the acedemic & brave new worlds

(1975-1979)

early 1975 - while driving my VW van I heard *the voice* say "Go to Seattle!"


my 1963 VW van

I turned my van around, got on the freeway and went to Seattle to study art & painting. This was quite the experience... but that's another story.

After arriving in Seattle, I got a job in a restaurant and rented an apartment. Then I called my parents to tell them what I'd done. My Dad said, "I think it's the best thing you could've done." My mother cried.

mid 1975 - my first studio/apartment studio 1975

That summer my brother also moved into the building. I would listen to him practice guitar in his basement apartment below me as I painted.

Having very little to no money, I drew on the walls with burnt sticks, took a cloth, wiped off the wall and drew some more. To my surprise I got the damage deposit back with the manager saying, "I've always liked what you were doing and I would have painted the apartment anyway."

Yes... times were different back then.

From a friend I worked with in the restaurant, I got turned onto and became totally enamored with Salvador Dali (this lasted for about 6 months).

late 1975 - enrolled in Cornish School of Allied Arts receiving 2 years advanced placement based on my portfolio. I found the education inadequate for my needs and attended classes (once again) for only 2 months. However, I became friends with faculty member Fran Murphy, learning from him in his studio. I decided rather than continue with schools, I'd try to meet other artists in Seattle and learn from them.


pencil on paper

At Cornish I met this black man (I really wish I remembered his name). For me now, it feels really odd to even mention the color of a persons skin. Then I had come from a High School of 3,200 students with a graduating class of 850. I don't remember there being a black person in the whole school, I think maybe there was one. Being a "White Guy" coming from a background like this, I felt uncomfortable around black people.

Anyway... this "Black Man" and I became good friends. He was 65 years old and I was 20. He'd take me to his house where his wife would make us lunch and we'd go down to the basement and draw together. One day I looked at him and thought, "How beautiful... the shape of his head, the flatness of his nose, the thickness of his lips, the curve of his eyes, the color of his skin and his kinky speckled gray hair. beautiful... just beautiful...". This was a big moment for me.

Often during this time I would paint all night. It was peaceful and I could paint without interruption. I loved hearing the birds sing just before it started getting light.

Started to go to sleep only when I got tired. Found that I have a 25 hour clock instead of a 24 hour clock. Every day I'd get tired 1 hour later than the day before. This explained why sometimes when forcing myself into a schedule, I'd be dead tired in the middle of the day and why sometimes I couldn't fall asleep at night.

Did my first large scale abstract oils, 4'X5' & 4'X6'.

Decided not to throw away any of my works. Thinking that sometime, someone in the future, might find it interesting to see how I'd gotten to where I'm currently at.


pencil on paper

Restored the broken down greenhouse behind the building of studio 1975 and planted tomatoes. Planted flowers along the walkway and started collecting houseplants.

Sold my car, started walking and taking the bus instead of driving. Became aware of the pollution a city creates and how removed people in the city can be from each other. Saw how cars isolate people from each other and the environment they live in. Started to feel *lonely in the middle of the city* and think there must be a different way for a city to be. Found I loved riding the bus and taking the Monorail.

Started thinking how nice it would be if there was a web of Monorails. This *web* would look like that of an Orb-weaver spider with Monorails going to and from the center and others going around in circles.

Read Ecotopia and thought, "Now that's cool! Can we do that!?" Became interested in sources for alternative energy and urban planning. Would imagine how a city could be.

We would race skateboards down Thomas on Capital Hill. On day while neck and neck at the end of a race my opponent's board slipped out from under him. His board hit mine and down I went, hit the ground, rolled three times before slamming into a parked car. I was a bloody mess. Went to my apartment and painfully washed up. Then picked up my sketchpad and started drawing to see what the lines would look like while in excruciating pain.

Started having the issue in a relationship of...
"What's more important, me or your art?"

My art inspires me and (for me) has a direct relationship to what it means to be alive.

Inspire? Inspiration? Latin - inspirare, from in- + spirare = to breathe.

early 1976 - met John Moilanen.

Got a commission to do a wedding portrait and decided to paint it on Masonite to get the fine details. At a lumberyard I asked for scraps of Masonite and was asked, "What do you need it for?" I told him and he said, "I'm an artist too! Come by my studio!"

