Jules Arthur’s Celebration of the Unsung
Jules Arthur successfully combines painting and sculpting using a fresh, personal interpretation of historic and sociocultural insights. He achieves this by uniting thoughtful nostalgic portraiture with singular ornamental craftsmanship.
In his current body of work Arthur examines the creative practices of tradespeople throughout history. With it, he celebrates all the wonderful contributions made by those who toiled anonymously carving out new forms of creative existence. He speaks of the seamstress, the cigar roller, the bean picker at the coffee plantation — many of whom lived in bondage, deprived of autonomy and choice.
History hasn’t been kind to these individuals. Forgotten, pushed into obscurity, they remain anonymous while we continue to recognize the acclaimed brands that these powerless artisans and workers helped make famous. In a distinctive celebration of tradespeople, Arthur gives due praise to those participants who helped establish these industries. His body of work breaks those brutal structures of yesteryear and allows the fictional tastemaker within the narrative piece to flourish and be recognized for their artistry. In essence, Arthur’s pieces are fictional advertisements highlighting the unrecognized subject’s ownership, originality, style, and fortitude.
Arthur started out studying sculpture, inspired by Michelangelo and Rodin. He then turned to found objects, which today continue to be supporting actors in his artwork. During his second year he switched his major to painting, thus creating a solid foundation for the needed skills used in his current body of work. The sculptural components of his pieces — the intricate frames he calls assemblages — allow him to include his love for carpentry and staining. The portraits are beautifully painted in oils on fabric mounted on wood. That fabric, which isn’t completely covered by paint, is yet another part of the story — it speaks of Fair-trade. It delicately emerges in the background of the portraits, adding another layer of richness.
Arthur’s process always starts with a narrative first, often sparked by film or literature. He delves into his extensive vintage, turn-of-the-century (i.e., from the 19th to the 20th century) photography collection, and composes a portrait from as many as a dozen different images; taking the eyes from one photograph, the dress or suit from another, and so forth. He states, “My pieces are composed as a play. The portraits are the lead actor, and the assemblage, the fabric, the found objects are all supporting characters. Together they tell the story.” Arthur doesn’t work in sequence, preferring to go back and forth between mediums. This to and fro not only leads to new ideas but also allows him to work in the métier of his choice at any given moment.
Many of Arthur’s pieces are inspired by the architecture of Havana, the shutters of Port-au-Prince, the moldings of Santiago. The colors, designs, and found objects give us a taste of Hispanic, French, and Colonial design. He explains, “The ability to choose the woods, fabrics, brass hardware, leathers, and vintage objects breathe new life into the studio process. In addition to painting, it allows me to explore and be creative with a wider range of materials and ideas.” The wooden box frames are all hand-constructed and distressed to look like 19th century steamer trunks, inspired by classic Louis Vuitton luggage. This aesthetic gives the pieces a nostalgic appeal that evokes the idea of worldly travel, expedition, and discourse. Not only decorative and interesting, these pieces give a sense of holding on to something intangible from the past.
Arthur participates with two artworks in the much anticipated Chévere exhibition, curated by Didi Menendez and Sergio Gomez, held at Sirona Fine Art, in Hallandale, Florida in early December, 2016. He will be showing two pieces, entitled Azúcar de la Havana and Havana’s Finest, both based on Cuban aesthetics.
Asking Arthur how he feels about the Chévere exhibition he states, “Being included means my work will be part of a long tradition that celebrates innate culture. These cultures and social practices are inherent in their ability to be the catalysts of style and creative trends in industries. Strong cultures that shine and keep their luster even in the darkest recesses of history. Chévere is the result of that creative spark that gave rise to new artistic trends, standards, and practices.”
It is obvious that Arthur follows his own voice, and makes an effort not to lean on what has been done before. He tries, to a certain extent, to shield himself from popularity and influence, believing that, as he puts it, “Savvy collectors look for personal stories.” He has been on this journey for about a year and it gives him direction. He says, “To hold on to something so tangible, it’s a really good place to be.”
His goals for the future include showing his work nationally and internationally in places where there’s an emphasis on educating the public about historical contributions by alien cultures, in particular African American influences. He’s excited about the newly inaugurated Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture, in Washington, D.C. which he’ll be visiting early November. Hopefully his exceptional work will become part of this collection in the very near future.
I can clearly see the love Arthur pours into his work, the attention to thought and detail are palpable. His work is not only a joy to the eye but a strong testimony to contemplation and depth of soul.
Written by Lorena Kloosterboer, realist artist & author © Antwerp, Belgium.
Originally published in PoetsArtists Magazine, October 2016.