WHO IS JONATHAN BRIDGES
My career to date has been shaped by chance experiences from exploring my Kansas landscape as a child to a tragic car accident as a young adult. These memories have taught me to trust the unknown and its potential to result in unexpected positive outcomes. My art today is about creating three-dimensional objects that thwart the expectations of a material, by craft and aesthetics, to bring forth a viewer’s own entrenched memories – and transform them into new perceptions of beauty.
William Blake believed that an artist’s impetus was to “create a system or be enslaved by another man’s.” My passion – my visceral need – is to invent unexpected systems and methods of material combination that translate into three-dimensional objects. My work is intended to delight the mind with both beautiful and frightening aspects. My work, while rooted in ceramic tradition and empiricism, is yet equally skeptical of accepted limitations and challenges traditional notions of craft process and utility. I struggle in my work to properly reveal the life that has by chance been birthed in the object itself. The dynamic between the tradition of ceramics and my own goals as a contemporary artist enriches my practice and pushes me to venture beyond the expected notions of clay and kilns.
Though many of my works are generated from pain and challenge, my final aim is to allow viewers the opportunity to encounter and develop their own senses of pleasure and joy. My work is a gift from my own experience of darkness and despair that evolved into my understanding that life and art always catch us unaware and vulnerable and on the brink of discovery.
Growing up in the Midwest, the nuances of Kansas’ austere landscape shaped me as an artist. The western Kansas prairie is a paradox, somber and stark, yet hosting a complicated and fertile ecosystem hidden by simple grass and wildflowers.
My childhood experiences of boredom led to fascinations, especially with creating fire. These fascinations were to surface again in my ways to represent ideas by catharsis through fire in kilns. Time spent in exploring Topeka’s underground sewers reflects not only my early desire to challenge my own fears, but also my early conviction that the neglected, dark and forgotten places of the world hide neglected, dark and beautiful meanings.
The first clay I touched at a large Topeka high school brought a focus to the chaos and angst of my adolescence. A high school residency program at the Kansas City Art Institute opened my eyes to the possibilities of life understood through art. How I learned to touch clay in Kansas and the basic methods for combining materials still guide me in my studio today. The inspiration of a high school teacher who believed in me and a guidance counselor who encouraged me to explore the possibility of following ceramics as a career path led me to Alfred University in Alfred, New York, where my artistic ideas were shaped and celebrated. My undergraduate degree at Alfred was focused in clay, and my undergraduate portfolio also reflects my understanding of ceramics’ tradition as a commodity and reveals my early attempts to transcend craft by employing baroque ornamentation, science fiction, and anthropomorphic distortion.
The influence of my Alfred instructors led me to pursue my graduate studies in the fall of 2002 at the University of Minnesota. My studies there honed my skills as a ceramicist and grounded them in the classic tradition.
My ceramic work was interrupted by a chance experience eighteen months later when I was traumatically injured in an automobile accident. I was comatose for seventeen days and had to relearn life’s most basic functions of eating, speaking and walking. It would take months of hospitalization and rehabilitation before I returned to graduate school and completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in May, 2006. I faced the reality of an impaired memory and forgetting the sequences of artistic processes. Most devastating was the awareness that I could no longer create with my hands what I saw in my mind. I finally admitted this to myself and my mother who told me to keep my hands in the clay and they would eventually remember. They did.
This specific period of my life bears very hard memories. The deepest scars I endured were not the visible kind. My mind was traumatized. The accident was my first confrontation with my own mortality. Perhaps more difficult for me to come to terms with was the possibility of living with grotesque disfigurement, both internal and external. And yet, in this time of physical weakness and emotional uncertainty, I found a new perception of beauty and a great solace in my ability to dream. Caged within myself, incapacitated and wheel-chair bound, the physical constraints of my recovery had forced me to confront the surprising and paradoxical nature of beauty- that it can be at once be joy and pain. In the hospital bed where I was confined by zippers and mesh, I learned to dream of places outside my hospital window and to see beyond death, decay, and fear and effectively realize that this did not have to define who I was. I now understand that this trauma has helped shape who I have become. These realities superimposed themselves upon the mind of the naive boy who shot fire from spray cans and cautiously explored the castaways of the sewer. My slow recovery revealed to me a new concept of aesthetics that confronts the ideas of tradition and beauty, a commitment to perceiving the beauty and pleasure in all of life’s experiences.