John Moilanen (b. 1948) was the first *real* artist I'd met and we spent many years painting together. He had hundreds of works in his studio and it was a real joy to walk through that door. The smell of oil paint (which is a favorite to this day), drying prints and drawings everywhere.

He showed me colors like I'd never seen before! I loved it!


Moilanen 1976

John turned me onto the School of Paris, The Northwest School and the music of Ska and Reggae.

School of Paris painters that inspired me most are Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Henri Matisse.

Northwest School of painters that inspired me most are Guy Anderson and Kenneth Callahan.

John gave me a key to his studio so I could come in and paint whenever I was in the neighborhood. I loved doing this so much and felt honored.

Started listening to Bob Marley, The Skatalites, Desmond Dekker, Toots & the Maytals, Peter Tosh.

At first I didn't like Reggae. Thinking it too repetitive with too many of the songs sounding alike. I ended up falling in love with the lyrics of Bob Marley, with the repetition of the music being a wonderful uplifting backdrop. I've always admired how one of the most oppressed peoples of the world could come up with some of the most uplifting music in the world.

John took me to an apartment several floors up in a downtown building to help out a small family. There was little in this apartment, a mattress on the floor in the living room, a kitchen table, a couple of chairs, a few household goods. In the living room sitting on the floor was a child somewhere around 3 years old. This all sounds somewhat normal except... there was also a dozen black bags of garbage strewn around the living room with old containers of food molding on the floor. The apartment smelled like a dumpster.

I felt very uncomfortable being there and was horrified at the conditions this family lived in. Afterwards while driving down the street, I said to John, "That apartment was disgusting. How can people live that way! Somebody should do something, that's just wrong." John paused a few moments and said, "What right do you have to judge?"

His reply hit me hard. I sat there thinking, "He's right. What right do I have? Actually... I have no right."

This was a turning point in the way I viewed people and life.

John took me down to "Skid Row" where he introduced me to an old friend of his. A rather run-down 65 year old man. He told me of the ships he'd been capitan of and stories of the sea and the world.

Slightly trembling he pulled a flask of whiskey from his coat, took a swig, looked at me and said, "If I'd thought I was going to 'ave lived this long, I'd 'ave treated myself better."

My heart sunk.

John introduced me to Joe Reno (b.1943), Bill Wikstrom (b. 1952), Jacques Moitoret (b.1947) and Dave Kane (b.1951) who are all painters. We spent a lot of time together in each others studios and painted outside all around Seattle.


Hot August day on the beach, Golden Gardens, Seattle 1977

mid 1976 - studio 1976

I didn't live in studio 1976 and was there for only 2 months.

Found that I didn't like having my studio and home separate. I'd become accustomed to waking up with the first thing I'd see being what I had been working on. This fresh perspective (on a work I'd been so focused on) taught me a lot.

Started drawing many different styles on the same piece of paper.

Studied how line quality and style effects the character drawn.

Started to understand how distortion of what's seen can express a reality other than what's seen. Distortion can more accurately express emotion, thought, knowledge and psychology.

Started to understand how I can *shift* my mind to create a different style.

With a #7 sable brush and ink, painted the same simple outlined bust of a woman. 30 times. Filled in the outline with different colors and studied how color effects the feeling and emotion of the woman.


pencil on paper

After extensive reading on other artists' lives, I realized that to make a living as an artist was difficult, if not impossible. Decided that to be happy I'd need to find happiness in the simplest of things in life.

Started to realize that poverty was more a state of mind than anything else. In that even if you have relatively nothing it doesn't mean you should see yourself as being poor. This was also when I started to notice that when I really needed something, somehow what I needed would always appear. Started to think about, "What does one really need?"

Decided to buy time instead of things. When I sold a painting for $1,000 I'd buy 3 months. One time my brother and I lived on a 5 pound can of peaches and a 5 pound can of peanut butter for 2 months while he played the guitar and I painted. We would only eat when the hunger pains were too great and only eat enough to relieve the pain. We knew we were strong and young and that the most important thing to do at this time was practice our trades.

My Grandfather Morlan gave me a leather case filled with every kind and size of brush you'd ever want. It touched me very deeply that he supported me as an artist. Thanks Grandpa!

I still have some of the brushes after 45 years! :)

Read the "Bible" twice.

