Fast and Loose: Jim Drain

Wearing a  non-descript button up shirt and pants, Miami-based artist Jim Drain looked so normal and conventional as he stood motionless at the podium. Usually I’m not that concerned with an artist’s wardrobe, and not that every artist must dress like an eccentric weirdo, but Drain’s plainness seemed especially contradictory to his kooky sculptures and psychedelic installations. I know they say don’t judge a book by its cover, but I have to say I wasn’t the only one who noticed this inconsistency, as a friend leaned over to me during the lecture and commented on his dull appearance then remarked how she was surprised someone who looked like that made art that looked like this…So this proves that I wasn’t the only one in the room thinking about his clothes, but I still can’t help but wonder, why? Why out of so many artist lectures I’ve seen has this been literally the first one where I am still fixated on the disparity between the the artist and his work? Did we really expect him to be as colorful, flamboyant, and embellished as his sculptures? In a way he served as a foil to the work and became as much of an idiosyncrasy as his art.

Not the best public speaker, but then again how many of us really are, Drain is much better at making art than talking about it as he struggled at first to find the right words to explain his artistic trajectory. However, Drain eventually managed to stumble upon two words that perfectly summed up his approach to art making, methods of construction, and overall artistic philosophy- “fast and loose.”

When we look at Jim Drain through the lens of “fast and loose,” everything begins to make sense. From his early years in the late 90’s at RISD, when he became part of the art collective/noise band Forcefield, donning afghan bodysuits that look like the love child of Nick Cave and Mike Kelley to his slap-dash, mishmashed structures made of everything and anything he comes across…yarn, faux fur, beads, toilet tank covers, to name a few.

Forcefield late 90’s

The artist’s studio…

His artwork is like a carnival…you’re lured in by the bright colors and spinning things, but what seemed like a good time a second ago quickly becomes an endurance test to see how long can last on the tilt-a-whirl without throwing up or in Drain’s case withstand the cacophony of  sound pieces and dizzying  pinwheels without leaving. When speaking about his work, Drain commented on his use of color, sound, materials, and movement stating that it was a way of tapping into the “commonality of human existence.” In other words every person experiences a physical response to stimuli, such as color or sound, therefore by creating these hyperactive installations, Drain is able to trigger universal responses of joy, disgust, agitation, and so on among viewers.

In addition to the enticing color, Drain uses familiar forms such as the pinwheel and plush (stuffed animal-like) materials reminiscent of childhood to lure the viewer in. But unlike other artists who reference childhood in a nostalgic, sweet way Drain’s is much more sinister. Better suited for darker children’s stories such as Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Drain’s “stuffed animals” are deformed and gruesome (nothing I would want sitting on my bed), and giant pinwheels engulf and disorient the viewer in a kaleidoscopic frenzy; more of a child’s nightmare rather than dream I’d say.

Drain, like one of the lost boys from Neverland, has created a vivid world full of bad sweaters and abominable stuffed animals. A world though that many want to be a part of as his installations such as the pinwheels have flooded instagram thus fulfilling Drain’s goal to unite humanity with his art.

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