The Sublime Spirals Of Photographer Stu Jenksby Logical Lizard on Jun. 10, 2009, under A-List (Best of the Lizard), Photography, Tucson Arts
I am a great fan of the Open Studio Tour. When I relocated to Tucson some years back, and hardly knew anyone here, I thought going on a self-guided weekend tour of 100+ artists’ work spaces would be a good way to meet some of the movers and shakers in the Pima County arts scene. I was right.
Sitting alone in my car on a hot, sunny, Saturday morning outside the old Toole Shed artists’ workshop collective, I pored over a brochure that listed all participating tour artists, trying to decide where to begin. A green SUV pulled up and parked immediately in front of me. It had a well-used look that broadcasted: “Here is somebody doing something with his life.” And it bore a custom license plate that read, simply, “SPIRALS.” A tall, somewhat dashing guy with close-cropped hair and glasses, got out and walked decisively into the Toole Shed. He looked, at once, both adventurous and intellectual. I concluded that if this intriguing character was heading into this particular collection of artists’ studios there was cetainly something of interest to be found inside. So I took my little map, and headed in to explore.
Some time later, and mostly by accident, I navigated my way down a narrow staircase into that rarest of Tucson architectural features—a basement. The old walls were formed of hand hewn stone blocks; lovely, gentle ambient music played in the background; a stunning collection of photographs basked in soft, low light on the walls and tables. Standing there, talking enthusiastically with another visitor, was the man from the SUV. The basement was his hidden retreat, and his name was Stu Jenks. I spent half the day down there under Toole street, talking with Stu about landscapes, rocks, cameras, darkrooms, printing techniques, music, and travel. We have been friends ever since.
One of my favorite artists is the great Robert Smithson, of Spiral Jetty fame. Athough Stu’s work is amazingly original, when I first looked at his majestic landscapes; beach, dune and forest images; and the meticulously engineered stone spirals and circles that inhabit his work, I couldn’t help but be happily reminded of Smithson.
With an expert eye for composition and the beauty of the natural world, Stu’s photographs are moody, thoughtful, and magical. He is also an entrepreneur and innovator. While one wall of his studio might display a massive self-printed triptych of pines and mountains, another will delight the visitor with its collection of diminutive prints, cards, and refrigerator magnets—all bearing Stu’s trademark imagery. Stu’s work is also shockingly affordable. I often tell him that he needs to start charging more for his prints, all the while building up my own collection of Jenks originals.
My favorite piece is Megan’s Circle, a slightly sepia-toned image, printed full-frame from a large format negative, with the number “18″ visible within the border. In the foreground we see a delicate stone circle with a line drawn through its center. In the distance, rocky hills north of Tucson hunch and shamble up and over the horizon. From talking to Stu, I know that the piece is a remembrance of a former sweetheart. Megan’s Circle is wistful, lonely, grand, and little sad: an old romance lost in the landscape of memory. It resides permanently on my living room wall and is frequently admired by visitors.
Intrigued by what Stu might come up with in a somewhat different genre, I hired him to shoot a series of rock ‘n’ roll portraits of bands I played with at the Great Cover Up shows in 2006 and 2007. He also worked as my location photographer while I was filming the How the Earth was Made documentary series for the History Channel. The results were outstanding; Stu is every bit as comfortable on a commercial project as he is on an exploration of spiritual imagery.
In the past few years Stu has presented solo shows at Hotel Congress, Endicott West Art Foundation and Tohono Chul Park, and Bohemia art emporium on East Broadway carries his work. Stu authors a wonderful photography blog at Typepad, and maintains an extensive website at StuJenks.com—both projects rich in beautiful images. Stu is a towering talent and one of the most accomplished photographers working in the Southwest today. Look him up online, or on the next Open Studio Tour, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if you ended up with a Jenks original on your wall too.