Would hitchhike to and from Seattle and Spokane. Started to see how different Spokane was from Seattle. Seattle being a port city with the influx of cultures and races was a more understanding and tolerant place. Found it almost impossible to hitch a ride out of Spokane.

late 1976 - my Mother would line-up portraits and commissions for me in Spokane. I'd take the train from Seattle to Spokane which started my love for traveling by train.

I was commissioned to paint an oil on canvas of my uncles lake cabin in Northern Idaho.

Took a 40 minute bus ride with the 4'X5' and 4'X6' abstract paintings (done in 1975) to enter a juried competition in downtown Seattle at the Seattle Art Museum. The people on the bus like the paintings, the jurors for the museum didn't.

Lost all interest in competitions and awards.

Started thinking that I didn't really like living in the city, but couldn't think of a way to get out. I needed more contact with nature. Would take a city bus as far as it would go out of the city to the town of North Bend and walk to the top of Mount Si.

1977 - studio 1977

Out the back of the studio I would watch Mrs. Davidson feed the cats everyday.


Mrs. Davidson

In the building of studio 1977, I met a young group of people (16-23 years old) who called themselves "The Telepathic Foundation". There was a mattress lined room in the center of the building where a few punk bands practiced. Bands like "The Telepaths" and "Soma".

Started listening to Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Roxy Music, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, Television, The Ramones, Brian Eno, Robert Fripp and various local punk bands.

Most people don't realize that the punks of the mid to late 70's were quite different than the punks of the early 80's and on. The punks of the 70's were a reaction to the general acceptance by society of the "hippie" movement and what it had become.

I remember being at a punk show when I overheard a guy behind me say, "Wow... look at that punk! Let's get him!" At this time the two twenty somethings dressed in jeans with long hair and beards, ran over and attacked this young skinhead punk and beat him to a pulp. So much for "Peace, Love and Understanding".

The "punks" I knew were intelligent, creative, peaceful, open minded, energetic youths who questioned the society they lived in and were brave enough to show this publicly. Drugs and violence were not a part of their life. In fact they often expressed a deep disgust for both drugs and violence.

The "punk" movement at the time was Dada. I couldn't help but to think about what I had read by Tristan Tzara after the Dada movement had come to and end (1923), "Once Dada became popular, it was no longer Dada." And so it was, for both the hippie and punk movements.


pen and ink on paper

At this studio I met Erich Werner who lived in the building. Erich was quite young at the time (only 17 years old) and I highly admired his intellect and way of thinking.

It was from Erich that I first heard "Evening Star" by Robert Fripp and Brian Eno which started my love of ambient music.

Erich once said to me, "It's not good to be ahead of your time or behind your time. What's good is to be *in* your time."

late 1977 - my first gallery show.

A group show at the "Seattle Center for the Arts" with John Moilanen and Joe Reno.

During the opening Erich Werner and I walked down 1st Ave. and happened to come upon Buster Simpson moving out of his studio, an empty 4 story building on 1st and Virginia, which was slated to be torn down.

I had walked by this building often and the full sized display windows at street level had a variety of objects in them that would periodically change. One piece I remember well was a 16'X12"X12" wood beam that was snapped in half like someone would snap a pencil in half.

I said to Buster that I admired the works he had in the windows and he said, "Would you like to go inside? Next week it will all be gone."

Inside was like nothing I'd ever experienced before. The building wasn't a studio where he made works of art, the building was the work of art!

There was a continuity throughout the building with every room being a new experience. Huge beams of wood driven through walls. The silhouettes of people cut from doors. The central staircase had clear plastic tarps, precariously held up by wood, channeling the rain water that came through the roof. There were broken panes of glass stuck through plywood and nailed to the empty window frames. In the dark room the outside light would illuminate the jagged edges of the glass a brilliant blue.

It was truly an amazing experience.


brush and ink on paper

early 1978 - met Charles Emerson.

Charles at the time was 42 years old and I was 22.

Charles had studied painting at the University of Southern California (BFA), University of California, Davis with Richard Diebenkorn, Boston University (Graduate) and at Yale University with Josef Albers (MFA).

He received two consecutive Fulbright Scholarship Grants to Venice, Italy, staying two years painting and researching Byzantine art.

His conceptual works were shown in Los Angeles side-by-side with Ed Ruscha, Robert Irvin, Kenneth Price and Ed Moses.

