May 02, 2013
EXPO Profile: Ross Jimmicum
: Ross with his two skull portraits and drum his father made and he decorated.. Photo by Mark Bocek.
: EXPO 13: Courtesy Cornish College of the Arts.
: Photo by Mark Bocel.
: Photo by Mark Bocek.
Coming to Cornish steered Makah tribal member Ross Jimmicum (AR ’13) onto a path between two cultures; stories hold it all together and chart a direction.
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As EXPO 13 approaches, the student studios have begun what seems like an almost magical transformation into an exhibition hall. The generative morass of canvases, paint pots, old coffee cups, piles of drawings, stools and bookracks and who knows what have been replaced by neatly hung and arranged student work. It’s in one of these newly freshened, reminted spaces that you’ll find a crisp, gray-walled room dominated by two portraits painted on canvas. Depicted are a young man and woman, their features might be ethnic. Each is dramatically underlit, each holds a skull. Both skulls are covered with traditional Northwest tribal designs, designs that seem to have seeped onto the hands of the man and woman who hold them. It is the work of Cornish senior Ross Jimmicum, and they tell a personal story.
“A lot of the images are images we’ve used throughout the history of our culture. I really try to incorporate a story into my artwork,” says Jimmicum, who is a member of the Makah nation. “All these pieces that you see have a story to them. Some of them are personal stories and some of them are stories that were told to me when I was growing up.”
Ross grew up on their reservation on beautiful Neah Bay, on the verdant Olympic Peninsula. As you might imagine, the transition from tiny Neah Bay village to the big city was difficult. When he and his wife first set up housekeeping in Seattle so Ross could attend Cornish, they had a lot of trouble adjusting to the noise. He reports a number of sleepless nights. The physical discomfort of the move was accompanied by the discomfort of trying to make himself understood in the new environment of an urban arts college.
Jimmicum could not and would not leave his culture back at Neah Bay. “It’s been quite a journey trying to express that here at Cornish,” he says of his culture. “It’s quite a different culture and I had to really try to incorporate my culture into the culture of Cornish. I had to work to let myself be influenced by other students to push my work to be better. They challenged me to present my work so they can understand it without me having to tell them what it was about.”
Just as Ross was changed by the confrontation, so were his peers at Cornish. “It was really a challenge,” he says, “but as the years have gone by, they say things like ‘Oh, yeah, I remember you talking about this. I remember you saying this was a wolf image.’ But it’s been a slow process, but I think I got the message across. They realized who I am in a deeper sense than when I first started here.”
His portraits hang with a series of more traditional Makah art, rich prints that illustrate stories of Raven and Wolf and more. He often has to explain to his fellow students, particularly the ones from outside the Northwest, what the stories are about. “I don’t tell them correctly sometimes, I kind of briefly describe them,” says Ross. “My father, on the other hand, he told me all of the stories. He’s a story teller. He remembers all the stories and he can tell them very well, to the point it’s just like painting a picture with his words.”
Ross understands that students from many different cultures and environments bring something unique to viewing his work. “I think a story can change, be perceived as something different for each person,” he says, “Someone who’s not part of the culture of the Pacific Northwest culture can create their own story behind it, what they think it is.”
Along with his traditional prints, Jimmicum has hung the copper printing plates that made them. He’s had them electroplated with chrome for a mirror-like surface. Standing in front of them, the viewer sees him- or herself behind the Makah designs etched onto the plates. “I wanted people to look at them and see their reflection,” hes says. “They’re seeing a part of me, of who I am. They’re seeing themselves in my culture.”
Most EXPO-goers won’t get to see this, but for his critique presentation to his class, Ross will perform his family song accompanied by drum. One of the prints, that of a crawling wolf, cannot fully be understood without these. His father made the drum and Jimmicum decorated it with traditional forms (pictured).
So the story behind the two more Western-tilted works in the gray room, the two portraits: they are again a reflection of Ross as he sees himself in the society outside the Makah lands. The young man is Mexican, he says, and the young woman is of mixed black and white descent. As he tells it, he bonded with them because they had experience similar troubles in their lives. The skull each holds is decorated with Makah designs because it is Ross than they hold. They are self-portraits, in a way. Their hands are stained with the designs because he and they are bonded, and his stories are leaving him and cleaving to them. “I needed Cornish to see these,” he says. “These two meant more than anything else to create.”
Ross will return to Neah Bay after graduation. He says he will continue to do traditional prints, but will concentrate on his painting. He wants to do a series of portraits of tribal members and elders, if they will let him. And he’ll try to influence young people and teach them about art. “I hope to go back to Neah Bay and help answer questions for those who are interested in art,” he says. “I’ve already been answering questions of some who wonder, ‘What’s Cornish like?’”
EXPO 13: BFA Exhibition, May 10 – May 25, 2013, 5:00 pm on Cornish campus, Visual Arts Center.
EXPO 13 builds upon the annual BFA Exhibition, highlighting the depth and range of our students’ creative inquiry and expression at Cornish College of the Arts. The Art and Design shows serve as the keystone to an expanded schedule of events, including dialogue, performances, and artistic interventions. EXPO 13 celebrates the achievements of Cornish’s graduating seniors by acknowledging their contributions as professional artists and designers. Cornish is proud of their determination, hard word, and appetite for experimentation, as they turn their ambitions from school towards society. Congratulations to the class of 2013.
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