Still Here

Still Here: James Rees

With our “Still Here” series, we are checking in with members of Utah’s art community to see what the past several months has meant for them. A widely-known champion of the arts, James Rees is a passionate advocate for art education that balances theory,  research,  and practice. With more than 24 years of teaching experience, Rees currently teaches full-time at Provo High School, but he has also taught undergraduate and graduate courses in art and art education at  Brigham  Young  University,  Utah  Valley  University,  and Westminster College. Rees a Fulbright Memorial Scholar, a Teachers Institute of Contemporary Art Fellow, and an Art21  Fellow. He was elected by his peers to become vice president of the National Art Education Association. The artist primarily uses monotype printing and transfer ink drawing processes in creating his images.


As COVID hit and unraveled several plans for travel, exhibits and presentations, my wife and I did what a lot of people did that were stuck at home: We began cleaning and organizing around the house. As a result my wife finally got to a project she had been wanting to do for years — to photograph all of our children’s artwork that we had stored for over 30 years. In the process she came across a series of drawings our youngest son did when he was three (he’s now 26) that had an uncanny likeness to the shape of the coronavirus.

I enjoy seeing artists push against the limits and the ways we explore materials and themes in new ways and so I thought this would be a good time to try something new and decided to incorporate his drawings with mine to create a “collaborative” piece. I glued his red line images onto large sheets of paper and printed my own black ink images on top. The result was a surprisingly new way to see these works.

Since things changed so much for me during this time, I decided to work within the constraints that COVID-19 provided and hunkered down and explored different forms of expression for myself. One benefit of this pandemic has been the time that it has made available to me to keep on revisiting and hammering out earlier ideas into new forms of expression. I revisited former themes that I felt I wanted to breathe new life into and to see where this would take me and I’ve used this time to open up the flat file and look at works that didn’t quite make it in the past to see what I could do to revive and revitalize these images into complete and whole works.

The creative constraints created by the pandemic also gave me the opportunity to return to figure drawing and explore again what I used to do years ago. It was a way to relook at the direction and course that my art has taken in recent years. Perhaps it was doubling back to make sure that I didn’t make a wrong step in the past and what it did was to reaffirm for me the route that I had taken. It was reassuring to revisit old ways and old images to find that they no longer served me in quite the same way they used to. The pandemic forced me to re-center and reestablish the trajectory of my creative path.

Interestingly enough, the series I’ve been working on for the last couple years, “The Weight We Carry,” seems particularly relevant under the weight of the pandemic. Many individuals connect to these works in surprising ways and I find that so rewarding. Originally this series was a way to confront and deal with personal struggles and trials I felt I had to bear and ultimately find a way to gain strength from them. It also was about finding equilibrium in the struggle which I think we can all relate to in these times.

This weird and chaotic time can provide an avenue for artist to reevaluate and establish new directions in their own work. Circling back to the works that I found through the process of cleaning out our house and adding to them in new ways has allowed me that chance.

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