BY NICK MAY PHOTOGRAPHY BY MICHAEL BOOINI
THE BINARY WORLD OF HYPERREAL AND ABSTRACT
She’s been creating visual art since she was a kid, but it wasn’t until her husband suggested putting a few pieces up for sale in the front yard of their Panama City Beach home that Jamie Babula went pro. With an extensive list of accolades, Jamie’s hyperrealistic drawings and abstract expressionist paintings have garnered attention from art connoisseurs and enthusiasts alike. From her home studio, Jamie creates subjective explosions of acrylic color, in addition to photorealistic pencil drawings that will cause you to question whether you’re living in your world or hers…
You do two completely different art forms. One asks the viewer to interpret an image. The other tells the viewer, on a photographic level, what they’re looking at. Which one is more for you and which is more for the viewer?
That’s tough. Both mediums are so different. The processes are completely different. They’re almost opposite of each other. With my photorealism drawings, I find the image first, then I research the object. It’s very mathematical. I usually draw with a pencil in one hand and a ruler in the other, because everything has to be scaled perfectly. With the abstract expressionism, when I sit down at a canvas, I have no idea what I’m about to paint or what it’s going to look like when I’m done. I just paint to music [everything from classical to Taylor Swift, depending on the mood] and what comes out comes out. Drawing has always been my passion. As a kid, M.C. Escher blew my mind. I couldn’t even conceive how he did what he did with a pencil and paper. So, when I started to hone my drawing skills, the response I got from people was more for me.
I think there’s a ton of pressure on arists to be imaginative. If someone asks why you painted a bowl of lemons, you may feel pressured to say something clever but, in reality, it’s OK to say, ‘That’s all I had in my refrigerator’ …
Your drawings have a certain wow factor. It’s easy for someone who isn’t a student of art to value the intricacy. How do you appeal to those who view our abstract paintings but don’t try as hard to discern what’s under the surface?
It’s funny you say that, because people who aren’t artistic, who just appreciate art, are usually wowed, but artists tend to criticize the photorealism. In the sense that they think it’s not really all that creative or artistic. They just think it’s emulating a photograph. With the abstracts, you either get people joking that it looks like a kid threw paint on a canvas, or you hear, “I could do that.” I usually display my drawings with my paintings, and a lot of times, people think it’s two different artists. Then, when I say I did both, it makes them view my abstracts differently. It changes something when they see them together. I’ll ask them what they see or how it makes them feel, and then they start to feel connected to it. There was a time (in periods like the Renaissance) when the goal of artists was to reproduce real life as accurately as possible on canvas.
Do you think we, as a culture, have gotten away from an appreciation for handcrafted hyperrealism?
I think there’s a ton of pressure on artists to be imaginative. If someone asks why you painted a bowl of lemons, you may feel pressured to say something clever but, in reality, it’s OK to say, ‘That’s all I had in my refrigerator…’
You talked about Renaissance art. There were only a handful of masters in that era, but today, there’s so much talent, maybe artists feel like they need that imaginative concept to stand out. I wish more artists felt like it was OK to say “I did this painting because I wanted to.”
You recently became a mother. How has your art changed since the birth of your daughter? After Phoebe was born, I had this completely different feeling than before. Like, “Man, I need to paint!” For no reason, other than just for myself. I did a painting, the first I’d done in months, and I got more response from that painting than any I’d posted the last couple years. The owner of the gallery that my work will be in this year says it’s her favorite. I never name my pieces, only number them, to keep people from predetermining what they see, but I did name that one “Phoebe Sleeps” because I did it while she was napping.
Do you think you could do one form without the other, or is it more like choosing between your left arm and right arm? Do you have to
I have struggled with that for probably the past five years, going through periods where I tell myself I’m not going to do one, and I’m just going to focus on the other. Then I’ll get to a show and people will ask, “Where are your drawings?” or “Where are your paintings?”
Would the purpose be to stop one in hopes of becoming better at the other? In my mind, I felt like the two mediums were confusing to people. Like people wondered what my niche was or whatever. Do I want to be known as an abstract expressionist or a hyperrealist drawer? I almost felt like I was conflicting with myself over my artistic identity.
Do you feel like you’ve finally found peace in pursuing both?
Painting is a release. It helps me decompress from the drawings, which take their toll. After I finish a hundred-hour drawing, the last thing I want to think about is starting another. Maybe that’s how I improve. Painting has always allowed me to come back with a clear head. I think I finally have found that peace this past year. I’ve really thought about the response I got from people in 2016 and listened
to what gallery owners were saying. I think I’ve finally grown comfortable with the fact that I work in two different styles. Maybe my head is still there. Maybe I still think I’m not supposed to be in two different places at once, but my heart is with both, and I can’t see myself not doing one without the other.
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