I've listed Charles's education and some of his achievements because I'm often asked, "What university did you go to?" I don't have any *FAs* to place after my name but that doesn't mean I didn't get a good education.

I guess I could say... I earned a Fun Fine Arts degree from Emerson U!

Jef Morlan, FFA.

I was deeply honored that Charles allowed me to come freely to his studio and I took full advantage of this. With Charles, whenever I had a question about anything concerning art, I had him to ask. Also Charles had the uncanny ability of teaching me what I needed to know when I needed to know it.

Charles turned me onto the New York School of painting along with everything else done up to that time.

New York School painters that inspired me the most are
Willem de Kooning, Cy Twombly, Mark Rothko, Arshile Gorky and Helen Frankenthaler.

Once I asked Charles if art has anything to do with spirituality.
Laughing he said, "Of course it does!"

One day I told Charles, "I would rather paint small poetic paintings than big, vain, egotistical paintings." His reply was, "Well Jef, only small people paint small paintings." To this day I'm not sure if I would agree with this, but he got me thinking.

Charles told me my works are the works of a West Coast artist.
Asking "Why do you say that?" he replied, "Because what you know about art has come mainly from books and it shows in your work."

I didn't understand exactly what he meant until 14 years later,
when I visited Paris.

I said to Charles, "I'd like to express in my paintings the maximum of complexity with the maximum of simplicity." he replied, "That's a noble pursuit."

From Charles I learned the *crescendo of color*.

Bought copies of these books from Charles:

"Theories of Modern Art"
by Herschel B. Chip

"IDEA ART: A CRITICAL ANTHOLOGY"
edited by Gregory Battcock

"Conceptual Art"
by Ursula Meyer

"Six Years: The dematerialization of the art object"
by Lucy Lippard

"Individuals: Post-Movement Art in America"
edited by Alan Sondheim

"Video Art"
edited by Ira Schneider and Beryl Korot

mid 1978 - started using collage with xerox as a medium. Considered moving to New York, decided nature and The Pacific Northwest was more relevant to my development.

Started listening to Kraftwerk, Devo, Talking Heads, The Police, The Specials, Elvis Costello.

Lived in Virginia City (about 20 minutes outside of Reno, Nevada) in the desert mountains for 3 months. When returning to the Pacific Northwest, I discovered the energy that trees produce and fell in love with it.

early 1979 - studied conceptual art.

Thought that if Western Culture's path was to be taken to the extreme, the whole world would become a museum with millions of guards. Started thinking that Public Art should not be allowed in the public for more than two years. That an artists work should have a fugitive element to it, so it doesn't last longer than the artists lifetime.

Became intrigued by the speed one can move through ideas when using small formats. Started using what I call "the flushing period". This is a period of time when I would work as fast a possible to get all of my ideas out and down. After the ideas have been *flush out* what comes next is something never thought of before.

Started thinking of my works as *the residue of thought* or *what's found during the journey* more than as a completed "art object". I felt the journey to be more important.

Found that after "the flushing period" I was painting *what came to me in the moment*. At first I thought these works were looking too much the same, but continued to do them anyway. Found that after a few months there was a distinctive change in the feeling of the works.

During this time was the middle of the "The Cold War". Global Nuclear Annihilation always lingered somewhere in the back of one's mind. There were enough nuclear weapons to destroy the earth 300 times, when only once was enough. I had some intense nightmares because of this.

John Moilanen came up with a brilliant idea he called "The First Flash Kit". It was simple. A lead plate about 12" long with your name cut out of it. When the bombs fell and you saw the first flash, you would look for a concrete wall, face the flash and hold the plate above your head. This would leave a shadow of your body on the wall, with your name burnt into the concrete above your head.

We had to try and find some humor in something as frightening as Global Nuclear Annihilation.

mid 1979 - moved back to Spokane to help my Father run a lake resort he had purchased. We had a great summer together!

My father found out that the previous owner had lied about the acreage sold. He sued the previous owner and won. The contract was rescinded, both my parents got their jobs back, the house they sold was given back to them and I found myself living in the same bedroom I was raised in. :/

late 1979 - met Valerie Hauer who became the mother of my daughter.


friends and colleagues (1975-1979)
John Moilanen
Joe Reno
Bill Wikstrom
Jacques Moitoret
David C. Kane
Charles Emerson (my painting mentor)
Erich Werner

karmaright 2021