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Jim Clark Wider talks style, persistence and bad neighbors 

Nothing mundane

click to enlarge Jim Clark Wider - GRIFFIN SWARTZELL
  • Griffin Swartzell
  • Jim Clark Wider

Southwinds Fine Art sits on a quiet, wooded corner on the edge of Black Forest. It's not the last place one would expect to find a prolific, highly decorated black artist, but it's not high on the list.

Eighty-one-year-old Jim Clark Wider owns and operates Southwinds. He's a longtime Springs resident by way of South Carolina, New Mexico and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. He's been an artist for a long time, too — informally, since childhood, then with the help of higher education after retiring from the military in 1975.

Wider started Southwinds downtown on Weber Street in 1983, later moving it near Peterson Air Force Base in 1989. He then moved it to its current location in 1998, not fully opening it until 2008.

"I've been blessed, but it wasn't easy," he says. He remembers being pointed out as "that guy with the sign" at the supermarket.

"I'd say 'Yeah, I'm the one with the sign. I've come to Black Forest to sell black art,'" he says. "And back then, if you were here, you know black art didn't have a chance out here. You know what I mean? ... You know that in Black Forest, you did not see many black people."

It's hard to miss the implication, even before he draws from a well of anecdotes about neighbors assuming he's a hired landscaper or jokers in trucks following him along the streets, revving their engines. He notes, though, that things have gotten better.

Today, Wider's two-floor gallery is packed with art, showcasing not just his works, but pieces by several locals — around eight, when I visited, including pieces by Thia Lynn, who helps manage the space. Southwinds also hosts a wall of accolades Wider's accumulated over the years: a plaque from Air Force Space Command thanking him for his support as part of Black History Month in 1993; letters of recognition from the City of Austin, Texas, the state of Texas House of Representatives and the federal House of Representatives; keepsakes and thank-you letters from famous buyers like Maya Angelou, Oprah Winfrey and Colin Powell; and an array of awards from arts organizations local and national.

click to enlarge Bleeding Rose - JIM CLARK WIDER
  • Jim Clark Wider
  • Bleeding Rose

Over the years, Wider has explored a rainbow of styles, ranging from representational works to surrealist pieces to cubism and impressionism. He's drawn from black velvet to depict singers. He's employed stippling to pay tribute to African art. He's even used arts detritus in a slurry to give his canvas a rougher texture to emphasize his design elements.

"I don't want to get bored," he says. "I think I got old before I got bored."

He recalls a class he took while studying art at the University of Southern Colorado — now Colorado State University-Pueblo — in the late 1970s. To study shadowing, value and colors, he and his classmates were presented with a white bowl of white eggs on a white tablecloth. Wider found the monochrome subject boring and asked if he could paint something different, so long as he kept the eggs.

"[The instructor] said 'I wish you would! I wish everybody'd want to do something!'"

click to enlarge Woman of the Prairie - JIM CLARK WIDER
  • Jim Clark Wider
  • Woman of the Prairie

The resulting painting, "Bleeding Rose," hangs in Southwinds. It shows a dozen eggs strewn across a desert landscape. One is split, empty. Another sits at the base of a vase full of pale roses, one of which has bled on the egg, forming a small pool on the landscape that trickles off the canvas and onto the frame. The piece tells a story, too.

"You pick a flower and put it in a vase, and it gives you beauty," he says. "And all at once, they start dying, you dump 'em out, and you don't even say thank you." Wider decided to vindicate his flowers and make sure they didn't die in vain. The dozen eggs represent the months of the year and, paired with the bleeding flower, menstruation and fertilization. The egg under the vase, the one that's covered in blood, has been fertilized.

"And one egg is empty," he says. "That's you. That's me. That's whoever's looking at it... And the flower didn't just die, withering in the desert. It gave birth."

Wider's also a consummate rule-breaker with regards to his art. One instructor, for instance, told him never to do a landscape with horizontal lines as major design features. Yet, in "Woman of the Prairie" (see cover image), which shows a woman pushing a wheelbarrow across a field, he not only did just that, he made it work.

"The dark clouds command [the scene]," says Lynn. "The tension of the weight on the clouds and the person balance it out."

click to enlarge Water Bearer - JIM CLARK WIDER
  • Jim Clark Wider
  • Water Bearer

Wider mentions another piece of his called "Water Bearer," which depicts two women filling clay jugs with water. It's one of several works inspired by years he spent living in the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico.

"If you take that painting, you can hide half of it and have a complete painting on either side, and you know, you're not supposed to do that," he says. The composition of the whole piece is such that it's not obvious that a viewer could cover it up — it works whole just as well as it does halved.

Wider's never been one to wait for an idea to come along, either.

"You don't get inspired," he says. "You just keep moving." The way Wider sees it, an artist can't really judge an unfinished piece. Obstacles happen, and it's possible to hit a wall or get caught up in trying to work an idea that just isn't coming together. But for him, it's a mistake to just stop working on a piece.

"How do you know what it's gonna look like?" he asks, rhetorically.

click to enlarge Wider crosses styles naturally. - JIM CLARK WIDER
  • Jim Clark Wider
  • Wider crosses styles naturally.

His attitude resembles that put forth in Art & Fear, a 1993 book by artists Ted Orland and David Bayles. They describe a ceramics class in which half the students were graded on the quantity of pots they produced, and the other half were graded on the quality of a single, ostensibly perfect pot. From that class, the best pots were produced by the quantity group — they practiced, learned and corrected their mistakes.

"When you start working on how you relate to your own painting, then you start completing a painting," he says, "and then you can sit back and look at it and say 'Oh! That's what I did wrong, but it works alright now.'"

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