieces that you collected for the upcoming show mainly commissioned work?

JIMBO EASTER: Some pieces I do for money, but a lot of things, like that one (points to a large, intricate black-and-white abstract piece) I did for a friend who bought me a bottle of Absinthe.

MT: I see you've done some concert posters that you'll be showing.

EASTER: I like the coloring on that one (for Tyvek). I haven't been able to repeat it. That happens a lot — I'll do something I really love but can't seem to be able to repeat it. I've been doing lots of album covers lately, making a whole band out of clay and stuff like that.

MT: Which bands have you been working with?

EASTER: Recently, I've done stuff for Pizzaz, Tyvek, His Name Is Alive and my own group. I'm just constantly working on stuff with bands because it's a good way for a piece of your art to travel far. A record can be sold and resold and it just fans out. I really like doing it ... and you can make good money in it — quickly.

MT: You mention "good money," which brings to mind that old artist adage ...

EASTER: That's just the truth. I wish I could quit my job and do this 40 hours a week because I have the discipline to do it. Some artists find that, when they try to survive just off of art, that they can't cut it because they don't have the dedication. ...

MT: So the money's not enough to live on?

EASTER: It's a nice little bump once in a while when you sell some pieces, and I've got a few people who buy my work on a consistent basis. I sell T-shirts at MOCAD as well; they're all hand-drawn originals.

MT: What was the idea for the road-kill piece?

EASTER: (laughs) It started when I was up all night with an old roommate and we made a dead dog. We wanted to see if we could take only what was in the house at the time and make it look real. It looked so goddamn real. We did experiments with it; we put it outside on the curb and poured blood on it and from our balcony, watched people walk by and look at it then freak out. I brought it out to Island Lake and put it on a hiking trail and from a higher stand point, I watched people check it out and they were poking it with sticks and got all freaked out. It had its impact. We filmed the whole creation of it, too, from beginning to end and eventually want to release it as a DVD. It's still there, too, out on an Island Lake trail somewhere. ...

MT: How does Detroit make its way into your work?

EASTER: These Shining-like winters that keep you in the house and you're going mad and you need something to do — when you have an exit for that, it makes you work harder.

MT: "All work and no play makes Jake a dull boy."

EASTER: All work and no clay! That's what I make a lot of my stuff out of, Model Magic, which is made by Crayola. It's great, but it's kind of expensive. I have a technique that I use, it's a little sly, but I keep calling Crayola to complain about it and they send me a free one every time. Crayola is kind of funding my career.

MT: In terms of Detroit's art "scene," where do you fit in?

EASTER: I just make creatures. I don't know. Over time, I think I've lost interest in doing shows. I just make art — that's what I do.

MT: Do you find it hard to talk about your art?

EASTER: Yeah. ... Sometimes I have a hard time believing what I'm saying because I haven't ever said it, but it's still true.

MT: Is there a fear that you might come off pompous — a self-absorbed art dick?

EASTER: There's that fear, but if you work hard enough at something and you really believe in it and you come off as pompous, then — oh well. If you're passionate about it and you're a "real artist" then I guess you can talk that way.

MT: On the subject of "real artists," I recently read that a well-respected Detroit artist was talking with a group of art students and was asked where she went to art school. When the artist replied that she didn't attend art school, one of them proclaimed she wasn't a "real artist."

EASTER: Oh, that's garbage! The most brilliant artists are self-taught. Most of the time I think school teaches you limitations and not to mix mediums and to be scared to make a mistake. I think that sometimes the most beautiful pieces are a mistake; sometimes the palette next to you with all the splatters of paint you're working with is better than the piece you're working on. I'm kind of against school. I think a lot of people get through high school and ask themselves, "OK, what am I going to do with my life? I've dabbled with art, maybe I'm an artist!" You are or you aren't.


Saturday, Feb. 21, at the UFO Factory (1345 Division St., Detroit; ufofactory.com). Easter also performs on Tuesday, Feb. 24, at PJ's Lager House (1254 Michigan Ave., Detroit; 313-961-4668); a "punishing meditation" solo performance called "Jimbo Easter Deep in the Peanut."

Sketches in Grit is a new, recurring column in Metro Times that queries artists rising from Detroit's underground.

Travis Wright is a freelance writer. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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